Soldier of Fortune by Edward Marston
|Soldier of Fortune by Edward Marston|
|Genre: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Lesley Mason|
|Summary: In the early 18th century the face of Europe is in flux. The French, Germans, Spanish, Dutch & English are all fighting each other in shifting patterns to gain control – of the land, and the religion, of the people. For most of the soldiers, it’s just one more campaign...others have more personal issues at stake. Sadly Marston fails to capture the grit and atmosphere of the most famous protagonist trailing these war-strewn roads.|
|Buy? No||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 288||Date: January 2008|
|Publisher: Allison & Busby|
In 1685 Dan watches his father ride away from the family farm to fight in Monmouth’s rebellion – and return to get caught up in the Bloody Assizes and strung up on Judge Jeffreys orders.
Some 20 years later Captain Daniel Rawson finds himself in Paris, spying for the English – serving under Churchill, Duke of Marlborough – or at this precise juncture serving the beautiful but bored Bérénice Salignac. A spy must do whatever a man can get away with.
Other than the fact that it was Marlborough (back at Sedgemoor) who first put a sword into the young Dan’s hands – the pertinence of the opening prologue never really becomes clear. The real opening chapter however is the one upon much of what happens later is to turn. There might be a war going on, but personal jealousy (of wife as possession, rather than the sexual kind) does have a tendency to take precedence.
In the stories at least.
Narrowly escaping being caught in flagrante, our hero heads home to make his report to the Duke, visit his father’s grave and capture another fair maid’s heart before returning to the European campaign.
What follows is a bloody trail against the French, heightened by the personal vendetta against Rawson – and the spirited response of the young English debutante. However, touting the book on its sleeve and frontispieces as ‘the first in the Rawson series’ removes any shred of suspense that should attend the adventure. This ‘marketing’ ploy is just one of a number of elementary errors that sadly take this book into the realms of the also-rans.
The plot actually holds together well-enough. It’s thought-out and feasible… but it’s also been done before. The story is a Sharpe-style romp with all the stock characters: Dan leads as Sharpe; his sergeant Wellbeck fills in for the Irish Patrick Harper; Marlborough takes Wellington’s boots…the French are as ever the enemy, and the rest of Europe seems to switch sides at will. But where Cornwell captures the mud and blood and guts of battle, where he conjures up relationships in words and looks and actions, where the tenderness sometimes seems believable…Marston relies heavily on descriptions and reported attitudes, and historic references.
I would never condemn an author on the strength of one book, but what shines for me in this one is that Marston is almost certainly more suited to the screenplay and the non-fiction work – where tell not show is the order of the day.
The jarring anachronisms of referring to historical events by the names that historians would bestow on them is bad enough (the battle of Sedgemoor had begun) - but to put them into the mouth of the lowly sergeant - why did we ever become involved in the War of Spanish Succession in the first place? Ouch.
A wealth of detailed research has clearly gone into this book – unfortunately the author has felt the need to use it all, and forced it into the dialogue when there was no where else to put it…turning his characters into wooden cyphers. The tendency on the reader’s part not to engage with any of these people as a result is only reinforced by the apparent need to repeat their full name ad infinitum. Captain Daniel Rawson is predominantly Captain Rawson, or Daniel Rawson, or the full caboodle Captain Daniel Rawson. Again. And again. Paragraph after paragraph. Similarly Miss Abigail Piper is too often Miss Piper. Even Marlborough is not allowed for a second to drop his Dukedom. The rare occasions of familiarity (Daniel. Or Abigail.) are too few to make them real. The French King is Louis XIV. Indeed – but surely for the most part he would just have been ‘the King’ or Louis, or King Louis - we would speak of The Queen, or Queen Elizabeth – the full regaling being reserved purely for formal declarations and documents.
All in all, it made for quite a stilted, unsatisfactory read.
As a television adaptation it could work - or a minor re-write could produce a decent-enough school textbook, but as a novel, I’m afraid this one is a disappointment.
If the early eighteenth century interests you then try Tim Severin’s Corsair for a nautical take on the same period.
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