Thursday, 16 August 2018

The Azrael Initiative

Best friends Kayla Falk, an engineering student, and Olivia Bellamy, who is studying nursing, are nearing the end of their college career when terrorists attack their university. Through a combination of cleverness, bravery, and luck, the two manage to foil the deadly plot. A mysterious man from the United States government, Mr. Hightower, sees their potential and attempts to recruit Kayla and Olivia for a program to take on ISIS. They initially refuse, but another terrorist attack that strikes close to home pushes them to change their minds and join the Azrael Initiative.

After several months of hard training, the two women are dropped into Al-Raqqah, the capital of ISIS, in Syria. Once there, they must blend in with the locals as they strike from the shadows to kill ISIS leaders, destroy their facilities, and free captives. As Americans deep within enemy territory, they know that they will be killed if discovered. As women, they also know that they would suffer before death. Walking the line between vengeance and justice strains their relationship. As they work to resolve their differences, the symphony of brutality around them ultimately pushes them closer together and forges them into the warriors that they were meant to become.

Read the first three chapters of The Azrael Initiative.

The Azrael Initiative isn't my usual read. I like a bit of fantasy YA and a bit of contemporary YA, but this book falls somewhere in between. It's certainly not fantasy, but it's not exactly contemporary either. Even so, I ended up really enjoying it. The writing style and overly simplistic plot weren't to my tastes (more on that below!) but I loved the strong friendship between Kayla and Olivia that was at the heart of this novel. After a bit of a slow start, the story gets its hooks into you. There are some sections (no spoilers here!) that really hit hard. Both girls are well written and their friendship was the bedrock of the story. Families don't get enough of a look in in a lot of YA books, so the girls' close bond with their families and each others was touching. The book also correctly (imo) posits that family isn't always blood and real family is the people you choose to surround yourself with.

The author deserves kudos for having the nerve to tackle such a thorny subject. It would have been easier to set the book in an alternate world or create a fictional enemy but he didn't take the easy road and I do admire that. However this caused a bit of an issue for me. Kayla and Olivia are basically recruited as child soliders and trained/brainwashed to blindly attack the enemy they're pointed at. Kind of like ISIS then? The problem is, they're guilty of exactly the same thing they're trying to prevent. Their own overseer outright states that "our agents will work to instill fear in ISIS using any means necessary." So, become terrorsits themselves? Kayla deals with terrorists killing her family by going out and killing terrorists, who presumably have families of their own. It's all very black and white, but this story really would have benefited from some shades of grey. One particular scene in which Kayla brutally stabs a suspected terrorist to death before remarking that people "like him" remind her of the people that killed her family, while straddling his still warm corpse, is staggeringly tone deaf.

This book definitely would have benefited from a stricter edit. There are countless surplus paragraphs and information that add nothing to the story that really should have been cut. On the whole though, this book was an entertaining read. Although the execution of the morally complex story wasn't faultless, I admire the author for not taking the easy road and I absolutely loved the strong female friendship between Kayla and Olivia.

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About the Author

K lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he works as a software developer. In his spare time, when he isn’t writing, he enjoys reading, working out, playing video games, and spending time with his wonderful fiancee, Bobbi. Some of his favorite authors are Tom Clancy, George R. R. Martin, and Sarah Maas.

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