Friday, May 01, 2009

.more books...

There's no getting away from it, Steve the Wargamer is currently in the middle of a "painting funk" - a brush hasn't been raised in anger (except for a couple of occasions) for most of the year, so far...

I'm not too worried about it as I know that these things come and go, and I know I'll be painting again soon. The best of the joy however, comes from knowing that the wargame hobby is truly a broad church; if I don't fancy painting, what does it matter, there's still reading, research, blogs, the latest wargames magazines, and a host of other facets of the hobby to keep me occupied until the painting urge comes upon me again...

So it is that I've been doing a fair amount of reading lately... the latest book I've just finished is the one pictured above left. It's only just been released in paperback and is the latest in the "Simon Fonthill" series by John Wilcox. I've only ever read one of his other books, which I think was set in the Zulu War and that was ages ago. I seem to remember that I didn't think much of it, so to a certain extent, the spending of hard earned birthday book vouchers on this one was a bit of a leap of faith (justified by the subject matter more than anything). As it turns out, I was pleased I did...!

The main protagonist is of course Simon Fonthill, an army captain who (we learn) was court-martialled in one of the earlier books, but having been cleared subsequently decided to leave the army anyway. He was accompanied in this departure from the army by his trusty side kick "352" Jenkins (so called because as a Welshman, he was one of a number with the same name in his regiment, and so was referred to by the last three numbers of his serial number).

Mr. Wilcox does not believe in his hero's hanging around idle, so having been conspicuous by their presence in the Zulu War, the Afghanistan Campaign, and the Boer War, we now find him and 352 at his home in Wales for a spot of leave. This doesn't last for long however, as the rumblings of discontent begin to be heard from Egypt as Arabi Pasha begins the militarisation of Egypt in an attempt to overthrow Turkish rule.

Summoned to Whitehall by Lieutenant General Sir Garnet Wolseley, he is asked to go to Egypt in an unofficial capacity as an intelligence gatherer. Having worked for him before Wolseley asks him to be his unofficial eyes and ears in Egypt to report back to him the state of readiness of the Egyptian army...

..and so it starts....

Pretty soon Fonthill is caught up in the fighting in Alexandria, the bombardment by the British Navy under Admiral Seymour (Wilcox gives a good view of his character!) and the subsequent landings by the Royal Marines to safeguard people and property.

Before he can even draw breath however, he is then sent in to the desert on a number of missions for Wolseley information gathering in preparation for a full blown invasion...

Throw in a lost love now married to the man who caused the court martial, a particularly nasty baddy who works for Thomas Cook the travel agent, a trusty Egyptian helper and this story fairly rips along before culminating in the actual battle of Tel El Kebir...

Suffice to say I'd finished it in a couple of days and was wishing I hadn't... characterisation is good, the people in the book are believable, and Wilcox is very good on historical facts and background which for a wargamer is key...

I knew a fair amount about the campaign anyway (I recommend the Featherstone book in the Campaign series on the Tel el Kebir (click here) campaign) but a well written novel helps to feed the imagination on what it must have felt like to be present... this it delivers in spades...

Steve the Wargamer gives this one an 8 out of 10

PS. I notice that the next book is now out in hardback and features the Siege of Khartoum (click here); has to be a must have..


  1. I have been working through these and had read this one. I thought the one set in India I think called the Road to khandahar was pretty good as well.


  2. Steve
    Don't worry about painting... I have been in such situations several times.
    Enjoy your spare time!

  3. His best so far I enjoyed reading it very much last autumn, wasn't aware the next was published hurrah! I hit a mental brick wall making aircraft models 2 years ago...all that glueing & every magazine is encouraging perfection to tedius levels of detail. I built one model last year but enjoy painting wargames figures more...anybody want a 1,000 + unmade kits!!

  4. I might have to give this a try. Thanks for the review. Note that I also enjoyed the "Road to Kandahar" although it was a bit overdone . . . and I haven't read any of the South African ones.

    -- Jeff

  5. I've read them all and enjoyed them (although they can be patchy). I've got the next one (the Khartoum one) and it looks like the one after that will also feature the Sudan War. Hooray!

  6. Read this and the next and enjoyed them both (courtesy of my local library)