Friday, 20 April 2018

What were the Great Powers of Europe doing while Napoleon was recapturing France?

You may remember, some time back in March, we looked at Napoleon’s successful return to France after his escape from Elba. But what had the victorious Allies been doing all this time. How could they have so catastrophically taken their eyes off the ball?
The Allies had ended (as they thought) the wars with France with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on 30 May 1814. That treaty, though, was concerned simply with restoring the Bourbon monarchy and confirming the new borders of France (essentially putting them back to the position they were in in 1792).
Two decades of war in Europe had left the great powers with more to decide than just how to restore Louis to the throne. The last substantive clause of the Treaty of Paris said:
All the powers engaged on either side in the present war shall, within the space of two months, send plenipotentiaries to Vienna, for the purpose of regulating, in general congress, the arrangements which are to complete the provisions of the present treaty.
The Congress of Vienna is often seen as an effort to “carve up” Europe among the great powers. France was included as, now that it was back under the control of the King, the other powers wanted it to be seen as taking its proper place amongst European nations.
While there is no doubt that each of the Powers sought whatever advantage it could gain, the objective of the Congress was to arrange a net of alliances between powers that meant that any future conflict would inevitably draw in the whole of the continent. They believed that, rather than face war on the scale that Europe had just witnessed, states would negotiate peace. It was, if you like, an early form of Mutually Assured Destruction. It worked, maintaining peace in Europe for almost 100 years. When a major conflict did break out, one by one all of the major European powers were drawn in and the result was World War I. That, I can’t help feeling, is the problem with Mutually Assured Destruction. One day, somebody just can’t resist pressing the big red button.

As has been the case with some more recent negotiations between the European powers, this timetable proved rather optimistic and by the end of summer it had been agreed that the Congress should start at the beginning of October.
The French Minister, Talleyrand (who had somehow survived the shift of power from Napoleon to the Bourbons), arrived in Vienna at the end of September to discover that Prussia, Britain, Austria and Russia had agreed amongst themselves how the Congress was to run.
As Talleyrand reported to Louis:
“The visible aim of this plan was to make the four Powers … absolute masters of all the operations of the Congress.”
Letter dated 4 October 1814
This was a somewhat cheeky move by the Powers, as it not only sidelined the French but also several other countries which considered but they were significant enough to be taken account of – notably Spain and Portugal. The many smaller countries (like Poland and some princely states) may not have expected their views to be given much weight, but now discovered that they would have no real influence at all.
Talleyrand knew that France will be negotiating from a position of weakness and that he needed to be able to make all the alliances he caught, so he objected to this arrangement, refusing to accept the outcome of any discussion that had taken place ahead of the official date for the starting of the Congress in October.
“I said… that the idea of arranging everything before convening the Congress was a novel one to me; that they proposed to finish where I had thought it would be necessary to begin.”
Letter dated 4 October 1814
Faced with the prospect of losing control of the Congress, the Powers simply delayed its start date. As Metternich said, “How can the Congress be assembled when nothing is ready to lay before it?”
By 18 November the eight signatories of the Peace of Paris, after repeated delays, finally accepted that the start of the Congress should be postponed indefinitely. After all, there didn’t seem to be any great urgency about matters.
In the end, the Congress never met in plenary session, but the representatives of the great powers continued to cabal amongst themselves, agreeing how to carve up smaller countries like Saxony and Poland.
Negotiations moved on at a snail’s pace for months. Britain was represented by Lord Castlereagh until the beginning of February 1815, when he was replaced by Wellington. Wellington’s life had been threatened in Paris (the assassination attempt in Burke at Waterloo is based on a real event) and the British government was anxious that he should quit, but he refused to do anything that looked like running away, so he was appointed to the Congress of Vienna largely as a face saver. The French, though, were happy to see him there, believing that Wellington would be easier to negotiate with. After his arrival, though, things still moved forward excruciatingly slowly.
Isabay’s picture shows Wellington (far left) arriving at the Congress (© Royal Collection)

