The Division: Recruited
I’m always happy to discover the latest releases by one of my absolute favourite publishers, Aconyte Books – publisher of novels and anthologies based around a variety of boardgame-related properties like Arkham Horror, KeyForge and Legend of the Five Rings – and even moreso when one of the releases involves someone I consider to be a red-hot rising star that deserves all the attention that they can get to help their writing career. In this case, that person is up-and-coming scifi and fantasy author, Thomas Parrott. A tremendously talented author, he first came to my attention with his debut novella from Black Library, Isha’s Lament with its assured, confident and action-packed take on the Blackstone Fortress setting in Warhammer 40,000, and then further impressed with a series of short stories across multiple genres. Thomas has collaborated with Aconyte Books several times recently, having short stories published in the KeyForge anthology Tales from the Crucible and the Arkham Horror anthology The Devourer Below and I thought it was about time that the publisher gave Thomas a slot to release a fully-fledged novel that would allow him to fully demonstrate his capabilities as a writer. Imagine my delight, therefore, to discover that Parrott’s first novel is due to be released in February 2022 – and is based on a rather intriguing and highly promising video-game property. Tom Clancy’s The Division: Recruited is a novel based on the titular The Division, a popular and long-running third-person shooter MMORPG series based in a dystopian, near-future setting in the United States. After a virulent and highly lethal virus – the Green Poison – has devastated much of the continental United States, killing millions, as the result of a deliberate terrorist attack, huge swathes of the United States have been lost from government control and descended into pseudo-anarchy. Members of the secretive, newly-activated Strategic Homeland Division – or ‘The Division’ for short – must now work with military and civilian forces to secure major cities and urban areas across the United States and attempt to restore law and order. In Recruited, cybersecurity expert and US Navy veteran Maira Kanhai finds herself trying to lead a rag-tag band of survivors to maintain control of Maryland, only for a costly mistake leading to the death of her brother. Losing hope, a chance for redemption comes in the form of contact with agents from The Division – and a chance to join the agency, if she can both pass their tests, and help overcome the myriad of enemies trying to eliminate The Division permanently. It sounded like a fascinating scenario, one with a great deal of potential for someone of Parrott’s skills as an author, and I couldn’t wait to dive in and see what his first novel had for me as a reader.
As the novel opens, protagonist Maira is attempting to re-enlist with the US Navy as the Green Poison spreads across the country, determined to remain faithful to the oath of service she swore when she first served in the armed forces. But the alleged recruitment station is a hellish, blood-spattered location that causes Maira to finally realise just how horrifying the effects of the pandemic have become; and while she has been inside the building, her younger brother nearly became a victim of the increasingly instability and chaos engulfing the country. Some indeterminate period of time later, Maira is the nominal head of security for Athena, a community of survivors located in a formerly luxurious apartment building. Life is difficult, to say the least, and Maria’s attempts to b0th keep the peace inside the community, and protect it from the many gangs and militias roaming around the D.C area have been at great cost: one ill-fated trip led to the death of her brother, alongside many other survivors. The guilt over his death joins the many other burdens on Maira’s shoulders, and at times it seems like the fragile little community will barely survive the coming winter, let alone the gangs surrounding them. When a massed assault by one gang – the plague-spreading Outcasts – against Athena occurs, it’s only the miraculous intervention of a group of agents from The Division that prevents them from being completely wiped out. Faced with increasing dissent against her for the difficult decisions she has had to make to keep Athena safe, it seems clear that Maira’s only choice is to join up with the agents, becoming a probationary member of The Division. Leaving the fragile safety of Athena, she follows Agents Brenda Wells and Leo Fourte on their secretive journey towards America’s rural heartlands in search of secure food supplies for Washington D.C. and other urban centres full of survivors. But it soon becomes clear that unseen elements want the trio to fail their mission, using artillery bombardments and death cult hit squads to try and take them down. Between these threats, potentially rogue National Guard units suspicious of their intentions, and semi-feudal bands of trucker patrolling huge swathes of the rural interior, it seems like the odds are against Maira and the two Agents; and that’s before she uncovers the dark secret hidden by the two veteran government operatives.
