Saturday, 13 April 2013

In Books - The First to Land

I've just finished Douglas Reeman's second book in the 'Blackwood' series, a good old fashioned rip-roaring adventure series about the Royal Marines. This instalment has as it's background the 1900 Boxer Rebellion and sees the 'Royals' with their backs against the wall  as they attempt to hold out against waves of fanatical Chinese.

The main action in the book takes place during the historic siege of the city of Tiensin.

British and Japanese soldiers depicted fighting Chinese forces during the
Battle of Tientsin. This is the very action described in Reeman's book, in fact
he mentions the Japanese holding the ground next to his hero's Marines.
Image source: Wikipedia 

Aside from being terrific background material for your Funny Little Wars Reeman's story harks back to 'stiff upper lip' style of fiction that is gripping escapist reading. I found his style reminiscent of a grown up man's 'Commando' comic, but before I give the wrong impression I should say that while the action is thick and fast Reeman's research and military knowledge is masterful.

I have read several other of Reeman's books, he specialises in naval novels and I particularly enjoyed his World War 2 stories like Winged Escort and Torpedo Run. But The First to Land puts me in mind of the 1963 film '55 Days in Peking' and is very much in the vien of pro-colonialist heroism - like 'Zulu' - where the 'civilised' Europeans (and their alies) triumph in the face of hoards of 'barbaric natives'.

Left: '55 Days in Peking' is one of my favourite movies. David Niven is stiff upper lip-ness personified in this big budget production which has a lot in common with Reeman's book, including a suspiciously similar love interest!

I garnered a lot of interesting information from the story which I will apply to my Funny Little Wars collection and it has ignited an interest in the multi-national alliance that was pitted against the Chinese, an ironic example of international cooperation considering the events which were to unfold in the following years leading up to 1914.

If I have any criticism of Reeman's books it is the inevitable 'love interest' that he shoe horns in. I'm sorry, but a bit of romance in my war stories just doesn't float my boat! Luckily he tends to keep these uncomfortable diversions brief.

Troops of the Eight nations alliance against China 1900. Left to right: Britain,
United States, Australian, British India, Germany, France, Austria-Hungary,
Italy, Japan. Image source: Wikipedia

So, don your sun helmet and wax your moustache and settle yourself down to some manly daring dos. The First to Land is robust military action of the first order.

(As usual, my preferred 'reading' medium was the audiobook version as I like to relax my eyes on my long commute. But I should give an honorable mention to the excellent narrator David Rintoul who captured the tone perfectly. Also, my usual audio retailer is, which has a good collection of Douglas Reeman novels in it's inventory.)

Left: Armies in Plastic produce a very nice series of toy soldiers which reflect the multinational contingents involved in the Boxer Rebellion  and also some very interesting Chinese troops. These include these British Army soldiers, depicted in khaki although you have the option to paint them in scarlet or indeed in Royal Marine 'whites' (as in Reeman's book).

I give The First to Land 4 out of 5.


> First to Land audiobook page at (sample available)
> Douglass Reeman's official web site

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