Coming Home to Brightwater Bay by Holly Hepburn – a book of romance, writing and the wonderful Orkney Islands

Coming Home to Brightwater Bay by Holly Hepburn 

A book of glorious scenery, life in a community and romantic entanglements abound in this book of a writer struggling to embark on her latest novel. When Merina or Merry arrives on Orkney, she wonders how she will ever be able to recapture her drive to construct the romantic novels she has become well known for, or even face opening her laptop. This novel realistically shows coming to terms with a community that “treats writers like rock stars” and is eager to welcome her, but also means she must cope with new challenges. This is a beautifully written book which has much to say about some of the islands, the scenery and places which Merry comes to know and love. I greatly enjoyed seeing both the well known and less famous sites through Merry’s eyes, as well as how she tries to cope with the various challenges. There is a lot of humour in the dialogue and in the situations Merry finds herself in, not least when local alcohol is freely consumed. Having visited Orkney on several occasions I recognised some of the places which are so well described in this book, and the inspiration that they represent.  The story of Merry’s time on the Writer’s Retreat is really well written, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book. 

The book opens with Alex, Merry’s long time partner, breaking up with her in a restaurant. She has had problems writing for some time, but Alex seems reluctant to wait until she regains her inspiration. She is deeply traumatised by his desertion, as they have been together for many years. Supported by her best friend Jess, who is also a novelist, she manages to get a six month’s Writer’s residency on Orkney, which includes a small cottage in Brightwater Bay. She is welcome by the librarian from the island, Niall, who makes her welcome. Greatly impressed by the setting, she feels inspired to write for the first time in months, which is useful as she has to speak at various events throughout her stay. She encounters others who inspire more complex stories, including Helen at the Italian Chapel, who reveals the story of her grandparents who met during the Second World War on the islands. She meets an older neighbour who insists that she takes up running, as well as a hungry goat. A flat tyre means that she encounters Magnus, a boat builder who originates from Iceland, and who is eager to show her more places. 

This is a humorous and very readable book which I enjoyed. Merry is a memorable character, with a great sense of humour and a realistic approach to life. She is deeply wounded by Alex’s desertion, and this book deals well with her recovery which proves to be complex. It offers real insight into some of the things that can inspire a writer, as well as charting Merry’s progress on a very friendly island. This being a romantic novel there is an element of confusion in Merry’s mind as she finds that she is confronted with new attractions. I also liked the variety of characters that Hepburn has created, including Jess whose writing is a little more earthy and Sheila who gives Merry a new perspective on her abilities. This is a very enjoyable book which I thoroughly recommend, not least for its appreciation of the wonderful Orkney Islands. 

The Jam Factory Girls by Mary Wood – a story of women working together to transform lives

The Jam Factory Girls by Mary Wood

This is an enthralling book set in 1910, looking at the lives of young women brought together by a jam factory in London. Elsie works in the dangerous, oppressive Swifts Jam Factory, subject to the unfair rule of overseers, grateful to have a job when older women wait outside the gates unemployed. She has a family to care for despite being only eighteen:  a mother who works on the streets and brings in variable amounts of money, a slightly younger brother who picks up casual work, and two younger brothers. Her best friend Dot has a similarly difficult background despite having both parents. This is a novel of poverty and injustice, but also love, friendship and hope. As always with Mary Wood’s books, the relationship between women is the most powerful element of a novel when the odds seem to be stacked against them; there are challenges, but also small victories as friendship overcomes many problems. The two girls are inseparable, but each warm to a stranger, Millie, when they meet by chance, and it is their loyalty to each other in a small group that transforms many lives. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book of women taking power for themselves in the most difficult of circumstances.

The book opens with a description of  morning in Elsie’s home. This is a place of a “knocker up” who wakes workers, and Elsie and Cecil have to rise and sort out the rest of the family. Jimmy is only eight, and obviously ill, but still has to help a local grocer to earn a few pennies. Bert is four years old, and Elsie has to make sure her mother, who drinks heavily, is awake to keep an eye on him before she sets off for work. This is poverty, only redeemed by kind doctors who offer free treatment for children. Life is tough, but they have a little income, which varies alarmingly with seasonal work. Dot also struggles with the work at the jam factory, lifting glass jars and sorting fruit. The stirring of protest concerning the  conditions and wages among women workers gives some hope, but even membership of a union can be an expensive option. Into this world enters the relatively wealthy daughter of the factory’s owner, Millie Hawksfield, who is struggling against her parent’s hopes of her making an impressive marriage. When she is confronted by the poverty of the two young women, she begins to discover the realities of the lives of her father’s employees, but it takes a tragedy for her to be confronted with some of her father’s actions. As she is drawn to new friendships which challenge her upbringing, the women begin to suspect more is to be discovered about those around them.

