The Queen’s Tiger by Peter Watt

The Queen's Tiger Cover

Publisher: Macmillan (Trade Paperback – 12 November 2019)

Series: The Colonial series – Book 2

Length: 360 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

One of Australia’s best historical fiction writers, Peter Watt, returns with another exciting historical adventure in The Queen’s Tiger, the outstanding sequel to his 2018 release, The Queen’s Colonial.

Following on from the events of The Queen’s Colonial, in 1857, former Australian settler Ian Steele is still living under the guise of Samuel Forbes, a rich English noble who Ian bears an uncanny resemblance to. Ian switched places with Samuel in order to help him meet the required military service he needs to receive a vast inheritance. Serving as a captain in Queen Victoria’s army, Ian has proven himself to be a natural soldier, fighting against the odds dozens of times over against the most vicious enemies of the crown. However, despite the formidable enemies he has faced on the battlefield, Ian has encountered greater dangers far closer to home, as Samuel’s father and his murderous brother Charles are determined that Samuel will never receive his inheritance.

As Ian and his men, including his old friends Sergeant Conan Curry and Corporal Owen Williams, return from fighting the Persian army in Iran, a dangerous threat to the empire is brewing in India. Indian troops under the employ of the British East India Company have begun to mutiny, and the country, caught up in a swell of anti-British nationalism, is beginning to violently rebel against British rule. Among those caught up in the chaos are Samuel’s sister Alice and her husband the surgeon Peter Campbell, whose honeymoon turns into a brutal fight for survival.

Redeployed to India, Ian is once again leading the charge in some of the campaign’s most deadly battles against a determined foe. However, the biggest threat to his survival is happening half a world away back in England, as the real Samuel Forbes returns to London for a personal meeting under the name Ian Steele. When Samuel is spotted and his true identity is suspected, he finds himself hunted throughout England by Charles’s agents, determined to prove that Ian is an imposter. Can Ian and Samuel continue their ruse amidst the tragedy, tribulations and conflicts they encounter, or will the evil forces arrayed against them finally bring them down?

This was another fantastic book from Peter Watt, who has a true knack for producing compelling historical adventures filled with action, intrigue and family drama. The Queen’s Tiger is the second book in Watt’s Colonial series, which follows its protagonists through some of the most dangerous conflicts that the British army found itself involved with during the 19th century. I have to admit that I have been quite keen to check this book out for a little while, and not just because it quotes one of my Canberra Weekly reviews on the cover. The first book in this series, The Queen’s Colonial was an excellent read, and it did a good job following up Watt’s long-running Frontier series of which I was a big fan (make sure to check out my Canberra Weekly reviews for the last two books in this series, While the Moon Burns and From the Stars Above).

The Queen’s Tiger continues the intriguing story from the first book, which saw a simple Australian blacksmith pretend to be an English gentleman in order to serve as an officer in the Queen’s army. This was a compelling start the series, and I am glad that Watt has continued to follow through the fun blend of military action, intrigue and character interactions that have been a signature writing trend of his for some time. The Queen’s Tiger contains a wide-ranging story that covers several characters across a number of continents. This allows the author to showcase a number of different and enjoyable storylines within one book, and as such we can have one section of a book that focuses on the military action and adventure being undertaken by several of the characters in India, and the next section than looks at the sinister plotting of the book’s antagonists, or the desperate attempts of the real Samuel to keep his identity secret in England. In addition to their ongoing adventures, the author also explores the various relationships and romances that the various characters have, painting a rich tapestry of these point-of-view characters’ lives. This is a wonderful combination of storylines, all of which comes together into an excellent and highly enjoyable read.

Just like he did with the Crimean War in The Queen’s Colonial, Watt does a fantastic job bringing an intriguing historical conflict to life in this book, with his focus and examination of the Indian Mutiny of 1857. The book actually follows the entire duration of the Indian Mutiny and showcases most of the key moments of the rebellion that turned into full-scale war for independence. As a result of the way that Watt positioned his characters from the first book, the reader gets to see two separate parts of the mutiny. Alice and Peter’s storyline, which also features the new major character of Scott Campbell, focuses on how the English people who were living in India when the mutiny started would have perceived what was going on, and the desperate battle that the English forces garrisoned in India faced against a mass rebellion of their Indian soldiers. Ian’s storyline, on the other hand, shows the battles that the English relief force faced as they tried to retake the country and rescue the English citizens trapped within. This was an extremely fascinating historical event, and I think that Watt’s portrayal of this conflict was extremely intriguing and compelling. Based on the comments in the historical notes section of this book, it looks like Watt is planning to take his characters through a number of England’s various 19th century military campaigns in the following books, and I look forward to seeing where they end up next.

Needless to say, a book that has such a strong focus on soldiers and the Indian Mutiny is going to be very heavy on the action, as the protagonists fight in several battles across Indian and Iran. There are a significant number of fast-paced sequences throughout this book, from the various battles and skirmishes that occur during the mutiny, to thrilling chase scenes in the backstreets of London. Watt’s grasp of 19th century military combat is quite impressive, and there is a very realistic feel to the huge number of fight sequences that occur throughout the book, as he focuses on the tactics and weaponry of the British infantry man. As a result, there is rarely a dull or quiet moment in this book, and action fans will really appreciate the cool fights occurring throughout the book.

Peter Watt has once again delivered an electrifying and enthralling piece of historical fiction with The Queen’s Tiger. Featuring some amazing depictions of a deadly part of history, as well as a bunch of great characters whose various adventures, deceptions and relationships are particularly intriguing, this is a fantastic piece of Australian fiction that is really worth checking out.

