Book Review — Fortune’s Soldier by Alex Rutherford

If I’ve learned one thing about Hindustanis, it’s their endurance, their patience. When I hear my fellow officers whining on in the mess, I think how much we could learn from these people if only we wanted to… if only we made an effort…

Nicholas Ballantyne was meant to enjoy his life in Glenmire, Scotland, but when an unprecedented move on his uncle’s part sends him across the world to Hindustan, he becomes deeply involved in the changing political scenario of the nation. As an employee of the Company, Nicholas ventures into the heart of its presidencies in Calcutta and Madras. It is there that he displays the true meaning of loyalty and humility, racing from one battlefield to the next, protecting those he loves and serving the Englishmen who’ve given him a chance to rebuild the name, Ballantyne.

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

I enjoy reading historical fictions and this one features my homeland, so of-course I wasn’t going to pass it up. Moreover, it promised a great deal of adventure surrounding the operations of the East India Company in the 1700s. That is a subject I’m not very familiar with and so, I couldn’t wait to see how Alex Rutherford would combine this fictitious storyline with the recounting of events that actually happened in world history. What impressed me from the very beginning is the authors ability to characterize Nicholas in such a way that he becomes a full-fledged, realistic person, one who begins to surprise you with his strength of character. And I feel that it is this very quality about the writing style that prevented the entire tome from being dull. Even though we read about many battles and war council meetings, I wasn’t bored of it (barring the last couple of chapters) because I was fully invested in Nicholas’ as the lead.

The writing style is not over the top and neither is it too simple or plain. It doesn’t make allusions to any event or occurrence in a way that leaves you perplexed or unable to proceed reading the book without a quick dash to Google. That was another aspect that made me the like the novel. Apart from Nicholas, I enjoyed reading about Tuhin Singh. He is a respectful steward and friend to Nicholas, often shown to be just as (if not more) brave and has strong opinions about the Company’s operations in Hindustan. He is not easily fooled or subjugated. I felt that Meena’s and Lucia’s characters were not explored enough. They could have played a more significant role.

From the beginning, we know that Nicholas is going to be this heroic character, and so it is the stories of Robert Clive and George Braddock that introduce the themes of greed for power, communal rivalry, corruption, betrayal etc. This book also brings to light the opinions of several Mughal rulers towards Hindus. And so, religion is evidently a common symbol throughout. By the time I’d read past page number 350, I was getting worn out by the sheer quantity of battles that are spoken about in this book. That said, I appreciate the ease with which these stories are delivered to us. A majority of this book makes for a very immersive read which will surely have your rapt attention. Nicholas’ adventures were thrilling to read about! And so, I’d definitely urge you to give it a try, if you are interested in historical fictions.

Rating – 3.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? An insightful story about the East India Company’s interest in Hindustan and the resultant changing dynamics within the nation.

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Book Review — Candide by Voltaire

Candide overwhelmed by the words of his mentor Pangloss, gets swept up in a chain of events which ultimately result in a constant shift of landscapes, as he moves from one place to another in search of his loved ones. Having absorbed the notion of cause and effect, he rationalizes all the happenings around him to the way of nature. Instead of succumbing to grief or fury, he pacifies himself with the thought that all that happens does so for a reason. In this elaborate journey, he meets new people and has various eye-opening experiences. He and his companions are at times driven away, face death threats or are received with the greatest regard and bidden farewell to with bags of jewels. Voltaire has put together this story of Candide whose love for Cunegonde takes him places he normally wouldn’t have known much of.

A quick read of a hundred pages or so, the book packs so many instances that are odd and not really predictable. Right from encountering a city where precious jewels are considered rubble to witnessing the hanging of a loved one. Candide’s mentor and philosopher Pangloss has educated him since long to believe that everything that happens is for the best. But when he tries to equate multiple social evils to being “for the best”, it was a little irksome. There is optimism and there is illogical thinking. Many sections of the book seemed to blur the line between the two. There are many characters in the book who have brief roles to play. Some surface from time to time, others are lost in the past. There was some unnecessary violence too in the book which makes you question the nature of the character who initiates it. The book also points to the structure of society as was in Europe during the 18th century. Even though women weren’t as high up in social ranking as men, Voltaire hands a different kind of authority to some of the female characters of the plot, who in their own way climb up the pedestal. Candide’s love for Cunegonde, though a kind of instant-love, is emphasized throughout the book. Wherever he goes, he is always calling out to his beloved to wait for him. But just when you’d think they could be together, his conviction falls flat. And again we wonder how true Candide’s sentiments were. For a classic read, this book is bizarre and yet enjoyable. Worth knowing what the deal is.

Ratings – 3 stars on 5.

Meera