This book represents the first in a series concerning the women who worked in small factories in London in the early twentieth century. The dialogue represents the gaps between rich and poor, the ambitions of those with little, compared with the financially secure. The  descriptions of the working conditions in the factory show research into the conditions that women worked at the time, but never slows down the story. Wood uses insights into the clothes, the food and so much more to bring these women alive so that it is easy to be drawn into the story. I found this a compelling story which kept me reading once begun, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys well paced stories of women facing challenges together.     

Crow Court by Andy Charman – a collection of insights contribute to the story of a community in the middle of the nineteenth century

Crow Court by Andy Charman

A historical novel with a different theme, Crow Court begins in the Spring of 1840, yet the effects of events at that time will have results for many years afterwards. This is a book of people who spend some time in and around Wimborne Minster in Dorset, who are aware of the lives of others, and who are also aware of some of the supernatural forces that seem to be present just under the surface. It is a collection of fourteen episodes, character studies, decisions and experiences that have subtle but important differences. Set in well described countryside, full of the plants, animals and birds that power the stories in many ways, this is a brilliant collection of insights into members of the community. An overarching theme of a mystery pervades the novel which holds together the individual chapters, three of which have been already published as separate short stories. It means that the stories have various styles; a piece with short, establishing statements, a lyrical story of birds observed, a chapter which gives three different versions of the same dinner party. There are sad stories, cheerful tales, a stirring tale of seafaring and another one of smuggling. This is a special book of deep observations, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it. 

The book opens with the buzz of activity surrounding the wedding of Louisa and Samuel, but soon comes down to a question that is to be posed to Charles, the best man. The couple want Henry, a choir boy, to sing a solo, but he seems unwilling and unhappy. When Charles makes enquiry, he is horrified to discover that the Choirmaster, Matthew is actively cruel to the boys of the choir and worse, assaults them. The burden of this knowledge weighs him down and we are witness to others who are also appalled. When Henry drowns himself on the day of the wedding, there are those who think that action should be taken. The subsequent events mark the end of one life and a blight on the lives of others. Not that the stories that follow are bleak or depressing; each of the stories have their own power and significance, small joys and sorrows. A widower sleepwalks to his wife’s grave, a boy persuades a young horse to carry him in complete darkness, a man spots a woman who he has been searching for at a dinner party. 

The author has succeeded in this novel in constructing a sophisticated story from smaller tales. Each chapter revels in details and presents insights into the members of the community linked by a common mystery, a common bafflement with what has happened. They still write music, discover small details of life, and in one case, make an old man laugh. One of the most touching elements is one of faith, in semi magical cures and other forces. The bird motif is very strong, as they guide in the darkness, represent bad fortune in a house, and most memorably appear to gather with a purpose. The various situations in the book must have required a large amount of research, yet the book is never slowed by extra information. Some stories are amusing, such as the confronting of a farm hand with progress, and some sad. This is a stylistically impressive book written with real skill and represents a successful attempt to give a range of views of a significant story.

Circles of Deceit by Paul CW Beatty – a historical novel of social upheaval featuring the determined and independent Josiah Ainscough

Circles of Deceit by Paul CW Beatty

The second novel from the Josiah Ainscough casebook is a revealing historical novel of troubled times in the north of England in the 1840s, seen from the point of view of a young man who is involved in keeping the peace. Although not the first book which features Josiah, this book stands alone in terms of virtually all of the characters and setting. This is a fast paced book which tells some of the stories of the movements calling for reform in workers’ conditions. Not that it is a dry story; those fighting for the Chartist and other causes are given identities and back stories, and Josiah becomes involved in not only the police action to identify their activities, but also finds some sympathy with their cause. Josiah is involved with the newly formed police force in Stockport, but an unfortunate incident means that he is put on very different duties. This is not a long book, but the story it contains is detailed on the strikes or “turn outs” and some of the disturbances both fictional and real are vividly described. The links between people and places, events and disturbances are brought out in this well paced story. The character of Josiah’s particular friend Dianne, his need for full discovery, and much more keep this story as a real page turner, full of twists as not everyone is acting in the best interests of justice. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book. 

