I won my copy of The White Rajah on a Goodreads Firstreads giveaway. Alas, I've had problems recently with books from firstreads n...moreFirstreads hates me.
I won my copy of The White Rajah on a Goodreads Firstreads giveaway. Alas, I've had problems recently with books from firstreads not actually being delivered, and no idea why that is. I wasn't one to pester or nag, but when I got around to inquiring, the author was so kind enough to give me an ebook copy as a replacement. But it has been a ridiculously long time between winning the book and actually reviewing, which is a shame.
This novel is the fictional memoirs of John Williamson, a shipman whose path crosses with James Brooke when he enlists as crew for his first exploratory trade mission to the South China Seas. Brooke is asked by the Sultan of Borneo to help supress a rebellion in his empire, and Brooke hopes to foster trade relations by doing so. As a reward for their victory Brooke is given ruleship of the kingdom of Sarawak, hence becoming the first White Rajah. Williamson soon becomes indespensible to Brooke, being helpful in fostering good relations with the locals, aswell as his seamanship skills. The two gradually foster a close friendship and eventually become lovers. But being Rajah is obviously not as simple as living luxuriously in a palace, and Brooke soon finds that amongst problems such as piracy, political problems and racial prejudice, he'll soon find it hard enough to hang on to his kingdom at all.
It must be noted that whilst James Brooke is a real historical figure, and the main historical facts can all be verified. John Williamson is only debatably a real person, and the relationship between the two seems to be mostly conjecture. Of course, it's historical fiction, that's entirely the point, but it's nice to be have a knowledge of which parts are from the history books and which parts are the author's imagination.
Williamson was an interesting character for a point of view. Being neither born of nobility or educated, he was an outsider to Brooke and his rank of friends. But his close relationship with Brooke elevated him to a level where he could observe and provide a unique view on everything that went on, whilst remaining almost a detached observer. In a way tho, this was also one of the novels main failings. As whilst Williamson gives a good point of view, he also remains too detatched. In scenes where there was battle action Williamson fails to get involved and the action remains just a series of facts and figures that could have been gleaned from a history book. There was no real emotional involvement.
I feel that neither Williamson or Brooke were really fully developed as characters. I never felt like I knew them except as details of where they went and what they did. I never felt an atatchment to them, or a connection to their feelings and emotions.
In conclusion, The White Rajah makes for an interesting read, but was overal a bit dry, and would do a lot better with more depth to the characters. A bit more emotion could really have bumped it up a star or two. (less)
Jonathan Dymond is a young gentleman with no cares, who makes a living by taking his unique portable cider-press round the countryside, and pressing c...moreJonathan Dymond is a young gentleman with no cares, who makes a living by taking his unique portable cider-press round the countryside, and pressing cider apples. When a note comes to his father from his dying uncle, things change. His father arrives to late to hear his Uncle's last wishes, and is willing to let it be forgotten. But Jonathan finds a scrap of the note that hints of dark secrets, and is plagued by nightmares of his Uncle. So our protagonist finds himself driven to investigate the mystery. Taking the cider press to help his Aunt Harriet with her apples is a convenient way to get into the household for a while, and there he meets Tamar, an unusual beggar-girl who has been hired as a maid by her aunt, and seems to know somewhat about the mystery of Uncle Robin's dying wishes.
The novel is set in 16th centry england shortly after cromwell's civil war (a period which McCann has obviously well researched for her first novel 'As Meat Loves Salt'). The setting works really well for the novel, with hints of the recent violent past still resting below the surface. And the practice of cider making seems to tinge the story with the scents of sweetness and underlying rot.
It has to be said that I did not rate this novel quite as highly as McCann's first novel, but then again I gave 'As Meat Loves Salt' a 5 star rating and cried continuously over it. It has to be hard first novel to live up to. Nevertheless McCann's writing is still brilliant, and the mystery was completely riveting. Highly recommended.