Title – The Scarlet Thief
Series – Jack Lark #1
Author – Paul Fraser Collard
Genre – Historical fiction
Length – 352 pages
Published – 21 November 2013
My Rating – ★★★★
As you might have guessed already from the historical fiction books I have talked about so far, I have a very strong focus on Ancient Rome and this only recently changed to include more recent history. It started with a deep fascination for the Napoleonic era and consequently its downfall mainly brought about by Wellington (I will talk about Simon Scarrow’s books covering this period of time as soon as possible!). When I started reviewing books, I also created a Netgalley account and looked through the books available for ARC (advanced reading copy) reviews. I stumbled across the latest and sixth book of the Jack Lark series and the plot sounded super interesting. At the time, I did not realise that it was the sixth book that I was requesting and there I am – receiving the latest book of a series without knowing anything about the others. As I was about to go on holiday for 10 days this seemed the best time to set myself a challenge to read the whole series in one go and review the lot (if it should proof good enough that is!). I am reading book number 4 now and I love it so far and I just want to start reviewing them, so here we go.
The Jack Lark series written by Paul Fraser Collard is often compared to the highly-appraised Sharpe series from Bernhard Cromwell. In this case, I count myself fortunate as I have not yet have had the chance to read it and can therefore (perhaps in contrast to many others in the historical fiction community) enjoy this series wholeheartedly.
The first book of the series “The Scarlet Thief” covers the Crimean war of 1853-1856 between the Russian empire and an alliance of the British Empire, France and the Ottomans. The protagonist is the ambitious British soldier Jack Lark who is the Orderly (something like a military butler) of his company’s Captain. As the British army commissions are only available for members of the society’s upper class, Jack has no hope of the career-advancement he so desperately longs for. When Jack and his Captain are on the way to join the Crimean-campaign happenstance and cunning find Jack in the position to grasp his desired commission as a British officer – even though it makes him guilty of identity theft (good choice of title there, Mr.Collard!). Upon arriving in a war zone, Jack soon discovers that being an officer is not as easy as expected. Only there is no time to reconsider and in the face of Russian fire, Jack must prove whether he is courageous enough to see the men under his command through the torments of the early stages of the Crimean war.
The Scarlet Thief is a fast-paced, action-filled tale of a man from the bottom of British society, who follows his aspirations to free himself of the limitations of his social station in a tumultuous time of the British Empire. Jack himself is an engaging yet not easy to fully-comprehend character with more to him than is apparent at first. He is confronted with the atrocities of battle and a darker part of himself and must face both simultaneously. Collard manages to draw the reader into the story and creates a character that is easily-likable and (maybe more importantly) believable. And while there are certainly scenes in which the reader might be questioning his sympathies, in the end there can only be one answer. The Crimean war itself is relatively unknown (I certainly had no clue about it before I read this book!) and marks a good start of the series.
I fully support the wide-spread love for the book and series as a whole and find myself a fellow-advocate in the historical fiction community! Excited to finish the other books of the series, I cannot wait to write about the sequel!