Book Corner: Commander by Paul Fraser Collard

A true leader serves his men.

The Jack Lark series is historical military fiction at its finest, for fans of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series, Matthew Harffy and Patrick O’Brian. This is the tenth adventure featuring Jack Lark: soldier, leader, imposter.

Egypt, 1869. Jack Lark has reinvented himself once more. Working as an unofficial agent for the Consul-General, he moves among the most powerful men in Cairo. But when the opportunity arises to join legendary explorer Sir Samuel White Baker on his expedition into the Sudan, Jack can’t resist a new adventure.

Jack assumes command of an elite cadre to protect the fleet of vessels. But, as they move down the Nile, Jack and his men soon find themselves in a land where the rule of law means nothing, and those who wield power will do anything to keep it. And when a new friend seeks Jack’s help, Jack must decide where his loyalties truly lie . . .

Paul Fraser Collard‘s Commander is the 10th instalment of the exploits of Jack Lark. Jack first made his appearance in the Crimean War and seem to have gone around the world, looking for a fight ever since. I always wondered what would happen to him when the wars finally ended and Commander answers that question; he’d keep fighting, sort of.

Commander is set in 1869 at a time of colonial expansion for the British, which saw a rise in exploration of the more remote regions of Africa. Jack Lark joins one such expedition, that aims to go deep into central Africa, into the Sudan. Jack’s military expertise is called upon to train and lead the company of soldiers that will protect the expedition. Despite still leading a military contingent, he is definitely out of his comfort zone and facing challenges from various quarters, from the environment, the expedition leaders and those out to exploit Africa itself, slavers and big game hunters alike.

As ever, Paul Collard weaves a gripping story as Lark’s adventure into the unknown, both in his career and his personal life, takes a twisting, turning path. Commander confronts the ideas of slavery and the ivory trade within the context of the time, as he does the concept of colonial expansion; this is counterweighted with the sense of adventure and discovery that motivate such vast expeditions. The chance to go where no on has gone before.

Dozens of servants flowed around the room carrying silver platters covered with black velvet cloths embroidered with emeralds and pearls. Every platter bore a large number of drinking vessels no bigger than an egg cup, each one containing a liquid so dark that it was an inky black.

‘Coffee, Lark?’ Stanton reached for a cup from a passing waiter, his free hand held ready to take one for Jack.

‘No, thank you.’ Jack had no taste for the bitter liquid.

‘You are probably wise. I prefer tea myself, but there is no way in hell we can expect the frog to know how to serve it properly, so I suspect we are better off being spared the attempt.’

‘Indeed.’ Jack straightened his back. It always ached by this hour of the day. It was time to make an excuse and head for the buffet. He had delivered the notebook to his master. Nothing else was keeping him there.

‘You look like a hound waiting to be let off the leash.’ Stanton raised his eyebrows over the rim of the tiny coffee cup, which looked incongruous in his large hands. ‘You want to be off, I’ll wager.’

‘Something like that.’

‘Well, you can’t. I hate these bloody things as much as you plainly do, and now you’re here, you can damned well keep me company.’

Jack did his best to keep his expression neutral. The pit of his spine was beginning to hurt with a vengeance, and he wanted nothing more than to return to the cool quiet of his hotel suite and enjoy some peace. It appeared that ambition was to be denied, at least until he could shake off Stanton’s attention and slip away, something he would do at the earliest opportunity. ‘I’d be delighted,’ he lied smoothly.

‘No, you wouldn’t, but I pay your wages so you will just have to endure, as must I.’ Stanton snorted. ‘Sometimes I wish I’d stayed in the army. What about you Lark?’

Paul Fraser Collard’s Jack Lark has one of the best character developments that I have ever read. He is flawed, damaged and does not always make the right decision. But that is what makes him fascinating. He is a fabulous, colourful character, full of life! He is not your typical everyday hero, which makes him unpredictable, which makes the story’s outcome unpredictable. The many twists in the book leave the reader on the edge of their seat throughout, eager to discover the outcome of the converging threads.

In Commander Jack Lark is not only up against an enemy, a former French soldier who he quite likes, who is exploiting the treasures of Africa – it’s animals and people – for his own personal gain. In another life, he may have been Jack’s friend, but in this life, their ideals are diametrically opposed. Jack is also fighting against nature; the unrelenting landscape of Africa, where their boats are hampered by the weeds choking the River Nile and the relentless heat makes work, drill and marching harder.

Commander by Paul Fraser Collard is a triumph in storytelling, taking the reader back to colonial Africa, on an amazing adventure. It recreates the landscape of an Africa untouched by modern development, contrasted with the hustle and bustle of Cairo and the ancient, established, cities of Egypt. It is a pleasure to read – a journey of discovery for reader and character alike. A must read.

I do hope we get to see more of his adventures!

Commander by Paul Fraser Collard is now available from Amazon.

About the author:

Paul’s love of military history started at an early age. A childhood spent watching films like Waterloo and Zulu whilst reading Sharpe, Flashman and the occasional Commando comic, gave him a desire to know more of the men who fought in the great wars of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. At school, Paul was determined to become an officer in the British army and he succeeded in winning an Army Scholarship. However, Paul chose to give up his boyhood ambition and instead went into the finance industry. Paul stills works in the City, and lives with his wife and three children in Kent. 

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My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  AmazonBookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

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