Hunter’s Rage is the third book in Mike Arnold’s Civil War Chronicles, following Traitor’s Blood and Devil’s Charge, a series following the adventures (and misadventures) of one Captain Stryker – a Royalist officer.
I find that any writer, no matter how good their first offerings (and Arnold’s have been excellent), hits their easy and comfortable stride. It often happens with the third book in a series, and Arnold is no different here.
Traitor’s Blood (review here) was a fairly straightforward plot, was hard-hitting, action packed, enthralling and powerful, dragging the reader along at breakneck pace. Devil’s Charge (review here) followed up with a tale that was considerably more complex with interweaving threads. It was no less entertaining than the first and thrilled me to the end, though it felt less immediate and breakneck than the first, perhaps due to its complexity. Don’t be put off by that, though, as both books are excellent and I’m picking apart nuances simply to make a point that concerns neither of them.
The fact is that Hunter’s Rage appears to be the moment when Arnold has hit that stride. It combines all the good points of everything he’s written so far to create a smooth and superb book. It carries with it the punch and immediacy of the first book as well as the complexity and depth of the second, and sacrifices nothing to do it. In fact, the characterisation (one of Arnold’s strengths in my opinion) has actually improved and the author manages to make the protagonists and antagonists truly sympathetic and believable. He has also introduced new characters that are not just interesting but also memorable. Added to that, he has drawn one of the best characters (Simeon) from book 2. This third book is a very easy read and hooks from the start.
If one had to define the books of the series, and it’s often easy to do, with a theme, I would say that while the first book is about Treachery and Honour, the second about Unjust Punishment and Retribution, this third centres around revenge and religious persecution, from the thoroughly unpleasant witch hunter and his oily sidekick to the mad hermit Gardner, via puritans and practical atheists.
Particularly interesting for me is the setting of the novel, which is entirely in the southwest (Devon and Cornwall). I am largely unfamiliar with the land, and while I have a passing knowledge of chunks of Civil War history from Edgehill, Marston Moor and other famous engagements, I know absolutely nothing about this corner of the war, so it was truly interesting for me.
Another thing that perhaps adds to its punch is the fact that, not only is it set in a fairly small area, with a limited cast of major characters to keep in mind, but it also takes place over a surprisingly short period, which makes it very easy to keep track of.
In addition, Arnold is not afraid, apparently, of passing over the opportunity to reuse characters unnecessarily, just because they already have a place in the saga, or of having horrible things happen to major characters.
Oh, and it also gives us another glance into Stryker’s past, which is welcome.
The series goes from strength to strength, and the fourth book, Assassin’s Reign, is released in July, so you have plenty of time to read all three first, and I urge you to do it.