"This is a competent recreation of a part of British history of which I was largely unaware ... I can't remember any other novel covering this period."
Egypt and the Sudan
Michael McGuire steals a loaf of bread from a Dublin Bakery to feed his sister and mother. He is offered 'The Queen's Hard Bargain' – prison or enlist in the army. He chooses the latter and, following training at Dublin Castle, is shipped out to Egypt where the armies of the Mahdi are threatening to take Khartoum.
McGuire is selected by Kitchener to attempt to get a message by heliograph to General Gordon. He is accompanied by two Bedouin tribesmen in Kitchener's service. Apart from keeping McGuire alive, their job is to teach the Irishman the 'ways of the desert'. Whilst on this mission, McGuire witnesses the taking of the city and the death of Gordon, not to mention meeting his future wife. Events lead him back to England where he is given an audience by Queen Victoria.
Back with his regiment, McGuire is ordered to form a special reconnaissance unit and he and his men are sent off on various missions in the coming months and years which all lead up to the decisive battle of Omdurman.
This is a competent recreation of a part of British history of which I was largely unaware and also seems to fill a gap as I can't remember seeing, let alone reading, any other novel covering this period. The research has been extensive and the author has stated the facts about the battles and various characters at the end of the book. McGuire is the protagonist and we follow him almost exclusively with just a couple of deviations to other characters. Almost all of the battle scenes are told rather than shown as McGuire and his men are not part of the regular army and observe rather than fight.
This is a book that I enjoyed and can recommend, especially to those with an interest in this passage of British history. However, it wasn't perfect and I would like to offer some constructive thoughts which are my own opinions:
First of all, my paperback copy was incorrectly formatted and for that reason alone nearly did not get a review at all. But I understand that the author has been informed of this and has made the necessary adjustments, so I will not dwell on this point.
I felt that McGuire was almost too nice, with no dark side to his character and that he got promoted a little too often and a little too frequently. Yes, I know this did happen in reality, but I would have liked to have seen some opposition to his progress. Nor was there really any villain of the piece; the one who could have caused trouble was soon put in his place on the few occasions that the character entered the story. And I would have liked a little more time spent on the developing relationship with Emma, his wife.
Overall this was a very good story but it could have contained so much more. This is the first of a trilogy and I would have no hesitation in picking up the story in future volumes.
© Richard Tearle