If God Will Spare My Life
(11 customer reviews)


Pembrokeshire, West Wales 1904: Solicitor Arthur Nicholas seeks one William Batine James, heir to a Fishguard farm. He discovers James emigrated to Canada in 1871 and enlisted in the US Seventh Cavalry at Chicago, but the trail goes cold. Arthur knows 210 soldiers of the Seventh were massacred by thousands of Native Americans at Little Bighorn – Custer’s Last Stand – in 1876. Was James among them?


Pembrokeshire, West Wales 1904: Solicitor Arthur Nicholas seeks one William Batine James, heir to a Fishguard farm. He discovers James emigrated to Canada in 1871 and enlisted in the US Seventh Cavalry at Chicago, but the trail goes cold. Arthur knows 210 soldiers of the Seventh were massacred by thousands of Native Americans at Little Bighorn – Custer’s Last Stand – in 1876. Was James among them?

Based on true events, Mike Lewis’s debut novel reveals the lingering curse of a brutal schooling during the ‘Welsh Not’ era when children were punished for speaking their native tongue. As the unsuspecting Seventh head towards their Armageddon, James – plagued by dark forebodings and nightmares – reflects on his troubled past and lost love and ponders desertion after coming to realise he is as much a fugitive as the Native Americans he is pursuing.

But the one thing a man can never escape is himself…

Additional information

Weight400 g
Dimensions130 × 2.8 × 190 cm

The Author

Mike Lewis hails from the former fishing village of Aberporth, West Wales, where his family have farmed for generations. Having joined a local newspaper straight from school, he proceeded to work as a writer and sub-editor
on a number of national titles in London, including The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph.

A lifelong rock and pop music fan, in the 1990s he co-authored biographies on Scott Walker and Syd Barrett, of Pink Floyd. Mike later worked as The Sunday Telegraph boxing correspondent, covering the Beijing Olympic Games of 2008.

Having returned to his native West Wales to raise a family, and whilst working for the Fishguard County Echo, Mike stumbled across the story of William James, the West Wales farmer’s son who emigrated to the United States and joined the US Seventh Cavalry. Mike subsequently found previously undiscovered letters James had sent back to his younger brother from America which form the framework of If God Will Spare My Life…

A father of five, married to Sue, Mike combines his writing career with helping to run Cardigan Amateur Boxing Club.

11 reviews for If God Will Spare My Life

  1. Catherine Thomas

    Tasked with finding the heir to a farm in West Wales, a young solicitor tracks the trail of William B. James, the possible beneficiary.
    “If God Will Spare My Life “is a readable, energetic and well researched story taking us from Victorian rural West Wales to the prairies of North America and the U.S. Cavalry.
    Although based on facts, this is a work of fiction, nevertheless there is an authenticity and authority to be found in the vivid descriptions contained within this thoroughly well researched novel. I loved this book.

  2. Sue L

    What drove a young Welshman to leave his rural home and head west across the Atlantic? Will James was looking for an elusive better life that ended on one of the bloodiest battlefields of American history. If God Will Spare My Life is based on a true story that has been extensively researched and re-imagined by journalist and author Mike Lewis. Taking authentic newly discovered letters as his starting point, Lewis’s well written and descriptive tale follows James from the rolling hills of Pembrokeshire to the broiling Montana prairie. An imaginative, colourful tale that poses questions which have no answers.

  3. Joe Watkinson

    I remember watching this story on Welsh news when it was revealed that a sole Welshman from West Wales had served under Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn. My first initial thought (and many others who watched the news I would imagine) was ‘I wonder what’s his story?’. Indeed how does a man from a rural farmstead back in a time when many didn’t leave a county, end up on the other side of the world deep in Indian Country?

    For me a historical fiction novel deserves 5 stars if I feel it leaves me with the impression that this is what actually happened. I truly felt I was with William James as he makes real human decisions that take him on a gradual path to Little Bighorn. The author is incredibly learned of the events, equipment and people of the time. The battle finale itself is for me as hard hitting, raw and just plain good as any other account you can hope to find in any Custer book.
    The real deal sealer for me though is that reading this I felt it to be an important book. The Custer story has been well covered but the men who served are rarely given much study. Many books merely use the “running from past troubles” line as a generic backstory of a wide range of these cavalry men, never really going into the depth of the choices these men faced in this time. This book really opens light on these people, these real people. There are books on Custer that are written with more finesse and pacing but this stands alone as one on its own and ironically, by that mark, it can rightly regard itself as the perfect reflection of William James himself. This is a book that the Custer story didn’t ask for, but needed to be told.

