4 out of 4 stars
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In Ramrod by Steven Athanas, Maxwell Hugo finds himself back in a war zone as an aviation contractor, after replying to a job advertisement. Years have passed and his idealism has waned. The complexities of war, however, are still the same. He is teamed up with a troublesome team of former Soviet pilots whose professionalism is questionable. The Taliban are relentless and ruthless and the locals are not friendly. Hugo tries to balance between NATO officers’ demands and an employer’s actions that are focused on reducing expenses. This becomes a dangerous task while combined with the provision of leadership to a team with communication hurdles and whose members have an unquenchable thirst for alcohol.
Told with subtle humor, Ramrod is both engaging and entertaining. I liked that the dialogues are funny and they reveal the characters’ attitudes. They also portray the conflict that aviation contractors have to deal with while trying to please both their employer and the customer. In the story, Hugo serves as an observer and even though he does not explicitly state his thoughts in the conversations, his hidden opinions of the characters are included which makes the book even more entertaining.
I also liked that the characters appear real. Athanas does not sugar-coat situations and more importantly, he does not try to paint an idealistic picture of war. As someone who has witnessed similar circumstances as those in the book, the author’s experience comes in handy in shaping a real and relatable story. In the book, the team members in Hugo’s group have flaws that comprise the team’s efficiency. The circumstances reflect real issues which make the plot unpredictable. This made me even more curious to see how the team would manage to carry out their missions. I was also eager to learn about Hugo’s tactics in leading his problematic team.
The Afghans’ culture also features in the book. This is another aspect of the book which I appreciated since it adds to the story’s authenticity. Athanas includes details of the people’s attitude and struggles. He provides details of what living in a war zone is like. Editing of the book is also done expertly and I did not identify any errors. I only wish the book would have included more action scenes.
Ramrod by Steven Athanas is an entertaining and eye-opening read. It is suitable for readers who are interested in reading about the true dynamics of a war zone environment and the different parties involved. Readers with an idealistic perception on war may not enjoy this book. I rate it 4 out of 4 stars.
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