Head of Zeus | 2020 (Pb: 10 December) | 464p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book | Listen to the audiobook
Cross of Fire is the sixth novel in David Gilman’s Masters of War series but I think it stands alone very well. Sir Thomas Blackstone has reached another phase of his career and now his son Henry shares the martial stage. But I really do recommend that you read the earlier novels, beginning with Master of War, because they tell a fascinating tale of the Hundred Years War through the story of a common archer, knighted at the Battle of Crécy, who is now Edward III’s Master of War.
It is the winter of 1362 and Sir Thomas Blackstone and his men are working to claim King Edward’s lands in France. Readers of the series know how costly this campaign has been for Blackstone, with so many of his men and, so tragically, most of his family dead. Sir Thomas is a man who has friends around him who would, and do, die willingly for him and his cause but he also makes enemies easily and they are scattered around France. As he rescues a noble lady and her daughter, abandoned by her land-hungry, vile husband, Sir Thomas makes another. He fights for Edward III and his son, the Black Prince, but he also fights for justice and nothing fires Blackstone’s rage more than a woman and her daughter left to die at the hands of the many brigands that ravage these lands.
Cross of Fire is Blackstone’s story but I really enjoyed the fact that we have much more of his son Henry here. Henry is now 14 years old, a squire, but coming in to his own, not just because of his skills with a sword but also because of his brains. He wants nothing more than to go to University but he can’t because there are men out there who want him, a son of Blackstone, dead. Instead, Henry must prove himself in other ways and he sets out to do that here. It’s extremely dangerous, anxiety inducing for the gruff soldier that is Blackstone, but it is thoroughly exciting for the reader.
There is so much action in the novel as Blackstone and his men battle their way across France, with everything from small skirmishes to taking on whole fortresses. These were violent, brutal times and Sir Thomas is in the heart of it and, as usual, he comes up against some repellant villains. But there is more to this series than action. David Gilman is a fine writer who knows his stuff, not just about medieval military history but also about the effects of war on those who fight it and those who are innocent and must suffer it. This is an extremely well-written novel.
I must say though that I do wonder now how much further this series has to run but it is refreshing to see Henry come into his own, causing new relationships, alliances and rivalries to develop.
I listened to the audiobook and it was brilliantly read by Colin Mace! He fully captures the tension, drama and extreme danger of it all.
For something a little different, I heartily recommend David Gilman’s Night Flight to Paris.
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)
Scourge of Wolves (Master of War 5)
An extract of Viper’s Blood
Guest post – War in the Last Horseman
Night Flight to Paris