The first thing I noticed, other than the spectacular cover (the gas mask/saw/mustard gas version), was the page count. This is a large book. Epic. I'm sure the translation team tried very hard to get it at exactly 666 pages for the English edition.
The plot is ostensibly "North Korea invades Japan while the rest of the world stands by and watches," which in itself sounds exciting enough, but Murakami goes far beyond that action-thriller promise, populating this story with viewpoints from all sides of the conflict. The characters he has created are memorable, realistic, and human.
That does not mean they are all nice
. In fact, the "heroes" of the story take the "anti-hero" character archetype and mix in a good, unhealthy dose of "psychopath" into the mix. But, just like in Dexter, the reader finds themselves rooting for the psychopath from the very beginning.
It is a nitty, gritty, often brutal read--what work featuring North Korean invasion could be anything but? At first I was put off by the Stephen King-esque dumps of backstory. Often, bits of backstory are repeated repeated when the point of view switches in another chapter. After a while, however, these dumps of backstory grew on me. I began to look forward to and appreciate the stories it told, and even found some of the repeated information useful--the repeats themselves were in line with the viewpoint's character, anyway--and it helps keep track of which character is which (there were a lot to keep track of).
Anyway. I detracted one star for the somewhat excessive backstory.