An Air Force pilot crashes in Afghanistan, and a team that includes his brother is sent to rescue him.
An elite squad of five soldiers is on a reconnaissance mission in the Afghan hinterlands when trouble strikes. Betrayed by their local guide, they’re led into an ambush, and, overwhelmed, they call for air support. While the team—code-named Polaris—manages to extricate themselves from danger, the Air Force pilot sent to rescue them, Capt. Josiah McCoy, is shot down by enemy fire. Air Force pararescue jumpers are dispatched to extract the downed pilot, but the two helicopters transporting them take heavy fire, and one of them is destroyed, the action described with terrifying vividness by debut author Guerra. Now, the remaining PJs join forces with Polaris, and the nine soldiers search for McCoy, braving subzero temperatures and formidable mountain terrain. In a dramatic twist, the leader of the PJs is Aiden McCoy, the pilot’s brother. The author makes their relationship the emotional spine of the plot, and the novel is dotted with flashbacks to their childhood together and the formative experiences that brought them to military service in the Middle East. Guerra maintains a third-person narrative throughout the novel but shifts the principal perspective frequently, capturing the action through Josiah’s or Aiden’s eyes or even from the perch of the general under whose command Polaris operates, crafting a richly synoptic peek into a military operation. Guerra’s knowledge of combat operations is noteworthy—his account of troop movements, chains of command, and even the equipment creates an atmosphere of authenticity. The violence erupts with extraordinary narrative force. And in plain but powerful prose, the author depicts the fleeting opportunity soldiers have in the field for meaningful introspection and the practical necessity to absorb trauma quickly: “Aiden realized he was referring to the guy he’d killed. He hadn’t given the matter a second thought; he was solely concerned with Josiah. He reflected on it for a half-second, and then shelved it away forever.”
A grippingly realistic rendering of military combat.