The Empty Quarter, by David L. Robbins
Another free Kindle find, and another solid piece of fiction. Set in the present day, The Empty Quarter explores realities of modern warfare – specifically, American involvement in the Middle East and the war on terror. Told from three points of view, the story covers a handful of intense days. On one side are the American pararescue jumpers – soldiers whose job is to jump into battles to rescue the wounded. Following mostly a medic called LB, we see the group’s near-superhuman performance in multiple theaters of war, and they’re perhaps the least well-rounded characters in the book. The second point of view belongs to Josh, an American diplomat in Yemen who is bored with his assignment as a cultural attache. He jumps at the chance to participate in something a little more interesting than attending parties. The third narrator is Arif, a former Saudi mujahideen who fought on behalf of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and later turned against the repressive Saudi government. He married a princess from the Royal Family before escaping with her to Yemen and turning to computers to continue his attack on the Saudi government. The setting, apart from a handful of early war zones, is Yemen, and it’s rendered beautifully. The country features harsh and severe geography and similar people, bound by tribal loyalties and codes of honor. All of these come into play when the story reaches a crescendo.
You’ll notice I haven’t described the plot very much. That’s not intended to be criticism, but trying to avoid spoilers. I’ll go as far to say that Arif plans a cyberattack on his father-in-law, and that several locals are interested in his experience as a Jihadi. Much more happens, but I’d give away many early twists if I elaborated.
Solid read that doesn’t avoid the harsh choices of the war on terror and isn’t afraid to paint an ugly picture of what it requires. If I had to criticize it, I’d say the second half is somewhat too linear, but I kept turning the pages until the end.
3.5 out of 5 drones.