Thursday, October 29, 2015

"Marston Moor" - a review

One of a series of light reads I've enjoyed while reading the War of the Spanish Succession history of the events in Spain and Portugal, but I thought this one deserved a little more than just the usual paragraph or two to the left.. 

The latest in Michael Arnold's fictionalised account of the English Civil War (amazing to think that this is number 6 in the series!) as seen through the eyes and sword arm of his eponymous hero Major Stryker.

This time the year is 1644, their loss at Cheriton a few months before has sent a shock wave through the Royalist cause, but the focus has now shifted to the North where York is held strongly for the King but is threatened by a Parliamentary force now strengthened and reinforced as a result of the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant [clicky] by a strong Scottish force.

The King orders Prince Rupert to relieve the siege and set things to rights in Yorkshire and the north, and Stryker, of course goes with him, this time though as a 'reformado', an officer without command (his force of musketeers was lost/drowned/captured in the previous book) he has only his closest companions, including his sergeant Skellen, to help.

The book opens then with the siege and taking of Bolton - one of the more bloody events of the 1st Civil War. The victorious Royalist forces ran amok as a result of the garrison of the town having hanged a Royalist officer on the battlements following an earlier failed assault... in the chaos that follows the successful attack, Stryker interrupts a band of Royalist mercenaries ( Hungarians) lead by a splendidly over the top character called the "Vulture" (he likes to sharpen his teeth to points with a file in his spare time ), who are about to torture a young girl, the last of her family still alive. It transpires of course that she is the key to the source of a cipher that the Vulture is trying to recover, and the Vultures efforts to kill Stryker, and take back the girl are a background theme for the rest of the book as it seems the Vulture is working for a spy master who is keen too cover his tracks...

Having taken Bolton, Rupert then moves on Liverpool (he needs a port in order to land supplies and reinforcements) and having taken Liverpool relatively easily, he gathers his forces and moves on York, and an appointment with disaster..

The campaign was a disaster for the Royalists (of course) and Arnold is very good on the ambiguous letter from Charles to Rupert which Rupert took to be a command too attack and destroy the Parliamentary army (despite being hideously out numbered), but which other advisers didn't see the same way. Following a couple of lightning marches Rupert managed to out manoeuvre the Parliamentary forces outside York, and having lifted the siege joins his army with the Royalist forces from the city and then moves to force battle - the two sides meet on Marston Moor..

The outcome of the battle is pretty well known to anyone with a passing interest in history, military or otherwise, so it is no spoiler when I say the Royalists not only lost, but lost badly... the battle is very well described in the book and I would say comprises a good quarter/fifth of the entire book (in his notes at the end the author said he was planning to write an entire book featuring just the battle!). Within the confines of what is essentially fiction, the author describes well how each piece unfolded and how the Royalists eventually managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory (at one point, all three Parliamentary commanders had left the field convinced they had lost)...

The book ends with Stryker and his friends captured after the final last stand of Newcastle's "Lambs", the famous White Regiment...  stirring stuff indeed.

The publishers (I note) are still including the "Sharpe of the Civil War" sticker on the cover of the books, if I was the author I think I'd be a bit irritated by now given that this is the 6th book, and his hero really is standing on his own feet/merits now, though having said that, and I'll say it again, my favourite character is Lancelot Forrester, a mere captain of foot, but I think far more well rounded as a character - Stryker is a bit too much of a cartoon/exaggeration...

Cracking bit of escapism...   I'll give this one an 8...

17 comments:

  1. Not my period of interest at the moment but it does sound good!

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  2. Fran - well wprth a dip of your toes I'd say... careful though - could be the start of a whole new period... :o)

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  3. Looks great! Appreciate the review.

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  4. This series of books seem to have passed me by??? I'll be getting busy with my kindle no doubt. Thanks for the heads-up Steve!!

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    1. Ray - well worth a read - it's quite interesting to see how his style has developed over the series, and how Stryker has become more "exaggerated"....

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  5. Thanks Steve - I'm just up to this one now actually
    While I too am a bit over the Sharpe comparison, I've quite enjoyed the series overall.
    I jotted a few quick notes on my nascent ECW project blog here:

    http://declaresir.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-adventures-of-captain-innocent.html

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    1. Paul - I'm on my way.... I am SO close to starting another project..... what rules are you going to use?

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    2. We are thinking Polemos to start with and see how we like those.

      We are going with 6mm rather than our more usual larger figure scales so we can play with the larger 'army' aspects of the forces. We have designs on playing some linked games and a campaign once we have a feel for the period and the rules.

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    3. PS Polemos are the rules by Baccus, whose figures we are using.
      Beautiful little chaps they are too - pics posted on our blog

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  6. Despite being an ECW nut these have not -so far taken my imagination (or perhaps its because I'm and ECW nut!) the heros silly name puts me off......and the fact that it is a series where you can never find 'em all Oh and he's a malignant too !!

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    1. Andy - you'm excused... :o) I enjoy the books immensely, I even got to meet the author last year (http://steve-the-wargamer.blogspot.sk/2014/09/a-very-interesting-evening.html), he writes well, the only (very small) fly in the ointment is a slightly Dickensian melodramatic flavour to his major characters - he doesn't need to as the stories are good enough, and as a layman his history seems sound as well.. it's why I like Forrester as a character, basically because he's "normal"...

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    2. A Pox on your Parliament Big Andy! Long live the King!
      :-)

      Do you have any ECW fiction to recommend that you did enjoy?

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    3. Pal No never found any unless it was Malignant propaganda.... seriously though it was all said by Sellers and Yateman- Royalists Wrong but Romantic Roundheads right but repulsive. Had charles won we'd be speaking French or Spanish and all being Catholics. There would never have been an industrial revolution- well not like the one we did have and the Civil War would have been in 1789 like the French.
      Even Queen Victoria knew Charlie was a pillock !
      and no I'm not a republican

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    4. I just want to command some small dapper chaps with feathery hats :-)

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  7. This book is next on my reading list as I am half way through Book 5 at the moment. I can really recommend the two short stories you can get as Ebooks for 99p or so. The first is a prequal set 15 or so years earlier when Stryker iis a raw young recruit and meets 'Winged Hussars'. If you bought this as a 'real' book rather than on Kindle you might be unaware of them

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    1. Nigel J - yes indeed on those short stories.. I read the Winged Hussars one earlier this year, but I have the other on my "Christmas List"..

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