John Crabbe (The John Swale Chronicles)

John Crabbe (The John Swale Chronicles #9)
By: David Pilling
(http://pillingswritingcorner.blogspot.com/)
Musa Publishing 2012
an historical fiction review

 

John Crabbe returns the chronicles to tempestuous Scotland, with pirates at the helm.  Notorious pirate John Crabbe finds himself facing defiant nobility on and off the water.

Pilling deploys his excellent introductory skills to meld excitement and tension into the debut of his first sea bandit.  The pace whips everything along so briskly that this short work feels even shorter than it really is.  The variety of conflicts, both internal and external, keeps John Crabbe in choppy emotional waters while the action keeps it salty.  It’s a harsh voyage to read, but one that offers all the expected thrills of piracy within the darker context of Scotland’s impending warfare.

The Wild Hunt (The John Swale Chronicles)

The Wild Hunt (The John Swale Chronicles #8)
By: David Pilling
(http://pillingswritingcorner.blogspot.com/)
Musa Publishing 2012
an historical fiction review

 

Finally on his way towards revenge, Swale’s anticipation to engage Folville drives The Wild Hunt.  However, encountering Folville’s relatives proves far easier than meeting the bandit leader himself.

Another brief segment of The John Swale Chronicles, The Wild Hunt breaks into the real action of the feud.  From opening tactics to the first battle, Swale and Folville keep this work tight, dark, and harsh.  Unlike previous installments to this story, no other character is allowed to broaden the story.  This simpler structure and use of only established characters makes the story sharper, with a more direct message.  On the other hand, it’s missing Pilling’s usual doses of nuance and clever whole-world-building.  As part of a larger work, The Wild Hunt would make a compelling sequence.  Published on its own its success is narrowed to those who appreciate military tales or are highly invested in Folville and Eustace, as opposed to other players in this series.

In short, this is the part of a fight where expectations are still building and resolution is not yet in sight.  Time to place your bets.

The Pretender (The John Swale Chronicles)

The Pretender (The John Swale Chronicles #7)
By: David Pilling
(http://pillingswritingcorner.blogspot.com/)
Musa Publishing 2012
an historical fiction review

 

The Pretender introduces Edward Balliol, the man whose claim to the Scottish throne is pulling the tides of English and Scottish politics.  With Robert the Bruce’s child son on the Scottish throne and Edward III brimming with ambition, conflict can’t be far off.  This work elaborates on the players of the upcoming struggle while plainly illustrating how the power of kings and countries trickles down to influence the fortunes of everyone.

A short work with a lot to set up, The Pretender is a waiting piece, adding tinder to the fireplace but not yet striking up flames.

A Company of Thieves (The John Swale Chronicles)

A Company of Thieves (The John Swale Chronicles #6)
By: David Pilling
(http://pillingswritingcorner.blogspot.com/)
Musa Publishing 2012
an historical fiction review

 

A Company of Thieves returns to the adventures of Eustace Folville and James Coterel.  Pilling’s next short work uses action to explain the difference in the bandits’ circumstances since the last time readers saw them.  With a few concise strokes and one completed mission, A Company of Thieves sets up the next stage in the feud between Folville and John Swale.

With the return of Swale’s nemesis, this book brings the series back to the excitement and drive of Folville’s Law.  The writing is concise and expertly wielded to pack the most story in this small amount of pages.  Old and new characters get excellent depictions in various styles.  A Company of Thieves returns readers to the landscape and politics of England itself.  After other realms and court commentary, The John Swale Chronicles are home again and my desire for the next full-length novel is stoked.

The Black Lion of Forbes (The John Swale Chronicles)

The Black Lion of Forbes (The John Swale Chronicles #5)
By: David Pilling
(http://pillingswritingcorner.blogspot.com/)
Musa Publishing 2012
an historical fiction review

 

The Black Lion of Forbes destroyed John Swale’s ancestral home and thrust the survivors onto different life tracks.  This piece of David Pilling’s saga introduces Richard Swale’s point of view and reveals what became of John’s missing sister Margaret.

