Hereward: End of Days by James Wilde

July 4, 2013

Hereward: End of Days is the third book in a series. If you haven’t read books one and two then there is a good chance that there will be some minor spoilers in this review.

England, 1071. Five years have passed since the crushing Norman victory at the Battle of Hastings. The country reels under the savage rule of the new king, the one they call ‘the Bastard’. The North has been left a wasteland – villages razed, innocents put to the sword, land stolen. It seems no atrocity is too great to ensure William’s grip upon the crown. Rats feed upon fields of the dead

And now he turns his cold gaze east, towards the last stronghold of the English resistance. After years of struggle, he will brook no further challenge to his power: his vast army masses and his siege machines are readied.

In their fortress on the Isle of Ely, the English have put their faith in the only man who might defeat the murderous invaders. He is called Hereward. He is a warrior and a master tactician – as adept at slaughter as his enemy and plans have been set in motion for a bloody uprising that will sweep the Norman king off the throne once and for all.

But Hereward is missing. With their hopes of victory dwindling, can the English rebels find the leader who seems to have abandoned them before William the Bastard begins his final, devastating assault that will truly be the end of days…

Here is a tale of heroism and treachery – and the bloodiest rebellion England has ever known.

I can credit the first Hereward novel for re-igniting my interest in historical fiction. Before reading it, I knew next to nothing about this time period and very little about the figure of Hereward himself. I took a chance and was rewarded with a gripping historical novel chock full of action. Book two, The Devil’s Army, picked up with the same relentless pace and delivered another cracking read. Ever since I finished book two, I’ve been looking forward to End of Days. I’m glad to say that it doesn’t disappoint.

The character of Hereward has metamorphosed over the course of these novels. Initially just a man trying to control his own destiny, he has almost inevitably become a figurehead for the English resistance against the Norman invasion. Everyone looks to their leader for guidance, and plans quickly begin to fall apart when he isn’t in charge. Wilde takes time to explore how this burden has changed the man, the weight of such responsibility weighs heavily. Hereward is far more philosophical about his life than he was in previous books. He and his people have all suffered and that the constant strain is beginning to show.

Hereward’s not so merry men (they’re all pretty grumpy) continue to be a suitably roguish bunch; Alric, Kraki, Guthrinc, Sighard and Herrig the Rat. I do so love these names. Mad Hengist is a personal favourite.

The list of characters facing off against Hereward and his battle brothers continues to grow with each new book. The berserker Viking, Harald Redteeth, still seeks revenge and won’t rest until he gets it. Hereward’s estranged brother, Redwald, and his violent father are just as evil as they were before. End of Days also introduces a new foe into the mix, a knight called Deda who is bound by honour and will fight to the death to maintain it.

The main antagonist however is William the Bastard. The previous books have mentioned him in passing, but in End of Days his character really comes to the fore. Bullish and powerful, it’s hardly a surprise that the vast majority bend to his iron will. He comes across as a veritable force of nature. To this potential king, men like Hereward are an anathema, no one should be able to stand between him and the throne. Interestingly, there are quite a number of similarities between the two men. Both are driven and backing down in a conflict is not an option for either of them.

Wilde is an author who really does deliver the goods when it comes to brutal action. Frenetic vicious fights play counterpoint to the novel’s quieter more introspective moments. The final hundred odd pages make up the climax of the novel, and the chaos of battle very vividly comes to life. Those of a squeamish disposition may wish to look away. Personally, I’m always impressed when an author can transport me right to the heart of the action, the gorier the better as far as I’m concerned.

I can only hope that there will be more novels from this author and that they arrive sooner rather than later. I’ve relished every page so far and I am left hungry for more. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, and you aren’t already, you need to be reading James Wilde.

Hereward: End of Days is published by Bantam Press and is available on 4th July 2013.

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