Based on personal experiences by the Wall Street Journal and Amazon #1 bestselling military thriller author Jeffrey Wilson, War Torn is an inspirational novel that details a young man's crisis of faith after a tour of combat duty in Afghanistan turns tragic.
Jake is a solid American, a young husband, a good friend, and a patriotic member of the National Guard. While his family and Christian values define who he is, he has never fully understood the passion for the faith that his wife, Rachel, and his best friend and fellow soldier, Cal, seem to share. But when Jake and Cal are deployed with their unit to Afghanistan, Jake depends heavily on the quiet but powerful faith of his best friend and embraces, finally, a relationship with God. Despite the horrors he experiences in war and the pain of his separation from Rachel, Jake has found his way for the first time—until a crippling loss shakes his newfound faith to the core and makes him question where God is in his struggles, or if God even exists at all.
Can a loving wife’s faith carry a broken man through the most difficult challenge of his life? Can a committed pastor put his own struggles and doubts aside to help heal a wounded marriage? Like so many combat veterans, Jake must find his way back to his family even after returning from Afghanistan, and learn to find God in the fog of war that follows him home.
The Guru's Review:
I volunteered to review this new novel by Jeffrey Wilson and I am very glad I did. It is a very impressive novel, compelling and engrossing. Wilson has brought to life convincingly the reality of war, combat and strategy, the relationships between the soldiers of the unit. Very real are the emotions they go through on the day to day on either a raid or a show of force patrol. But where Wilson shines is showing the raw emotions they experience when one is injured or more importantly when one of them is killed.
I was distraught when Pete could not come to terms with the death of one of his comrades and the emotions he expressed, raw and intense. You find yourself relating to these emotions but also with empathy and compassion. Then you relate to the attempts of Jake as he tries valiantly, but honestly, in answering the questions that Pete has in relation to this death, why it happened, how do you process this, how do you move on, how do you deal with all these emotions and more. I appreciated the fact that Jake could not help Pete at all and this was just as raw for him as it was for Pete not being able to deal with the reality of war.
And it only gets worse when Cal is killed and Jake's world is turned upside down and he feels he has reached a point of no return. I was on the train when I read all of this novel and it was hard to maintain control when I just wanted to let my emotions go as these characters did. Very hard to not cry on public transport when these emotions have been triggered!
Wilson is very successful in integrating his experience in the military and his tours of duty into this novel. It forms a solid foundation upon which this novel is constructed and adds to the credibility of the plot, characters and its themes. His bio states that he,
has at one time worked as an actor, a firefighter, a paramedic, a jet pilot, a diving instructor, a Naval Officer, and a Vascular and Trauma Surgeon. He also served two tours in Iraq as a combat surgeon with both the Marines and with a Joint Special Operations Task Force.
Such a narrative is best when an author writes what they know compared to applying the research of an unknown topic or element into a novel. The latter is only successful in how it is applied to the plot, but this is not an issue when the author has first-hand experience. The genre of the military, special ops and the like shine when an author is writing from this personal knowledge base. Wilson is one of the masters here. I have no problem reading any of his other novels based on this fact alone. I know I am going to be in for a wild ride and be thoroughly entertained.
Wilson has structured this novel on two levels. The home front where the wives, Kelly and Rachel, respectively, of the two main characters, Cal and Jake, cope with having their husbands on tour of duty and all that this entails. It is here that Wilson develops these two characters and endears the reader to them and their empathy for what they are going through is engaged. The second level, the war front, has the typical depiction of what this is like for these soldiers. Again, Wilson develops the characters, mainly Jake and Cal so that the reader is engaged and committed to them so that when both these two levels meet in the second half, this novel takes off. The former level sets the stage for what happens when Cal is killed and Jake returns home, broken, affected by PTSD and with no end in sight of the nightmare he has experienced. It is here that the fallout from the events of the other soldiers being killed, but especially that of Cal's death is explored in all its rawness, intensity, by Rachel, Kelly, Jake, their family members, Pastors Craig and Chris, TC Morrow, and Adrian.
Wilson shines in the spiritual aspects of this novel. He shows no hesitation or reticence in depicting Cal as living out his faith and it shows in all aspects of his life and relationships. This is one Christian who is not afraid of the gospel of Christ and in proclaiming it. But this is not done in some super-spiritual way where Christians and non-Christians have experienced these super-spiritual, overly zealous Christians where you cannot relate to them. Wilson has depicted Cal as one who knows what his relationship with Jesus is; relational, sincere, practical and where his hope lies. It is this tangible evidence in his life, that draws Jake to Cal and where he accepts Jesus as Lord and Saviour. And one other aspect of this relationship Cal has with Jesus is he is not afraid to be real, to show emotion, doubt, but to submit to Jesus and let Him be in control and Sovereign.
Similarly, Wilson has depicted other Christian characters in a similar fashion. I loved Pastor Craig. I loved his vulnerability and admission that he did not have all the answers to help Jake, but it was his humility that grabbed me. He did not suffer from pride or an expectation that as a Pastor he had to know how to handle all situations, especially PTSD and what Jake was going through. This humility was also shown in his accepting counsel from his assistant Pastor, Chris. These two had a Paul and Barnabas relationship on one hand and a Paul and Timothy on the other. These two understood each other, accepted each other's flaw and strengths, were very comfortable with each other.
