According to Publishers Weekly, somewhere between 1.5 million and 18 quadrillion books are self-published every year. Technology (read: Amazon) has so lowered the publishing bar that anyone with some spare time and a Pinot-fueled hallucination can see their book listed for sale within a day or two. I’ve sampled my fair share. My Kindle library is littered with self-published stories sold at a steep discount – or free – as authors fight for eyeballs and struggle to make a name for themselves.

The overwhelming majority of these are either awful (but not in a satisfying Showgirls way) or forgettable (but not in a compelling Clive Cussler way). If I finish one, it’s out of curiosity and not the result of a compelling narrative. And I never, ever find myself thinking about one of these novels over a year later.

Enter Disarming.

Andrew Cleary’s plot sounds like it comes from a Tom Clancy novel or a George Clooney thriller. A rogue nuclear bomb is sold on the black market to the highest bidder, in this case the rich descendant of grandparents killed in the 1945 atomic bombing of Nagasaki. The US Government springs into action, threatening a military strike if the bomb isn’t turned over. The protagonist, Virginia Rhuel, races to find a solution before time runs out.

But Disarming comes with a twist. The novel is set in the fictional Acacia Valley, a Libertarian enclave where violence is strictly forbidden. Jack Ryan doesn’t swoop in to kill the bad guys and save the day and get the girl. No, center stage in this story are the rules of the Valley and the political inclinations of its occupants. Cleary doesn’t provide an action-packed adrenaline rush. But he has written a fun, short – at 151 pages, you can easily finish in an evening – thoughtful discussion of how a society can organize itself without resorting to violence.

One that sticks with you.

When I first read Disarming, I jotted down my initial impressions in an Amazon review, calling it a good, but not great, read. Fifteen months later, after another trip to the Acacia Valley, I’d like to amend my review. Disarming is a great story, one you’ll find yourself coming back to in the months and years ahead.

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