The Peshawar Lancers

In 1916, Talbot Mundy wrote an adventure novel, called “King of the Khyber Rifles“, about the exploits of Captain Athelstan King in British India during the start of the first World War.

This novel was an influence on one of my favourite writers, Robert E. Howard, and Mundy himself influenced such luminaries as Robert Heinlein, Fritz Leiber, Andre Norton, and others.

That book is the source of one of my idiosyncrasies: many times when visiting various places of interest — museums, National Historic Registry sites, and such — there is usually a guest book or visitors log which all and sundry are gently noodged into signing. I don’t like to sign my actual name, and to avoid giving offence to the ever-so-earnest caretakers of such places, I will sign a pseudonym in lieu of my real name; Athelstan King being a particular favourite of mine — see above.

Recently County business had me far from my usual haunts and with some time on my hands, so I did as I usually do and visited the local museum.

As usually happens, near the exit, a kindly little old lady guided me towards the Guestbook and eyebrowed me into picking up the pen.

Baby Officer was with me, and when that worthy bent to sign in turn, gave me the Old Hairy Eyeball and remarked, “I didn’t know you were an S.M. Stirling fan.”

Long story short, I have discovered the novel, “The Peshawar Lancers” by S.M. Stirling.

This is a wonderful book. It is an homage to Talbot Mundy — the heroes of The Peshawar Lancers are Athelstan King and Yasmini — yes, but also to H. Rider Haggard, Rudyard Kipling, Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard and countless others.

There is continuous buckling of swashes, derring-do, steam-punkery, alternate history, Thuggery (capital ‘T’, please), playing of the Great Game, zeppelins, air pirates (!), horse cavalry charges, and the most awesomely EEEE-vil Bad Guy to come along in a long time — all set in a turned-widdershins version of Victorian-era India.

Absolutely delicious.

A warning, though: S.M. Stirling has done an absolutely massive amount of research and brain-sweating for this book — and it’s all in there. Every last tittle and jot.

He also uses a great deal of Anglo-Indian slang, but doesn’t provide a glossary. Readers unfamiliar with that sort of thing my find themselves a bit lost.

The book also presents benevolent colonialism as A Good Thing — something I (a product of colonial West Africa) don’t have a problem with, but it might get some Gentle Readers a bit cross-threaded.

All-in-all a thoroughly good read.


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31 thoughts on “The Peshawar Lancers”

  1. For what it's worth, S.M. Stirling is one of our local authors out here in NM, and he does that kind of research for pretty much all his works. He read from a new series at our last ASFS meeting (Albuquerque Science Fiction Society), and the research he'd done was very apparent.
    And yes, I read Peshawar Lancers, and went back to find the Talbot Mundy books! Haggard, Heinlein, those I knew, but Mundy should be right there with them.

  2. I have not read Peshewar Lancers, but in general Steve Stirling is a top author, knows his stuff, and diligently researches the stuff he does not.

    I suspect you would highly regard his Island in the Sea of Time series.

  3. About time Lawdog! "A Shakiri in Galveston" – short story in the same timeline. His Raj Whitehall books with Dave Drave – also worth reading.
    Isn't it cool when you find new stuff that was right under your nose.

  4. Loved the book! His background work, and the effort Sterling put into the "OK, if you move into a different culture, how would that change you over the generations, and would you notice the changes?" question really helped make the alternate-Raj work. Oh, and all the hat-tips, winks and nods were fun too.

  5. Thanks for the Talbot Mundy reference. Long time S.M. Stirling reader and fan. Now I'll have to look up the original.

  6. Read it when the paperback came out a few years back. Always hoped he'd do a follow-on.

  7. King of Khyber Rifles..hmmm I seem to vaguely recall the book. I also seem to recall a movie based on it..filmed back in the 70's, based on it, if I'm not mistaken.

  8. I use "Lamont Cranston". He was The Shadow in radio shows from the 1950s. "Who knows what evil lunks… The Shadow knows.

  9. If you're a Frasier fan, you'll recognize Athelstane's unamed ancestor. . .


  10. filmed back in the 70's, based on it, if I'm not mistaken.
    Only if there was a remake. The (1953) Tyrone Power movie actually had little to do with the book, being set in The Mutiny, whereas the Mundy novel was set during WWI.
    But wait! IMDB lists a 1929 version,original title The Black Watch featuring Myrna Loy, and Randolph Scott and John Wayne in uncredited bit parts!

