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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A triumph! My favourite of the series, 3 July 2014
By 
Kate (Oxford, Oxon United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
Sir Alan Dale and Robin Hood, Earl of Locksley, are back and how good it is to see them! If you've not read the previous novels in Angus Donald's superb Outlaw Chronicles - and why not? - then be warned that you might want to stop right here.

The year is 1203 and the Earl of Locksley has a new master. With Richard the Lionheart long dead, his youngest brother John is now King of England and Duke of Normandy, neither of which title is safe. Philip of France is driving John from his Normandy lands while stirring up John's nephew Arthur to threaten his English throne. Infamous rebel, Robin of Locksley is given the chance by John to win back his titles and land. They will be his reward for three years' service to a king that no-one can trust. Sir Alan Dale's sword follows his master's and, against all better judgement, both men soon find themselves leading their mercenaries, the Wolves, into combat in France.

Initially, Robin and Alan must fight against Arthur, the young Duke of Brittany, finally beating the youth who is no more than a pawn in this war between kings. Arthur's fate - his mysterious but no doubt violent end - is a source of fascination to medieval historians and novelists alike, particularly concerning the role of John himself. The deed itself probably took place in the darkest of dungeons and 800 years of history has done nothing to lighten the mystery but in The Iron Castle Angus Donald presents one of the most unforgettable portraits of Arthur that I've read. The personal involvement of Alan in his capture and imprisonment is wonderfully done, bringing history to life. At one point, I almost shouted out loud on my bus as I reached a moment of such great tension I could hardly stand it. This is confident, assured storytelling at its finest.

But with one crisis over, another one begins and much of the novel presents the siege of Château Gaillard, Richard I's greatest fortress, now threatened by Philip of France's army and the power of his mighty siege engines. Robin and Alan, with their Wolves, are among the defenders on the inside, who have to battle not only Philip but also the overwhelming numbers of townspeople who have taken refuge behind these strong walls, draining the castle of its food and resources. Every arrow counts when there are none to replace them.

There is something about siege warfare that can, if done well, add whole new levels of tension and thrills to historical fiction and Angus Donald does this better than well. The attacks are relentless, the ingenuity of the defenders and attackers soars, and the suffering of the townspeople is overwhelming. There is heroism but just as evident is the utter misery, torment and squalour of a medieval siege.

What intensifies the situation even further is the very nature of the king that Robin, Alan and all the other brave men who live and die within these walls and baileys are fighting for. John's character is a highlight of The Iron Castle - the perfect unkingly mix of cowardice, ambition and greed. Alan repeatedly asks Robin if John is worth their swords. The reader might be inclined to agree with Alan. But Robin has his own agenda. Loyalties are further blurred by the family ties that knights would have shared across political borders. Alan has family in France and facing him in the siege. He just has to hope they won't kill each other.

Women are few and far between in The Iron Castle, especially without Nur and Goodie. But Matilda Gifford, the daughter of a fellow knight in arms, is an entertaining figure who shows us that Sir Alan is still a young man with much to learn. Intriguingly, sections of the novel are framed by Alan's words from the distant future, which remind us how the same mistakes continue to be made generation after generation.

I have enjoyed each of the novels in The Outlaw Chronicles. I love their treatment of Robin, Alan and their men. Robin and Alan's relationship is not always an easy one but its roots go deep and it is explored so well by Angus Donald. I read most of The Iron Castle in one sitting. It's such an exciting, thrilling adventure but it is also full of life and lives, pulled from history and given breath on the page. With no doubt at all, this is my favourite of the series and also a contender for my top historical fiction read of 2014. This series might be six books long now but it goes from strength to strength - a remarkable achievement for the author and an absolute pleasure for the reader. I'm grateful for the review copy.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The fall of the Angevin Empire, 13 July 2014
By 
JPS - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This is a rather remarkable historical novel that has all the ingredients to be a superb and thrilling read. The story, told by Alan Dale, is the sixth episode of the Outlaw Chronicles featuring a very realistic and somewhat cynical Robin of Locksley (our Robin Hood), this time as a lord and captain of mercenaries. The three tears covered by this book are those of the rather desperate defence of the beleaguered Angevin Empire, and of Normandy in particular, against the Bretons, the rebellious barons of King John and the Philip, the relentless King of France bent on destroying it. It is, of course, preferable to have read the previous books, but it is not absolutely necessary, contrary to many other series.

Anyway, there is plenty of drama, battles and, above all, the protracted and heroic siege of Château-Gaillard. As usual with Angus Donald, these are told vividly, and in a terribly realistic way. As usual also, the author has followed the historical record very closely, and taken the trouble to indicate in his historical note exactly where he has taken a few liberties and introduced a bit of creative fiction for the purpose of his plot.

