4 out of 4 stars
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Among Kings by Joey O'Connor is a book that portrays the excesses committed by Leopold II, King of Belgium, in the Congo "Free" State. Although it is considered "historical fiction," it is clear from the Author's Notes that the author has done an extensive research to write this work.
After years of experience reading books, the first thing the seasoned reader realizes automatically is whether the writer of an article/book is a professional or an amateur. After reading the first pages of Among Kings, I was immediately sure that the author was a seasoned professional. So it was no surprise when I read in the "About the Author" that Joey O'Connor is an award-winning author that has written more than 20 books.
First things first, let's introduce the protagonist. William Sheppard was one of the first black American missionaries. He was the first black missionary to go to Congo. The son of an ex-slave, William always wanted to go to his ancestors' land to teach the words of Jesus Christ to the local population. William had to overcome the distrust and racism of his countrymen and the most various difficulties in Africa: diseases, attacks by hostile tribes, and even the persecution of a greedy monarch who was not interested in guaranteeing the human rights of the Congolese population.
My favorite aspect of the book was how the author managed to balance a sad story of human rights violations with William Sheppard's personal story of overcoming adversities. A book that focused only on the excesses committed by Leopold II would be just another politically correct book on the market. However, Joey O'Connor managed to write a historically reliable book that tells the life story of an African American who deserved to be marked in history in every way possible.
On the downside, there is not much to criticize here. I found only two minor grammatical errors in a book that has more than 400 pages. Among these errors, I can mention Isaac Newton being called "Sir Isaac Newtown" and a paragraph wrote in a different color from the standard. At the end of the book, however, it is clear that the author had help from several professionals to finalize this publication. There is no doubt that the work was professionally edited. This book is flawless in terms of historical reliability, formatting, and grammatical precision.
On the whole, Among Kings deserves four out of four stars. The book is addictive, deep, and fascinating. As much as the atrocities committed in the Congo by Leopold II are known historical facts, the figure of William Sheppard is unknown to the general public, not only in the USA but mainly in the world. I believe that this book could be turned into a successful film. I recently read a news story that Ben Affleck will make a movie about the excesses committed by King Leopold II, and it would be incredible if William Sheppard were one of the characters in this film. The small flaws are almost irrelevant, and it would make no sense to deduct one star because the book is practically perfect.
Readers who like historical fiction will enjoy this book more than those who don't. Even so, I recommend this book to anyone fond of a story of overcoming adversity. Last year I wrote the review for Playing Chess with God (a book that was considered the OBC book of the year), and I can say without fear of making a mistake that Among Kings may soon be the book of the year 2021. It is a real gem.
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