Review: The Assassins (Johnny Swift book 1) by ALan Bardos.

I’m not sure how I missed this series initially, but I am glad I have found it now. Alan Bardos has created some hysterical historical fiction set in the build-up to World War One.

Johnny Swift is a diplomatic officer in the British embassy in Paris with a penchant for gambling and his superior’s wife (among others). Said superior, wanting Swift as far away from his wife as possible packs him off to investigate the Young Bosnians, a Serbian nationalist organisation agitating for independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. What follows is a breathless plunge into the last days of peace before the catastrophe begins. That coming war does hang over the book for the reader, and adds a real element of tragedy as Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife move inexorably to their murder. That tragedy balances really well with the lighter elements of the story.

Swift isn’t a mere shallow Flashman clone – I have read far too many – he is far more reflective and likeable than Harry. George Macdonald Fraser does loom over all of us who write humorous anti-heroes, like the ghost of Christmas past, but Bardos ably differentiates his hero and gives him a fully fleshed out personality that develops through the book. I think the third person narrative helps there. Don’t get me wrong, I adore GMF but he was a colossus to follow, and Bardos manages it ably. Finally, the historical research and detail is outstanding. The Great War isn’t a speciality of mine beyond teaching it to recalcitrant Year 9, but I was never thrown out of the story by anachronisms or poor research.

As far as writing humorous cads and bounders goes, I am not sure I want the competition…, but this is a brilliant book that kept me gripped to the end, and I bought the next one straight away to add to my tbr list.

Next up, Conn Iggulden’s upcoming release Protector

The Assassins by Alan Bardos is available on Amazon from Sharpe Books

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