By March the monarchs and Emperors were tiring of the interminable negotiations and began to talk of leaving, but they were still there when, on 7 March, Wellington received a dispatch from Lord Burghersh telling him that Napoleon had escaped from Elba.
Although the representatives of all the great powers were still all assembled in one place, they were unable to respond immediately, as no one knew what Napoleon’s plans were. Talleyrand struggled to find out what Napoleon was up to and to prepare a declaration for the nations to agree to as soon as Napoleon’s plans were clear. By 13 March, though there was still uncertainty about where Napoleon was leading his army, there was no doubt that he was back in France at the head of a military force. Encouraged by Talleyrand, the five Great Powers produced a declaration that united the nations of Europe against Napoleon.
The powers consequently declare, that Napoleon Bonaparte has placed himself without the pale of civil and social relations; and that, as an enemy and disturber of the tranquillity of the world, he has rendered himself liable to public vengeance.
By 19 March Talleyrand was able to write to Louis with details of the military preparations against Napoleon.
It is proposed to have two armies in the field and two in reserve.
The line of operations of the one will stem from the sea to the Main; it will be composed of English, Dutch and Hanoverians, with the North German contingents and Prussians. All to be under the command of the Duke of Wellington.
The second will have its line of operations between the Main and the Mediterranean … This army will consist of Austrians, Piedmontese, Swiss, and South German contingents.
On the 25 March the plans became the basis of a formal treaty, the Treaty of the Quadruple Alliance between Great Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia and on the 29th Talleyrand wrote:
[T]he Duke of Wellington would no longer put off joining his army; he left Vienna this morning at six o’clock.
After years of fighting Napoleon’s generals, Sir Arthur Wellesley was finally on his way to fight the man himself.


Pallain The Correspondence of Talleyrand and Louis XVIII

Further reading

Mark Jarrett (2013) The Congress of Vienna and Its Legacy: War and Great Power Diplomacy After Napoleon

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Catch up

If you are still following my blog here, rather than at, then you won't have heard anything from me for a while. I've been rushing about at this and that and I haven't had time to post a second copy of my blog here, but here is the latest news.

A few weeks ago Endeavour finished publishing all six of my historical novels. So now you can read the whole of the John Williamson Chronicles and make a start on James Burke's adventures. I've written about the differences between the two series before, so I won't go into that again. The nature of the series about John Williamson makes it very unlikely that there will ever be another book about him (although the odd short story is not impossible) but James Burke has staying power. There are two more already written and now I just have to persuade Endeavour that they want to publish them.

I celebrated by pushing off for eight days on the ski slopes And no sooner did I get back than I was packing to leave again.

However, I do have an excuse and, as writers are always being told that they should open up about their own lives, I’ll tell you all what it was.

For the last couple of years our son has been on a postgraduate course for a professional qualification and a couple of weeks ago he finally completed it. There was a ceremony and presentations and exhibitions of work and proud parents were invited to attend, which meant a couple of days near Warwick. Somewhere during those two years he decided that one of the young women on the course was the love of his life and the two of them left Warwick for a holiday in a house her family owns much, much too close to the north of Scotland. My son had decided that he was going to take the opportunity to propose on her favourite beach near the house, so when we were invited to join the houseparty after his big day, we didn’t have a whole lot of choice. We decided to fill the gap between Warwick and the end of civilisation as we know it by spending a few days on Skye, an island we have long planned to visit but have never got to because, up until a few weeks ago, we had thought it was quite a long way away.
Skye is beautiful – just as beautiful as everybody tells you it is. (Photographs are on the new website – you can link to them HERE.) Before you all rush to see it, I would warn you that the number of tourists on the island has become completely unsustainable and their impact is literally destroying the places that they come to see. We had thought that by visiting at the very beginning of April we would avoid the crowds, but it seems that much of the population of England have made exactly the same calculation. So many people turned up at the petrol station at Dunvegan (where we stayed) that it ran out of fuel and only our landlord’s chainsaw supply saved us from an extended stay because the nearest other garage was at the other end of the island and we didn’t have enough fuel to make it that far. Skye faces the problem of tourist resorts everywhere. The influx of visitors seems to have worn out the already threadbare roads, trampled paths until they lie inches below the local landscape, and tilted the economy from agriculture to tourism. Even the famous Talisker whiskey distillery now employs twice as many people to deal with visitors as are actually needed to make whisky (though it does continue to be very fine whisky indeed). On the other hand, tourism has brought a degree of wealth to a society that was struggling to survive and may be the only way to keep young people on the island as the harsh life offered by crofting becomes increasingly unacceptable to the new generation.
From Skye, we headed on North, through increasingly majestic scenery, until, at the top of one of the scariest roads I have ever driven on, we found our son and his ex-girlfriend, now fiancée, Gilly. Much sparkling wine was drunk.
Any thoughts I might have had of blogging from the North of Scotland died in the absence of mobile signal or broadband. So there we were, forced to sit around the house eating, in between long walks over incredible countryside and boat trips on the local sea loch to admire the seals. Really, I would have kept working if I could. (Actually, I did spend some time reading about the Congress of Vienna, which, in the circumstances, I think showed a commendable commitment to my Napoleonic studies.)
All good things must come to an end and yesterday I made the 600 mile return trip to London. (For American readers – and I know I have a few – I should point out that in the UK 600 miles is regarded as a ridiculously long journey. Seriously, there are very few journeys you can make that are more than 600 miles, unless they involve a ship.)
Well that’s my excuse for no blog (and no writing) for a while. There was a blog by me about the inspiration behind the Burke books, but it was at And an earlier piece of mine found it into the pages of the Southwark Weekender, which was exciting but I hardly had a chance to mention it to anyone. (You can read it online at

