Jack Cloudie by Stephen Hunt
This is another in Hunt’s “Kingdom of Jackals” novels, and the first one I’m not recommending.
Getting that out of the way up front, we have young Jack Keats, a poor but bright boy who would probably have been an engineer if his father hadn’t gone broke, leading to debtor’s prison, death, and the poorhouse for most of his kids. Jack winds up on the street, using his skills with punchcards to help a gang rob a bank. Except it all goes wrong, and Jack is only saved from hanging by being impressed into the Royal Aeronautical Navy. A war with Cassarabia is coming on, and Jack is needed to help fly a peculiar ship on a peculiar mission.
In Cassarabia, Omar the slave is set free by his master just before his house is destroyed by politics. Omar is taken to the capital to train as a guard, but something else is going on.
And the thing that made me dislike this book, spoiling as little as possible, is that I feel that our heroes are on the wrong side of a social revolution, and unironically so (it is one thing to set up a story so that by the end you realize you’ve been following along with the bad guy(s) all along, but this doesn’t read that way to me. YMMV. Offer void where prohibited. Vote early, vote often. Excelsior!), and wrong in a really ugly way. I’d like to think that revelations towards the end mean that change might be on the way, but there’s no evidence of it.
Pierre Berton’s War of 1812: being a compendium of the bestselling The Invasion Of Canada and Flames Across the Border by Pierre Berton
This is also a re-read, but the last time I read it was long before I started doing this. Also, I read two separate volumes, not one omnibus.
Berton provides an in-depth history of a war that, he convincing argues, didn’t have to happen, that few people involved wanted, whose nominal cause was removed before it started, and whose last battle was fought after the war ended. Also, everyone involved got to claim they had won.
Well-written, convincingly documented, and recommended.