  4. Valeriia Smirniagina

    I read this book after my partner had finished with it just for something to read. I was expecting a detective novel but this book was so much more than that! Sometimes the way they speak is a little hard going (it’s like they have rocks in their mouth!) but I found myself growing attached to the characters and I’ve spent quite a few hours looking up on Custer and his men just to find out more about them. After doing so I have been flicking back to the book to cross check and I have to say I wish I knew more of the subject the first go around to truly appreciate the author’s attention to detail. I won’t spoil the ending (which directly caused my internet binge) but detective noir it certainly isn’t!

  5. Dr Carol Byrne Jones

    This outlines the life of William Batine Jones, a son of Pen-y-Cnwc Farm in Dinas, Pembs who joined the US Seventh Cavalry. It’s a gripping and exciting narrative that evokes many emotions ; a compulsive page-turner – after Chapter 3.
    The first three chapters establish Will’s character and family background . This is necessary but not particularly riveting, compared with the narrative that ultimately develops. Perhaps the information could be better integrated with the efforts made by Arthur Nicholas to find out more about Will as the young solicitor is tasked with the job of tracing him, when Will is named as heir to a relative’s estate. Since Arthur is given this task when Will is apparently lost in the US, the stories develop in parallel; yet as the narrative gathers pace, Will’s adventures tend to dominate and Arthur’s researches are backgrounded. Indeed, Arthur’s story is underdeveloped: he’s an agent who helps to fill the gaps in what is known about Will by the people he left behind, but these pieces of the puzzle are introduced at a late stage.

    Will is enigmatic – a jack-the-lad, a wild boy, but principled and ready to fight for what he thinks is right. He is a gifted and daring horseman – which stands him in good stead in his cavalry career. As I said, up to Chapter 3 the writing is informative but lacks dramatic energy. However, when he leaves his childhood haunts to travel to Llanelli, London and Canada, Will’s ‘voice’ becomes stronger as he matures and reflects on his past and present actions, drawing the reader into a compelling narrative that is at times tense, comic, while carrying an undertone of impending doom.
    The research involved in this novel, together with the authenticity of historical detail is impressive, the more so because it does not intrude on but rather strengthens the storytelling. It’s an enjoyable novel – and I love the ambiguity of the ending, that is supported by native Indian testimony. I understand that this is Mike Lewis’ first novel and I look forward to reading more of his work in the near future, I hope!

  6. Dave Michaels

    Incredible read, would highly recommend

  7. Anne Garside

    If God will spare my life deserves to become a classic of both Welsh and American literature. Mike Lewis has transmuted meticulous historical research into gripping imaginative fiction. This story of the real-life farm boy William Batine James, who emigrated to America, joined the U.S. Cavalry and took part in Custer’s Last Stand, is unique. It will hold the reader in suspense from Will’s troubled youth to his last desperate attempts to survive. The final chapters make for compulsive page-turning as they recount step by step the fatal mistakes made by General Custer that lead to the massacre of his men at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The book is a highly original contribution to the literature on that legendary battle, told from the viewpoint of an ordinary soldier. Implicit in the story is a sense of tragedy for both sides. Custer is the victim of his own hubris, while the Native Americans gain only a pyrrhic victory. If God will spare my life is also a heart-breaking expression of the hiraeth that afflicted the many Welshmen who were driven by poverty to seek a better life in the New World.

