Millard has taken a well-known piece of Churchilliana and skilfully turned it into a large historical narrative. Using many unpublished sources, she weaves into a nail-biting escape story a larger picture of Africa at the cusp of the 20th century. Her eye for humanising detail, her vivid topographical descriptions and her keen awareness of the realities (and surrealities) of war come together in a truly fascinating book.
...her book is much shorter on the anxiety of influence and far longer on the blustery impatience of youth. In Ms. Millard’s retelling, young Churchill was entitled, precocious, supernaturally confident — one of those fellows whose neon self-regard is downright unseemly until the very moment it is earned ... as involving as a popcorn thriller. Ms. Millard does an excellent job conveying the drama of confinement, both inside the prison and out ... What’s striking is the high volume of evidence Ms. Millard has compiled to show how unswervingly he believed in his own majestic destiny more than 40 years before he fulfilled it.
This is well-trodden territory, and, unlike in her earlier works, Millard offers few new facts or insights about Churchill and his South African adventure. Yet, thanks to her formidable storytelling skills, she has succeeded in infusing this familiar narrative with color, excitement and life.
The details of his prison break are best read in full. Suffice it to say that if Ms. Millard does not enlarge our image of Churchill, she presents him vividly and readably. She has a knack for detail and notes that while he was willing to risk his life for the crown, brooking discomfort was another matter ... Ms. Millard also does a splendid job of introducing modern readers to the Boers, depicting a nation of citizen-farmers, doggedly self-reliant if racially blinkered, who gave the British Lion all it could handle.
Anyone with a basic grasp of history will know that he made it. Yet the tale of how he did so has lost none of its thrill in the 116 years since it happened. Millard’s suspenseful writing is ideal for this adventure-novel material ... Millard has a strong sense of character and storytelling, though she is less concerned with the details that often illuminate historical writing ... over all this is a tremendously readable and enjoyable book.
...a fluent and readable account of Churchill’s early life as a buccaneering, attention-seeking journalist and soldier ... The story in Hero of the Empire has been told before, and there isn’t much new that Millard brings ... As Millard effectively shows, the British empire and Churchill – from his early soldiering days to his apotheosis during the second world war – were also mutually dependent.
Aside from a gift for spotting compelling and underreported narrative material in the lives of familiar historical figures, Millard is an extremely talented writer, equally adept at penning heart-stopping battlefield scenes and the peculiarities of the emerging Boer culture in early South African history. She has an eye for telling detail and character insight, a dual skill that makes Hero of the Empire a page turner and a fascinating portrait of one of the 20th century’s great figures.
...as valuable as [it is] entertaining ... Millard often, perhaps too often, hits a tone of high melodrama scarcely distinguishable from Churchill's own account ... But her general narrative instincts are as true here as they've always been, and she keeps constantly in mind what Churchill himself kept constantly in mind: not the heroism of British troops nor the doomed bravery of the Boers but rather the fame of Winston Churchill ... Millard brings [Churchill] vividly to life.
Through meticulous research of primary sources she crafts historically accurate dramatic scenes that fill the senses. It’s impossible not to feel the claustrophobia of capture when Churchill’s detained in a corrugated-iron shed ... Millard has no shortage of strengths as a writer, but particularly spectacular is her ability to make history and historical figures not only relatable, but absolutely relevant to contemporary readers.
""Millard has enriched this tale of adventure with details of the quiddities and tribulations of late-nineteenth-century British warfare ... I read this book with real pleasure (and pounding heart). It is, quite simply, a thumping good read.""
...[a] fascinating account ... There are moments reading Millard's heart-pounding tale of war, imprisonment and escape when you have to stop and remind yourself this is actually a work of historical nonfiction ... a thrilling, fun adventure yarn, well worthy of eventually making it to a screen somewhere. It is also a compelling story of the mysteries of fate and a young future world figure who simply would not be denied his call to greatness.