Blood’s Game

Written by Angus Donald
Review by Gordon O'Sullivan

Having successfully reimagined Robin Hood in the bestselling Outlaw Chronicles, Angus Donald turns his storytelling talents to Restoration London and the internecine rivalries of Charles II’s court. The central character, Holcroft Blood, son of the lethal Colonel Thomas Blood, quickly finds himself mixed up with the treacherous Duke of Buckingham, the seductive Barbara Villiers, and the persuasive Aphra Behn in a plot to steal the crown jewels. Holcroft must use all his considerable wits to prevent his familial connections from destroying his personal ambitions.

A fringe historical figure like Holcroft Blood gives the author the flexibility to move freely through the bear pit that was the Stuart court, and Angus Donald takes full advantage by creating an authentic-seeming world for his intriguing main character. While the period detail can feel slightly forced at times, and Holcroft manages to bump into practically every well-known 17th-century figure, the set pieces such as the jewel heist at the Tower of London are pulled off with a real authorly élan. Donald also puts forward his own intriguing theory as to why the jewels were stolen and attempts to explain the eyebrow-raising consequences of the heist.

Character, though, is the novel’s major strength. Holcroft is a quasi-modern personage caught between his own desires and the desires of his employer and family. His character and ambitions evolve as he tries, fails and tries again to learn the dangerous ways of Charles’s court. Holcroft’s unusual personality is nicely contrasted with both the knowing cynicism and greed of the politicians he encounters and the murderous inclinations of his own father, Colonel Blood.

Donald has begun this 17th-century series with a hugely entertaining historical adventure that simply thrums with life.