Geoffrey Wilson – Land of Hope and Glory

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.

Land of Hope and Glory is an alternate history fantasy novel, in which the tables are turned on the British Empire. Instead of the Brits colonising India and a large part of the rest of the world, the Rajthanans, a people from the Indian sub-continent, conquer large parts of the world, including England and Wales. It is an intriguing premise: what would a world look like where Christianity and Western culture as we know it aren’t the focal point of world development? Added to this is an extra element of differentiation: What if these conquerors had magic? While the switch is expertly done and the story quite interesting, I had issues with the book, mostly concerning its pacing and the amount of the world that is revealed.

To start with the first point, I found that the narrative dragged in several places, especially in the chapters after Jack is given his mission to capture the Ghost, his former army comrade turned rebel leader. He sets off to chase The Ghost and his men and that chase just seemed to go on and on. Similarly, there comes a point when Jack is in London trying to get to The Ghost that the story almost crawls to a halt and I just felt impatient to get on with it. As for the amount of the world that is revealed, that might not be a flaw as much as me wanting more than the author was ready to give. I would have liked a bit more of a world view: How large is the empire; did they get overseas territories, if so which ones; did they takeover all of Europe; are there any other superpowers? Instead world building is kept to a minimum, that is to say we only learn about the world in as much as Jack encounters or remembers it and that is largely constrained to England. The world building that is there is intricate and well-done, I was just left with a lot questions.

On the other hand, the development of the steam-and-sorcery based industrialisation and mechanisation of warfare is fascinating, as is the magic system based on sattva, yantra and the influences of ancient Hindu philosophies. I loved that Wilson goes against the more common take that if a society has magic, industrialisation is superfluous in a sense and thus less likely to happen. The integration of magic and machinery into an almost organic, living whole was fabulous and completely creepy. The avatars in all their guises freaked me out, not in the least as they all take the forms of insects and crustaceans, which I think are creepy critters anyway. The scenes in the mill, where we learn more about the avatars, were some of the strongest in the book and I really liked this aspect of Wilson’s magic.

The book’s protagonist, Jack, is a sympathetic character, even if he annoyed me at times. I hated his resignation to the situation at times; instead of deciding to do things his own way, he tries to play by the rules and expects the others to do the same, which of course they never do. His unwanted-but-unavoidable companions Saleem and Charles actually served to make him think about the Rajthanans and their actions, which I really liked. Over the course of the novel Jack’s character moves from being disillusioned with the army’s rigidity and adherence to unfair rules, thinking them inherent to the institution rather than instituted by the Rajthanans, to being disillusioned with the Rajthanans and their worldview. I loved the little details Wilson slipped into his characters, such as Saleem looking pretty much Irish, even though he is a Mohammedan, and the French calling Jack Ros Porc instead of Ros Beef, as, having been captured and converted by the Moors, the French are Mohammedans and do not eat pork.

Land of Hope and Glory may have some slow-moving parts, but the action scenes – like those in the mills and later the siege – were superb, frightening and disorienting, leaving the reader in no doubt that warfare in this alternate continuity is just as inglorious as it is in ours. The ending held promise and despite my issues with this first instalment, I enjoyed my time spent within its pages. I’m interested in seeing where Wilson will take Jack next in the second book of this series, The Place of Dead Kings, which was published in October. Land of Hope and Glory is a solid debut with appeal for both historical fiction readers and fantasy readers alike.

This book was provided for review by the author.