The Queen’s Colonial by Peter Watt

The Queen's Colonial Cover.png

Publisher: Macmillan

Publication Date – 13 November 2018

 

Following the conclusion of his long-running Frontier series, one of Australia’s most intriguing authors, Peter Watt, returns with a brand new adventure that features several intriguing characters involved with unique historical events during the Victorian era.

For as long as he could remember, colonial Ian Steele has always wanted to serve as an officer in the Queen’s army.  However, for a humble blacksmith living just outside of Sydney Town, this seems like an impossibility.  That is until 1852, when he meets Samuel Forbes, a young English aristocrat, poet and former Second Lieutenant in the army, who bears a striking resemblance to Ian.  After prematurely finishing his commission following a terrifying campaign against the Maori warriors in New Zealand, Samuel is living with his uncle in Australia, avoiding returning home to a father who hates him and forced him to join the army against his will.

Samuel presents Ian with an interesting proposition.  In order to receive a massive family inheritance, he needs to complete 10 years’ service in the army, but after his previous combat experiences he has no intention of heading back, preferring to seek adventure in America with the man he loves.  However, wanting to receive the money and spite the father who abandoned him, Samuel has come up with a plan: send Ian in his place and then split the inheritance between them.

After the death of his mother, Ian accepts the offer and journeys to England to take his place as a captain in the Forbes family regiment.  As he successfully integrates himself in the Forbes household, he becomes acquainted with the members of his new family.  While Samuel’s sister and younger brother welcome him with open arms, Ian quickly discovers that Samuel’s father and older brother have no intention of giving up Samuel’s portion of the inheritance.

Ian’s desire to prove himself in battle is soon rewarded, as the regiment departs England for the continent.  Nicknamed “the Queen’s colonial” by his soldiers, he gains a reputation in the fight against the Russians in the Crimean war.  But while the Russians and disease are a constant danger, the greatest threat to Ian may come from his own side.  An Australian fugitive hiding out in the regiment knows who Ian really is and could easily report him, while the devious plots of the Forbes family could strike him down at any time.

Peter Watt is a well-established historical fiction author who has been writing Australian based novels since 2000.  The Queen’s Colonial is Watt’s 19th book, and is the first book he has written since concluding his 12-book Frontier series.

In The Queen’s Colonial, Watt continues with the same distinctive style that made his previous books such a treat to read.  Throughout the book, the reader is shown various sides of the story from multiple point-of-view characters, as both the protagonists and antagonists journey through history’s most intriguing events and wars.  There is also a minor hint of spirituality, although rather than the spirit of a vengeful Indigenous Australian that was such a major character in the Frontier series, The Queen’s Colonial features visions based around old British druids.  Watt is a master of utilising multiple character perspectives to tell a strong and addictive narrative.  While a large portion of the book is focused on the main character of Ian, several of the other characters are given starring roles throughout the book, and their adventures run parallel to the main storyline featuring Ian.  This is a great way to tell a larger narrative, and it is fascinating to see how the actions of one character could impact on a different storyline.  Each of the side storylines are pretty intriguing and allow the author to expand on several fun side characters throughout the course of the novel.  Watt has engineered quite a lot of coincidental connections, which, while a tad unrealistic, is a great way of connecting these character storylines in various intriguing ways.  I was somewhat surprised that Watt did not really show what Samuel Forbes was getting up to.  Despite him being majorly important to the plot, very little is seen of his adventures after the start of the book.  I would have been interested in seeing what he was getting up to, as well as his reactions to the events happening in the other storylines.  Hopefully Watt will explore his subsequent focus on him a little more in any books that follow on from The Queen’s Colonial.

One of the best ways that Watt utilises his multiple perspectives is by showing the villainous actions of two of his main antagonists as they plot and scheme to rid themselves of the protagonist.  These storylines are mostly told from the point of view of the oldest Forbes son Charles, and feature him and his father coming up with ways to kill the man they think is the second Forbes son, Samuel, but is really Ian in disguise.  Watching them come up with several devious plans and commit terrible acts is pretty intense, especially as you watch these plots unfold in the sections of the book told from Ian’s point of view.  It is quite fun for the reader to see Ian react to events that they knew was coming, and works to make an intriguing overall narrative.

I loved Watt’s depiction of the Crimean War, as the author does a fantastic job highlighting the brutality and harsh reality of this war, and the terrible conditions that the British troops had to deal with.  Watt really captures the horrors of battle in his writing, and the reader is constantly brought into the middle of the book’s battle sequences thanks to the author’s detailed descriptions and historical features.  While the battles are harrowing and bloody, quite a number of scenes show the horrifying results of the biggest killer of the British during this war, dysentery and other diseases.  Watt is quite critical of most of the British officers who lead this army, and places most of the blame for the war’s disasters on the backs of inexperienced or incompetent officers.  This is particularly exemplified by the character of Jenkins, who is promoted up through the army thanks to his family’s connections and money, and ends up getting many people killed thanks to his cowardice, incompetence and personal prejudices.  History buffs will enjoy Watt’s focus on this war, which is often overlooked in historical fiction, especially the author’s determination to show the trials and tribulations of an infantry regiment in this war.

Peter Watt’s new book, The Queen’s Colonial, is an excellent piece of historical fiction that takes the reader on a fantastic adventure through time.  Following a 19th century New South Wales colonial into the Crimean War is a great story, and I loved Watt’s great use multiple character perspectives to tell an overarching narrative.  Watt once again shines as one of Australia’s best authors of historical fiction and readers of his latest novel will enjoy a cleverly crafted and captivating story.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars

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