The Scarlet Thief by Paul Fraser Collard – Advance Review [Bane of Kings]

The Scarlet Thief

Bane of Kings reviews Paul Fraser Collard’s first historical fiction novel, The Scarlet Thief, published by Headline Books, due for publishing on 9 May 2013, and is the first in the new Jack Lark series. 

“A great read with an interesting take on the Crimean War, with  some excellent writing. If you loved Bernard Cornwell, then you’ll love this.” ~The Founding Fields

I’m a huge fan of Bernard Cornwell’s novels, having read as many that I can get my hands on and have several of his books sitting on my shelves waiting for me to get round to. He was the author that got me into historical fiction, alongside Simon Scarrow, and it’s always nice to discover new authors who are writing in the past – and The Scarlet Thief, penned by Paul Fraser Collard – is one of these terrific debuts that all fans of historical fiction should enjoy.

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.

The blurb seems to agree with me that Jack Lark is the new Richard Sharpe. He’s an interesting character, with an interesting background that’s demonstrated very early on in the story. The book itself has many notable comparisons to Sharpe, as you’ll no doubt be able to note as you find yourself reading through these pages – for it is quite clear that Slater, the character in this book who plays a key role in providing a foil for Lark, shares some similarities with Obadiah Hakeswill, Sharpe’s nemesis within the ranks. Whilst Slater isn’t as downright as detestable as Hawkeswill, he certainly has his moments – and he is the character that readers will want to hate by the time this book is over.

The Scarlet ThiefThe Crimean War was what gave me a bigger incentive to read this book, as whilst it’s not one of my favourite areas of history to cover, it’s certainly one with a lot of potential for some good storylines, even if when I was studying it I looked more at the after effects of the Crimea on the Russians than the actual War itself, but as far as I’m aware – there wasn’t any glaring historical inaccuracies in The Scarlet Thief which should please readers who like their historical fiction to be as accurate and as factual as possible. The action is very well written, and the pace itself is very quick and fast throughout the book – something that helped me not being able to put it down.

The plot is pretty engaging, and the book itself is pretty short as well, allowing for a quick read if you’re a fast reader like myself – it’s a welcome break particularly if you’ve just come off a huge book by George RR Martin or Brandon Sanderson, as you’ll get through this fairly quickly. If you need any further tips on why you should be reading The Scarlet Thief, see what Bernard Cornwell himself has to say about it:

This is a brilliant debut and I look forward to reading more of Jack Lark.” 

It’s fairly safe to say then that this book is the perfect antidote to anybody suffering Sharpe withdrawal. It reads like Sharpe, it feels like a Sharpe novel and fans of Cornwell will find themselves at home here. Collard has crafted a great tale that although may not be the most original of debuts – is certainly entertaining. If you’re an urban fantasy fan then you’ll know that I disliked the first Alex Verus novel by Benedict Jacka for being too similar to The Dresden Files. The difference here, aside from the genres,  is that Paul Fraser Collard has managed to make The Scarlet Thief very entertaining and more gripping, compelling and engaging than Fated was, at least in my opinion anyway. I’ll be sticking around for the next book in the series, The Maharajah’s General, and it will be very interesting to see where Collard can take the series, and the character from here.

VERDICT: 4/5

THE JACK LARK SERIES: The Scarlet Thief (May 2013), The Maharajah’s General (Nov 2014)

Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and watches a lot of TV. His favourite authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson & Iain M. Banks, whilst his favourite TV shows are Battlestar Galactica (2003), Person Of Interest, Firefly, Game of Thrones, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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