A troubling but interesting book.
So this is the story of Pedro who joins a private army at the age of fifteen after his father is killed (this is not a spoiler, I think it happened on the first page) by another private army in Colombia. What follows is his training and missions for the Autodefencas, where he learns to lead but also all the while pursuing his mission of vengeance on his father’s killers.
Pedro is our only POV, and you can’t help but like him even after he repeatedly does stupid things. You can see how he’s being manipulated and it’s sad as his moral qualms are gradually eroded as he gets more involved in the conflict and moves up the hierarchy. It doesn’t help that his goal of vengeance gets himself and his friends into even more trouble or killed. The supporting cast are also pretty interesting and I would have loved a few POV’s from those, especially Palillo his best friend. He’s a fairly superficial guy in the main but there’s a loyalty there and I like that he had certain boundaries that should not be crossed no matter what.
This was a hard book to read. Half the time I forgot how young they all were in it, but then something would come up to remind you. The training was brutal and if even half of it is true then it’s really messed up. You wonder how these kids could go back to a ‘normal’ life. Some of the battle scenes were intense, and perhaps even more so during the smaller scale ambushes that Pedro keeps setting up to get his revenge, they were tense. What the author did very well was show the ordinary plight of the people. No matter who was in charge, no matter their best intentions, they were the ones who ended up suffering. I hope things are better there now but I kind of doubt it.
One of my main criticisms of this book is the size. It’s over 600 pages and I feel that it was a bit too drawn out in places. I get the author was trying to bring in some downtime and explore characters and how Pedro’s actions were affecting his family and friends but I think there was room here for tightening it all up somewhat. It also slightly bothered me that it kind of glorified certain aspects of it. Like Goodfella’s for example, you experienced Pedro’s pride and joy at the start before it all comes crashing down and it felt a bit off in places. According to the author Pedro was an amalgamation of different people he’d met while researching the book and it showed sometimes, he’d act out of character and it was a bit jarring.
This had been a three star review but then the end kind of blew me away. I was expecting something cynical behind it all but I was not expecting how everything was tied together, I really wonder how much of it is true and how much was put together by the author but it was very well done. Some of it I saw in advance but some aspects caught me completely by surprise. Overall it was a good book showing a side of the world that I’d heard of but never really caught my attention.
Thanks to Havelock & Baker Publishing and NetGalley for a copy of the book in exchange for a review, it did not affect my opinion on it.
3.5 stars rounded up.