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'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.
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on 8 February 2010
I am sorry to have to say i was disappointed with this book. I enjoyed the series generally but the formula is getting a little repetitive. There are only so many times we can enjoy our hero getting into trouble and being rescued by his plucky little woman. In the 'guns of el kebir ' we lost our continueing villain and he has been replaced in this book by another stock character. straight out of central casting , i am not sure if he twirled his moustache but he did not wear a black hat as not a part of uniform.

There is character development but with small cast we know some minor characters will get the chop and they have not been around long enough to miss them. to say any more would involve a spoiler too many.

This book did however fill out another incident in Britain's historic empire building story. The death of 'chinese gordon ' in Khartoum. There is some interesting background information but would have probably learned this from a history book rather than a novel.

i will check out the next story in series and i hope Mr Wilcox picks up the ball and runs with it . Please live up to my hopes.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 June 2011
More of the usual fun and games from our hero Fonthill and 352, these 2 characters always bring a smile to my face even in the most dire of circumstances.
The plot is as always fast paced, full of detail and information but does not get bogged down with it, Wilcox always manages to make his story flow as though he were sat around the story like a classic story teller.
I have not read a Fonthill book i didn't enjoy yet, and based on this one again i don't foresee there being a day when he will disappoint.

So if you enjoy Historical Fiction, humour and a jolly good tale... then pick up this or another Wilcox.

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on 15 May 2012
I have often pondered what George MacDonald Fraser's `Flashman' series would be like if it was played straight. I need wonder no more after reading John Wilcox's `Siege of Khartoum'; this is exactly how it would be and why it does not work. Our hero is one Simon Fonthill, officer, gentleman, toff. With only a tub of boot polish to use as a disguise he is sent across 1884 Egypt as a spy. Speaking no Arabic he takes with him a collection of racial stereotypes; loyal subordinate/Welshman 352 Jenkins, and a couple of locals. Can you guess who survives the trip and who does not? It does not matter that one of them is a lanky white guy who speaks only English, like the modern British tourist he will save the day by repeatedly saying things in English, louder and louder until he is understood.

`Khartoum' is not quite this bad, but at times it borders on farce. It is not helped that the story is one big trip into nothing - the group go places and back again with no real aim and stuff happens to them with little consequence for the greater story. In a way I respect Wilcox's take on Victorian Englishmen - the army was stuck up and a racist, it was the Empire after all. However, not all the attitudes in the book quite feel in keeping with the 1880s. Fonthill's fiancé is a little too progressive and feels like a modern woman in a historic book - she jars with all the other characters.

The biggest failing with `Khartoum' is that Fonthill is slightly buffoonish. Wilcox goes off on tangents in the book, following Fonthill's beloved or Queen Victoria's secretary. These sections are far more interesting than the actual meat of the narrative which follows Fonthill. Less Fonthill and more Queen Victoria would have made a better novel.
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on 8 February 2009
I say chaps bally well get down to your book shops and buy a copy. Jolly good stuff, this Wilcox fella is a bit of a whizz at writing these stories of derring do, don't you know!

Fonthill and 352 are marvellous and the narrative of trying to rescus "Chinese" Gordon from Khartoum, interweaving fact and fiction, meeting the real soldiers of the time, an excellant way to learn history, I can't recommend this book enough.

One small point 352 would have been recommended for a Distinguished Conduct Medal, NOT a Distinguished Service Medal. But where to go from here, India or Africa? Yes, I agree one of the best books of the series and I've read them all!
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on 6 December 2011
Pacey and good fun, although I did feel that some of the plot/dialogue/action was a little far-fetched. Weaving characters into a historical setting then those characters not always acting within the confines of the Victorian/Arab society seemed a bit odd to me - the same kind of treatment as the Jude Law/Robert Downey Jr did to Sherlock Holmes in the recent film. Enjoyable nonetheless and I look forward to discovering the rest of the series. More please!
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on 14 April 2011
This was my first and so-far onlt Simon Fonthill story, so I have no experience of 'the formula' referred to by the other reviewers. This is an adventure story set against a backdrop of historical events and there are few imperial adventures to compete with Gordon's demise in Khartoum. The historical background does not inhibit the adventurous Simon Fonthill from playing a key role in the General's final days. This is a great adventure story written in boys-own style with great panache. No doubt who the baddies are in this tale. It reminded me of the stories that got me reading when I was 5! Of couse this is not the first book in the series and you might be wise to start with the first book, but I could not wait to get to Khartoum so jumped into the series out of sequence. I have recently bought 'The Guns of El Kebir' and look forward to reading what Fonthill was up to before this great adventure in Sudan.
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on 12 October 2010
If you have never read a John Wilcox novel you are in for a treat.Simon Fonthill is our hero in this series of books,and what a hero.Dashing,debonair,fearless.Biggles,Sharpe,Bond,all rolled into one. A must for any reader of action and adventure books.
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on 25 December 2009
This was a brilliantly gripping read from cover to cover. I was unable to put it down. Simon Fonthill is a legendary character, much in the same vein as Richard Sharpe. Two thumbs up.
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on 19 July 2013
These two main characters once again are in the thick of exciting adventures. Based on historical events but expanded with fictional happenings that make a very good read.
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