4.5 out of 5 stars
On Amazon (universal link)
How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.
In a Nutshell: Military drama set mostly in Afghanistan
'An Idle King is a modern retelling of an ancient story about lost soldiers who can never go home.'
Callum King, a former army officer, is trying to come to terms with civilian life, including family difficulties and the depressing veterans' meetings. Following news about one of his soldiers who was involved in the incident that led to Callum's discharge, he joins a team employed by a private security company, going back into Afghanistan for a chaotic, dangerous and mysterious mission.
That the author has a military background is clear from this book, not only in the practical detail but the way in which he describes the emotional state rigours of his characters. The book is extremely well-written and certainly kept me turning the pages; Andrew Paterson has a good deal of understated talent.
The secondary characters are a fairly stereotypical bunch that one would expect in a story of this genre, whether in a book or a film - the naïve newbie, the brute, the big fatherly guy who doesn't talk much, the one female officer who becomes his right-hand-woman, the psychological wreck ... but because they're so well-drawn they didn't feel clichéd at all. Callum himself is complex and confused; although the book is written in the third person, it still manages to show us inside his and others' heads rather than coming from a detached, omniscient narrator.
The revelation about the true nature of the mission comes as a shock to the reader as well as to Callum - it says a lot about this world, and none of it good. There were so many quotes I loved, that spoke about the wider world as well as the country that Paterson clearly has great feeling for:
'Your people have been coming here for thousands of years trying to conquer our country. You might as well throw sand against a mountain.'
'Habs spots a caravan of Kuchis trundling along the dried out riverbed ... mostly men in long wool coats, shepherding goats and sheep. But some women, too, riding on the backs of camels or walking with small children in their arms ... together on some ancient migration, following routes seared deep into their forgotten histories.'
'Nation states are finished. The future is the market state. Instead of parliament and politicians, now the world's run by hedge fund managers and venture capitalists.'
'Callum knows all these men even though he hasn't met them before ... the scars on their faces, the missing limbs, the suffering in their eyes. They're the children of war, soldiers in name only. Boys who grew up without fathers. Boys who were handed a rifle or the trigger to an improvised explosive device by old men who live far away ... and when the old men were finished with them, they were tossed aside like spent shell casings.'
'They're two old soldiers who went away to fight wars in far off places started by fat men for petty reasons.'
The ending is one of those that offers some resolution but not too much; it's sad and kind of mournful, but so right for the story. It really is a very good book; I'd most definitely recommend.