Stewart’s Nanyang is an immense narrative that begins with a pair of young Chinese siblings abducted by a Dutch raiding party but steadily, confidently expands into a sprawling narrative that encompasses both the descendants of those siblings and dozens of historical figures in dozens of exotic settings, mostly revolving around the Dutch occupation of Java and the height of the English East Indies trade. The author obviously has an extensive knowledge both of the history of the English-Dutch commercial rivalries but also of the military and political intrigues that peppered the region for the better part of two centuries. There are plenty of well-executed action sequences, and in courageous young Mat readers have a hero they can cheer for a good-sized chunk of the book.
Stewart offers his readers no help whatsoever – there is no prologue, no glossary, no dramatis personae, hardly any dates in the text at all for the first few hundred pages; newcomers who come to these pages without some knowledge of the colonial-era East Indies will need to consult some outside reference works quite frequently. This is a glaring storytelling flaw on the part of the author, but the consolation is that it’s his only one: Nanyang is otherwise an epic, engrossing story.