Boots on the Ground by Angela Stone
Blurb: Ash Cooper and Jason McCarty know they need to do one thing, and one thing alone: stay alive.
An IED attack destroyed their convoy and left them both injured in the high desert of Afghanistan and running from insurgents. They take refuge with a group of Afghan civilians, and their only hope of rescue is two satellite phones that might be damaged beyond repair.
Ash and Jason join forces with a British army nurse to survive the harsh living conditions. As days to turn to weeks, they think of home, the husbands they left behind, and the lives they want to return to.
But with food rations running short, the elders angry at them, and the hope of rescue lost, Ash and Jason start to give up, and in the end turn to each other in their struggle for survival.
Review: How cliché is it to say I love a man in uniform? Meh, don’t really care, as long as they come in the form of Ash Cooper and Jason McCarty, two heroic men who have different reasons to enlist in CivPol, or Civilian Police who are tasked with teaching police forces in Afghanistan. Their job is simple…on paper. In reality, it’s anything but.
Stone gives us a well-researched look at the toll of war from the point of view of two men who are MIA after an IED destroys their convoy. I’ve had friends in the desert, relatives in conflicts dating back to the first world war, and I have never felt what they went through. This book did that for me, putting me in these soldiers’ shoes and giving me a firsthand glimpse of the fear, hope, and honor that makes up the hearts of these heroes.
Forced to seek shelter with locals whose customs greatly vary from their own, Ash and Jason know that if the fact that they’re both married to men back home is found out, they’re as good as dead. Given that they’d have gone home in three weeks–Ash to his husband Matthew and the baby Matthew’s sister is carrying for them due to be born any time and Jason to David, the man he married just three days prior to his deployment–their disappearance couldn’t have come at a worse time.
But for Karen Mullen, a British military nurse MIA for more than a year, they are her last hope. When she joined the locals in the caves to escape insurgents after her own convoy was attacked, she was forced to abide by their customs, including marriage to a man within the group, a man who is increasingly abusive at her failure to bear him a child. Women are property, and with no equipment or resources to make an escape, Karen’s hope diminished to near non-existence. When Ash and Jason are rescued by the locals and taken into the caves carrying two damaged satellite phones, she sees a chance at rescue when she’d nearly resigned herself to a lifetime with a man she didn’t love among people she would never understand.
With more riding on their shoulders with every passing day, Ash and Jason have to get the phones working with few supplies, little knowledge of electronics, and dwindling hope as the weeks pass and the search for them is likely called off. Their captivity, while not at the hands of enemy insurgents, is still fraught with danger. Rations are dwindling and with each passing day, the cave inhabitants’ tolerance of them wanes.
With only each other to rely on, their rescue becomes their mission, and with unexpected help, they manage a garbled call to an emergency number requesting extraction. From the lows of captivity, the restlessness and hopelessness of days turning to weeks, to the highs of being rescued and returned to their loved ones, Ash and Jason have to reconcile what’s happened to them, their families’ reactions, and the clash of their ‘regular’ lives with what they’ve endured.
The pacing of the book is well done, flipping from dark caves and hopelessness to the memories that sustain them, painting a picture of who Ash and Jason are layer by layer, so that when their rescue happens, we can feel their jubilation mixed with fear at not only going back to their lives, but doing so without each other. While they don’t feel romantic love for each other despite a few moments of comfort, Stone has made it clear just how deep their bond goes. When someone has your back in the worst of circumstances, how do you face the world without that person at your six, covering you from whatever’s out there?
Reintegrating into their everyday lives, while something they’d longed for in the caves of their captivity, proves daunting and ultimately one of the hardest things both Jason and Ash have ever had to do. These characters touched me, had me fearing for them and hoping with them, and in the end, I was glad to see that the toll of war wasn’t simply wiped away with a plane ride home. It’s a realistic look at what our men and women in uniform must reconcile when they return from the dangers they face as members of the military.
This book #2 of the Canada’s Finest series, and while I haven’t read book 1, (something I’ll rectify when the holiday craziness slows), I highly recommend this book at the very least. The story continues with more psychological ramifications facing them, and I’ll definitely be interested to see what happens to Ash and Matthew and Jason and David. Despite several editing snafus, the story was worth overlooking them. Anyone with a loved one serving their country would do well to read this book.