Warlord’s Gold is the fifth novel in Michael Arnold’s fabulous Civil War Chronicles – if you’ve not read the earlier novels then tread no further. Captain Stryker and his men, as well as Lisette, the Queen’s spy, must suffer the consequences here of what has gone before. The result is a particularly thrilling and tense historical adventure in which not only our heroes must suffer but also all of the land as the Civil War moves into another phase of its wrath.
Stryker, captain of a band of loyal and brave royalists, continues to chase the Cade treasure that he learned of, at great cost, in the previous novel, Assassin’s Reign. He is ordered to follow the golden trail to the Scilly Isles off the south-western tip of England. Cade had property somewhere on the islands and it is likely that the treasure could lie hidden there, its value enough to fund the Royalist cause for years. Unfortunately, what would aid the Royalists would also help the Parliamentarians and when Stryker and the remains of his shattered crew wash up on the rocky shores of the Isles, their ship destroyed by storms and all their papers and possessions lost, they are imprisoned as Parliamentarians thanks to the poisoned word of one of the most sinister and corrupt devils that we have met through the Chronicles, Roger Tainton, who beat Stryker to the islands.
In the Warlord’s Gold, Stryker follows the treasure in a chase across southern England to Basing House in Hampshire where one of the most famous sieges of the Civil War took place towards the end of 1643, forming much of the second half of the novel. Meanwhile, Lancelot Forrester, Stryker’s Shakespeare-quoting deputy, has been enduring his own personal battle, this one fought against the perpetually itchy Croatian Parliamentarian Major Kovac, from whose custody Forrester had escaped. Kovac’s pursuit of Forrester is as vindictive and obsessed as Tainton’s hatred of Stryker. It is inevitable and fitting that the siege of Basing awaits them all.
With no doubt at all, the Stryker Chronicles is my favourite Civil War series, responsible for sparking an interest in me in this period of history that is so strong I now seek out the places in the books to visit. I can’t think of another historical series that has brought the past so immediately to life for me. Warlord’s Gold exemplifies the reasons why I love these books so much. Despite the constant theme of the Civil War, each of the books is different, with familiar characters coming and going, sometimes absent for an entire book, then returning as fascinating as ever. Here, Stryker is more of a victim of circumstances than he has been in previous novels. He is vulnerable and near helpless during the scenes in the Scilly Isles and because we know him so well by now these are truly painful chapters to read. What the poor man must go through… His relationship with Lisette is never an easy one – how could it be during these uncertain, dangerous times? – and it undergoes a severe test in this novel. We are given more time with Forrester, just as in previous books we have spent time with others among Stryker’s men. It is time very well spent.
The Stryker Chronicles have the most excellent villains and in Warlord’s Gold we have more than one. Tainton is a terrifying, deadly individual but we know his past. The War creates monsters just as it also nurtures monsters already born. Several of the characters in the book are physically scarred but because both Tainton and Stryker have had their faces horrifically altered, while Kovac has his itch, it is no simplistic indicator of moral right. As with the other novels, Warlord’s Gold stresses that there is good on both sides, evil on both sides. Two best friends face each other as leaders of the opposing armies. There is division among both sides, even more so here as Parliament makes its deal with Scotland, something not all Roundheads are happy with. While Lisette is a close servant of the Queen, there is never a sense that Stryker is committed heart and soul to his king. For Stryker what matters is what’s right, his men and Lisette. People swap sides, civilians are killed and victimised, property is destroyed. Nowhere is safe, not even on the Scilly Isles, and no castle is invulnerable, not even Basing House.
Michael Arnold is a fine writer who brings history alive while populating it with living, breathing characters that the reader loves or loves to hate. His in depth knowledge of the Civil War, both politically and militarily, is more than obvious and it enriches each episode of Stryker’s tale. Arnold never loses sight of the adventure – this is extremely exciting writing! – but he fills it with inspirational historical detail. Assassin’s Reign, the last in the series, was a marvel but with Warlord’s Gold it has met its match.