The Earl Strongbow (The Invader Series)

Written by Ruadh Butler
Review by Tom Graham

Ruadh Butler’s series about the Norman conquest of Ireland continues with The Earl Strongbow, picking up a week after the events of Lord of the Sea Castle. Strongbow’s small advance force have secured their bridgehead on Ireland’s south coast and await his arrival from Wales with an army big enough to assault Waterford.

Or, rather, to assault a place called Veðrarfjord. Butler clearly has a great passion for the period and culture, but using historically accurate names creates big problems for a casual reader. It’s hard to get a flow going when characters are called Mael Sechlainn Ua Fhaolain and Sigtrygg Mac Giolla Mhuire – and Butler’s leaden prose, where sentences are either short and dull (“The woman was beautiful”), or punctuation-free and tedious (“Sir Hervey de Montmorency was bone tired as he urged his horse down the bank and onto the causeway of slippery black logs which crossed the creek.”), hardly helps. But – and it’s a big but – readers who can get past this will find themselves in a rollicking, fast-paced adventure, full of proper medieval hacking and slashing. Butler’s description of a shield wall advancing into a heavy bombardment of slings and arrows is so gripping it could have come from a Bernard Cornwell novel, and in this genre there can be no higher praise. Thank goodness also for Raymond de Carew, the protagonist, who holds everything together here. His bravery, sensitivity, and outrageously brilliant military tactics make him very easy to root for.

The first half of this novel is a real slog, but the final act is breathlessly superb, as Raymond’s cunning and invention come to the fore again. Butler’s strengths are battles and campaigning, and readers who can handle his style will be rewarded.