A novel, from Lee Boudreaux Books:
She is the most dangerous thing around. The best soldiers are like her, just on the far side of childhood.
It is April 2003. American forces have taken Baghdad and are now charged with winning hearts and minds. But this vital tipping point is barely recognized for what it is, as a series of miscalculations and blunders fuels an already-smoldering insurgency intent on making Iraq the next graveyard of empires.
In dazzling and propulsive prose, Brian Van Reet explores the lives on both sides of the battle lines: Cassandra, a nineteen-year-old gunner on an American Humvee who is captured during a deadly firefight and awakens in a prison cell; Abu Al-Hool, a lifelong mujahedeen beset by a simmering crisis of conscience as he struggles against enemies from without and within, including the next wave of far more radicalized jihadists; and Specialist Sleed, a tank crewman who goes along with a “victimless” crime, the consequences of which are more awful than any he could have imagined.
Depicting a war spinning rapidly out of control, destined to become a modern classic, Spoils is an unsparing and morally complex novel that chronicles the achingly human cost of combat.
An Indie Next, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon pick for April, 2017
Available for pre-order online:
Jonathan Cape (U.K.)
Éditions de l’Olivier (France)
Guanda Editore (Italy)
Atlas Contact (Netherlands)
I read this with awe. Spoils is a harrowing and incredibly powerful debut which shows war in all its complexity and viciousness and which attempts to humanize it through extraordinary and conflicted characters. The female soldier Cassandra Wigheard is superbly drawn and her relationship with the young jihadist will stay with me for a long time.
Ironically, given the title of my debut novel, I honestly don’t like war stories that much – or at least not ones about contemporary wars. But Spoils is the rare exception…it’s a wondrously nuanced book. Van Reet offers none of the bang-bang breathlessness that so often accompanies contemporary descriptions of war. Instead, there is something deeply human here – a story concerned first and foremost with the souls of those who find themselves protagonists in history’s darkest chapters.
Clear, authentic and beautifully written, Spoils is a book about war for people who don’t like books about war. Van Reet gives us a thriller that is not a thriller, but a grave and fierce description of the moral battlefield behind the headlines from Iraq.
The brilliance of Brian Van Reet’s Spoils lies not only in the sheer forward-motion velocity of its plotting, but in the psychological terrain it explores: what a generation of young women and men went looking for in Iraq, what they found, and why that discovery matters so profoundly for the rest of us.
In recent years, there have been a number of very good novels by veterans of the Global War on Terror. None are as ambitious, inclusive, or powerful as Brian Van Reet’s Spoils; none have this novel’s range or uncanny ability to transport the reader to the battlefield and those rarely explored margins at the battlefield’s ragged edge. Spoils is a fantastic debut.
Brian Van Reet’s beautiful, intense, and at times disturbing novel Spoils traces the motivations and desires of combatants on both sides of the Iraq War, showing us what happens when increasing violence and chaos start to warp the choices they’re able to make.
Moving immediately into the pantheon of first-rate war novels, Spoils reads like a nightmare within a tragedy, a story that is both touchingly classic and brutally modern. This is a definitive record of the war that marked the end of the American Empire. It will shortly be seen as one of the best novels of our time in the Middle East.
It is tempting to think that war today is somehow a more clinical, push-button affair than the crude mincing machine of the World Wars. Spoils not only shows modern war to be little different in its raw violence and emotional roller-coaster, but it also forces the reader to question the casual assumptions usually made about the enemy, particularly when that enemy is al-Qaeda. This is a gripping novel about the nature of war, in the great tradition of Catch-22.
With Spoils, Brian Van Reet has given readers an intensely moving novel. That it is also a nearly comprehensive examination of our modern wars is a remarkable demonstration of both the power and relevance of fiction.
Vivid and fierce, Spoils is an eloquent exploration of humanity. Depicting a world with no obvious villains or heroes, this novel is as important as it is timely. By exploring the nuances of motivation, loyalty, and sacrifice, Van Reet exposes the connections that bind us across even the greatest divides.
A superb debut.
- The Guardian
Spoils is a unique and superbly crafted novel that addresses the reality of war in a sensitive, lyrical and intelligent manner.
- The i
A strong debut….embeds the reader with the unwashed troops in a cramped Humvee, in a dark cell where only screams penetrate, and in the mind of a Muslim fighter….A fine piece of writing that should stand in the front ranks of recent war novels.
- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Van Reet’s unsettling tale is an authentic portrayal of combat with its chaos, fear, and the finality of death. It is also a sobering commentary on war’s brutality and the burning intensity of Iraq’s jihadist insurgency.
- Publisher’s Weekly
At its core, Spoils is a narrative of intertwining struggles, with each character bound and trapped by the Iraq War in one way or another. The storytelling is both intense and surreal…. In time, Van Reet’s Spoils may become a classic of the Iraq War.
- Foreign Policy
By turns suspenseful and harrowing….ultimately, intended as a cautionary tale.
- Houston CityBook
Not just the well-described ambience of the sand, heat, rains and stench of war….it’s also a damn fine story.
- Shelf Awareness
Spoils resonates…When three soldiers are captured and become unintended spoils of war, the reader is compelled to follow the engrossing but harrowing plot and its sociological undercurrents. “When dealing with other people’s tragedies,” the prophetic Cassandra warns, “there’s a risk of taking on more grief than is appropriate.” In this case, a reader can’t help it.
