Hereward: The Devil’s Army by James Wilde – Book Review [Bane of Kings]

Hereward 2

Bane of Kings reviews the second book in the historical fiction trilogy that focuses on the legend of Hereward, the first freedom fighter, entitled The Devil’s Army, written by James Wilde and published by Bantam Books. It was released on 19 July 2012. 

“Bigger, better and more awesome than its predecessor, Wilde manages to keep the reader hooked throughout the pages with his fantastic prose. A must for all historical fiction fans.”  ~The Founding Fields

After reading and enjoying the first novel in the Hereward trilogy, Hereward, (review here), I was wondering if Wilde would be able to live up to the brilliant first novel. This is partly one of the reasons why although I had a copy of The Devil’s Army for a while, I didn’t get around to picking it up until recently as I thought it, being the second novel in a trilogy, would be a let down as second novels in trilogies are normally the most difficult to write. However,  when I did get round to it – within the first few pages of reading The Devil’s Army, I was hooked again, as Wilde proves that he can continue to impress with the sequel – and manage to make the sequel better than it’s predecessor.

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.

So Hereward was the novel that focused on the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings, the most famous battle in England’s history, and now Hereward: The Devil’s Army, looks at the aftermath of that titanic battle, and how it changed England as a nation. William the Conqueror is now in command of the English throne, and resistance is crumbling. Hereward is labelled as an inspiration for the legends of Robin Hood, and is described as England’s last hope, and is an amazing character. He’s different from when we were first introduced to him at the beginning of Book One, and has changed greatly, and is now a leader of men. His character has developed fantastically well, and it will be interesting to see where Wilde takes the character in the upcoming third novel.

The action sequences in The Devil’s Army are great as Wilde showcases the struggle between the English resistance and the Norman Oppressors, they’re well written, and very bloody, and the final battle is nothing short of epic, and throughout the novel, you get the sense that no character is safe – not even Hereward – thus increasing the tension and making the reader want to root for The English over the invaders.

The pace is top-notch, moving breathtakingly fast, ensuring that there isn’t a dull moment in this novel. There are plenty of twists to keep the outcome unpredictable as possible, and by the end of the book you will only be left with wanting to find out what happens next. The Devil’s Army has made Wilde one of my favourite historical fiction authors, up there with the likes of Simon Scarrow, Bernard Cornwell and Ben Kane (even if they are all the only historical fiction authors that I have read so far – they’re all awesome), and Wilde has really managed to bring life to the bloody aftermath of the Battle of Hastings.

Hereward himself is the book’s strongest character, and you’re not likely to forget his name in a while. Alric the monk is back, and his storyline that weaves throughout The Devil’s Army is just as enthralling as Hereward’s. I’m struggling to find a flaw with The Devil’s Army, as it does everything that Hereward does, and then some, the action scenes are bigger and well-written, making it an enthralling read from beginning to end. Historical fiction fans, or anyone who’s enjoyed Hereward, will find themselves enjoying this novel like I did.

Verdict: 4.5/5 

The Hereward Trilogy: Hereward, The Devil’s Army, TBA (To Be Announced)

Bane of Kings is one our most senior book reviewers here at The Founding Fields, based in England. He’s a prolific reviewer that has contributed to many things here and around the internet.


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