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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sir Read-A-Lot's Review - Golden Hammer & Anvil Shield Award Winner
Balancing a tale steeped in violence whilst making your central character have a semblance of humanity is a difficult task. The life of Sir Thomas Page was violent from the moment he was born, yet David Pilling manages to give this sociopathic character a sense of redemption. He makes no excuse for the life he chose to lead, it was fight or die. As he grew, trained and...
Published on 16 Dec 2012 by Sir Read-A-Lot

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3.0 out of 5 stars Not a bad book. Not as good as I expected it ...
Not a bad book. Not as good as I expected it to be. Parts of it were really promising, it just lacked that little something
Published 2 months ago by shirl


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sir Read-A-Lot's Review - Golden Hammer & Anvil Shield Award Winner, 16 Dec 2012
This review is from: The Half-Hanged Man (Kindle Edition)
Balancing a tale steeped in violence whilst making your central character have a semblance of humanity is a difficult task. The life of Sir Thomas Page was violent from the moment he was born, yet David Pilling manages to give this sociopathic character a sense of redemption. He makes no excuse for the life he chose to lead, it was fight or die. As he grew, trained and fought Page realised the role of a soldier was something he could do well. Just as a Smith turns a lump of iron and steel into a balanced, ornate instrument of death, Page develops from a lowly sentry into a fearsome battle-hardened warrior.

David Pilling's historical research is impeccable and the style of writing harks back to the late 19th Century when characters like Flashman and Quartermain were all the rage. This book will thoroughly entertain you and have you smiling, laughing, shaking your head with disbelief and willing the Half Hanged Man to get through his escapades in order to jump back into another. I absolutely devoured this book in two nights, not wanting to put it down and I am awarding The Half Hanged Man, not only 5 Crosses, but also The Golden Hammer & Anvil Shield Award. David Pilling has written a real "boys own adventure" which thoroughly entertains from beginning to end.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Please give the half hanged man a chance, 2 Dec 2014
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This review is from: The Half-Hanged Man (Kindle Edition)
This is an outstanding book that I came across purely by browsing through the reviews of JPS (an Amazon reviewer who generally has good taste and a gift for analytical writing). I tried to buy a print copy on his/her recommendation but found that The Half Hanged Man is not available in any high street store. This gave me pause for thought as it suggested some form of marginal self-published work, which in my experience equates with at best a good story roughly hewn. For anyone else out there who might leap to that same conclusion and who as a result might not bother to track down a copy or download the kindle version can I offer a few words of reassurance: this is the 'Real Deal', elegantly constructed and thought provoking.

I rarely disagree with any aspect of a JPS review and strongly recommend anyone reading this to scan through and read his/her review of David Pilling's book. However, I think in this case JPS is being a little superficial in describing the majority of the characters in The Half Hanged Man as unpleasant. I believe that in this book David Pilling sets out to show how a romantic (the writer Jean Froissart) is forced to confront the dehumanising nature of war that inevitably destroys his concepts of the chivalrous knight. For example, the young Thomas Page rescues a woman from being raped, but the older and 'wiser' Thomas Page describes this as foolish. I do not for a moment believe David Pilling is describing rape as acceptable, but I believe he is describing Thomas Page as a victim of war because his humanity has been warped. A similar case can be made for each of the 'unpleasant' characters in this book; their actions and views are foul but they have been brought to this low point by circumstances that Froissart is repeatedly told are beyond his comprehension (asides that are probably aimed at the reader as well as the character).

Given the nature of the book, which is dark enough to put it on the boundary between the genres of Historical Fiction and Horror, the unpleasantness of the protagonists is probably less surprising than the brief glimpses of unperverted compassion and generosity which many of them display. It would be difficult to describe this as life affirming and impossible to describe it as light, but it is populated with well-rounded characters. I'd like to contrast this with Ken Follett's 'World Without End' which is set in a similar period. I thoroughly enjoyed World Without End and would happily award it 4 stars, but the villains in Ken Follett's book are wicked and hence wicked things happen. In Pilling's book the characters are in a wicked time and hence become wicked.

