A nation reeling from the turmoil of bloody civil war. An island in the iron grip of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate.
The forces of King Charles have been utterly defeated. The sovereign is dead, his supporters beaten, humiliated and scattered. But it is not just former Cavaliers who find themselves hounded by the new regime. Many of those who fought for Parliament have fallen foul of the oppressive rule of the Major-Generals.
One such man is Major Samson Lyle: Roundhead, outlaw, fugitive. Forced into exile after a dispute with the ruling elite, he has returned, intent on waging war against those now in command. Skilled with pistol and blade, Lyle takes the fight onto the busy roads south of the capital, forging a formidable reputation as a notorious highwayman.
Along with his trusted young ward Bella, and Eustace Grumm, an irascible former smuggler, Lyle dodges the ever-present threat of capture to menace those against whom he has sworn revenge. But when the robbery of a powerful lawyer alerts Lyle to the imprisonment of a former comrade, the Major is plunged into a dangerous game of intrigue and deceit that may finally prove his undoing. And he must tread carefully, for Parliament have dispatched their own man to hunt the elusive outlaw. The villainous Colonel John Maddocks is tracking Lyle’s every move, and soon he will come face to face with the Ironside Highwayman.”
I am pleased that I did as I quickly became absorbed in the writing, in the story, and in the characters.
I would say that the plot pacing of the story is quite slow, at least for the first two parts. However, this doesn’t affect the enjoyment because Arnold manages to make the introduction of the characters, and general scenario and setting fascinating. The history of the characters, and their reasons for behaving as they do, are revealed slowly, yet the way in which Arnold writes means that, despite being unaware of the reasons, the behaviour is realistic and not confusing. In this sense, Highwayman: Ironside has a lot of features common to books that I don’t get on with but somehow manages to use these features to its advantage.
Another aspect that I really appreciated was the history, and, more importantly, historical accuracy. Although I have looked at Arnold’s website and it says he didn’t study history beyond A level it is clear that this book has been constructed by a scholar and not just a brilliant writer. The casual references to Civil War events, and just to period aspects of life, serve to pad out characters and settings, making it seem realistic and natural. It also made the nerd in me extremely happy.
So, why didn’t this book get five stars if I enjoyed it so much? The answer is simple. It’s just that bit too short to really wow and get the full five star rating. It feels like a prequel to a series as opposed to the first instalment in its own right so, despite being a wonderful read, I don’t feel quite able to give it the full rating. That said, I will be reading any following instalments and will also be having a look at other books by Michael Arnold.