This book is a few years old, it was published 2011; nevertheless it covers two topics that were pretty dominant in the last year. One is islamic terrorism, unfortunatley the major topic for many people last year, and ransomware — what at least was breathtaking for some of the IT crowd. So, the plot is about an IT entrepreneur, the creator of a WoW-like MMORP game that turned into a profitable enterprise. Then there is his niece, born in and fled from Eritrea and then adopted in the United States. She is dragged into events of absurd measure: a personal crucade of a mobster against a chinese tech-gang that eventually turns into a manhunt both by and after the world's most-feared islamic terrorist.
Sometimes coincidents are a little bit too much. This is fine for me in Stephenson's faboulous and very original sci-fi settings as in "Diamond Age" and "Snow Crush", but in a thriller like this, gut feelings that make the adversaries guess every move of each other seems a bit incredible in one or another case. The showdown, protagonist — antagonist, when all threads lead to a certain point in time and space is a little bit too much for me.
The story-line is conservative to a great extent, maybe always has been in Stephenson's novels, but again, in a less fictional setting it may be more evident. The female characters are young, in their twenties, pretty and witty, and tough of course. Oh yes, and more or less spotless good. The males on the good side (there are no "bad" females) are bit diverse, but all good at heart. and have an emotional state against women something between chivalric and love-sick. They sacrifice themselves for their beloved, and being rewarded, of course. It was no big guess to see couples form at the end.
What annoyed me to a certain degree – and this probably is a very European view – is the topic of firearms in the book. It is quite a central topic and what starts as a kind of coquetry with the American way of freedom, 2nd Amendment and protecting your family and property (or the other way round) ends up in an apologetic pro-firearm lobbyism. Of all things, having a terrorist attack on a remote settlement to promote having military-grade weapons in the grip of citizens seems a bit, well, NRA-like. But, again, his writing is predictive, thinking about the psychologic impact terrorism now has on the common Westener's mind can make one really uneasy.
In the end it is a entertaining novel that I never regretted to have started on each of the more than thousand pages. It is not a book for in between, but nobody would mistake a Stephenson novel for that. If you like your settings elaborately, and like thrillers, grab it.