Master of War: The Blooding
© 2013 David Gilman
Thomas Blackstone is a free man, a stonemason who learned his trade alongside his deaf-mute brother Richard. When Richard is accused of raping and killing a young woman, the price for his freedom is the brothers’ service in the King’s army, which is about to make good Edward’s claim over France. Although Thomas expects to be at his brother’s side, firing the warbow their father taught them both to master, fate has other plans. Women, mostly — or as one character calls them, “Satan’s bait”. A woman drives the brothers apart, and a woman leads Thomas to an act of courage that impels the Black Prince to ennoble him on his deathbed. Fate also lands Thomas in the care of a French family of divided loyalties, who make it their mission to turn this jumped-up commoner into a knight worthy of the name. A winsome mix of action, relational drama, and political intrigue, The Blooding nevertheless disappoints in being only the introduction to a larger series.
I was attracted to this first on the promise of it being an archer’s take on the Battle of Crecy, which I knew from history to be an unexpectedly brutal loss for the French, due in part to their own impatience. French knights mowed down their own bowmen in their haste to reach the English lines, something witnessed here by Thomas himself. Although Thomas quickly proves himself in battle, there’s a larger strategy at play here that Thomas is only playing a role in: being sundered from his brother and nearly mortally wounded just get him to the stage. The full drama will come in later books, and in the meantime what readers receive is politics and sex, as Thomas falls deeper into love & lust with the French woman whose life he saved, and who nursed him back to health in turn, and begins to realize that her guardians have plans for him – plans which won’t begin to move until the next book.
I leave The Blooding on an odd note of disappointment. I enjoyed seeing Thomas grow from a simple stonemason, hesitant to kill, into a warrior accomplished in multiple weapons and in command of his own unit, trying to learn to act as a gentleman after he’s given a deathbed knighthood by his prince. The political side is promising; by circumstance and by love Thomas is linked with a French family of mixed loyalties, who bleed for French but have little love for their king. I’m sure the machinations as developed in later books will be quite good, but I was annoyed that this book is merely an introduction. It doesn’t help that Thomas isn’t a terribly believable medieval stonemason: he has no hint of religiosity, for instance, something believable in a figure like Sharpe (19th century), but not so much the 14th. He’s improbably noble, for a character in history — but that’s par for the course with historical fiction. No one would bond with a racist Sharpe or a raping Uhtred, so it’s not surprising that Thomas doesn’t loot and is hesitant to get his hands blooded for the first time. Thomas is a little too ironed-out, though. He’s more like Thomas Branson, a commoner suddenly thrown into high society, but with a talent for strategy and killing rather than cars and farmland. I may continue in the series, but we’ll see. It had many strengths, but often felt like a romance novel with the odd massacre.