Historical Adventure In Borneo. @TerryTyler4 reviews The White Rajah by @TomCW99 For Rosie’s #Bookreview team #RBRT

Today’s team review is from Terry. She blogs here https://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk/

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Terry has been reading The White Rajah by Tom Williams

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5 out of 5 stars


I read the third in this series (the Williamson papers), Back Home, five years ago, and adored it – they’re all stand alones.  I read Book #2, Cawnpore, shortly afterwards, liked it but in a 4* rather than a ‘5* OMG’ way, and never got round to reading The White Rajah. Then I watched the film Edge of the World, starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as James Brooke, and thought, I know of a book about this…

In short, it’s a fair bit different from the film, in that it’s written from the fictional John Williamson’s point of view – he is cast as an interpreter who went with Brooke to Borneo.  However, I recognised the atmosphere and the chain of events, but even if I hadn’t, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Tom Williams is a fine writer and a most engaging storyteller, his style perfect for the time period, and I was engrossed from the first page.  His characterisation is subtle and clever, and the narrative is not without humour (the earlier Governor of Sarawak’s military strategy).


I loved reading about the different tribes in their long huts and the traditions; I would have liked to read more about them.  Of course, the attitudes of the British men are of the time, and at first they see it as their God-given right – nay, duty – to bring ‘civilisation’ to the natives, though there is a rather nice passage in which Williamson observes a tribe and considers that they seem quite happy and efficient as they are, thank you very much.  About the Dyaks: ‘These were a people who knew not the poorhouse nor the lockup, whose lives were not blighted by working in great factories.  They knew nothing of steam locomotives or spinning machines but led a simple life at one with nature.’  


Highly recommended:  ‘A tale of adventure set against the background of a jungle world of extraordinary beauty and terrible savagery’.

Desc 1

Invalided out of the East India Company’s army, James Brooke looks for adventure in the South China Seas. When the Sultan of Borneo asks him to help suppress a rebellion, Brooke joins the war to support the Sultan and improve his chances of trading successfully in the area. Instead, he finds himself rewarded with his own country, Sarawak.Determined to be an enlightened ruler who brings peace and prosperity to his people, James settles with his lover, John Williamson, in their new Eden. But piracy, racial conflict, and court plotting conspire to destroy all he has achieved. Driven from his home and a fugitive in the land he ruled, James is forced to take extreme measures to drive out his enemies.The White Rajah is the story of a man, fighting for his life, who must choose between his beliefs and the chance of victory. Based on a true story, Brooke’s battle is a tale of adventure set against the background of a jungle world of extraordinary beauty and terrible savagery. Told through the eyes of the man who loves him and shares his dream, this is a tale of love and loss from a 19th century world that still speaks to us today.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #HistoricalFiction The White Rajah by @TomCW99

Today’s team review is from Frank. Find out more about him here https://franklparker.com/

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Frank has been reading The White Rajah by Tom Williams

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To anyone unfamiliar with the history of Sarawak it will come as a surprise to discover that, unlike much of the rest of the British Empire, it was ruled for 100 years, not by a Governor General or Viceroy acting on behalf of the British crown, but by a series of members of the Brooke family.

James Brooke resigned his commission in the private army of the East India Company to become a privateer, trading around the islands of the South China Sea. In 1839 he was invited by the Sultan of Borneo to help put down a rebellion in what was then a province of Borneo. With that achieved, Brooke was then given the role of ruler of the province, thus becoming the White Rajah of the title of Tom Williams’s latest book.

The overthrow of the rebels, the development of an economy based around the trade in antimony, a second rebellion from which Brooke escaped to Singapore, his return and the defeat of the pirates responsible for the rebellion and the plundering of indigenous tribal villages, together form the meat of this fascinating account.

It is told in first person by Brooke’s fictional companion and aide. In his end note Williams explains which parts of the story are true and which fiction. He does not say whether or not Brooke’s homosexuality is real or imagined (Wikipedia is ambivalent about Brooke’s sexuality and his relationships, although it also claims that he had a son). For me it certainly worked as a device to get to the heart of Brooke’s character.  Only a lover can get close enough to witness his changes of mood and the inner feelings behind the public face of a man in a position of power. And only a lover can properly express an alternative view of the horrors he witnesses whilst in that man’s company.

