I've only read a handful of politically-charged military thrillers, but I think it safe to conclude that many function from similar starting points. Author Vince Flynn gets great mileage out of his "Mitch Rapp" character, while W.E.B. Griffin charts similar territory with his "Presidential Agent" series. Tom Clancy serves up his "Jack Ryan" novels, and, for the masses, a handful of writers have written "24/Jack Bauer" tales worth a quick read. Each of these franchises offers the reader tech-driven, combat-ready intrigue with a backdrop of international locales and villains.
What distinguishes R. Harper Mason's THE WARLORD'S DAUGHTER is that his central character - Special Forces (SF) Sergeant Josh Martin - appears with a bit more of an everyman's appeal. He's the average Joe, someone the reader can quickly & easily identify with. He's a military grunt who's advanced his career by employing his own quick smarts to make a difference when results matter. This isn't to say that he's not as deadly in hand-to-hand combat as the next veteran soldier. He is, but he's developed his skills more on the front end of engagements by strategic planning to increase everyone's operational effectiveness.
In the novel's beginning, Martin finds his skills rewarded by being given the chance, as a reservist, to train others on how to handle SF ops with greater efficiency. But his reward is only temporary as he's soon recalled to active duty in the field and sent to Afghanistan, where a U.S. ally - the CIA-funded General Shair al-Masoud - is struggling to produce results in his own personal campaigns against the enemy. Once there, Martin's background draws the attention of Colonel Robert Carson, who quickly assigns the young trainer to al-Masoud's compound. His task? Martin is use is skills to enhance the effectiveness of al-Masoud's 70-man task force in the war raging against the Taliban.
As Martin quickly discovers, the Taliban isn't the only `enemy' al-Masoud's fighting. He's the father of a very rebellious daughter - Nafisa - who has been refusing to wear the proper ceremonial clothing befitting her family's heritage. Also, she's flatly refused to accept the terms of her father's arranged marriage to the son of al-Masoud's mortal enemy. In Nafisa, Martin finds a kindred spirit - someone who like himself lives more than a bit at odds with the circumstances of his own life - and, though he knows better, he finds himself falling in love with the warlord's daughter.
Therein lies the greatest difference I found in Mason's military thriller when I compare it to the few others I've read: the central theme here is a love story, not a war story. Don't get me wrong: while the 500+ pages are ripe with action, death, duplicity & mortal combat, Mason has told a story about two kindred spirits - Martin and Nafisa - and the obstacles they face, together & separately, while trying to find some path to happiness against the drama of their forbidden love. It's ROMEO & JULIET by way of the "War on Terror." Culturally, these soul mates can never unite. While it seems that the universe at large is conspiring to keep the lovers apart, they're both destined to find some way - however big or small - to make their love real and lasting.
Also, Mason tells this unique story with the aid of his own son, Richard A. Mason, a U.S. Special Forces soldier who recently served in Afghanistan. This proves a tremendous strength to the novel because, with this added perspective, the entire tale - the narrative, the adventure, the people, the places, the culture - are all elevated from a greater sense of authenticity. The younger Mason brings to the tale a sense of reality; he aides in providing greater context to the complex relationships between warring religious factions in a part of the world that very few truly understand. I've no doubt that some of the action of the piece is based on firsthand experiences, and, as is always the case when dealing with narratives provided by veteran soldiers, I'm truly in awe of the dangers they face, the places they go, and the things they do on behalf of our country.
This is a much different outing than the senior Mason's previous work I've read - the `Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn' style shenanigans featured in LYIN' LIKE A DOG. For that reason alone, I wasn't entirely certain of what to expect, but I'm pleased to say that I came away from THE WARLORD'S DAUGHTER being equally impressed with the author's ability to handle an entirely different world - one with what could have been a treacherously depressing affair given the way love & war rarely if ever go hand-in-hand. Mason's a skilled author; he weaves comfortably between Martin's and Nafisa's perspectives (though there were times early on when I struggled with Nafisa's motivations, despite her circumstances), bringing it all together with an unanticipated pulse-pounding climax. (The last quarter of the book reads with the fluidity of a great movie thriller, if any movie producer is reading.)
Lastly, the novel has a handful of editing errors - missing punctuation marks, a few awkward sentence breaks - that broke up the narrative at times for me. They're a small distraction - certainly a very small distraction given the size and scope of the work - but I felt it prudent to mention them for posterity.
(In the interest of fairness, I'm happy to disclose that R. Harper Mason provided me with a complimentary copy of his latest novel for the purposes of this review.)
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