Angus the Warlord
A few weeks ago I ran a bit of a special blog entry (see here) about Angus Donald and his series of Outlaw books, based on the fact that his third novel in the series, King’s Man, had just been released in paperback. Well, good news, Donald-o-philes and Robin Hood loons: The fourth in the series has just been released in hardback form. So, here’s my two-penneth to get you all fired up to go buy it…
I finished Warlord a few nights ago (I am on holiday in darkest Snowdonia with the phone reception and wifi capability of a dead capybara on a pointy stick so I’ve only just had the chance to post this).
I found that Warlord followed the trend in Angus’ series in that THERE IS NO TREND. Honestly, one thing you can really count on with the Outlaw books is that any new title will have a new story, a fresh angle and a different feel and theme to it. There is nothing formulaic or repetitive about the series in any way.
Outlaw was a tale of survival and redemption with Alan Dale and the infamous Robert Odo of Locksley, better known as Robin Hood. The story took us in a new and interesting way around familiar old legends, with a fresh and brutal interpretation of Robin that is nothing like the man in green of classic TV.
The second book, Holy Warrior, took us to Outremer and the world of the crusaders, with a now-legitimate Robin. The mood was darker and more soul-searching and, to be quite honest, left me feeling angry at Robin and, to a lesser extent, Alan. This was, for me, the ‘Empire Strikes Back’ of the Outlaw series.
Thirdly, King’s Man was the tale of King Richard’s imprisonment in Germany and Alan and Robin’s part in his return to power. It was also the tale of Prince John’s rise and then fall. It was a story of intrigue and espionage and to that point the best in the series, I would say.
And so, to Warlord. Once again, Angus has taken us in a new direction. Alan and Robin move with the action to Normandy, this time, to Richard’s brutal and protracted war with Phillip of France. There are three very distinct threads of action in this tale, though not consecutive or in order, but the tale is an amalgam of the three, bound together like a celtic knot.
Firstly, Alan Dale is beginning to delve into the secrets that surrounded his father’s expulsion from Notre Dame in Paris and his subsequent death upon the order of a mysterious and powerful figure. This story involves murder, conspiracy, penetration deep into the heart of the enemy in Paris, and the investigation of some of the most powerful men in the world. This is as good a mystery tale in itself that it could fill a novel on its own and stand up to the best histfic murder mysteries out there
Secondly, there is the war itself, which is told in vivid description, with all the heroic scenes expected of Coeur de Lion’s somewhat rash valour and excitable nature. But it is also brutal and unpleasant, giving us details about the world of medieval warfare that goes beyond the simply ‘what happened and who won?’ style of history and explores the effects on the ordinary soldiers and the people caught in the middle of a war between their masters.
Thirdly, there is the tale of Alan’s growth and love and his manor at Westbury, the depredations of his land under the vicious Hag of Hallamshire, the growing relationships with Goody and his men, including young Thomas, the squire, who is now almost the Alan we remember from the first book.
So that’s a rundown of what Warlord is about, missing out too many spoilers. “But”, I hear you say, “what’s it like?”
Warlord is simply excellent. It brought to mind elements of a number of my favourite things, including some of the feel of the Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars video game (that may sound a strange comparison, but it remains one of the best-written and most evocative plots I have ever found and if you haven’t played that game, buy it straight after Warlord), the siege scenes in medieval movies like Jeanne d’Arc (an average film to my mind, but an excellent siege scene), visits I have made to some of the book’s locations in my youth (the Chateau Gaillard I found particularly breath-taking), the great tales I read as a boy of Richard the Lion Heart and his wars, and even a touch of the Arthurian legends, mixed with Christian myth and more. See how much the book makes me think of other very cool things?
Old villains that survived the previous books are just as vile and loathsome as ever, but are somewhat cast into the shadows by the arrival of new and all-the-more twisted and maniacal antagonists. Old friends are back in their full glory, and with them others who were previously minor and now begin to come to the fore. The last fight in the book is some of Donald’s best work and had me almost twitching and leaning left and right with the swings as I read (like when you watch a rollercoaster on TV). It was, for me, on a par with the most excellent duel scene in King’s Man, about which I have previously raved.
As with the previous books, and increasing with each new release, one of my fave characters is King Richard himself. I suspect that the amount of research Angus has done on this famous king is deeper and more involved than anything else he has undertaken in his work, and it shows. Angus’ portrayal of Coeur de Lion is magnificent, and easily the best I’ve come across either on paper or screen. That alone makes Warlord an outstanding book.
So the upshot is that Warlord is another winner from the author of Outlaw. If you like his books, you’ll buy this one, I’m sure, and if you’ve not read any, then you need to buy them all and start from the beginning.
Oh… and Warlord throws us some tremendous teasers for what to expect in book 5. It makes me hunger for the next release
As always, Mister Donald…. Bravo!