Master of War by David Gilman

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Master of War by David Gilman

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: First in a series of hist-fict based around the Hundred Years War by an author who can compete with Bernard Cornwell and, in places, wins on points. Exciting, informative and including battle scenes that made me reach for a firm surface. Love it!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 496 Date: August 2013
Publisher: Head of Zeus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1781850107

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Young Richard Blackstone is accused of the rape and murder of a village girl and sentenced to hang. Protestations of innocence on his behalf mean nothing and the fact he's a deaf/mute means even less. His elder brother Thomas has protected him as much as possible throughout their lives but can do nothing this time. However, help is at hand; Sir Gilbert Killbere ensures that the judge changes his mind and Richard is released but not completely. Richard and Thomas are excellent archers so they're rescued in order to join the army that the King is amassing. It's not an easy option: the year is 1346 and the conflict that history will call 'The Hundred Years War' is about to begin.

David Gilman was the principle writer on the ITV police detective series A Touch of Frost so a series of novels chronicling the Blackstones' 14th century journey from English village obscurity to defending the country on the battlefields of France may seem an odd career turn. However, if it's a good writer who can turn his hand to anything, David Gilman has just proved himself to be rather excellent.

First I should say that Master of War has received a few marmitely negative reviews as well as those that have gushed as I'm about to. The negativity seems to come from those who acknowledge that David writes like Bernard Cornwell and feel that BC is repetitive. Speaking personally, I love a bit of Bernard (literarily of course), don't find him at all samey and, in David Gilman, see flashes of brilliance that surpasses Mr C.

The novel may be long at 496 pages but it's a compulsive 496 pages that fly by as if it's only half the size. Not only are we swept along by the story, some turns and a few jaw-dropping twists, there are also some wonderful undumbed jewels of historic context to add contemporaneous texture. David's interpretation of military history is a good example.

I'm no girly-girl but descriptions of militia can sometimes leave me reaching for the read-fast-forward button; though not here. I found myself avidly absorbing facts subtly disseminated throughout the plot, including how wars were financed, the relationship between the English and Welsh archers (not good and yet they were on the same side!), the way that archers acted as guerrilla snipers as well as a single force etc etc. It's just full of good stuff. Yes, there's moderate gore as we'd expect from such warfare but that too is fascinating. For instance, did you realise that an arrow could go through the collar bone and the chest and then emerge from the groin? (Fellas, you can uncross your legs now!)

The narrative is enriched by characters for whom we care. We plump for the Blackstones as they realise that in order to survive they need more than they learnt at their father's knee, we're grateful to Sir Gilbert and revel in the personalities they meet along the way. There's also a deviously clever plot device that enables us to live life on the French side.

Ok, if you don't like Bernard you may not appreciate David but that's fine. It just means there's more for the rest of us.

If you've enjoyed this then compare it with how the aforementioned Mr Cornwell deals with the same era in 1356.

David Gilman's Master of War Series in Chronological Order

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Buy Master of War by David Gilman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Master of War by David Gilman at

Booklists.jpg Master of War by David Gilman is in the Top Ten Historical Fiction Books of 2013.


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