The Benevolent Dictator
by Tom Trott
The Benevolent Dictator
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.
My Review: 4/5 stars
The slow ordinariness of the first few pages might lead you to thinking this book is a drawn-out soliloquy of an undergraduate going through the motions of everyday student life. But you’d be wrong. This novella quickly transforms into a fast-paced, high-energy tale that I had to read in one sitting.
Ben isn’t your regular student. He shuns the parties and drinking fests in favour of study. He knows what he wants from life, but is unsure how to get it. So he controls the one thing he can – his education. A cross-university debate introduces him to Amal, the sheikh-student who goes on to win the argument that “Ideology is dead”. A later encounter, thanks to one of Ben’s quirky friends, sees the two young men discuss their life options. A subsequent invitation to a family ‘do’ gives Ben a taste of the life Amal has. A lifestyle that is then offered to Ben, when Amal’s elder brother suffers a fatal accident, pushing an unprepared Amal to the forefront of his country’s ruling monarchy. While his father, the King, still lives, failing health means Amal will be king in the very near future – a prospect he had always been happy to defer to his now-dead brother.
In situ as Amal’s adviser, Ben not only has to learn about his new friend’s country (Argolis) but he also encounters a mocking and hostile attitude from the King’s own top adviser – Daniel – who sees him as a nuisance and inconvenience to be tolerated and put down at every opportunity.
The comparison of the British and Arab systems of governing are all too apparent as Ben struggles with the idea of public executions, and the absence of women in any role beyond domesticity. Meetings with fellow Brits add a touch of humour, particularly “the empire party” serving up Marmite, football and episodes of The Antique roadshow. Since Argolis had once been under British rule, it was amusing and fascinating to see the subtle power play going on between the unassuming Brits – who, on the face of things, seem like thoroughly good chaps! Say no more …
The ending was a little abrupt for my liking. I felt sure there was more to Rania’s story (Amal’s sister) than was mentioned, and I would have like a definitive ending for Amal – some explanation, acknowledgement of what happened to him.
Overall, a really enjoyable, exciting read – I would have loved it to be longer and for the ending to be more developed, but, that aside, it was an interesting and well-written story that kept me hooked from start to end.
PS – I loved the idea of a certain former UK Prime Minister (with ‘connections’ to Middle Eastern affairs) popping by for a visit, only for it to be … (well, I couldn’t really say what happened, could I? But I loved the relevancy and, even more so, the outcome!!)
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.
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