Ray McPadden * Center Street * November 6, 2018 * 288 Pages
Danny Shane is fighting in Afghanistan for the first time. He’s the greenest man in the Newt Platoon, a group of roughly 40 soldiers sent to track down and kill a crafty and elusive man known as The Egyptian. Shane has a lot to prove—especially to his squad leader, Sergeant Nick Burch—but he’s determined to show he has the guts and smarts to be a good soldier.
When Burch takes Shane under his wing, Shane welcomes the opportunity to learn and grow, even if it means putting himself in risky situations. Over time, Shane becomes a stronger, more seasoned fighter. But as the men continue to pursue The Egyptian, it’s clear that they are pushing themselves to their mental and physical limits. Mistakes are made, and even Shane can see that the platoon’s lucky juju won’t last forever. As the enemy gets stronger, Shane can’t help but wonder if he’ll keep it together long enough to make it home.
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This book gets off to a slow start. Author Ray McPadden is very good at creating the atmosphere of war, but not as effective with character development. It takes 100+ pages for Shane and Burch to really come alive, but at least they eventually do. I especially enjoyed seeing Shane develop as a soldier and man over the course of his deployment.
The best thing this book has going for it, though, is the description of the war itself, told from the perspectives of soldiers on both sides. We come to understand their motivations for fighting, and we watch the full gamut of their emotions play out over time: boredom, intensity, loss, fear, excitement, frustration, hopelessness, and confusion. This is not an uplifting read, and (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) the ending is dismal. But, as a whole, the book feels authentic and honest, unapologetic and raw—even if some of the plot points toward the end are a touch melodramatic and preachy.
Once you stop trying to live forever, it all opens up.
Ultimately, I liked And the Whole Mountain Burned. I wish the characters were stronger and more well-developed from the start, but by the time I got halfway through the book, I couldn’t put it down.
Big thank you to Center Street and Amazon Vine for the Advanced Reader Copy!