Star Of The North by D.B. John
North Korea and the USA are on the brink of war
A young American woman disappears without trace from a South Korean island.
The CIA recruits her twin sister to uncover the truth.
Now, she must go undercover in the world’s most deadly state.
Only by infiltrating the dark heart of the terrifying regime will she be able to save her sister…and herself.
I had previously heard great things about this novel and was very much looking forward to reading it. It is such a unique concept, set in the modern day and surrounding the mysterious country that is North Korea. I didn’t know a lot about NK going into the novel and although it is a fictional story, I felt I learned some of the obscure and frankly quite bizarre history of NK.
The novel opens on Baengnyeong Island in South Korea 1998. Young lovers Soo-Min and Jae-Hoon are enjoying a romantic trip to the beach. When suddenly it becomes clear they have witnessed something they shouldn’t have, and they are apprehended.
By whom, at this point is unclear.
2010 – Georgetown, Washington DC. Jenna is still under-going counselling after the trauma of losing her twin sister. Jenna is an intelligent, driven and ambitious young woman. She lectures at university’s and has not allowed her personal problems to hold her back. At least not academically or in the career sense. She is approached by a man claiming to have know her father and as a matter of national security.
‘We’re the Agency, Jenna. The CIA’ – Charles Fisk
In Baekam county, Ryanggang province North Korea. The novel will tell the story of Mrs Moon, a street vendor. What this character brings to the novel is an insight into the lifestyle in NK. Mrs Moon, lives in abject poverty and her life is far from easy. In NK a citizen’s life is dominated and controlled by the state. Every aspect of your life and you can be tried for even daring to ‘think’ against the regime. Mrs Moon takes hold of an ‘enemy package’ but what is really a package of much needed food and supplies and leaflets showing a way of life outside of NK.
‘Our Lord Jesus Christ a name erased from history’
Back in the US it becomes clear that Jenna (Jee-Min) is Soo-Min’s twin sister and is given an opportunity to hear from other abducted citizens and their families personally. There is a compelling moment between Jenna and Mrs Ishido, a Japanese citizen who had her 14yr old son abducted. It is in this moment you realise the sincere harsh reality of life in NK and it is about to get a whole lot worse. . . . .
Meanwhile, in NK as the citizens gather to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the founding of the workers party. Cho Sang-Ho a lieutenant colonel for the ministry of foreign affairs, learns that he is to be promoted. Bringing him ever closer to their supreme leader Kim Jong-Il. Whilst this would fil most citizens with joy and ambition. It fills Cho with dread. For Cho is adopted and doesn’t know the truth about his ancestry. Knowing a promotion will bring his heritage under severe scrutiny he is filled with fear.
‘The crime of having bad blood’
As Jenna continues to travel the globe in working with the CIA. Her backstory is further explored. Her mother Han is of Korean descent, whilst her father Douglas was African American. Douglas drank himself into an early grave after the disappearance of his daughter and his wife and surviving daughter Jenna, remain just clinging to life.
‘Time was simply a sentence she would serve until she died’ – Jenna
Back with Mrs Moon, we see the other side of NK, the side NK doesn’t want you to see. The poverty, vagrant kids and street informers.
‘There are those who starve, those who beg, and those who trade’
‘The Emperor – the soldiers – the citizens – the slaves’
As Jenna learns more and more about NK kidnapping of non-Korean citizens and why they would do this. She becomes a one-woman crusade to get justice for Soo-Min and the other citizens who had their lives stolen away. Jenna is further outraged when she learns of the infamous Camp 22 and the experiments that take place there. . .
‘The experiments require human prisoners’
Lieutenant Colonel Cho faces his greatest test yet, when he is given the assignment of embarking on a mission into the US.
‘He had never in his life imagined that he would enter the belly of the Yankee imperialist beast’ – Cho
The novel rotates around the point of views of Cho, Mrs Moon and Jenna. As we are given a full insight into life in NK and the fragile relationship it holds with the US. We learn what it means to be deemed an ‘unperson’ or have ‘hostile’ blood. There are moments it sounds eerily similar to Nazi Germany.
Yet this isn’t history. This is modern-day!
‘Purity brings reward. Impurity brings death’
I can’t fully cover the various themes within the novel as to do so would ruin the enjoyment of the novel for others. There were multiple times I read, in pure shock and horror. How is this going on in 2018? I found myself trying to fact-check which aspects of the novel were real and based on what testimony etc.
There is a part at the end of the novel which offers a great insight into further reading and resources. By the time you have finished Star Of The North, you NEED to read it.
The novel has powerful and hard-going themes but the quality of writing is astounding. The characterisation of Jenna, Cho and Mrs Moon really adds to the whole feeling of the novel. It doesn’t feel like a sociology lesson, it feels like a complex and well-written story, which it 100% is.
The mass brainwashing sounds like conspiracy theories gone mad.
But is this what it is really like in NK?
The urban myths spread by citizens and demand for complete and utter Kim worship is shocking to read. But not as shocking as the scenes from the gulags, political prisons and concentration camps. Where life is everything we have come to know about the holocaust. It is population control, murder and political genocide.
Even something just as simple as ‘the three generations rule’ sounds like something straight out of Nazi Germany.
This novel will shock you, it is dark, and it is frightening.
I can completely see why it carries the promo banner ‘thriller of the year’ because it is destined for success. 5*