In conclusion I am amazed that this gem of a book has such a low profile. I've tried to think why and remain largely defeated. The most negative of the reviews simply states 'The final part of the story was told from the perspective of a thoroughly dislikeable character'. I would argue that represents a strength rather than a weakness, we are let into the mind of a monster and shown that even he has some redeeming features. My only criticism is that the book is a little too short and the leap between the first section exclusively centred on Thomas Page to the excellent middle section dealing with the Raven was a little too abrupt and would have been better if Pilling had contrived another narrator as it is accompanied by a change from a tale told in the first person to the third person.

I would like to end as I began with a plea to the publishers: Please give The Half Hanged Man a chance
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4.0 out of 5 stars English mercenaries during the Hundred Years' War, 25 Sep 2014
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This review is from: The Half-Hanged Man (Kindle Edition)
This is a well-researched and well-thought out book which, even if not perfect, would deserve to be much more widely known. It is the story of a fictitious character, one Thomas Page, who left England (in a bit of a hurry) to fight on the Continent in the hope of earning a living, and perhaps even a fortune, like thousands of other English and Welshmen. Many never came back and of those who did, only a few were really enriched by the wars on the Continent.

This book brings together the three main ingredients that I want to find in pieces of historical fiction: an original plot, a cast of interesting and realistic characters (which are here also mostly "unpleasant") and a historical context that has been meticulously researched.

About the plot, the first point is that the tone of this book is dark, unlike Bernard Cornwell's Harlequin series and Christian Cameron's "the Ill-Made Knight", which are also about English mercenaries and captains during the first part of the Hundred Years War. The story of Thomas Page and his main feats is first told to the chronicler Froissard over several nights in an inn in England by an ex-soldier who has come across hard times. The ploy is similar to that used by Christian Cameron (the hero tells Froissard his own story), but the context is different. In Cameron's book, the story is told in Calais and his hero wears his success on him. He becomes and remains a very successful "war entrepreneur" in command of his own company. Here, the man telling the story and claiming to be the once famous Thomas Page looks like a beggar and Froissard has trouble believing him. His has nothing really "heroic" about him.

However, about half way through, the "hero" disappears. Another narrator is substituted. He tells the rest of Thomas Page's story to Froissard, and in particular what happened to him and his female companion "the Raven". This other narrator is also an ex-mercenary from the Great Companies, an ex-captain, a historical character and an utterly "unpleasant" individual (a very British understatement!) who had a feud with Thomas Page. Another reviewer was somewhat putt off with this twist. I rather liked it and found that he rather adds to the darkening atmosphere that creeps up onto you as you read through the book. He is also a good way of introducing the reader to one of the most notorious of the English mercenary captains.

The second main point is about the cast of characters. With the exception of the hero, his mistress and Froissard himself, who are just about sympathetic, just about all other characters are generally unpleasant, with some being simply atrocious. The author seems to have had a field day in making them as awful as he could. He had ample grounds and more than enough historical material to back this up with. Charles the Bad, King of Navarre among numerous other titles) was one of the worst. Pedro the Cruel comes in a very close second, almost neck and neck with Hugh Calverley. Even Bertrand du Guesclin, portrayed as a "hero" in French schools, is not spared, although his ruthlessness and his ability to wring money from his employers to pay his troops, regardless of the methods used, are backed by evidence, and did a lot for his reputation among his fellow professional soldiers and warlords.

In all cases (these and others in the book), the author has privileged the "dark side", presumably because this is what he wanted to show. My point here is that most of the characters are portrayed in an unfavourable, but nevertheless quite truthful, light. It may however not have been the whole truth and there is a certain "lack of nuances" in the characterisations. This is where I had a bit of a problem (although not much, to be frank). A related issue is that the author tends to take historical sources quite literally, regardless of whatever biases they may have. The reputation of at least some of the characters has suffered and been blackened by their enemies, often after their death. It is therefore sometimes difficult to be sure that they really were "that bad." A typical example was Charles the Bad, whose claims to the throne of France and the Duchy of Burgundy were probably better than those of Edward III and the Valois, and the Valois, respectively. Note however that he was quite awful all the same, and he did have a soft spot for using poisons to resolve "problems", as is very well shown in the book. Another character which may have been blackened by unfavourable sources (this time Ayala) was Pedro the Cruel, who received his nickname after his death but seems to have deserved it. He certainly did have a strong tendency to kill anyone who disagreed to solve his problems, including his nobility, and this, of course, did not exactly make him popular with them, as also shown in the book. However, he may not have been much worse than either his half-brother Henri (who ended up by assassinating him with his own hands) or the King of Aragon. Moreover, as shown by the author, Pedro was the legitimate heir to the crown of Castile, despite his father's efforts to side-line him in favour of his mistress' numerous children, of which Henri of Trastamare was the eldest. Another quibble here is that the latter is portrayed by the author as being just as untrustworthy as his half-brother, but, unlike for Pedro, David Pillings does not demonstrate this in the novel.