Anyway, I’m back now and will soon be busy encouraging you to buy my books – or even borrow them from your local library. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many libraries now stock at least some of my work, often as e-books. My Public Lending Rights cheque isn’t going to pay for Mike’s wedding, but it may let me toast him with a slightly better bottle of bubbly. I suppose I have to worry about that sort of thing now.
That's brought you pretty well up to date. You've only missed one post. If you want to read my blog as soon as it comes out, complete with links to photos and suchlike, I do urge you to switch to It's a better way to read and having everybody in one place makes my life significantly easier. Thank you.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

'The Darkness'

Yet another Tuesday book review. I never set out for this to be a book blog, but there seem to be so many books worth talking about.
This week’s review is The Darkness by Ragner Jonasson. I’m reviewing it because I got a free copy from NetGalley and my feeling is that if publishers give you books for free in the hope of seeing them reviewed, then it’s only polite to blog about them.

I asked for a copy of The Darkness because I’m a big Scandi-noir fan on TV and I’ve visited Iceland and know people from there.
From the beginning, I knew that my taste for noir was going to be well catered for. We have the weary police officer – a woman, as seems so often the case in Scandi-noir.
As was her habit, she spoke a little too fast, her voice friendly and upbeat, part of the positive persona she had adopted in her professional life… Alone at home in the evenings, she could be the complete opposite of this person, all her reserves of energy depleted, leaving her prey to tiredness and depression, the visions of the past haunting her, the fear of the future looming over her.
Our heroine, Hulda, reports to a barely competent boss. (Are there no competent senior male officers in Scandinavia? Not to judge from their detective fiction anyway.) She is coming up to retirement and her boss, anxious to sideline her, tells her to investigate an old case. So she ends up looking into the unexplained death of a woman found drowned by the shore more than a year earlier.
So far, so unremarkable. Hulda is a fully realised character with a complex back story which emerges as the book continues. You get quite a nice sense of Icelandic society – the long summer evenings, the isolation of everywhere outside Reykjavik, the continual worrying about money since the economic collapse, the beauty of the countryside and the ambivalent attitude to refugees. Much coffee is drunk.
As the story continues, though, the noir becomes rather dark, even for this genre. [SPOLERS IN NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS]
There’s been some controversy lately about the Staunch award for fiction which does not feature any acts of violence against women. This book would not qualify, even if the initial murder victim did not count. By the end, there is only one incidental female character who is not dead or in prison for a long time. I won’t tell you who that is, just so as not to spoil the suspense. Men get off comparatively lightly, although one minor character is also murdered. People are hit with rocks, an ice axe, and a car, or buried alive. Iceland has one of the lowest murder rates in the world. Two murders in a year would usually be considered a lot but Hulda’s case is looking to bust every record.
Basically, in this story every time somebody receives good news, it seems a prelude to a nasty death. Although the pace is lively and the story is involving, it gets a bit depressing after a while. I quite enjoyed it, but it won’t be to everybody’s taste.
As a mystery, it is reasonably satisfying. There are clues (I missed them all, but they were definitely there) and you might be able to work out whodunnit before Hulda does.
The story was written in Icelandic and translated into English and this has led to the odd infelicitous choice of words. I’m not sure that I really approve of “pale white” whatever Procul Harum said, and “leafy suburbs” have very different connotations in England from in Iceland. Generally, though, the book reads well. But if this were a coffee, it would be a triple-shot espresso without sugar. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The March on Paris


