Rules of War

Written by Iain Gale
Review by Gordon O'Sullivan

This is the second in the series of adventures of Captain Jack Steel, first introduced to us in Man of Honour. In the early 18th century, the British army led by John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, was the leader of a wide-ranging and successful alliance against the French king Louis XIV. Jack Steel is a man with a strong sense of honour off the battlefield while a superb soldier on it, leading his Grenadiers to where the battle is hottest. While Man of Honour covered the famous battle of Blenheim, Rules of War begins with the battle of Ramillies in 1706. The battle is bloody and expertly described by Gale. In the aftermath of the battle, an unforeseen threat to the Duke of Marlborough sends Steel on a new and dangerous mission. He is soon forced to battle treacherous elements within his own army as well as a hostile Belgian populace. Even worse, his fate and that of Marlborough becomes entwined with the siege of Ostend and the ferocious French privateer, Rene Duglay-Trouin.

While there are some obvious similarities to Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe and Allan Mallinson’s Matthew Hervey series, the Jack Steel character is convincing in his own right and overall this was an enjoyable read. The battle scenes in particular are superbly detailed and the first half of the book moves along with pace and vigour. Gale’s touch is less sure in the second half, however, and the characterization becomes more laboured particularly with the introduction of Duglay-Trouin. Matters improve considerably when the siege enters its final stages and Gale is on surer ground. The pace increases and Steel does what he’s best at: killing the enemy.