Essex dogs by Dan Jones

Loveday Fitztalbot and his brothers in arms from The Essex Dogs land on the coast of Normandy under King Edward III to win his claim to the French throne by force. Each of the dogs leave a past behind, especially since their captain mysteriously disappeared without a trace some time ago. Marching through the French countryside, burning every town or city they pass, the Essex Dogs will face some serious challenges to keep all of them alive.

Dan Jones is a true hero for me and can always get me excited about military strategy so when I discovered he was writing a novel, I knew I had to read it. Even more when I heard about the setting. The Hundred Years’ War told from a group of ordinary soldiers is an original choice. Not many authors dare to write about this conflict. The approach to use common soldiers as main characters reminded me of Toby Clemens’ Kingmaker series about the Wars of the Roses. But Jones focuses entirely on the campaign through France, with only an occasional side story about some of the soldier’s background.

Battle after battle, you sympathize more with the Essex Dogs. We read most from the perspective of Loveday, whose their new captain, and the young Romford. We also get to know some historical figures, including the Dukes of Warwick and Norfolk and even Joan Of Kent’s first husband Thomas Holland has a major role. We get very close to the king’s son, Edward, later called ‘The black prince’. It was the first time that I read about the black prince at this young age and it took some time to get used to the fact that he is portrayed as a spoilt brat (I look at him as a fierce warrior). But it was certainly interesting.

Dan Jones writes a clever story. The book reads very smoothly, mainly because the setting is well-defined. So you can expect battle after battle, within every city they take for England there’s a fight. You travel along with ordinary soldiers, so it’s more action-driven as the strategy behind the battles isn’t discussed. Jones uses real quotes from eyewitnesses from the 14th century to introduce each chapter. It mustn’t surprise you that he has done a terrific research job. The brotherhood of ‘the dogs’ is what I loved most. And although there’s a lot of blood and gore involved in this story, there is also time for a good laugh between the men.

This series is recommended for the fans of Cornwell, Iggulden and Toby Clemens. Is Jones the best in among them? Perhaps not yet. But bringing the complicated Hundred Years’ War to life deserves all the praise. I’m looking forward to see how things will unfold for Loveday and his companions in the next book.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in return for my honest opinion.

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