The book begins with meetings in which support for the Chartist cause is being solicited from various people. The authorities are nervous of any upheaval in the mills and mines of the north of England- the Peterloo protest was within living memory, and apart from the economic loss represented by strikes and other industrial action, the revolutionary events of France was a source of genuine fear. As different factions clash and the authorities strive to keep control. Josiah finds himself in the midst of a battle in a meeting room, trying to protect some children and then a celebrity rebel. In the process he encounters the amazing Dianne and discovers that her involvement is not a one off, but part of a long term programme to actively protest against the poor pay and conditions experienced by workers. Josiah discovers something of a conspiracy exists, and there is a real danger to those he knows and admires. Experiencing attacks and difficulties, he moves around the area and meets many people of different conditions. With codes and dangers to deal with, Josiah must concentrate all his efforts to make a difference. The mills and other areas are well described, including some places that still exist.

I found that this book was really compelling, and kept me turning the pages as I was keen to find out what happens to Josiah and those he knows to a greater or lesser extent. I also enjoyed the side stories, at least one of which had much to say about the vulnerability of women which is still recognisable today. The character of Dianne is a real revelation, being a vivid character, full of independent thought and determination. I enjoyed the story of Josiah, intelligent understanding of what is really going on, doing the right thing even if that is not always the easiest path. This book is far less mystical than the previous adventure, and the historical research  is impressive though never slows the action. I recommend this to those who enjoy some social historical fiction, with the elements of a thriller and murder mystery featuring a memorable set of characters. 

Trobairitz the Storyteller by Celia Micklefield – a novel that contains a story and shines a light on strong women

Trobairitz the Storyteller by Celia Micklefield

This is a novel with a story inside it. The trobairitz were female troubadours who used songs to comment on love and much more. They were common in the twelfth and thirteen century. This is a novel featuring a twenty first century trobairitz , a female truck driver who does not share personal details, but tells a story of a village, with some memorable characters who live there. I found it an intriguing idea, especially as the story weaves in and out of the truck driver’s ongoing life story. She rejoices in the name of “Weed”, having rejected her mother’s choice of Fleur, and lives a life where she travels across Europe, driving a top of the range truck. This is a sensitively written book which depicts the small issues in a working life, the people she meets, the places she travels to, the ways she attempts to relax. I learnt a lot about truck driving across places like France, the sort of work involved, and the details of the cabs. The long story that she embarks on, apparently to deflect too much interest in her own life, is not greatly historical; this is not a “time – slip” novel but one that tells a story that is virtually contemporary. It is a story that in other circumstances could form the basis of a novel on its own. It features life in a small French village, where the job of mayor is nearly hereditary, and yet women are the life force of many of the events. This is a multi layered story where the themes are not always immediately evident, even though important. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this memorable book. 

The book begins with Weed arriving at a service station and shocking the working girls  who approach the queue of trucks by being a woman jumping out of her truck, as she says “I’ve got the full complement of European expletives”. When she goes into the restaurant of the next services she meets several truck drivers who begin to ask questions of her, seeing that she has a top of the range truck and are intrigued to see that she drives the routes alone. To divert their attention and to avoid a potentially embarrassing attraction to one of the drivers herself, she begins to tell her story. 

The story is of Madame Catherine Joubert, an older woman of apparently independent means who lives in a grand but faded house in a small French village. It seems she has a mysterious past, and isn object of mystery in a small French village where people love to know one another’s secrets. In particular there appears to be tension between her and the town’s mayor Henri-Claude Noilly. The baker, the butcher and the publican all have a view, and it immediately appears that there are many potential developments.

The book reveals Weed’s story, her origins, her life away from driving. Driving a truck is not as straightforward as I thought, especially in emergency circumstances. Weed’s voice echoes through the book, confident and able, but with one or two weaknesses. I found this a very compelling and engaging read, and just as the other truck drivers, I was keen to find out more about the village and its inhabitants. Weed is a very interesting character, determined to get the job done. The narration, through Weed, is a strong one, and this is altogether a fascinating novel. It speaks well of the possibilities of travelling across Europe, and the power of story telling. I recommend it as a book that works on many levels, with many interesting and engaging themes.     

