Defiant unto Death

Written by David Gilman
Review by Carol McGrath

Defiant unto Death continues Sir Thomas Blackstone’s story, begun in Master of War, and is set in France during the Hundred Years’ War. Sir Thomas is tough yet honourable, a great knight, a fully rounded personality who carries revenge, love and guilt in his heart. As an old companion says, ‘sweet Jesus, Thomas – still defiant until death.’ I walked through this book with him and stood in his boots.

Sir Thomas was victorious at Crecy and, by 1356, commands a war band in Normandy where alliances flounder. The French King, John the Pious, is determined to destroy Sir Thomas and any Norman lords who might be plotting to put the Dauphin on the throne or lend allegiance to England’s Black Prince. John engages the services of the vividly portrayed ‘Savage Priest’, an antichrist with a grudge against Sir Thomas, to draw him out of Normandy through various attacks on his family and his people.

This is a thrilling, fast-moving, engaging tale, with unexpected twists, beautiful prose, excellent characterisation and dialogue, human sentiment and motivation, and graphic descriptions of war. It is packed with historical details from country and city life, siege warfare, battles and a woman’s lot as well as a soldier’s. The reader is utterly convinced by the medieval world in this stunning work. Placing gentlewomen such as Blanche or Christiana, noble Norman wives, into war-torn scenarios takes them out of the castle without compromising medieval sentiment. Gilman’s detail, even in reference to embroidery, is astonishing. Nor does he forget the lepers, the poor and city tradeswomen. I am reminded of great books such as those of Zoe Oldenbourg. And, move over Bernard Cornwell!

Defiant unto Death is historical fiction at its best, a Pandora’s Box of a novel, a great novel which comes highly recommended.