Review of Defiant Unto Death.

From Goodreads: The Black Prince has launched a devastating raid deep into France, laying waste to everything in his path. In response, the French have mustered an army that outnumbers the English forces 10 to 1 and and are determined to drive their hated foe from the land after years of bloody conquest.

Sir Thomas Blackstone, the British archer knighted on the field of Crecy, has used the intervening years to forge his own war band and has hacked out his own fiefdom in central France. He knows the English are outnumbered, outmanoeuvred and exhausted… but that will not stop him from fighting his way to one of history’s greatest military victories.

But the field of battle is not only arena in which Blackstone will have to fight for his life… Although Poitiers was a great victory for the English its aftermath will cost Blackstone dear.
From me: While I have read historical crime and historical romance novels before I have to admit this is the first historical fiction book that I have read that is set during a war and shows us the lives of those living through the unfolding events of that time. I know little of the events of the time of the Black Prince but have always been interested in pre-20th Century history so when I was offered this book as part of the blog tour I couldn’t say no. I’ve been trying to expand on the genres I already read and this seemed the perfect way to continue that. Although this is the second in the Master of War series it can easily be read on its own (as I have done) as there is enough information throughout the book that explains Thomas’ life up to that point without getting bogged down in past details.

This is an excellently written book with descriptions so clear that throughout the entire story I genuinely felt I was standing next to Thomas Blackstone, or his wife Christiana when the focus was on her. The sights, smells and sounds of 14th Century France were assaulting my senses so much that I had to stop reading a few times to remind myself that I wasn’t actually there. This period in France is a very dangerous one and that too comes across in the writing, people are betrayed by those they thought they knew and could trust and no one is safe regardless of their rank or status. Although the Goodreads summary above focuses on the main battle at Poitiers this is not the main focus of the book which starts months before this and covers events leading up to the battle, how they affect Thomas Blackstone and his family and also his friends and neighbours.

I have given this book 4/5 stars. There were two things that stopped it getting 5 stars, one was that in the first half of the book there are so many characters and so much going on that it can be a little confusing as to who is who and who did what. Although in the remainder of the story there are still many characters who they are and what they are doing is clearer and this part of the book, with the important battle at Poitiers, benefits from this clarity. The other thing that affected the rating is linked to my previous comment about character numbers. Although this was brilliantly written and obviously well researched it was a bit heavy going to start with and took me far longer than usual to read. While reading I decided to check how many pages were in the book I was surprised to find it was less than 500 as it felt to me more like 800 or more and I think could have benefited from being a little shorter. Also, as a small point on my kindle edition I found a map of the area at the end of the book and I think it would have been more helpful had that been at the beginning.

In short, this is an really good book which gives an excellent insight to a very turbulent time in France’s history and how it affected the people who lived there, both nobles and commoners alike. The descriptions of the battles, both large and small, the people and France itself are excellent and if you want a good historical read or something new to try I would definitely recommend this book. I believe the next in the series is due out in 2016 and I look forward to reading it.

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