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Friday, July 27, 2012

Land of Hope and Glory by Geoffrey Wilson (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order the book HERE
Read the prologue HERE
Read reviews of Land of Hope and Glory by Bookworm Blues & Edi’s Book Lighthouse

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Geoffrey Wilson was born in South Africa, grew up in New Zealand and then backpacked around the world before eventually settling in the United Kingdom. He studied Hinduism and Buddhism at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, and has been fascinated by India since travelling there nearly twenty years ago. He has previously worked as a bookseller, technical author and IT project manager, until he finally decided to focus on his passion - to write stories. He currently lives in London with his wife, an ever-growing mountain of books and a peculiar cat.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: 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 will 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.

FORMAT/INFO: Land of Hope and Glory is 376 pages long divided over two parts which is made up of twenty-one chapters and a prologue. In this book, narration is in the third-person, and is done solely by Jack Casey. Land of Hope and Glory has a self-contained plot with a complete resolution and is the first book in the Land Of Hope And Glory series.

Land of Hope and Glory was originally published in the UK on September 15, 2011 via Hodder and Stoughton and released in the USA on May 1, 2012 via the same publisher. Cover art provided by Angelo Rinaldi.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: When I first heard of this book via a review request, I was a bit surprised that I had missed out on this book when it was released last year. Being an Indian, I was utterly fascinated to read about the uprising premise of the plot with the positions being reversed for the English and Indians. A bit of background is required for those not so well averse with Indian history. This event was a big one in the history of India and marked a turning point in its occupation by England. Firstly it marked the general unrest in the country and showed a united effort by soldiers of the Indian army irrespective of caste, creed and religion to overthrow their masters; the English East India Company, secondly it showed the English aristocracy that they would have to be more involved in the ruling of this country.

The revolt was primarily caused by a particular insistence of the British army superiors to their Indian soldiers that they had to chew out their cartridges in the loading of their rifles. The biggest anathema to both the Hindu and Muslim soldiers was that the cartridge was covered with grease from either cows or pigs, the former considered holy by Hindus and the latter being considered gross by Muslims. The officer’s insistence and the soldiers’ refusal to follow their superior’s orders compiled with the overall anti-British feelings lead to a revolt in major parts of north and central India. The revolt was ultimately unsuccessful however it showed the British that they had to tread carefully with the religious feelings of their subjects.

The bones of this story are then taken by Geoffrey Wilson and rather carefully constructed to give us a world wherein the Rajthanan Empire from India has conquered many parts of the world and like the Roman Empire previously, has now colonized England. The Rajthanan Empire is most likely a synonym for the area known as Rajputana or as it’s currently known as Rajasthan. They have discovered the means to a power called Sattva nearly eight hundred years ago and since then have managed to overthrow the Mughal Empire in India. Since then they have also taken over many parts of the known world and now are exploring the new world.

Amidst all their explorations they have also conquered England and Wales nearly a hundred years ago. The rest of the continental Europe previously was under Muslim Caliphate rule and England was the only country to rebuff their advances under the rule of King Edward. It is not clear how much of continental Europe is under the rule of the Rajthanan Empire but its safe to presume that majority of the area would be under their rule. Currently there have been small mutterings against the Rajthanans and their rule over the English people and a person called the Ghost has been leading a group of soldiers all over the countryside looting army posts and generally calling for the overthrow of the Rajthanan rule.

Jack Casey is the protagonist of the story and an ex-soldier who has seen one too many wars and now wants nothing to do it. He leads a decent lifestyle and supports his young daughter by serving as a man Friday for Shri Goyanor in Dorsetshire. He is competent and is looked upon favorably by his employer, destiny however has other plans for him as he is soon lead back to the thick of things in regards to the uprisings when his previous military superior and the person who taught him the ways to utilize Sattva, asks him for a favor. Captain Jhala needs Jack because of his tracking skills and his past ties however Jack is reluctant to go back. Jack’s hand is forced as his daughter Elizabeth has been captured assisting the rebels and now is due to be executed unless he helps them against the rebels. Thus begins Jack’s dilemma as he is torn between the love for his progeny and his duty towards his friends and comrades. What ultimately follows will be a test for Jack as well as the English in their fight to determine their destiny.

I have to say I was very very impressed by Geoffrey Wilson’s debut effort. Often in alternate history books, authors don’t give enough explanations for the change in history and the world however in this book the author has neatly created a world wherein a province of India has become a superpower through the power of the mind, yoga and Sattva. It has lead to the creation of machines called sattva avatars and the plot very well showcases sattva-punk and its ramifications. The author's imagination takes some wild jumps in regards to sattva-punk and it was fascinating to see the author's creations. The story begins with the reader not knowing much about the world but the author skillfully inserts information without overt info-dumping. The story has quite some pace to it, not in the first part though which is used to build up the character and world situation but in the second part of the story wherein everything is set against the clock and Jack Casey has to finish his tasks to save his daughter.

Characterization is something which always helps make or mar a book, in this one we get a strong sense of who Jack Casey is and what he is capable of. Jack is an honorable man forced to do dishonorable things however the readers gets a keen insight into his thought process and the mental turmoil he undergoes in trying to save his daughter and do his dharma to his country. The book’s pace and action filled climax add to the book's excellence but the icing on the cake is its very twisted climax and kudos to the author for giving the reader such an enjoyable but unpredictable read. This is the first book of a series and the way it ends I’m very curious to see where the author takes the story next as he’s contracted for two more books set in this world.

However amid all the rosy parts, there were a couple of places where I thought that the author could have done better namely in the usage of certain Indian/Hindi words such as “Purusha” and “Prakriti” which mean male and nature respectively but were used in the context of spirit and matter which doesn’t translate precisely. Secondly I would loved to read a timeline of the events preceding the contents of the story recording the spread of the Rajthanan Empire and this is just me but I’m a sucker for maps so I would have loved to see Europe and Asia in the context of this world. These small things however will not detract anything from the overall read and for most readers it depends on their individual preferences.

CONCLUSION: Land of Hope and Glory is an exciting debut featuring a protagonist that struggles to do the right thing. Amidst the many alternate history books published so far, its the only one that brings to the fore a crucial incident in the history of the Indian subcontinent. Reversing the details and setting it in a new country makes the story completely unpredictable and marks this debut as a gem to watch out for. Geoffrey Wilson has to be lauded for his imagination and storytelling skills; do check out this book to know more about the travails of the people from the Land of Hope and Glory.


ediFanoB said...

I read and reviewed the book and I'm glad that more and more poitive reviews are popping up.

Geoffrey Wilson did a great job and LAND OF HOPE AND GLORY deserve the attention of a greater audience.

The Reader said...

Hi ediFanoB

Thanks for your comment and I read your review as well. Thanks for hosting the international giveaway as well.

I'm definitely hoping more folks so read Geoff Wilson's debut to see what you, me and Sarah are so excited about.


M. R. Mathias said...

Nice review Mihir. Now I know what has kept you from taking your turn on "Words W/Friends" Ha! Ha!

The Reader said...

Hi M.R.

That and the other books in my TBR pile which never abate :)


ediFanoB said...

Hi Mihir,

I totally forgot to say thank you for mentioning my giveaway of LAND OF HOPE AND GLORY ove at Edi's Book Lighthouse.

Anonymous said...

I look forward to reading it when it comes to Kindle!

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