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Devil's Charge: Book 2 of The Civil War Chronicles Hardcover – 11 October 2011
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Frequently bought together
- Publisher : John Murray; 1st edition (11 October 2011)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 480 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1848544065
- ISBN-13 : 978-1848544062
- Dimensions : 16.2 x 4 x 23.8 cm
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Highly recommended, for this is: An Excellent Stryker Sequel"!
The first novel, Traitor's Blood (Civil War Chronicles) , is set in the closing months of 1642, beginning with one of the first major conflicts of the English Civil War at Edgehill. Devil's Charge picks up the action in 1643 with the battle for Cirencester. Much of the novel, however, focuses on the siege of Lichfield, a strategically-placed city between Charles' capital in Oxford and his more northern strongholds. Lichfield is held (just) by a gout-ridden royalist who, fortunately for him, has Stryker and his men within the city walls thanks to the presence of a wounded Lisette in the infirmary.
Devil's Charge is a more substantial novel than Traitor's Blood. At almost 500 pages, all opportunity is taken to extract every ounce of drama, action and suspense from the conflicts, whether a full-scale battle or a duel to the death between Stryker and whichever mortal enemy wants to kill him next. There are a fair few of them.
The focus of evil in Devil's Charge is Major Girns, whose sole desire is to destroy the two Blaze brothers. The Blaze brothers are masters of artillery and and as such hold the gift of victory in their hands. For this is a turning point in warfare. Guns and swords are used equally on the battlefield. A bullet might be deadly but a gun was cumbersome, slow to be reloaded, unwieldy to carry. A sword would often be used to finish the enemy off. But with Black Bess on your side, and a genius like Jonathan Blaze lighting its fuse, much could be gained. Stryker has his hands full with Girns - and Lisette.
One of the reasons why I enjoy The Stryker Chronicles so much is that they present a living and breathing map of an England torn into many pieces by civil war four hundred years ago. I recognise the names and places and it's extraordinary to think of battles in the fields and streets of some very familiar places. However, if you know nothing at all about the time or the place, that won't matter at all thanks to the details, the action, the characters and the spirit and pace of the storytelling. There are a wealth of characters to enjoy here, regardless of the size of their roles. Stryker is at the heart but around him we have friends, lovers, commanders, enemies, scoundrels and frightened soldiers - even the horses have names and a place here.
The story of the struggle between Stryker, Lisette and their comrades is what matters here. The `greater' conflict between king and parliament is secondary. There is good and bad on both sides and it is clear that in a war such as this loyalty is more complicated. It did indeed divide towns and families. It is that human drama, wrapped up in an exciting adventure full of as much swash and buckle as you could possible wish for, that makes Devil's Charge well worth your time and pennies.
A number of characters return to this book in addition to the protagonist, and the cast is augmented by the addition of some stunning new heroes and villains that support or impede Stryker on his missions. Some, indeed, are actually more colourful and impressive than the captain himself - a tough thing to achieve. Note for instance Jonathan Blaze and Simeon Barkworth, who has possibly now taken the lead as my favourite of Arnold's creations.
The first and main difference between this book and the first one for me is the complexity of the plot. The first book was very linear - not that this was a negative in any way, but the plot flowed in a definite single thread. Devil's Charge, however, begins with a number of disparate threads, even to the point of initial confusion, gradually pulling them together and tying them into a neat plot. By some two thirds through the book, the story has resolved into a gem - a diamond even - and from that point onwards it drags the reader at breakneck pace through to the conclusion: the battle for control of the Midlands.
While I was impressed in the first book with the handling of the pitched battle of Kineton and the small scale skirmishes the characters found themselves in - and indeed in this book with the Compton Heath battle - the treatment of the siege of Lichfield in Devil's Charge was one of the best pieces of war writing I have read from any era. It kept me riveted throughout and was innovative, exciting, and even heart-rending in places.
Another yardstick I use to measure books is the regularity with which it raises interesting enough points or questions that send me to textbooks or the internet in order to learn more. Devil's charge did so many times - hunting down a small village chapel, the defences of Lichfield, the history of towns on the Yorkshire coast and so much more. It's a signal that I've become heavily invested in the story.
In short, this is a hell of a book and an improvement on the already excellent first book in the series in terms of both plot and style.
I look forward to parts three and four of the Stryker saga.
And as for the 'Sharpe of the English Civil War' quote? A worthy and impressive accolade, but do not be deceived into thinking Stryker derivative or in some way a carbon copy of Sharpe. He is, be assured, a very different proposition.
Devil's Charge is full of action and a novel where the author demonstrates that he has studied his subject so thoroughly that weapons are described fully detailing their faults and limitations but in a way that still allows the story to unfold. With uniforms and clothing described equally as well with full and rich characters wearing them. These characters are so real, darkly humorous and vibrant that they enhance the story so completely in many different wonderful ways.
This novel is a must for all lovers of this kind of book, not only does the author write beautifully but he also teaches the reader about a subject that has been allowed to virtually vanish into history, the English Civil War. I have no doubt that the follow up books will be as equally successful and in time I'm convinced The Captain Stryker Chronicles will make it to television or film. In my opinion the writer is one of the best historical authors out there today.
10 out of 10.