Allah’s Fire by Chuck Holton and Gayle Roper

In the opening pages of Allah’s Fire (Task Force Valor Series), there is a quote by Agesilaus II, a great military leader of the ancient world and king of Sparta, which says, “If all men were just, there would be no need of valor.” Another way this could be stated is, ‘we go to war to fight injustice.’ In the context of this novel, injustice is terrorism and the destruction it wreaks.

Allah’s Fire features a Special Ops team specializing in explosive ordinance disposal called Task Force Valor. As bomb experts, they are called into any number of situations where explosives are a threat. Their new assignment involves Naru Allah – which literally means the “fire of God” – a new kind of explosive with catastrophic implications. When it is smuggled into a meeting with international bankers under the guise of bottled water and triggered, Task Force Valor gets the call. Master Sergeant John Cooper’s team is sent knowing little more than that the substance looks like water and is highly explosive when it comes in contact with oxygen.

Liz Fairchild is an American reporter living with her parents in Lebanon, the setting for the novel, writing about the lives of Palestinian women in the refugee camps. When a suicide bomber blows up a hotel, she is confronted with the awful news that her sister had been inside when the blast occurred. Hopeless, yet wanting hope, she spends hours at the blast site looking for some undefined thing that would tell her Julie was not really dead.

And then she finds something.

Desperate, Liz begins hunting for her sister with little care for safety. Then she stumbles into the middle of a covert military operation and becomes a complicating factor. Someone is shot and the race to stay alive while seeking Julie begins in earnest.

Chuck Holton’s background as an Airborne Ranger reveals itself in the details of this book. The habits of the team members and descriptions of equipment speak of personal familiarity while the by-the-book approach to decision making (as opposed to a Chuck Norris style independence) displays a clear representation of military procedure. These details go a long way in creating a living and breathing team of fighting men that are also human and make mistakes.

Aside from the main story of hunting for Allah’s fire and rescuing Julie, the book also discusses the plight of Palestinians living in horrible conditions in refugee camps. It suggests reasons for the motivations of some suicide bombers. The setting is conducive to these references, keeping the flow of the novel from being bogged down with discussion. The setting and currency of the story also lend a little more meaning to the story by virtue of association, given current international events.

Allah’s Fire fulfills its purpose, but it could have used more depth in areas such as the time Liz spent with the Palestinian women. It comes across feeling a bit too much like filler information for Liz’s background. A richer treatment might have added some resonance to the struggles of these women. As it is, I expect that some of the limitations come from the fact that the authors wanted to focus on the main story elements, yet I believe this would have connected beautifully as an undercurrent to everything going on in the novel.

All in all, the novel was an easy read and a chance at a military adventure story without the common prerequisite of bad language.

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