ARC Review: The Warsaw Protocol by Steve Berry

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One by one the seven precious relics of the Arma Christi, the weapons of Christ, are disappearing from sanctuaries across the world.
After former Justice Department agent Cotton Malone witnesses the theft of one of them, he learns from his old boss, Stephanie Nelle, that a private auction is about to be held where incriminating information on the president of Poland will be offered to the highest bidder–blackmail that both the United States and Russia want, but for vastly different reasons.
The price of admission to that auction is one of the relics, so Malone is first sent to a castle in Poland to steal the Holy Lance, a thousand-year-old spear sacred to not only Christians but to the Polish people, and then on to the auction itself. But nothing goes as planned and Malone is thrust into a bloody battle between three nations over a secret that, if exposed, could change the balance of power in Europe.
From the tranquil canals of Bruges, to the elegant rooms of Wawel Castle, to the ancient salt mines deep beneath the earth outside Krakow, Malone is caught in the middle of a deadly war–the outcome of which turns on something known as the Warsaw Protocol.

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Another Steve Berry book is here and I’ve been ecstatic about it since I was asked to review the advance copy. I wasn’t actually planning to read it yet because the release is more than a month away, but I suddenly found myself in a funky mood and immediately knew what would cheer me up – some thrilling adventures of Cotton Malone. And that’s exactly what I got.

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It should come as no surprise that I love this series so much because of all the action and adventuring going on. But a bigger reason is all the history I get to know which I would otherwise be completely ignorant about. Steve Berry is excellent at using historical events to create his fictional story, and the seamless way he blends both is awesome. Taking place across Poland, Belgium and Slovakia, this book mainly gives us a lot of information about the history of Poland, both in the Middle Ages as well as during Nazi occupation followed by the Soviets. The atrocities committed during each of the regimes were horrific and people were forced to make unimaginable choices to survive, and that’s one of the themes the author subtly talks about a lot – what lengths will you go to save yourself as well as your country, how much do principles matter when lives are at stake, and what happens when incompetence meets narcissism.

I also absolutely loved the beautiful descriptions of Bruges and the cathedrals and public squares and monasteries, the museum at Kraków which Cotton visits in the story, the history behind the relics, and the absolutely unbelievable salt mines at Wieliczka. And while all of these are real places, I was actually very surprised that the meticulously described castle in Slovakia wasn’t a real one because I completely fell in love with it. If I made a list of all the places Berry visits in his books, my travel bucket list would be miles long and I would never ever get through it. So, I just have to live vicariously through his characters.

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I wouldn’t call this one very action packed but I guess that can be expected because Cotton is fifty years old now. But he is still chasing around bad guys and participating in heists, so not everything has changed. But I loved seeing him make better choices personally in this one, both for the love of his life Cassiopeia and his dearest friend Stephanie. He’s come a long way in the decade since I’ve been reading this series and I like that. We also get the POV of the president of Poland which I found fascinating and while unbelievable, it still made me curious. Jonty just came across as snobby and pretentious, thinking too highly of himself and unable to fathom the lengths to which people might go to protect their interests. There’s also a new president of the US who is kinda modeled on our real one and I think the author managed to show the frustrations of life long government officials when dealing with such a leader.

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To conclude, I just wanna say that I had a lot of fun reading this one and flew through the whole book in just a few hours. If you enjoy spy thrillers which have an excellent blend of history and fiction with a bit of religion thrown into it, then this one is perfect for you. I also felt that this would work well as a standalone, but I would always recommend starting from the beginning with The Templar Legacy because they are all interesting and informative in their own ways. And while I already know that I’m gonna have to wait for more than an year for the next book, did the author really have to tease us with that tension filled last line?

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PS: Thank you to Minotaur Books and Netgalley for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.

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