Book review: Devil’s Charge by Michael Arnold

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Fearless in battle, ruthless with his enemies and loyal to his small band of comrades, king’s man Captain Innocent Stryker sounds like an archetypal dashing hero.

But he’s also a cynical realist dangerously close to middle age, peers out at his war-torn country through the one eye that wasn’t ripped from its socket in combat and cares little for the rights and wrongs of the Royalist cause he fights for.

Michael Arnold’s superb Stryker Chronicles, set during England’s bitter Civil War, have reached the thrilling second instalment and the trumpet blasts, battle cries and howls of execration are filling the air again.

At the forefront of all the heart-thumping action is Stryker with his narrow, feral face and its ragged patch of swirling scar tissue ... he’s wily, dangerous, too often thinks with his fists and can kill a man in the twinkling of his one demonic eye.

He’s fought a dozen battles and is in the service of King Charles I with Sir Edmund Mowbray’s Regiment of Foot, although he’s not sure if he believes in any higher power than a loaded gun and a keen blade.

And he’s going to need those trusty weapons because England stands divided – King against Parliament, town against country, brother against brother.

The Battle of Edgehill is over and now the townsfolk of Cirencester are desperately trying to hold out against the Royalist troops having declared that they will die for what they see as the ‘true religion.’

Leading the cavalier army is the king’s nephew Prince Rupert of the Rhine... he’s ‘mad’ say his troops but they’re relieved he’s on their side.

After the bloody storming of Cirencester, Prince Rupert sets Stryker the dangerous task of finding Lisette Gaillard, Queen Henrietta Maria’s beautiful and most deadly agent, and the man she was protecting, the person who could hold the key to Royalist victory.

It’s a mission he cannot refuse because Lisette is the man of war’s one weak spot. His love for her is as powerful as his sword hand and nothing, not false imprisonment for murder, ambush, a doomed siege or a lethal religious fanatic will stand in his way...

From the bloody rout of Cirencester to the siege of Lichfield and finally to the killing fields of Hopton Heath, Arnold brings to colourful life the English Civil War with all its conflicting passions, raw brutality and blood-curdling reality.

(John Murray, hardback, £17.99)