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Review: State of Terror by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny

Review: State of Terror by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny

State of Terror by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny is an entertaining political thriller that is well worth your time.

I don’t tend to read many political thrillers. While they’re escapist with a touch of reality, oftentimes, they’re part of a series and the idea of jumping into one is too much with my nonstop TBR (to be read) list.

But when I found out that the Hillary Clinton co-wrote a novel featuring a female secretary of state—that definitely peaked my interest. We know that her husband, Bill, has received plenty of success co-writing political thrillers with James Patterson. But to be honest, those books didn’t sound interesting to me. But State of Terror definitely did.

And I really liked it! The protagonist—Ellen Adams—uses her intelligence to try and stop a terrorist plot involving nuclear weapons.

What’s the Story About

Doug Williams, the new president, is sworn in after a chaotic period in American politics. He surprises everyone when he selects his political enemy, Ellen Adams, for the important role of Secretary of State. Ellen was head of a big-time news network (sounded similar to CNN) and had just got done doing everything in her power for Williams not to be elected.

But he didn’t select her out of the goodness of his heart as he is able to silence one of his media critics. Since Ellen doesn’t have any political experience, he expects her to fail at her job. But no one could imagine they would soon be thrust into a major crisis.

Anahita Dahir, a young foreign service officer (FSO) on the Pakistan desk at the State Department, receives a baffling text from an anonymous source, which is a coded warning. What follows is a series of bombings throughout Europe and everyone scrambles to find out who is responsible and where the next attack will be.

This turns into international chess game involving Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran; the race to develop nuclear weapons in the region; the Russian mob and a burgeoning rogue terrorist organization.

Ellen and her team must do everything in their power to stop the attacks—but violence isn’t met with violence. This requires plenty of intelligence and skill.

Secretary of State

First of all, I just think it’s pretty cool that a former secretary of state co-wrote a novel. Hillary said in this interview with NPR that the novel’s premise stems from huge concerns that keep her up at night. And once you read the novel, that is even more chilling because was seems improbable is based in reality.

And I found myself wondering what other real-life elements were included in the book. Obviously, it’s a fictional tale but I’m sure some of Hillary’s experiences were used as inspiration for events and actions that Ellen takes. I’m so curious if some of those secret off-the-record meetings do really happen.

Ellen is late-middle-age and that reflects in both appearance and worldly experience. She’s very clearly based on Hillary, which I quite enjoyed. It was refreshing to have a protagonist that is written in a way that felt realistic and not in the male gaze. In this case, many people underestimate Ellen because she’s a woman and she does use that to her advantage. I thought it was very clever how Ellen would anticipate misogynistic attitudes and work around it to achieve what she wants.

Don’t expect Ellen to pick up a gun or get into a fight. The way for her to stop the terrorists is by using her intelligence and also diplomacy whenever possible.

The other cast of characters are great as well, including Anahita, Ellen’s children, Katherine and Gil, and her best friend Betsy. The president will surprise you too. All around a fantastic cast of characters.


I highly recommend State of Terror—even if you’re not a huge political thriller fan. It’s a fast-paced and engaging read, with topics completely relevant to what’s happening now in both domestic and international politics. It does leave room for a sequel so I’m hopeful that the duo will continue to write together because I think they did such a great job with it. For book clubs, check out my discussion questions here.