Minnesota’s Best, Anthony Neil Smith, is at it again, this time with All the Young Warriors, a fucking “huge” novel about the Minneapolis Somalians who sneak back to Somalia to fight the government and enforce Sharia Law. But though this beast is an international adventure packed with revenge, redemption, father-son shit, and romance, don’t be fooled into thinking a noir-soaked writer like Smith has gone soft on you. While clearly a BIG BOOK that deserves to net Smith some new, non-noir fans, there’s plenty of violence, darkness and an overall intensity here to keep the basement crazies like you and I absolutely riveted throughout.
The story starts out with two cops pulling over a couple kids in New Pheasant Run, a small college town in western Minnesota, in the middle of a blizzard. The kids are Somali-Americans, Jibriil having just picked up Adem from college so they can go back to the Twin Cities then steal away to Somalia and join the fight against the government. During the routine stop, Jibriil goes ape-shit and shoots both cops, a man and a pregnant woman, much to Adem’s horror.
Turns out the woman is local detective Ray Bleeker’s girlfriend, the baby growing within her his. He quickly figures out the identity of the boys and where they’ve gone, but instead of giving up hope, he joins forces with Mustafa, a legendary ex-gangbanger and Adem’s father, in the search to track down the boys. Mustafa is reformed and knows in his heart that his son didn’t kill Bleeker’s wife, but Bleeker’s shaky mental state and burning need for vengeance makes their partnership anything but smooth.
We also get to follow Adem and Jibriil as they navigate their new reality in Mogadishu. The bright, educated Adem finds himself poorly suited to soldier work and sees the locals’ take on Islam as horrific (stonings and behandings being the norm for small offenses, for instance), but Jibriil’s a fucking star at that shit, rising through the ranks on his bravery, unquestioning belief and knack for violence. But Jibriil’s loyalty can only keep Adem alive for so long, and Adem certainly isn’t helping things when he falls for the beautiful Sufia in a land where even sitting in a car alone with a woman can cost them both their lives.
Obviously, Smith has a lot of juicy shit to work with in this premise. He makes both the bitter cold of Minnesota and insufferable heat of Somalia palpable, bringing both regions on either side of the globe to life with details that never get in the way of the story’s pace – and you better believe this shit is fast-paced. Every chapter heaps fresh trouble onto the backs of our characters and tightens the vice one more turn’s worth, leading you to a fucking mayhem-packed final third that won’t let you go. But, of course, all the expertly-handled world-building and plotting doesn’t mean a damn when the characters don’t grab you, and with Bleeker and Adem, Smith has created some fucking fantastic co-leads.
Ray Bleeker was an Army Ranger in the first Iraq war and his interests outside of policing don’t extend far beyond drinking, smoking and ice fishing, but his now-dead girlfriend changed him, made him think beyond conservative talk radio, made him empathize with and want to learn about the Somalis who had started emigrating to New Pheasant Run. When she’s killed by Somali extremists and Bleeker’s forced to work with a former gangbanger while in pursuit of her killer, his new beliefs and worldview are challenged seemingly every fucking minute.
Adem grew up relatively sheltered, his father’s gang associations only a whispered street rumor. He got good grades and went into the country to college only to find himself an oddity, a foreign-sounding name in a sea of Olsons and Larsons. He goes with Jibriil to Somalia in hopes of finding identity and brotherhood with other Muslims, but instead ends up alienated once again, a pussy-assed poindexter American in a country full of narrow-minded thugs. While Adem is forced into one disgusting moral dilemma after another, he also makes a hell of a guide for the reader, with his sense of horror towards this strange land being just as strong as ours.
Though often extremely violent and disturbing, I can’t think of anyone I wouldn’t tell to pick up All the Young Warriors – and not just because I’m pasty-faced Minnesotan, neither. All the Young Warriors will grip readers who enjoy the chance to slip into a foreign culture and also those who want a page-turning thriller, just like those goddamn Scandinavian thrillers the totebag-set talk my ear off about manage to do. Thankfully for the Nerd, Anthony Neil Smith didn’t strike the noir ingredients from the recipe when he cooked up this hugely crowd-pleasing cake. (Apparently the Nerd’s going out on that tortured fucking metaphor for some reason…)