Advent by Jane Fraser – a wonderful historical novel of women’s lives in Wales in the early twentieth century

Advent by Jane Fraser

This is a wonderful story of place, of time, but most of all, of a woman who understands all too well the real cost of choices. Ellen is a memorable character, once badly treated, now back in her family home in rural Wales. This is a powerful historical novel, personal in the main but much bigger in themes, of life in the early twentieth century.  Beautifully written throughout, this book contains real prose poetry in describing the kitchen, house and surrounding landscape, especially when snow changes everything. The characters live and breathe in the little expressions, movements and gestures, as well as the dialogue faithfully attributed to them – these are people who really come alive on the page. There is basic humour and details, but also an almost mystical hint of life and times in a rural setting. The characters contained in this novel, whether as part of the action or sort offstage, are cleverly delineated in a few words. The brothers, Jack and George, though twins, are very much written as separate characters, one down to earth, one more poetic, a lover of reading. The women are also varied, tied to a kitchen in the case of Eleanor, Ellen’s mother, or permanently on a settle like Elizabeth, the grandmother. All around Ellen are examples of the different stages of womanhood, such as a heavily pregnant sister, all giving Ellen views of what her life could be like. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read this book, which I greatly enjoyed.

At the beginning of the novel Ellen is shown returning to Wales from America, an exile caused by a rejection of her as a wife for a local farmer’s son. It would seem that when she has not become pregnant she was rejected as a potential wife for Richard. Being in America has given her new friends and more importantly a new view of the possibilities of life for women. She has made the long journey back because her father is ill, and it is coming up for Christmas. The end of the journey is described in detail, with small pictures such as the effect of steam on a passenger’s nose and Ellen’s determination to be independent in carrying her own luggage. When she reaches the family home, Mount Pleasant, she realises that not a lot has changed, that she easily slips back into the routine of life, but that in a way her father is diminished. The description of the build up to Christmas, the weather and the way the family behaves is beautifully and effectively described.

This is a moving,detailed and very effective novel that I really enjoyed. The picture of the women was particularly successful, with their continual presence in the kitchen, the idea that aprons almost held a woman together, that they were always seen working as cooking, cleaning and preparing for their menfolk to return. It is the small details that make this book special for me, such as the way some of the women hold a knife, always ready to cut a slice of bread. Ellen is an imaginative and successful creation, grimly realistic, powerfully determined, resourceful and thoughtful. It is a well paced, well plotted book which I thoroughly recommend as a very fine historical novel offering real insight into women’s lives in a particular time and place.  I would be very keen to read Jane Fraser’s other stories and writing. 

Cerebral Palsy – A Story by Ilana Estelle – A book of a life with hints for others

Cerebral Palsy by Ilana Estelle

The subtitle of this book is “Finding the Calm After the Storm”, and to a certain extent the writer of this book has discovered some sort of calm after a lifetime of dealing with what she acknowledges now to be a disability. The book repeats the assertion that she was not formally diagnosed with cerebral palsy until she was forty – six, and then only as a result of her mother finally telling her that she had a difficult birth. This is an honest account of a life in one aspect, the discovery and dealing with a formal diagnosis of a physical disability. The further revelation that her attitude to others and her progress at school was potentially shaped by autism has left her with a desire to explore her feelings on websites and ultimately this book. Written with an advanced understanding of the nature of life with a disability, this is a solid book of coming to terms with problems that have affected life on a daily basis. It is not full of medical detail, but written more generally. It focuses very much on one person’s experience of life, survival and way of coming to terms with revelations  which prove to be life changing. I was very interested to have the opportunity to read and review this book.

