Published by Hodder & Stoughton
Paperback - 384 pages
Published May 2012
Review copy provided by author
About the book
A world where the Indian Mutiny takes place in a very different England . . .Where magic is a weapon controlled by the oppressors . . .
Where the only hope for the future is the Holy Grail.
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.
I'm a big fan of the "what-if?" historical fantasy settings, and to talk about Land of Hope and Glory without talking about the alternate world Wilson has created would be impossible. Think the British Empire of the 19th Century and turn it on its head. Rather than us Brits stepping out across the world and subjugating the natives, the armies of India (Rajthana) came over and took over Europe. This has left England under the yoke of Rajthanan rule for over a century, and the culture of Britain has completely changed to accommodate the customs of their oppressors.
Wilson has crafted a detailed and rich world that is at once familiar but at the same time very remote. I enjoyed reading about Jack's time in Wiltshire (where I visit frequently) because he was able to capture the pure sense of tranquility while at the same time introducing very alien concepts to emphasise the impact of Rajthanan rule.
Jack Casey is put into one of the most difficult situations could hope to be in. Does he betray his old friend and former comrade in order to save the life of his daughter, and how far is he willing to go in order to achieve this? His internal conflict completely overwhelms him, even when the country is being split in two by the growing civil war he remains focused on this one goal. As he slowly begins to realise that the Rajthanans aren't as benign as he wanted to believe, he starts to see the rebellion for what it really is - an act of patriotism and an attempt to throw off the shackles of oppression.
Land of Hope and Glory really is Casey's story, and the vast majority of the story is spent with him and him alone. Supporting characters come and go but don't really stay long enough to make a lasting impression., with Charles and Saleem being his longest running companions. I felt it would have been better to have had a bit more substantial company along the way, as Casey seemed to spend most of his journey alone.
Speaking of the journey, this was a bit of a slow burner for me. Casey spends most of his time travelling from Point A to Point B, then back pedalling to Point C. Wilson does a great job of ramping up the action and the tension when it appears, but the in between bits seem to dawdle on a little. I also thought more could have been done after the final confrontation when Jack travels back to Point A - it all seemed to be over too quickly and could have done with a little bit more of that tension in the 'race against time' scenario that the book focuses on.
In short, The Land of Hope and Glory is a very good historical fantasy with a great 'what if?' premise. A little slow to start (and too quick to finish), but once you get past that you're immersed straight into a very good story. A highly imaginative debut, and although the pacing was off for me, I'm looking forward to reading more from this world.