When I was at school our history books gave the impression that the English Civil War was a rather gentlemanly affair between romantic Royalists and righteous Roundheads. Since then historians and historical novelists have worked hard to disabuse us of such ideas. Michael Arnold is the latest novelist to rub our faces in the blood and butchery of the war itself and the massive ‘collateral damage’ wrought among the civilian population. It was much the worst thing to happen to the British Isles since the Black Death. There may have been long-term benefits, as there were from the Black Death, but at a terrible price.
Devil’s Charge is the second book in Arnold’s series which follows the career of mercenary soldier Innocent Stryker and his two companions, Forrester and Skellen, as they carve their way through the war in the Royalist cause. The first book, Traitor’s Blood, covered the first year of the war, and we are now in the second year. The body count among just the named characters is impressive, and their deaths are described in graphic detail.
The plot is complex and largely irrelevant, and the romantic interest (Lissette, the queen’s lady-in-waiting and special agent) is perfunctory. What matters are the fights, both the skirmishes and the set piece battles and sieges. Arnold is at his best describing real events, the sacking of Cirencester, the siege of Lichfield and the battle of Hopton Heath. As it says on the blurb, if you like Cornwell you will like Arnold.