This book describes itself as part of part memoir, part motivational guide. Estelle has a sincere writing style which shows a strong desire to hold nothing back. She mentions how her father would take her to regular hospital appointments and encourage her to walk ‘normally’, but neither parent told her of her diagnosis at the age of two, if they knew of it. This is a non-linear book which does not follow a time line; rather it expands each chapter from a heading such as “Family Life” and “Understanding Cerebral Palsy”. It makes the very valid point that every disability is different, not just in its physical manifestation, that is whether it is a limp or necessitating the use of a wheelchair. From the text it would appear that Estelle is nearer to the former, but she is more concerned with the cause of her difficulties. Another way that disabilities differ is the attitude with which someone deals with it. Estelle explains that the lack of certainty about the disability for most of her life has affected how she has dealt with it, and that her diagnosis has expanded her view considerably. The book sets out her story, leaving points of advice and thoughts for the reader for boxes which appear throughout the book, such as “Don’t see anyone with a disability as a problem, or someone that needs to be fixed”. There are also quotes which seem relevant , from such as The Dalai Lama and Winston Churchill. These can be seen as motivational, reassuring, representing a different view from the norm. 

This is a book which covers so much of life, health and well being. Estelle begins from a difficult place , but she has shown in this book that sharing her situation has helped her and she hopes will help her readers. I found it a fascinating and very readable book, with some very interesting thoughts. It is an intensely honest book, which I found genuinely interesting throughout. This is a book which would be of interest to many, revealing how one person feels about their disability and the resulting difficulties they have found with life.It adds greatly to the understanding of the effects of late diagnosis, and the effects of autism in one life.    

Networking for Writers by Lizzie Chantree – a guide to creating, exploiting and maintaining networks for books

Networking for Writers by Lizzie Chantree

“A Fun Way to Sell More Books” is the subtitle of this book full of hints of how to develop networks and communication points with the aim of increasing readership of a reader’s writing. The skills used here could also be useful to those seeking to harness online power to publise other products or businesses, and there are many marketing tips which would be transferable. The author describes herself as an entrepreneur who has started her own businesses before, and this book is specifically addressed to writers who are keen to address potential readers. It would be applicable to both traditionally and self published writers, who have a product to sell; this is not a how to get a book published so much as a how to draw attention to what already exists.  Having said that, this book also urges the reader to protect writing time on the basis that having a book to market is the important thing! It includes some hints on how to improve motivation to write, such as particular sessions to be held online which use mutual support networks. This is a book for this particular time; while it includes useful points for organising physical events, the majority of the text is aimed at suggesting and supporting online networking and keeping a book in the public eye at different times well after publication. Anyone with a book to market will find useful hints and strategies in this book, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it. 

One of the most useful elements of this well written and encouraging book is sorting out the various social media outlets, and how they can best be used. Facebook is dealt with particularly well as it suggests the ways that groups and other pages can best be used, some of the rules on author /personal pages, and how it can be used with other writers to be mutually supportive. The twitter section is especially helpful, as it explains the best use of hashtags, list building and how to best exploit the pinned tweet feature. It also reveals the benefits of setting up a twitter hour, and how to avoid overloading it. It also reveals some of the best features of Pinterest, and how to present such things as titles and keywords. Chantree offers a lot of suggestions on content, as keeping new images and texts circulating is essential so that they are not ignored. To this end she suggests links to help to create and publish photographs that will catch the viewer’s attention. 

As a book blogger/reviewer of over ten years experience I found much to interest me in this book, not least the section on media kits which are a helpful source of images and details for compiling blog posts. Chantree is also helpful in proposing timetables for writers which leave time for both writing and marketing, while acknowledging that every writer is different in terms of strict writing times and circumstances. Altogether this is a useful book about identifying, exploiting and maintaining successful networks for those keen to market their books and writing generally. 

My Husband Simon by Mollie Panter-Downes – a reprint of a 1931 novel which records a writer’s life

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My Husband Simon by Mollie Panter-Downes

This is the story of a marriage, of a woman regarding her partner with brutal honesty, and of an acknowledgement of genuinely confused feelings. Mollie Panter-Downes’ 1931 novel, now republished in the stylish British Library Woman Writers series, is a moving account of a young writer’s life in London. It speaks movingly of the joys to be found in London life, the evenings of bohemian existence, the streets, the journeys and the people that she meets. Nevis Falconer, the narrator,  also writes of the frustrations of daily life, the annoyances of her days ordering meals and dealing with the blocks to writing. She loves her husband Simon Quinn, in many ways, realising that he is essentially different from the other men in their circle, though this is not always a good thing.Nevis is appalled by his family, especially his mother, whose social ambitions and attempts to run the lives of everyone are always apparent. This is a deeply personal narrative in which a flawed character tells her story, highlighting particular points, accepting the arguments and the misunderstandings.  It is honest in that it accepts that her writing is not easy, that her first book was good but her second novel was not, and that she may no longer be a “promising” young writer. This is the story of a relationship of imperfect people, of settings beautifully described, of insightful portraits of people around her. I found it an engaging and very different read, a picture of the time but with timeless observations on people. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.

