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The Lone Warrior

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I’m behind on reading one of my favourite series, but I’m catching up now. The Lone Warrior is the fourth book in Paul Fraser Collard’s excellent mid-nineteenth century series and, coincidentally is out in paperback today.

Jack Lark bean some time ago in The Scarlet Thief as something of an anomaly, an imposter. A low-ranker impersonating an officer. It was a very singular tale with, as far as I could see, little scope for an ongoing series. Then Paul surprised me with The Maharajah’s General, which repeated certain elements of the first, with impersonation and subterfuge, but also blew a hole in the very idea by revealing his true self and sending the series on something of a sharp tangent. This was good as a series, especially one with such a unique concept, would soon become stale if it simply repeated that concept over and over. So the third book – The Devil’s Assassin – took us in new directions. Jack was no longer wearing a mask, and instead went into tremendous action as his true self. And at the end of that book, he was free of his long-standing lie and released from the military.

So when I came to Lone Warrior, I truly had no idea what to expect. Jack was no longer in the army. He was no longer pretending to be someone he wasn’t. What could happen next? In fact what does happen is a new and fascinating angle. What could drag Jack back into the world of war and danger? What else but a woman. And the danger? Well Jack has faced it in the Crimea, with a rogue Maharajah and then in Persia. And throughout the second book, when he was serving in India, I kept wondering when we would encounter the Sepoy Mutiny, one of the few great events of Raj history of which I’m actually aware. And now, in book four, we’re there.

I won’t spoil the plot. If you’ve read the other books then you know what sort of thing to expect. If not, you’re in for derring-do and thunderous action. A character who is down-to-earth and practical living in the world of the English gentleman amid a sea of the empire’s enemies. All right, I’ll try to nudge the story without ruining it. Jack has fallen for a girl. It’s easy to see why when you read her. And after saving her from some dreadful people, he agrees to take her back to her home in Delhi. His timing is somewhat poor, arriving in the city the day before said Sepoy Mutiny kicks off and drags the whole of India into war, challenging English rule and almost succeeding. And so Jack finds himself in a city besieged by the enemy. Oh it doesn’t end there, and Jack finds himself once more serving with the British, displaying his forte – the art of killing.

And therein lies what for me is the great strength of the novel: the British siege of Delhi. The action is brutal and thick and fast and the pace never lets up. Nor, incidentally does the horror or violence, though Collard manages to enfold it all in a great epic tale of adventure and sometimes Flashman-esque action. But yes, to the siege. There are two movie sequences that to me portray the utter chaos of battle better than all others. The lesser of the two is the opening to Gladiator. The better is the start of Saving Private Ryan. Well, that is what you’ve got in Collard’s siege of Delhi. This is a third of the book at least, with all the action, intensity and brutality of the D-Day landings. It is warfare masterfully told. Gloriously horrifying, and it proves once more that Paul Fraser Collard is at the top of his game and the top of the genre.

Lone Warrior is exhilarating and packed with vivid characters and scenes and deserves to be read. Go buy it, people.

The Maharajah’s General

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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.

Written by SJAT

January 5, 2014 at 6:08 pm