Review: Keane's Challenge – Iain Gale

4 of 5 stars

Series: James Keane 2

My version: Paperback
Historical Fiction British Army, Peninsular War
Quercus Books

James Keane – exploring officer, card sharp, ladies’ man, and one of the finest soldiers in Wellington’s army – is back.

The British forces and their Spanish allies are exposed by a resurgent French army, led by one of Napoleon’s best generals. They desperately need information and intelligence and that’s Keane’s job, his and his motley band’s. But someone is informing the French – a double agent high in the army councils – and Keane’s enemies are quick to point the finger. Keane’s only hope is to discover and root out the traitor himself.

Well, let’s see here. There’s no evidence to back up the card sharp line, or the ladies man. There is a woman in the party, but she’s spoken for and Keane isn’t going to tread on a friend’s toes where ladies are concerned. He does get his own toes stepped on here, but makes it quite plain that that sort of thing just isn’t done in polite society. The best soldier is not proven as yet. He’s a spy, a forward skirmisher, and while he has a few battles and raises the alarm for later, larger battles, he is operating as a spy in the field, with a small band of men, and not equipped to fight larger battles. That’s done by Wellington. With whom, Keane is pretty much on first-name terms. I can’t see that Wellington does anything, purely based on Keane’s instruction, but his advice is taken into account and if we are to believe that Wellington was a superb general, then action on, even partly, another’s advice would seem to mean that other was a good soldier. I think that may be what Iain Gale is getting at.

Keane is pretty much just a good soldier. A very good one, it seems. With a creative imagination and a good analytical brain. Seeing and exploiting possibilities, weaknesses and opportunities. Those of his own and his band of ruffians. And the ruffians he meets in and around the mountains. Whether they were Spanish opposed to the French and maybe the British, or Portuguese opposed to the Spanish and the French – the Portuguese do seem to be on ‘our’ side here – I’m not sure. This period, this conflict isn’t my strong point.

I think Gale could have taken a few more risks with the character of Keane, played more to some of his supposed strengths (reading the back cover blurb, and all). He plays it very straight, making Keane conform to the norms of the day, without really having to ruffle any feathers. In the same ilk, Jack Lark is much more of a rebel and risk taker, Keane feels like a safe pair of hands in comparison. That said, it’s a pretty enjoyable, un-troublesome read, with plenty of action and information of armies and the warfare of the period. Maybe Keane will live up to his reputation in the next one?

You can buy Keane’s Challenge at

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