Among Kings

The Amazing Adventures of the Congo's African American Livingstone and the Courageous People who Toppled King Leopold II

Christian - Historical Fiction
452 Pages
Reviewed on 01/02/2021
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Author Biography

Hi there,

My name is Joey O'Connor. I'm an award-winning author of 21 books and screenplays. I wrote Among Kings because I was inspired by the courageous life of William Sheppard. Among Kings is based upon a true story that played out in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when King Leopold II of Belgium stole the entire Congo for the rubber trade. Sheppard spoke out against the atrocities, leading to the world's first international human rights trial. I have traveled to the Congo and continue to work with African New Day, led by friends who live in the Eastern Congo. If you love history and are fascinated by forgotten historical figures, you're going to enjoy Among Kings.

I am currently researching and writing a modern-day thriller set in the Congo. I live and work in San Clemente, California.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Grace Masso for Readers' Favorite

Among Kings: The Amazing Adventures of the Congo's African American Livingstone and the Courageous People who Toppled King Leopold II by Joey O’Connor tells the story of one man’s courage as he becomes the voice of a voiceless and enslaved people, of the greed of a foreign king, and a tide that changed the history of a nation. It is also the story of the years of servitude of the people of the Congo, colonized by Belgium, and the acts of bravery that brought down the heartless occupier.

William Sheppard is a black American missionary and an explorer whose first visit to the Congo is met with insurmountable challenges as he and his friend, Samuel Lapsley, struggle to establish their first mission. Their travel along the Congo River is fraught with adversity and danger from the natural elements, wild animals, and unfriendly tribes. Faced with a tragedy at the mission, William sets out on adventures that will gain him respect among kings and governments. Desirous of reuniting with his fiancée, Lucy Gantt, he travels back to the US, but meets the country far worse than he has ever known it, with Jim Crow Laws and racism gaining ground every day. William returns to the Congo with Lucy and is appalled that King Leopold II has enslaved the entire nation for his rubber trade. With his camera, he designs a plan of activism that will bring down the greedy and inhuman colonizer.

Among Kings is a story that does a lot of justice to history, and readers with knowledge of King Leopold II’s colonization of the Congo will adore the book. It has strong moments and scenes that are terrifically written. From the experience of young Shamba, the descriptions of the tribes and their way of life, the setting in the heart of the jungle, to the experiences of the characters, the author takes readers on a journey to an exciting world that is possible in movies. I loved the strong imagery, the cunning plot, and the author’s intelligent handling of character. This book should be made into a movie. It is gripping, filled with pathos, and entertaining at the same time.

Romuald Dzemo

Among Kings: The Amazing Adventures of the Congo's African American Livingstone and the Courageous People who Toppled King Leopold II by Joey O'Connor is a historical novel with strong religious, racial, and colonial themes, and will appeal to fans of adventure as well. The novel introduces readers to a historical character, William Sheppard, F.R.G.S. — an honored fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, explorer, and missionary. Growing up in post-Civil War Virginia, he nurtures the desire to explore the world, with his eyes set on the Belgian Congo. But being black, he faced racism and bias from white folk. Arriving in the Congo, he experiences hardship establishing his mission.

The Belgium Congo is under the total control of Leopold II. William teams up with another young missionary, Reverend Samuel Lapsley, with whom he creates a strong relationship, and with whom he travels the Congo, facing numerous obstacles, from nature, wild animals, and cannibal tribes. He returns to the US after a tragedy hits the mission, only to discover a world riddled by Jim Crow laws. William heads back to the Congo with his fiancée, Lucy Gantt, to face the devastating truth that the country is entirely enslaved by King Leopold II, exploiting it for his rubber trade. Exposing the evil and the atrocities caused by Leopold II becomes a mission that is as delicate as it is urgent. But will William’s camera be enough to expose the evil and can he survive in such a dangerous landscape?

This is a spellbinding book, haunting and lyrical in style, and filled with historical facts. Having been to the Congo and read a lot about the country’s history, I was immediately interested in this book, but the story and the writing surpassed everything I had expected to read. The author provides a powerful picture of the Congo at the time of Leopold II, with fascinating images of the jungle, the natural beauty of the country, and the way of life of the people. It is a world in which drum song and birdsong awakened the villages, with the unfolding beauty of dawn reflecting in the river, jungle, sun, and sky. The characters are well-developed, and apart from the protagonist, I loved the way Shamba, the Kuba warrior, is developed. Other supporting characters like Masuka, Bula Matari, and King Leopold are deftly written. Among Kings is a story of courage and unusual bravery, a well-researched novel that brilliantly documents an appalling moment in the history of the Congo. The writing is impeccably good, filled with song and music. Joey O'Connor has diligently researched a story that must be told over and over, and has written it in a way that will be savored over the ages.

Vincent Dublado

Among Kings: The Amazing Adventures of the Congo's African American Livingstone and the Courageous People who Toppled King Leopold II by Joey O’Connor is a fascinating episode in Congolese history written in novel form. This is the story of William Sheppard, known as the African American Livingstone, who faces a ruthless and formidable adversary in Belgium’s Leopold II. In 1875, as England has been snatching country after country for a long time, Leopold II claims that he owns Congo the Free State, and forces the Congolese people into slave labor for the rubber trade. Sheppard is keen in his resolve to free the slaves and avoid bloodshed. As Leopold II faces growing opposition for human rights violations concerning slavery, forced labor, and even issues of hand-chopping, Sheppard will face the biggest battle of his life both as a man of God and a man for others.

Writing Among Kings is no easy feat. O’Connor meticulously brings to life real and imagined characters interacting in a solid plotline dictated by factual events. Many people were instrumental in bringing down Leopold II, yet this novel does not read like a cramped storyline that is stuffed with too many characters. You might find that Sheppard is too romanticized on certain occasions, like the scenes about how he developed his spiritual formation, or where he visits Westminster Abbey and arrives at an epiphany from deep introspection. Nonetheless, as a historical novel, it is a thought-provoking insight into a major event in Congolese history. It is a triumphant story of how one man helped to stir the world into a call to action to liberate a nation from the greed of a despotic ruler. For its timeless theme and universal appeal, this book is worth delving into.

Tammy Ruggles

Among Kings: The Amazing Adventures of the Congo's African American Livingstone and the Courageous People who Toppled King Leopold II by Joey O'Connor is an exciting work of Christian historical fiction centering on one of the most important African Americans that ever lived, though he is unsung for the most part. William Sheppard is his name, and he risked his life following the Civil War to do missionary work in the Congo with his white friend and companion, Samuel Lapsley. In the process, he became a social justice warrior and activist when exposing the slavery and atrocities King Leopold II perpetrated on the people of the Congo, all in the name of rubber. This culminates in the first international human rights trials, a dangerous time for Sheppard that could mean the end of his life. Through it all, he held onto his love, Lucy Gantt.

Joey O'Connor takes one man's life and makes it come alive in a personal way--such a thorough expose of an impressive, larger-than-life historical figure. This book should be used in all classrooms, and discussions about Sheppard's contributions to the world should take center stage. What a film this would make. There are many little-known heroes around the world, and Sheppard is one of them. O'Connor takes what could be a dry history lesson and makes it an iconic adventure tale, one that keeps the pages turning. Whenever racism rears its ugly head, it's stories like these we should talk about. This novel stands high above most historical fiction novels in the plotting, characters, execution, and historical events. Among Kings by Joey O'Connor shines a spotlight on the power of the human spirit.

Grant Leishman

Among Kings: The Amazing Adventures of the Congo’s African American Livingstone and the Courageous People who Toppled King Leopold II by Joey O’Connor is a fascinating dive into the deepest, darkest heart of colonial Africa. King Leopold II of Belgium is innately jealous of the other European powers who have already established and are profiting greatly from their colonial exploits around the world. Leopold determines that the Free Congo State will be his country’s and his own personal goldmine as he seeks to secure their precious natural resources, mainly ivory and rubber, for Belgium and, of course, for his own personal coffers and glorification. Two idealistic preachers from America, one a young black man, the son of a formerly enslaved man, William Sheppard, and the other a young white missionary Samuel Lapsley, both feel the call to bring the word of God to the African people. Full of dreams and idealism, these two young men will quickly come face to face with the perils of the Congo. Not only will they face natural foes, such as snakes, leopards, sleeping sickness, malaria, and a wild untamed river, they will also come face to face with the ugly and distorted visage of colonial corruption and virtual native enslavement by the minions of King Leopold. When Sheppard begins to understand the beauty and depth of the Congolese culture and the attempted brutal destruction of it by the colonial power, his mission changes to one of letting the world know of the horror that has befallen these wonderful people at the hands of an evil, selfish and prideful European king.

Among Kings is, by necessity, a fictionalized version of William Sheppard and his team’s courageous battle against colonialism but that in no way diminishes its import or power. Author Joey O’Connor has provided a wonderful narrative in which to cloak this real-life battle against the raping and savaging of the resources of peoples all over the world by colonial powers in the name of “civilizing the heathens.” The fact that King Leopold’s actions were more egregious and evil than some of the colonial powers in no way excuses the excesses and greed of all of them. This is a sweeping and powerful comment on colonialism that is exceptionally easy to read and one gets caught up in the excitement of the narrative and forgets sometimes that this really happened and that the Congolese people were subjected to such vile treatment at the hands of the Belgians and also their own fellow Congolese, recruited by the Belgian authorities. I particularly liked that the author linked this Belgium adventure in the Congo to all the instability and violence that has plagued this area of Africa since colonial times. I also appreciated that despite Sheppard’s almost cult-like status in the Congo, the author did not gloss over his failings, especially his adultery. Where this story absolutely wins for me is that it opens up another chapter of history that I had never read about before. This is the true purpose of historical fiction, in my opinion, and this author has hit the nail on the head with his adventure. I absolutely adored this story and cannot recommend it highly enough.