False Lights is a counter-factual historical novel by Carnegie-nominated author K J Whittaker. Based on the 'what-if' premise that Napoleon won the Battle of Waterloo and England is now ruled by his ex-wife, Josephine, False Lights tells a tale of derring-do as a pair of young aristocrats and a wealthy heiress with an unusual pedigree seek to rescue an imprisoned Wellington and foment an uprising to shake off the French occupation.
- K J Whittaker
As a concept this book has masses of potential. There are plenty of historical novels out there, the Sharpe series being an obvious contender in the Napoleonic era. What marks this one out as slightly different from the outset is its counter-factual nature. Most other historical novels either dramatise reality or, at the very least, embed their fictional tale within non-fictional reality. Whilst this weave of fiction and non-fiction can bring a story to life, it does mean one often knows the outcome of the narrative. With a counter-factual story, there are more opportunities for flights of fancy and more freedom to explore the alternative versions of history that could follow. Using the Battle of Waterloo as the fulcrum where fact morphs into fiction works well. In Wellington's own words, the battle had been “the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life“ and so it would have taken very little for the balance to have shifted and for history to have trod a very different path.
Whittaker writes well, if a little ornately at times, but my main bug-bear with this book was that I felt it took quite a while to get going. Although there was plenty of action from the off, it felt rather like scene-setting and I wanted to get to the meat of the story. Even when it got down to the main substance of the story, I still didn't feel entirely drawn into the plot. Having cast an eye over a few other reviews of the book subsequently, I don't think my views are shared by the majority so it may be just a matter of personal taste. Perhaps I had approached it with an assumption that it would be more of a military historical novel, rather than a historical novel with a vaguely military setting - to be fair, the novel doesn't make a claim to the former so my presumption was probably based on the fact that it had been offered for review to this website.
Overall, I would recommend this book to those who enjoy historical novels, or who have a particular interest in the Napoleonic era. It is a well-crafted book that just happened not to flick my switch.
You can pick up a copy from Amazon for £3.99 for the Kindle and £7.99 in paperback.