Series: Jack Lark 4
My version: Paperback
Historical Fiction Indian Mutiny
Bombay, 1857. India is simmering with discontent, and Jack Lark, honourably discharged from the British Army, aims to take the first ship back to England. But before he leaves, he cannot resist tha adventure of helping a young woman escape imprisonment in a gaming house. He promises to escort Aamira home, but they arrive in Delhi just as the Indian Mutiny explodes.
As both sides commit horrific slaughter and the siege of Delhi begins, Jack realises that despite the danger he cannot stand by and watch. At heart, he is still a soldier…
Reality is the key word with Paul Fraser Collard’s superb series books. 19th Century India so real you can smell it. Feel the pulsing, stifling, all-enveloping heat. However, even from the very (very) little I know of the Indian Mutiny, we can maybe feel glad he has actually toned it down a little. Turned up the excitement though. Read this and I guarantee you’ll be flinching as bullets whine past your ears, ducking as cannons fire over head. Believability pervades everything. I believe in the character of Lark, he acts as I hope I would, in those situations. What he does, or doesn’t do, is entirely believable. His worries are all our worries, were we back in the 19th Century. Reading these books, is like opening a window to that time, at least as all-enveloping as David Downing or Philip Kerr. We look a little closer and a little deeper, at Jack’s mental struggles. Coming to terms with all that’s gone before and the emotions and conflict that are swirling in and around him. I counted at least three Jack Lark personalities at play here!
Jack Lark comes really into his own here. He can of course see both sides. He is British, a British soldier first of all. Being of the lower classes back in England, it is maybe at least as difficult for him to escape his class, his caste, as it is for the Indians to escape their own castes. He understands more than most British of the time maybe, their struggle. Or at least, the why they’re struggling, where their grievances have sprung from. Being second-class citizens, no matter what their rank, in their own country. As he is in his own. The Army does at least give him some escape from this, not always of course, but it evens the playing field a little. Not entirely based on merit, but enough to keep Lark interested. As the Mutiny takes shape, both sides do commit atrocious atrocities, the British, by considering the country a possession, commit perhaps the worst, without bothering to even realise it.
So, I ask, can it be better? Fortunately – for the anticipation of continued, if not improved enjoyment of further volumes – yes. I’ve never really been sure why, at the height of A Battle, as an opposing fighter is half an inch from running his sword through our hero’s stomach/head/back/other body part, an author feels the need to have the ‘love interest’ shouting his name. “Jack!” In this case. As if he’s going to look over his shoulder at her to enquire why she’s calling his name. And die. Or if he’ll say “sorry old man, let me get this, would you?” “Be my guest, old boy.” What does the bint think? That he hasn’t seen the sword about to eviscerate him? Does she think that by shouting his name, that will alert and protect him? If I shout out to him, I’ll distract him and he’ll die. That, doesn’t seem to occur to her. If I keep schtum and he gets on with doing what he does best, he’ll survive. Or that. Like when you come to a road junction junction and the wife says “watch out!” You think it’s a shout to alert you to something you haven’t seen. You stop, peer around to see what you might have missed, and the lorry you had seen 100 yards away, had taken into account and were easily going to get in front of, kills you – and her. When I’m doing the driving, let me do the driving! Fortunately, Jack doesn’t react. At the time, or later, as you and I would, say “you dozy bint!” Maybe he did, but that got cut at the editing stage. Maybe.
Love interests timely warnings aside, Lark does lead a charmed life generally, but he should. He is good. He is a General, in all but rank. He has natural leadership, where others have paid for it – as was the policy at the time. He is passionate, the book is also. And the intense, relentless writing of the battle of Delhi is quite simply superb, making The Lone Warrior in my view, most certainly the best of the series so far. Yikes!
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