the observer Sat 23 August 2008
Philip Marsden's rollicking history of Tewodros II, emperor of Ethiopia, powers along with all the drama of a finely honed thriller. At the height of its imperial powers, the British Crown was given a good run for its money by this whimsical Christian despot with his overwhelming love for seeing his foes flogged to death with a 'giraf', a whip made from hippo hide. Writing to Queen Victoria to request help in making weaponry, Tewodros kept several European missionaries hostage while he awaited her reply. When her letter finally arrived he refused to let them go, apparently dismayed at the loss of their company, and the British sent in an expeditionary force to face him. Right up to the final showdown with the captivating, maniacal Tewodros, Marsden keeps up the pace in this thoroughly researched account.
the guardian Fri 22 August 2008
"Vile carcass! How dare you bandy words with your king? Down with the man and beat him till there is not a breath in his worthless body!" Emperor Tewodros II, King of Kings of Ethiopia, was not a man to cross. The poor wretch addressed here was "mashed" to a bloody pulp. As Philip Marsden reveals in this engrossing historical biography, Tewodros's good humour could swiftly turn to blind rage and back again, and he was firmly convinced he was God's scourge on earth (he traced his genealogy back to David and Solomon). Moving at a novelistic pace, the main thrust of this book is a dramatic race against time as a British expeditionary force led by Sir Robert Napier rushes to rescue the British consul and 60 Europeans whom Tewodros has imprisoned on a mountain top. In anticipation of victory, Napier is carrying six bottles of champagne, while the manacled hostages nervously await their fate: "Never were the chances of freedom and death so equally balanced; never were the steps of friend and foe so eagerly watched."