Viper's Blood (Master of War) by David Gilman

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Viper's Blood (Master of War) by David Gilman

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Crecy and Poitiers veteran archer Sir Thomas Blackstone is back for a fourth time and hasn't lost his touch. Surviving France to come face to face with his wife's killer may not be much fun for him but it's one heck of a ripping action story for us.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 480 Date: February 2017
Publisher: Head of Zeus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1784974466

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Bowman and commander Thomas Blackstone is one of Edward III's greatest weapons, bringing him potentially head to head against the Dauphin once again. However, faced with an elongated stale mate, Thomas' role becomes that of scavenger leader as the chances of victory make way for a greater chance of starvation amongst the armies. There is a light at the end of the tunnel though. Blackstone is to go on a trip: an escort mission to Italy, delivering the French King's daughter Isabelle to Milan and her wedding. Having said that, the light at the end of the tunnel may be an oncoming lance. Isabelle's prospective groom is one of the brothers who killed Thomas' wife and daughter. Death is definitely on the cards… but whose?

After a brief and deservedly praised dalliance with the Boer War, David Gilman brings us back to Thomas Blackstone and the 100 Years War with book 4 in the series.

Some may notice that there are certain words that are repeated in each of my David Gilman reviews because they're so true they stick to him like a magnet to magnetic stuff. So adjectives like action-packed, exciting and wonderfully researched are a given. Yet only the qualities of the work stay the same; the story is as fresh and shock-filled as each of its predecessors.

Thomas has definitely moved on from that young boy in Book 1 but that boy is still visible in his young son Henry. The lad isn't averse to using his initiative in ways that surprise the old man and ways that make Thomas rethink his mode of parenting. Both father and son are still coming to terms with their bereavement although we can't say there's a lack of distractions.

Once again David brings home to us what a cold, uncomfortable, squalid experience 14th century warfare and campaigning was including, the gaps in between the battles. Thomas and his stalwart cohort of Gilbert, Will, Robert and young Jack Halfpenny not only have to find enough food – and gold – to satisfy an army, they're also surprised by events when forced to face brutality that contradicts all they hold to be fair. There's a new world coming and Thomas doesn't like desertion from chivalric codes one little bit.

Talking of Thomas' band, not all of them will get out of this book alive so brace yourself. There's also more than the enemy to fight over as Thomas rescues a comely lass named Aelis on the way. As an Outlander fan, I started pronouncing her name with a 'sh' on the end, and with good reason. Is she, like the 'sh' ending lady, the witch she's been painted or just a very perceptive herbalist? This is more serious and without mysterious rocks while the decision is left to our 21st century perceptions. Meanwhile Aelis' presence continues to cause problems, along with dexterity with a poultice. However there are some wounds that can't be healed.

The melees, encounters and revelations build throughout dragging us to a cliff edge of enthralled anticipation in Milan. We don't know Thomas' fate till right at the end but whether it's farewell or adieu (no spoilers here!) historical fiction has been made all the richer by Sir Thomas, his people and their adventures.

(Thank you once again the great folk at Head of Zeus for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: Do please treat yourself if you haven't read Master of War by David Gilman or any of the series that came afterwards. If you'd like to read some French hist-fict based on the period (in English!) we just as heartily recommend The Brethren (Fortunes of France) by Robert Merle and T Jefferson Kline (translator). If you fancy something a little different, why not glance off into Welsh history with Conquest: Daughter of the Last King by Tracey Warr?

David Gilman's Master of War Series in Chronological Order

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