AWOL: Agent Without Licence by Andrew Lane

AWOL Agent Without Licence Cover.jpg

Publisher: Piccadilly Press

Publication date – 12 July 2018

 

From a veteran author of young adult fiction comes this brilliant spy thriller that introduces a younger audience to the joys of modern espionage.

Kieron Mellor and his best friend, Sam, are typical teenagers living the ‘greeb’ lifestyle in Newcastle, England, with their biggest problem revolving around how to get tickets to the next rock show.  But when they witness a man being kidnapped in their local mall, they are thrust into the world of covert espionage and a plot to unleash untold destruction on the world.  Noticing that the kidnapped man has dropped a set of glasses and an earpiece, Kieron picks them up, only to discover that they are part of a high tech virtual reality kit that can provide the user with a database of information about anything they see.  They also connect Kieron to Bex, a secret agent on mission in Mumbai who is in desperate need of his help.

Bex’s handler, the man who was kidnapped, was using the technology currently in Kieron’s possession to remotely assist Bex with her mission.  Bex was observing a deal for information about nuclear weapons, but the disappearance of her handler resulted in her losing her target.  With no other options, Bex is forced to utilize Kieron and Sam’s help in order to complete her mission and stop an act of mass destruction.  However, the Newcastle teens have problems of their own; a fanatical right-wing extremist group and a mole inside Bex’s organisation are hunting them for the missing glasses, and they have no intention of leaving any witnesses alive.

Agent Without License is the first book in Lane’s AWOL series of young adult spy thrillers.  The second novel in this series, Last Safe Moment, is already set to be released later this year and will continue to follow the characters introduced in this first book.  Lane already has significant experience writing novels for a younger audience, with eight books in his bestselling Young Sherlock Holmes series, as well as his Lost Worlds and Crusoe Adventures books.  Other works from Lane include his science fiction based Netherspace series and several books set in the Dr Who extended universe.

The AWOL series is aimed towards a younger generation of reader and has been advertised for children in the 9-12 age range.  I felt that this book is an ideal read for that demographic, and it reminded me of some of the books that really caught my imagination when I was that age, including the Artemis Fowl and Alex Ryder novels.  While there is some violence and implied deaths within the storyline, it isn’t overly graphic and won’t traumatise the younger readers.  That being said, the overarching spy storyline isn’t dumbed down, and its intended audience will enjoy the realism and the references to events, ideologies and prejudices that currently affecting the real world.  There are also discussions about some mature themes, although nothing is too extreme or adult.  These small inclusions will be appreciated by the younger audience, as they will enjoy seeing some of these mature issues which they are likely already aware of included in their fiction.  Lane does make the obligatory attempts to tap into modern youth culture in order to appeal to his readers’ interests; fortunately, however, he does not go too overboard with his attempts like some authors do, and readers are not inundated with a flood of unnecessary pop culture references.  The author has also included multiple examples of the two teen heroes outsmarting older antagonists.  This is always a fun feature for the younger audience to enjoy, and these teen protagonists have some very inventive, and in some cases quite direct, solutions to the problems they encounter.  Overall, Agent Without License will prove to be an excellent read for the audience in its suggest age range.  Older readers will also have a blast with this book and enjoy the fantastic spy thriller elements.

For his AWOL series, Lane has leveraged his significant espionage experience to create intriguing novels with a sense of realism to their spy aspects.  In Agent Without License, the author lays down a foundation of tradecraft and spy techniques for the reader to enjoy as his protagonists attempt to save the world.  Lane explores the basics of spying in this book and provides information about current espionage agencies and how they impact on real world politics.  As a result, this is a fun and informative introduction to the spy thriller genre, and the younger readers will appreciate the exciting and mature content of this story.

One of the best parts of Agent Without Licence is the advanced technology that the protagonists use to help complete their mission.  This technology comes in the form of glasses and an ear piece, and is known as Augmented Reality Computer Capability (ARCC).  The ARCC is essentially Google Glass on steroids, and allows the operator to access information on anything they, or the person they are connected to, can see or interact with.  This is an awesome piece of fictional technology that sounds like an item espionage operatives could possibly already have access to.  Watching the young protagonist, Keiron, become acquainted with and learn to operate the glasses is an enjoyable part of the story which plays in well with the book’s espionage elements.  The information that Keiron obtains for himself and Bec is quiet interesting, and the ARCC technology provides them with threat analyses, escape routes, background history of the buildings they are going into, facial recognition and recording capabilities.  This is a seriously cool part of the book, and the technology’s presentation and use is a great element that will make the readers eager for glasses like these to appear on the market.

Agent Without License contains two separate but connected storylines and alternates between the two different point of view characters in each chapter.  One of the storylines focuses on Keiron in Newcastle, while the other follows Bex in India.  These storylines overlap throughout the chapters, and the characters are in constant communication with each other.  The different storylines are usually occurring at the same time, although Lane does occasionally move one storyline slightly ahead or behind to create some dramatic thrills.  Some of the most intriguing scenes feature Kerion communicating information through the ARCC glasses to Bex.  There is a fantastic interrogation sequence in which Bex uses the ARCC technology to stay in communication with Kerion as he provides her with the tools to crack her target and get the answers she is looking for.  This breakup in storylines also helps highlight the differences in espionage ability between the trained operative, Bex, and the amateur but highly skilled teenagers, Kerion and Sam.

Andrew Lane has produced a wonderful and highly enjoyable novel that is a fresh and exciting take on the teenage spy book and an excellent gateway into the world of spy thrillers.  Agent Without Licence is an ideal read for its intended younger demographic, while at the same time containing a range of mature story elements that will appeal to all ages.  This is a fantastic first instalment in a great new series that is highly recommended for young readers looking for a great adventure story.

My Rating:

Four stars