Opinion regarding Soldiers and first third of Mercenaries 1.
Warning: Plot spoilers ahead!!!
Ok, so where to start? I loved Soldiers, even if it was painful to read at times (especially the first 2-3 chapters) while I followed the 9 years of the Main Characters’ life. Vadim’s first appearance really made me think, if I even want to continue to read the insane deeds of a ruthless sonofabitch beyond saving. And Dan… To tell you the truth I felt nothing for him, no sympathy, no empathy, no… nothing. But I could accept his rage and his lust for blood and revenge.
And this kept me wondering; is this enough to force myself to continue reading? A sometimes naturalist and a very gory story. I won’t lie. Sometimes it was really hard to read, but if you can brace your soul, the reading pays off. (But do yourself a favor, and do not continue reading after Soldiers, I did, and I really had mixed feelings about those books, more of negative kind of feeling than positive tough…)
Vadim and Dan’s adventures started when they first met in Kabul, and that encounter turned into a disaster for Dan. Then all went from worst to hell, when Vadim got captured (by Dan) in the desert, as Soviet forces eradicated the village where Dan has trained his guerrillas to make them a tremendous pain for the occupying forces. During that ruckus he managed to capture the Russkie (HIS Russkie afterwards) to get revenge on him. He almost succeeded in killing Vadim, but his soldier pride intervened making him decide to grant Vadim a death worthy of a soldier, by healing him to be able to turn him over to the Americans. But when the Afghans and a soviet patrol found them, Dan finally let Vadim escape promising him to certainly kill him, if the Afghans got to him before he got to his comrades.
From this point on, they started to realize how much they value the other’s life and started to save each other when they run into each other in the battle-fields in the Afghan mountains.
So, in the end I was in shock and awe while reading this book. Shock by reading the ordeals they got trough together, and awe caused by their sweet moments. Ok, I know, I know, ‘sweet’ or ‘cute’ are not the appropriate terms for two tough soldiers. But still… what should I use? Heartwarming? …would be an understatement… 😀
The most shocking part for me, THE I-cannot-sleep-from-now-on-like-ever-at-nights kind of shock was when Vadim dug trough a mass grave to find Dan, then helped Dan trough his delirious hallucinations. I almost burst into tears when reading all his pleading to be protected and not be left behind and Vadim’s sick way to bring him back from that delirium…
“They want me.” Dan whispered, tried to scoot closer but the hand between his shoulder blades kept him down. Stilled. Easier to stay in this place, beneath the demon’s wings, and the strangely familiar touch. “They’re waiting for me. They kept talking to me with their rotting faces. Want me.” Dan trailed off, wrecked by a shoulder.
“They have to fight me for you.” Vadim didn’t believe in hell, damnation or gods.”
My favorite awe was after the explosion almost killing Dan, when Vadim went AWOL without papers, orders or anything, traversed trough 3 countries from Afghanistan trough Pakistan to India, just to see whether Dan was dead or alive.
And the sweet little things between them, like the peanut butter high energy bars, and the lemon as a present for Vadim (even if Dan considers putting lemon in tea a barbaric violation of tea traditions – same as Vadim’s disdain for cream 😂). And believe me, Dan giving lemon to Vadim was an oh-my-God-how-can-you-two-be-so-cute together moment.
“Vadim: No more peanut butter, I’ll tell you everything…”
One of my favorite symboles were the prayer beads given to Dan by Vadim, and Dan always waering those beads on his wrist afterwards. I liked the pure honest feelings behind those simple gestures.
After this long introduction (and plot explanations XD) let us check the main characters.
This old lady just rocks. She’s one of the most ballsy characters I have ever met in books. I love her genuine helpfulness; how strong and self-conscious she is. The interview and Dan’s employment are just priceless.
Vadim: “Ambassadors? So that’s your secret. (…) You got yourself nice work. Congratulations.”
Dan: “Aye, lady ambassador. She’s… something different. Like our Iron Lady. Remember the big stiff hairdos? She’s one of those. Her Excellency is a baroness, and damned, she’s classy. No bloody idea why she chose me as her head of security. I even swore at the interview.”
Most of the readers claim to be in “Team Dan”, but me, I’m absolutely in “Team Vadim”. To tell you the truth, at first, I didn’t think I will like him. My first impression was ‘Can he even be called human?’. Inhuman would be an understatement regarding his monstrous demeanor. Poisoning wells, killing mothers and children from long distance not only by obeying orders, but for fun. Just because he can, he has the power over those from a lower human race – as he thinks about them.
I even don’t know where I stopped hating him. First, I thought the torture in the desert was well deserved, but far from settling the score for what he did to Dan. But slowly he started to realize what was the problems with the system creating and maintaining him. He realized what kind of monster he was and started to work on his own redemption. Tough I don’t think he would ever be redeemed.
And I think that was the turning point for me too. I realized at that point why I like him more than Dan. I’m from a country of the Ex-Soviet Union. And while I can understand Dan’s more carefree nature originating from a less restricted culture without fear, Vadim is from where anyone can rat you out if you are non-conforming with the system. I see in him the people (especially the generation after WWII) of my own country highly influenced by the remnants of the ex-soviet regime. So this is why I feel more connected to Vadim than to Dan.
In “Soldiers” I really started to like Dan regardless of the original indifference. Despite everything, in the beginning, he wasn’t different from Vadim, his way of thinking was the same when it came to the Afghans, even his intentions were no different. I couldn’t even imagine, how that initial hatred would change into anything else, but it just happened. It was good to see as they started to care for each other slowly but steadily. The gifts Dan brought back from Britain to make the survival easier for Vadim, the ways he checked on him everytime when he was deployed in the mountains. It was good to see the real Dan, the honest one.
And after finishing Soldiers I started to read Mercenaries. And first I got disappointed then furious with him. Furious seeing Dan to be lost to that bastard “Mad Dog” alterego. That self-pity, unjustified aggression and self-righteous bullshit-making against Vadim, who just managed to escape after 22 months of prison and torture, while he forgot who or what he was, even forgot how to be human, how to feel anything except fear.
So, Dan… I have only one thing to tell you: grab your self-pity and stick it where it belongs.
I almost left this book after reading like a good 300 pages. But I’m not the type who just walks away and still want to understand how could a fantastic, thrilling story turn into as disastrous as Mercenaries 1st volume seems to be so far.
I gave my top degree (5) for Soldiers, but at this point I don’t know if Mercenaries merits a single pity star, or just a simple 0. Usually, I try to avoid this kind of low evaluation, as I always take the author’s effort in writing a story, creating worlds and characters, into consideration, even if I’m personally not satisfied with the end result. My final judgement, therefore, will likely be an average of 3 (or 2) out of 5 (because the good parts are really good, I mean Soldiers-like good).
In conclusion: The Vadim part is fine in Mercenaries too, his personality meltdown is totally believable, as the hard work to recover himself also seems legit. He tries everything humaly possible in order to reclaim a part of himself. But Dan’s change of heart is totally unacceptable to me.
Additional info: Finally I managed to read all the books of Special Forces (my other option was to die trying… like any good soldier. XD)