#BookReview Fortune by Amanda Smyth

FortuneAbout the Book

1920s Trinidad. Eddie Wade’s truck breaks down and he’s offered a ride by businessman, Tito Fernandez. So begins Fortune, a novel based on a real-life event about love, money, greed and ambition.

Eddie has spent the last years in the oilfields of the US and now he has returned home and is looking to sink his own well and make his fortune. He knows how dangerous it can be, but he feels lucky and Trinidad is rich in oil. Over the last months, like other oilmen, he has been wooing Sonny Chatterjee, a difficult man whose failing cocoa estate, Kushi, in South Trinidad, is so full of oil you can put a stick in the ground and see it bubble up. The morning before Eddie meets Tito, Sonny has finally given him the go-ahead to see what he can do. Unlike the big corporations drilling nearby, in his gut, Sonny trusts Eddie. Now all he needs is someone foolhardy enough to invest.

The fortuitous meeting between Eddie and Tito, leads to a business deal and a friendship that will make and break them both. Tito invests in Eddie’s confidence and although they are hindered by mosquitoes, heat, terrific rains, and superstitious fears, they find their fortune shooting out of the ground in thousands of barrels of oil, not once but three times. But their partnership also brings Eddie into contact with Ada, Tito’s beautiful wife, and as much as they try, they cannot avoid the attraction they feel for each other. With everything in the balance and everything to lose Tito and Eddie decide to go for one more well before Sonny sells the estate. How can this end well?

Format: Paperback (266 pages)   Publisher: Peepal Tree
Publication date: 15th July 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

Fortune is one of the four books on the shortlist for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2022.

Fortune, in the many senses of the word, is a recurring theme of the book. The most obvious is the chance meeting between Eddie and Tito that opens the book.  It brings about a partnership that offers the possibility for both of them to make a fortune through exploiting the oil reserves to be found beneath the soil of Trinidad.  For Tito, it offers the opportunity to address his precarious financial situation, one which he has kept hidden from his wife, Ada, and wider society who see only a cigar-smoking, luxury loving man of the world.  For Eddie, an instinctive risk-taker, it appeals to his ambitious nature. ‘In Trinidad you can be the first, a pioneer.’

The cocoa trees on Sonny Chatterjee’s estate are dying and though he is reluctant to allow drilling for oil on his land – he has repeatedly resisted offers from a large oil corporation – he wonders if perhaps this is the opportunity he has been waiting for. ‘What if, through meeting Eddie, his luck had changed?… What if he could show her [his wife, Sita] is was her good fortune to be married to him?’

Tito is keen to include Eddie in his social circle which eventually leads to Eddie being introduced to Tito’s  family. You sense the immediate attraction between Ada, disillusioned with her relationship with Tito and her life in general, and Eddie, starstruck by the beautiful, bewitching Ada. For Eddie, Ada is ‘a woman who could make people stop what they are doing to look at her’.  Eddie, with his energy and film star looks, is like no-one Ada’s  ever met before. ‘It seemed to Ada he could have fallen out of the sky.’

However, there’s also a sense of foreboding as their relationship seems reckless on both their parts: Ada, because it threatens her marriage, and Eddie, because it threatens his lucrative business partnership with Tito. I felt there was a real The Great Gatsby vibe to the triangular relationship.  Drawn together by a seemingly irresistible force, the risk of discovery is a game of chance that Ada in particular seems willing to play.  The author injects a real sense of eroticism into the descriptions of their sexual encounters. ‘He searched her body like a thief, looking for something.’

Of course, drilling for oil is a risky venture – a game of chance – and not without its dangers as is demonstrated when a small act, provoked by an act of betrayal, has unintended consequences. ‘The little things you do sometimes change your destiny.’

Based on real events, Fortune is a fascinating glimpse into an aspect of Trinidad’s history that was completely new to me. It’s a skilfully crafted story that explores how strong emotions – passion, despair, ambition – can make people risk everything.

In three words: Eloquent, compelling, immersive

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Amanda SmythAbout the Author

Amanda Smyth is Irish-Trinidadian. Born in Ireland, she is the author of Black Rock (2009) and A Kind of Eden (2013).  Black Rock won the Prix du Premier Roman prize, was shortlisted for the McKitterick Prize and selected as an Oprah Winfrey Summer Read. Amanda teaches creative writing at Arvon, Skyros in Greece, and at Coventry University. She lives in Leamington Spa with her husband and daughter. (Photo/bio: Publisher author page)

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#BlogTour #BookReview The Capsarius by Simon Turney @AriesFiction

The Capsarius_Blog Tour BannerWelcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Capsarius by Simon Turney. My thanks to Andrew at Head of Zeus for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my review copy.

