Energy Dependence Day by Christian Burton is a political thriller about a terrorist attack in the U.S. generated in Saudi Arabia. It follows the lives of many characters, including a detective and the terrorist himself, with a step by step analysis of how an attack is put together. It manages to be both page turning and informative. Most of all, it’s believable.
The premise could sound like a fairly black and white story: good vs. evil where the terrorists are bad and the Americans are good. Fortunately, Burton doesn’t go down this road. This is a sympathetic portrayal of each Middle Eastern character in the book, no matter how sinister his actions. This is an extremely sensitive topic to handle, and Burton handles it exceptionally well. The Middle Eastern characters are so well developed, with such a great attention to detail, both culturally and politically, it is at least understandable why they’re so eager to fight back.
That said, the story is also balanced with negative aspects of the culture (repression of women, for example). All told this makes for a much more effective and thrilling ride, as the motivations of the “enemy” isn’t because they’re “evil,” but much more multifaceted. We don’t root for them, but we don’t hate them either.
As Burton is a former member of the military who’s been stationed in the Middle East, there is great and enlightening attention to detail about Middle Eastern politics and culture, yet the book doesn’t read like non-fiction cloaked in a work of fiction. It stays true to its thriller core. It’s fast-paced, especially towards the end as the book reaches its climax. You won’t want to put the book down then. While characters proselytize about their goals, this comes off as completely realistic, rather than the book itself proselytizing. Again, this is a very narrow tightrope for Burton to walk, and he does it very well.
What is most impressive about the book is that you’ll come away with a new appreciation for the perspective of those outside America, and a new understanding of Middle Eastern dynamics in general. Truly, it will alter your view of the Middle East and America’s involvement, while — remarkably — not being overly slanted towards one or another political ideology. This is the book’s main success: it manages to be an effective thriller, while being character driven and detailed. Indeed, that’s part of what it makes it so thrilling: it will change how you think about the Middle East.
The novel does have a few issues: it skips from character to character so often that at times it’s difficult to keep track of everybody. This is part of the book’s appeal: we get so many different perspectives, enhancing the novel’s breadth. However, certain characters are brought in very late, affecting the plot’s momentum. Additionally, a character early on switches to the first person unnecessarily. There are some issues with organization that could be more ironed out.
Those criticisms aside, Energy Dependence Day is an eye-opening and thrilling ride that will appeal to readers of political thrillers, or even those who aren’t accustomed to the genre.
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