The Maharajah’s General
Anyone who’s been keeping up with my sporadic review will remember how highly I rated Paul Fraser Collard’s debut novel: The Scarlet Thief. Indeed, a week ago it made it into my top ten reads of 2013.
Well those of you who were tempted by my review into buying it will be pleased to hear that I’ve finished reading the sequel and Collard does not disappoint. Book two of the Jack Lark series is actually better!
Firstly it’s worth noting one thing: the Scarlet Thief was such a nice, unusual, refreshing idea for a tale, one might even be tempted to say ‘unique’ which is something you don’t hear often. Therefore, following up the tale of the imposter officer with a second tale of masquerading as a British captain would seem doomed to being at the very least repetitive, if not downright pointless. Well put that worry aside. Despite leaping into the papery fray with a similar idea at the heart of the tale, the Maharajah’s General is nothing like a carbon copy of the first book.
This novel explores a whole different side of Lark’s life and character and delves a lot deeper into his psychological makeup, giving the reader an unexpected connection with the protagonist. Lark is, after all, an anti-hero and has worn so many metaphorical ‘black hats’ and ‘white hats’ that he has become something of a grey area in himself.
Once more we are treated to absorbing scenery and culture. This time, instead of grimy Victorian England and the cold, barren, bitter Crimea, it is the hot, rocky, lush, evocative lands of India that play host to Jack’s new charade.
Masquerading as a captain who fell in the Crimea, Jack makes his way to the lands of the East India Company to take command of a small force of Redcoats only to quickly cross the paths of a number of venomous or supercilious Englishmen and the enigmatic, exotic and educated Maharajah of Sawadh. When a legitimate replacement turns up to take the same position as Jack, his life is thrown into utter chaos and the thing he has feared since leaving England seems inevitable: discovery and condemnation. The next weeks in which Jack’s fortunes twist and swap back and forth force him to confront his own fears and loyalties and will place him in direct confrontation with both his own conscience and his motherland.
The story is tightly planned and written, the characters three-dimensional and appropriately sympathetic or hateful, and the language and turn of phrase thoroughly engrossing. The feel of the novel brings back moments of The Man Who Would Be King, of 55 Days at Peking, of – yes – Carry on up the Khyber, and of Zulu. A great deal, indeed, of the latter.
Quite simply do yourself a favour and read these books. I’m pretty certain that if you read The Scarlet Thief you’ll already have bought and probably read this too, but if not, get going. Don’t miss this series.