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John Laband
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
'John Laband has long been the accepted authority on Anglo-Zulu War studies and his new work, The Fall of Rorke's Drift, is proof of his expertise'_ - Dr Adrian Greaves.

It is January 1879 and the British Empire and the Zulu Kingdom are at war. Lord Carnarvon, Secretary of State for the Colonies, who had successfully brought about federation in Canada in 1867, had believed a similar scheme would work in South Africa. But such plans are rejected by Boer leaders. Lord Chelmsford leads a British military expeditionary force to enter the Zulu Kingdom uninvited. A bloody battle ensues on 22 January 1879 at Isandlwana. The Zulus are the unexpected victors. After that brutal defeat, the British Army are at Rorke's Drift on the Buffalo River in Natal Province, South Africa. A few hundred British and colonial troops led by Lieutenants John Chard of the Royal Engineers and Gonville Bromhead face the might of the Zulu army of thousands led by Prince Dabulamanzi kaMpande (CORR). Against the odds the British are victorious and this defeat marks the end of the Zulu nation's dominance of the region. The Defence of Rorke's Drift would go down in history as an iconic British Empire Battle and inspired Victorian Britain. Eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded to military personnel. But what if the Zulus had defeated the British at Rorke's Drift and invaded Natal? In the first ever alternate history of the Anglo-Zulu War, historian John Laband asks that question. With his vast knowledge of the Anglo-Zulu War he turns history on its head and offers a tantalising glimpse of a very different outcome weaving a compelling and never-before told story of what could have been.

What a smashing book for Christmas for some lucky Sappers out there. This compelling well written "What If" story of the Zulu War really smashes it. The easy to follow style of writing assists you to feel the personalities who are on the playing field; the political complexities are revealed to us as not being that difficult. Do you invade a country to bolster your ego against the will of the Government or do you follow orders and fade into obscurity? Well we all know what decisions were made and how it all panned out. Can't help it but the name Bartle Frere makes me smile.

However what if ?... if the Zulus overran the defenders of Rorke's Drift? John Leband was advised by his peers to write this story under a nom de plume, he declined to do so and put his reputations at risk. His gamble paid off. Avidly following the build up to the battle of Isandlwana detailing with a Soldiers'/politician's eye it was easy to get so engrossed by the easy pace of the writing that I started to overlook the subconscious nagging doubts niggling away in the back of my brain; once we got to the defence of Rorke's Drift and the death of Bromhead, I started to think this is not right. I had been hooked, lined and sinkered totally! Being so absorbed in the story before me it was so easy to forget that it was a 'what if' scenario. Once I stopped and went back to the beginning of chapter ten the penny dropped. Now that must be the aim for authors for all of these types of books and to be so completely taken in by the brilliant narrative was a delight.

I don't want to spoil the plot for you but I do recommend this absorbing book; I found that it enhanced my understanding of the real events. A Jolly good ripping yarn, get someone to buy it for your Christmas stocking, please, you will not be disappointed. Remember that most battles are close run things, look at Dunkirk, Waterloo and Agincourt, history can turn on a tanner and this book has some validity therefore. I give it four mushroom heads because I felt it lost just a little bit of pace towards the end but still a book I'd wish to keep.

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