Thank you Hrtls!
5.0 out of 5 stars A thoroughly rewarding reading experience! February 22, 2013
I have just finished reading TACS for the second time. The first time I read it, I became
so caught up in the story & involved with the characters that I found myself racing
through it to find out what happened to them; so I needed to read it again – at a
more leisurely pace – to appreciate how well-written the book is.
CWL is a talented writer. He is a terrific storyteller, with a plot that keeps the reader
involved from beginning to end with its suspense & many surprises along the way.
At the same time, he has a natural narrative style that makes reading a pleasure.
He is a very visual writer, evoking the vivid images & atmosphere of the land of the
Maasai: for example, he describes the great flocks of birds as "vast artificial clouds",
their song an "avian exaltation," & "somewhere in the night, a hyena cackled at
something wildly amusing." He has a knack for appropriate similes – the kind that make
you smile in the middle of a line: for instance, he says of a boat full of armed slavers:
"their muskets bristling like a hedgehog," & a knack for summing up intense situations with
a single statement: "We were alone now, a lost tribe of one man and one woman;"
Charlie’s old worries "all seemed distant and unimportant, as though they were events
that might have happened to someone else - some minor character in a bad play;" &
again, after a tragic event, "I sight down the barrel. The blue steel glows dully in a sun I
had thought gone from the sky."
He also has a gift for dialogue, which really makes his characters come alive. There is
an episode, in which Charlie & Loiyan are caught in a torrential rainstorm in an open
canoe, which they are forced to bail out frantically throughout the night. The conclusion
of this episode – where Charlie comes to terms with having survived – is made hilarious
by the skillful play of dialogue between the two characters.
I especially appreciated the recurring themes in the book: the idea of ‘Britishness’, in
particular what it meant to a gentleman’s gentleman in the mid 19th century at the
height of Victoria’s empire. At one point, Charlie notes: "But then, he wasn’t British, so he
had no way of knowing what was or wasn’t done." The second recurring undercurrent
is lasting impact of one of that empire’s wars on one of the common men who found himself
TACS is a book that is difficult to classify with just one label; while it is historical fiction,
(& like all successful historical fiction, the author gets the historical details right, as two
of the previous reviewers have mentioned,) as well as being an adventure story, it is
also a compelling love story; it is a social commentary as well as a social satire; it is both
broadly humorous and deeply tragic.
Like a previous reviewer, I too would like to read more of the adventures of Charlie Smithers.
He is thoroughly pleasant company!