Cover image of "Wake of War," a novel  about a second American civil war

Dystopian novels range across a spectrum from realism to absurdity. No one could regard the most famous of the lot as realistic depictions of any recognizable future. Brave New World, 1984, and The Handmaid’s Tale are works of literature, taking poetic license to drive home the author’s vision. But later dystopian tales do sometimes fall on the realistic end of the spectrum. And Zac Topping’s Wake of War, a novel about a second American civil war, is a grim example. It portrays a set of events we could easily see in our future. If this is prophecy, it’s terrifying.

Wake of War is, unsurprisingly, a war novel. Prepare yourself for nearly nonstop action from beginning to end. I’ve never experienced combat, so I can’t attest to the accuracy of the fighting portrayed in this book. But author Zac Topping served two tours in Iraq, and I trust him to convey a more accurate sense of the experience than anyone who has never been in the military. However, Topping does not glorify combat. In fact, if it’s true that every war novel is an anti-war novel, Wake of War certainly qualifies.

Wake of War by Zac Topping (2022) 232 pages ★★★★★

Photo of armed men, probably militia members, like those in the second American civil war depicted in this novel
Armed men like these in a recent photo in Wisconsin form the Revolutionist Front that Zac Topping portrays in the novel. Image: Sabra Ayres – Spectrum News

The second American civil war erupts nationwide

Topping’s story is set in 2037. Population control is in effect, with couples limited to two children, and only when authorized. The Federal Reserve is collapsing. The country has withdrawn within its borders, lacking the means and the will to engage overseas. Meanwhile, violent storms lash the coasts, and the temperature soars. All across the United States, anti-government forces are in revolt. Conscription is in effect, violently enforced at times. The US Army is deployed in “combat cities” throughout the land. And near Salt Lake City, a charismatic backwater preacher and cult leader named “Joseph Graham has just declared war on all government forces in the city.” He styles the ragtag army he has assembled the Revolutionist Front (RF). And it is there that Specialist James Trent arrives to join a front-line unit engaged in a fierce campaign to destroy the RF.

Understanding the fury and despair of the rebels

We follow Trent and his buddies through a series of violent engagements as the army steadily moves through the outskirts of Salt Lake City toward the rebel encampment. Meanwhile, Joseph Graham has observed “a nineteen-year-old girl from Texas with a scar on her cheek” hitting bullseyes with her Remington rifle at a thousand meters. She soon becomes one of “Joseph Graham’s Chosen,” assigned as a sniper with a spotter to help halt the army’s advance. As Samantha (Sam) Cross deploys through the mountains, we gain an appreciation of the fury and despair of those who have joined the RF.

Wake of War is tightly plotted and forcefully written. If this is war, I want no part of it. Because if a future American civil war like this ever comes to be, the American Project is doomed.

About the author

Photo of Zac Topping, author of this novel about a second American civil war
Zac Topping. Image: Jake Snyder – Red Skies Photography via MacMillan

The bio blurb in this book notes that “Zac Topping grew up in Eastern Connecticut where, contrary to popular belief, it’s not all trust funds and yacht clubs. He spent his formative years on the move, as some do, and discovered a passion for writing early in life. [Topping] is a veteran of the United States Army and has served two tours in Iraq. He currently lives with his wife in a quiet farm town in Connecticut and works as a career fire fighter. Wake of War is his debut novel.”

For more reading

I’ve reviewed two other outstanding books that forecast a new American civil war, one nonfiction, the other a novel:

I’ve also reviewed a much less successful novel on the same theme: 2 A. M. in Little America by Ken Kalfus (American refugees in a near-future dystopia).

For more good reading, check out:

And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, plus a guide to this whole site, on the Home Page.