Monday, March 30, 2015

"Words of Command" - a review..

Howling gale with lashing rain this Sunday so no chance of spending any time getting the boat [clicky] ready, grandson was at his other grandparents, eldest was at work, the current Mrs Steve the Wargamer also at work, so a lazy day lounging on the sofa was the order of the day - even more so when I realised at lunchtime that I'd missed the clocks changing and was running an hour late..  exhausting...

One thing I did want to do however, was to put some time in with the 6th Light Dragoons, now commanded by Matthew Hervey so while youngest was at the kennels (she has the best job ever, she's paid to go and play with the dogs for an hour or two!) I took myself off to the pub - couple of pints of Hophead [clicky] later and the book was finished...

So - let's start off with saying that, but for the last few chapters, this volume is not about rip roaring, blood, guts, smoke and black powder...  it's 1830, and with the best will in the world Britain was not heavily involved in overseas wars at the time, so Mallinson extemporises....

I would also say however, that I enjoyed the book enormously, easily as much as any of the previous volumes...  Hervey is as much about the mores and social aspects of the time, as he is about martial endeavour, and Mallinson slips in these little bits and pieces to take you back to the time in question...

So what is it about - the reality of serving in a light cavalry regiment in 1830 really - not all glory and charging at the enemy - a large part of it would have been civil policing (which takes up the first part of the book) involving industrial unrest, ludditism, etc In Hervey's case these are (hay) rick burners who he successfully manages to arrest in the environs of Windsor - as a result he is presented to the ailing King...

The second part of the book however deals with the celebrations at the time for the then 15th anniversary of Waterloo (clearly a parallel there then) - as part of an international brigade (with Dutch and Prussian light horse) the 6th form the British contingent at the celebrations. It couldn't come at a worse time however, since nationalist feeling in the region is running high for a independent Belgic nation (they were at the time governed by Holland)

As feelings run high, the French see the chance of making some political advantage, taking it upon himself, Hervey takes the 6th to the border to deter them - I won't spoil the story...

Elsewhere in the book, his disastrous marriage gets even worse, he doesn't see his daughter once, and I do worry that Fairbrother doesn't have enough to do, on the plus side his good friend Peto is recovered, and much happier...

I do hope we don't have to wait another 4 years for the next instalment!!    Steve the Wargamer rates this as an 8 out of 10....

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Defiant Unto Death by David Gilman - a review..

....so - a quick breather between slapping on coats of paint and varnish on anything that doesn't move [clicky] and as promised, a review of the last book... 

One of the many wargame projects that I've been tempted by over the years is a medieval one - the Wars of the Roses (I read "Sun of York" [clicky] as a youngster and was immediately lost), but based on recent books by Cornwell and Gilman it could just as easily be the 100 Years War...   that era where the English and Welsh archers, hauling back a 6 foot war bow sent cloth yards of death across almost every square foot of France...  hugely stirring stuff, but I long ago came to the conclusion that the 'stirring stuff' doesn't actually translate the the table very well...

When push comes to shove (and that phrase describes warfare in the period quite nicely) the wars were about long range death (archery) followed by short range bludgeoning (pole arms) - long lines of opposed heavily armoured men, hitting each other with large heavy weapons preferably with as many spikes, cutting edges, and heavily blunted surfaces, as possible...  battles were largely static, slow moving, affairs - all in all, better read about than recreated (in my mind anyway)

The stories, and written history however, are a different thing entirely, and having discovered Gilman's first book almost by accident [clicky], this, his second one, was waited for almost as eagerly as the new Matthew Hervey.

Once again - no cause for concern and the wait was well worth it.. at the end of the previous book, the central character of the story (Thomas Blackstone, a sergeant of archers) has just taken part in the English victory at Crecy (though the army consisted of large numbers of Welsh and Irish as well) but in the dying moments of the battle in attempting to save his brother, he also inadvertently saves the life of Edward the Black Prince who knights him on the spot.

Despite his injuries, Thomas survives and this book starts 10 years later - he is married, he has children, his own squire, a retinue, and has carved out a small holding in Normandy where he has the reputation of being a hard but fair man.

