Head of Zeus | 2018 (8 February) | 446p | Review copy | Buy the book
Scourge of Wolves is the fifth novel in David Gilman’s powerful and uncompromising chronicle of the Hundred Years War. If you haven’t read the others in the series, beginning with Master of War, then tread no further with this review. Much has happened to our hero Thomas Blackstone in the years since the Battle of Crécy in 1346 and so spoilers for the earlier novels are inevitable.
It is the winter of 1361 and the Hundred Years War has drawn to an unlikely and reluctant close. Or so it seems. The French King John, captured by the English at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356 and held hostage in England ever since, has now been ransomed and returned to Paris. But the terms of the release are harsh. France has been brought to its knees. Whole towns must be handed over to England. Many are resisting and the situation is aggravated even more by the bands of lawless routiers or mercenaries who scour the defeated land for what gold is left, fortifying towns for their own evil ends. It’s a mess. Edward III and his son the Black Prince need a man they can trust to sort it out and claim their promised towns. Who better to ask than Sir Thomas Blackstone? And Sir Thomas and his men will have to fight for every step they take.
Scourge of Wolves throws us, and Sir Thomas, immediately into the throes of action. Without the support of a standing army behind them, Thomas’s men are in trouble from the very first page. Their enemy is more desperate and cruel than ever, the walls of France’s fortified towns are more daunting than ever. Not all of Thomas’s swordsmen and archers will survive. This is hard for us. We’ve been following their adventures for several years. We’ve lost so many already. There’s a sense that it can only get worse.
The novel is full of action, there’s barely time to draw breath. There are walls to scale, skirmishes to fight, monsters to punish. And Sir Thomas is not quite sure who he can trust in these lawless days. David Gilman really knows his stuff. The novel is fully immersed in medieval warfare – in its weapons and soldiers, horses, armour, executions and injuries.There’s gore by the bucketload. Medieval war wounds are not a pretty thing and we’re given a detailed depiction of the treatment of one particularly nasty injury. David Gilman presents a fascinating portrait of these terrible times, when plague is still recurring (just to compound the woes of the poor peasantry) and war seems without end. We’re given moments with the powerful – notably the king and dauphin of France – but on the whole Scourge of Wolves keeps us firmly in the field of battle. I must admit to missing the Black Prince in this novel.
It’s undoubtedly exciting! There are many breathless scenes in which survival seems an impossibility. This is military historical fiction, the war leaves little time for anything but fighting, and so this is largely a male history with one notable and rather unpleasant exception. Scourge of Wolves is more action-based than the others, or at least that’s what it felt like to me, and so I did find myself being rushed along from one danger to the next with little time to draw breath or look around – this novel does rely on the reader knowing the characters from the previous books – but I continue to enjoy following the adventures of Sir Thomas Blackstone and his men. One of these days I hope he will find some peace but I sense those days are far off.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I do love Head of Zeus hardbacks with their ribbons!
Other reviews and features
Master of War
Defiant Unto Death (Master of War 2)
Gate of the Dead (Master of War 3) – review and interview
Viper’s Blood (Master of War 4)
An extract of Viper’s Blood
Guest post – War in the Last Horseman