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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Punjab: War Against the Sikhs by Nigel Seed takes us back to 1843 when India was ruled by a loose configuration of British residents and British sovereignty was maintained principally by the private, yet government-sanctioned army of the all-powerful East India Company. When two young shrimp fishermen, brothers Thomas and Steven Rushforth, are inadvertently caught up in a pub brawl that leaves the local magistrate lying dead on the pavement, Tom and Steven know they are certain to face the hangman’s noose despite it being an accident. They flee Morecambe Bay with just the clothes on their back and head for the nearest port of Liverpool with the “peelers” hot on their tails. Planning to emigrate to the United States, they sign up for the first available ship leaving port, which just happens to be an East Indiaman ship heading for Madras in what is now modern-day Pakistan. To keep body and soul together, the pair joins the local East India Company Army on arrival and prepares to head out to do battle, principally with the Sikhs who are rebelling against the British rule in the province of Punjab. There they will have their courage, their honor, and their mettle well and truly tested in a series of bloody encounters that will change their destinies.
Punjab: War Against the Sikhs was an absolutely rollicking read that flowed seamlessly from one horrific battle to the next. Author Nigel Seed has given us a fascinating and chilling story that could well have come directly from the pages of the “Boys’ Own Annual” that I read as a child. Thomas is a wonderful character who comes alive on the pages and, despite the gruesomeness of the task and the many temptations of life in a foreign and exotic land, he manages to display the best qualities of humanity, kindness, and honor. What I particularly liked about this story was the willingness of the author to credit the bravery, dedication, and sheer grit of the army’s opponents. It is so easy to gloss over much of the severity and unfairness of British rule throughout the world in the nineteenth century but the author was prepared to expose the reality, warts and all. I also appreciated the relationship that developed between Thomas and the young green Ensign who looked to and appreciated Thomas’s assistance but still without allowing Thomas to cross that invisible dividing line between the classes and the ranks.
The story is fast, furious, and there is no shortage of action to keep the adrenaline junkie fully engaged but it is also woven through with quiet, contemplative periods in which Thomas and others question what they were trying to achieve in India. This is a fantastic book that opened my eyes to an area of the world and a war, the extent and ferocity of which I was not truly aware. I am looking forward to reading book two of this particular series, as I loved this read and its characters and can highly recommend it.