Friday, 12 January 2018

BURKE IN THE LAND OF SILVER by Tom Williams @TomCW99

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book:  I was sent a review request and an ARC by the author.  I accepted because I have read other books by him, Back Home, one of my favourite books of 2016, and its prequel, Cawnpore.

Genre: early 19th century historical miliary/espionage adventure.  Although a work of fiction, some characters and events are taken from real life; there is explanation of this at both the beginning and the end of the book.

The 'land of silver' in the title refers to Argentina.  James Burke is sent by the War Office to Argentina, where he must assume various identities to forward British interests; like the Argentinians, Britain is against its rule by Spain.  Ultimately, he must assess the feasibility of British invasion.  Taking his trusty servant, William Brown, he sails with Irish merchant O'Gorman.  I enjoyed Burke's first impressions of South America, how he was astounded by its sheer size. 

Once established, Burke mingles with Society and starts an affair with O'Gorman's beautiful wife, Ana, whilst William assumes the persona of a hard-drinking rogue and rebel in order to infiltrate the lower echelons and discover plans for rebellion again the Spanish.  Burke himself takes on many guises in his quest for intelligence, and tussles with his rival, the Frenchman de Liniers.

It is clear that Tom Williams has a great love for his setting, and knows much about its history.  I loved the descriptions of rural Argentina and Chile, and the pictures were painted with so much detail that I found fascinating, even down to how the cattlemen would catch and prepare a beast for eating, or how the men survived the long trek to, and up and down, Chile.  My knowledge of this place and era of history is sparse, and this book taught me a lot.   The story is well structured, the plot successfully intricate, and if Burke and William's escapades ran a little too smoothly at times, they worked well within the context of the story.

This first Burke adventure is certainly plot rather than character driven; although some of the smaller players, like O'Gorman and rancher Paco Iglesias, came alive immediately, I only experienced the occasional glimpse of who James Burke actually was.  Maybe because the narrative was in the form of an omniscient narrator who had a similar 'voice' to Burke, I didn't see inside the characters' heads.  I never had a feeling of who William was, either, aside from a loyal servant, and his dialogue sometimes seemed to come from someone higher up the social scale.

As for Ana, we are told she is enigmatic and beautiful, and that she and Burke are having a passionate affair, but I felt little passion between them.  The most telling point of their relationship was when she said, 'You're a soldier.  You're back because your duty has brought you back.  And when your duty calls you away, you will depart.  And I will be left here alone.'  Burke's reasons for this were always warranted, but the little I did know of him I didn't particularly warm to, not least of all his disappointment that Chile was not European enough.

Having said all that, books of this genre tend to concentrate on the action and history, and avid readers of them probably have different requirements from me.  I need to 'know' a character to care what happens to him (I wanted Paco the rancher to outwit the Spaniards, yet cared little about the fortunes of Burke), but that's just a personal preference; there is no doubt that the plot and military skirmishes are well-developed and artfully told, and both the historical element and the descriptive settings deserve applause; there was much I enjoyed.

To sum up, and to review objectively, I'd give this book a range of different star ratings for various aspects, so I think 4* is fair overall.  It's quite an achievement, and would appeal a great deal to anyone with interest in or experience of these countries, and to those who love historical and miliary action/adventure.

3 comments:

  1. Another one bought through your recommendation, Terry. Thanks.

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  2. I hope you enjoy it, Judith.

    ReplyDelete