The Devil’s Army rises…
Boy was I happy.
I’d read Hereward by James Wilde recently and, while I had a couple of issues with the book, on the whole I’d thoroughly enjoyed it. So now that the sequel (Hereward: The Devil’s Army) is out, I was intrigued to see how the story went on and whether the writer’s tack or style had changed since the first book.
I read it in four days, despite this week being a ruthlessly busy time with few free moments. In short, Devil’s Army is everything I could have hoped for in a sequel to Hereward. My two main issues with the first book were the somewhat stereotypical nature of the hero and the sparse treatment of the two great battles the book deals with. It may be that the sequel has escaped this problem by not dealing with world-famous battles and having an already-established hero, but I don’t believe that is the case. I think James has taken his treatment of the main character and deepened and broadened his perspective. Hereward had changed throughout the first book, in sometimes jarring ways, and in the sequel his nature changes again several times, but subtly and with finesse, for which I think applause is due. And, while there are no famous historic battles in this one, there are two ways this book wins out. I have (since the first book) read something about the events in Hereward’s period of activity and can say that Wilde seems to have really done his homework, using the accepted history, but also making intuitive leaps in gaps in the knowledge. Also, though there may be no great battles in this book, there are plenty of non-famous ones, and they are treated with an in-depth and exciting narrative.
As with the first book, Wilde’s narrative style is so enthusing and visual that he could have written a phone book and made it riveting. His descriptions make you feel cold with the icy claws of winter, or terrified in a hut of desperate and dangerous peasants. While I’m giving Devil’s Army 5 stars, I can’t see anything he ever writes being worthy of less than 4, just because of the way it’s written.
From the devastation of the north under the conqueror’s army, to the fortress in the swamps at Ely, to the numerous betrayals of the loyal and doomed English, to the amazing Harald Redteeth (who I think I want to be), to the almost Martin-Sheen-rising-from-the-river-in-Apocalypse-Now ambushes that devastate the cold Normans, every step is a win. The plot is well-written and well-rounded and ties up beautifully from beginning to end, with more hooks, twists, surprises and stunning scenes than the first, and more than most novels in the genre.
I would recommend people read these books. Hopefully you will love Hereward and its sequel. Hereward was a gripping read, but the Devil’s Army is a tour-de-force and a welcome addition to my shelf of great Historical Fiction.