Saturday, September 19, 2009

Review: God Is An Englishman by R.F. Delderfield

It is 1857 and British soldier Adam Swann has been in the service of England for years, serving in numerous countries of the empire. But the battle that leads him to break free of the Army, and his family's long service in it, occurs in India. When a wild horde of natives attacks his troop, knocking him senseless and off of his horse, he begins to see the futility of his life as a career soldier. There was one small thing that helped him to decide, though. When he awoke briefly in the dust of the road after being knocked out, he happened to see a necklace of large rubies that had been in the lead attacker's possession. Through the daze he is in, he manages to slip the necklace into his pack before losing consciousness once more.

That necklace is the key to Adam's future. He resigns his commission and returns to England, where the germ of an enterprising idea is born during a trek on horseback through the country he has been away from for so long. He wants to create a delivery company that will haul goods in the areas that the railway doesn't reach. On the same trip he encounters a young woman, Henrietta, who has run away from her father and his plans to marry her off for his own personal gain.

Henrietta turns out to be unlike the women that Adam has previously known. She is bright and has an unusual way of looking at the world. She even dreams up the logo for his yet-to-be company. They are soon married and then Adam is off to make his commercial dreams a reality. He seems to have either an extraordinarily clear eye for business or the devil's own luck, because he succeeds and founds an empire in the booming world of Victorian England.

This book is a grand family saga, the first in a trilogy that is followed by Theirs Was the Kingdomand Give Us This Day. I thought it was fantastic: a big, meaty, complex book that delves into the lives of the main characters and numerous side characters, as well. It vividly paints the world of Victorian England, the effects of the industrial revolution and arrival of the railway. It is intricate and interesting, with enough technical detail to please male readers and enough romance to keep women happy. A fine balance.

For some reason, though I have long known about R.F. Delderfield books, I have never read one before. It is always such a pleasure to discover a new (to me) historical fiction author, especially one who wrote close to twenty books....a whole list of promising reads for me to discover. If you love historical fiction, R.F. Delderfield is an author you won't want to miss!

R.F. Delderfield

I came across an old 1971 Pocket paperback copy of God is an Englishman and I thought the "About the Author" section was so interesting, I wanted to share it with you (the author died in 1972):

R.F. Delderfield was born in London but has lived much of his life in Devon, where he started writing as a reporter on his father's newspaper, the Exmouth Chronicle. During World War II and immediately thereafter he achieved quite a success as a West End playwright (one of his plays ran five and a half years). Then, at the age of forty, he stopped to take stock of his life. "What I really wanted was to be a novelist," he told one interviewer, "to project the English way of life in the tradition of Hardy and Galsworthy." Out of that resolve have come his great family sagas- The Avenue, A Horseman Riding By and its sequel, The Green Gauntlet, and now his latest and most ambitious saga which begins with God Is An Englishman.

In preparing himself to write one of his vast family chronicles, Mr. Delderfield draws a detailed map of the territory, county or city that he will cover, placing the houses where his characters will live and adding the place names and details that will build up into a rich and convincing background. Then he steps back and lets inspiration take over. He writes regularly in the morning, averaging about 4,000 words a day, then takes the afternoons off to go strolling over the moors.

God Is an Englishman is published by Sourcebooks, ISBN 978-1-4022-1821-7

You will find some other reviews at Books are my only friends and Bookfoolery and babble.


Gaby317 said...

Great review!!

I came across R.F. Delderfield after watching To Serve Them All of My Days - it was so touching that I hunted up his books at my local library. It's great that Sourcebooks is bringing his books back!

Teddy Rose said...

Wonderful review! It has been on my TBR for a very long time. It sounds so good!

bermudaonion said...

This book sounds wonderful - a soldier questioning war sounds really thought provoking.

Tina said...

I've always loved these books, and featured them last month on my From the Past: My Favorite Reads post. So glad you liked them....

S. Krishna said...

Wow, this sounds great. Thanks for the review!

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Stephanie said...

This sounds excellent. I used to enjoy historical novels that were family sagas, and I haven't picked one up in years.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said... one one of my giveaways. please email me mailing info. thanks

Jen - devourer of books said...

I'm glad you liked this, I wasn't able to get into it (it was a little dense to read while feeding the baby), but I do want to read it later, you're giving me encouragement.

Zibilee said...

This book sounds very promising. I hadn't heard of this author, but think that I am going to do a little investigating to remedy my ignorance. Great review, I'll be adding this one to the wish list.

Unknown said...

This book sounds fascinating to me. I love large family sagas like this and R. F.Delderfield sounds like such an interesting man. I only wish he had lived many more years or I was born a few years earleier. But the beauty of books is that we can get to know the author through their writing.

Thank you for highlighting this book!

SusanB said...

I am not familiar with this author but it sounds like a great book to read!

P Rolfe said...

I came across 'A Horseman Riding By' in a second hand shop, and I felt exatley the same - a very absorbing book,I had to read the two follow up, 'Post of Hounour' & 'The Green Giantlet', and look forward to reading the Swann saga.

Esme said...

Great review-I will have to go buy this one. I had never heard of it.


Anonymous said...

I have loved his novels since the first one I read. I have a question: Is there a book about the Swann's between God Is An Englishman and Give Us This Day?

Thoughts from an Evil Overlord

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About Me

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New Hampshire, United States
Bibliophile, Anglophile, Traveller... I have been an avid reader all of my life, since I took the Dr. Seuss Dictionary away from my Mom when I was less than a year old because I wanted to read it myself. In college, where I earned my degree in English Literature, I was often asked "What are you going to do with it?" Now I finally have the answer to that question!!! Being employed as a Flight Attendant for twenty years has given me a lot of life experience and, better still, a lot of time to read. I love to travel for fun, too.