Once again, Williams has given us a riveting account of a little known episode in the history of colonialism. Along the way he provides some superb descriptions of the flora, fauna and traditional culture of this corner of Malaysia. As a side note, Brooke’s story has been told, with the same title, by Nicholas Monsarrat, the writer best known for The Cruel Sea, and other novels based on his service in the Royal Navy during the second World War. I recall reading the first of these in my youth but have no recollection of that earlier iteration of The White Rajah, which was published in 1961. As a further note, Williams’s book was first published in 2010.

Desc 1

When James Brooke arrives in Borneo on the schooner ‘Royalist’, he plans to make a quick profit trading with the natives. Instead he finds himself taking sides in a civil war. And when his side wins, he ends up the ruler of his own country. As the first White Rajah of Sarawak, Brooke is determined to show how the Britain of Queen Victoria can bring civilisation to the natives. But life in Borneo proves complicated. Soon pirates are exploiting the divisions in the country and, when the old rulers stage a coup, Brooke is forced to flee into the jungle.Faced with the destruction of all he has worked for, Brooke is driven to desperate measures to reclaim his country. But is he bringing civilisation to Borneo or will his ruthless annihilation of the pirates just bring a new level of brutality to the people he meant to save?The White Rajah is about a man fighting for his life who must choose between his beliefs and the chance of victory. Based on a true story, Brooke’s battle is a tale of adventure set against the background of a jungle world of extraordinary beauty and terrible savagery.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Historical Espionage BURKE IN IRELAND by @TomCW99

Today’s team review is from Noelle. She blogs here https://saylingaway.wordpress.com

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Noelle has been reading Burke In Ireland by Tom Williams.

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I was given a copy of this book for a fair and honest review for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

This is the fifth book in the James Burke series by this author. I haven’t read the previous four but I had no problems – the book is fine as a standalone.

In the late eighteenth century, with England seemingly beset on all sides, the War Office needs agents to spy for them and James Burke isn’t given a choice. It’s no business for a gentleman, but Burke is half-gentleman, half soldier and well suited to the job of spying. The four prior books haven’t been written in chronological order but when Burke is posted to Argentina, he is introduced to the world of espionage.  He has also been to the Iberian Peninsula, to Egypt and to Paris, after Napoleon is exiled to Elba. Burke in Ireland is Burke’s first real introduction to the practice of espionage, and the author admits that this is a dark book compared to the previous four, which have Burke on the side of the angels and the villain getting his just desserts in the end.

England needs spies everywhere, and Burke is a chameleon. So he is sent in 1793 to Ireland, which is a hotbed of Irish Nationalists. Burke must discover which of these men are plotting with the French to bring down English rule and/or planning for an uprising. Burke fits right into Dublin society operating smoothly between different strata and discovers it’s easy to identify the Nationalists. Getting to those who do more than just talk about Irish independence is another matter, and Burke manages to ingratiate himself with a member of the Irish elite who provides him with an ‘in’ to those he is seeking. Along the way, he turns in the names of a number of minor spies, who are sent to jail, tried, and hung, if their offences are serious enough. Burke struggles with his moral ambiguity, since the English were treating the Irish badly at that time – trials are rigged, Catholics tortured. Nevertheless, he finally decides that the safety of England trumps all, despite the ongoing tension that he will be discovered and possibly killed.

His “in’ is Patrick Geraghty, a well-to-do Dubliner who, after some time accepts Burke as a true Nationalist with Jacobin leanings. Geraghty is a huge man with an air of menace who drinks prodigiously and lets things slip while in an inebriated state. His beautiful daughter, named Siobhan, captures Burke’s attention and the couple become affectionate. Geraghty approves their relationship but his wife does not, despite the fact her husband beats her regularly. Thus Geraghty becomes the real villain, and the plot he arranges to spirit a true Nationalist out of the country, with the encouragement of Burke, becomes a dangerous and tortuous journey for everyone involved, not the least of which is Burke himself.

James Burke was a real person, but his story is entirely fictitious. But many of the characters in incidents cited in this book are historically accurate. The Alien Office which sent Burke to Ireland was real and became Britain’s first semi-official intelligence operation, a forerunner to MI5 and MI6. Wolfe Tone, Willam Drennan, Whitley Stokes, and Joseph Pollock were all true Irish Nationalists. Two men (Jackson and Cockayne) were spies for France and England, respectively. Archibold Rowan, a main character, was imprisoned in Newgate for sedition and libel but made an escape to France, his account of which is wrapped into Burke’s story.