The historical characters are rather well drawn. As the author freely admits, he has not given King John half the credit that is owed to him for his rather stunning victory at Mirebeau, because he wanted the credit to go to Des Roches, and to Robin in particular. The assault on Mirebeau where the Norman-English forces took the Bretons and the Lusignans by surprise is told rather superbly. It was a rather crushing victory which delivered just about all the rebel leaders into the hands of King John in addition to his young nephew Arthur (the son of Geoffrey, his deceased elder brother). What is amazing, however, and well shown in the book, is that John did not take advantage of it. Also amazing is the way he left the besieged garrison to its fate after the first effort to break the siege failed.

One may perhaps quibble a bit with the author’s depiction of John, with the author painting as a very unsympathetic, cruel, weak and traitorous character, but then it seems that he was all that. He certainly was one of England's "Bad Kings" and he stands in marked contrast to his predecessor the Lionheart because of his poor soldiering and leadership, at a time when both were so important. However, one can only agree with the author’s statement (in his historical note) and the point he makes in this book: John largely lost the war and Normandy because his French barons, and the Norman ones in particular, abandoned him and switched sides. This was partly because of Philippe’s skilful efforts in detaching them from John, but this was also very much helped by their distrust with regards their Duke (and King).

While the disappearance of Arthur, presumably assassinated on the orders of his uncle, did create a scandal, it is perhaps just as much John’s failures as a military leader, his lack of resolution and the fact that he simply could not be trusted to keep his word which explains the defections he suffered, with each defections making him even more paranoid, suspicious, and inclined to blame others for his failures. This is also well shown in the book. An interesting point made by Angus Donald is to shown that after the fall of Château Gaillard, just about all the other towns, castles and fortresses, including Rouen, Falaise and Caen just surrendered to the French almost without a fight. This is hardly surprising in a way. Since their liege lord John had clearly shown that he was not going to rescue, thereby not abiding to one of his key feudal duties to protect and succour them, they had no reason to hold out on their own. The stubborn and desperate defence put up by De Lacy at Château Gaillard turned out to be quite pointless, however heroic.

The masterpiece of this book is the siege itself. It allows the author to display just about all the elements of a medieval siege including bombardment by stone throwers, assault along a causeway built by the besiegers with a belfry, mining the walls with cats and terrible fighting underground, assaulting breaches, and the effects of hunger on the besieged when such sieges were protracted. All the episodes of the siege are perfectly historical, except perhaps for the countermining and although if the fortress was not betrayed, as the author admits. This feature adds however an additional dimension to this story and it is quite easy to understand why the author has introduced it: it adds a bit of drama and makes the book into a bit of thriller, on top of everything else.

One thing that is perhaps missing is that the book does not show that John lost far more than just Normandy. He also lost Maine, Anjou and Touraine, while Poitou, largely held by the Lusignans, switched sides as they paid homage to Philip who had declared the King of England forfeit of his French lands.

All in all, this is both an exciting and a rather superb read which is well worth five stars.

For those wanting to read more on the subject, there is “The Loss of Normandy” by F. M. Powincke (in Studies of the Angevin Empire), the Plantagenet Empire, by Martin Aurell, and for those interesting in Château Gaillard in particular, Norman Castles (2) from Christopher Gravett offers a good little introduction.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At the top of his genre, 12 July 2014
Now, unusually, the Iron Castle has been out a week before I’ve got my review up. Why? Simple: I have had a plethora of books and manuscripts to read all arriving in a short time and most of which will never see the light of review day, but all had deadlines. And shuffling them around, one thing was clear… Angus Donald’s Outlaw novels do not deserve to be shoe-horned into the middle of such a rush. They deserve to be savoured like a 12 year old single malt. So I have taken my time and enjoyed every nuance of the book.

Anyone who’s followed my blog or my Goodreads or Amazon reviews will know my opinion of Angus’ books. They are one of the top series of historical fiction out there. I have enjoyed each of the books, though I have always maintained that the best in the series was King’s Man (the third of six). Well, the Iron Castle might just topple that for me.

I think that anyone who’s read the first five books will agree that with the death of the Lionheart and the somewhat off-shoot nature of the plot of book five, we all wondered how the interactions and situations would work with King John on the throne, what with Robin being such a loyal follower of Richard. How could the series continue to work? Well the good news is that with this return to the intrigues and dangers of interacting with the Plantagenet dynasty, the whole feel of the book has actually taken a step up rather than down. Serving a man the protagonists dislike more than the enemy has its own special fascination and informs not only the plot of the book, but the deeds and desires of the characters.

