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on 15 July 2013
The fourth book in a series is, I sometimes find, a stumbling block for an author. The debut can be strong, the second where they find their feet, and the third where they really shine. Often, though, the fourth is where they over-reach, run out of ideas or become formulaic.

I am delighted to say that none of this holds for Michael Arnold's new opus.

Continuing a trend of increasing quality, Assassin's Reign is indeed better even than the excellent Hunter's Rage, which was itself a triumph.

In this fourth book we find the current dour and acerbic Captain Stryker once more called to carry out the clandestine whims of Prince Rupert, though this time his mission will take him far from the companionship of his company and friends, not only deadly danger, but also into a situation that threatens his very soul. While facing dilemmas and impossible choices - torn between two conflicting duties - Stryker comes face to face with an important figure from his past only to uncover a dastardly plot with far-reaching consequences.

As these troubles progress, we are also treated to a separate thread following the resourceful and dangerous spy Lisette, and her search for the heiress Cecily Cade. Gradually, as armies manoeuvre around the country to deal with the crucial fortress of Gloucester, Lysette and her mission converge with Stryker and other, more sinister characters, leading to a masterly crescendo.

Much of the novel revolves - without giving away anything important (no spoilers) - around the siege of Gloucester and while, unlike Arnold's first three books, there is no presentation of a pitched battle in this one, the setting affords for the first time a real opportunity to view the war from both sides of the Royalist/Parliamentarian divide, and also of the Besieged/Besieger one. An opportunity, I may say, that the author takes and makes shine. Where the roundheads are often portrayed in this series as spiteful and harsh puritans (necessarily given the protagonist's viewpoint) here we meet Parliamentarians that both we - and Stryker - can not only understand, but sympathise with and even rally behind. You will like Massie. I promise.

In this fourth installment we learn a little more of Stryker's past while being introduced to a couple of new and interesting characters. Stryker is actually given more depth than previously, displaying the less pleasant side of his character as he wallows in the loss of his friend Andrew in the previous book, and struggling with ethical conundrums. Lysette is given more of a starring role, since for much of the book she is the protagonist of her own plot.

The tale is tense and realistic and the quality of the writing is as good as you would expect if you've read Hunter's Rage and its predecessors, but this particular plot gives Arnold the chance to create a more tense and personal atmosphere than in the previous, more `pitched battle` works.

Stryker and his friends go from strength to strength and if you've not read the earlier books in this series, I urge you heartily to hunt them down and read them. If you have, this fourth book should hit the spot perfectly.

Despite its tenseness and atmosphere, this is an action packed, tense tale with the pace of a cavalry charge and the power of a culverin shot.

Well done again, Mr Arnold.
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on 29 June 2013
This is the fourth outing for Stryker and the gang and by now they have established a successful formula for a cracking good page turner and i am please to report that Assassin`s Reign is a real page turner.One of the strength`s of Michael Arnold books is how he uses the secondary characters in the story and a really nice touch this time,is that it is the Siege of Gloucester that takes centre stage.Stryker is put in the position of having to become a turncoat and take up arms against his own men,when he should be in London to help Lisette get our heroine from Hunter`s Rage Miss Cecily Cade out of the hands of the parliamentarian`s.Michael Arnold puts you right into the heart of the action with detailed research of the period,that has you on the wall`s of Gloucester with the rebel leader Lieutenant Colonel Edward Massie or down in the trenches with Prince Rupert.Once again Stryker pass catches up with him,when Colonel Vincent Skaithlock walk`s back into his life and a even darker plot unfolds.The heroine`s of our story Lisette and Cecily have a rollicking adventure from London to Oxford and then on to the siege at Gloucester as they race to find Stryker and the King.This the fourth Stryker book,show`s that this is a series to be recon with,and as it say`s on the cover "Stryker is the Sharpe of the Civil War,a cracking read.If you are a e-book reader,then Stryker and the Angels of Death is a must read,as it gives us another look into Stryker pass.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 18 July 2013
At the close of each novel, Mike Arnold reassures us that Captain Stryker will return. The wait, though, is not an easy one and it isn't helped by each book proving itself even better than its predecessor. The Stryker Chronicles brings the English Civil War to life in all its blood-spilt, mud-drenched, gunpowder-smoked colour and noise and it has become one of my favourite series of any genre. Not surprisingly, then, Assassin's Reign, the fourth in the series, is every bit as excellent as I knew it would be. This is quite an achievement because the last novel in the series, Hunter's Rage (review here) was among my top books of 2012.

Assassin's Reign could be read as a standalone novel but that would mean you have lost the development of the characters as well as knowledge of key events which have shaped Stryker the soldier and the man. I would suggest you begin with Traitor's Blood (Stryker Chronicles 1).

