A World on Fire

A World on Fire

James Heneage
This is one of my favourite types of book, a fictitious tale set in the context of actual historic events. I asked for it, as I am not familiar with the Greek Revolution against the Ottoman Empire (1821-32), and the events which the major political powers of the time played in it.

After the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the Ottoman Empire was failing. The Greeks, initially successful in the battles fought for their independence, spoilt their progress by infighting and arguing between themselves, rather than continuing with a united bid for independence. I had heard of Ibrahim Pasha, but I had no idea that this Egyptian, aided by French officers, burned villages, massacred women and children, took slaves away, and repopulated Christian Greek Islands with Muslim Egyptian people, as part of their strategy of retaliation and prevention of future revolt. The casualty figures among civilians ran into the hundreds of thousands and the cruelty was unspeakable. This ethnic cleansing seems to have pointed the way for the Armenian Genocide in 1915.

The major powers, Britain, Russia and France, did not want to become involved in another war so soon after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, so prevaricated, made agreements about non-aggressive involvement, and generally wasted time whilst thousands of lives were lost. In the long term this meant the Ottoman Empire limped on for another hundred years, causing loss of life in the Great War too, particularly the Siege of Kut and its following death march where 65–70% of the British and 15–30% of the Indian troops died of disease or at the hands of their Ottoman guards during captivity.

The story set against this background weaves fictional and real characters together against this background, bringing love, adventure, the arrival of steam shipping and its impact over sail, using the battle of Navarino as a backdrop. The characters are well drawn, and the moral dilemmas they face are particularly well written.

It’s a rip-roaring tale, written in an easy style. I shall certainly be looking out for more books by James Heneage.

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