Donate to TFF Book Review
Subscribe by email!
Milo, aka “Bane of Kings” reviews the third entry in the historical fiction saga Herward, written by James Wilde, and published by Bantam Press.
“An excellent third entry in the Herward saga that promises to be satisfying, epic, and unputdownable – making it a must for fans of Historical Fiction.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
I’ve been reading Hereward since the beginning, and it’s shaped up to be a really strong trilogy. The opening act, entitled Hereward, was superb – and the following novel, The Devil’s Army, was likewise impressive and very strong for a middle act. And then came End of Days… which just blew me away – it was so, very awesome, and I could not put it down. Despite a few minor niggles here and there, which I’ll explain later in the review - End of Days ends the third act on a high note, and makes this a must-read for lovers of historical fiction.
1071. Five years have passed since the Normans’ crushing victory at Hastings. England reels under the savage rule of its new king, the one they call ‘the Bastard’. The north has been left a wasteland – villages torched, innocents put to the sword, land stolen. Rats feed upon fields of the dead.
It seems no atrocity is too great to ensure William’s iron grip upon the crown. Now his cold gaze is turning towards the last stronghold of English resistance. After these years of struggle, he will brook no further challenge to his power. His vast army is massing; his machines of war are being made ready.
In their fortress on the Isle of Ely, the English rebels have put their faith in one man – a warrior, a leader and a master of the art of waging war. His name is Hereward, and he has planned an uprising that will sweep the hated king from the throne once and for all.
But Hereward has disappeared – and with him, it seems, England’s hopes of victory. Can this great hero really have abandoned his people? Time is running out, for King William is about to begin his final devastating assault that will surely mark the end of days…
Here is a heart-pounding tale of heroism, treachery and sacrifice – and the bloodiest rebellion England has ever known…
As mentioned in the pull quote, End of Days is satisfying, epic, and delivers on several levels, and even though it may be predictable for readers who know the era well, Wilde does his best with what he’s got and allows for a fast-paced, page-turning read – I for one, couldn’t put it down, as the book explores several elements such as the characters, the action and the plot really well, allowing for an engaging read that is well worth checking out.
Hereward himself has undergone several changes over the course of this series, and from a man struggling to control his own direction in life, he pretty much ends up as someone far greater than the man at the beginning of Book One would ever have imagined himself to be – the leader of the English resistance against the Norman Invasion. Ever since the conclusion of The Devil’s Army, I’ve been looking forward to seeing where Wilde takes the character, especially given what happened in the previous book. With a large chunk of responsibility now placed on Hereward as leader, this allows for the character to be fleshed out even further than he has been before, being presented as a well rounded, three-dimensional figure that you will remember for a long time after this novel. Whilst the secondary characters aren’t as quite memorable, Harald Redteeth, Alric, Kraki, Guthrinc and the others, they still nonetheless play a key role in this book and gain a solid amount of page time.
I also liked how Wilde handled the main antagonist for this novel – William - yes, that William, known as the Bastard, and the Conqueror of England. Whilst he rarely, if at all featured in person in the first two books, End of Days ups the stakes considerably by not only putting him right at the heart of several of the most important scenes, but also setting the stage for a memorable confrontation between the character and our protagonist, Hereward. The interactions between these two characters when they finally meet in person is my personal highlight of the book, and really fulfils what the series has been leading to up until this point, making reading the third act really worthwhile, despite a couple of minor problems that I had with the book, as explained below.
Firstly, the book itself has a much more cinematic feeling than the previous two. This feels like a historical fiction equivalent of The Dark Knight Rises - to use one example, a big, bombastic blockbuster, particularly in the latter half of the novel – only without so many plot holes and less Batman, and every third act that’s upped the stakes from its predecessors, and is filled with short, sharp chapters to keep the reader reading. I didn’t really have any major issues with this approach, although some people might feel that it differs from the previous two novels in this aspect. Also, another issue that I found – although I didn’t notice this until after the book and probably would have remained ignorant of it if I hadn’t had read the review in question, Harald Redteeth – mentioned above, labelled present-day Instanbul as Constantinople, and not Miklagard, as it would have been known as by the Vikings.
However, I didn’t have any major problems with this book, and aside from a couple of niggles, it’s pretty much superb. As readers of Hereward and The Devil’s Army will be aware, Wilde knows how to write bloody, no-holds-barred action well, and he does so without mercy here – particularly in the latter half of the book, with a ruthless approach to battle sequences that are really entertaining. As I mentioned earlier, historical fiction fans will love this book – I couldn’t put it down, and as a result, I’m left wondering, what can Wilde bring to the table next? His first three outings are a huge success, and it’s almost certain – if he continues to write novels as strong as this one, then I’ll pick it up for certain. Readers of the first two novels probably don’t need this review to convince them to read the book, but if for some reason you’re still on the fence about it – I can throw my full recommendation behind the book. Buy it!
Hereward Series: Hereward, The Devil’s Army, End of Days