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Viper's Blood ( Masters of War series)

David Gilman
Blackstone and his bastard horse ride again.

Once again we are back in the Hundred Years war and Edward III has invaded France. The French King - Jean Le Bon - is held hostage but his ransom has been agreed, at least by him. However, his son, the Dauphin, a sickly youth who rules as Regent refuses to pay both the monies and to secede the bulk of France to the hated English. Thomas Blackstone is among those who are fighting their way to Paris, a journey fraught with problems. Not least of which is that an assault on Paris is likely to fail, or to be too costly in human lives to work. Rhiems, the ancient city where Kings are crowned is under siege but is unlikely to fall, given it's strong defences.

Adding to the problems that the English army face is the scorched earth policy followed by the French. Food for men and horses is scarce and of poor quality, but Blackstone has an idea, a small town that has declared for the English should provide some food but more importantly the Constable of France has been seen in the area, which means that where he is then gold is nearby. Blackstone finds more than he bargained for when he saves a woman from the stake where she is to be burned as a witch.

Meanwhile, the Dauphin has an idea that will secure his position and rid France of the English and Blackstone is paramount to his plan. Can he get the scarred ex- archer to help him? Can he persuade the knight to enter the secure domain of his greatest enemy; an enemy that has already claimed the life of Blackstone's beloved wife and daughter?

I'm a huge fan of these books, and of the period that they are set in. I have read Gilman's previous books and this new one is as good as or perhaps better than those that have gone before. The author has a tremendous grasp of the period and shows in depth research on the weapons, the people and the countryside. His stories are historically accurate, even to the point that a large proportion of the players are - or were - real personages. The books are fast paced, violent and bloody. A most descriptive writer, one can almost feel the spray of blood when Wolf Sword eviscerates an enemy, and the sour stench of fighting men hovers over the narrative; the sound of the clash of armour, the screams of the wounded and yells of the victors are in your ears.

David Gilman is an ex-Para, Recce Platoon in fact, a former firefighter then marketing manager, and has written a number of books including a series for children, which hopefully are nothing like his Masters of War series or there would be some disturbed nights for the kiddies!

What can I say? A brilliant story, full of facts and brimming with action. Superb reading.

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