A fictional tale of history that could itself be fiction
Story blurb: Invalided out of the East India Company’s army, James Brooke looks for adventure in the South China Seas. When the Sultan of Borneo asks him to help suppress a rebellion, Brooke joins the war to support the Sultan and improve his chances of trading successfully in the area. Instead, he finds himself rewarded with his own country, Sarawak.
Determined to be an enlightened ruler who brings peace and prosperity to his people, James settles with his lover, John Williamson, in their new Eden. But piracy, racial conflict, and court plotting conspire to destroy all he has achieved. Driven from his home and a fugitive in the land he ruled, James is forced to take extreme measures to drive out his enemies.
The White Rajah is the story of a man, fighting for his life, who must choose between his beliefs and the chance of victory. Based on a true story, Brooke’s battle is a tale of adventure set against the background of a jungle world of extraordinary beauty and terrible savagery. Told through the eyes of the man who loves him and shares his dream, this is a tale of love and loss from a 19th century world that still speaks to us today.
Review by Gerry Burnie
When I first encountered the novel The White Rajah by Tom Williams [JMS Books LLC, 2010] I had never heard of this very real, historical character, James Brooke, nor his exploits. Even so, the romance the title evoked—in the sense of an Errol Flynn adventure—intrigued me.
I liked the fact that Mr. Williams chose a third-person narrator, John Williamson, and that Williamson had an intimate role to play. However, given Williamson’s lowly station in life, I found him a bit erudite for his character—although that’s not a real drawback to the story.
The story, apart from a sea voyage around the horn of Africa to the Far East, takes place in and around Borneo, of which Sarawak was a province in turmoil when Brooke arrived in 1841. Therefore the Sultan of Brunei asked for his assistance in fighting off piracy and insurgency, and as a reward he granted Brooke Governorship of Sarawak, which then became an independent state in 1842. Moreover, the Brooke dynasty retained control over Sarawak until 1946, when it
became a British Protectorate.
This is interesting stuff, factually speaking, but it has always been my fervent belief that the real story is in the personalities who made it happen, and in this regard Williams has done a fairly good job of doing so through John Williamson as narrator, and also as Brooke’s (supposed) lover.
I think he has done a fair job of capturing the base motivations of the characters: The ravenous greed of the East India Company; the politics of the Brunei Sultanate, and the conversion of an idealistic Brooke into a potentate. It is all there, and it is historically credible.
However I did find some less than credible aspects, such as Williamson’s rather incredible knowledge of the Far East in such a short time.
Nonetheless this is an enjoyable story, regardless of your knowledge of history or the time, and so it is recommended as such. Four stars.
Visitor count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews: 12, 429
Progress on Coming of Age on the Trail: 172/180: Projected release date September 2011
Hope you are having an enjoyable summer!! Reviews are updated Sunday of every week. Please drop back again.