Hawkwood’s Sword

Written by Christian Cameron
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

1368. Fourteenth-century Europe is shattered by plague, and old principalities are fracturing. Spain, France, England are preparing for war. In Italy, the Pope and the Visconti princes are battling for supremacy. This is the age of the condottieri, professional military leaders, like Sir John Hawkswood, who sell their services to the highest bidder. Sir William Gold, once a follower of Hawkswood, is now working freelance, hoping for fame and fortune. He tells his story to Chaucer, who was in France at the time.

Hawkswood’s Sword is the fifth in Cameron’s Chivalry series, and I must be honest and say that for the first three chapters I floundered. I hadn’t a clue what was going on, and there were far too many characters. I nearly stopped reading. What it really needs is a ‘The Story so Far’ preface which includes bits of necessary history, or, possibly a cast list, telling the reader who is who.

Fortunately, I read on, and the fog lifted; I gradually realized that I knew what was happening and then, the characters came to life. Furthermore, I really enjoyed the fact that, unlike most books of this genre (men fighting), there are real women who have genuinely important roles and whose characters aren’t just there for sex or bit parts. The female characters are ordinary women of a certain age—often attached to the church in some way (no bimbos here)—and they knew how to get things done.

The result, for me, was that the book suddenly became fully 3-D and in colour; rather than being a male-only fantasy story, full of bulging muscles, violence, and blood. I’ve read and reviewed a number of Cameron’s historical novels, and Hawkswood’s Sword strikes me as being a new development in his writing—and I like it.