The CapsariusAbout the Book

Egypt. 25 BC. Titus Cervianus and the Twenty Second Deiotariana have been sent to deal with uprisings and chaos in Egypt. Yet the Twenty Second is no ordinary legion. Founded as the private royal army of one of Rome’s most devoted allies, the king of Galatia, their ways are not the same as the other legions, a factor that sets them apart and causes friction with their fellow soldiers.

Cervianus is no ordinary soldier, either. A former surgeon from the city of Ancyra, he’s now a capsarius – a combat medic. Cervianus is a pragmatist, a scientist, and truly unpopular with his legion.

Marching into the unknown, Cervianus will find unexpected allies in a local cavalryman and a troublesome lunatic. Both will be of critical importance as the young medic marches into the searing sands of the south, finding forbidden temples, dark assassins, vicious crocodiles, and worst of all, the warrior queen of Kush…

Format: Hardback (432 pages)      Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publication date: 14th April 2022 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

The Capsarius is a great example of why I love historical fiction. Before reading this book I had no idea there was such a thing as a capsarius and couldn’t for the life of me have explained what a contubernium was. Readers familiar with Simon Turney’s previous books won’t be surprised that The Capsarius is jam-packed full of detail about Roman military structure, strategy, equipment and weaponry – not forgetting the construction of latrine pits.

The author has created a fascinating character in Titus Cervianus. We learn little about his early life (I’m hoping the author is saving that for a prequel) but what we do know is that he speaks several languages, has a voracious appetite for books and considers his vocation to be saving lives – not that he isn’t pretty deadly with a sword or spear when the need arises. He’s a man of science and logic who views superstition as the ‘bane of all reasoned thinkers’, one of the many reasons he has been ostracised by most of his comrades (although I have to say I’d be happy to befriend the over six foot tall, clean shaven soldier with raven black hair).  Fortunately for Cervanius he is ‘adopted’ by another member of his contubernium, the irrepressible Ulyxes who has an almost photographic memory but is never happier than when there’s a prospect of a brawl.

Aware of the perils that lie ahead, Cervanius is nevertheless excited at the prospect of seeing the sights of Egypt he has only read about – Alexandria, Memphis, Thebes – and through his eyes the reader is able to do the same. Gradually Cervanius finds his rejection of superstition being challenged by the seeming significance of symbols he encounters as he visits temples dedicated to Egyptian gods. Are the whispered warnings and his strange dreams portents of misfortune yet to come? ‘He was finding it hard to deny that something powerful seemed to be at work in this strange land.’

In his Historical Note, Simon Turney reveals that one of the inspirations for the book is Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.  As Cervianus and the Twenty Second legion travel down the Nile on a campaign that seems more driven by the arrogance and pride of their superiors than by strategy, darkness is just what they find, especially when they reach the fortress of Buhen. (Thanks to the handy map at the front of the book, I now know exactly where that is.)

In one of the great set piece scenes in the book, Cervanius and his comrades are confronted by an enemy described as a ‘cloud of black hissing death’ who rise from the ground with ‘iron points gleaming in the moonlight, ebony shafts and black fletching blending into the darkness’. Another memorable scene is the legion’s assault on the heavily fortified Abu Island during which they have to accomplish a landing from small boats whilst dodging arrows raining down on them and then face a ‘screaming, roaring tide of humanity, bristling with weapons, designed to strike fear into their enemy’.  Death is always just a hair’s breadth away whether that’s due to a mistimed stroke, an inadvertent gap in a shield wall or a momentary lapse of concentration.

The first in the Legion XXII series, The Casparius is an impeccably researched and thrilling journey through 25BC Egypt.  If you like full-on action, it has it. If you like historical detail, it has it. If you like a book to have a protagonist who’s not just a one dimensional character, it has it.  Personally, I can’t wait to experience more of Titus Cervianus’s exploits in future books. As he says in the closing chapter, “Here we go…”.

In three words: Action-packed, authentic, compelling

Try something similarA Night of Flames by Matthew Harffy

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Simon TurneyAbout the Author

Simon Turney is from Yorkshire and, having spent much of his childhood visiting historic sites, fell in love with the Roman heritage of the region. His fascination with the ancient world snowballed from there with great interest in Rome, Egypt, Greece and Byzantium. His works include the Marius’ Mules and Praetorian series, the Tales of the Empire and The Damned Emperor series, and the Rise of Emperors books with Gordon Doherty

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