So what’s it about? Well you know I avoid spoilers as much as possible, but there are certain things I think I can say without ruining anything for you. Through Robin’s desire for settled security for his wife and children, he finds himself taking an oath to John. Through Alan’s ongoing fealty to Robin, so does Alan. Both men therefore find themselves dragged to France to take part in John’s wars over the ownership of Normandy, with King Phillip of France looming in the east, Arthur of Brittany in the west and other troublesome characters in the south. The defence of the crown land of Normandy would look utterly daunting were it not for one thing: the route for Phillip into Normandy is guarded by Chateau Gaillard, the great Iron Castle built by King Richard a few years earlier. This imposing and unconquerable fortress is the one great bastion holding the enemy from John’s lands. I think you can probably see where this is going, particularly given the book’s title. Expect a siege. I did.

The siege of Chateau Gaillard is a familiar event to many lovers of medieval history, and was one of the most brutal of the age. It made it recently onto Dan Snow’s TV series Battle Castle. Given the fact that I was already familiar with the siege and many years ago spent a day exploring the ruins of the castle, I was particularly interested to see how Angus handled the great and horrible event. The answer is: masterfully. There are a few books out there that have portrayed a siege in a fashion that actually had me sweating and biting my nails for the heroes as I read. Nick Brown’s ‘Siege’. Douglas Jackson’s ‘Hero of Rome’ and Paul Fraser Collard’s ‘Maharajah’s General’ are three of the best. The Iron Castle has now joined that list. It has all the tension, glory, despair and horror of a Zulu or a Masada and more. The fate of the ‘Useless Mouths‘ still leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth.

And as the threads of the characters and plot weave about the siege, there is a hint of treachery and betrayal that informs some of the more critical events and which will leave the reader guessing until the very end.

The main characters continue to grow, which is pleasing, especially six books into a series. Robin is becoming a straighter, less despicable character, which had to happen with Royal commission and a family. Alan seems to have finally tipped past that point where the concerns of youth guide his hand – he’s been heading that way for three books – and is now a grown man in all respects.

Simply, this series is a long way from done, clearly. Book six reaches heights I had not expected and injects new strength into the Outlaw books.

The Iron Castle is now available in hardback and various e-formats. Go buy it, people, and see how a siege is written.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars None, 15 July 2014
This review is from: The Iron Castle (Outlaw Chronicles) (Kindle Edition)
awesome book once again from this great author.cant wait to see what he will write next.must be one of the modern great historical authors there has been.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exciting and a gripping read, 14 Aug 2014
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I've really enjoyed this book which I think is 5th in the Robin Hood series. If like me you want an action packed read, you've got it here. I grew up watching the BBC series on tv 'Robin Hood' so reading this series has been like meeting up with old friends. I love all the swashbuckling, swords clashing, maces crushing and horses biting and kicking and joining in the battles. Rough, tough men and women. Great read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Robin Hood, 9 Aug 2014
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This review is from: The Iron Castle (Outlaw Chronicles) (Kindle Edition)
This is a very good "read". Without hesitation I recommend it to anyone brought up on the legends of Robin Hood. Once one gets used to the idea of Robin as a ruthless bandit far from committed to the notion of robbing the rich to give to the poor, the story gallops along apace. The "Iron Castle" having fallen to the French as the result of treachery from within coupled with King John's broken promise to send reinforcements, the traitor must be unmasked and punished. The author engenders a suspense which he maintains to the end. I was left guessing until eventually all was revealed.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic!, 15 July 2014
By 
J. Restko (Staten Island NY) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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An awesome conclusion to a great series! It took me only two days to read it. I couldn't put it down!
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5.0 out of 5 stars An Absolutely fantastic read, 8 July 2014
An Absolutely fantastic read which i could'nt put down and read in 4 days, the tension gets cranked up with every attack on the Iron castle and released after Alan and Robin repel the french forces time and again. I eagerly await the next in the series!
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5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing read...as all in this series have been! I want more!, 1 Aug 2014
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This review is from: The Iron Castle (Outlaw Chronicles) (Kindle Edition)
An absolutely brilliant story. Written so well that I was unable to put the book down. I would love to hear of more exploits. Maybe we will have some of the spin-off short stories to help fill the gaping chasm that will exist without Sir Alan Dale and his Lord Robert Odo.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Alan a Dale tells of a different Robin Hood!, 25 July 2014
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I have enjoyed the rest of the books in this ongoing story and I have found a different view of Robin Hood and his Merry Men!! The characters are believable and are brought to life in a literary triumph for Angus Donald.
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