England, 1191. Richard Lionheart has left the realm bankrupt and leaderless in his quest for glory. Only Prince John seems willing to fight back the tide of chaos threatening England – embodied by the traitorous ‘Hood’.
But John has a secret weapon: Guy of Gisburne, outcast, mercenary, and now knight. His first mission: to intercept the jewel-encrusted skull of John the Baptist, sent by the Templars to Philip, King of France. Gisburne’s quest takes him from the Tower of London to the hectic crusader port of Marseilles – and into increasingly bloody encounters with ‘The White Devil’: the fanatical Templar de Mercheval.
Relentlessly pursued back to England, and aided by the beautiful and secretive Mélisande, Gisburne battles his way with sword, lance and bow to a bitter confrontation at the Castel de Mercheval. But beyond it – if he survives – lies an even more unpredictable adversary.
Author: Toby Venables
Publisher: Abaddon Books
Release Date: 22/09/2013
Genre: Historical Fiction/Fantasy
My chosen format: Kindle
My rating of ‘Knight of Shadows’: 4 out of 5
Knight of Shadows cover isn’t anything ground-breaking, but it gives the reader exactly what they would expect to see on such a novel: the recognisable figure of an archer. My only gripe is that it doesn’t really differentiate too much from the cover of the sequel. Or the omnibus. The blurb, whilst very intriguing and informative, verges on the realm of spoilers. Reads more like a mini synopsis rather than a tantalising blurb.
Being from Leicestershire (a stone’s throw away from Nottinghamshire) I have a great fondness for Robin Hood and his adversaries (Prince John and Guy of Gisburne). So, naturally, when a novel popped up on bookbub displaying Robin Hood as a traitor and Gisburne as a hero, I jumped at the chance to get stuck in to this different spin on the classic tale. And I’m very glad that I did.
From the get go, the story moves at a good pace and the author uses good language to convey the historical setting. Nothing worse than a historical fiction with modern slang. Thankfully there’s none of that here. Has a very authentic feel. This is helped along by the fun writing style Venables possesses.
The characters are very well fleshed-out, sometimes painfully so. As good as the backstories are, Venables does have a tendency to make the flashback periods detailing past events last far longer than perhaps they should and, on occasion, far longer than pieces set in the present. These parts can make the piece feel as if it is a bit hard-going, but I often found that, after getting through it, it was worth it. A lot of the fleshing is done in the form of quotes from Guy’s old mentor (Guilbert de Gaillon) who seems to have a quote for every possible thing a knight may face. And why not, the man was a knight for many years, makes sense that he would have faced the same troubles. These little quotes add something great to the piece. Little nuggets of wisdom.
One gripe I do have is the amount of typos/spelling mistakes in the first five percent of the novel. They are scattered throughout the book, but the first pages are what an author (I know this from experience, being one myself) sends out to a prospective agent or publisher, so you really would expect them to be airtight. Makes it feel sloppy when it happens so frequently. Another thing that gives it a bit of a sloppy feel is the author’s lack of understanding of how to use hyphenated words. For instance a character was almost ‘half blinded’ instead of ‘half-blinded’. I am probably just being very nit-picky (see, it really isn’t hard to hyphenate) as these were the things that were highlighted to me (in painful detail) when I first started submitting to publishers.
Fear not, the negatives are almost over. There is but one more I feel the need to raise: the author’s continuous use of a certain way of dumping enemies into the plot. I lost count of how many times the main characters stop due to ‘Templars blocking their way in the road’. It’s not just me that seemed to notice. One of the characters literally says: “But of course, bunch of Templars on the road. About time we had that again.” I know the author was probably doing it for the comedic effect, but it just came across as uninventive. Thankfully, the ways the characters deal with the situations do differ. So it still makes these enjoyable sections.
I don’t often think this when reading books; but with ‘Knight of Shadows’ I genuinely think it would translate excellently to a television show. The action scenes almost remind me of the Musketeers (BBC TV series) in a way due to the high-octane pace of the fighting etc … The backstory parts would also work tremendously on-screen. Added to the fact that it is very vivid and, in parts, graphic, you have a cracking TV show.
Even with all the negatives I have mentioned, the story is well worth your time. It is an enjoyable, fast-paced, thumping good read. For those who like your violence on the more aggressive end of the scale, it has that in spades. Especially near the end. It is quite easily one of the more exciting endings to a novel I have read in years. Genuinely loved the ending. It is, in fact, the ending, along with the enjoyable writing style and solid story, that saves it from the negatives and pulls the score up to a 4 out of 5.