Master of War by David Gilman

A review of the historical adventure novel Master of War by David Gilman.

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Master of War follows the life of Thomas Blackstone, a young archer from the shires of England who is forced to leave his home to escape conviction at the hand of the local shire reeve who wants his land. At this time, King Edward of England grants a criminal pardon for all crimes to those who join his war to claim the crown of France. From lowly origins, Thomas Blackstone fights for King Edward in the battle of Crecy and inadvertently saves the life of Edward of Woodstock (The Black Prince). Blackstone gets knighted for his bravery in battle, but in doing so becomes gravely injured. He is placed in the care of the de Harcourt’s, a powerful family in Normandy. Blackstone recovers, but, due to an injury sustained on his arm, he can no longer pull the powerful English yew bow that he loves so much.

Due to this, the Lord of the Harcourt estate, Jean de Harcourt, schools Blackstone in the art of the sword. Blackstone gathers men and takes them to the besieged garrison in Calais and once again saves Prince Edward of England. As a reward, Prince Edward creates a battle standard for Blackstone, a mail gauntlet fist which reads the phrase defiant a la mort (defiant unto death).

What is great about this book is that, although Thomas Blackstone is a fictional character, it follows the factual time line of the Hundred Years’ War and integrates Blackstone very cleverly into these historical events; more light of which will be shed in the subsequent books that follow this one. The deep description of the battle of Crecy, the formations and engagements in the battle that follow the historic descriptions of what actually happened at the battle, are epic. Whilst there are many fictional characters in this book, there are lots of historical figures, namely: King Edward of England, Edward of Woodstock the Prince of Wales, Godfrey de Harcourt, Jean de Harcourt, Blanch de Harcourt, and many other powerful nobles from both the English and French courts.

The only thing that I think lets this book down is how far-fetched the odds are stacked against Thomas Blackstone in his endeavours, as his chances of survival are slim. Yet survive he does and he and his men always seem to come out of a conflict with so few casualties that it seems, to me, to be a slight bit unrealistic.

I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the middle ages and in particular the Hundred Years’ War. Whilst it is not 100% true to history, there are still things you can learn whilst enjoying the fictional tale that unfolds.

David lives in Margate with his family. He is an avid reader of historical fact and fiction.

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