The Renegades

  • Tom Young
  • Putnam Adult
  • 336 pp.

When an extremist group uses deadly force to hinder relief efforts following a devastating earthquake, two American soldiers take action.

Reviewed by Gary Knight

This is the story of two fictitious warriors, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Michael Parson and his sidekick/interpreter Army Sergeant Major Sophia Gold, as they undertake their missions in war-torn Afghanistan. While this book is fiction, it is timely in that it describes, in detail, how at least one sector of the war in Afghanistan is being carried out.

The Renegades is the third installment in Tom Young’s series (following The Mullah’s Storm and Silent Enemy) detailing Parson and Gold’s experiences in Afghanistan fighting the ubiquitous Muslim extremists who find unique and ever-cruel ways to kill the American infidels. In this volume a splinter group named Black Crescent takes advantage of a horrendous earthquake to attack refugee camps and aid workers. These “renegades,” defined as those who desert one cause for another, view the Taliban as too tame. The mere wearing of a watch is sufficient reason for this group of scoundrels to eviscerate a person. While Parson and Gold are dedicated to bringing comfort and assistance to disadvantaged and often homeless residents, they are assaulted at every turn by this vicious enemy which kidnaps young Afghan boys to turn them into blind loyalist warriors or suicide bombers.

While Parson and Gold are clearly an effective team, their personal feelings toward each other are tacitly hinted at but never acted upon. “She wanted to get Parson on board and out of there immediately. Now she knew he was safe, and that was fine. But she’d feel a lot better with him strapped in beside her.” Parson is a pilot’s pilot and is present in-country as an advisor to the Afghan air force to ensure their operations are safe and professional. Since few of the Afghan air crews speak more than rudimentary English, Gold is important in carrying out this liaison mission. Additionally, since male/female interactions are strictly proscribed by the Muslim faith, Gold serves invaluably in questioning female victims as to how the insurgents carried out their atrocities and where they might have gone.

Young is an Air Force veteran and served as a flight engineer in both Iraq and Afghanistan and still serves with the West Virginia Air National Guard. His nonfiction publications include The Speed of Heat: An Airlift Wing at War in Iraq and Afghanistan, released in 2008 by McFarland and Company. His narrative, “Night Flight to Baghdad,” appeared in the Random House anthology, Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families. The current novel was written recently, with references to the killing of Osama bin Laden and the murder at a secure U.S. base of several CIA agents in Afghanistan by a Taliban double agent.

Young’s tale would be pulse-pounding in that our two protagonists go from one tight situation to another, but the pace is slowed by the plethora of military jargon laced throughout each sentence. Even though I was born and raised in the military, the acronyms and terms sprinkled (nay, deluged) throughout slow the reader’s racing through an otherwise gripping story. It is akin to Tom Clancy’s early books when he seemingly was trying to establish his military-industrial credentials, as opposed to his last dozen where the storyline carries the day.

Young is clearly intimately familiar with the rudiments of our military’s carrying out the details of our present adventure in Afghanistan, especially the modus operandi of the U.S. Air Force. On the other hand, Young can be quite lyrical: “When Allah create (sic) world, he have things left over. Mountain. Desert. Rock. All the rubbish left over from world go to make Afghanistan.” Or: “A wave of fatigue came over him; he was getting too old for this. He thought his years of military service were wearing him away like the brake discs on landing gear, a little less of him left after each mission.”

While our erstwhile heroes are both wounded in the book’s climactic final battle where they help storm the Black Crescent’s evil leader’s lair, the depiction of this fight alone is worth the price of the book. The reader is left wanting to see Young’s next work in this series.

In the last chapter, entitled “The Story Behind,” the author closes with: “But through these novels, I also wanted to convey something about the motivations and mind-sets of American servicemen and women. I hope my books do justice to their dedication, and to the expertise their work requires.” This novel does that superbly.

Gary Knight has been a writer/tutor for 14 years, following a 25-year career in lobbying and politics, and a stint as an executive editor of technical reports for nuclear waste cleanup. He served three terms on the Falls Church City Council while raising two talented daughters. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and has a graduate degree from American University. He lives on the Chesapeake Bay with his wife, Brenda, and their two orange tabbies.

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