Honorable Company Paperback – 27 Nov 2001
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"When is a military adventure novel every bit as good as a history book, with the added pleasure for the reader of living it vicariously through the eyes, mind, heart and soul of an English cavalry officer in the early 19th century? When it is written by Allan Mallinson."
-- The Wall Street Journal
"A marvelous read, paced like a well-balanced symphony ... full of surprises and excitement."
-- The Times
-- Booklist "A rousing tale of conspiracy [and] double-crossings ... Hervey is an enduring hero."
-- Publishers Weekly Look for Allan Mallinson's A Close Run Thing Available wherever Bantam Books are sold
From the Inside Flap
In a rousing follow-up to the critically acclaimed A Close Run Thing, Captain Matthew Hervey makes the hazardous sea voyage to India for what the Duke of Wellington has called "deuced tricky work."
As Wellington's new aide-de-camp, Matthew's covert mission will embroil him in the jostling of native potentates and England's encroaching East India Company -- both threatened by lawless bands of horsemen bent on plunder and massacre.
When Matthew's journeying leads him to the small key state of Chintal, he thinks himself close to his objective. But at the rajah's sumptuous court, he discovers that war in India is waged as often with money and spies as with the clear-cut tactics of the battlefield -- with battles won through devious conversations and murderous perfidy. And Matthew, torn between his honor and his destiny, is drawn deeper into the court's serpentine coils than he ever dreamed....
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But young cavalry officer Mathew Hervey is a hero to root for; principled, dashing and amazingly resourceful. The military details feel authentic and the Indian setting of Hervey's second adventure steams with heat and intrigue.
Promoted to captain after the Battle of Waterloo ("A Close Run Thing") and named the Duke of Wellington's new aide-de-camp, Hervey is abruptly dispatched to India, a shining opportunity, save for two problems. The first is the ungraceful postponement of his wedding to his childhood sweetheart, Henrietta. The second is the clandestine, rather unsavory quality of his mission.
Subterfuge is foreign to the forthright soldier and the substance of his mission - squaring the Duke's political aspirations by disposing of some questionable Indian estates in the small independent (fictional) state of Chintal - makes him uncomfortable. Still, an order is an order and not to be questioned.
In addition, Hervey's cover is thin and he tends to babble a little when he informs people he is in India researching the use of the lance as a weapon of war. Did he but know it, Hervey is soon over his head among the machinations of the British East India Company and the maneuvering of Indian princes. Actually, considering the opportunities for blunders and treachery Hervey creates by his innocence and staunch British principles, Mallinson is rather easy on him. His curiosity, affability and lack of pretensions win him sympathetic friends and his bravery and ingenuity wins their respect.
Mallinson is at his best describing Hervey in action: chasing down a huge boar from a good horse, fighting bandits and mutineers, turning battles against stupendous odds. Having won the goodwill of the rajah of Chintal by saving his elephant from quicksand, Hervey is invited to Court - the very place he needs to be to expunge all records of the Duke's estates.
The rajah, besieged by bandits, treasonous subordinates, the British East India Company and the encroachments of the Muslim nizam of a neighboring state, appeals to Hervey for help. Befriending the rajah makes his treacherous mission all the more difficult. Then there's the rajah's beautiful, mistrustful, and powerful daughter. And the veiled plans of ambitious Europeans, as sneaky as the country's multitude of snakes.
Much of the political history and tangle is delivered through conversations - old hands expressing opinions or setting young Hervey straight. Readers whose knowledge of the period is sketchy will finish the book with their ignorance pretty much intact. But Mallinson's portrayal of the time - the vastness and variety of the country, the opulence of the rajah's court, the people and their passions, the elephants, snakes, horses, mud huts and palaces - is intensely visual. The country comes alive.
Hervey's good nature and humor balance his earnestness and ambition. He does his best thinking on the back of a horse and we meet some excellent horses along the way. The narrative is well-paced; suspenseful but also leisurely, involving the reader in the atmosphere of India - its religious mysticism and extremes of poverty and plenty - while cranking up the growing tensions to a pitch of war on several fronts. If Hervey's British ingenuity sometimes strains credulity, it also makes for greater excitement and dash. A thoroughly enjoyable yarn, from first page to last.
Mr Wylie of California finds the characterisation and dialogue in the book substandard. I cannot reasonably judge his soi-disant expertise in this area. I can only say that as a former student of military history at undergraduate level, and as an Englishman with some knowledge of my country's social history, and, finally, as a man fortunate enough to have friends serving in the armed forces, I believe Allan Mallinson has not only a keen ear for dialogue, but also a deft, sympathetic approach to portraying historical characters.
Mr Wylie says that this book may motivate him to write his own stories. I for one cannot wait to review his efforts.
The action is smaller scaled here, no more big slug-fests like Waterloo. In India Hervey finds the seductiveness of the landscape intoxicating at times. He learns to think on his feet and becomes adept at masterering the "petit guerre" of warfare in the East. This series shows promise, even if Hervey is no Sharpe, and Malinson no Cornwell.
I found the setting here well described and rich, though I cannot speak to its accuracy. The fly in the ghee is the plot. Essentially, it's a series of spikes. Everything's going along well, and then some random event -- a French prisoners' revolt, a fire onboard a ship -- calls on Hervey to behave heroically. Even the later events, which are better tied in with an overall plot arc, have this "problem suddenly arises; Hervey solves problem; problem goes away" quality. There is the promise of subtlety and undercover activities here, but Mallison doesn't really exploit it.
Overall, characters are well done, with Locke being appealing and Johnson continuing to be vividly drawn. Hervey's sudden loyalty to the Chintal rajah doesn't seem sufficently supported in characterization or plot, and it's annoying that he succeeds in every single thing he does; perhaps in the third volume he'll face more meaningful challenges.
My other problem with this book was that the hero was always triumphant with whatever he undertook, which was not very realistic for India, and what happened to his poor fiancee? Is she still on the pier in France?
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