The country is in a state of constant war, the French king is not liked by his own people,and certainly not by Thomas's Normandy neighbours who wish to turn over Normandy to Edward.

When Thomas leads a small group of armed men and captures a vital port town, the French kings attention turns on him, and by association Normandy - a plot is hatched to hire a band of mercenaries, lead by a renegade priest, to kill Thomas and his family - the book is about that attempt, but also about the battle of Poitiers - a far closer run thing for the English than Crecy or Agincourt, and again an absolute delight to read...

I'll not spoil the ending - but this is wholeheartedly recommended - a real 9 out of 10'er.. Better still for the next book, the focus looks to be shifting to Italy, scene of the wars between rich city states, where English troops, along with all the nations of Europe, were hired in their hundreds...  yup - the time of the condottieri and their is more than a passing similarity between Blackwood and Sir John Hawkwood [clicky]

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The year is slipping away...

..as if....
...and there are precious few updates here because of the time of the year.. 

...if you want updates you need to go to the boat blog [clicky], because with just over 4 weeks to launch all available resources are currently focussed there.... 

...which isn't to say that thoughts don't still stray towards things soldierly, and wargamingly, but that's all they are - thoughts...

On the paint table I have the Minifigs Sikh infantry and the Bengal Lancers waiting to complete before shipping to Suakin on the red Sea coast of Egyptian Sudan

Along side them there is also a battalion of CP Models infantry waiting for uniforms and standards of a yet to be decided British or French regiment before they march to the sounds of the guns in Flanders in support of or against The Duke of Marlborough

DG and I are long overdue to refight the last battle in the Chiraz campaign - the table is still set from the last game, we will swap sides and set to just as soon as I can find some time...

I have also just completed the second volume of the David Gilman "Thomas Blackstone" series - almost as eagerly awaited as the newest Mallinson/"Hervey", it met all expectations - I will review it separately I think...

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

On His Majesty's Service (Matthew Hervey) - a review..

...so after the better part of 3 months, and in preparation for the release in the next week or so of the new volume ("Words of Command" released March 12th on Amazon at least) I have just completed the hugely enjoyable job of reading all eleven of the current Matthew Hervey series....

The last one in the series, hints at least at later troubles in the Crimea, but is set against the background of Russia's earlier war with Turkey in the Balkans (the Russo-Turkish War, 1828-1829). Hervey has been posted as an official observer, but as is his way he refuses to take a sedentary role in the war and is soon in the thick of the action..

Hervey continues to be the tortured, thinking man - but is now mature enough to recognise that he is a good'ish solder, and is most at home in action (just as well really as the number of weeks he has spent at home on leave over the period of all 11 books must number in almost single digits! ) As ever, though, he also remains ambitious, and the book is overshadowed by three separate opportunities, one of which is quite surprising.. 

At the end of the previous book he was offered command of the 6th Light Dragoons, all he has ever wanted, but at the beginning of this book he is advised that they are to be "re-trenched", reduced to a single squadron as part of service cuts (nothing new there then) and not suitable for command by a full Colonel - he is instead offered command of a battalion of infantry garrisoning Gibraltar, and leaves for the Balkans unsure of what he wants to do...

Once he gets there however, he sees action in support of the Russian army, first at the siege of Silistra where he provides much help to the Russian commander in the way of tactical observations, and then later at the amazingly described Battle of Kulewtscha, where he and Fairbrother play a much more practical role in rallying a routing Russian infantry regiment and leading them to eventual success.

As a result of this success and endeavour, Hervey is offered command of a brigade in the Russian army with a promise of senior command within a short time...  Much food for thought, for Hervey...

At the end of the book - while on observational duties, he and Fairbrother are ambushed by Bashi Bazouks, and only just escape with their lives (not the case unfortunately for the whole party, and Fairbrother is badly wounded). Arriving back in England to recuperate, he is met by his old friend John Howard however, and told that the spending cuts have been reversed, and he has been confirmed in his command of the 6th..

So... roll on the next volume - lots of threads left unanswered and untidy!!