The Leopards of Normandy: Devil: Leopards of Normandy 1 by David Churchill
|The Leopards of Normandy: Devil: Leopards of Normandy 1 by David Churchill|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: The first in a hist-fict trilogy centring on William the Conqueror starts with the amazing story of his parents, their battles and their forebears, finishing with a bastard child who will eventually rule England. A fascinating era, rivetingly related.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 480||Date: February 2015|
Robert, the youngest son of the 4th Duke of Normandy, follows his father's bequest to the letter rather than the spirit and claims the castle at Falaise which should have gone to Richard, his elder brother. This will be a decision that will shape the rest of his life but the legacy that he and his low-born lover Herleva will be remembered for is their son, William the Bastard. An unfamiliar name perhaps until we realise that history will call him William the Conqueror.
What does David Churchill have in common with former high ranking civil servant and author Robert Wilton? There may be more but I can think of two things: neither of them writes under their real names and they both come up with superlative historical fiction.
In David's case his past life includes editing 4 magazines, authoring 17 books (translated into 20 languages)... Yes, you get the idea that he has a modicum of experience under his belt! Under his real name he's an award winning investigative journalist which, in this case, comes in very handy.
You see The Leopards of Normandy (named after the coat of arms of the Norman lords) starts in the 9th century and leaves us in the 11th, an expanse of over 100 years during which there are gaps in the history books regarding what our key characters were like, their motives and, in some cases, their whereabouts. As David explains in his wonderfully thorough notes at the beginning, he has endeavoured to fill the holes so there's definitely some fiction alongside the fact. Having said that, there's enough research there, skilfully relayed, to imbue a ripping tale with satisfying depth.
As all hist fict authors are wont to do, David has picked someone to side with and it's William's father Robert; he who blind-sided his brother Richard and earned himself the 'Devil' epithet in the process. However, this Robert is also a charmer with a heart of gold that rewards loyalty and punishes betrayal whereas Richard is portrayed as a heartless pig through and through. This may not be a good thing for Richard but it certainly ramps up the tension.
The fact that Robert and the tanner's daughter Herleva are a love match in a world of relationships managed with chess-like precision; something which also throws us onto Robert's side. David manages the love story in an unslushy way that contrasts with the hate and warring going on around it. Ok there are a couple of conjugal scenes that border on the corny but skipping these only loses us a couple of pages and then we're back in the good stuff of which there's plenty.
In a style familiar to a lot of fantasy fiction fans we're moved between characters and even countries but not confusingly or frustratingly - unless you don’t like a story's point of view varying in this way. There have been mumblings of disquiet from some who don’t; however for me this provides a panoramic vista that takes in aspects like England's Danish King Canute and his brand of domestic cruelty (by modern standards anyway) that prevents his wife Emma from seeing her sons for fear of them usurping the crown and giving us a greater insight into them and their contemporaries (historical gaps permitting).
We also learn of the deliciously ingenious double standards of the Archbishop of Rouen/Count of Evereux (same person at this time). His dilemma was that as Archbish he had to stay celibate but as Count he needed an heir. His solution? Celibacy reigned in the Archbishop's Palace but once back at his Evereux residence it's way-hey and two sons!
The story is seasoned with great skirmishes, inventive battle tactics (another of Roberts' skills), moderate amounts of blood and the introduction of a mysterious Middle-East-trained poisoner. There are rumours in history that some of our cast were poisoned, therefore someone had to do it, so why not? It definitely adds a level of intrigue and a great twist at the end setting up the next instalment.
This may not be a book for those who crave 100% documentary evidence. However if you love an adventure which will appeal to men and women with enough history to enthral and enough honesty to show us where the facts end, Mr Churchill pretty much has it all.
(A big thank you to Headline for providing us with a copy for review.)
Further Reading: If you would like to read more about the Dukes of Normandy, the new David Gilman trilogy (starting with Master of War ) brings us further tales later on in their history (more so in the second of the series – but read the first, first) and comes highly recommended.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Leopards of Normandy: Devil: Leopards of Normandy 1 by David Churchill at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Leopards of Normandy: Devil: Leopards of Normandy 1 by David Churchill at Amazon.com.
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