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4.1 out of 5 stars
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4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 10 February 2011
I enjoyed this book. It's a novel set in the mid-1800s in what is now Malaysia. It is an exciting tale of an English 'gentleman adventurer', James Brooke, who engaged with the area to the extent that he was invited to become its ruler - The White Rajah of the title.

Told through the eyes of John Williamson, a sailor with a facility for languages, an intelligence of observation, and a love for James Brooke, the story covers the trials and tribulations of Brooke's rise to rule, and his largely paternal view of what would have been seen at the time as a `country of savages'.

While many of the details in the book are true, this is a fictional account, so maintains a pace and a level of interest that a factual history might not. You feel the adventure of exploration of a little-known territory in this book, along with the problems that had to be addressed at the same time such as trying to gain the respect of and control over the various tribes and outside peoples with interests in the area.

Overall, an interesting account of a part of the world I knew nothing about, and of a man who you feel by the end of the book, became a relatively benign ruler, for the good of the local people. Well worth a read.
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on 9 December 2010
"The White Rajah" is an engaging adventure book, it keeps you turning the page by a gripping tale of daring-do with a sprinkling of treachery, love and battle thrown in.

It's not until after you've finished that you realise that it was more than that and that actually you've learnt something; not just about British colonialism, but about the nature of man.

Well worth reading.
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on 6 December 2010
I read this book, and have to say it's one of the best written historically acturate (with some allowance for dramatic flair of course) books I've read in a long time.

Although, a gay partnership in the book, it's far from being a "gay book", it's a great adventure story with I think a good moral message in it, exporing what makes a good person and why good people do bad things.

Totally a book worth reading.
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on 21 August 2012
I was really surprised how much I liked this book as it is not my usual type at all The main character James Brooke really lived and this fleshes out his extraordinary thrilling and deeply moving story in Borneo It is excellently written and very highly recommended
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on 14 December 2012
This is a fascinating and largely true story of a one James Brooke, gentleman explorer, invalided out of the East India Company,who, in the mid-19th century turns to venturing his luck in an exciting and eventful exploration of the Far East, more explicitly Borneo and Sarawak where he eventually becomes the White Rajah. Although James appears the principal character, in truth there are two equally important ones, the other being the story's narrator, John Williamson. John, a young common sailor endowed with intelligence, keen observation and seamanship skills, is struck at first sight with James's zest, charisma and daring and excitedly joins his expedition. Thereafter, the relationship between the two men, one older, of higher status, more experienced and in authority, the other younger, of lower status, limited experience, more grounded and very good looking, is woven into the main fabric of the tale. At first a tentative but then burgeoning and deepening love affair unfurls which is totally convincing. Sex is clearly secondary to love and is played down. Love, for John, mitigates against his guilty recognition that he is committing a sin, whereas James's character and perhaps status seem to protect him from too much concern. John is portrayed as a young gay man who would have never indulged his inclinations or even perhaps have recognised them had he not been smitten, whereas James, one feels, could have gone either way according to circumstances.

The twists and turns of this relationship follow the dramatic tale of adventures on the high seas and James's rule of Sarawak. Although love survives the vicissitudes of necessity, power and politics, John finally abandons James unable to cope with the ravages they have inflicted on his lover's character. This is a moral tale, beautifully written, minutely researched and thoroughly enjoyable at many levels - style, historical knowledge (especially of ships, customs and warfare), feeling for the awe a 19th century sailor would have felt on first encounter with the exotic Far East as well as an amazingly perceptive account of an illicit love affair between two very different men. Thoroughly recommendable.
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on 15 May 2011
In The White Rajah, Tom Williams unfolds an extraordinary story from the British Empire's history that has until now been largely overlooked. James Brooke was genuinely an old fashioned adventurer, whose wit, luck and eye to main chance presented him with the kingdom of Sarawak as his own private fiefdom. He won it, developed it, protected it, not as an outpost of empire, but as his own personal responsibility.

Williams tells the story with pace and relish and with first hand knowledge of the terrain. He admits that he has altered or had to invent some of the details, but this is pretty seamless and all the most outrageously unlikely developments are true. Sadly, his narrator Williams, presented as Brooke's protégé, translator and lover, is a complete invention, but his idealisation of James suits Williams' purpose well, allowing us to view him with a degree of intimacy and with the satisfaction of being on the inside track.

This is a very readable telling of a story that deserves to be more widely known.
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on 7 July 2011
Read this book whilst on Holiday in Mexico. Whilst not an avid reader and certainly not my favourite genre of novel it had been recommended to me. I found this book a splendid read, extremely well written and researched. A thoroughly absorbing read which left me wanting to read more about this extraordinary man. If in two minds whether to purchase it buy it you won't be dissapointed.
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on 16 May 2011
A surprisingly easy and enjoyable read. Whilst following up on a promise to "expand my literative horizons" and spend some time reading books which aren't of my usual SF/Fantasy genre, I picked up this book on a recommendation from a friend. The book tweaked my interest from the start. It felt like I was reading a Wilbur Smith novel, but with the number of historical epiphany's that took place during the reading either showed up my poor historical knowledge of the far East - or as I suspect is the case, the research behind the book lent a realism to the story without getting in the way of the plot...

If I had to make a criticism, I would suggest that his next novel should contain more flesh on the bones of the supporting cast.

All in all, based on this first novel, I think Tom Williams shows great potential to produce great historical adventure yarns.
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on 11 December 2010
A book that allows you to escape the 21st century. You can return to a time when a man with a spirit of adventure could acquire a small country through charm and daring. It is beautifully written, with a prose style that captures the 19th century, while still flowing easily along.

Owning countries isn't easy, though. The themes of the book - the dilemmas of insurgency and reprisals (why do good people do bad things?) - are all too the contemporary.
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on 17 August 2013
Looking at other reviews I'm not sure I can add much. I was in the mood for an adventure story and this one is that and more. It is based on a true story and is set in the South China Seas in the nineteenth century. It covers a period that I know little about and so I wished I had known more of the historical background. But I now know more than I did! The style as well as the story is engaging and I was impressed by the amount of detail the novel contains.
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