Author: David Massey

Publication: 2013, Chicken House

Pages: 274

Overall Rating: bth_5-star-rating_zps467d5332[1]

Rating for Action: bth_45_zps06f87659[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Ellie Nielson is a British army medic on her first tour in war-torn Afghanistan.  On patrol in a village she comes under attack and sees a beautiful young Afghan girl shot.  But when Ellie risks her life to try and save her, the girl is gone.  The haunting child reappears time and again, always as a harbinger of death and destruction as Ellie and her unit team up with a group of Navy Seals to investigate a hidden arms cache and the bombing of a village.  Through the horrors of war, Ellie will come to question everything she once believed about love and courage.

Age of Main Character: 19

What I Liked the Most: Massey doesn’t pull any punches with his tale of war, but he also avoids falling into the all too easy trap of making this a simple story of machismo violence and aggression.   Instead Massey wanted a book that would help people to question war, and so he made his lead character a medic – a woman who is willing to risk her life in order to save others.  While there are plenty of violent battle sequences, they are dominated by fear and love rather than rage, and Ellie’s deep need to help drives the story in some unexpected directions, making it possible to see the unintended consequences war can often have on the people caught up in it.

For someone who has never been in the army and never been to Afghanistan, Massey also seems to have gone out of his way to try and get the details right.  Of course, you’ve got to take that with a grain of salt since I haven’t been in the army or been to Afghanistan either.  But the scenery, the people, and the regimen of military life all felt authentic and Massey does a amazing job of making it feel like you really are living in a forward operating base in the hinterlands of Afghanistan.

On a final note, there is a romantic element to the story – one that definitely gets played up on the cover and the inside jacket.  I went into the book half afraid that it might turn out to be a sappy wartime romance in disguise.  But not to worry.  The romance is there, and it’s both well done and integral to the story, but it’s not sappy in the least and it definitely takes a back seat to the action, mystery, and gritty reality of war.  Well done, Mr. Massey.

What I Liked the Least: This feels like a minor point, but (spoiler alert) Ellie has to treat a wounded Seal.  She feels he should be medivacked to a hospital, but the Seal commander wants him on the mission.  Ellie keeps him monitoring him, thinking he looks worse and creating the distinct impression that this will lead to real trouble.  It doesn’t, and that felt like somewhat of a letdown.

How Good was the Action? It’s real and raw.  The firefights are terrifying, as they should be, with bullets flying, IEDs, child soldiers, blood, and death.  When Ellie’s caught up in a fight, you feel every moment of it.  It’s not the same as the action I would praise in a top flight thriller, where the chases and fight scenes are designed to get your blood pumping.  The scenes here are meant to convey the horrors of war, and they do so brilliantly.

How Engaging was the Story? Ellie is a rich, complex character who Massey tosses into a war zone, with all the danger and emotional heartache that entails.  Then he piles on the fear and violence, and gives us a good mystery to boot, with terrorists, child soldiers, Navy Seals, corruption, heroin, and a hidden arms cache.  How could it not be engaging?

Overall Assessment:  A gritty, heart-wrenching story of love and hope amidst the horrors of war.  

Profanity: Little to none.

Sex: A chaste kiss, a bit of harmless fantasizing, and a scene in which some peeping toms watch Ellie in the shower (but this is done as a prank and includes no graphic detail).

Violence: Yes.  This is a war and Ellie is a soldier and medic.  Massey doesn’t try to hide the horrors of war.  People are shot or hit by grenades and bleed out, air strikes are called in, people die.  War is a violent, bloody mess and Massey doesn’t try to pretend that it’s anything else.   But that also means the violence isn’t gratuitous.  It’s there to drive the story forward and to underline Massey’s message about the horrors of combat.


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