Published by: Berkley
Release Date: May 7, 2013
The Mullah’s Storm and Silent Enemy, Tom Young’s first two novels based on his own military background, received enormous praise. The Renegades shows this author at the height of his talents; it’s a story filled with remarkable adventure and a bone-deep understanding of the men and women in Afghanistan: Americans, Afghans, military and civilian alike.
A major earthquake ravages Afghanistan, and American troops rush to deliver aid, among them Afghan Air Force adviser Lieutenant Colonel Michael Parson, and his interpreter, Sergeant Major Sophia Gold. The devastation facing them is like nothing they’ve ever seen, however – and it’s about to get worse.
A Taliban splinter group, Black Crescent, is conducting its own campaign – shooting medical workers, downing helicopters, slaughtering anyone who dares to accept aid. With the U.S. drawing down and coalition forces spread thin, it is up to Parson, Gold, and Parson’s Afghan aircrews to try to figure out how to strike back. But they’re short of supplies, men, experience, and information, and meanwhile the terrorists are nowhere…and everywhere.
National Public Radio calls The Renegades “a brutal, true-to-life novel about war in Afghanistan.”
“Young’s precise, evocative prose brings a far-off war into sharp-edge focus while honoring the heroic servicemen and women who fight against extraordinary odds.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Featuring well-drawn characters, natural dialogue, and a story that’s both timely and frighteningly plausible, the novel should work for readers of Dale Brown or Larry Bond, although it must be noted that Young is a smoother, more accessible writer than either Brown or Bond: his characters feel more like real people, and his prose style is much more pleasing to the eye. Young is still an up-and-comer, but it shouldn’t be long before he’s one of the guys other up-and comers are compared to.”
“Real-life experience translated into page-turning fiction.”
“A brutal, true-to-life novel about war in Afghanistan.”
—National Public Radio, listen to the review
“Young plunges the reader right into the thick of the Afghan conflict.”
An “extremely well-written” novel that “revolves around two people who are trying hard to do the right thing under incredibly brutal conditions.”
I discussed The Renegades with host Bill Thompson in an “Eye on Books” interview. Please click here for a link to listen.
Q & A
1. Although your own military experience with the Air National Guard over the years places you in the aviation realm, the majority of the action in The Renegades takes place on the ground in Afghanistan–and does so most persuasively. Did you find that setting presented you with a more challenging story to tell as a writer, versus that of your previous novel, Silent Enemy, which took place almost entirely in the air?
The setting of The Renegades gave me an opportunity to learn more about other branches of the military, and about other specialties within the Air Force. For Silent Enemy, I relied on my own flight training and experience. For my debut novel, The Mullah’s Storm, I fell back on my survival training.
But for the new book, I had to reach out. For example, I interviewed a squadron mate who–like Michael Parson in The Renegades–served as an adviser to the Afghan Air Force. He lived and worked for a year with Afghan aviators, helping train them, flying with them on missions, and getting to know them. My buddy came home with tremendous respect for Afghan flight crews, who serve their country at great risk to themselves.
I also visited the 920th Rescue Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, to learn more about rescue operations. One of the characters in The Renegades is a pararescueman, and I spent a day meeting with real-life pararescuemen, talking with them about their jobs, their equipment and procedures, and their experiences in Afghanistan.
Oddly enough, the only thing from my own experience that I used for a specific scene in The Renegades came into play in the prologue, when Sergeant Gold parachutes into a tree. Though I have never made parachute jumps in the military, I have skydived as a civilian. On one jump, I came down in a tree. And I still have the scar to prove it.
2. The intriguing relationship between your primary characters, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Parson and Sergeant Major Sophia Gold, takes a few steps forward in this book, but they still manage to keep matters on an entirely professional level–or almost entirely. Do you get feedback from your readers asking for you to help them move things along a bit more briskly, given their obvious affection for each other? Do you have a long-term (unclassified) plan for Parson and Gold?
Some readers say, “You have to get them together sooner or later!” Others say, “No; that would ruin everything!” I honestly don’t know where that relationship is going. To a certain extent, I let my characters tell me what they want to do. And Parson and Gold haven’t yet told me what they want.
