Zaffre | 2019 (28 November) | 361p | Review copy | Buy the book
Blood’s Campaign is the third novel to feature Captain Holcroft Blood (son of the infamous Colonel Blood who stole the Crown Jewels). The novels stand alone very well and so you don’t need to have read the others but I really think you should anyway.
Time has moved on for Holcroft and for England. James II was overthrown in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and so Holcroft now serves another master, William of Orange, who, alongside Queen Mary (his wife and James II’s daughter), rules the Three Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland. And it is to Ireland where James II has fled, raising an army to win the throne back from William and Mary.
Holcroft is a man who loves his job. He is in charge of the big guns in the Royal Train of Artillery and he loves every one of them. The job, and its uniform and his curious and deadly Lorenzoni repeating rifle, define him. But in the months and days leading up to the Battle of the Boyne in 1689, Holcroft is driven by another obsession – his hatred of French spy Henri d’Erloncourt, who likewise wants his old enemy dead and will use his position as part of James II’s force to bring Holcroft to a painful end. Holcroft has never been one to obey orders and, for him, winning the Battle of the Boyne is the secondary goal. The first is to kill the spy.
Angus Donald is a fantastic writer of historical fiction. He is one of the very best writing today and I have enjoyed every one of his novels, first the utterly superb Robin Hood series and now his Holcroft Blood novels. Angus Donald has the knack of making me want to read books about historical periods or figures that haven’t really interested me before. He makes me interested in them. He did this for Robin Hood and now he’s done it for the 1680s. I’ve always been fascinated in the Restoration years but now I know that the decades that followed them are every bit as compelling, and I have Angus Donald to thank for that. This isn’t a slow moving series. The first novel, Blood’s Game, was set in Charles II’s reign in the 1670s when Holcroft was a child and his notorious father was stealing the Crown Jewels. The second novel, Blood’s Revolution, leapt forward to 1685 when Lieutenant Holcroft Blood finished his years of espionage in France to work with ordnance in James II’s artillery, a role in which Holcroft is extraordinarily gifted. Now we’re in Ireland with a new king. These are fast-moving tumultuous times and Angus Donald reflects this so well in his series.
Holcroft is such an appealing hero and an excellent creation. He’s on the autistic spectrum, which makes him dedicated and committed to his cannon, knowing just with a glance the distance and angle required for a target-hitting shot. He is single-minded, which can get him into trouble as it does here, all thanks to the evil and weasley Henri d’Elancourt. Fortunately for Holcroft, his superiors know his value and he’s given leeway but even so it’s a difficult lesson for Holcroft to learn – that he is prepared to sacrifice people he cares for in order to achieve his intent. It really is an excellent character portrayal. Holcroft is a complex and likeable man. We spend so much quality time with Holcroft that inevitably other characters play a considerably secondary role, and Henri is a baddie rather than a living and breathing man like Holcroft, but Holcroft is a joy to spend time with. This is his story.
The historical background is fascinating. This is a well-researched novel, both in terms of the historical events and in the nature of warfare at this time, which was constantly changing due to developments in war technology. Holcroft is right at the cutting edge. The battle descriptions are gripping, gory as one would expect but this is kept under control. The blurring of allegiances is interesting – Holcroft is half-Irish and here he is fighting Irishmen while many of the men on William’s side come from the continent. I always enjoy James II in these novels and here he’s on fine and odious form.
I thoroughly enjoyed Blood’s Campaign. It’s exciting, packed with fascinating warfare details (focusing on cannon gives it an extra interest) as well as insights into life as an officer at a time of revolution and war when one was still expected to keep one’s wig and stockings neat and tidy. I can’t wait to meet Holcroft again.
The Iron Castle
The King’s Assassin
The Death of Robin Hood
Guest post: Rampant hedonism in the restoration