Characterisation is one of Parrott’s greatest strengths, as seen in his previous works, and this is readily demonstrated in Recruit. There’s insightful, engaging and three-dimensional characters populating the entire novel, particularly Maira, Brenda and Leo as the trio make their way through the US Heartlands. Maira is a first-rate protagonist, vulnerabilities hidden behind a rough-and-ready facade, and with some surprising abilities that come in hand towards the latter part of the novel, and I enjoyed following her as Parrott developed her character and fleshed her out. I can say the same for Brenda and Leo, particularly the former as Parrott uses her character to explore the complexities and moral challenges of working for a unique organisation like The Division. Through Brenda, we get a sense of the huge losses that the agency took just to secure major urban centres like New York and Washington D.C., and the controversial decisions that had to be taken – at times on what seems like an hourly basis – in order to try and secure even a fragile sense of security and drive out the rampaging gangs, militias and outright psychos. We see that The Division needs to recruit or die with its mission unfulfilled; but on the flip-side, not all Division agents agree with the agency’s vision, and some have even gone rogue – as Maira eventually finds out to her cost. The characterisation is supported by a strong sense of atmosphere and background detail that readily demonstrates that Parrott has done his research about the game the novel is based on – not exactly a guarantee with some tie-in fiction even these days. Parrott brings to grim life the state of the nation in the aftermath of the initial waves of the pandemic, and particularly the various factions populating the D.C. area, with a focus on the horrifying Outcasts, groups of survivors quarantined at the start of the pandemic and abandoned by the government, now following a twisted creed to spread the virus wherever they travel.
There’s even some intriguing discussions about the very concepts behind The Division – an agency tasked not only with continuity of government but also continuity of society itself, but also so secret and atomised that it’s rare that one cell of agents will even meet another group of agents, let alone work with them for an extended period of time. Parrott makes the agency feel real, giving us a sense of just how vital its mission is, and as such I’ve become intrigued about the possibilities of upcoming spin-off game The Division: Heartlands. Tied into that discussion is the state of post-pandemic America and the open-ended question of whether it can survive – a spectre that looms above the trio of agents throughout the narrative. Parrott provides fascinating and often harrowing insights into how society has warped and altered since the virus hit: to take just one example, early on we’re shown how the community of Athena operates – communal areas with survivors huddling together for some notion of safety, not even bothering to lock their doors due to a lack of central authorities to help them, and a lack of valuables to steal. Authority has devolved into a strange mix of local demiocracy and feudalism, and Parrott isn’t afraid to question what, exactly, the bonds are that link together society, and whether they can hold under the strain of a sustained apocalyptic event that fundamentally alters the power structures of humanity itself. It makes a refreshing change from the usual post-apocalyptic fiction, which tends to skip over difficult questions like this in favour of gunfights and pseudo-medieval aesthetics.
Tom Clancy’s The Division: Recruited is a novel that operates on multiple levels thanks to the talent and skills of author Thomas Parrott. On one level, Recruited is a fast-paced, action-packed and utterly captivating thriller that perfectly matches the atmosphere generated by its source material – a flawless adaptation of The Division. But on another, far deeper and more complex level, it’s also a haunting, often deeply uncomfortable look at a world devastated by a pandemic even worse than the one we face in our reality, and the fundamental changes that have happened to society and human interaction since the ‘Dollar Flu’ was introduced. As protagonist Maira joins a much-depleted cell of agents from The Division on a vital and highly secretive mission, there’s an open question as to what, exactly, the three people hope to achieve on their journey into the rural depths of the United States, and whether a deep-rooted values – freedom, democracy, truth and justice – have been too badly damaged to ever thrive again. It’s an absolutely fascinating story that Parrott tells perfectly, demonstrating an innate understanding of The Division’s setting and atmosphere, and I genuinely hope that he gets the chance to continue Maira’s story as soon as possible. A stunning first novel from Parrott – an author who deserves close attention by anyone interested in complex, innovative and engaging multi-genre fiction.