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By the Hands of Men, Book Three: The Wrath of a Righteous Man Kindle Edition
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As with the second book, the structure of ‘The Wrath of a Righteous Man’ is divided into two parts, first we concentrate on Charlotte’s story before we reconnect with Robert who now finds himself in the heat and humidity of Africa.
Meeting Charlotte Braninov again was like becoming reacquainted with an old friend. We meet her on her journey from her homeland of Russia on board a ship bound for London. Travelling with her, are the compatriots she met during her imprisonment at the hands of the Red Army. During the sea crossing we witness a different side to human nature when benevolence takes the place of brutality. Charlotte’s altruism continues to shine through as she builds a life for herself and her companions in England.
Griffis gives us a bit of humour along the way with Charlotte’s charge, Zlata, learning some very colourful language from the sailors and choosing to use it at every opportunity. We also have some lovely examples of alliteration, similes and metaphors to add depth to the descriptive passages. I particularly liked Robert’s appearance, when he looked: ‘as if he had been shat out of a dyspeptic rhino.’
I penalised the author previously as I felt Charlotte’s story was so powerful that Robert’s tale paled by comparison. However, meeting Robert again, I found I had a new respect for his character and more sympathy and understanding of the personal demons he battled. This book is much more balanced and I found myself getting as anxious for Robert when he was again called to arms, as I was for Charlotte who faced dangers of her own.
Again Griffis has carried out his background research meticulously, as I’ve now come to expect. A huge amount of work has gone into this story and I congratulate him on his dogged determination to deliver yet another fine book. I believe the calibre of his writing improves with every story.
I look forward to much more from this very accomplished wordsmith and I can award ‘The Wrath of a Righteous Man’ no less than a perfect five stars. Roy M Griffis has now set the bar extremely high for his next story and I look forward to finding out what fate has in store for Charlotte and Robert.
Reviewed by Julie at Whispering Stories Book Blog
**I received a free copy of this book, which I voluntarily reviewed**
Hemingway credits Gertrude Stein with naming their generation. They were the ones who came of age during the first World War, the Great War. And what was lost was a sense of direction, of being able to draw on the past for identity and guidance.
For American writers, this included a world of decadence, of the frivolous lifestyles of the very rich such as The Great Gatsby, but also the loss of innocence, the fiction that the American Dream was within everyone’s reach. For countries like England, it meant a generation literally lost, with over two million women more than men under age 45.
These are the themes of By the Hands of Men, Book Three: The Wrath of a Righteous Man, Roy M. Griffis’ epic World War I series, which sends lead characters Robert Fitzgerald and Charlotte Braninov on a search for connections to their pasts and their futures in a post-war world which has obliterated both.
This has become one of my favorite historical fiction series ever, but it is not a series where each book stands alone. If you haven’t had a chance to read the first two volumes, I urge you to do so, because the threads connecting them are carefully gathered and woven in. For example, in my previous review, I complained about a vignette in Book Two describing Charlotte’s interaction with a Jewish pawnbroker that I thought was only there to make a statement about aristocratic anti-semitism. In a similar way, as I was reading Robert’s various adventures in Shanghai and Africa, my first thought was that these were just padding to show what the rest of the world was like. I could not have been more wrong. Both threads play a critical role in this next volume.
In The Wrath of a Righteous Man, the Great War is over. Robert, recovered from typhoid, has left Shanghai, and is now bound for Africa. Charlotte escaped the the nightmare of death and torture that is the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and—along with her few remaining friends—is on a boat bound for England. But she can’t allow herself to believe that the sailors around them have any genuine humanity, even when they take up collections to provide clothing and gifts for the tattered refugees. [Quote]“It was almost enough to make the nurse believe in the possibility of the goodness of men. Almost.”[End Quote]
Instead, she puts her faith in the guns she hides under her dress, and makes almost a religious ceremony of cleaning them.
[Quote]“Oddly, the thought of cleaning the pistols filled her with a joyous anticipation. And why not, she reasoned. They had saved her life and the lives of her companions. They gave her a kind of control over her existence which the Reds had conspired to take from her. No one would ever take that from her again.”[End quote]
Back in England, Charlotte struggles to take care of her friends and connect with the people around her. But as fate sends her in search of the Jewish pawnbroker, Kamensky, she must travel to Paris. Despite leaving war and revolution behind, Charlotte imagines that she smells death and decay in the air everywhere she goes.
[Quote]“Shoving her face into the opening, she inhaled deeply, and amid the scents of water and sewage and smoke, there was still the sickliness of decay. And why not? Millions, literal millions had perished in the Great War, many of them on this very soil. The cold, impersonal mechanism had done its mindless work, and beneath the mud, beneath the streets, the dad lay, mute testament to the blind machinery of the World.”[End Quote]
As Charlotte struggles to connect to the present, she slowly validates her affection and love for the people around her but at a cost: she must first release her ties to the people and memories that have gone before, including her memories of falling in love with Robert.
Meanwhile Robert has gone to Africa, where similar disillusionment awaits. He’s horrified to see the evidence of torture and death, the numbers of Africans with hands chopped off—standard punishment under the rule of King Leopold of Belgium. Robert, who saw his time in the trenches as supporting the “gallant” Belgians, is sickened by this further evidence that his war might not have been all that just. He’s sent from the Congo into Nigeria, where he serves with and comes to admire a former Boer soldier—and also learns first-hand about the atrocities on both sides of that war.
When his friend is killed by a sect of murderous religious zealots and slavers, Robert realizes that honor demands he take command of the native troops and fight their way through to punish the atrocities committed. After gruelling battles and losses, he finally succeeds in his campaign, capturing the leader of the slavers. But the final blow to Robert’s picture of himself as a soldier and an honorable man comes when British authorities release his captive because he is “useful” to them.
Robert takes shelter with friends of his fallen Boer comrade, and spends the next four years recovering.
[Quote]“What can you do?” Uys asked him.
I can kill men, Robert thought. I can tie a cravat. I can pick a wine for dinner. “I can ride a horse,” he finally said.[End Quote]
In both Charlotte and Robert’s cases, their recovery of the ability to trust and even love is tied up with their relationship with animals. Charlotte and her friends have rescued a beautiful golden eagle and brought it with them from Russia. Robert works on a farm, first acquiring pets and then actively studying to become a veterinarian.
But other new forces again interfere. The fantastically wealthy American newspaper baron, Randolph Hearst and his moviestar mistress, Marion Davies, come on safari and engage Robert’s veterinary services. He’s stunned to see their camp, “…something out of the Arabian Nights”, complete with generators, and guests donning formal dress for dinner.
The book ends on a pair of cliffhangers, as both Charlotte and Robert—still mourning their lost love—are faced with dangers from their past and both are forced to again move on.
I simply can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s a read for the long haul, with steady pacing, characters whose spirits are torn apart and slowly, painfully rebuilt, plus a supporting cast of three-dimensional characters who breath life and color into the tapestry. And there is the story itself, which is nothing more than an epic picture of a world between wars, as experienced on human scale through the two protagonists. The bare bones I’ve told here don’t begin to convey the wealth of detail and adventure that are woven into the twin stories of Robert and Charlotte, of what the war has cost, and of what they’ve each gained.
It’s an incredible achievement and my only complaint this time is that I want to know what happens next. I’m rooting for Robert and Charlotte, and my fingers are crossed that after all they’ve been through, the next and final book will bring resolution.
*I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.*
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