1845, a village outside Sydney Town. Humble blacksmith Ian Steele struggles to support his widowed mother. All the while he dreams of a life in uniform, serving in Queen Victoria’s army.
1845, Puketutu, New Zealand. Second Lieutenant Samuel Forbes, a young poet from an aristocratic English family, wants nothing more than to run from the advancing Maori warriors and discard the officer’s uniform he never sought.
When the two men cross paths in the colony of New South Wales, they are struck by their brotherly resemblance and quickly hatch a plan for Ian to take Samuel’s place in the British army.
Ian must travel to England, fool the treacherous Forbes family and accept a commission into their regiment as a company commander. Once in London, he finds love with an enigmatic woman, but must part with her to face battle in the bloody Crimean war.
My first Peter Watt novel was Cry of the Curlew, more than twenty-five years ago. Finally, I thought, someone was bringing a vivid, Wilbur Smith style of writing to Australian history. I’ve been a fan ever since, reading avidly along through the Frontier series. Later, when my own first book was coming out, I was introduced to Peter, and visited him up in Maclean where Peter, myself, and Pete’s good mate, talkback host John Carroll, had a great yarn over a coffee or two.
When I heard that Peter had started a new series I got hold of a copy straight off, and was thrilled to find that I was listed in the acknowledgements. I’m still not sure why I deserve that honour, but was thrilled nonetheless. So what did I think of The Queen’s Colonial?
It’s a cracker of a story. Peter never lets the story get bogged down with excessive description or gets carried away with his prose. The action moves along at a brisk trot, and as I reader I was drawn ever deeper into the characters and their lives.
Ian Steele is an admirable lead, with his own strong ethics and sense of fair play. He’s also forgiving to those willing to make amends. When he fulfils his dream to serve in the British army, he’s a caring and capable officer. Unfortunately, men like Ian foster jealousy in lesser beings, and he’s in fear of his life from both Russian bullets and scheming officers, some of whom are in league with his half-brother in England.
The battle descriptions in the second half of the book made me feel like I was there, with an Enfield rifle in my hands, and Russian cannonballs bouncing through the ranks, maiming and wounding as they went. Through The Queen’s Colonial I learned a lot about a war I knew nothing about, and applaud Peter for his research and attention to detail throughout.
I highly recommend this book, and can’t wait for the next in the series.
Greg Barron 2019