Taking Fire: A First Responder Novel

234 pages
14 July 2014
“Everyone knew the consequences of breaking the unwritten rules: never discuss the danger of going outside the wire, never brag about the girl waiting back home, never count the days until the end of tour. If you did, you might mistake that buried IED for a rock, or log on to the Dear John email, or get the last-minute change in your separation orders.”
Taking Fire by Radclyffe

Right before I was to attend the Bold Stroke Books (BSB) Festival in Nottingham, England, I realized that I had only read two books from the publisher (Secret Lies by Amy Dunne and Swons and Klons by Nora Olsen). I decided to see if there were any books from BSB that sounded interesting and read them before I attended the festival (for my second year). I stumbled across Taking Fire: A First Responders Novel by Radclyffe, and was able to immediately read the first three chapters (here is the link where you can access this). It really grabbed me and I requested a Net Galley, and was able to finish it before the festival.

Taking Fire tells the story of Max de Milles and Rachel Winslow who meet in a hail of gunfire. Max is a Navy medic and is within a few days of ending her second tour where she will be able to return to her empty life in New York. However, she is called into a mission to evacuate a Red Cross group in Somalia, with special interest in evacuating Rachel. Rachel is working with the Red Cross, and her father has some connections that might put her at risk. Rebels attack the Red Cross camp just as the Navy helicopters arrive, and Rachel refuses to leave her team. This causes Rachel, Max, another aid worker, and a wounded soldier to be left behind in the ruined camp, never sure when the rebels will return. Now it is up to Max to keep them safe until the Navy is able to return. Can Rachel and Max deal with their growing attraction and keep everyone alive until help arrives? And if help arrives, why was the evacuation ordered before the rebels even attacked?

When I requested this book from NetGalley, I requested another similar book from the same publisher. I thought going into the books that this one would be the one I liked better, but sadly that was not the case. It was decent, but it was a lot different from what I had imagined from the book description and it really lost steam for me at the halfway point. I was expecting Max and Rachel to be the only ones in the jungle, to be fighting their way back, and that plot would take most of the book. Instead, there were two other people and they hunker down for one day until the rescue comes, which is the first half of the book. I probably would have been more receptive to the story if the summary had been closer to what actually happened.

The best part of the whole book for me was Max; she was amazing. She is extremely flawed, but wonderfully strong, and within her exist so many dichotomous parts. She is a medic, but also has to shoot and kill to do her job. She cares for others, even beyond her medical skills, but lives in a very isolated way. Her ability to take charge when the four of them are left behind was amazing and really fun to read. The stubbornness in her and her willingness to put everyone else before herself really made you fall for her.

On the other hand, Rachel was still mostly an enigma by the end for me. Like Max realizes about Rachel, is that it is hard to tell who is real, the woman from the jungle or the one from high society. She was likeable, and her willingness to adapt to the situation was enjoyable, especially when she had to take up guard duty with the gun. However, her stubbornness, which was matched by Max’s, came across as a little grating as it interfered with Max’s ability to keep them safe. Although, I did respect her for being very open about what and who she wants. Max noted that she had the “eyes of a woman who knew what she wanted.

For me the romance didn’t really work, but this may be due to the fact that I am never a huge fan of romance. The attraction between the two women was obvious from shortly after they met at the opposite ends of a gun. However, I found some of the moments in the jungle where their attraction and lust start to win out a bit jarring and off-putting for me. My preference is for a slow build of chemistry, where as they were both much more lust lead. They do have a nice sense of humor between them. For example, “‘We don’t have time for a long engagement.’ ‘Well, I’m not ready to elope.’” However, by the end of the book, I wasn’t as invested in their relationship and I wasn’t really cheering for them (not that I wanted them to separate, I just didn’t really care).

Grif, the wounded soldier, and Amina the other aid worker were some other good background characters. Grif was hilarious, even though he was unconscious for much of the book. For example, his worry about his wound, “What about my balls?” which brought out the best in Max, “Trust me, your balls are my utmost concern.” Even though Max seems to be a loner, and tries to keep a distance from the other sailors (as Max makes it clear she is in the Navy, and therefore not a solider), it is clear that Grif likes her and respects her. There is a nice camaraderie between them and a loyalty. Amina was interesting in that she was a very strong character without ever turning into Rambo or a solider like Rachel sort of does. Instead she watches over Grif and helps where she is needed. I wish there was a little more of both of them in the story.

One of the more interesting aspects of the book is the modern warfare. This is the first book that I have read with modern warfare as a main plot point. It is a completely different style of warfare than in previous decades and centuries, and the interactions are different. Max and her advice to Rachel help make it clear how psychologically jarring this style of war is. There were some really moving parts that Radclyffe wrote about war and how people deal with surviving. Max has to deal with the fact that bullets are fired randomly and there is no rhyme or reason on who is barely scratched and who is killed. Below is one of my favorite quotes from the story.

“The way she said it, as if for her life and death were indistinguishable, chilled Rachel’s heart. Was this what war did, crushed emotions, obliterated the value of life? Or was it that in order to wage war, one must already have lost one’s humanity?”

Overall I did enjoy the book, but after halfway, it really stopped being enjoyable for me. While the events that followed were presented in what is probably a more realistic way, it is not the best way to tell a story. I would have preferred more time in the jungle trying to survive, and less with what happens after.

Final Verdict: An okay summer read that started out great and petered off by the end.

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