The Cardinal in the Kremlin – Tom Clancy Book Review

Tom Clancy, is the man whose name is on the cover of some of the most popular games and movies of the military genre. Hunt for Red October, Clear and Present Danger, The Sum of All Fears, Splinter Cell, Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon, and many more. He was one of the most famous military novel authors of all-time and naturally when I wanted to dip my toes into a military novel, Tom Clancy’s name was the first on my list.


Obviously I would be in for a treat that would blow my mind, right? Right?




The Cardinal of the Kremlin managed to turn what was supposed to be an exciting espionage thriller into a boring, dull, way too verbose, sleep inducing novel. This book is boring. It’s so boring that boring wouldn’t be enough to describe what an utter snooze-fest this novel is. As I read past the first couple of chapters that talked about absolutely nothing. I asked myself, “How the hell did this author become world famous with a book like this?”


Now I read the reviews ahead of time. Most of the reviewers said that this was a great and enjoyable book and that you finally get a peek into what it’s like to partake in CIA activities. Sounded promising, sounded like it would be exciting, but no. Instead we’re treated to uninteresting characters, a lackluster plot, and prose so dry and vacant that it felt like I was stranded in a desert.


Without further ado, let’s find out exactly what went wrong in Tom Clancy’s The Cardinal of the Kremlin. (Also for some reason I have an impossibly hard time remembering the title of this book. That’s a strike against it already.)


Plot. What is the plot? Well the plot revolves around the (now scuttled) Star Wars Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) defense program. For those of you who failed ninth grade history in the United States, it was a program designed to shoot down nuclear missiles. Both Russia and the United States are trying to create an SDI which would make their countries immune to nuclear attacks.


In order to keep tabs on enemy progress. The United States has a high level spy embedded within the Russian government, codename CARDINAL. Unfortunately members of the KGB have caught onto his scent. Whoa. Actually this sounds kind of cool. Let me read this! *Opens the book* NO! GOD NO! It’s still BORING! How do you screw this up so badly?


For starters, the characters felt stereotypical and uninteresting. Maybe it’s just me but the Russian characters didn’t feel authentic Russian to me. From reading the dialogue it felt like Clancy only picked up a few Russian words and then decided to inject them at random. It felt corny and made it feel like an American tourist was writing dialogue. I’m no expert on Russian culture or characters or whatever but I have played Metro2033 which was written and created by an authentic Russian team. The difference between characterization makes Clancy seem like a rank amateur.


Not only did the Russians feel fake but they were also extremely boring. Every time we switched POV to the Russians, I’d die a little on the inside. There was nothing on the Russian side that made me want to read the story from their perspective and yet that’s what half of this book is about. Actually you know what? It didn’t really matter what POV I was presented with because I thought all of the characters were boring. Someone mentioned in their review that they loved the character Clark and when I finally ran into him in the book I found myself asking how that was possible. Clark, is only in the novel for about four scenes and then you never hear from him again.


The whole CIA espionage and tactics bits were incredibly lame as well. They lacked pizzazz and cleverness and wasn’t the focus of the book which was sorely disappointing. Instead, Clancy decides to bore us with the excessively long details on how the SDI laser system works, what type of mirrors they use, how much power they need to generate and . . . *snores.*


Huh, what, what was I saying? Oh right. Clancy then continues the bore train by giving us pointless briefings with poster boy Jack Ryan, then decides to focus on Afghani rebels fighting Soviets, then throws in a minor CIA spycraft scene before returning to talk about the stupid ass lasers and then returns to characters you don’t give a sh** about.


But what really hurts this book worse than the characters and the low stakes plot is the prose. Imagine taking a box of spaghetti or elbow macaroni, boiling it in water, then serving it without putting any seasoning, veggies, or flavor. That’s Tom Clancy’s prose in a nutshell.


It’s because of this dry prose that I constantly found myself falling asleep while reading this book. You can’t visualize the characters, the setting, or any of the things your brain craves when reading a good book. The world feels static and the only time the visuals come to life is when one of the action scenes come up. When the Afghani rebel known as “Archer” attempts to shoot down a Russian helicopter with a stinger. That’s when you can you can see the action. The world finally comes to life and you can easily visualize the giant, rotor spinning, tank killer machine coasting over the desert dunes.


And when that action sequence is over and we’re returned to the uninteresting characters, pointless dialogue, and excessively technical explanations. That’s when reading this book becomes a depressing chore. To quote a character from House of Cards, “It’s so boring you could put a crack addict to sleep.”


I honestly don’t know how this author became a best-seller. Clearly other people like it. Does that mean I’m not the target audience? How does that even make sense? I love things military and I love espionage and spycraft. I play all the top military games and am fascinated by CIA operations groups and Special Forces commandos. How could I not be the target demo?

The Cardinal in the Kremlin is a miserable first time exposure to a Tom Clancy novel. Some people might say that I should have started with the Hunt for Red October which was his best work. Yeah, I could have but I had already seen the movie. I didn’t want to read a book where I knew how it was going to end. I wanted to try something new and exciting. Surely, someone who was considered a best author should have a huge list of high quality novels to choose from. No, not the case here.


This wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read but it’s in third place of worst books I’ve ever read. Unfortunately, I also bought Red Storm Rising, so we’ll see if that book is any better. Either way, skip this novel if you’re planning on reading a military genre book.

Wilmar Luna

Couldn't be a superhero in real life so he decided to write his own. When he's not creating empowered female characters he can be found watching films, reading books, and playing lots of video games.
Buy his books here: https://www.thesilverninja.com/purchase/
Wilmar Luna

Latest posts by Wilmar Luna (see all)

%d bloggers like this: