Will Strongstaff has achieved far more than he ever thought. He is a gentleman. He has land, a wife and children. Yet he is still a warrior. He still has an oath to honour. King Richard is now under the sway of the evil Earl of Oxford Robert de Vere. When the king’s cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, sends for Will to fight in Galicia for his father, John of Gaunt, then Will has to return to the world in which he grew up, the world of the hired sword. This time he not only has enemies on the battlefield but enemies closer to hand as murderers try to end the life of his new lord, Henry Bolingbroke.
As my first Griff Hosker novel, I decided to choose a period I was very familiar with so I could judge what kind of historical fiction this was. I will say, as for the fiction, it is quite good. The action rarely stopped, and the narrator went to great lengths to explain the details about the period, the fighting, the armor, etc. I really liked that. I had no trouble identifying with William, the first person narrator, even if he was a little too skilled as a swordsman, too squeaky clean, honest, and reliable, and his men were a little too perfect. But that’s all right. Everyone else had their foibles. Unfortunately, for the history, the story was wide of the mark. Henry of Lancaster, called the Earl of Northampton, was not the heir apparent; he would NEVER have run around boasting that he was going to be the next king. Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford and the villain of this book, was not of royal blood; he would never have had aspirations to the throne. There was never an assassination attempt against King Richard. If a reader tries to take this historical fiction as accurate, s/he is going to be very confused.
OK, now that I got that off my chest, as long as I put aside my historical sensibilities, the story was very enjoyable. William was kept quite busy jumping from Earl Henry to King Richard and back again, putting out fires, so to speak, fighting lots of battles, and saving lives. Oh, and killing the bad guys—there were a lot of them. All the while he was building up a loyal following of skilled fighters and archers who were well taken care of. King Richard, in thrall to Robert de Vere, had dismissed William in the first book and now lived to regret it, since William kept saving him even though he was now serving Henry. Robert de Vere was our hero’s sworn enemy and was cast as an evil influence on King Richard. So in fighting de Vere, William thought he was serving the king. The book takes us through the Battle of Radcot Bridge, which destroys de Vere’s army (and Richard’s only defense against his overbearing barons, though this is not clear). Loyalties are pretty mixed up, though William does his best to stay honest. It seems he is serving two masters, and I can only assume he’ll have to make a choice in future books.
This review is for the audio version; I really liked William’s voice, which is what we hear mostly since the story is in first person. However, Henry’s voice put my teeth on edge; he sounded like a spoiled rich kid, not the warrior he really was. By the end, though, I wanted more. That’s a good thing!