Released: February 2015
On a bitterly cold morning in 1460 Thomas, Katherine and Alice leave the relative safety of their neighbouring priories to do their chores, but on their return journey an unlucky meeting with the wealthy landowner, Riven, and his son, triggers a chain of events that sees their lives changed forever. When trying to save Katherine’s companion from a vicious assault, Thomas angers Riven so much that they are banished from their quarters and have to flee for their lives.
They meet up with a Pardoner and intend to travel to Canterbury with him to seek redemption but another twist of fate sees them headed to France rather than London. They inherit a bag of mysteries from the Pardoner which proves invaluable to them and fall under the patronage of Sir John as they agree to fight in his unit.
Thomas soon proves himself useful with a bow and arrow and is a fine and tactical soldier even though the fighting, blood and gore of the battlefield do not sit naturally with him. Katherine has to disguise herself as a boy in order to evade the attentions of the many men into whose world she has been catapulted and the book is written partly from her perspective and partly from that of Thomas. The story offers the reader an intensely vivid and often shocking sense of what life was like both on and off the battlefield.
Thomas makes a better soldier than could be expected of a friar and Kit (Katherine) is a strong and gutsy character. She is not a born fighter but manages to make herself indispensable as a healer. Through Kit we learn how to perform surgical operations to remove arrows and how to treat wounds. The story offers the reader an explanation as to why people were happy to sign up to fight for either of the battling kings. Times were hard for everyone and soldiers were relatively better treated, fed and watered. Life was not always miserable for them and they manage to share plenty of laughter with the friends they make as they travel back to Britain and across the border into Wales and back again, all the while knowing that danger will never be far from them.
Toby Clements has a rich knowledge of the history of the times and this is evident in his writing. His depictions of the way people lived their lives during this turbulent time in our history is so vivid you feel a definite sense of being there. Kit and Thomas are both elaborately profound characters who, having lived such sheltered monastic lives, seem to mirror the bewilderment the average reader has with the ever changing allegiances and complexities of the wars.
Having received praise already from Hilary Mantel and Ben Kane, the novel hardly needs my endorsement but I will give it gladly as it’s the most enjoyable historical novel I have read for some time.