- Military Times
In one of 2017’s most anticipated debut novels, a veteran of the Iraq War presents its atrocities in unsparing passages of unmitigated brutality… they illustrate the book’s profound power to unsettle the reader into a deeper understanding of the chaotic cruelty of combat… Van Reet’s grim but skillfully-told story is an urgent reflection on one of the most consequential conflicts in modern history.
- Harper’s Bazaar
There is a tenacity in [Van Reet’s] prose unique to soldier writers, a furious exactness, and yet a delicacy also, an earned incandescence. Reading him, one understands that this is not a young man recording his war experiences, a “moral witness”—this is an artist, an artist compelled to write war.
- Numéro Cinq
This tale is told with authority… A must-read debut about enemy combatants and the human costs of battle.
- Barnes and Noble Reads (“April’s Best New Fiction”)
Focusing on the internal lives of each character, the author illuminates their individual quests for liberation—physically, spiritually, and ethically—amid the chaos of war. The narrative crescendos toward a bang-up ending…with the resolution a distressing commentary on what is gained and lost in the pursuit of victory….Van Reet has penned an absorbing novel.
- Library Journal (starred review)
This book captures the emotional turmoil of war, and the way it feels to be on the ground in combat. We predict that Van Reet’s debut novel will be especially gripping for readers who like to see complicated situations from multiple sides.
- Bookish (“This Week’s Hottest Reads”)
What booksellers are saying:
I swore at the end of this incredibly powerful and compelling debut. And I couldn’t put it down except to take a breath before reading more about the destruction of war and the people it takes along. A superb debut that will make you think long and hard about whether war is really worth it for all parties fighting.
- Anne Philbrick, Bank Square Books
The futility of the U.S. involvement on the ground in the Middle East is starkly illuminated in Spoils, written from the points of view of a 19 year-old female U.S. soldier and an older jihadi who encounter one another by chance. Their mutual misunderstanding, mistrusts, and aggressions with terrible weapons are awe-inspiring and plunge the reader into despair. Seen from the ground level, the conflict in Iraq is an enormous exercise in waste, destruction and misunderstanding. Van Reet makes us taste the cordite, feel the slippery blood and the sting of shrapnel. I hope this is the closest I ever to come to combat.
- Darwin, Books on the Common
There are many Iraq war novels out and still coming, but this one reveals itself to be as astute and as excellent as they come. Layered with a quiet intensity, Spoils is utterly gripping.
- Sheryl Cutler, Copperfields
This one can be placed right beside All Quiet on the Western Front, The Naked and the Dead, From Here to Eternity… it is that powerful and important a novel of war and the effects. Spoils hits hard and is sure to be high on Best of 2017 lists.
- Dan Radovich, Barnes and Noble
Borne of his experience fighting in Iraq, Brian Van Reet’s Spoils is a clear-eyed, gritty, and tension-filled story of young soldiers caught up in impossible circumstances. At the heart of the story is Cassandra, a 19-year-old machine gunner who is captured by the enemy. Her ordeal as captive, along with two fellow soldiers, is harrowing but also insightful into the characters of the soldiers and their captors. Recent and current conflicts have inspired some excellent fiction and Spoils ranks with the best of it.
- Mark LaFramboise, Politics and Prose Bookstore
Starting with one of the greatest first lines you will ever read, this high octane novel immediately hits high gear and never stops accelerating straight through to its explosive conclusion…. Just as The Things They Carried became the definitive novel of the Vietnam War, so may Spoils take a similar place for the second Gulf War.
Bill Cusumano, Square Books
A stunning debut novel of modern war, told with compassion and heart.
- Anna, Katy Budget Books
Wow. This is one of the most intense books I have read in a long time. Van Reet captures the disturbing human-ness of war.
- Mara Panich-Crouch, Fact & Fiction
A stunning debut novel about the struggle to retain our humanity when we are entangled in a war….This is a book that I will not soon forget, a reminder of the horrors we can inflict and the shared responsibility that binds us all.
- Luisa Smith, Book Passage
Every once in a while a novel captures the experience of war in such a visceral way it becomes unforgettable…a story that manages to be a fresh perspective on the Iraq War as we follow fighters on both sides, and in particular a female American soldier who is captured, and is the heart of the book.
- Melanie Fleishman, Arcadia Books
I love this book. Brian Van Reet has the skill of a seasoned novelist in this impressive and psychologically complex debut.
- Sarah Bagby, Watermark Books & Cafe
Van Reet’s gift for narrative, his ability to evoke the nuances of place and culture clash, and his cast of characters with their complexities of motive, create this haunting and tragic story of the dysfunction of contemporary war. Not to be missed.
- Chorel Centers, Bookshop Santa Cruz
This is one of those novels that will break your heart with great characters facing chaos that is beyond their devising or control.
- Deon Stonehouse, Sunriver Books & Music
I am not a fan of reading about war. However, sitting in the comfort of my safe and cozy existence, I believe immersing myself in Brian Van Reet’s world may make me a better and more empathetic human. If so, I will be learning from a master. Not only does this former soldier bring verisimilitude to his novel, the way he completely inhabits his diverse protagonists shows him to be a true writer and artist. This is a powerful debut I won’t soon forget.
- Susan Tunis, Bookshop West Portal
AMAZING. The Iraq War told from both sides. Part thriller, part dissection of the last 16 years of conflict. Simply brilliant.
- Jon Page, Pages and Pages Booksellers
This is a literary war novel that will blow you away…It is intense, it is moving, and it stands out from everything else with its magnificent narrative…this is a truly unforgettable story that we are sure will be seen on prize lists the world over. If you think that you don’t like books about war, think again, this is an exquisite read.
- Harry Illingworth, Goldsboro Books