I know Wilson has modelled Craig on his own Pastor as he states in the Acknowledgements. He seems to have quite a Shepherd in this Pastor and I can see from this depiction of Craig and also of Pastor Chris what a positive effect this has had on Wilson's life and spirituality and relationship with Christ. I have said in many reviews, that the Christian, Biblical and spiritual elements of a novel can also give a glimpse of the relationship the author has with Christ. I can see this through the characters of Pastor's Chris and Craig, Adrian, and Cal. I know what to expect if I ever met this author and others. This transparency is a wonderful characteristic and evidence of the Spirit's work in this author's life.
Christian fiction is often criticised for being preachy in the gospel message, or for including the actual prayer from the Christian characters. Sometimes, I find this to be unfounded while at other times, it can stand out from the plot and appear as if it has been added for Christian content only or not an essential part of the plot. Not so with this novel. Wilson has avoided this by integrating the gospel message and the themes of forgiveness, redemption, submission, hope in Christ, the question of death, killing and grief as part of the plot structure and character development. It is more giving counsel than so-called "preaching" in dealing with the very real but raw emotions experienced by Jake over Cal's death, his guilt, anger, his PTSD, and the issues Rachel and Kelly had to deal with over their grief of Cal's death and Rachel's affected husband. This novel would fall flat and be very unsatisfying without the integration of these elements. Wilson has also been upfront with adding the biblical reference to these themes and accounts of counsel. Three specific accounts that impressed me greatly were the instruction and counsel from Cal to Jake about killing, Romans 8 between Kelly and Rachel but the one that really impacted me was the account when Craig was ministering to Jake about the Power of the Cross and what Jesus' death meant to us all in any situation we are in, in this case, PTSD, loss of a loved one/spouse/friend/soldier and discovering who you are in Christ. All three examples very powerful messages on their own but work seamlessly together. They definitely show the power of the Word of God. I found all these examples beautifully executed by Wilson.
Wilson's method here just reinforces the tenet that we learn better when information in all its forms is delivered in an entertaining way. Fiction is well placed to do this and is very successful. Christian fiction fits in very well here. You do not feel as if you are being preached at when authors like Wilson integrate into the structure of the plot and its themes. It also adds depth and strength to the novel's structure. I state in the "Why Christian Fiction?" tab of this blog from reading Christian fiction I like to experience that,
- it has entertained me immensely,
- it has encouraged my walk with God,
- it has not deviated from known biblical doctrine, and it will not lead a non-believer astray or promote false doctrine,
- it honours God,
- it does not encourage worship of the created (eg angels) instead of the Creator (God).
Wilson has definitely achieved this for me. Fiction can be a very powerful platform when an author writes for God under His guidance/anointing.
Another aspect of the spiritual in this novel is a touch of the supernatural. Both Rachel and Jake have dreams where they are visited by a messenger called Luke. It is very identifiable that this messenger is an angel (Mal'ak (also spelt as Malak or Melek and is the Semitic word for "angel" Hebrew מַלְאָךְ and means messenger). He tells each of them what they need to do and a heads up on what to expect when Jake comes home. In Jake's case, he has an opposing voice to what Luke says and at first, I wondered if it was demonic, but as this was not as obvious as who Luke is, it seems to be the negative talk from his brokenness, anger, guilt, shame. However, when Jake is care-fronted by Adrian and Craig with the Word of God and their counsel based on this, it is easy to see this negative but destructive self-talk is destroyed (excuse the play on words here!). Even Rachel is ashamed or embarrassed to discuss her dream and counsel from Luke with Pastor Craig.
It does make me wonder why Christians are so reticent to accept the supernatural in our lives even when it becomes obvious! It should go hand in hand with our conversion and experience of Jesus. I would have liked to have seen more of this supernatural element in this novel but it served its purpose.
This novel highlighted the need for more support by the government in reality to support veterans. I honestly do not know if the situation here in Australia is the same or similar to what you see in America, but I am shocked at the lack of care and support on every level of society for veterans! There needs to be more resources created, distributed and any existing ones expanded and improved to meet the needs of the armed forces members once they return home. It should also be for life as their needs are not temporary in the majority of cases.
Wilson has tied up all the loose ends well by the end of the novel and while it has a happy and satisfying ending, how it does end and what Jake, Rachel, Kelly, Craig and Chris achieve in their lives, physically, mentally and emotionally is not just for the novel's ending but is what can be achieved by faith, by mentoring, by coming alongside those who are broken, despairing and at the end of themselves, by allowing the Spirit of God to minister through any willing Christian and in the broken who has a heart and mind that is receptive to the Spirit's healing.
This is one very impressive novel. It is action packed, it hooks you and does not let go. It will tug at your emotions, it uplifts you and shows the power of the Cross and Jesus' victory over sin and death and His restorative and redemptive power.
I look forward to more from this author. Jeffrey Wilson is one author to follow are support.
The three ratings below are based on my discernment:
World Building 5/5
The two classifications below are based on the booklet, A Spiritual System for Rating Books by David Bergsland:
Spiritual Level 4/5
Enemy Spiritual Level 3/5
Overall Rating: 4.3/5
Spiritually, based on my review and on the following reference booklet,
A Spiritual System for Rating Books by David Bergsland, and that War Torn contains elements of the criteria of what constitutes Christian Redemptive Fiction outlined in this booklet, (click on the title below to see what this is based on), I award Jeffrey Wilson with the
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