Having read the previous two books by David Gilman in this excellent series I confess I was looking forward to finding out just how Thomas Blackstone was faring. I would suggest that, while this can be read as a standalone story, it would be better to read the previous books before this one. The character of Thomas Blackstone is complex and has been carefully crafted during the course of these books and they are excellent reads. The year is 1358 and Thomas and his band of men are acting as mercenaries among the Italian City States. These books tend to give fairly graphic and accurate representation of live as it was lived at the time. The faint hearted should note that this book starts with Blackstone walking on blood and gore.
It will come as no surprise to followers of these books that Blackstone is a wanted man and there are those who seek to kill him. A visit from a dying man brings a message commanding Thomas’s return to England. This story follows him through part of northern Italy where people wish to kill him and then over the Alps where the same thing applies. He is returning to England after being banished and stripped of his land etc by the King. While there is a lot of fighting and bloodshed there is an excellent tale being told here too and it is well researched. Worth noting maybe that there are times when the story is quite challenging to read and not for those of delicate disposition; however it is an accurate recreation of life and particularly death at the time.
Allowing the action aspects of these stories the gem to me is Thomas and some of the main characters in this. It is this that lifts the books from “blood and guts” to something far more interesting and with greater deeper. Blackstone, despite being a mercenary and a killer without mercy of his enemies, has a deep sense of morality. In the violence and chaos this makes him a strong and appealing character. There is also a streak of dark humour in this (& the previous tales). The men around him who we come to know better over the course of the books, such as Meulon, Gaillard, Will Longdon, Killbere are here. The comradeship of the band and their loyalty to Blackstone is powerful.
I’d confess I’m hooked. If I read the average detective story I have a pretty good idea what the ending will be if only roughly. The joy with this series is that I never know quite where it is going to end up and Thomas Blackstone is an excellent character. Roll on the next one.
Note – I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review