Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

KINGDOMS FALL-The Laxenburg Message — Reviewed by Dennis Linton

KINGDOMS FALL-The Laxenburg Message
By Christopher Clark.
Published by Amazon Digital Series, 2013

The centenary of the onset of World War 1 begins this summer and the printing presses are humming with new, and sometimes rehashed, accounts of the war. Edward Parr's Kingdoms Fall series takes a fresh approach offering a combination historical fiction/spy thriller trilogy. If the initial book of the series, Kingdoms Fall-The Laxenburg Message, is indicative of the books to follow, readers will enjoy a few years of high adventure. The first installment is an enjoyable spy thriller and an accurate introduction to the various campaigns of the war.

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The prologue sets the stage for Gavrilo Princip's assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Hapsburg Empire. That fateful day in Sarajevo serves to spark the flame to war, regardless of all the other debated causes of World War 1. This beginning settles the reader back in time and becomes an important thread later in the book. Edward Parr does a masterful job of describing the historical setting in the beginning of each chapter, providing enough background to lesser-known theaters of the war where the action in the story transpires. The story provides a look at the aspects of political intrigue and espionage behind the scenes of the shifting power structures of the empires involved in the conflict. I must admit, this really piqued my interest at times, and I found myself researching additional background on the political events. It became evident the author did extensive historical research; however, he never bogs the story down with extraneous details.

The real story opens in Gallipoli during the disastrous Dardanelles Campaign. When the British attempt to reinforce the besieged ANZAC forces with an amphibious landing at Suvla Bay, we are introduced to the two main characters. Aristocratic Captain James Wilkins is leading an infantry company in combat for the first time. He enlists the experience of his newest lieutenant, David Gresham, an early veteran of the Western Front. As the opening battle scenes unfold, the author does a wonderful job of illustrating the futility of the British frontal attacks in combination with the ineptness of the senior leadership. Within the first few pages, the British advance vividly initiates the reader to the brutality faced by men moving forward under constant artillery barrages and machine gun fire. Questions arise about young David Gresham, as the intelligence office at General Headquarters requests his immediate presence. We quickly figure out that Lieutenant Gresham is not whom he seems, and thus begins a spy thriller set during World War I  in the spirit of Ian Fleming or John LeCarre. The rest of the story weaves in the beginning days of the British Secret Intelligence Service, later better known as MI-6, with the actions on the battlefield.

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Dramatis Personae
Eleftherios Venizelos, Flora Sandes, Future Emperor Karl, Enver Pasha

The exciting plot develops fast as Gresham recruits young Wilkins to join him on a series of quick-paced missions attempting to influence political actions in favor of Britain and her allies. At times, the action literally leaps from one critical event or decision to another as the setting shifts from behind enemy lines at Gallipoli to Greece, followed by Serbia and ultimately to Austria. While it is not fathomable our heroes would be able to influence so many events in one year, it does make for fast-paced reading.

Throughout the novel the author interlaces some of the less well known, but influential personalities during the war such as Enver Pasha, Flora Sandes, and Greek Prime Minister Venizelos. The story swiftly shifts gears to high intrigue as the duo makes their way to Vienna to attempt to influence Archduke Karl before he ultimately becomes the Emperor of the crumbling Hapsburg Empire in 1916. In Vienna, in a setting of the Laxenburg Castles, the threads and meaning of the title of the book become apparent. The conclusion leaves the reader pondering the effects of espionage on the war and the blurring between fiction and history.

The book is an enjoyable read from both a historical fiction and spy thriller perspective. It leaves the reader waiting for the next adventures of David Gresham and James Wilkins in the Kingdom Falls series.

Dennis Linton

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the thoughtful and articulate review. Those who are interested in learning more about the series are invited to see our website at

    Regarding your comment about the "blurring between fiction and history," I certainly appreciate that some might object to such blurring. In the afterword to the novel, I attempted to address with some clarity what constitutes fact and what is fiction within the story itself. However, as someone who personally learned a great deal about the Napoleonic Wars by reading the historical fictions of Simon Scarrow, Patrick O'Brian and Bernard Cornwell, it is my feeling that any introduction to the subject of the First World War that excites the imagination of readers to learn more is worthwhile. For example, I don't imagine that Captain Jack Aubrey or Richard Sharpe are depictions of real people in the Napoleonic Wars, nor are characters Gresham and Wilkins. I hope, however, that they are adequate composites of real people and introduce readers to real events, and as an author I have tried to treat the subject of the war, the soldiers, and the historical figures involved in the story with great respect and accuracy. Thank you,

    Edward Parr