Here’s the blurb:
July 1346. The Hundred Years’ War has begun, and King Edward and his lords are on the march through France. But this war belongs to the men on the ground.
Swept up in the bloody chaos, a tight-knit company from Essex must stay alive long enough to see their home again. With sword, axe and longbow, the Essex Dogs will fight, from the landing beaches of Normandy to the bloodsoaked field of Crécy.
There’s Pismire, small enough to infiltrate enemy camps. Scotsman, strong enough to tear down a wall. Millstone, a stonemason who’ll do anything to protect his men. Father, a priest turned devilish by the horrors of war. Romford, a talented young archer on the run from his past. And Loveday FitzTalbot, their battle-scarred captain, who just wants to get his boys home safe.
Some men fight for glory. Others fight for coin. The Essex Dogs? They fight for each other.
Essex Dogs by Dan Jones, despite its girth, coming in at nearly 7500 lines on my Kindle and 450 pages in hardback, is a really easy-going read. It has a light writing style, and therefore, it’s not an onerous read for anyone worried that it might just be that little bit longer than they’re used to. (I never used to consider the length of a book, but now I do, when there are so many books to read and so little time).
The opening scene, the landing on the beach for the invasion of France, is very well told, and draws you into the world that the Essex Dogs live within. The action then slightly backs off, as we learn more about the men behind the invasion and the details of what’s planned. And there are many little details that slowly draw the reader into the scenario the Dogs face, as just one of many bands of warriors, commissioned for their 40 days of service, to fight on behalf of a lord, who’s in turn beholden to the king or the prince of Wales.
While the Hundred Years War is not ‘my’ time period, I’m not a stranger to it. If you’ve read other books set in the period, as I have, then this feels very close to those books. In no time at all, I was remembering some of the historical details, and I felt right at home with the ‘Dogs.’
This, as the blurb says, is the story of the Essex Dogs, and not the king and lords. The prince, Northampton and Warwick are the most notable members of the nobility to get a decent-sized portion of the story but only in relation to the way the Essex Dogs’ lives mingle, merge and separate with them. You can almost smell the dust and heat, the stink of the rivers, and not for the first time when I read books like this, I’m left considering why the English king was so determined to claim a province that was so hostile to him.
The story, not without tragedy, slowly builds to an intriguing finale, on the field of Crecy, where we follow the efforts of young Romford as he attempts to stay alive.
There is blood and gore in this book, but not tonnes of the stuff. There is some pretty strong language, but not tonnes of it (if you’ve read my The Last King series, it will feel a little tame). My overwhelming feeling on finishing it is that the games kings play affected the men who fought for them more than them, and I more than imagine that this is what Dan Jones is hoping to make us feel. And so, an engaging and well-told tale, not without moments of tragedy and comedy, and one certainly worthy of picking up and devouring.
About the author
Dan Jones is the Sunday Times and New York Times bestselling author of ten non-fiction books, including The Templars, The Colour of Time and Powers and Thrones. He is a renowned writer, broadcaster and journalist, and has for many years wanted to write authentic but action-packed historical fiction. His debut novel, Essex Dogs, is the first in a planned trilogy following the fortunes of ten ordinary soldiers in the early years of the Hundred Years’ War. He lives near London with his family.
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