Wondering why you haven't seen a post here for a couple of weeks? It's because I've been on holiday and while I still posted to my blog on its new site (, I didn't post here on the archive site. This is going to happen more and more often as time goes on. Why don't you switch to with all the other goodies you can see there? It's the best way to keep up with my latest blog posts and news about my books.

Meanwhile, here is what you missed:


Napoleon’s landing generated more surprised than alarm in Paris. Nobody thought that he was heading toward the capital. It had always been assumed that if Napoleon had escaped from Elba he would have moved against Italy and now people said that his plan was to move through Piedmont to attack Italy from the North, intending to join his brother-in-law, the King of Naples.
Had they been able to hear the declarations that were being made on the south coast, they would have been less sanguine. Bonaparte was promising that he had returned to rouse the country to a due sense of its inglorious sufferings and to avenge its wrongs. He promised to restore the French border to the Rhine (regaining land lost to Prussia) and to reverse the laws that the Bourbons had introduced.
Bonaparte moved fast, skirting any areas where he feared he might face opposition. He led his small force from the coast towards Grenoble. This was a bold move, as Grenoble was the main depot for French troops in the area and the commander, General Marchand, was loyal to the new regime. It is possible, though, that Napoleon knew that he had supporters amongst the Grenoble garrison.
Marchand sent troops to detain Napoleon and the little band of exiles found themselves stopped by a vastly superior force. Napoleon is said to have gone on foot to the head of his men and stepped forward towards Marchand’s troops. Opening his coat, he said, “Behold me: if there be one among you who would kill his Emperor, let him fire.” The troops, rather than open fire, called “Vive l’Empereur,” and promptly switched sides. Marchand fled with the keys to the city, and in response the townspeople pulled down the city gate, surrendering Grenoble to Napoleon’s troops.
Only when news of the defection of the Grenoble garrison reached Paris did the Bourbon government take Napoleon seriously. The garrison at Lyons was prepared to stop Napoleon, with two thousand troops ready to defend the city. On 10 March, the mayor  issued a proclamation ordering citizens to stay indoors and trust in the law. Again, though, the troops proved disloyal.
[Napoleon’s] appearance before Lyons awakened the cries of ” Vive l’Empereur!” from the soldiers, in which they were joined by the populace, and he entered without resistance.
By the 11 March, the mayor was proclaiming his loyalty to Napoleon.
Up until the fall of Lyons, Napoleon had styled himself Lieutenant-General. He had always wanted to see his son succeed him as ruler of France and so he maintained the fiction that he was simply a general in his son’s army. After Lyons, though, this pretence was dropped and he began to style himself ‘Emperor’ again and issue imperial decrees.
Marshal Ney, who had been one of Napoleon’s most trusted generals, was now in Paris where he had sworn his allegiance to Louis. He asked  the king to put him in command of a force to stop Napoleon. Louis promptly made him a field marshal and gave him command of the troops in the area of Lons-le-Saulnier on Napoleon’s line of march sending him on his way with a substantial amount of gold to pay his men. Ney is widely said to have promised Louis that he would bring Napoleon back to Paris “in an iron cage” Instead, Ney, too, defected, taking with him all the troops under his command, as well as the cash.
Napoleon now commanded a force of around 15,000 well-armed men. More importantly, the repeated desertion of soldiers sent to stop him made the government believe that sending any other forces south from Paris would simply add to the number of men deserting to Napoleon’s banners. The government decided to make a last stand just south of Paris, with ten thousand men of the new National Guard (which, unlike the army, owed no allegiance to Napoleon).
Suddenly, a single open carriage appeared from the woods in front of the National Guard, coming toward them at full speed. It was Napoleon, waving his hand and opening his arms to the troops. With cries of “Vive l’Empereur” discipline in the royal army collapsed.
Louis was finally forced to admit that he had lost the country and he fled Paris at one in the morning on 20 March 1815.
Throughout the following day, the people of Paris waited, uncertain of what was to come. Crowds of Royalists, crying “Vive le Roi” faced off against crowds of Bonaparte’s supporters with their own cries of “Vive l’Empereur”. Bloodshed was only avoided by the intervention of National Guardsmen who preserved an uneasy peace. By afternoon, with Napoleon’s advance guard already arriving, people had, as people do, decided to welcome their new master. Napoleon requisitioned all the wine and Paris was soon partying.
The health of the Emperor, General Bertrand, and of the Old Guard, was toasted with an enthusiasm that can only be perfectly understood by those who were present, while the most lively imagination is quite inadequate to furnish a picture of the exhilarating scene that Paris presented on this occasion; tricoloured ribbons and bunches of violets decorated almost every bosom.
Napoleon waited until after dark to arrive at the Tuileries, perhaps uncertain of the reception he would be offered in Paris. He arrived without ceremony, still in his travelling coach, at nine that night. A huge crowd, though, waited to welcome him to the Tuileries and he was carried up the great staircase into the king’s apartments on the shoulders of his officers.
Napoleon was back in control of France and the countdown to Waterloo had begun.


