Andrew Paterson’s An Idle King opens with the main character, Callum King, struggling to slot back into civilian life in Toronto, following military service in Afghanistan. King is just barely navigating support groups in church basements and negotiating some kind of normalcy with his wife and son when a call from an old Army buddy sends him to the other side of the globe—ostensibly to pull said Army buddy out of a sticky situation and make a tidy sum as a private defense contractor while he’s at it. This sounds like the opening to a raucous, blood and glory war movie, or video game, or (yes) novel, and in the hands of a different author An Idle King might have been just that, but it’s not.
Don’t get me wrong, there is action. It takes a few chapters for Callum to land back in-country, but once he arrives in Kabul the octane only creeps higher with every page turn. There’s also the band of warriors we’ve come to expect from stories like these, soldiers of fortune pulled from all around the globe, each with their own quirks, codes, and closets full of skeletons.
But where this could easily be a romp through an improbably explosive landscape full of hot lead and one-upmanship, instead Paterson gives his readers a meditation on war, trauma, and the people who get caught up in it.
I would not presume to guess at Paterson’s own experiences with war, but per his author’s bio, he was deployed to Afghanistan with the Canadian Army in 2010, the deadliest year for the US and her allies in Afghanistan up to that point. Coming from an author who has been in-country, there is an added authenticity to the writing, and the weight, that rests on all of the characters as they drag themselves, bared teeth and bloody, to the finale of their odyssey in the desert.
Absurd at times, intense, and heartrendingly human throughout, Andrew Paterson’s An Idle King is a knockout in ways I was not anticipating and is all the stronger for it.