3. The details you provide in The Renegades about military tactics and strategy, chain of command protocols and the evolution of equipment used in the field feel quite authentic, but it must be said that some of the most harrowing moments in the story occur as you are detailing the various injuries a number of the characters receive as a result of combat. How did you research this aspect of the book to make it sound so authoritative? It must have felt pretty harrowing for you, too.
My unit, the 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard, includes a section dedicated to aeromedical evacuation: flight nurses and flight medics who treat and transport the wounded. I remain in awe of those medical professionals and angels of mercy. They have saved lives and eased suffering since 9/11, and they have provided inspiration and information for my writing. Whenever I have a medical question, I usually e-mail one of my aeromed buddies, and they help keep me straight on the details.
As an aircrew member, I’ve flown a few aeromed missions. On those flights I saw part of the awful cost of war, and the toll it takes on our troops.
I have especially vivid memories of a medical flight on which I flew as a passenger. At Ramstein Air Base, Germany, a couple of years ago, I hopped a ride home on a C-17 carrying wounded out of Iraq. For eight hours, I sat across from a man half my age who had suffered grave injuries in a roadside bomb explosion. A special intensive-care medical team watched over him as he lay on a stretcher, hooked up to all kinds of monitoring equipment. During the entire flight, he never moved or opened his eyes.
In the months and years since, I have often thought of that wounded soldier. Did he survive? Could he live a normal life? Why did I get to sit there perfectly healthy as he fought for his life?
I wish every politician and every voter, regardless of political persuasion, could have ridden with me on that flight.
4. One of the most colorful characters you have ever created has to be Gunnery Sergeant Blount, the gentle giant who turns out to be not so gentle in the book’s climactic battle. It had to have been especially engaging for you as you created his scenes and developed his personality. He leaves a large impression!
Blount began as a very minor character. I had no idea he would loom as large as he did–pun intended. But as I write, I let the characters tell their stories. You may find this hard to believe, but from one chapter to another, I don’t know what will happen until I sit down to write. It’s like I’m not even in complete control of the story–as if it’s coming from somewhere else.
Characters take on lives of their own, and Gunnery Sergeant Blount came alive on the page in ways I did not expect. But when he did, I had a lot of fun with that character. Blount is a 290-pound Marine and martial arts expert, vastly different from me both physically and professionally. But in many ways, I could relate to him. Like me, he is a native of the South who has often found himself far, far from home.
5. Another striking aspect of The Renegades is the collaboration we find among the various branches of the armed services, with Air Force, Army and Marine units all combining to engage the enemy in Afghanistan. You touch on this briefly in your afterword, but do you find this to be a trend becoming more common in all of today’s theaters of action?
In the modern military, you often hear the phrase, “One team, one fight.” Commanders try to leverage the various strengths of different services. Over the years, the U.S. Armed Forces have learned the folly of interservice rivalry. The different branches now coordinate routinely.
Not only does that create a more efficient military; it creates a better story. I get to introduce fascinating characters like Gunnery Sergeant Blount!
Backstory: The Story Behind The Renegades
Michael Parson has had some rough missions. In my first novel, The Mullah’s Storm, he evaded capture in the midst of a blizzard while holding onto a Taliban prisoner. In Silent Enemy, he flew a doomed aircraft more than halfway around the world. And in The Renegades, he and his partner, Sergeant Major Sophia Gold, battle a violent Islamist splinter group.
On these missions, Parson has held different jobs. He began his fictitious career as an Air Force navigator, then cross-trained to pilot, and now appears as an adviser to the Afghan military. Some may think I’ve used artistic license to put him in these varied roles. However, Parson has taken a fairly realistic career path for an aviator and officer.
Even from a thousand feet in the air, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Parson could see the earthquake had shaken Afghanistan to a new level of misery. The slums of Mazar-e-Sharif stretched below the Mi-17 helicopter like a vast, disturbed hive. People milled in the streets. Black columns of smoke seethed into the sky above a city of collapsed ceilings and crumpled walls. An untold number lay dead or dying beneath the rubble.