Dear Ms. Levine:
I was encouraged to read this by others in the blogosphere although Angela James was the first to bring it to my attention. The reason to read this book is for the raw and gritty emotion. For some, however, the rough writing, the choppy and often unbelievable segues will be too frustrating.
Rocco Silas has returned from the war a broken man. For years, Rocco had served our country pretending to be an Aghani, ingratiating himself with a tribal chief and eventually marrying the chief’s daughter and having a son with her. But it all went awry and Rocco lost his wife, his son, and his sanity.
A member of his elite Red Team sends Rocco to Mandy Fielding who is opening a therapeutic ranch. Mandy opens her house to Rocco at the request of her brother. Rocco justifies complying with this request when Mandy’s brother indicates that Mandy might be in danger and because Rocco wants to heal just enough to exact revenge. He’s convinced that his son may still be alive, somewhere in Afghanistan.
The first half of the book focuses on Rocco’s near crippling PTSD. He has intense flashbacks, particularly in noisy places. Every day is a struggle for him to just wake up, eat, and put one foot in front of the other. He contemplates suicide. When he sleeps, he dreams of terrifying explosions. He sometimes hallucinates during the day, believing he is covered in decayed flesh.
While the story does not stint in showing the trauma, the recovery portrayal was much less satisfying. Rocco’s recovery appeared to consist of riding around the ranch, forced meals with Mandy, and then, of course, sex. There were a few things that I didn’t understand. Once scene had Mandy taking Rocco to a bar despite her knowledge he doesn’t like to be touched, is easily disoriented in crowds and sensitive to noise. It particularly made no sense given that Mandy is supposed to be this super sensitive person. She has a way with animals and people, hence the therapeutic horse ranch.
When Mandy and Rocco have sex after an emotional breakdown of Rocco’s I wonder at the use of sex as a treatment issue. Is Rocco really ready to have sex with Mandy? What does Mandy, as a therapist, think of this?
Most of the story was told from Rocco’s point of view and Mandy remains somewhat of a mystery. When we did get her point of view, her thoughts were focused outward, on the ranch, on Rocco. Very little of it was internally directed about how she felt getting involved with Rocco, how she felt about the land, how she felt about her dreams.
About mid way through the book, a romantic suspense subplot took over. Danger on the ranch is the result of a local terrorist cell. Mandy’s brother leads a team of military personnel to combat these terrorists. The military / brotherhood aspect overtakes the drama of the PTSD and the slow and tender romance that developed between Mandy and Rocco. When all the team members were introduced, I felt bewildered like Mandy did as she struggled to remember faces and names. Not every romance in a multi book series needs to be set up in the first book.
One thing that wasn’t really addressed was a dehumanization of Muslims, as if they were nobodies undeserving of respect. Rocco infiltrates an Afghan tribe, romances the tribal leader’s daughter and marries her. His thoughts toward his Afghan wife, an innocent, were really troubling. He deceived a woman, took advantage of her, impregnated her twice. Yet he did not want to have sex with her more than he had to and admits that he was cool and lacked affection toward her during their time together. I wasn’t sure if we were told this so we could buy into Rocco’s deep love for Mandy, as if he would have lost his hero card if he had tender feelings toward another woman, particularly an Afghani.
When Mandy is told of this she has no reaction. Rocco’s actions were despicable and on some level given his self hatred, Rocco appeared to acknowledge this. But Mandy seems unaffected. I wished she had some response to it, some voicing that what Rocco did wasn’t heroic or great and that the war asks people to do despicable and awful things and that those actions have serious repercussions.
Despite the length of the book, the emotional straits Rocco presented were compelling and because of that I’m on board to read another book in the Red Team series in hopes that the rough edges are smoothed out. C