    Check out their bio for Talbot Mundy – Biography: "After leading a roguish life as con artist and ivory poacher in British Africa and thence spending time in jail, he emigrated to the United States in 1909. His writing was admired for its exotic locales and quest themes; he was influenced by Rudyard Kipling. He belonged to the Theosophical Society, which lent some of the fantastic and occult images used in his fiction. He is best known for his "Tros of Samothrace" books set in Britain, Gaul, and the Mediterranean area before the Christian era."
    I loved the Tros novels, wish I could find them again…

  11. Stirling often pisses people off. He is (was) a lawyer, so I guess he's used to it. People often confuse what charectors in his books do for what he believes would be the right thing to do…

  12. Looks interesting, I may try it later. Once my stack of "to read" gets smaller.

  13. Re Tros of Samothrace: Go to your local library and tell the nice people there that you want to ILL the books.

    And I'll second the recommendation for Island in the Sea of Time and its two sequels. If you're a Burroughs fan, you'll probably like The Sky People and its sequel, too.

  14. Stirling is on my list of favorite authors too.

    I've done his "Island int he Sea of Time" series and his "Change" series. Very enjoyable.

  15. Thank you, Br'er Dog. I will have to check him out.

    I recently finished a book that should be right up your alley: "Ruled Britannia", by Harry Turtledove. It's an alternative history featuring William Shakespeare, in an England that was conquered by Philip II of Spain, with Elizabeth I locked up in the Tower of London.

    Not long after reading it, I was researching genealogy, and found out that Phillip II was my 12th great grandfather. And through him, of course, Edward I (Longshanks) is a direct ancestor, may LawMom and all my Scottish ancestors forgive me!

  16. Hehehe…The Dawg discovers SM Stirling! Good for you!

    BTW thanks for the idea of a pseudonymm for sign-ins…hadn't considered that.

    I'm torn between using Julie Shackleton, and HS Harrington. Two of the better heroines of late!

  17. I've been signing in as Sam Hall for years.

    They had a spot of bother at the NCO Club back in The Old Days, 'cuz' during an audit it was discovered that someone was signing in as Spiro Agnew. "We're pretty sure we'd know if the Vice President was in the Night Watch Club…"

    wv: gradploc. Not just any ploc, mind you, this one has a post-graduated degree…

  18. Thanks for the recommendation.
    So far (p 121) so good.

    My dad was stationed in India during the WWII so some of the background I can relate to stories from n=my father.


  19. As long as we're talking about "Stirling Books", we would be remiss if we failed to include his excellent (and chilling) Draka! novels. (tinyurl: )

    The main books have been compiled in one hardbound volume "The Domination", but there are a couple of follow-up books not included in that 1999 anthology.

    Stirling is capable of writing stinkers, but almost everything he writes is simply wonderful.

    He had originally enjoyed a rejuvenation in the 90's by his co-authorship of the "General" series with David Drake (completed by Eric Flint, and followed by three other volumes) but he definately broke through with the "Island in a Sea of Time trilogy" and, ultimately, the "Change" series … the second trilogy was published last year, with a third trilogy having been committed

    I look forward to the new year, every year, because I know that Steve Stirling owes me another book!

  20. A must-add to my ever growing list and stack of must-reads.

    B Woodman

  21. Thank you, sir! Now I shall go drop big noisy hints in the direction of my offspring as to an appropriate mother's day gift. 🙂

    And put to the signing of guest books, I do something similar. If I'm feeling unimaginative, my default is "Antonia Shimerda".

  22. For years I've signed in as 'Halsey Taylor', a company that makes drinking fountains.

    Congrats on finding the Peshawar Lancers, You'll enjoy playing catch up with S.M. Stirling's other works. A lot of good stuff.

    Another old fan of Talbot Mundy here, and I'll bet fellow fans will also like Arthur Friel's work. He explored the Amazon back about 80-90 years ago, wrote a series of 'fantastic adventure yarns' about a group of Yankee WWI vets that found life back in the US 'too tame'. These are still a lot of fun. Here's one from Project Gutenberg – The Pathless Trail:

  23. Bought and read the Island trilogy recently. Excellent! Haven't gotten to the Change books yet. I see I'll have to look for Peshawar Lancers, also. Have to add add him to my "must read all" authors list.

  24. Anyone looking for an odd or out of print book should try ABE books online.

  25. Love the book. And, as Geodkyt notes, finding that King is a descendant of Harry Flashman… icing(with a dash of brandy) on the cake.

    And Dog, if you haven't read the Flashman books, you should.

  26. got to second (third? fourth?) the recommendations for Stirling's "Nantucket" (Island in the sea of time) series, and "Change" (Dies the fire) series! I am rereading them, again, myself…

  27. Been eyeing this book in my book club newsletter for a while, but scored it cheap at the used bookstore last week…LOVING it. I'm a big enough geek-girl that I love all the detailed background, obscure foreign language slang (and trying to translate it from the context, hehe) et cetera. Now I'll have to go look for the anthology with the other story in it!

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