11th century. Apulia in southern Italy is part of a declining Byzantine Empire and increasingly under attack from the Lombards, who hold much of northern Italy. The papacy, too, wants Apulia under its control. The Lombard Arduin of Fassano wants to wrest the strategically key city of Melfi from the Byzantines and hold it himself. He seeks the help of the Norman mercenary William de Hauteville. The land-hungry William, however, has a different agenda: he and his warrior brothers want land, and Apulia will be the place to get it. Arduin may think he holds all the cards, but William has both military experience and political nous. If Apulia is up for grabs, William is determined that the de Hautevilles will be first in the queue.
Ludlow plainly knows his stuff – he captures the shifting allegiances of the different warring factions well. Unfortunately, Warriors is less convincing as a novel. For a start, there is virtually no plot. There are plenty of battles, sieges and military manoeuvrings, but that is not the same thing. Plots need emotional conflict with something at stake on a personal level. Ludlow doesn’t offer that. In Bernard Cornwell’s books (to which Ludlow is aspiring) there is a brave but vulnerable main protagonist, a crossbowman with a price on his head as in Azincourt, say, whose adventures we follow and with whom we become involved. Warriors has William de Hauteville, but he is too distant a character for us to empathize with and, besides, has little at stake emotionally. His brothers are all more or less ruthless, brutal and duplicitous and it’s difficult to care much about them either. If you enjoy blood and clashes of arms, fine; this is the book for you. If you prefer a proper story with your bloodshed, go for Cornwell.