Hereward: The Immortals by James Wilde
Hereward: The Immortals is part of an ongoing series, book five for those keeping track. As such it is entirely likely that this review will contain spoilers if you haven’t read the splendid tomes that have preceded it. With that warning in mind move forward at your own peril.
1073 – under the merciless sun of the east, a dark force has risen – a Norman adventurer who could rival the feared King William for bloody ambition. He has conquered his land, he has built his fortress and he has amassed his army. And now he has taken Constantinople’s ruler as his prisoner…
It falls to Hereward to rescue this precious captive. For this great English warrior-in-exile and his spear-brothers, it will mean mounting a raid that could prove the most dangerous and deadliest of their lives. Assisting them in their task will be an elite and legendary band of fighters, the Immortals – so-called because they believe they cannot die in battle. But it will not be enough – for enemies hide within the jewelled heart of Byzantium: vipers who spread their poison, who want to see the English dead at any cost and who are to transform a mission that was at best dangerous into an adventure that is now suicidal. . .
With this rousing adventure full of brutal sword play, treachery, camaraderie and honour, James Wilde continues his bestselling account of the action-packed life and times of England’s great and now, thanks to his his fiction, perhaps not-so-forgotten hero – Hereward the Wake.
If you reach the stage where you are five books into any series, then there is a good chance you can probably consider yourself a bit of a fan. I think however it is reasonable to have different expectations from book five as you have for book one. James Wilde is well aware of this fact and has made a point allowing his characters the opportunity to evolve as this series has continued. The character of Hereward himself is a prime example. In book one, he was little more than a berserker, barely managing to contain his anger. As the books have expanded the narrative of his life he has become far more. Now he is a leader of men, a man that others are willing to fight and die for.
When book four, The Wolves of New Rome, ended, Hereward and his spear-brothers had reached their lowest ebb. Having left England and William the Bastard far behind, they had fought their way across Europe and finally reached Constantinople, only to discover the city was a hotbed of political infighting and murder. The group of warriors were forced to start afresh, right at the very bottom of the heap. Still smarting from past defeats, they desperately needed some good luck. We know from past experience however that things for Hereward and friends never seems comes easy.
Along with all the familiar returning faces – Kraki, Alric, Mad Hengist et al, Wilde also adds some new characters to inject fresh perspective into proceedings. I particularly like Salih ibn Zayid. Featured initially in The Wolves of New Rome, the character has been further developed and is turning into a firm favourite. You just can’t beat a nomad warrior with dark bloody vengeance issues. He is the perfect balance of enigmatic and sociopathic. Meanwhile in Constantinople, there is also Anna Dalassene. Playing the game of politics requires razor sharp wits and a strong stomach. Anna proves she is more than a match for anyone in that regard.
My favourite thing about this series still remains evident in book five. Hereward, the man, is far from perfect. He makes mistakes and has to live the consequences of his actions. It is consistently fascinating to explore characters who are living with the medieval equivalent of PTSD. Hereward is like a shell shocked soldier, forced time and time again to battle his way out of the situations he finds himself in. That constant, violent grind is going to leave its mark on anyone. Hereward relishes unleashing his bloodlust when given the opportunity, but also longs to be free from it all. The duality of the character is what keeps me coming back for more. Each new book does a grand job of further dissecting the nature of this complex, driven man.
There is a nice coda at the end of the novel reminding the reader that there are still matters in England left unresolved. I suspect at some point in the future Hereward will return to the country of his birth. I do hope so.
Wilde has a keen eye for action matched with a talent for plotting that makes each new Hereward adventure a joy to read. The Immortals is no exception to this rule. I could happily wax lyrical about this series all day, every day. The bottom line – if you haven’t discovered them already and you are a fan of historical fiction I suggest that you give them a go. Do yourself a favour though, The Immortals is entirely serviceable if you haven’t read the other books in the series, but works so much better if you have. Take my advice, start with book one. You won’t regret it.
Hereward: The Immortals is published by Bantam Press and is available now. I’ll admit that the Hereward series are my favourite examples of historical fiction novels currently available. Highly recommended.