Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Captain Elliott Parrish of Her Majesty’s 17th Lancers cavalry division and his men make the treacherous voyage across the seas as part of the British forces grouping in the Ottoman Empire to fight along side the French and Turks in the Crimea War against the Russians, Storms make passage for the frigates hazardous and vomit inducing. But the conditions the troops find upon landing are scarcely better. Rampant cholera, missing supplies, inept planning and unbearable heat quickly dose the hope for a summer victory for the British. Then winter arrives bringing with it starvation, freezing temperatures and a lack of rations and shelter that quickly takes it toll on all involved. But even worse are the rumors of black magic and witchcraft that spread throughout the encampments, mostly revolving around the enigmatic, solitary figure of Cornet Ilyas Kovakin. It’s Illyas Kovakin who catches Eilliot’s attention, attracting him as a man while raising Elliot’s suspicions about his orders.
Cornet Ilyas Kovakin is half British, half Russian and returning to his homeland under conditions so heartrending and horrific that you want to weep for him. For Ilyas carries within him something monstrous, something that even the camp rumors can’t begin to encompass. Ilyas is on a mission, reporting only to one man high up in British command. Isolation, along with other factors make him both a target of suspicion and a danger to all who get in his way. But one man seems to be unable to let him be. That would be the handsome Captain Elliot Parrish who goes out of his way to welcome Ilyas and try to get to know him better. Ilyas feels as though he has no barriers he can raise against the feelings building in him, for Elliot. Something far darker lurks inside him. Because Ilyas is not totally in control and the monster’s strength is growing.
Against the backdrop of the Crimean War, Elliot and Ilyas do battle with forces far beyond the natural world, the stakes are nothing less than their lives and those of all nations.
What an absolutely stunning story! Astrid Amara combines the heartbreak and history of the military campaign in the Crimea War with romance and magic to arrive at The Devil Lancer, a story so huge in scope and impact that it goes beyond genre into something that can’t be restricted by categories or boxes. The story opens on May 1854 on board ships crossing the Bay of Biscay France. The voyage is harrowing, the men and horses sick and sometimes dying. Through descriptions so vivid and raw, we feel every wave, every squeal of the frightening horses tossing about below deck, and the fear that all must have felt becomes real. And once they land at Varna in the Ottoman Empire, the men find themselves and their horses thrown into hellish conditions that few will escape from.
Each chapter moves the story and campaign forward as the men march into Crimea. By Chapter 4 its August 1854 in a war that will last a little over two years. Here history isn’t dry but alive and writhing with the everyday horrors of sickness, starvation, arrogance and death that war brings, especially to the enlisted men. And into this nightmare of geography, hysterical national fervor, and strategy, Astrid Amara weaves a tale not only of romance but of ancient malevolent magic let loose once more.
The characters feel so alive and believable. Whether it is Elliot Parrish, the fifth son trying to find a future for himself or Ilyas, a man with a mission and secret that threatens to consume him, our hearts and attention are focused on them and the wars that wage around them. Yes, wars, because there are so many layers here waiting to be revealed and each one carries an unanticipated nasty surprise. There is the battle to accept their attraction and feelings for each other where such a discovery means death. A battle for trust, support, and finally of survival. This is a saga for sitting around halls and blazing fires as the tale unfolds. Even the side characters ring with a humanity and force that makes them hard to forget, whether its Henry, Elliot’s friend, chilly Charles Cattley with his secret intelligence department or even Valentin, Ilyas’ black stallion. Read and be prepared for them to captures shards of your heart as the story proceeds.
And those elements of magic and mythology that anchor this story along with the location and campaign! From subtle hints and glimpses in scene to scene is a pantheon of evil built that will shake the foundations of this story and the hopes for all the characters you have come to love. Amara makes this mystical aspect of the story feel every bit as believable and authentic as her factual research on the war. It’s epic, as unforgettable as all the other facets to be found within this story.
Finally, there is the deep and complicated romance between two soldiers under the most horrendous conditions you could imagine. Its brutal at times, gentle when possible, and heartrendingly believable. You are never quite sure how the author is going to pull it off and where she will take it. I loved that uncertainty and it heightens the suspense for the final outcome for both men. The ending was just as splendid as I could have hoped for. But its the journey there that will have the reader on the edge of their chair, caught between actions loving, erotic, bloody, and heroic in scope.
Amara has done a huge amount of research for this story, from the various battles to camp conditions, even down to the jackets and equipment used. This attention to detail and the manner in which they are folded into the narrative combine to produce a powerful, and appalling portrait of men at war under the worst of conditions and leadership. There is a list of references used at the end, some so fascinating that they cry out for exploration. Where others might falter, this author brings together the gods of war, the frailty of human beings combined with the need to love and survive into a story that will continue to resonate long past the last word read.
Who should read this book? Everyone. Yes, everyone. I know some will say they don’t read historical fiction because its too dry or has too many dates. Not so here. This book will reach out and shatter those beliefs and assumptions. The Devil Lancer will make you realize that history is vital, raw and real. Its full of blood, sweat, tears, death, and sometimes things you can’t explain. Its full of love and romance and an uncertain path that needs to be negotiated before you can arrive at a HFN or even HEA. The Devil Lancer should be on everyone’s must have, must read list. It will certainly be at the top of Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Best of 2014 in December. Don’t wait until then to pick it up and begin your introduction to this unforgettable story.
Cover art by Dawn Kimberling. Not a favorite of mine. There are so many elements that could have been included or highlighted, that the figure on the cover feels to rough and singular for the scope of this saga.
ebook. also available in paperback and kindle format
Published October 7th 2014 by Blind Eye Books