The Leopards of Normandy: Devil

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Welcome to the Leopards of Normany blog tour! You can find details of of the rest of the tour here, including blogs on how David Churchill was inspired by historians, and the story of real Dukes of Normandy.

You can also read a short extract from the book, including my favourite, family trees. 

One of the most enjoyable, and down-right geeky things I watched alone, whilst crafting, last year was the rather lovely Sam Willis’ very interesting documentary series about castles. Castles evolved over the years from fortifications that protected the people and stood for symbols of power and authority, to fancy palaces, fairy tale grottoes and designer follys. Knowing the significance of the castle in medieval times, that was brought over by William the Conqueror, came in very useful in my reading of the first of this new trilogy by David Thomas, writing as David Churchill.

The story of the early Dukes of Normandy, starting with the Legend of Rollo, this is a straight-forward History With a Heart, with enough historical detail to satisfy the most ardent of history geeks, but accessible and readable enough for someone who has never heard of the Normans outside of the context of the Conquest. The hero is Robert of Normandy, father of William, who starts the book as the over-confident, arrogant, yet brave and likable younger brother of the considerably less charming Richard, Duke of Normandy.

Robert is impetuous from the off and decides to occupy his brother’s ducal castle, on the way falling hopelessly in love with local tanner’s daughter, Herleva. It is this love affair, and the fall-out from it, that drives the rest of Robert’s life, through several skirmishes and adventures on land and sea. The story also includes side plots of what was going on at the time in England, where Queen Emma has married Danish (I think…) conqueror Canute, giving up her children from her marriage to the previous king in order to save them. Two of these children, Edward and Alfred, moved to the Norman court, and styled themselves the rightful King and Prince on England. Emma is being worked on by the ambitious and ruthless Earl Godwin, and fighting for power over Canute’s other wife and her family. This is all rather complex, and clearly a setup for further novels in the trilogy, in Devil, it is all about Robert and Herleva.

What most people don’t realise about the Normans was that they weren’t French. These are Vikings in chain mail, and for most of the book they are happily raiding and killing each other. Siege warfare is played out in full, and these made for the best and most well-written bits of a very long novel.

This is a bit of history that is slightly neglected by the novelists, and I really enjoyed learning about it. Herleva’s story especially is one that is obviously massively fictionalised, but led to some very informative Googling afterwards. I also really like Robert, who the author obviously has a bit of a crush on as he is such a Hero’s Hero, and was a bit disappointed by the ending, which could have had a lot more impact. This is a trilogy-starter rather than a stand alone book, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next two weren’t already finished, and I will be waiting for them happily as it is very very readable.

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