Walls of Jericho
Jonathan Hopkins’ novel is an engaging Sharpe- or Flashman-style romp. It’s the story of an unlikely friendship between two youths of different classes who become soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars. Despite everything the British class system throws at them, Joshua Lock, a poor but proud blacksmith’s grandson, and aristocratic John Killen, who Lock has saved from drowning, stick together and end up in Portugal fighting the fiendish French.
I was pleasantly surprised at how the enjoyably pacy writing kept me turning pages. There’s surprising subtlety and compassion in the early depiction of Killen’s grandfather grieving for a son lost in battle, and full of frightened love for his teenage grandson as he prepares to turn soldier, too. From then on, however, I found the book more generic—Killen and Lock are put upon by assorted caricature cads, fops, bullies, and Frenchmen before, briefly, Lock is thought by Killen to have died. But their fine British spirit and mutual loyalty eventually win the day, and Lock does so well at war as to catch the eye of the future Duke of Wellington.
On the downside, while the cover picture is attractive, the blurb is a little amateurish: it is slightly breathless and confusing, failing to convey the sureness of the story. There’s also a rather labored religious theme behind the title, which I thought could have been taken more lightly. The pace flagged in Part II, in which our two heroes take 50-odd pages to join the army—condensing this would have got us to the wars faster. Part IV is labeled Part VI. Finally, I winced at the mostly incorrect French and Portuguese phrases sprinkling the text. But I would recommend this book to historical fiction fans—and, as the ending leaves the door open to more adventures, I’m rather hoping there may be a sequel soon.