Helen Maria Williams: A narrative of the events which have taken place in France, from the landing of Napoleon Bonaparte on 1 March, 1815, till the restoration of Louis XVIII, with an account of the present state of society and public opinion at that period. Although this was published in 1895, it consists of letters written from France at the time.
William Mudford (1817) An Historical Account of the Campaign in the Netherlands in 1815
William Hodgson (1841) The Life of Napoleon Bonaparte, Once Emperor of the French, who Died in Exile, at St. Helena, After a Captivity of Six Years’ duration

A word from our sponsor

Burke at Waterloo starts with Napoleon safely on Elba, but Burke is in France to track down Bonapartists who are plotting for the Emperor’s return. Napoleon doesn’t feature directly in the story (though Wellington does) but Napoleon’s return to France provides the background against which much of the plot is set until, of course, everything comes to a head in farmland just south of Brussels. It’s a thrilling read and a painless way to learn more about that famous battle. Do give it a go.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

The Outlaw’s Ransom: Playing with History

Jennifer Ash (aka Jenny Kane) has just had ‘The Outlaw’s Ransom’ republished (it’s all the rage now, as I’m demonstrating with my own books), so instead of a book review my Tuesday book page is being handed over to her so that she can tell you about it.
Take it away, Jennifer.

*   *   *

Many years ago, long before those mobile phone things came along – when laptops were but a pipe-dream and coffee was either simply black or white – I studied ‘Medieval English Economy and Crime’ at the University of Leicester. Basically, I spent five years in historian heaven researching the correlation between the political songs and ballads of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and the real criminal records of the day. I read a lot of Robin Hood stories, a huge number of early political satire and more crime rolls than I can remember.
My research became a PhD, and since that time I’ve wanted to use my work for something more accessible than dry and dusty academic papers. To begin with I tutored medieval economy at Leicester Uni, but then my husband’s job was moved to Scotland, and as they didn’t teach English Medieval history north of the border, my career was somewhat scuppered.
Now, 20 or so years later, after being a professional writer for 13 of those years, I have finally put my efforts and historical detective work to use by writing The Outlaw’s Ransom – my very first medieval mystery. Not only is this my first foray into standalone medieval crime- it is the initial story in a series of novels called ‘The Folville Chronicles.’ (Book 2- The Winter Outlaw, will be published in April this year.)
The Outlaw’s Ransom revolves around the real-life fourteenth century criminal gang, the Folvilles- the very gang I concentrated much of my doctoral research on. This family, made up of 7 brothers (John, Eustace, Richard, Robert, Thomas, Walter and Laurence), lived in Ashby-Folville, Leicestershire, but they ruled a larger area of the country, which included Rutland, Northamptonshire and part of Derbyshire.
I must confess I rather enjoyed taking historical fact and giving it a fictional spin. Although The Outlaw’s Ransom contains many factual events – I have played fast and loose with history. So, please don’t go using any of the information within its pages in a pub quiz without checking it first!
Here’s the blurb-
When potter’s daughter Mathilda is kidnapped by the notorious Folville brothers as punishment for her father’s debts, she fears for her life. Although of noble birth, the Folvilles are infamous throughout the county for using crime to rule their lands—and for using any means necessary to deliver their distinctive brand of ‘justice’.
Mathilda must prove her worth to the Folvilles in order to win her freedom. To do so, she must go against her instincts and, disguised as the betrothed of Robert de Folville, undertake a mission that will send her to Bakewell in Derbyshire, and the home of Nicholas Coterel, one of the most villainous men in England.
