BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Jack Casey, retired soldier in England’s collaborator army, is brought back to track down a renegade friend in a reverse-colonization novel set in England.
PROS: Writing is solid, flows well.
CONS: Boring, redundant, and elements of racism present.
Land of Hope and Glory by Geoffrey Wilson takes its name from the patriotic British song that most Americans would recognize as Pomp and Circumstance (if you’ve ever sat through a graduation, you’ll know it). The association here is linked to a tightly nationalistic one, where a country’s people can band together under a common appreciation for the simple fact that they live within the same borders as one another. Never mind that this is an enormously complicated issue, one that seems to be the driving force behind the first book in this series. In an alternative history, magic is present in the world, and in a stunning twist of fate, England has been colonized by India, where the English find themselves under harsh foreign rule.
I have a number of problems with a premise such as this. I studied for my Master’s in military history, and while doing so, I focused a bit on Victorian Military history for a couple of projects. Alternative History is not as simple as flipping a switch and reversing two things. As such, the reasons for England’s colonization of much of the globe during the height of their empire are closely tied with trade and a patronizing attitude that uniting the world under the crown, and thus more like them will make everything right in the world. In Wilson’s novel, I never quite get the sense that the Rajthana have done precisely that for anything other than spite, and that much of the novel is designed to push this vision in the reader’s face by saying: “This is what it would have looked like if someone had done this to us!” It’s a noble gesture, in a way, but one that comes uncomfortably close to racial caricature, all the while the noble Englishman Jack Casey tries to do right by his family and grand old England. The real world is far more complicated, and far more interesting than the world presented in this book. Indeed, there are other alternative histories that blend in a bit of magic, such as Michael A. Stackpole’s recent The Crown Colonies trilogy and Gregory Keye’s fantastic The Age of Unreason quadrilogy.
The suspect world could be forgiven if there were an interesting central character and a story that was well written. Our protagonist, Jack Casey, is the unawakened character that’s lived an extensive life serving under England’s occupying forces, yet has seemingly never questioned his duty, consciousness or actions in his life, ever. Ultimately, he’s a dull figure, buffered back and forth by the situation around him.
While the writing in this novel is solid, and would work well under other circumstances, the structure of this novel is rather poor. One notable example is of Casey himself, who suffers from a magical injury that’s working its way towards his heart. In the first third of the trip, we’re treated to two things: he’s brought back into the military, and for almost a hundred pages, a chase that alternates between him hunting down a former colleague and stopping due to chest pains. It’s a redundant, irritating occurrence that made me put the book aside for another, far more entertaining alternate history: Cherie Priest’s The Inexplicables. If you’re interested in something that you don’t need to pay much attention to, Land of Hope and Glory might do it. If not, Check out Keyes, Priest’s or Stackpole’s aforementioned novels.