My version: Hardback
Genre: Historical Fiction Charles II
First published: 2017
From the cover:
London, Winter 1670.
Holcroft Blood has entered the employ of the Duke of Buckingham, one of the most powerful men in the kingdom after Charles II. It is here that his education really begins. With a gift for numbers and decoding ciphers, Holcroft soon proves invaluable to the duke, but when he’s pushed into a foul betrayal, he risks everything for revenge.
Colonel Thomas Blood has fallen on hard times. A man forged in an age of bloody civil war, he now lives by his wits and survives by whatever means necessary. When he embarks on an outrageous attempt to steal the Crown Jewels of England, he plunges himself and his family into a perilous situation – one that may well end at the gallows.
As devious noblemen plot to gain wealth and power, both father and som must learn how to survive on the most dangerous battlefield of all – the court of King Charles II.
We are the other side of the English civil war, a few years after Giles Kristian’s excellent (though sadly only two books long) Rivers Brothers series.
While the main draw is of course Captain Thomas Blood‘s stealing of the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London, we actually follow one of his sons, Holcroft as he grows up and enters the murky world of Palace politics, espionage and general dirty-dickery. The world of the life at Court is, you’ll think several times, not one for our 21st Century sensibilities, that’s for sure. I do know a little about the period – I can still remember some of what we learned about it in school, and I was very pleased to read of Angus’ take on the return of the monarchy in the shape of Charles II, and what he tried to do, having been asked back by the people who ‘got rid of’ shall we say, his father. There was a period, before Parliament reigned him in again and reminded him of the actual terms of the deal, where he must of thought he could do anything he wanted, as it was them who asked him back! Holcroft comes under the tender mercies of Buckingham, and if you’ve read any espionage books set in this period, or after, even up to modern times, you’ll be acquainted with Buckingham, even if ever so slightly. A true pioneer in the area of double-crossing, triple-crossing and spying and squirrelling away pieces of information that might become useful later. And it is a brave man who even thinks there might be a possibility, on a good day, with a following wind, of escaping his clutches and even, maybe, getting the better of him. Fortunately for us the reader, Holcroft Blood is such a man.
Angus really has a feel for the period and consequently doesn’t have to lay it on thick with the period detail. His characters and the dialogue shine and give the story all the sense of time and place it needs. It’s not really what you’d call a ‘romp,’ it does have a solid, serious spine, but is thoroughly full-on Angus Donald and his now trademark richly rewarding entertainment.
These are some big shoes Angus has to step in to. His own. The writer of the perfection that was The Death of Robin Hood, has now moved forward in time to a period that can be a graveyard for Historical Fiction writers – Giles Kristian springs to mind again. But if you thought Angus Donald was just Robin Hood, then think again. You were wrong.
If you’re looking for (possible) similarities between this and Robin Hood (and I tried for you), then both Robin and the older Blood are men outside the law, dangerous rogues . Anti-establishment, while having a sidekick and (here) a son who are establishment through nature, or chance and use that to help their comrades and/or father.
That does seem to be Angus’ strongpoint I’d say, writing anti-establishment men of principle and unwavering loyalty to their own kind, but with an eye on the bigger picture.
I will admit to harbouring some small doubts about his foray into this later period, as, with the stealing of the Crown Jewels, a character called Captain Blood and Charles II generally being as mad as a balloon, it had ‘romp’ written all over it. Not a bit of it. Angus deftly steers the story down the narrow path between a romp and a seriously entertaining story, while also looking at the period through the eyes of the people who lived lower down the social order than the main characters might otherwise outwardly suggest.
Blood’s Game must surely have been fun to write because it is certainly a lot of fun to read.
But don’t take my word for it, you can buy Blood’s Game from The Book Depository