Posts Tagged ‘King’
The mid 12th century was, until recently, very unfamiliar ground for me. I know the late days of Henry II and his sons Richard and John because, well let’s face it, they’re what we think of in Britain when we hear the word ‘medieval’. But of Stephen and Matilda and the early life of Henry? No. Until recently, that is, when I read the rather superb Demon’s Brood, which was a history of the Plantagenet dynasty and rather opened my eyes to how interesting their era was.
King’s Company, then, takes place in this world. A world where King Stephen and his cousin, the Empress Matilda, are at war, England a ravaged, torn and frightened place. The plight of the ordinary folk in this world is brought to the forefront with the protagonist William, who belongs to a family with a small estate in the south of the country and whose father died in the service of the King.
Dreaming his whole life of becoming a knight and doing glorious deeds, William remains tied by duty to the family holding and daily drudgery. Then one day things change when he is jumped by bandits on the road and is saved by a dashing young nobleman. The two become fast friends and the young man, Richard, spends much time at the family estate.
Only after many months of their bonds of friendship tightening does William realise that Richard is not quite what he thought and, with one ill-conceived act he finds himself launched into a world where his illusions of the glory of knighthood are torn away, his belief in the nobility and royalty shattered and his preconceptions all destroyed as he meets a young man who dreams of ruling an England not ravaged by war and torn apart by divided loyalties.
The characters in King’s Company are believable and likeable. Henry, in particular, stood out for me. As a protagonist, William is perfect: young, open-minded and strong willed, and pitted alongside a cast of older, more grizzled characters they drive the plot along well.
The basis of the plot becomes fairly obvious early on, when Richard pries information from the family that the reader can’t help but realise will lead to something, and there’s a faint predictability to that, but once that one predictable event passes, the story rolls on fresh, interesting and unforeseeable. Indeed, gradually as the novel unfolded I found myself wondering more and more where it was going to lead. Towards the end I feared it was bound for something of an anticlimax, since the novel does not reach the conclusion one might expect from early on, but Taylor throws us a final turn in the plot that brings us to a very satisfying conclusion.
The scene-setting is done well, and the prose is excellent. To give you some idea of the style, the book has gone onto my shelves next to Angus Donald’s Outlaw series. It is less brutal and dark than those books, though. In fact, while King’s Company is far from being a children’s book, the lack of extreme violence, graphic scenes and bad language make it a very acceptable and easy read for all ages.
King’s Company is an excellent medieval romp and comes highly recommended.
I know I promised you a kids/travelogue post, and I promise there’s one coming, but each week I look at writing said post, but realise that there’s a new great book out there that I need to make sure everyone knows about. So, we’re back onto Historical Fiction again, but hold on to your seat, as this is some of the best you’ll ever read.
You see, we’re all tremendously familiar with Robin Hood. Most of us were weaned on Errol Flynn, Claude Rains and Basil Rathbone fencing up and down stairwells and plotting in golden thrones, swinging through the greenwood like Tarzan in camo. It’s still the yardstick by which swashbuckling is measured. You probably know of or remember Richard Greene. And Michael Praed and Jason Connery mooching around moodily to Clannad’s ‘Hooded Man’ soundtrack. Everyone tutted and sighed at the strange route that Kevin Costner took from Dover to Nottingham via Sycamore Gap at Hadrian’s Wall, but we still loved the movie, even as we complained. Morgan Freeman still rocks, of course. And some of us even saw the much more down-to-earth version with Patrick Bergin. And though ‘Men in Tights’ makes me twitch, I still love Cary Elwes. There was some Xena-esque American series, I believe, which largely passed me by. And Tony Robinson in Maid Marion and her Merry Men. And even Russell Crowe with his wandering accent and his ladyfriend fighting off the French nation with a school outing.
So… the point of all that? We’ve seen Robin Hood a million times, in a million guises. We know him inside and out. We even know all his friends and most of the events that are likely to occur in his tales. I have become jaded with Robin. I even largely stopped watching his tales as they are churned out by rote. They are now as realistic and fresh as a King Arthur story (and don’t even get me started on them). No one can surprise us with Robin Hood, right?
And then along comes Angus Donald and turns it all on its head. I approached his first novel, Outlaw, with trepidation. I had actually exchanged words with Angus about his new novel as I was producing Marius’ Mules at the same time, and I went to read Outlaw, partially because it’s good to know what other people are writing (what you’re up against), partially as a break from the constant Roman text I was reading at the time, but mainly, I have to admit, because Angus seemed like such a nice guy. I did not read it because it was a book I would naturally take from a shelf (see my words above about being jaded with the whole Robin Hood thing.) I read it, I am now aware, for all the wrong reasons.
But what is important is that I read it.
Because it actually did surprise me. Not only did I realise, only a quarter of the way into the book, that I was now reading it because I couldn’t put it down, but it had completely swept away my reluctance to touch the subject with even a barge-pole. I read Outlaw. In fact, I read it twice that year, as a break from my Roman reading. Outlaw is a stunning book that makes Robin a believable (and oft worrisome) character. A man who rules Sherwood with an iron fist. A man who should not have ‘merry men’, but rather ‘goons’, ‘thugs’ and ‘muscle’. His companions, had they been 700 years later would have names like ‘Knives’, ‘Squint-eye Pete’, and ‘Leftie’. In short: Robin is a 12th century gangster.
In fact, I enjoyed Outlaw so much that I have become something of a Donald-o-phile, clamouring for him next book while he’s still poised over the ink well, thinking of the title. And so, I actively promote his work wherever I can. I love the series, and I love Angus’s writing. Bit of a turn-around from being reluctant to read his first novel, eh? In fact, Angus has gone on to produce four novels in the series, with a fifth under the pen as I write this.
And the reason I’m telling you all this? Because Angus has not one but two books coming out! The paperback of King’s Man has become available in the UK today, and the hardback of Warlord is out on the 19th July (a mere fortnight.) This gives you time to buy and read the first three before Warlord comes on sale. Believe me, you’ll not need two weeks. They’re un-put-down-able. I seriously urge you to buy and read the series. If you’re unsure, buy and read Outlaw alone, just to decide. One book… what harm can it do! (American release dates as yet unknown I’m afraid, but they will be released in due course there, and the first two are available. You can always order them from the UK sites, of course. Hee hee hee.
Outlaw introduces us to Robin and his world, in a brutal and realistic, yet heroic and engaging tale seen through the eyes of the ageing Alan Dale, troubador and ‘merry man’. Holy Warrior takes the stories into dark, uncharted territory with Richard Coeur de Lion and his crusade. King’s Man (my fave so far) spins the most amazing yarn concerning Robin’s trial for heresy and King Richard’s imprisonment in Germany. I simply cannot wait to see what treasures Warlord holds…
So, just to help push you into it, here are my reviews for the first three books:
And the important links, of course, for your viewing pleasure:
And that’s pretty much all I have to say today. Don’t miss out. Read the books. You’ll love them, I guarantee it. Hopefully, Angus will allow me the use of the images. If not, I will surrender myself to the castle at Nottingham and await summary justice by that little Norman tit, sir Ralph Murdac…
Ciao for now.