With her life in the hands of more than one dangerous brigand, Mathilda must win the trust of the Folville’s housekeeper, Sarah, and Robert Folville himself if she has any chance of survival.
Never have the teachings gleaned from the tales of Robyn Hode been so useful…
If that has whetted your appetite- then here are those all important buy links!
(Please note that if you have read Romancing Robin Hood by Jenny Kane and Jennifer Ash- then you will already be familiar with the story with The Outlaw’s Ransom)
Many thanks for inviting me to stop by today Tom,
Happy reading,
Jennifer x
With a background in history and archaeology, Jennifer Ash should really be sat in a dusty university library translating Medieval Latin criminal records, and writing research documents that hardly anyone would want to read. Instead, tucked away in the South West of England, Jennifer writes stories of medieval crime, steeped in mystery, with a side order of romance.

Influenced by a lifelong love of Robin Hood and medieval ballad literature, Jennifer has written The Outlaw’s Ransom (Book One in The Folville Chronicles) – a short novel, which first saw the light of day within the novel Romancing Robin Hood (written under the name Jenny Kane; Pub. Littwitz Press, 2018).

Book Two of The Folville Chronicles – The Winter Outlaw – will be released in April 2018. (pub. LittwitzPress)

All of Jennifer and Jenny Kane’s news can be found at

Friday, 9 March 2018


Endeavour are continuing to republish the John Williamson Chronicles and last week the second in the series came out.
Cawnpore is a story about the Indian Mutiny (or First Indian War of Independence). When I wrote it, I thought everybody would understand that it was going to be a tragedy because when I was a child we were still taught about Cawnpore at school. It was one of the most famous massacres of the British Empire – by which I mean a massacre in which local people were killing the British, rather than the other way about. It turns out that nowadays people are blissfully unaware of the implications of the title, so some of them seem to have been taken aback when, essentially, everybody dies. That may be a spoiler, but the way things work out in the book was never intended to be a surprise. The story is closely based on an actual historical event and “everybody dies” is what this historical event was all about.

What intrigued me about Cawnpore was that the horror seems to have arisen from the structural problems of colonialism. The British at Cawnpore were not generally bad people and the leaders of the Mutiny were not, by and large, the monsters that they were later represented as. The events that led to slaughter on a horrific scale, carried out across India by both Indians and Europeans, seem to have been the inevitable result of a clash of cultures. Certainly the British did exploit India economically, but Indian rulers had exploited their populations for centuries without rousing the people to revolt. When the British had first arrived in India, they had shown a lot of respect for native customs and culture, but, over time, muscular Christianity and the growing self-confidence of the British in their natural “right to rule” led to increasing contempt for the Indian way of life. Even what the British saw as positive steps, such as the banning of suttee (widow burning), were resented when they showed contempt for ancient customs.
John Williamson seemed the ideal person to tell this story. Although he was part of the machinery of Empire, he was himself an outsider. His homosexuality and his working class origins meant that he was never truly comfortable with the men who ruled India. In fact, his only true friend was an Indian, a prince in the court of Nana Sahib, the man who would eventually lead the Indians at the massacre of Cawnpore. Williamson therefore sees both sides of the conflict, sympathising with each in turn, desperate to stop the killing but, in the end, doomed to see the tragedy unfold without being able to prevent the atrocities of Indians and Europeans.

