Even as the third novel in Michael Arnold’s Civil War odyssey hits the shelves, it can never be too late to wax lyrical about this outstanding historical series.
Our brave, cynical, battle-scarred hero, Royalist Captain Innocent Stryker, has reached the bleak landscape of Dartmoor and the urge is to shout from the highest Devon tor that these are just the kind of clever and all-round entertaining action books to ignite a passion for the past, the land we inhabit and the ancestors who shaped our future.
Arnold’s thrilling adventure stories provide a chronological timeline of the Civil War that split England apart, a geographical map of the conflict’s major battlegrounds and a snapshot of the men – and women – who became embroiled in the bitter, raw and very personal, struggle.
Stryker is a man for all seasons, a professional soldier who cares more for his men than the cause. His warriors are tough and loyal, his enemies are fanatical and ruthless and his battles are brutal and merciless.
The air is filled with cordite, the war cries are fearsome and blood is spilled in gallons but Stryker, along with his motivations and his dangerous missions, is as complex and absorbing as the politics of 17th century England.
In Hunter’s Rage, we find Stryker, his tough, right-hand man Sgt Will Skellen and the rest of his troop stationed in the bleak wilderness of Dartmoor, hostile territory – in more sense than one – in staunchly Parliamentarian Devon.
An enemy unit is advancing and they have been forced to retreat into the hills ‘like deers in the face of hounds’ and make their way back to Royalist Cornwall.
But when an elite Roundhead cavalry unit, commanded by the formidable Colonel Gabriel Wild, makes a surprise attack, all is not quite lost. Wild’s heavily-loaded ammunition wagon is seized by Stryker, making him the hero of the moment but the mortal enemy of an incandescent Colonel Wild.
Stryker is faced with the annihilation of his company as he is hounded across the moor, eventually seeking shelter on an isolated tor, home to an enigmatic former priest who harbours no love for the cause of King Charles.
Meanwhile, Wild is being assisted in his revenge by the clever and sadistic Osmyn Hogg, Parliamentarian Witchfinder, who shares his own deadly history with Stryker, and there’s added intrigue and danger in the shape of a damsel in distress, beautiful but mysterious Cecily Cade.
The battle between Stryker and his formidable foes takes him through the war-ravaged lands of southern England and finally to Stratton, where the bloody battle between Cornwall and Devon will decide the fate of the south-west.
As the series has matured, so too has Stryker and his rapport with the remarkable band of foot regiment brothers who have followed him from the Battle of Edgehill and the bloody rout of Cirencester to the siege of Lichfield, the killing fields of Hopton Heath and the Battle of Stratton.
Intelligent plotting, historical accuracy, heart-pounding battle scenes and a memorable cast of characters are the hallmarks of Arnold’s remarkable series.
Captain Stryker, we are promised, will return...
(John Murray, hardback, £17.99)