Once, it would have been inconceivable for Steven Seagal to write a novel about anything other than him punching men in the penis. But times change, and now Seagal has given us The Way Of The Shadow Wolves: The Deep State And The Hijacking Of America, a "book of fiction based on reality."
Shadow Wolves perfectly encapsulates every far-right American conspiracy theory and worldview into one insane package. Also, Seagal's collaborator, Tom Morrissey, writes like a thousand monkeys disassembled a thousand typewriters and then choked to death on the pieces. So let's travel the way of the Shadow Wolves together, and see what we discover.
The Setup: A Seagal Stand-In Takes On The "Deep State"
The Deep State, as the preface explains through leading questions, is a shadowy cabal of bureaucrats, spies, politicians, bankers, journalists, professors, judges, doctors (?), and other powerful people who are responsible for everything from drug smuggling to fake news to "child exploitation (pedophilia)," all in the name of oppressing the masses. Eric Trump thinks Twitter and Ellen DeGeneres are part of it, and to give you a sense of who else believes such things, Amazon says readers who purchased Shadow Wolves might also be interested in the nonfiction Pedophila [sic] & Empire: Satan, Sodomy & The Deep State (Trump Revolution).
Our hero is John Nan Tan Gode, a "Ghost Warrior known as a 'Shadow Wolf.'" We know that a Shadow Wolf is an elite Native American tracker so in tune with nature that they're essentially magic, because John is introduced to us while sitting alone in a movie theater watching a documentary about Shadow Wolves. This is a classic writing technique called "Tell, not show. Then keep telling it every five pages because your readers constantly pause to yell at teenagers." To truly understand the mastery of the English language on display here, let's take a quick Tom Morrissey Prose Appreciation Break, featuring actual quotes from the novel.
-- A pack of four-legged coyotes ran past John's vehicle.
-- When he parked at the casino a half hour later, Jimmy had no idea that he was being watched and filmed by a shadowy man with a heart as empty as a cave.
-- John replied quickly, almost wishing he hadn't mentioned his dead grandfather.
The Hero's Native American Heritage Gives Him Ass-Kicking Superpowers
John is a tribal police officer in Arizona (there's a real but unrelated non-magical ICE unit also called the Shadow Wolves) who is concerned about "billionaire drug lords" and "the 'Other Than Mexicans' ... assembling for what America had never known before -- a jihadi caliphate." Every other interchangeable Shadow Wolf we meet shares his views. In real life, Native Americans lean heavily Democratic, but in Morrissey's world, chiseled aboriginal warriors in the prime of their lives all speak like geriatrics who think that Bill O'Reilly's greatest failing was being too liberal.
Many stories are too blunt in implying that their hero is a Christlike figure. Shadow Wolves is too blunt in implying that John is a Seagal-like figure. John's always the smartest, toughest, coolest person in the room. When people punch John, it hurts them more than him. He knows every form of martial arts. John calls people assholes and then congratulates himself on how witty he is. John is repeatedly called Big John, the big man, and the big lawman, because Steven Seagal clearly wishes that people called him Big Steve. Which they could, but not for the reasons he wants.
We're told that John's powers come from his grandfather teaching him the "ancient ways." These ancient ways are never explained, because all the research Morrissey did for this book was through Pinterest's "vague platitudes" tag. At one point, John convinces a U.S. marshal to help him by insisting that he's a patriot who wants to keep the spirit of the American Revolution alive, because his Mohawk ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War. (The Mohawk fought for the British to defend their land from "patriots.")
In other totally real Native American attributes, John has "the spirit of the snake in his bloodline and that gave him power over some people and many snakes." We never find out what that means, and immediately after being introduced to his power over many snakes, John talks to some coyotes (the number of legs they have is unspecified). Coyote chat allows John to discover a dead body and a Mexican-Arab-Obama conspiracy. That's right, President Obama. Gasp!
Tom Morrissey Prose Appreciation Break, Writing Realistic Native American Characters Edition!
-- "We are Native Americans, we sit on mother earth for anything we need." [Note: This is said in response to someone objecting to sitting next to seven corpses.]
-- "DC ... John Gode ... DC ... the land of the Redskins." That was Sunday's way of making a joke in a serious situation by bringing up the politically-correct silliness over the name of that team.