The last point is the historical context, which is mostly well-depicted. Thomas Page's claim to fame is fictional. In reality, taking castles and towns during night attacks was a gascon speciality, and the same captains had done it before and would do it again a few years after the events depicted in the book. Nevertheless, it is plausible that Thomas Page could have had the idea and shown the strategic value of the place to the other captains. It is also plausible that this display of a good strategic and tactical mind would have led a number of soldiers to trust him and allowed him to build up his own company.

One excellent theme which is shown time and again across the book is that the awful reputation of the Great Companies was very often the result of the very shabby ways in which their employers treated them. At a time when they was no commissariat, and when these professional soldiers often went unpaid or only paid part of their dues, even assuming they were hired, it is hardly surprising that they had to "live on the country". Also well shown is that pillaging was "normal practice" on all sides but for the mercenaries, it was both a means to survive and to hope get rich (together with ransoming) in what was essentially the "business of war". A related theme, also well shown, is that all of these mercenary captains were constantly trying to get paid by their employers the monies that were their due according to their contracts and that these employers were procrastinating or simply not paying because they often had run into too much debt and could not afford to, as was the case for both the King of England and the King of France. In some extreme cases, such as that of Charles of Navarre, impertinent creditors could get into serious trouble if they pushed their claims a bit too strongly. In other cases, such as that of Hugh Calverley, it was years or even decades before their claims were at least partly settled, if at all.

The other events related in the book - the battle of Auray in 1364 that put an end to the Breton Succession War and the expeditions to Castile up to and including the battle of Najera in 1367 - are also well told. One little "glitch" that was necessary for the story was to have Thomas Page on the side of the Franco-Bretons. This is an invention as all of the English fought on the same side, at least this time. Although some events are omitted or simplified, this happens to work quite well given the format chosen by the author. The narrator telling his story does allow for short cuts. A potential problem, however, is that this limits, sometimes considerably, the amount of context that the author can provide as part of the narratives.

This is perhaps what was missing a bit in this book. If it had included another fifty pages or so, and used this extra space to provide more context about, for instance, the Great Companies and the events in Spain. Very little is included about the whole period between 1367 and 1395, when the story is being told to Froissard. In other words, and quite tellingly, my main "criticism" about this book is that I wanted more of it. Four strong stars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful Stuff, 12 Jan 2014
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This review is from: The Half-Hanged Man (Kindle Edition)
Wow - that was my reaction as I read the last lines, leaving me feeling stunned, drained. Weird really that such a powerful emotion could be found in a book - a testament to the authors skills. Needless to say it was very well written, describing very succinctly the life and demise of a man of violence, in that ever grey world of medieval warfare. Would recommend to all.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended, 9 Dec 2012
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Thoroughly recommended. A master class in storytelling. I cannot praise this highly enough and will most certainly be purchasing more titles from this author
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not a bad book. Not as good as I expected it ..., 2 Oct 2014
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Not a bad book. Not as good as I expected it to be. Parts of it were really promising, it just lacked that little something
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book, 22 Sep 2014
This review is from: The Half-Hanged Man (Kindle Edition)
Very interesting book with great attention to detail. I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially all the historical background.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An unusual read, 19 July 2014
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This review is from: The Half-Hanged Man (Kindle Edition)
An unusual story, well written, and well worth the read.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An author who doesn't understand his readers, 13 Mar 2014
This review is from: The Half-Hanged Man (Kindle Edition)
This book started well and the central characters were engaging. Unfortunately the author seemed to run out of ideas and decided to completely change direction such that the main character became a sideshow. The final part of the story was told from the perspective of a thoroughly dislikeable character about even more dislikeable characters and thankfully petered out leaving a sour taste. Probably not quite worth the 3 quid I paid!
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The Half-Hanged Man by David Pilling
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