James Wilde has done a rollicking job with his first book in the Hereward series. With little consideration for our delicate sensibilities honed through fifty years of social indignation and political correctness, we are summarily dragged into the 11th century and our noses rubbed in the dirt.
Hereward is a complex man who is both brave and barbaric but threaded with glimmerings of the age of chivalry that was yet to come a century or two later. He is a man in his time and of his time – so we forgive some excesses in cruelty and aggression. He’s an honest chap who has been wronged and if he needs to slice, chop and mincemeat some enemy nasties, we’re in it with him – right there curling our toes with glee under the blood-dripping sword.
What we get in this rumbustious romantic saga of blood and battle, is an up close and personal view of this dark era in English history. Not much is known of this century or of Hereward and his fight for freedom against the Norman invaders of his land, but Wilde builds on what we do know and presents an authentic tale steeped in the sounds, scents and hardships of this time with a stark reality that has you cringing and gasping for more.
Wilde has created a hero who is both merciless and charming. His sword is his soul and his honour. He fights for justice in an era when there was none. And he dispatches his enemies with the unconstrained violence of his time. And we see in him much more of ourselves than we might like. These are our ancestors and our history and – even if we are horrified, disgusted and frightened by lives without law and order – the desire to pick up that sword and slash our way to justice alongside Hereward is a shadow rising on the dark side of our psyche that we can’t ignore.
That is the power of this excellently written and vividly told story. Highly recommended.