Review of Gate of the Dead by David Gilman

Gate of the Dead Book Cover Gate of the Dead
Master of War
David Gilman
Fiction
Head of Zeus
December 21, 2015
ebook
464
NetGalley

Tuscany, 1358: Thomas Blackstone has built a formidable reputation in exile, fighting as a mercenary amid the ceaseless internecine warring of Italy's City States. Success has bred many enemies, who will seize any opportunity to destroy the man they cannot overcome on the field.

When a dying man delivers a message recalling Blackstone to England, it seems almost certain to be a trap. Yet Blackstone cannot decline - the summons is apparently from the Queen.

Blackstone will brave the terrors of the High Alps in winter, face the Black Prince in Tournament in Windsor, confront the bloody anarchy of a popular revolt in northern France and submit to trial by combat with a man he knows could kill him.

And every step of the way, he will be shadowed by a notorious assassin, a killer who has been instructed to inflict the maximum pain on his target before he despatches him to hell.

 

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