Caliphate by Tom Kratman is a military science fiction novel set in a 22nd century where an Islamic caliphate rules over not only the Arab world but Western Europe as well. The only major power to oppose the Caliphate is the United States. However, this United States bears little resemblance to our country. Kratman’s America is an expansionist empire at constant war with the Caliphate. In the American Empire civil liberties are restricted just as they are in the Caliphate, although the Empire is more materially affluent.
The story follows Hamilton, an Imperial soldier and later covert agent and a German girl living in the Caliphate named Petra and her brother Hans. The ‘present’ chapters are interspersed with flashbacks from Petra’s ancestor, Gabi, from the early 2000s to the 2020s.
Petra and Hans are both sold off into slavery. Petra is sold initially to an affluent Muslim family as servant to their daughter and later to a brothel. Hans is conscripted into the Janissary corps of elite slave soldiers. Hamilton starts off as a West Point cadet who gets a commission and enters into the infantry. He spends most of his first five year tour fighting against Moro insurgents in the Philippines.
The first third of the book covers Hamilton’s fighting in the Philippine campaign, Petra’s first enslavement, and Hans’ training. The Gabi flashbacks depict Germany as it becomes more populated by Muslim immigrants and her romance with a non-practicing Muslim immigrant. The plot starts to pick up after Hamilton leaves the Army and joins the Office of Strategic Intelligence, the Imperial successor to the CIA. He is tasked with a mission to find three renegade scientists manufacturing biological weapons for the Caliphate. He must infiltrate and destroy the lab, located near the castle where Petra is held as a prostitute (a houri). Hans happens to be one of the Janissary officers guarding the lab compound.
I was impressed with Kratman’s presentation of the conflict between the Empire and the Caliphate was not two-dimensional. The Empire is only somewhat better than the Caliphate. Civil liberties are limited and resources are heavily rationed because of the constant war. The Empire is also expansionist. It controls Canada, Central and South America, as well as other territories. There are also sympathetic Muslim characters. Petra is assaulted during her first period of enslavement and her Muslim master enacts revenge for her. I was initially concerned with the book being a poorly written polemic, but Kratman created a plausible future world with interesting characters.
One issue I had with the book were some of the scene breaks or lack of scene breaks in certain places. The novel has an omniscient narrator and jumps from several characters. The viewpoint would shift to another character in certain spots in the next line. I was thrown off by this a few times, but it was not a massive flaw in the book.
Caliphate is a great military thriller, but it also introduces real issues facing Europe and America today. Europe has declining native birth rates and introduces more immigrants from the Third World to make up for labor, leading to the creation of Muslim ghettos in European cities where the police do not go. In the book, we see this transformation through Petra’s ancestor Gabi. She starts as a staunch liberal, against American involvement in the Middle East; she must reconcile her views with the reality of mass immigration from the Muslim world.
I thoroughly enjoyed Caliphate, reading it in about two days. I recommend it for anyone interested in military thrillers or in current immigration issues. The e-book is available for free from the Baen Free Library.