 The book begins with Mollie contemplating whether she should have married Simon so quickly after meeting him. While she knows it has affected her writing and “Freedom and work are the only important things”, she also knows that the setting of a scorching hot weekend in the country was so special that she would fall in love with him. She admits that he is remarkably handsome, different and memorable.  Coming from a relatively wealthy background, she is comfortable in most settings, and describes the flat in which they live accurately as being at a changing end of the street. Nevis acknowledges that Simon would like to live in the countryside, but she prefers a London flat, together with tricky servants and other distractions of city life. Simon works all day in an office, she finds that writing in the flat is difficult. In the evening they meet people, and while the parties and the bars may be entertaining, she finds meeting with Simon’s friends uncomfortable. Worse still are the meals with his parents, although she gets on well with her father -in- law, her mother-in-law is demanding and exacting. “Sunday was the day of the week when we were happiest and when I seemed to see Simon with the greatest distinctness”. They visit the country, they ride horses, and acknowledge that when no other people are around they get on so much better. Their somewhat erratic relationship is challenged when an American publisher arrives on the scene, and Nevis is compelled to reevaluate everything. Marcus Chard offers an alternative viewpoint, and Nevis has to focus on what, and who, is important to her. 

This is a gentle read in many ways, but represents intense thought on the part of the writer. This edition contains a timeline of the 1930s, and a biography of Panter – Downes which points out her wartime writing for the New Yorker. The Preface points out that in making Nevis a writer, she was including something of an autobiographical element. The Afterword highlights the literary context of this book, and some of the references it contains.This is a very readable book of its time, and I recommend it.  

Game of the Gods by Paolo Maurensig – the unusual story of a chess master in the mid twentieth century

Game of the Gods by Paolo Maurensig

A book about chess need not mean that the game needs to be understood by the reader; this book is about a player of a singular nature. Malik Mir Sultan Khan is a young man who has a special talent for the game which emerges from his early ability with a near legendary game of chaturanga. From a poor village in 1930s British India through various changes of fortunes, a boy orphaned in a terrible way becomes an internationally known figure, but not always for the best of reasons. Narrated in the main by a young man who would freely admit that his English is not strong, this book is brilliantly translated from the original Italian by Anne Milano Appel, retaining the style of a young man who has little knowledge of the world, and is shy of admitting to his talents and good nature. It gives a picture of immense wealth compared with relative poverty, power over lives compared with a board game, the skills needed to win battles of many kinds. It has much to say by implication about the world in the 1930s, but also the games that people play beyond the official and obvious ones. Moving, picturesque and fascinating, this book says a lot about the gods which Sultan Khan believes play their part in human lives. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this expressively written book.

The novel is framed by the observations of Norman La Motta, an American reporter sent into the strife torn area between India and Pakistan in 1965. When younger he was interested in chess, and in particular the shadowy British Championship winner, Sultan Khan. The player had largely fallen from the public world, apart from a recent scandal involving a wealthy American widow. Receiving a tip off that the man is in the care of a nearby medical charity, La Motta travels alone to find him and manages to persuade him to tell his story. He reveals how he was born in a village where his father taught him the rudiments of the complex traditional game of chaturanga, and following a tragedy he is taken into the service of Sir Umar Khan, where he gradually becomes proficient in the game, without becoming worldly wise or even truly literate. Brought over to Britain, he is thrown into a world he does not understand, playing chess without studying classic moves or being able to explain any strategy. He has some understanding of what goes on around him, but is largely a victim of circumstances.

Apparently there is a true story at the heart of this novel, which Maurensig has developed into a fictional story of bewilderment in the face of the actions of many men. The research is good, but it is never allowed to get in the way of the story. This is a well written story of an unusual life, with a convincing atmosphere which stretches from the jungles of India to the streets of cities which Sultan Khan must negotiate. The significance of his skill summed up in the phrase from his teacher  “You will be able to predict the fate of any battle” rings throughout this book, even when he seems to struggle. This is a fascinating and very different book, and to be recommended as a thoughtful story of the twentieth century.