In short, I found this book full of tension and historically fascinating, especially given my knowledge of Ireland’s “troubles” many years later and my experiences in that country (which I love). The descriptions of life in Dublin, especially the pub scenes, Newgate prison, and general society were vivid. The characters were very finely described and can be visualized by the reader. The web of spies in Dublin at the time is both brilliantly presented and nearly overwhelming in its detail. Clearly, the author did a lot of research for this book, and I loved being educated.

Burke in Ireland is not a light book to read, and to a reader looking for high tension and colorful conflicts on every page, it might seem dry. But it does what the author intended. I recommend it strongly to aficionados of historical novels and of Ireland’s history in particular.

Desc 1

1793 and James Burke is under cover in Ireland, spying on Irish Nationalists. His objective: to discover any plots to conspire with the French to bring down English rule in Dublin.
Dublin is full of plotters. Finding them is easy. Staying alive is not as straightforward.
A tale of spying, love and death against the background of the early struggle for Irish independence.

It’s real history but not how you learned it at school.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #HistoricalFiction BURKE IN IRELAND by @TomCW99

Today’s team review is from Frank. He blogs here https://franklparker.com/

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Frank has been reading Burke In Ireland by Tom Williams.

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4 stars.

It is 1793. In Ireland Wolf Tone and the United Irishmen are producing pamphlets and speeches advocating for the extension of the franchise. They are also in close touch with groups prepared to do more than advocate: to organise armed insurrection and encourage a French invasion.

A young James Burke is sent by the British government to infiltrate the organisation and report back on the details of their plans.

Another book by Tom Williams dealing with real events from British history, something which he does so well, this is the fifth in the series featuring James Burke. In the chronology of James’s career it is his second adventure.

The atmosphere of late eighteenth century Dublin is superbly evoked; both the physical and the social. The squalor of the slum districts is set against the plush interiors of the homes of the wealthy.

This differentiation between the masses and the privileged extends to the prison where a lawyer friend of the campaigners is allocated relatively comfortable accommodation.

The story progresses at a good pace as James inveigles his way into the organisation and is welcomed into the home of a wealthy man at the centre of a network of safe houses and secret arms caches.

He quickly learns that all is not as it seems in this household. He accompanies the man’s daughter as she brings food to starving citizens but danger lurks in her apparent affection for him.

The working out of the central conspiracy, to assist the escape of a prisoner, is gripping. It does not go precisely as intended and the possibility of James’s true identity being revealed is ever present.

The style makes it an easy read. It is not over-long. The history and the political background are infiltrated almost unnoticed into the story.

I have read many books dealing with Irish history since I made my home in Ireland. Most present an Irish perspective, often overtly anti-British. It should come as no surprise that a British writer does not follow that trend. Nor, however, does he present a viewpoint biased towards the British. As when dealing with British-Indian history in “Cawnpore”, he shows us both sides.

James, consorting with the Irish conspirators, learns some of the injustices they are seeking to correct. But he is, first and foremost, a soldier loyal to the crown and sees, too, the way in which different branches of government pursue their own often conflicting, agendas.

Read this book for the pleasure of watching a conspiracy unravel and discover how the campaign for Irish home rule drew on, and was a part of, the fight for human rights across Europe and America.

Desc 1

James Burke’s first mission!
1793 and James Burke is under cover in Ireland, spying on Irish Nationalists. His objective: to discover any plots to conspire with the French to bring down English rule in Dublin.
Dublin is full of plotters. Finding them is easy. Staying alive is not as straightforward.
A tale of spying, love and death against the background of the early struggle for Irish independence.

It’s real history but not how you learned it at school.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #urbanfantasy SOMETHING WICKED by @TomCW99

Today’s team review is from Sherry. She blogs here https://sherryfowlerchancellor.com/

#RBRT Review Team

Sherry has been reading Something Wicked by Tom Williams

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Detective Chief Inspector Galbraith is called to the home of Lord Penrith when the lord’s body is found dead. The strangeness of the death is that the body has been drained of all its blood but the room is not covered in blood.

The investigation begins and soon, DCI Galbraith is joined by a mysterious visitor from Section S—a section no one in the precinct has heard of before. This mysterious officer is John Pole and he explains his section deals with issues of national security and the investigation of the death of Penrith flagged in their office.

