Never Surrender, by Richard Foreman

Chantelle Lee

A new short story collection showcases Foreman's talents.
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Richard Foreman’s new short story collection, Never Surrender, presents an exciting set of tales that are diverse in their historical settings, yet united in the strength of their characters and wit of the prose. While some readers may be familiar with the characters from previous stories, each is effective as a stand-alone, thanks to Foreman’s pacy yet rich world building, and balance of history and humour.

The first story in the collection, Sword of Rome: Alesia, follows Lucius Oppius, centurion of Julius Caesar, in his pursuit of Vercingetorix’s war chest. Oppius is joined on his mission by agent Livia, his former lover, thus introducing themes of loyalty and betrayal alongside the action. Foreman expertly blends his cast of historical and fictional characters, ensuring this tale will appeal to readers with a pre-existing knowledge of the Gallic Wars, and newcomers to Roman history alike.

The next story, A Night to Remember: A Spies of Rome Short Story, features reluctant spy Rufus Varro as he investigates a conspiracy against Octavius. Foreman does not compromise on twists and suspense, cleverly positioning seemingly insignificant characters in places of unexpected prominence. Even though this is a relatively concise story, the reader is kept guessing until the very end. Again, the characters are brilliantly life-like and complex, with a seamless balance of fictional and historical personalities.

While Never Surrender includes tales from a wide temporal span, the use of anti-heroes is a common thread across several stories. This is particularly prominent in Turpin’s Shot, which sees the famous highwayman as the would-be victim of robbery, rather than the perpetrator. This adds an interesting level of nuance to the character and legend of Dick Turpin. In this way, the story opens by juxtaposing the glamour of Turpin with the ordinariness of his alias, John Palmer. This episode simultaneously highlights a theme of honour among thieves, where Turpin is both the dashing hero and perpetual outlaw.

Raffles: A Perfect Wicket continues this theme, featuring morally grey yet immensely likeable characters. It follows the titular character, A. J. Raffles, and his friend and accomplice Bunny Manders, in Raffles’ latest scheme to rob former Prime Minister Lord Rosebery during a visit to his estate. This is complicated, however, by Manders’ feelings for Rosebery’s daughter, as well as the presence of the famous Inspector Lestrade at a dinner party. Foreman is able to craft a story that fits perfectly with its source material, while providing a fresh and creative spin on well-known characters.

What is most striking about this story, and this collection as a whole, is Foreman’s ability to take his readers on a journey that combines wit and history in so few pages. Indeed, the final story, Can’t Repeat the Past? Why Of Course You Can! is only a few pages long, but manages to bring to life a character steeped in cynicism. This is an exciting and wittily-written collection that packs a punch.

Never Surrender by Richard Foreman is out now.

Chantelle Lee is an Editorial Assistant at Aspects of History.