It’s not a cheerful book, but it’s my personal favourite. Although most of the characters are real people and the events follow very closely on the historical facts, the story really centres on Williamson. We see India and the events of the Mutiny through his eyes and I felt I grew to know him much better. It’s also an amazing story, for which I can take very little credit, because the story is the one history wrote for me. The Indian Mutiny was a war where the personalities of individual leaders made a huge difference to the outcome. People decided on their loyalties based as much on their evaluation of the personal worth of the protagonists as on race or creed. It was a time of deeds of great military valour and courage and, on both sides, a time of appalling cruelty and mass killings. It was, indeed, a clash of civilisations. It ended the rule of the East India Company, which had run India as a private fiefdom, and initiated the period of Imperial rule and the Raj. It also, though no one could have known it at the time, started India on the road to eventual independence and the end of the princely states. It is one of the great stories of the 19th century and, with Cawnpore I’ve tried to capture something of that story.
I hope you read it. Let me know what you think of it.

Important bit

Here’s the buy link. (I nearly forgot.)

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

'Tipping Point' by Terry Tyler

War, they say, is 98% boredom and 2% terror. I suspect that the end of the world, when it comes, will be much the same. This can pose a bit of a problem for a dystopian novelist.

Terry Tyler's Tipping Point draws together several contemporary issues to make a worryingly convincing scenario for the end of the world. The population is growing out of control. The government builds up dossiers on people by spying on their social media feeds. When a virus is deliberately released in Britain, the poor, the unemployed, the sick, immigrants and political troublemakers are left to die, while useful citizens are vaccinated and survive.

That's the plan, anyway. Almost inevitably, the plan goes wrong. The virus makes its way into the population before the vaccinations are completed and a pandemic more or less wipes out the population of Britain. There are suggestions it's rampaging across the world, but with no communications, no TV, no Internet, nobody is really sure what's going on anywhere.

Tipping Point follows the lives of a few of the survivors as they make their way through a landscape of burned-out villages, looted shopping centres, and abandoned towns. Everybody has to come to terms with the reality of life without electricity or running water. People band together and arm themselves in a world where order has broken down and the strong take what they can from the weak.

There are some nice touches. The whole thing, it is suggested, was an American plot. The virus was first released in Britain, with British government consent, because the islands provide a convenient area for a field test. (That seems to nail the special relationship more accurately than many more overtly satirical books.) There is the social media app that has been set up to guarantee your privacy that is owned and run by the government who access all of it. The plan eliminates the intellectual and scientific classes as well as the poor and useless because, as one character conveniently explains, “We want the worker bees. Mr and Mrs Average, of commonplace intelligence, who – if they ever stopped to think about it, which they don't – know that society works best when the masses take direction from the few, without question, and everybody knows their place.”

The main insight, though, is that life after the apocalypse is, once you have survived the immediate conflagration, extraordinarily dreary. Survivors raid toy shops for board games, unable to play on their computers. With no TV or video, they are reduced to reading – and reading real books, rather than Kindles.

Anybody who has read Terry Tyler's Twitter feed will know that she is a big fan of The Walking Dead and Tipping Point sets us up nicely for the zombie apocalypse (people even refer to it in conversation) except that there are no zombies. The result is that, despite a large cast of characters – nicely defined and easily kept track of – there is really not a lot happening.

Terry Tyler writes very readable and pleasant prose, which makes it easy to carry on despite a lack of incident. When exciting things do happen (escaping through a checkpoint, fleeing a would-be rapist) the story rattles along and the underlying ideas are genuinely interesting, but every 50 pages or so I find myself agreeing with the characters that life after the apocalypse is really, really dull.

The book is the first of a trilogy and by the end of Book 1 different characters – the good, the bad, the ditzy and the borderline psychopathic – have all independently decided to flee to Lindisfarne. It wouldn't be my choice of refuge, but I'm not writing the book. Volume 2 may well see more incident. But in the end, there's not that much that can happen. Most people are dead and those who are left are battling to cope with the day-to-day business of survival. It’s 98% boredom and, though Terry Tyler’s writing isn’t boring, I can’t help wishing there were zombies …