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Posts Tagged ‘Hereward

Hereward: End of Days

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I have to say, of course, that I review this – even after three books on Hereward – as something of a layman. It’s not an era I am familiar with, and I know little of Hereward other than vague connections between the name and rebellions in the days of the early English. By the time I got to the 3rd book, though, I have to admit it was pretty obvious that the series could not have a happy ending. Though I don’t know the history of Hereward, I do know that William the Conqueror founded a dynasty of Kings and his rule passed from his hands into other legitimate successors, not the bloodied ones of East Anglian rebels. So to some extent the ending was a foregone conclusion.

That doesn’t necessarily matter, of course. Gladiator is a great story. We all knew it had a doomed ending, but that made it no less poignant or exciting. Braveheart was a foregone conclusion, but still stirred the blood. The story of Spartacus can hardly have a happy ending, but that didn’t stop Ben Kane writing a damn good tale about him. Because sometimes the doomed hero is the best tale.

Hereward book 1 was a strong story, and only dropped a star on my review due to the almost superhero-powerful nature of the protagonist. However, it was still a storming tale, and book 2 only improved matters, deepening the character and the plot together. Book 3 concludes the tale of Hereward’s resistance to the Normans in great power, style and character. Indeed, by this time, the hero is such an excellent character and so absorbing for the reader that we truly care about him, which makes the doom of the ending we know is to come all the more powerful.

Despite going into the book with a sense of gloom as I thought I knew what must happen, I was constantly surprised by the fact that the English actually were winning! Hereward and his chums were bloodying the nose of the Conqueror and winning the fight. I had one of those moments where I wondered whether Wilde had diverged from clear history and done a Tarantino, Inglorious Basterds thing, having Hereward somehow win! And then everything went piriform as I expected it to from the start, but only due to unforeseen (and also unreported due to spoilers) circumstances. And even though towards the end of the book, it was once more obvious things could not end all hunky dorey, still Wilde had a number of surprises for me. Indeed, the ending really came at me out of the blue. Unexpected. And fab.

Basically, by this book, Wilde’s writing style has really hit the perfect stride and his characters are now well rounded and believable, even the new creations. And that leads me to Deda. ‘Nuff said. Deda should have a book of his own, James, as should Kraki. Bear that in mind, when thinking of your next project.

End of Days is full of action and bloodshed, subterfuge and trickery, murder and flight, treason and negotiation. Grit your teeth at the action in the swamps (as superb as it was in book 2). Wonder at the power of the Conqueror, who is every bit the match for Hereward. And love the book for what it is: a superb conclusion of a tale that should have been told long ago. It is, in short, a bloody marvel.

The Devil’s Army rises…

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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.

Written by SJAT

July 29, 2012 at 8:42 pm