The focus of the series is always the one-eyed, brutally scarred Captain Stryker. He fights for the Royalist cause but this has much more to do with his loyalties to other men and women than to the King and his generals. He has almost as many enemies among the King's men as he does among Parliament's. Enough battles have been fought now for the blood of good people to have been spilt on both sides and in Assassin's Reign it all becomes much more complicated. We get to learn a little more about the King, we witness the bravery and courage of Gloucester's citizens and their very young military leader and we are presented with the horror and death that the men on both sides of the city's old walls experience. As the Civil War becomes ever more desperate and close, it is harder for men such as Stryker to excuse what they are a part of. Always most important to Stryker, though, is loyalty to Lisette and his men, even more so now that they are fewer in number. The Stryker of Assassin's Reign has become damaged in some ways, even more than the scarred face indicates.

Assassin's Reign is not a novel of big battles. Instead, it tells the determined battle of Gloucester to hold and to Rupert's men to capture it. There is a strong sense that this could be a turning point in the war. The novel is never less than gripping and its depiction of the Civil War is always vivid and powerful. Stryker is an immensely charismatic individual, one we have grown to care for and his inner struggles here are all the more pageturning for that. Lisette makes her return in Assassin's Reign and I liked her here more than I did in the previous novels. Her bravery is outstanding and I found her sections of the novel as exciting as Stryker's.

This is a novel steeped in the time, full of historical and military detail. Its prose also unobtrusively evokes the time. Reading Assassin's Reign it is very apparent how alien this England is to us today and yet its signs are all around us. This series of books has made me hunt them out across the midlands, Oxfordshire, the west and Cornwall. I have become obsessive about searching out plaques, tombstones, bullet holes and battlefields. Now I need to take another closer look at Gloucester. Don't underestimate the power of this series to get under your skin! It brings history alive.
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on 22 August 2014
Another decent outing from Arnold and it fits well in the engaging series so far. I do like them a lot and will readily buy the next one in the series.

I wouldn't say Captain Stryker is memorable, he's not a cardboard, two-dimensional character - the scene-setting, writing and history make it a very good story and a very good series.

This book continues in Arnold's style, not the best of the series, but he constantly writes with passion and it shows. Well done, sir.

David Cook, author of Liberty or Death (The Soldier Chronicles Book 1) and Heart of Oak (The Soldier Chronicles Book 2)
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 June 2013
Review
This latest book in the story of Innocent Stryker is one of brooding malevolence, politics, revenge and heroism. If the English Civil War had been taught in anything remotely this interesting and exciting a way when i was at school, it would have made months of school lessons a joy (yet my history teacher made it worse than watching paint dry).
Mike Arnold has an ability to tell an exhilarating story and imbue it with a rich atmosphere. Bringing to life the sounds smells and horror of battle and the civil war period, providing you with an insight into the mind of a real warrior, not so much a patriot, but a man of war, a man bred to war in all its horror and finding himself at home.
That does not make Stryker a psychopath, just a man who knows his occupation, the good and the bad. Able to bring a sense of personal honour to the fore, who can recognise the valour of others no matter what side they are on, and also the evil no matter the side they are on.
This book takes Innocent on a tour of all his emotions, concern for his lady, fear from the enemy within his own forces, and fear of capture while undercover, the thrill of battle, joy at an old friend and horror of the machinations of the possible assassination of his King.
This truly is Mike Arnolds best work so far and right up there with the best books of 2013, I don't re-read many books, but very much want to with this one, truly a tale by a story teller at the top of his game.
Highly Recommended
(Parm)
Civil War Chronicles
1. Traitor's Blood (2010)
2. Devil's Charge (2011)
3. Hunter's Rage (2012)
4. Assassin's Reign (2013)
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on 16 December 2013
I was quite looking forward to this story having read the previous 3, however I was not overly impressed with this instalment and do hope that this is not a sign of what is to follow in the rest of the series. The plot is becoming predictable and the characters are not evolving with the series. The pace was way to slow and i found myself reading furiously only to be done with the book so I could move on to something a bit more interesting instead.Has too much of the Sharpe about it. Powerful benefactor, uncouth officer, band of brothers, rich officers enemies, scrapes behind enemy lines, damsels in distress .... I could go on. Predictable and slow.
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on 12 September 2013
I have enjoyed all of this series of books. Stryker is a great character with a soft side and all the other characters are well drawn.
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on 8 October 2013
A good addition to the series. Still would not call Stryker the Sharpe of his day, but nevertheless a good read
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on 20 December 2014
Another episode in this excellent series runs with the glimpse of the next instalment and I can't wait for it. The characters remain believable and likeable, the action brutal and the numerous sub plots woven brilliantly into historical fiction. Highly recommended.
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on 17 May 2014
Another good book in the series. It pulls you into the story especially as you recognize the various towns and areas. Only one slight quibble with all the people trying to kill Stryker coming out of the woodwork getting a bit much. But will still follow the next instalment.
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