Review: The Earl Strongbow – Ruadh Butler

Series: The Invader Series 3

My version: Audio Book
Genre: Historical Fiction, medieval Ireland, Wales,
Accent Press
First published: 2018
ISBN: 9781910939291
Pages: 380

From the cover:
Exiled from court, distrusted and indebted, Richard de Clare is a man whose past is greater than his prospects and whose once-great name overshadows his deeds. Having backed the loser in the civil war, he faces penury and disgrace due to the disfavour of the distant and over-mighty king.
He has, however, one last gambit to play, one final attempt to claim a wealth and glory that would eclipse even the greatest exploits of his mighty fathers.
And, nothing less than the hand of an Irish princess and a throne will suffice if Richard is to surpass the great feats of his family.

Well, turns out he was saving the best till last. Though you gotta hope this isn’t the last we hear of Strongbow, Raymond de Carew, Alice of Abergavenny and the Normans in Ireland’s 12th Century. It’s a book that is easy to get into no matter how many times you have to put it down (if only to save your nerves). Which won’t be many.

It might say Strongbow on the tin, but this is Raymond de Carew’s book, no doubt about that. Everything is going just nicely for Raymond, preparing the way for his lord to come over and take possession of things, until Strongbow does come over and attempt to take possession. There are a few advance parties of idiots, and the small matter of the Vikings and Viking descendants who were already there, but Raymond could cope. Until he has the rug pulled from under his feet and has to slide down the snake as opposed to climbing the ladders of medieval Irish politics, where double crossing is standard days order, triple crossing and quadruple crossing always suspected, while quintuple crossings are mainly left to experts, or Vikings.

Raymond is by far my favourite character in Ruadh Butler’s Invader Series. He gives off a convincing air of just being a humble man, muddling along, doing his best, getting knocked down and getting up again. Though, as time and events progress, his organisational, his leadership and his sheer determination, prove him to be a better man by far, than those who dismiss him as a low born, ‘fat’ soldier. There is a spark, a fire, within Raymond, that cannot be put out, no matter what misfortune he attracts. Some of the set-backs he experiences would finish off a lesser man, but not Raymond. It is this ‘coming back from being written off and finished,’ that makes the latter part of the book such a compelling, fist-pumping, “Yes!” of an experience. Of course, as a man of the people the reader can easily identify with, he is in love with a girl. The finest girl in the world. Who hardly knows he exists. Yeah, I know that feeling. We all do, I guess. OK, just me then…

You really get involved in this book. It will grab you and won’t let go. You’re cheering on the good guys, feeling every blow Raymond takes – and delivers – hoping against hope when there really seems no way out, no possible way he can survive, tense as a taught longbow string while the bad guys are attacking, holding your breath while Norman scouts try and avoid Ostman detection – the section where the Normans are hoping that their new Ostman allies in the stream are conscious enough of their surroundings to keep quiet, had me gasping for breath by the end. I don’t know about Raymond, I needed a cup of coffee at the end of that!

The power of great storytelling married to great writing, I guess. I can’t ask for more.

You can buy The Earl Strongbow from The Book Depository

Photo of Ireland at the top of the page, by Leighton Smith on Unsplash

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