They team up to try to figure out who killed the lord and how. DCI Galbraith learns some things about an unknown group who operate in the dark in London. There are some scenes of the past that are intriguing and enjoyable to read.

I enjoyed this book and it seems there may be additional stories involving this crime solving duo in the future. Both have good qualities and seem to have a great working relationship. The way they deal with the crime is clever and a bit surprising. I, for one, am hoping for more adventures with these characters.  I give this one 4 stars.

Book description

A peer of the realm dead in his study, his body drained of blood

A tango club where the Undead and the living dance together

A 500 year old policeman

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #UrbanFantasy SOMETHING WICKED By Tom Williams

Today’s team review is from Shelley. She blogs here https://shelleywilsonauthor.com/

#RBRT Review Team

Shelly has been reading Something Wicked by Tom Williams

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Vampire novels are my favourite, so I jumped at the chance to read Something Wicked when I spotted it on Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team list.

The story begins with a murder – always a great hook! The body of Lord Christopher Penrith is discovered by his butler, drained of blood. We meet Detective Chief Inspector Galbraith, who is tasked with solving the case.

In my mind, Galbraith was a cross between Columbo and Horatio Caine. He gives off the tortured detective vibe. His investigations lead to the dance hall, La Cieguita. Before he can get too deep into the case, Galbraith comes up against Section S, a counter-terrorism department. Enter John Pole, a 500 year old policeman who shares an interesting hidden world with Detective Galbraith.

Trying to solve a murder using modern policing isn’t going to work. Galbraith needs to rethink how he deals with the various suspects and additional killing and how on earth he hopes to close a case like this.

Something Wicked is well written with plenty of atmosphere. For me, it was a bit too deep into police procedure over vampire action. I had hoped for blood and gore, but instead, there was a hefty amount of ‘crime novel intermingled with historical fiction and politics’.

It was a good novel for anyone dipping their toe into urban fantasy, but my personal tastes meant it didn’t quite work for me. I like my vampire novels to have a bit more bite!

3 stars.

Book description

A peer of the realm dead in his study, his body drained of blood

A tango club where the Undead and the living dance together

A 500 year old policeman.

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT #HistoricalFiction BURKE IN THE PENINSULA by @TomCW99

Today’s team review is from Liz, she blogs here https://lizannelloyd.wordpress.com/

#RBRT Review Team

Liz has been reading Burke In The Peninsula by Tom Williams

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Having read The White Rajah by Tom Williams several years ago I knew that this book set in the long-lasting Peninsular War, in Portugal and Spain, would be an action-packed story told in an approachable style.

We meet Major James Burke in 1809, an experienced soldier with particular skills in working under cover. Having returned from South America he is hoping to rejoin his regiment accompanied by his loyal Sergeant William Brown.  Instructed to report to General Hill he finds that he is needed to reconnoitre with some of the guerrilla bands of Spaniards who seem to have more success than their army. He soon finds that some of the gangs are only out to loot, rape and murder, so he is relieved to find one trustworthy group lead by El Gato.  Burke is involved in several dangerous skirmishes as he travels disguised as a priest.

When Sergeant Brown returns to the British army, he discovers that he is needed to lead a squad into battle at Talavera de la Reina. Written in the third person, we are given a clear description of the lines of infantrymen firing their muskets but also of the mayhem when they are attacked by canon-fire.  Meanwhile Burke continues to work independently, in increasingly dangerous circumstances alongside an old flame.

Although at times quite upsetting, the violence and death reflects events accurately.  I found William Brown easier to empathise with as Burke sometimes appears detached. The only female character, Bernadita, is quite inscrutable though fascinating. The atmosphere of the countryside in central Spain is effectively described and seemed familiar to me even visiting in the present day.

Although part of a series this book works well as a stand-alone story. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it even though the ending came rather suddenly.

Book description

Things getting a bit messy in Spain. Lots of irregulars. Civilians joining in the fighting. That sort of thing. Wellesley needs all the help he can get. They need a man who can pass for a Spaniard. Someone who can make himself useful with the irregulars. Someone who is prepared to fight dirty if it gets things done.

1809 and Burke has barely returned from South America when he is sent off again, this time to join the war being waged by Spanish guerrillas against the French. It’s not long before he’s fighting for his life, but which of the Spaniards can he trust?

Burke faces new adversaries and finds old allies in a dramatic tale of adventure during the Peninsular War, set against the background of the bloody battle of Talavera.

It’s real history – but not the way you learned it in school.

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