When High Risk Traveller Task Force guard Erik Petersson finds out that his daughter is missing, the first thing he feels is guilt. Erik had made a silent promise to Audray his wife, a few weeks after she passed away that he would always keep their daughter safe. Erik had left his daughter with her mother’s sister, got drunk, and when he returned, Arielle had looked at him with her big eyes, “Don’t leave me again, okay?…I was scared.” He had said he would do better and now he had lost her. It is this overwhelming cross of guilt that pushes Erik to take extremely dangerous steps while tracing the path his daughter took so that he can eventually get her home.
Although on the surface, Alastair Luft’s JIHADI BRIDE is about Erik’s search for Arielle, there are many more skeins of narratives and characters that intersperse it. Some of the more intriguing ones are Abu Noor al-Kanadi who was once an American soldier and now a convert. There’s Mus’ab Saleh, a Lebanese residing in Britain and now a mujahideen but is surprisingly sensitive and gentle. Then there’s Erik himself. An intensely patriotic soldier whose focus on saving his country cost him his family life and for which he never forgave himself.
JIHADI BRIDE starts at a blistering pace focusing on the chase at hand and issues with terrorism at large. Luft’s writing is good and keeps the reader hooked to each page as he digs out clues to Arielle’s whereabouts. He also successfully brings out the very male camaraderie and relationships that soldiers and military personnel share through some pitch-perfect dialogues and repartees. But somewhere towards the middle, the pace begins to falter as Luft goes into details of military operations, politics and war. There are too many abbreviations that Luft expects the reader to know, which hinders the flow. It’s evident that Luft has been part of many missions. And while it’s intriguing in parts, there’s the urge to skim through some of it to get to more personal and emotional aspects.
Erik is the most fully realized character in JIHADI BRIDE as he struggles with his failings and tries to overcome them. But other than that, the reader has no proper insight into the actions of some of the other characters. Why did Arielle do what she did? How did she come to believe in the tenets of this organization so much? What changes did she have to go through? What is Noor al-Kanadi’s story? Tenuous and fleeting, these important stories are submerged in increasingly vivid and graphic detailing of battlefield action.
JIHADI BRIDE is not just a thrilling and well-written account of a teenage girl’s experiences in a terrorist organization, but also an exploration of healing, accepting change, and fighting against all odds for love.
~Swati Nair for IndieReader