Land of Hope and Glory by Geoffrey Wilson
Review by Jasper de Joode
It is 1852. The Indian empire of Rajthana has ruled Europe for more than a hundred years. With their vast armies, steam-and-sorcery technology and mastery of the mysterious power of sattva, the Rajthanans appear invincible. But a bloody rebellion has broken out in a remote corner of the empire, in a poor and backward region known as England. At first Jack Casey, retired soldier, wants nothing to do with the uprising, but then he learns his daughter, Elizabeth, is due to be hanged for helping the rebels. The Rajthanans offer to spare her, but only if Jack hunts down and captures his best friend and former army comrade, who is now a rebel leader. Jack is torn between saving his daughter and protecting his friend. And he struggles just to stay alive as the rebellion pushes England into all-out war.
Alternate history is a new genre for me. I have never actually read a book of this type before but when it appeared on the Fantasy Book Review pending list I immediately wanted to give it a try. Now, having finished it, I’m more than pleased that I took the plunge!
When I first read the synopsis I thought Land of Hope and Glory a steampunk novel and although these elements are definitely there it is alternate history is the genre to which it really belongs.
Before reading I quickly researched the Indian Mutiny of 1857 which is the novel’s inspiration and so was able to distinguish between the historical events that actually occurred and the author’s own imaginings and fantasy elements that make his début novel so brilliant. The book’s main character is Jack Casey, a retired soldier and now security agent for his village. I liked how Wilson used Jack in his story, which is told in the third person and everything happens through his eyes (well mostly). Even though the author only allows us to see events through Jack’s eyes the result is not a world that feels cramped or small, actually quite the opposite – it comes across as grand and vivid. In the first few introductory chapters the story slowly gains momentum and soon it settles into a nice and easy pace. I loved the way the story played out, Wilson unveils not only Jack’s history but also that of the lands involved and it is a magnificently rich story as the author spends just as much time on his alternate world as he does on his characters plus his battle scenes are simply marvellous. Here is an excerpt from Land of Hope and Glory that shows how Wilson writes his battle scenes:
The first wave of attackers was nearing the summit, but the rebels had set up their remaining guns on unbroken sections of wall and now fired grape down the slope. The muzzles flamed, jolted and disgorged hails of balls and metal fragments that flayed the stone. soldiers fell in groups, as if dropping to their knees in worship before the retching beasts. Jack saw one man race straight at a gun as it fired – his body flew apart in a puff of red.
I am – and will always be – a big fan of magic in fantasy books, it is just cool stuff… well most of the time. Wilson incorporates magic into Land of Hope and Glory with a certain Indian feel to it. I think that authors’ are finding it harder and harder to create original ideas magic in their stories but Wilson certainly manges it here and I liked it. I liked it a lot. The magic in Land of Hope and Glory is like this – as well as the well-known elements such as air, earth water and fire there is sattva. Sattva flows around in streams along the land and in order to be able to cast spells people have to memorise certain patterns called yantras. Yantras have a set of diverse abilities, casting fire balls or healing etc.
When I put the finished book down I felt it was too short. I was really into the story and would have like to have read more. The ending was, for me, a little to open as in the last few chapters there are so many exciting thing happening that I would have liked there to have been more of a climax, or a cliffhanger ending. I checked out the author’s website and was excited to see a that a new book will be released in October. Land of Hope and Glory was definitely a worthwhile read and I heartily recommend it to fans of alternate history and steampunk.
I’d like to thank Hodder & Stoughton for kindly providing me with a review copy.
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