Thomas Young’s latest novel, The Renegades is a must read for all those interested in Afghanistan. Just as in real life, he delves into how extremists in the Taliban attempt to thwart efforts by NATO forces to deliver aid to villages devastated by an earthquake. He also shows the desperation of the villagers with an intricate part of the plot that has the splinter group, Black Crescent, kidnapping young boys to fight against the NATO forces.
The plot is action packed pitting this Taliban group against American and Afghanistan troops, notably the brave rescue and air helicopter units. Young drew on his experiences as a flight engineer for the Air National Guard, having gone to Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, and Kosovo. Among his achievements was earning two Air Medals. He commented, “A buddy of mine spent time with the helicopter unit as an advisor to the Afghan Air Force. He told me he had great admiration, respect, and considered them very dedicated. I wanted to show how currently helicopters play such a large role there. It is needed because of the nature of the kinds of flying they have to do.”
The characters are interesting and very well developed. LT. Col. Michael Parson, in charge of the rescue effort, knows the nuts and bolts of the military, a street-smart military person. Sergeant Major Sophia Gold, an interpreter, is an intellectual who is philosophical and well read. Young interestingly shows this through quotes from various authors such as Dickerson and Burke as well as a verse from the Talmud. A supporting character who does not always follow the rules of engagement but whom the reader will cheer for is Gunnery Sergeant Blount. Young noted, “As I write I let the characters tell the stories. You may find this hard to believe, but from one chapter to another, I don’t know what will happen until I sit down to write. For example, the Parson and Gold characters have not told me to put them together into a romantic relationship. It would be difficult to keep putting them in these dynamic relationships if they got married.”
He seems to be editorializing to show the realistic side of the Taliban. Through his writings he leaves nothing to the reader’s imagination regarding the violent ways of the Taliban. Young wanted “to inform about the nature of the enemy as well as show the extraordinary sacrifice of American and Afghan service members. Life is doubly tough for women. This is one reason why the country should not lapse back into Taliban rule. Hopefully through the characters conscience they allow people to think about what is happening, why it is happening, and put it into context.”
He gave blackfive.net a heads up about his next novel, whose working title is The War Merchant. This book will have other settings and situations in which to put his characters. The plot surrounds a former officer in the Bosnia-Serbia army who has turned to arms dealing in order to re-start the war there.
Young uses his novels as a sounding board to “convey the experience of the modern day service men and women. I want to show the mind-set and motivation for who is the enlisted person. Why did they do it, knowing they will go into harms way.” In The Renegades he did that and a lot more with a very insightful novel.