-- John made a ghost move, evading the thrust.
The Writing Shows A Shocking Lack Of Faith In Its Audience
John's investigation involves chases, shootouts, interrogations, and other theoretically dramatic moments that are written with all the passion of a bank statement, but every scenario plays out the same way. John gets a "gut feeling" about what's happening and what should be done. The other Shadow Wolves either agree with his plan or eventually fall in line after it's explained that John's gut is always right, so he never has to explain his logic. John has so many gut feelings that he should look into what is clearly the early stages of stomach cancer. At one point, his gut helps him resolve a hostage situation, and the chapter smugly ends with "All lives matter. Do they not?" Real sick burn on America's growing pro-hostage-murder movement, Morrissey.
This 220-page novel has less plot than a coloring book. A huge chunk is dedicated to John capturing cartel members who make Speedy Gonzales look like Carlos Fuentes. (Morrissey tries to give them depth by implying that they're only uneducated moron criminals because Mexico is nothing but a drug-riddled hellhole.) They go about uncovering the Deep State's scheme while John constantly reexplains his plans and the plot to his allies, because this book has less faith in its readers than the "Do Not Eat" label on a silica packet.
Every piece of dialogue is followed by a sentence that explains the point of what was just said. If Tom Morrissey had written Harry Potter, it would read, "You're a wizard, Harry," said Hagrid, in order to inform Harry that he was a wizard. Wizards were people who could do magic. A judicious editor could cut this novel down to an angry YouTube comment.
Tom Morrissey Prose Appreciation Break, Elegant Writing Edition!
-- A long wailing woman's scream came from the house. They knew something bad was happening or about to happen.
-- "We got warrants ... federal warrants." He waved some papers at John, indicating that he was holding the warrants in his hand.
-- "Everyone on that show Cheers knew one another's names because they all lived at that bar. You, however, live in the desert, where no one knows your name, and when it gets dark they can't even see you."
Virtually Everyone In The Government Has A Hand In One Conspiracy Or Another
John's elite investigative skills eventually lead him to randomly stumble across a key piece of evidence that was left for him in a coffeemaker. That's declared a brilliant hiding spot, because John has the rare personality trait of liking coffee. Then his mentor, who also happens to secretly be a high-ranking intelligence agent, gives a lecture on the entire plot that he knew about all along, rendering most of the book pointless. The government has been infiltrated by members of Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, and ISIS (it's nice that Hezbollah and ISIS were able to put aside their numerous bitter differences). They're planning, with the help of the Mexican cartel and all those evil doctors, to "takedown" the "Great Satan."
Almost everyone is in on it. At one point, Special Agent Mo "Dogface" Miner is asked by a FEMA executive, "Why the f**k are you letting our cartel-jihadist allies get captured by the locals?" That, it turns out, was a complication in the Deep State's plan to "jam five hundred jihadists up America's ass in one night," which they'll do by fooling regular state law enforcement with a cover story that they're "crisis actors on their way to a major exercise." In Seagal's world, every random cop and soldier knows and accepts that the government uses "crisis actors" to fake mass shootings, but only the evil authorities know that some crisis actors are secretly terrorists.
We never hear from Special Agent Mo "Dogface" Miner after that. In fact, multiple characters get a chapter dedicated to planning events that are never mentioned again. This book abandons more characters and plot points than Steven Seagal has abandoned wives and children.
Tom Morrissey Prose Appreciation Break, Compelling Villains Edition!
-- "This is not good-bye, my friend. Think of it more as see you soon. Because you will ... see me soon." [Note: The villain never follows up on this threat.]
-- General Clap did not understand the way of the ancient warrior. However, the Shadow Wolves did. [Note: The Shadow Wolves are not in this scene.]
-- It was his greatest achievement in life to have gotten this far, so close to the heart of the Great Satan, and now standing poised, with a scepter at the ready, to behead this "supreme evil." [Note: Metaphors this mixed are considered toxic.]
The Thrilling Climax
This Tom Clancy after a crippling head injury potboiler culminates in a terrorist plot to simultaneously attack the Las Vegas Strip, the Grand Canyon Skywalk (no!), the Brooklyn Bridge, the Mall of America, the Sears Tower, the Statue of Liberty, the New York Stock Exchange, and, of course, a small Native-run casino where the mom of two characters happens to work.
