Hereward: The Bloody Crown

Written by James Wilde
Review by Lynn Guest

1081. Within Constantinople, a weak emperor is circled by three families, each determined to place their candidate, however feeble, on the throne of the Holy Roman Empire. No method – corruption, murder, even treason – is too extreme to gain the prize. The city seethes with plots, betrayal and assassination while the population struggles with hunger and a growing fear of invasion. From the east, the Seljuk Turks are threatening; from Italy, the powerful Norman, Robert Guiscard, advances to extend his own empire. Driven from England by William the Conqueror, Hereward and his spear-brothers in the Varangian Guard must not only protect the Emperor from his vicious rivals and the city from attackers but also deal with ambitious enemies in the Guard.

Because this is the sixth of the Hereward series, the new reader is plunged into a collection of previously established characters, but the pace of the action and the momentum of the plot soon compensate for any initial confusion and occasional frustration.  As so often, the baddies are the more lively characters. Hereward and his gang are “heroes”, brave and indomitable, if lacking the charisma of, say. Sharpe and his Riflemen (although this may be unfair as I have read only the one book). Wilde brings Constantinople to detailed, colourful life, from palaces to alleyways, with wonderful descriptions of weather and landscape to enrich the story. Always exciting, the novel is violent and bloody enough to suit those who want it. The plotting brings the history of a not-so-well-known period to life on the page with a couple of clever twists at the end, while leaving the reader to wonder if the city will survive the menacing armies. Highly recommended.