Wynne’s War by Aaron Gwyn is both a western and a war story. It captures the essence of close combat while showing how Special Forces in Afghanistan have used horses. In fact, it conjures up memories of when President Obama wrongly said during the 2012 Presidential debate that horses are no longer used. This tale takes the reader on a journey with the feeling that they are the ones in the saddle.
Gwyn writes within a distinct format since there are only four chapters/sections in the entire book. The first part discusses the character’s experiences in Iraq; the second part his time on a military base in Eastern Afghanistan; the mission is the third part; and the final part is more of an epilogue, although it is a bit rushed and leaves the reader wondering too much. The author noted to blackfive.net, “I have friends and family in the Special Operations community. Some of them use horses for reconnaissance, and told me we have been using horses in Afghanistan since 2001. This gave me the idea to write a modern day western combined with a war story.”
The plot begins in Iraq when Corporal Elijah Russell risks his life to save an Arabian horse. The episode winds up on YouTube where it comes to the attention of a commander in Afghanistan, Green Beret Captain Carson Wynne. He is able to have Russell transferred to his unit and assigns him to train horses for a secret mission. It is during the mission that Russell sees Wynne as someone who does not believe in fighting a war to tie or lose. The Captain is through with political negotiations and political correctness. Instead he has the mentality of not an eye for an eye, but two eyes for an eye, an escalating of violence for every torturous action taken by the enemy.
The torture scenes in the book are graphic and realistic. Gwyn describes in the novel how the Afghan way is through “castration or disembowelment, followed by decapitation,” and “Rape, torture: these are our enemy’s weapons. Like a rifle or grenade.” He stated, “I actually had to tone it down because it is more brutal than I described. Much more ruthless in real life.”
Besides the action scenes there are a number of passages discussing horses and their training. These horse scenes are very detailed, allowing the reader to gain insight into the author’s and his character, Russell, Oklahoma upbringing on a cattle ranch, both being raised by their grandparents. Gwyn commented to blackfive.net that he used the famous horse trainer Ray Hunt, also known as the Horse Whisper, as a model for Russell. “Since Hunt is the father of natural horsemanship and was very influential is the western riding world I wanted Russell to have that persona. I hoped to show that the best way to train a horse is to the make the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy for the horse. In other words, to always give a positive experience. The horse and the rider eventually are collaborative.”
Wynne’s War is a novel about horses, the relationship between horses and man, and about men and horses at war. It explores the question of when orders should be followed, especially by someone who might not believe in the mission or trust the person issuing the orders. Anyone who wants a story involving war, horses, and decisions made under stress should read this novel.