Saturday, September 23, 2017

Benjamin Weaver in "The Devil's Company" by David Liss

This is the 3rd book in the series. The story is the most interesting and it is written in a most engaging manner.

Actually, the plot itself in the end is kind of weak but the reader would not know it until very end of the book. 

In this novel Ben Weaver is forced to perform some illegal activities to save his friends. The story is about East India Company and a mystery man with some secrets named Pepper.

It is an international thriller with British, French and Indian interests intercrossed. It shows rise of private corporations that serve as the extension of country's political ambitions. 

posted by David  


Friday, September 15, 2017

"The Empire That Would Not Die" by John Haldon - review

This book tries to explain how the eastern Roman Empire also known as Byzantium managed to survive the Arab invasions between 640 and 740 A.D.
By 640 A.D. after prolonged but ultimately victorious war with Persians Byzantines under the emperor Heraclius recovered all the eastern territories lost previously to Persia. However,  both empires were quite exhausted from constant warring.
It was at this time that tribes from Arabian peninsula became united under the new faith called Islam and started a blitzkrieg to spread it. Within next 100 years, Arabs conquest reached France to the west and China to the east. The speed of Arab conquest was simply unbelievable. North Africa, Syria, Palestine and Egypt, all Byzantine territories with strong Christian population quickly fell to Arabs. Anatolia, the only remaining eastern portion of the Empire was under constant threat of invasion. In Persia collapse of the state was so complete that it did not recover its own statehood until 16th century.
In contrary, Byzantines recovered from initial shock and by 740 A.D. Arabs stopped to represent an existential threat to their survival.
So, how Byzantines achieved it? While it is very import to ask the right questions it is more important to have the right answers which here the author failed to do it in my view. I think to understand this question one needs to compare and contrast the fate of Byzantine and Persian Empires following Arab invasions. Why Byzantines survived but Persians lost their state and even their identity and ancient religion, Zoroastrianism? It is clear from the book that Byzantines benefited tremendously from civil wars between different factions of Arab nobility that occurred periodically after initial expansion of Arab state. But what about military capabilities of Byzantines and Arabs? What determined Arab's success in the field? I did not learn anything about it reading this book. First chapter was good by introducing the concept and overall situation but the rest of the book lacked any clear direction.
posted by David

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Review of "A Rising Man" by Abir Mukherjee

Year 1919. Britain rules India. 150,000 British oversee country with a population of 300 million. Local people started to question moral and legal justification for presence of foreign power on their soil. More they question the more Britain is becoming desperate to maintain its hold on India, because you know, without India there is no British Empire. Draconian laws are introduced directed against locals that further undermines British positions.    
So this is background setting when novel opens with gruesome discovery of a murdered British  high placed civil servant in the suburb of Calcutta. Former Scotland Yard detective recently hired in Calcutta police division is tasked to investigate the crime.  
It is very interesting and occasionally funny novel. It shows double standards of British rulers (or any foreign rulers for that matter) filled with widespread prejudices against native population.  They looked down on country and people who made them a "rising man". 
Highly recommended.
posted by David

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Review of "Plague Land" by S.D. Sykes

This novel is set in 1350, immediately following the Great plague, black death, that had devastated England. Within very short period, a prior social and economical structures that existed collapsed. Religious fanaticism and mysticism are pervasive.
Now new relationships are being established. Due to population decline, peasants who survived are gaining economical bargaining power with the land owners. 
It is in this environment that two teenage girls are brutally killed. Village people and their priest believe it is doing of a doghead, an evil creature with human body and head of a dog.
But Oswald de Lacy, Lord of Somershill, an young manor lord who just inherited this land from his father, believes a real person rather some evil creature killed both girls. His curiosity and persistence will lead to an unexpected and truly diabolical discovery. 
Highly recommended.
posted by David