The Scarlet Thief

The Scarlet Thief 
© 2013 Paul Fraser Collard
352 pages

Captain Arthur Sloames stepped off the boat with a terrible secret.  He wore on his shoulders the coat of a dead man.  When his transport left England, he was but Jack Lark — a crushed and anxious common soldier whose ambition had led him to become an officer’s aide. That officer perished of fever en route to a new command, however, and seizing on the opportunity Lark has assumed the man’s identity.  It’s not as if he can do worse than the stuffed shirts leading the army now, after all — but faced against Russian cossacks and massed artillery, Lark soon realizes being the man who gives the orders is never so simple.   As mobs of uniformed men are thrown into battle against one another, Lark is doubly challenged: first,   to survive the brutal opening of the Crimean war, doing right  by his men; and to maintain his charade surrounded by officers who are not nearly as dimwitted as they appear from a distance.

Imagine the frantic action of a Bernard Cornwell novel, but with the humor drastically downplayed; that’s the general feeling here, as Fraser is just as good at thrusting readers into the heart of battle and keeping the pages flying by.  The working-class character suddenly turned officer is very reminiscent of Sharpe’s backstory, though Lark’s promotion is one of stolen valor — or rather, borrowed, because Lark may pose as an officer but he’s a courageous soldier  who doesn’t shy from leading his men from the front.  What he leads them into is not always advisable, but it wouldn’t be a novel without disasters to test characters and learn from.   There are enemies both foreign and domestic; there are the Russians, of course, but Lark is also dogged by an old enemy who has inexplicably turned up in Crimea as well.

What will make Jack Lark stand out, I think, is not so much his similarities to Sharpe, but how very different his story will become.  The novels to come take Lark to India, Persia, and beyond, with roles beyond the battlefield.  I’m  especially intriuged by the idea of an English soldier fighting for the Shah.

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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11 Responses to The Scarlet Thief

  1. mudpuddle says:

    i read some of the Cornwell stories and liked them… i thought at the time that they were kind of a variation of the Flashman books by George Macdonald Fraser… they were great also, if you've read them… he also wrote a study of the Scottish/English border wars that i thought was good: \”The Steel Bonnets\”… i'll look in the library to see if they have any of Collard's work…

  2. CyberKitten says:

    This series is on my 'interest' list. Thanks for bumping it up a bit. Echoes of Sharpe is not a bad thing…. [grin]

  3. Brian Joseph says:

    A common soldier taking the place of an officer sounds like an interesting concept. As you say, expanding the series into other parts of world adds appeal. I have never read Cornwell so I would probably start with his books.

  4. Stephen says:

    Definitely not…I saw another series set during the English civil wars that tried to play up its Sharpe-similarities. I'm not sure if I'll have time to try it, but we'll see.

  5. Stephen says:

    Yes, definitely start with Cornwell. The action is intense, the writing is FUN, and the characters are unforgettable.

  6. Stephen says:

    I hadn't heard of these at all! Thanks for the tip. Since I read so little historical fiction last year, I'm nosing around for new authors and series to explore..

  7. R. T. says:

    Bravo … fine review … I'm off yo the library to find a copy … best wishes from rain drenched Gulf coast of AL ….

  8. CyberKitten says:

    Yes, I've seen that series… I might even have the first book… [muses]. So much of it about though – everyone looking to ride on Richard's coat tails!

  9. CyberKitten says:

    Definitely agree on Cornwell. SUCH fun. Highly recommended to anyone who loves strongly character driven adventure tales.

  10. Stephen says:

    We are similarly soaked up here! Mind the tornados…

  11. Pingback: British Historical Fiction | Reading Freely

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