Hereward: The Devil’s Army by James Wilde

July 18, 2012

1067. The battle of Hastings has been lost; Harold Godwinsson is dead. The iron fist of William the Bastard has begun to squeeze the life out of England. Villages are torched and men, women and children put to the sword as the Norman king attempts to impose his cruel will upon this unruly nation.

But there is one who stands in the way of the invader’s savagery. He is called Hereward. He is a warrior and master tactician and as adept at slaughter as the imposter who sits upon the throne. And he is England’s last hope.

In a Fenlands fortress of water and wild wood, Hereward’s resistance is simmering.

His army of outcasts grows by the day – a devil’s army that emerges out of the mists and the night, leaving death in its wake.

But William is not easily cowed. Under the command of his ruthless deputy, Ivo Taillebois – the man they call ‘the Butcher’ – the Norman forces will do whatever it takes to crush the rebels, even if it means razing England to the ground.

Here then is the tale of the bloodiest rebellion England has ever known – the beginning of an epic struggle that will echo down the years..

I read the first Hereward novel back in June 2011 and I hold the book solely responsible for re-igniting my interest in historical fiction. I knew that a sequel was due at some point this year, it made it on to my most anticipated list for 2012, and I’ve been looking forward to picking up the story from where book one left off.

Over the intervening years, between books one and two, Hereward has become a leader of men. His guerrilla campaign against the Normans continues to slowly gain ground, but certain aspects of this leadership weigh heavily on his shoulders. He comes to appreciate more and more that the responsibility of command comes with its own burdens. Desperate times call for desperate measures and he is forced to make some truly difficult decisions.  As the line between good and bad starts to blur, Hereward gets insight into the tough choices that a leader has to make. The right decision is not always the popular one.

In direct contrast to the thoughtful, introspective qualities that leadership has taught him Hereward still sometimes displays maniacal aspects to his character (they tend to appear when he is forced into a corner). He can be a man of extremes, and at times exhibits an almost gleeful blood lust that borders on the psychopathic. His family and friends just about manage to keep this berserker rage in check but some of my favourite moments are when he gives into his inner demons and the red mist descends. It strikes me that Hereward’s quest for peace in England is mirrored by his journey to find some sort of inner peace for himself.

Though his power and influence are in evidence throughout the novel, King William remains on the periphery for much of the story. He appears on a number of occasions but it his lords and lieutenants who are tasked with bringing Hereward to justice. A particular favourite is Harald Redteeth, a viking mercenary ,who is obsessed with besting Hereward in combat. Redteeth is haunted by the spirits of his fallen comrades and I think it’s fair to say his grasp on reality is tenuous at best.  Though Hereward is loath to admit it, he and Redteeth are cut from the same cloth in many ways. They share a similar code of honour the results in some unexpected twists in the story.

Events build toward a satisfyingly bloody climax and the final few chapters contain a number of jaw dropping moments that will set things up nicely for the last book in the series. This is a gripping read that blends historical elements with fast paced action and has the odd betrayal thrown in for good measure to create a top notch adventure.  The Devil’s Army succeeds in making that trickiest of jobs, being the second part of a trilogy, look effortless. I’m already looking forward to the final pay off. The only question I need answering – how long do I have to wait until I can read it?

Hereward: The Devil’s Army is published by Bantam Press and is released on 19th July.

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