If you polled Anthony Neil Smith’s readers as they finished his previous novel, Choke On Your Lies, I imagine very few could have guessed his next work would tackle east African piracy. It’s a big subject afterall and there are only two ways to handle it, balls-out actioner or slow and cerebral literary exploration.
In All The Young Warriors Smith marries the two, producing a pumped up Boy’s Own adventure with a firm grasp on the politics.
The plot follows a pair of young American-Somali men returning to the old country to fight. Adem, quiet, thoughtful, nothing like a soldier, and his banger-wannabe friend Jibriil, are the kind of men we see fighting on CNN and the BBC and wonder what drives them to leave comfortable lives in the west to engage in holy warfare. The development of these characters was, for me, a major strength in All The Young Warriors.
They are each seduced into the life, Adem drawn by the intellectual aspect of Islam and Jibriil by the opportunity to kill without sanction.
Jibriil is horribly credible, a completely modern creation but with literary antecedents which stretch back to The Arabian Nights and beyond. He’s the character who will stick in your mind when you’ve finished reading, popping up every time you turn on the news and see some fat warlord surrounded by his starving people.
Adem by contrast sucks you in with sympathy. We see Somalia through his westernised eyes and Smith’s descriptions of the country are superb. He has a sure touch, always finding just the right detail, kids dragging their rifles in the dirt, too small to carry them, the smell of cargo rotting on a captured ship. An early scene depicting the stoning of a rapist and his victim is visceral and intense; instant culture shock.
Alongside this you have Bleeker, a Minnesota cop trying to track down Adem and Djbriil for the murder of his pregnant lover on the night they were leaving the US, and Adem’s father Mustafa, another barely contained hardman, who wants to prove his son’s innocence and bring him home.
As you’ve probably gathered All The Young Warriors is about much more than pirates.
Smith covers the background to the issue from all angles, showing us the Rockstar prophet recruiting foot soldiers in the States and the shady American mercenary group getting rich doing the government’s dirty work. Everyone wanting power and money, prepared to stand behind whatever ideology gets them it. Grim as that sounds there is a humane streak running through the story. Adem’s relationship with Sufia has some aching moments and the bond which develops between Bleeker and Mustafa gives the book an added charge as they rush headlong into a violent endgame.
All The Young Warriors is a pretty rare beast, a clever page-turner. It deserves to be a bestseller and has film adaptation stamped all over it. If you’re new to Anthony Neil Smith’s work buy it, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re already a fan prepare to be surprised and very impressed.
All The Young Warriors by Anthony Neil Smith available now from Blasted Heath