After a week of crime and suspense I am happy to be featuring something a little different on the blog today as I take part in the blog tour for The Benevolent Dictator by Tom Trott. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources for the invitation to the tour and the author for my copy of the book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.
“Ben longs to be prime minister one day. But with no political connections, he is about to crash out of a Masters degree with no future ahead. So when by chance he becomes fast friends with a young Arab prince, and is offered a job in his government, he jumps at the chance to get on the political ladder.
Amal dreads the throne. And with Ben’s help he wants to reform his country, steering it onto a path towards democracy. But with the king’s health failing, revolutionaries in the streets, and terrorism threatening everyone, the country is ready to tear itself apart.
Alone in a hostile land, Ben must help Amal weigh what is best against what is right, making decisions that will risk his country, his family, and his life.”
Where to start with my review of this wonderful book, there is so much going on, so much to talk about, so much food for thought packed in to a relatively short but complex novella.
This is the story of two idealistic young men, well-educated, well-intentioned and full of ambition to make the world a better place. One is Ben, a British graduate whose aim is to become Prime Minister. The other is Amal, the second son of a Middle Eastern ruler who longs to bring Western values to his homeland. They meet by chance at university and, on finding common ground, become friends. Then, suddenly, Amal’s life is turned upside down when his older brother is killed in a car accident and he suddenly become heir to his ailing father’s throne. Looking for an ally, he asks Ben to move to his country to act as his advisor.
This is the story of a fish out of water. A young idealistic man transplanted to an alien environment that he does not understand. He cannot speak the language, does not share the religion, has no knowledge of its history or politics and finds their customs and laws barbaric. He is viewing it all through the eye of a Westerner with the arrogance to assume that the civilisation he is used to is the correct one and should be brought to these people, whether they want or are ready for it or not.
This is the story about destiny. About a young man destined to be the second son. The one educated in the West and destined to be a minor player in the government of his country, free to hold certain ideals safe in the knowledge that he will not be in a position to implement them who, by a seeming twist of fate, is suddenly thrust in to a position where he is forced to make a choice between what he thought he believed and the actuality of implementing those ideals and steering the country from the path carved out by his ancestors. We will discover whether he has the strength to see those ideals through, or whether reality differs from theory.
This is a story about disillusionment. About the disappointment when one realises that the principles we hold dear don’t hold up in every scenario. When our belief in ourselves is ripped aside and our inadequacies laid bare when we are put to the test. When we realised what we thought was true is not and that we are powerless to change what we thought we could so easily influence.
These two young men, so certain in their beliefs in the safety and warmth of the academic environment, find that out in the real world, things are never so simple. They are faced with thousands of years of history, societal, cultural and familial pressures, economic realities and the political manoeuvering that they have not enough experience to deal with. They are out of their depth. It is a fascinating study of the intricacies of political decision-making that few of us actually consider when arguing the toss about what goes on in governments of foreign countries.
Above all, this is the story of hubris. The hubris of the young, thinking they know it all and can succeed where everyone else has failed. The hubris of the West in thinking that their way is the only acceptable way and that by imposing their ideals on other nations, they are always making life better for the people of those countries. Recent history has shown us this is not necessarily true. The hubris of the rulers of hereditary monarchies assuming that they have the right to rule for this reason alone and that nothing is going to change the status quo.
This book sounds like it might be heavy going, but it really is not. The author brilliantly wraps up all of the above themes in a story that is entertaining and compelling and very easy to read. The two main characters are both likeable and easy to relate to. The setting is vividly drawn and you are taken right to the heart of this alien society, in the same way that Ben is. There is gripping element of intrigue that carries the reader through to the end, which I found shocking and upsetting. The book left me saddened and disturbed and with a huge amount to think about.
I loved the use of phrases from Ozymandias by Shelley (one of my favourite poems of all time) as chapter headings, underlining the theme of hubris and the ultimate fallibility of all dynasties in the end. If you haven’t read this poem, take a look before you read the book. It is a moving and powerful piece of writing, as is this novel.
Ultimately, The Benevolent Dictator is one of those books that you will be delighted to have discovered. It is a pleasure to read and offers so much to the reader in return for the time invested. Probably one of my favourite reads of the year.
The Benevolent Dictator is out now and you can purchase a copy here.
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About the Author:
Tom Trott was born in Brighton. He first started writing at Junior School, where he and a group of friends devised and performed comedy plays for school assemblies, much to the amusement of their fellow pupils. Since leaving school and growing up to be a big boy, he has written a short comedy play that was performed at the Theatre Royal Brighton in May 2014 as part of the Brighton Festival; he has written Daye’s Work, a television pilot for the local Brighton channel, and he has won the Empire Award (thriller category) in the 2015 New York Screenplay Contest. He is the proverbial Brighton rock, and currently lives in the city with his wife.
Connect with Tom:
Facebook: Tom Trott Books
Goodreads: Tom Trott