Posted in Book Reviews

Rising Blood by James Fleming

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Charlie Doig is a half-Scottish half-Russian adventurer and naturalist. Who just happens to have appropriated 28 tonnes of Lenin’s gold in the immediate aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution. He soon realises that getting such an amount of loot out of Russia is impractical, so with his partner and side-kick Kobi, he scuttles the barge carrying “twenty-eight tons of the dead Tzar’s gold” in the hope he might be able to come back for it at some point in the future – or even send his children to get it as their inheritance. The only problem with this is that he had to shoot his wife as an act of mercy after she was horrifically beaten and raped by a soldier called Glebov and, for the most part of this book, female characters are noticeable by their absence.

What follows is the story of Doig and Kobi on their trip across Russia to Vladivostok and on to Japan. On their way they spend time on a refugee train (commandeered by Doig), walk for weeks across snow-barren countryside and spend some time with a people called the Tunga. I have had a google for this tribe and can’t quickly find a mention of it so it may have been invented for the story).

The chief relationship in the book is that between Doig and Kobi who comes across as a Mongolian Jack Dee, always moaning and complaining. There is real and true affection between the men although Doig maintains the upper-hand in all their interactions.

Doig is a more complex character than I first thought. Yes, he is motivated by money and glory – at one point of the story there is the very real possibility of him becoming the Prince of Siberia – but he is also motivated by vanity and the need for respect. He is a naturalist with the discovery of a beetle to his credit and in Rising Blood he manages to catch and preserve the skin of a ‘Lala Bird’, hoping that it will give him the intellectual immortality and respect – and riches – he so desires.

Rising Blood is a very plot driven book with less character development than I would normally like. I think the character arc for Doig would be clearer over the three books of the trilogy (this is the third book) and Kobi seemed to experience no change in character at all. I was also disappointed that Kobi seemed to have been almost forgotten about at the end and would have liked to know more about his possible future.

These criticisms aside, this really was a cracking read. The voice of each character was well defined and believable and the adventures Doig has on his way across the Russian landscape are gripping. I especially loved the voice of the Countess and Hijo, the Japanese doctor and researcher, is believably gauche and creepy. I loved the partnership between Doig and Kobi and got to genuinely care whether things would go well for them.

In chapter five Doig says, “Now I’m going on a pilgrimage to find my soul”, and by the end if he hasn’t exactly found it, he certainly has a better idea of where it has been hiding.

I’d recommend this book to everyone who enjoys a good old fashioned adventure story.
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Writer, photographer, creative fantasist.

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