  8. Robert Rose (verified owner)

    For me this was a much awaited book not least for my attachment to West Wales and the very area in which the central character Will Batine Jones was born. Based on historical events, the author has written a very descriptive book and one which has been remarkably well researched. The very vivid description of the central characters is cleverly crafted and people such as Will and Annie become very real and in Annie the author brings out her strong “Irishness” by writing in an Irish accent. I liked the two stories in parallel that of the solicitors attempts to track the whereabouts of Will and Wills own journey to the battle of the Big Horn. A further appealing feature, throughout the book, the author gives the countdown time to the impending battle which gives an added sense of expectancy. To use a much over stated remark this for me was “ a page turner”- much enhanced whilst sat reading with Cardigan Bay before me.
    On a somewhat pedantic note, I thought the inclusion of the “E.L. James” type element was a little out of character and at times Will comes across as a little too much of “Roy of the Rovers”
    But if you like this book can I recommend you also read My Beautiful Imperial also set against a background of West Wales and also by an author named Lewis.

  9. Jackie Biggs

    I agree with Dr Carol Byrne Jones, above, that the first three chapters are less than riveting. There is rather too much establishing of the detailed background to the story, which is necessary, but could have been better integrated into the novel as it progressed. But, and a big but here, that is my only criticism. In spite of that rather cumbersome start the story quickly comes alive and the riveting quest keeps it going, keeps the pages turning to the very end. And what a stunning end. For me, the brilliantly worked last few chapters and especially the last few pages, makes this a story worthy of the highest praise. Mike Lewis’s debut novel proves him as a true storyteller. I look forward to the next book.

  10. Rhiannon Lewis

    The journalist Mike Lewis has uncovered a fascinating true story in his debut novel, If God Will Spare My Life. It is 1904 and a Pembrokeshire solicitor, Arthur Nicholas has been tasked with finding the beneficiary of a will, a certain William Batine James, who is in line to inherit the family farm of Llanwnwr. But William emigrated to Canada in 1871 and the surviving letters he sent home to his family provide little information other than that he was constantly on the move and sometimes short of money. The letters are a poignant reminder of what it means to be an emigrant: the search for a better life but the loss of identity and roots.

    As a journalist himself, it is no surprise that Lewis successfully conveys the obsession that all researchers feel when they are on the trail of a good story and the dogged persistence required to keep going when every lead runs dry. Even though the life stories of William Batine James and Arthur Nicholas are decades apart, the use of archived letters helps the reader move easily between the different time-periods and locations, and they also convey a sense of the cat and mouse chase that the solicitor, Arthur, has embarked upon.

    William Batine James is an engaging protagonist – lively, volatile and passionate. He leaves Pembrokeshire under a cloud and, because his whereabouts and activities are glossed over in his letters home, he takes on the appearance of a will o’ the wisp. But, as Arthur discovers, William has been harbouring a secret: he has enlisted in the US Seventh Cavalry under General Custer. Armed with this knowledge, Lewis has woven a believable and engrossing narrative that imagines the events running up to the historic Battle of the Little Bighorn. This is one scrape William Batine James is not going to get out of very easily. The final battlefield scene is beautifully done, and we’re reminded of numerous reminding us legends about aof numerous stories of the single escapee. If anyone could have escaped, then surely him? A great read and a fabulous debut novel!

  11. Catrin Miles

    “If God Will Spare My Life“ – a thoroughly gripping read, chronicling the tempestuous life and activities of William Batine James whilst effortlessly transporting the reader from wild West Wales to the wilderness and battlefields of Montana.
    What a stroke of luck for Mike Lewis to have chanced on the original letters that formed the basis for his research and travels, pulling together a truly riveting tale that left me overwhelmed and full of questions yet totally fulfilled on reaching the final page.
    A debut novel for the author – but there wil be more, I hope and trust!

  12. Philip Morgan

    Having been born and raised in Newport Pembrokeshire but now living elsewhere this story fascinated me from finding an article about WBJ, so I had to order a copy straight away. The locations mentioned brought back memories for me, growing up in the area and knowing Dinas and its surroundings very well. There are some interesting facts also, like the church at Cwm yr Eglwys destroyed during the great storm and the detail surrounding what happened to the graves. There was a lot of putting the book down and looking up on line to research places and names. One character in the book happened to live across the road from me on Parrog Road, Newport.
    It was hard to distinguish which was fiction but I wouldn’t have thought the main character WBJ would have spoken like he is portrayed in the book. Being Welsh and his first language would have been very Welsh, he speaks like someone from Lancashire or Yorkshire placing a “t” instead of ” the” before a word.
    WBJ being from Dinas Cross, Pembrokeshire would not say t’other.
    A truly fascinating read though.

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