After years spent infiltrating the dark heart of the court of French Sun King Louis XIV, Lieutenant Holcroft Blood is eager to eschew espionage for a ‘quiet berth’ back home in England.
But he has returned to a country in turmoil… many powerful men have grown tired of the brutal, autocratic rule of the new Catholic King James II, rebellion is in the air and there are those who would be willing to invite William, the Protestant Prince of Orange, to seize the throne.
Welcome back to the second book of Angus Donald’s exhilarating adventure series set in the tumultuous years of the 17th century when change, treachery, revolution and famous battles were fought, lost and won across England’s landscape.
These thrilling, all-action historical romps focus on an intriguing real-life character called Holcroft Blood who may well have been a distant cousin of the author, and whose father, Colonel Thomas Blood, gained notoriety as the man who tried to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.
Holcroft became a distinguished military engineer rising to the rank of Brigadier-General and commanding the Duke of Marlborough’s artillery at the Battle of Blenheim. But he was also known to have been shy and mathematically brilliant and, in a stroke of literary genius, Donald portrays him as a man with mild Asperger’s syndrome, allowing his lack of social awareness and tendency to take everything literally to add an edge of dark humour and entertaining unpredictability.
We first met Holcroft as a teenager when he entered the court of King Charles II and soon became an expert at decoding cyphers. It was the launch pad for a dangerous career in which he was both a lead player and an acutely observant witness to the dangerous politicking of the men who jockeyed for power.
After years of intelligence work and ‘its murderous world of deceit and lies,’ gunnery officer Lieutenant Holcroft Blood is glad to be back in the service of His Majesty’s Ordnance in the summer of 1685.
King Charles II has only been dead for a few months but already King James II has made many powerful enemies and soon Holcroft and his good friend, Major-General Jack Churchill, will be called into action when the late king’s illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth, leads a rebellion against James.
But after victory at the Battle of Sedgemoor, in which the rebellion was ruthlessly crushed, and the execution of Monmouth and all those connected with the rebellion at the infamous Bloody Assizes, revolution starts brewing in the gentlemen’s clubs of London.
Soon, Holcroft must decide whether to join the conspirators, including Jack Churchill, now Lord Marlborough, and support Dutch William’s invasion… or remain loyal to his unpopular king.
Meanwhile, a sinister French agent, known only by his code name Narrey, is making his way across the Channel on a deadly mission, and he has one man in his sights… Holcroft Blood.
Donald, author of the much-loved Outlaw Chronicles starring a gangster-style Robin Hood, is a master at weaving fact and fiction… his heart-thumping tales of derring-do are also evocations of fascinating real events with some of history’s most compelling characters mingling with colourful fictional figures.
Here we revisit the days of Glorious Revolution, sometimes called the bloodless revolution, which saw the overthrow of King James II by a union of Parliamentarians and the crowning of Protestant William, Prince of Orange, and James’ daughter Mary as joint monarchs.
All the thrills, spills, dramas and deadly politics are viewed through the prism of the remarkably perceptive and straightforward Holroyd who must stay alive on the battlefield, fight against a venomous hidden enemy, choose between conflicting loyalties, and still find time for some unexpected romance.
There is gripping adventure and fun here aplenty, but there are also captivating history lessons and intriguing insights into both the giants of the time and the smaller men and women who played their parts if only on the periphery.
The next chapter in Holcroft Blood’s exciting, tumultuous career can’t come a moment too soon…
(Zaffre, hardback, £20)