Luckily, the cartel-jihadist-doctors throw a raging party on the eve of the attack, during which they smoke hashish, listen to "Arabic music," and have women who, cover your eyes children, kiss multiple men. John and his team infiltrate the party, kill most of the baddies, then torture the head villain for information. That info is used to mostly stop the attacks. Then we're informed that the American people elected a new president who, in the part of the story that requires the greatest suspension of disbelief, is "stronger and smarter."
All told, the 220 pages contain 111 deaths. In one shootout, an agent, "[takes] all four out with strafing headshots." This book writes gunfights like a child recapping Call Of Duty highlights. Later, in a fight against a terrorist, John Nan Tan Gode, a man who respects life and is deeply in touch with nature, taunts his foe by telling him that he's coated his knife and bullets in pig blood. Seagal and Morrissey think that Muslims react to pigs like Superman reacts to Kryptonite, and that it is hilarious.
Tom Morrissey Prose Appreciation Break, Making People Root For The Terrorists Edition!
-- "How's that pig blood feel, a*****e? Is it starting to course through your veins, maybe even pissing off the Prophet?"
-- He produced a crucifix he was wearing under his shirt. "They treat these things like vampires treat them."
-- "Don't think time matters to them anymore," John said quietly, respecting the fact that they had just killed a small group of men. [Note: Morrissey, you d*****t, you just had him brag about coating his weapons in pig's blood. You couldn't write a grocery list.]
Examining This Book's Target Audience
If this book has a key flaw, it's that it's the literary equivalent of getting punched in the kidneys by someone who isn't Steven Seagal. It thinks a plot is something you scream repeatedly and that suspense is a pansy liberal myth. It wants you to take seriously both the idea that every Muslim is plotting to destroy America and phrases like "Shadow Wolf-only lunch meeting." It's a hodgepodge of conspiracy theories and far-right bugaboos: FEMA, Benghazi, George Soros, false flag attacks, the murder of Seth Rich, Sharia law in Michigan, evil Syrian refugees, and more are all thrown into barely coherent scaremongering rants. This book may be written like Microsoft Word came to life and immediately started begging for death, but it's also a primer for getting inside the head of people who think Alex Jones has a lot of good ideas.
And then there's the (sadly predictable) way it treats women. Early on, John tries to meet a "woman reporter" who sent him a seductive picture of herself. In Seagal's world, this is how "woman investigative reporters" get in touch with sources -- by physically mailing them pinup photos. Other role models include the "woman agent who could hold her own," John's "lady who was way more than just a lady," and the sole female villain, who tries to kill John by seducing him. See? They have strong female characters in the Fox News mirror universe. Note that the reporteress with the gams is immediately murdered, the "woman agent" is never mentioned again, and John's lady is shuffled away from the final battle.
Seagal and Morrissey have invented a world for scared old men whose hatred of immigrants is second only to their hatred of reading. This is a book that's too cowardly to admit how racist it is. Seagal and Morrissey invented a bunch of magical Indians who love to taunt, kill, and commit war crimes against the enemies of Real America using their ancient spirit powers. And the only thing the good races and the evil races can agree on is the ugly, nihilistic belief that America "brought upon themselves their own destruction by their naive concept of justice and fairness."
Steven Seagal has less respect for his fans than Jim Jones. That he's asking money for a book that went through less editing than the story I wrote about a dinosaur cop when I was ten is borderline criminal. That he thinks nothing in it contradicts his claim to be an environmentally conscious Buddhist speaks to either incredible hypocrisy or an incredible number of concussions. And at the risk of sounding like a Deep State media elite, the fact that he made the sexually irresistible Native American hero a stand-in for himself is nauseating, considering that he's been accused of raping a Native American actress.
Tom Morrissey Prose Appreciation Break, Human Women Edition!
-- "What do you have for weaponry, woman?" John asked. ... "I'm 'mama grizzly bear' ready m'love," she assured him. "I would prefer 'mama grizzly bare-ass' ready, but for now we'll go with what you got." [Note: Gross.]
-- "I give a damn about you staying in one piece and continuing to be my man. And I want my man alive."
-- Alicia whispered, "I hope he didn't pick up on us and is now setting up for our arrival." She looked at John, hoping he could dismiss her fear. He did.
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