Talbot Company: A Story of War and Suffering

Written by Michael Regal
Review by Katherine Mezzacappa

This is the story of a ‘free company’, a band of mercenaries drawn from across Europe, in their tumultuous journey across a continent convulsed by the Thirty Years War to an epic conflict in which all strands come together. Regal knows his history in terms of who was fighting whom, and can stirringly describe a battle, but there are problems of logic and characterisation.

We have phrases like: ‘her heart was pounding like a bird’s’, or ‘his heart stopped’ (it didn’t, or its owner would be dead). A Swedish lord comes back from a day’s hunting to find his castle has been captured, and ‘an odor…like rotting meat…a putrid sweetness…’: is decomposition really so rapid? An inn in rural Lincolnshire has a ‘bartender’, thankfully afterwards described as a tavern keeper, who ‘ran his fingers through his own non-existent hair’. Mine host expels a poacher from his premises, who is then greeted by someone with ‘good morrow’ (it’s the evening). Oddities like ‘we sleep in warm cozy tents beside cozy fireplaces’ follow, and there are some confusing exchanges, such as ‘may I enquire what you know…?’ answered by ‘no I have not’. Polish villagers ignore the arrival of the Talbot Company as just ‘another band of roving mercenaries’; given what we know of that war, would they really be so complacent?

The use of different languages gives a sense of the composition of the Company – and some fun is had with the Fletcher-leche-freccia confusion – but there are mistakes, at least in the German and Italian. Characters confusingly appear and disappear, like for instance someone called Isidro Gonzaga. A Mantuan then? No, he is Spanish.

There is potentially great raw material here, but Regal is not always in control of it; closer proof-reading would have helped.