Centered on flashbacks of The Black Lion of Forbes’ attack, this book includes a lot of graphic detail, necessary to understanding the drastic consequences of that night.  This work is all about revealing the Swale siblings and connecting their present positions to their shared tragedy with John, like showing the same light source reflected in different colors of glass.  It’s a skilled short story that expands the horizons of The John Swale Chronicles into new environments, while intensifying the personal, emotional world of John’s family.

Royal Favour (The John Swale Chronicles)

Royal Favour  (The John Swale Chronicles #4)
By: David Pilling
(http://pillingswritingcorner.blogspot.com/)
Musa Publishing 2012
an historical fiction review

 

This short work tells the next chapter for John and Elizabeth after they return to England.  The friction between the two pulls the book together with its rawness and reality.

Pilling’s tone remains gripping as ever.  There are some time jumps in Royal Favour that could be better defined, particularly in such a short work.  Nevertheless, the historical context is beautiful, the gritty atmosphere engaging, and the protagonists’ perspectives well delivered in this tale of the vagaries of leaders and luck.

The King Stag (The John Swale Chronicles)

The King Stag (The John Swale Chronicles #2)
By: David Pilling
(http://pillingswritingcorner.blogspot.com/)
Musa Publishing 2012
an historical fiction review

 

The King Stag comes as a dramatic one-act play following the detailed plots that schemed through Folville’s Law.  It’s been four years since Isabella and Mortimer invaded England.  Now Edward III has decided to wrest the absolute power that should be his into his grasp.  However, The King Stag needs more than a coup to assert his kingship, particularly when other royals enter the picture.

This sequel effectively uses Edward III to push readers forward in time and tie up loose ends.  A very brief work, it resets the stage for the next long interlude without losing excitement or momentum.  By pulling the audience away from personal points of view, this work acts as a teaser trailer by touching on the intimate and emotional aspects of the characters without delving into them.  It’s a well-written advertisement that will keep readers reaching for the series.

Folville’s Law (The John Swale Chronicles)

Folville’s Law (The John Swale Chronicles)
By: David Pilling
(http://pillingswritingcorner.blogspot.com/)
Musa Publishing 2011
an historical fiction review

Queen Isabella of England prepares to attack her husband Edward II with the aid of her lover, Mortimer.  England’s lords and law keepers scramble to make the most of the weak king’s corrupt reign.  Hugh Despenser the Younger, the king’s favorite, feels his world threatening to crumble.  Hugh’s one loyal night, Sir John Swale, sets out on a simple mission and finds himself caught amidst outlaws, family feuds, and increasingly lethal encounters.  It’s the year 1326 and the law of the land is simple: there is no law, only different masters.

            Folville’s Law takes readers through many different perspectives.  Everyone’s world is narrow, full of their own ambitions and motivations.  David Pilling does an excellent job at keeping his audience abreast of circumstances from the individual to the international while juggling storylines and his characters’ perceptions.  All of the voices Pilling uses to tell his tale are strong, consistent, and eminently human.  No one is concerned with an overarching history more than their own welfare; no one is outside their immediate surroundings and limited knowledge.  Royals, bandits, and widows all show glimpses into different lifestyles, giving Pilling’s book a more up-front and direct feeling of authenticity than many.

          Folville’s Law fights and schemes through its pages, maintaining a quick and exciting reading pace.  The ensemble cast and swiftly switching perspectives draw readers into the history and action of the plot, but also make it difficult to connect to any of the characters.  The many actors and subplots make Pilling’s debut novel engaging, an excellent lead work for a series (now in its seventh book).  Throughout, Pilling wields a distinctive tone, a knack for explaining complications with flair, and a strategically balanced sense of pacing.

In a nutshell, Folville’s Law is a gritty, well-researched adventure without a hero, just an array of humans.  If you’re looking for romance, this is not the book for you.  For historical interest, action, and intrigue, I recommend this work.  It’s always good when I’m left still wanting to know what happens next.