The King's Assassin (Outlaw Chronicles) Paperback – 2 Jun 2016
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It is flippin' marvellous! ... One of my favourite series! (Kate Atherton Kate Atherton)
The King's Assassin is the latest breathtaking instalment in Angus Donald's bestselling Robin Hood series the Outlaw Chronicles, taking his hero into the year of Magna CartaSee all Product description
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This historical adventure revolves around the creation of the Magna Carter and through the book the reader comes to realise it was more than some unhappy nobles that brought it about. As witnessed in the other books King John was never as good a King as his brother or others but even Robin remarks that not all Kings are perfect.
Yet amongst the backdrop of the Great Charter past decisions made by Robin and Alan have arisen in the form of traitors and danger both on and off the battlefield. It is a nice reflection of how the Kings past choices have built up the demand for Magna Carter and how even on an individual level can resonate years later and impact those closest to you.
It was another truly exciting read and I particularly liked the new turn with the narrative technique used between each section. It is a worthy end for one character and also a worthy start for the end of the series. I believe many a tear will be shed as we follow the Lord of Sherwood one final time.
Many reviewers (myself included, at times) have focused on the author’s somewhat original take of Robin Hood, the ambivalence of the character, at times the outlaw known through folklore and legend but also the Anglo-Norman lord. The other main feature of this version of Robin Hood is the author’s choice to depict him in a “realistic” way. He may be the hero, alongside the narrator Alan Dale, but he is above all a man of his time, so he is ruthless and not particularly interested in defending the poor, except perhaps when these are his vassals. More than anything else, he is faithful and devoted to his family, to his household and to his word, as a feudal lord of the early 13th century was expected to be.
Above all, Robin, Alan and the rest of their troop are knights, professional warriors and even warlords. They fought for Richard Lionheart in previous books. They also unsuccessfully defended Normandy in the previous volume. In this one, they take part in King John’s attempts to reconquer his lands in France during the year 1214 and Angus Donald have them participate in the battle of Bouvines. In this battle, the coalition of a few French (the Count of Boulogne in particular, but also a number of exiled Norman knights), the Flemish with their Count Ferrand, the Germans with Emperor Otho, nephew of King John, and the English forces commanded by the William Longsword Earl of Salisbury (and John’s bastard half-brother) was disastrously and decisively defeated by the French King Philippe II (self-styled) Augustus.
Here again, and is in previous volumes, the author comes up with a detailed and carefully researched narrative of the campaigns and war in Flanders and an outline of King John’s plan and his own campaign in Poitou. The main reasons for the failure of these campaigns, which could have destroyed the Capetian monarchy, are also well presented. In particular, the leadership failures on the side of the allies at Bouvines, where no one was in undisputed command and where the three main battlegroups (Flemish, German and English), failed to take advantage of their early successes, failed to support each other and were defeated in detail by the French.
He also shows to what extent the coalition mentioned above was put together and financed by King John’s treasury, with this being at least one of the main causes of the oppressive and crushing taxes that he forcibly levied in England. Along with King John’s increasingly tyrannical behaviour and the growing reactions that it created, Angus Donald also manages to convey the huge and increasing loss of trust and respect that his subjects, and the Church and his warrior nobility in particular, developed as his attempts to reconquer his lost lands in France failed one after the other at huge cost.
More generally, the presentation of medieval warfare is a rather interesting one. There is a particularly good piece on the attack of Flemish port holding out for the French. There are however a few details that may be questionable. For instance, the English do not seem to have made much use of longbows in battle during the last decades of the 12th century and the first couple of decades of the 13th century, and even less so of bodkin (armour piercing) arrows. These were in fact borrowed from the Welsh much later on. Instead, they also used crossbows. The point here is that the “Crecy/Azincourt” like showers of arrows that decimate French chivalry are somewhat anachronistic, although they do contribute to making a rather superb story.
The second – and closely related - set of features that you will find in this book relate to the increasingly unstable situation in England, with the Kingdom on the brink of civil war. It is to this context that the book’s title refers, although I will refrain from any further explanation to avoid spoilers. Here again, and in relation to the book’s titles, the author has based his narrative on historical facts, although he may have embellished them and taken some liberties for the sake of his novel. Once more, Angus Donald presents a faithful description of the grievances of the nobility, the Church and the burgesses of London and of the rather atrocious behaviours of King John and of his sheriffs. King John did, among other “nasty and unsavoury” habits, have a tendency to summarily imprison those that disagreed with him and to starve his captives to death, among other abuses.
This did lead to one of the most famous clauses inserted into what is known as Magna Carta, the story of which is quite well told, with bits and pieces of fiction carefully woven around the known historical facts. The reaction of King John, who first refused it and outlawed all those who had petitioned him, before being forced to putt his seal to it but with no attention to abide by his word, is also accurate.
How this turned out, however, will obviously be the subject of a subsequent volume. Given some of the hints found in previous books (and in this one as well), it seems, however, that the author has “skipped” a book and perhaps modified his initial intention to have his heroes involved in the Crusade against the Cathars. While this is understandable, given the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, I can only hope that Angus Donald that he also finds a way to revisit this other promising topic with perhaps yet another volume.
Finally, there is the plot, or rather the continuation of the story of the main fictional characters, and of Robin and Alan, and their respective families, in particular. The story starts in 1213, some nine years after the previous volume which was largely centred on the fall of the Angevin Empire, and the loss of Anglo-Norman Normandy, with the siege of Château-Gaillard figuring rather prominently. As other reviewers have mentioned, the heroes have somewhat aged with Alan in his late thirties and Robin and Little John in their mid to late forties. This comes out in various ways for the three characters, all of which are quite believable and all of which demonstrate that the author has given depth to his characters. One of the most interesting is the fear that increasingly grips one of the heroes and that he barely manages to control before any new battle.
This was yet another superbly excecuted and very entertaining book worth five stars, whatever little quibbles and glitches it may include.
is that some of the places mentioned in the books I live near. I walk pasted some and I can almost see Alan and company. The story telling
is fantastic, the Robin hood tale is timeless well written and a fantastic read. I will miss reading these as the last book is out. If you enjoy adventure bloody battles, romance you will love these. I know I did.
These are billed as Robin Hood stories but the central character is Alan Dale, one of Robin’s lieutenants, with Robin himself often a peripheral character as in this story. In Alan Dale , Angus Donald has created one of the greatest characters in historical fiction, up there with Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe or Uhtred, although a far more sympathetic protagonist than either.
These tales are meant to be a “darker” imagining of the Robin Hood legend, and certainly if compared with the Erroll Flynn or Richard Greene portrayals they are, however the depiction of the harsh realities of life under King John in 13th century England feels a lot more realistic. Alongside the darkness there is always a strong vein of humour running throughout though, particularly the banter between Alan and his comrades, Little John especially.
Several things stand out for me with this author, one is his highly readable prose that actually feels as if writing the book was easy (I’m sure that’s not the case) making a very easy experience for the reader. The pace of all of his books is very fast, and these are among the most action packed historical adventures you’ll find. Where he stands out the most however is his depiction of the many fight scenes. Having read many other authors in this genre I do consider Angus Donald to be the absolute best at this. Anyone who grew up with Boy’s Own adventures or perhaps the Victor comic’s historical adventure strips will love this, although this is very much for grownups.
Wonderful ending to the King’s Assassin to, but I won’t spoil that for prospective readers.