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Sticks to the Formula
on 29 November 2009
'Siege of Khartoum', the latest in John Wilcox's series following the adventures of former army officer turned scout-cum-spy Simon Fonthill, his Welsh sidekick 352 Jenkins and fiance Alice Covington, sticks to the formula of the previous books; dropping the characters into a real life British military campaign during the late Victorian period. In this case the campaign in question is the ultimately unseccessful attempt to relieve the beseiged General Gordon at Khartoum and it finds Fonthill and Jenkins assigned the task of travelling incognito down to the Sudan on behalf of General Wolesley to determine how long Gordon can hold out against the forces of the Mahdi's army and how quickly Wolesley's relief mission must reach its destination in order to prevent the loss of the city.
By adhering to the same formula as the previous books Siege of Khartoum shares their strengths and weaknesses. There's plenty of enjoyable action, both real and imagined, of the boy-own-adventure type. The historical details are both accurate and interesting. The recurring characters, after several novels, are well developed and appealing. The plot however, is somewhat hamstrung by having to fit around recorded historical fact, leading to pacing which is less than even and at times slows to a crawl and an eventual outcome, at least for Gordon, that is known from the start to anyone with even a vague grasp of history.
If you're a fan of Wilcox's previous novels (and I am) you'll enjoy this latest tale. If however, you're looking for a fast moving, adrenalin raising tale full of non-stop action then you might be slightly disappointed. There's plenty of incident in Siege of Khartoum but in order to shoehorn his characters into a real-life story Wilcox has to make sacrifices in terms of plot and pacing that don't necessarily result in the most dramatically satisfying book of this sort.