Hereward: Wolves of New Rome by James Wilde
Please note Hereward: Wolves of New Rome is the fourth book in an on-going series. It is entirely possible that this review might contain spoilers if you haven’t read what has come before. Don’t come crying to me and say you haven’t been warned.
1072 – The great battle has been lost. King William stands victorious. And for the betrayed and abandoned English rebels, the price of their crushing defeat is cruel: exile.
Cut adrift from family, friends, home, their hopes of survival lie with one man, their leader Hereward. But can even that now-legendary hero navigate a safe course across a world torn by war? Their ultimate destination is the jewelled heart of the Christian emperor in the East, the New Rome – Byzantium. Here the English hope to find gold and glory by joining those pledged to protect the emperor, the elite and savage Varangian Guard. But this once-mighty empire is slipping into shadow. Beyond the vast walls, the endless Turkish hordes plan for an attack that could come at any moment. And within the sprawling city, rival factions threaten bloody mayhem as they scheme to seize the crown.
Here begins a new chapter in the stirring tale of England’s forgotten hero. But now the enemies are hidden, their methods bloodier, the battlefield and weapons unfamiliar and to stay alive in this cauldron of plot, betrayal and murder, Hereward and the English must fight as never before.
Four books in and I’m glad to report that the Hereward series is still going strong. James Wilde has taken a little-known English hero and created a wonderfully evocative series of stories fleshing out the bare bones of what has become almost legend.
Book four begins on a sour note for our stalwart leader. Hereward and company have been handed a significant defeat by their arch-nemesis, King William. That defeat has left them with little choice but exile from their home. This is one of the things I enjoy most about this series. Hereward isn’t the indomitable hero you find in other fiction. He is fallible and he doesn’t always win the day. It’s nice to come across a protagonist who faces genuine struggles, both external and internal (more on that later).
Leaving England far behind, the sword-brothers head towards a new life in the city of Constantinople. Needless to say their travels are nothing even close to straight forward. Before they know it, the group are embroiled in more intrigue than is strictly healthy. Hereward has to lead his group against seemingly impossible odds in an effort to not only survive but to flourish in unfamiliar foreign lands.
Though Hereward remains the focus of the novel, the other characters are equally as important. Alric the monk is still on hand to act as Hereward’s guide and mentor. The two have faced so much together now, they are like family. Alric is one of the few who can see beneath the hot headed Mercian’s often wild exterior. There are some quite intense moments between Hereward and Alric in this book as secrets that have been left hidden are finally revealed. The outcome of these revelations have the potential to change the dynamic of their relationship forever.
Nice to see Kraki and the rest of the sword brothers are still round, Mad Hengist is a personal favourite. The back and forth banter between these men highlights the strong sense of kinship they all feel for one another. They complain and moan about their lot in life, but as soon as they get a sniff of battle they are all business. The feeling of brotherhood that exists between them is almost palpable. You get the impression that they would gladly die for one another.
When it comes to the new characters that are introduced, Wilde plays his cards close to his chest. Just exactly who can be trusted? Who is a friend and who is a foe? The various factions attempting to gain control in Byzantium are a sneaky, power hungry bunch. I’ll say no more than that, for fear of major spoilers. The important thing is that Hereward needs to learn how to separate the good from the bad; his life and the life of his men depends on it.
There is bucket-loads of action to enjoy, but it is also worth noting that there is a far more cerebral element to this novel as well. Hereward continues to do battle with his inner demons. The rage that has plagued him for years still manages to hold sway from time to time. In those instances his unquenchable fury always ends in blood. When the red mist descends, our hero is driven by a primal urge and has to be restrained. It’s fascinating to see the conflict this causes within the group. As I’ve mentioned before, Hereward’s sword brothers are a loyal bunch but there are instances where even they question his leadership.
Though this is book four, it does also feel like the beginning of something new. The action has moved away from events in England, and with so many plots and counter-plots going on in Constantinople, there is a larger sense of scale to this novel than we’ve seen previously. The outcome of all this plotting won’t just reshape a village or a country, the politics unfolding in Constantinople will reshape an entire empire.
This is why this series is my favourite on-going historical fiction. James Wilde is as skilled at battle scenes as he is at court intrigue. He knows exactly how to keep a reader glued to every single word. If you haven’t already discovered these books, you really are missing a treat. Do yourself a favour though, start at book one. There is so much adventure to be had.
Hereward: Wolves of New Rome is published by Bantam Press and is available now. The fifth book in the series Hereward: The Immortals will be available in hardback from the 30th July. I can’t recommend this author and this book highly enough.