Master of War: Defiant Unto Death by David Gilman

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Master of War: Defiant Unto Death by David Gilman

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: The second in the Master of War trilogy finds the now Sir Thomas Blackstone, veteran of Crecy, nearing the moment of the Battle of Poitiers but the story doesn’t end there – not by a long chalk. Once again we're given a vivid snapshot of 14th century Normandy life in all its bloody, gritty glory by a great story-teller. Hist-fict heaven!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 496 Date: February 2015
Publisher: Head of Zeus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1781851906

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Spoilers straight ahead for the first book, Master of War so go read that first…



It's been 10 years since the young Thomas Blackstone chose military service over hanging and faced the French at Crecy, coming away from the battle knighted. Time's passing now and finds him and his wife Christiana living with their two children in Normandy castle. Meanwhile in French held France, the current king, John II, is proving unpopular, starving the country with taxes and spreading fear with his cruel capricious nature. He sees betrayal everywhere and will execute those he perceives to be against him. However, now he's right and there is a plot brewing and French royalist Simon Bucy has a plan to put it down: remove its cornerstone. His perceived cornerstone is none other than Sir Thomas Blackstone. This isn't going to be a clean fight; bring on the Savage Priest!

Even before 2015 started there were three books that I was looking forward to with unseemly effervescence. They were the new Luke Scull fantasy which is coming soon, the last in the Jay Kristoff fantasy trilogy which is still awaiting a UK publishing date and this one, the second in a trilogy centred on the Hundred Year War from TV/movie screenwriter turned hist-fict find, David Gilman.

Ten years on from Crecy our fictitious English hero Thomas Blackstone rubs shoulders with factuals like Simon Bucy and, of course, King John II as Thomas lives a life scarred by human battle losses while enhanced by his Norman wife Christiana, his young family and all the trappings of the aristocratic lifestyle to which he's risen. However with privileges come responsibilities as Thomas now has a staff and village depending on him. Also, as Thomas will learn, the more one has, the more one can lose. Hold tight, this is see-saw drama at its best.

Thomas may be a de facto Norman lord now but the combination of that and his English birth when there's a paranoid French king in charge is a dangerous mixture. Then, David ramps it all up by adding the Savage Priest…

In the case of Gilles de Marcy (the aforementioned clergy guy) David demonstrates that nothing in his story is for nothing; a realisation that I prophesy will make us want to scuttle back through the trilogy again once we've read Book 3 when it's out, in order to see what we missed through the eyes of our augmented knowledge. You see De Marcy has a bit part in Book 1 but that gives him enough motivation to become Thomas' nemesis here in Book 2 and, believe me, Gilles is neither nice nor a fair player.

Where Thomas is an inventive tactician, the Savage Priest is an inventive torturer. (In fact as the author would have thought up the plot lines, I wouldn't want to cross him either!) Once again we're shown the depth of human blood lust; there is no shying away from graphic descriptions like that of a flayed body, still alive but it's all in context and it adds to our chewed fingernails.

It's not all gore though – this is a multi-tonal tome. Alongside the incarnate evil there's a love story (unslushy so fear not, Chaps!) as Thomas proves he will do anything for Christiana for as long as he's able. There's also some incredibly exciting action, battles so well invoked one can almost smell them and so many reasons why, when life tried to encourage me to put the book down, I resisted stridently. This is writing that twists around seldom seen hist-fict depth. (For instance the passage which, in claustrophobic detail, describes the problems of full face armour when a counter attack appears is worth its weight in Wikipedias.)

By the end of both the book and the author's wonderful historical notes we have a good idea of the destination of the next leg of our journey and I for one can't wait to begin.

(Thank you so much to the folk at Head of Zeus for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: We assume you will have read Book 1 so if you have enjoyed the Poitiers aspect and want to read more about it from a different angle, we also heartily recommend 1356 by Bernard Cornwell

David Gilman's Master of War Series in Chronological Order

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