It is a hard book to categorize. It's part history, part fiction, part mystery, and very technical. As I read almost no science fiction, I lack the terminology to properly categorize this book. Maybe it ends up in the science fiction section because one of the main characters, Randy, seems precisely the kind of guy who would be found in the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore.
Despite the fact that it has (to some) science fiction overtones, and deals a lot with technology, I really like this book. The technology bits were obvious, and I could scan the bits that didn't make a lot of sense to me quickly without missing the rest of the plot.
Because for me, the storytelling is the real strength of this book. I want to find out what happens to the characters. Plus, the ideas and the cryptology are fascinating--even when they went over my head.
There are two time lines in the book. One set during World War II, and the other, current. The current timeline follows Randy Waterhouse, who has ended up in the computer networking business. The second timeline follows several characters: Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse (Randy's grandfather) and Bobby Shaftoe primarily, but also Enoch Root, and Goto Dengo. I really liked Bobby Shaftoe.
I also like the fact that Randy is a functional geek. Not your typical hero, so it was a lovely change.
"Filipinos are a warm, gentle, caring, giving people," Avi says, "which is a good thing since so many of them carry concealed weapons."
There is a lot of thinking about sex in this book, but it's pretty much guy sex, no romance at all--or at least nothing that even an atypical female would find romantic.
The only issue I took with the story is that Randy assumes that Arethusa is in English. It was supposed to be a foreign WWII military code. Why on earth would it be in English? Even if it was a code to communicate between the Germans and the Japanese, why would they choose English as the language they used between them?
I am curious, however, as to whether the sect of geeks that Randy knows would be as libertarian in real life. It sounds reasonable to me, but then much of what he describes and creates sounds reasonable to me, so I might not be the best judge.
Oh, this is a big book. Just over 900 pages. And it's not a quick read. You can't just stick this book into your pocket (unless you have big pockets), and it's big enough that it's uncomfortable to hold--I kept having to prop it up somewhere, because my wrists would rather quickly get tired of holding it up while I read. So prepare to have your evenings taken with reading this book, because it's not an easy book to carry around and read.
If you find cryptology even the slightest bit interesting, then you will most likely love this book. If you are a geek, then chances are you'll love this books. Everyone else? You're on your own. But if you think the story sounds interesting, you'll probably like it.