Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Defiant Unto Death by David Gilman - a review.. - 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]


  1. Definietey added to the list!

    1. Legatus - you will NOT be disappointed - volume 1 is also still available on Kindle for a ludicrously low price...

  2. NoScots at Crecy- unless they were on the French side . Scotland was at war with England - we trashed a Scots army at Nevilles Cross capturing King David - Nevilles Cross being about 10 miles from where I live

    1. Andy - DOH! I stand corrected - and so is the post...