Britannia’s Gamble: The Dawlish Chronicles: March 1884 – February 1885: Volume 6

Written by Antoine Vanner
Review by Anna Belfrage

Some authors have so researched their period that they seem to live the events, the surroundings, the details they describe. Antoine Vanner is one of these. He breathes such life into his narrative that you could think him a correspondent in 1880s Sudan writing what he sees, rather than a man of today looking back.

Britannia’s Gamble is the 6th book in Vanner’s series featuring Nicholas Dawlish. Dawlish is captain of Leonidas, a Royal Navy vessel ordered to the Sudan to support the British army in suppressing a rebellion. The opening chapter is a tour de force, leaving this reader emotionally exhausted after surviving nail-biting action as wave after wave of insurgents attacks the British formations. After such an opening, an author has a lot to live up to, but Vanner does so with aplomb, guiding the reader through the political complexities of the time while generously lacing his narrative with period detail.

Captain Dawlish finds himself spending far too much time in the Sudan, commanding a desperate rescue operation that more than explains the title of the book. It is tense, gripping action at its best, enhanced by the sympathetic and introspective Nicholas Dawlish. Vanner does not shy from the brutalities of war: some descriptions are so harrowing I had to take the odd moment before I could go on. But go on I found I must, desperate to know how this fantastic adventure would end.