The Last Horseman by David Gilman
|The Last Horseman by David Gilman|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: The masterly pen of David Gilman thrusts us into the Irish experience of the Boer War, showing us entertainment, excitement and an unflinching view of some of history's darker days.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 480||Date: August 2016|
|Publisher: Head of Zeus|
|External links: Author's website|
Joseph Radcliff and Benjamin Pearce have both had their fill of war and conflict during the American Indian and Civil wars. They now spend their time trying to preserve life as Joseph defends Irish republicans in 19th century Dublin. However war hasn't finished with them. As the new century clicks over, the fight between a large chunk of Europe and the South African Boers intensifies and the Irish regiment they're attached to is mobilised. Joseph's young son Edward runs away to join the army he's grown up with, leaving the two veterans facing peril and horror they thought they'd never revisit but this time they do it to find Edward and bring him home.
Author and script writer David Gilman is no stranger to Bookbag adulation, having received it in droves for his superlative 14th century trilogy set around the 100 years' war. Now, skipping a century or four, he renews that excitement with a stand-alone novel that takes us to a place and time into which he's built a clever twist.
The twist is that we see the Boer War through American eyes. So what's so clever about that? Once we begin to submerge and understand more about the Irish situation we see the similarities between that and the American Civil War. Having been there and done that, Ben and Joseph become perfect guides to an arena of conflict and combination of involved nations that's rarely used in historical fiction.
As many will know, Ireland was split between those loyal to the British crown and the republican/Fenian supporters who wanted an independent country. The lesser known fact is that this also polarised their loyalties in the Boer campaigns. The Fenians found resonance among the perceived underdog Boer farmer community while the loyalists, naturally enough, joined one of the Irish regiments. As in the American (or any) Civil War, this meant brother fighting brother and father fighting son.
David also once again proves his ability to add texture into his tapestry in the form of sub-plots and back stories. A prime example is the relationship between Joseph and Edward. The younger is a lad on the edge of manhood with a festering resentment of his father that dates back to a family tragedy. Whereas Joseph is desperate to make amends for a grief not of his making, providing another surprise.
There are also moments of wonderfully nuanced juxtaposition as in the case of Ben, a former black slave, witnessing the way both sides of the South African war treat the indigenous peoples.
David encourages us to watch the effect of politics on the apparent brotherhood of officers as well as wincing at Captain Bellmont. This is a man who is nothing without violence; a criminal legitimised and lionised by warfare.
Indeed this is a novel that packs so much alongside and under a totally riveting story, it leaves me with more notes than space. Therefore I shan't mention the excellent historical notes at the end of the book and will leave the concentration camps and Emily-Hobhouse-inspired Evelyn Charteris to your own discovery.
Needless to say that I love this novel and a prequel trilogy would be on my literary wish list for the future. So, Mr Gilman if you ever have an idle moment… please?
(Thank you to the great folk at Head of Zeus for providing us with a copy for review.)
Further Reading: If you enjoy superlative historical fiction from any era, we definitely recommend David's Master of War trilogy, starting with the eponymous [Master of War by David Gilman|Master of War]]. If you want to remain in 19th century South Africa and don't mind a bit of romance, we also highly recommend The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh.
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