Knights of the Hawk by James Aitcheson

‘In all my years I have never known warriors more valiant than you. Regardless of what fate awaits us, I consider it the greatest honour to ride amongst you today, and to fight by your sides. May God and the saints bring us victory, and lend us the courage and the fortune to see this day through’

This speech has echoes of Russell Crowe (Gladiator) and Mel Gibson (Braveheart) about it, and James Aitcheson’s new historical novel Knights of the Hawk is a smoke and sword epic of a similar vein. It is the third instalment in his Conquest series, and is a historical romp set in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest. The year is AD1071, five years after King William invaded Britain, and still a number of Anglo-Saxon warriors oppose Norman rule. In this offering, we follow Tancred, Norman lord and hero of the series as he fights in the battle for Ely Marshes.

Fans of Aitcheson’s Conquest series will already be familiar with Tancred, and Knights of the Hawk continues where book two (Splintered Land) left us. For the rest of us, those who haven’t read the previous two, this is still a good book and a nice historical read, but like all trilogies it does help to know the background.

My father, conveniently for me, happens to be one of these ‘Aitcheson fans’, and I was able to tap his knowledge of the first two books. Sworn Sword, I was told, is the first (and the best, he says) of the trilogy and was so good that he ordered the second book straight after reading it. Book two swiftly followed and he read it cover to cover in a day. So he was mildly excited when I told him I had the third book and needed to review it for Historical Honey.

Firstly, my view on this book is that it is a decent enough read, full of Medieval ‘blood-and-guts’ action, but I have to admit it lost me somewhere in the middle. After the battle for Ely, Tancred ventures off on a number of subplots, and the action slowed somewhat. I finished the book, but I couldn’t help comparing it to Bernard Cornwell’s Grail Quest series, which I much preferred.

My father’s perspective echoed mine somewhat. His opinion was that it was a good book, it had him gripped (like the other two did) until the battle for Ely was over, and then he also found the use of subplot after subplot a little too excessive, and he lost interest slightly after this. The proof that Knights of the Hawk was not as good as the previous two, he suggested, was that it took him a whole week to read it!

Although (obviously) a work of fiction, the books are believable as well as enjoyable, and a good deal of historical research went into these books, it seems. Having said that, Knights of the Hawk kind of left me with the feeling that there wasn’t as much of this ‘historical fiction/fact’ than there perhaps could have been, and again I couldn’t help comparing it to Cornwell again. This is perhaps rather unfair on Aitcheson’s book, as Cornwell will always be the master in my opinion.

These days, there are so many historical offerings out there, and although Knights of the Hawk was a decent enough read, it didn’t do enough, for me, in order to stand out from the crowd.

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