THE ROAD TO
Book One of
Reviewed by Joy
1346, England and France
The muscles of Martin Kemp are strong from pushing a plough, but his heart is despondent. He dreams of soldiering at the side of King Arthur of the Round Table, but his master, Sir John Beaumont, would never allow him to leave the land and join the army. Martin knows he is a better man than Sir John or his squire Richard Stamford. His sense of injustice only makes matters worse. His hopelessness expresses itself in a defiance that makes Sir John determined to get rid of him – in the worst way possible.
A recruiter for the King steps in just in time. King Edward III is clearing out his prisons to build up his armies. A glorious expedition is on its way to wrest the throne from Philip of Valois, calling himself King of France. Martin’s dream has come true, and there is nothing Sir John can do to stop it.
Reality, on the other hand, can do quite a lot. Soldiering isn’t just having enough to eat, winning recognition for his archery, and bloodying the nose of his instructor. It is watching his comrades drop. It is dealing with the guilt of sacking towns. It is the opportunity to settle old scores with his fellow soldiers. It is transformation.
Events in Martin’s life move along quickly. Even the boredom, which is notoriously the lot of the soldier, has interesting events to keep us edged forward in our seats. Most especially we can enjoy the emergence of Martin Kemp, natural-born soldier. His sergeant, Wat Preston, is an admirable old bird whose command style will be recognized by any soldier today. They are lucky enough to have as their captain Sir Thomas Holland, whose war skills are respected by the King. These two men give Martin, and therefore us, someone to lean on when the going gets tough. And indeed it does get tough, because part of the glory of the victory at Crécy is that the English were outnumbered four or five to one.
Author Daniel Hall fell in love with the Hundred Years War when he learned there was more to it than the battles of Crécy, Poitiers, and Agincourt. He has included the marches, lookouts, terrain, looting, supply lines, sieges, and blood lust. He tells us that he has changed some of the army terminology to make it more accessible to the modern reader. On the other hand, he has also put a great deal of thought into the effects it would have on a laborer’s personality, to grow up as a bonded serf. The result is an outstanding war tale with coming-of-age elements.
Daniel Hall intended Kemp to be a series, in which Martin emerged as a mercenary captain modeled on the famous Sir John Hawkwood. In THE ROAD TO CRÉCY he established a promising background and personality for that purpose. Then, sadly, the publisher axed the series after only two books. The sequel is PASSAGE AT ARMS. Used copies of both can be found on the internet.
THE ROAD TO CRÉCY is remarkable as an adventure book with a sense of historical place so strong that it moves into the historical novel category. PASSAGE AT ARMS has plenty of threads positioned to pull readers into future books. If there is an existing manuscript for the third Kemp book, I want to hear about it.
May 2006 Review
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