5 Star Reviews

Book Review (5 Stars) – Spoils, by Brian Van Reet


It is the spring of 2003 and coalition forces are advancing on Iraq. Images of a giant statue of Saddam Hussein crashing to the ground in Baghdad are being beamed to news channels around the world. Nineteen-year-old Specialist Cassandra Wigheard, on her first deployment since joining the US army two years earlier, is primed for war.

For Abu al-Hool, a jihadist since the days of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, war is wearing thin. Two decades of fighting – and the new wave of super-radicalised fighters joining the ranks in the wake of the September 11 attacks – have left him questioning his commitment to the struggle.

When Cassandra is taken prisoner by al-Hool’s mujahideen brotherhood, both fighters will find their loyalties tested to the very limits.

This fast-paced, hard-hitting account of eight weeks in the lives of a soldier and her captor forces us to reconsider the simplistic narratives of war spun by those in power. With its privileged insight into the reality of armed combat, Spoils shines a light on the uncertainty, fear and idealism that characterised the early days of one of the most important conflicts of our time.


My Review:

Spoils is both fast-paced and hard to put down. This story covers eight weeks during the early stages of the war in Iraq in 2003. It is written from three points of view, but I mostly connected with young female American soldier, Specialist Cassandra Wigheard and a Jihadist called Abu al-Hool.

Be warned, this is not a light read. I don’t use the word hate very often, but I hate war and terrorism. I used to love horror novels, but they rarely scare me these days. Terrorism, however, is very much my horror equivalent these days, as it seems to get deep within me and plays on my fears. It actually gives me nightmares. So why did I choose to read this novel, I hear you ask. I just can’t help searching for an answer to make sense of all this mindless violence and seemingly pointless bloodshed, even if that is within the pages of a novel. I wish it would all go away and peace could prevail, but I fear it will just continue until the human race destroys itself.

This novel, although hard-hitting, is very well written and doesn’t sensationalise violence. It feels unnervingly real, truthful and terrifying. The characters are well developed on both sides, enabling you to see there isn’t a clear line between good and bad, right or wrong. It feels like we’re all losers in this. I read this book with a heavy heart and feel rather emotionally drained and a little bit traumatised now that I’ve finished it.

This is a great book that I highly recommend. I’m not usually very good at recommending other similar books, but as I read so few war books, if you enjoyed this, I can recommend Real Monsters, by Liam Brown, as I loved that book, and it made it into my Top Ten Books read in 2015.

5 Stars


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