“Operation Zulu” by Ronie Kendig

51mp1f2omsl When the book opens with someone getting gunned down in the street clutching a laptop, you figure it’s going to be good. Operation Zulu Redemption focuses on a team of female Special Forces soldiers who have gone into hiding after a mission accidentally took the lives of twenty-two innocent bystanders. Living new civilian lives, they hide from the past and from whoever was responsible for sending them in – until someone starts killing them.

ALERT: I’ve rambled a tad, so spoilers are a possibility.

The first few chapters were difficult, as we had to be introduced to a six-member team, their two mentors, and two love interests. This is helped by the inclusion of a character sheet at the beginning of the book, but I did find myself flipping back and forth to keep abreast of who was who. This is further complicated by the fact that the members of Zulu have taken new names to go with their new civilian identities, and the beginning seemed to drag.

Most of the characters are well written with a mixture of black and white.

One of the detractor characters is written with good nuance, showing good and bad personality aspects. This character gets several point-of-view scenes, and she was well steered to be both infuriatingly annoying and strangely sympathetic. Doggedly stubborn in her attempt to bring Col. Weston to justice for the failed mission (which she’s convinced he’s responsible for), it’s nevertheless plain that she desires truth, and while she certainly deserved some grief I believe the place her character ends is appropriate.

The two characters I most connected with were the donut-inhaling computer geek who did awesome surveillance, email, and photo recognition stuff while being teased by everyone, and the sweet, introverted sniper girl.

The two lead girls, however, didn’t resonate with me so well. In the beginning few chapters, Zulu One Annie/Ashland and Zulu Two Téya/Katie were mooning over their respective love interests, while the rest of their teammates were being attacked – and in two cases, killed.

Téya/Katie was one of the most irritating characters for me. Going into hiding with her Amish grandmother, at the opening of the book “Katie” is ready to take the faith and settle down with an Amish farmer sweetheart. Then the attacks begin, and she’s forced to flee and rejoin the rest of her team in a secret base, pining/whining for her little farmer sweetie.

I would have enjoyed reading her thought-processes as she examined what changed her from a rough-and-ready soldier with a checkered past into a converted Amish girl ready to accept their view of the world and convinced that their principles were valid, logical, and right. Unfortunately, I felt the exploration of this wasn’t nearly as deep or interesting as it could have been. Mrs. Kendig chose to tell a different story, in a different way.

Then, in the process of hunting down answers to the disaster-mission, and the murders of their teammates, Téya/Katie crosses the path of an internationally infamous assassin, beginning a large sub-plot and changing into a jerk for her teammates.

There were a couple moments – especially while interacting with the nuanced assassin – that I felt the narrative was trying to be profound, but either it didn’t make sense, or I missed it. It’s totally possible that I missed it — but it really made the whole exploration of Téya’s past and her puzzling relationship with this assassin tangential to the solution of the prime mystery.

Annie/Ashland also wasn’t exactly my type. After being “close” with their commanding officer (now-Lieutenant Colonel Trace Weston), Annie – while in hiding – fell in love with a former Navy SEAL. When the attacks start, and she’s spirited away to a safe space, the SEAL tries to find her. Annie’s physical/emotional effect doesn’t help either of the men’s judgement or focus, but the SEAL especially seems to have serious anger issues as he tries to find out where this girl disappeared to (and whether it was voluntary), making me question what she could see in him.

According to my worldview, however, that’s neither here nor there, since her previous relationship (with Trace Weston) was physical (fortunately, not explicitly — there are some steamy kisses, but that’s as bad as it gets). I personally had concerns with the way it wasn’t resolved.

Aaand…this is probably the biggest issue I had with the book: I don’t connect to romance. With almost as many love triangles as there are characters, I really felt that the constant yearning got in the way of the cool stuff.

For a book centering on a female Special Forces team, I found it interesting Mrs. Kendig chose to focus so much on one of the simplest objections to women in the military that I can think of: male-female relationships. As the team leads struggle to figure out who’s trying to kill their girls, two of the three operational teammates spend time pining over their heartthrobs from their civilian lives.

Zulu gives an interesting perspective on a very current issue: women in the military. As a self-proclaimed “army brat” married to a veteran, Mrs. Kendig has more experience with the military – and thus with women in the military – than I ever will. I do think it’s a topic that should be honestly discussed, especially given the recent talk of submitting American women to selective service and the draft. A recent article in WORLD Magazine from May 2016 examined the physical degradation a woman’s body experiences in a combat role – compared to a man’s body, a woman’s bone, muscle, and tissue just don’t have the same physical endurance, leading to accelerated wear and tear when she performs the same functions as a man in combat situations.*

I read the paperback version, which contains all five sections that were originally published as serial ebooks. When I reached the end, I found myself wondering if there was a sequel I was missing. While the major conflict was mostly resolved, many questions remained.

The driving mystery of Operation Zulu is: who set up the team for their disastrous mission, and who is now trying to kill them? When the answer came, I felt that it came out of left field. The moment is crafted for a sense of betrayal, but I initially felt that the “villain” was selected for the emotion factor, and that Mrs. Kendig would need to do some major orchestrating to reconcile me to the twist.

Well…ok, she did. I’m still not 100% in accord with the ending, but after softening the blow by giving the “villain” a totally vile and utterly faceless accomplice who was the true baby-eater, I was able to roll with how the rest of the chips fell.

As I said, however, questions still remain. Why were they trying to kill off our Special Forces girls in the first place? Who married who? – the love triangles ended on a bafflingly ambiguous and unresolved note.

And the biggest question of all: what was the point of Téya’s hate/love/romance relationship with the assassin?

Last thought. There was cool, Mission Impossible-type rushing-around-the-globe-disguised-as-millionaires stuff, and ops complete with radio chatter and sniper positions. There were also fist-fights, and explosions, and awesome-introvert-sniper-girl downed some targets. Perhaps it’s just me, but when the book ended I was left feeling I wanted more answers, more bows tied…more marriages, and fewer longing stares. If romantic string art is your cup of tea, pick this book up – and be prepared for a pile of car chases, fire-fights, dying friends, and Téya-getting-beat-up’s.

* Finch, Laura. “Into the Fight?” World 28 May 2016: 64-67. Print.

DISCLAIMER: I won a free paperback copy in a giveaway on Elizabeth Olmedo’s blog: ElisNovelReviews.blogspot.com. Thanks for the chance to read this! I was not required to write a review.

The first section – OZR: Overkill – The Beginning – is available for free in Kindle format. The full paperback is available on Amazon (here) and the author’s website is RonieKendig.com.

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