Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Scarlet Thief by Paul Fraser Collard

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: July 4, 2017

The new Richard Sharpe bursts onto the historical adventure scene in a brilliant, action-packed debut of Redcoat battle and bloodshed. 1854: The banks of the Alma River, Crimean Peninsular. The Redcoats stagger to a bloody halt. The men of the King's Royal Fusiliers are in terrible trouble, ducking and twisting as the storm of shot, shell and bullet tear through their ranks. Officer Jack Lark has to act immediately and decisively. His life and the success of the campaign depend on it. But does he have the mettle, the officer qualities that are the life blood of the British Army? From a poor background Lark has risen through the ranks by stealth and guile and now he faces the ultimate test... The Scarlet Thief introduces us to a formidable and compelling hero - brutally courageous, roguish, ambitious - in a historical novel as robust as it is thrillingly authentic by an author who brings history and battle vividly alive

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The Storming of the Great Redoubt at the Alma
The image of a British Redcoat is indicative of one thing here in the United States and sarcastic as I am, I can’t help wondering how many Americans, on seeing the cover, associate Paul Fraser Collard’s The Scarlet Thief with the American Revolution. Spoiler alert folks, the title has absolutely nothing to do with our fight for independence.

If you read the jacket description, you’ll discover that the narrative actually takes place during the Crimean War which raged from 1853 to 1856 on a major peninsula in Eastern Europe, a fact which leads to one of my favorite aspects of the book. I knew the basics of the conflict when I picked up Collard’s work, but I was otherwise flying blind with only a prayer that I’d be able to follow the battle sequences and make sense of the politics that inspired the narrative. Fortunately for me, the author placed a great deal of emphasis on his illustration of the conflict and I found myself thorough enamored with his descriptions of the Battle of Alma.

I also loved Collard’s diverse depiction of the British army. American fiction lends itself to the superficial vilification of the British solider and I was both impressed with and drawn to the ideas expressed in Collard’s work for its opposing point of view. The Scarlet Thief includes a diverse cast of individuals of various backgrounds, dispositions, and ambition. These aren’t stock characters and I liked how the author’s attention to each afforded a more authentic perspective.

Jack, once again, proved an engaging protagonist, but The Scarlet Thief shed light on a new aspect of his character. Jack's ambition is a key to his character in the novellas and while it is by no means diminished here, The Scarlet Thief puts his struggles center stage. Collard’s hero is ill-prepared and initially lacks many of the skills required to effectively execute the expected duties of a Captain, but I found his determination to succeed endearing and appreciated the emotional depth his growth brought the story.

The Scarlet Thief is a brilliant standalone that I'd confidently recommend, but I’d definitely urge readers to consider picking up Jack Lark: Redcoat beforehand. A handful of key characters are developed in the novella and I think having prior knowledge of Molly, Slater, and Sloames really enhances key moments of The Scarlet Thief.

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He had believed the life of an officer was easy, full of undeserved privilege and comfort. He had not seen the responsibility that the officers carried constantly. Now he understood what it meant to lead men. Yet as heavy as that burden was, he would not surrender it for anything.
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