Monday, January 16, 2017

Powder of Death: A Great Adventure

Book Review: Powder of Death by Julian Stockwin
Version: hard cover, personal purchase

Historical novels can be a fun retelling of historic events fictionalized to fill in details when we don't know the whole story. Author Julian Stockwin has become a master at this craft, no more so than in Powder of Death (2016), the story of how gunpowder came to thirteenth century England through the Crusades and Europe to bring King Edward III victory against the brutal Scots.

Powder of Death is more than a simple retelling of the story, however. It's really a travel adventure, kind of a story of discovery in the exploration of strange new lands, which begins as an attempt at personal redemption but turns into a seeking of wealth wielding a seemingly magical concoction. Stockwin writes brilliantly, bringing wonderful characters to life in a wholly realistic setting exploring history and times in thoroughly researched detail, which is his habit.

The book can be perceived into two parts.

The first part is almost Tolkien-like, Fellowship of the Rings in tone, as the main character, Jared, sets off for the Crusades on a pilgrimage seeking redemption for a terrible deed. Perkyn, a sidekick and protector from Jared's small English village, joins him as they set off for parts unknown, wide eyed and innocent to the world. They fail to reach their goal, but they succeed in participating in the Crusades, where Jared uses his skills as a blacksmith to aid gallant knights in defending a Crusader stronghold far from Jerusalem against a devastating Muslim attack. In the end, Jared and Perkyn are captured and enslaved, but with his blacksmithing skills, he is retained to help the Muslims take the stronghold. It is here that Jared learns of a strange and magical powder that can take down mighty fortresses.

The second part brings Jared and Perkyn back to England. He has the secret of the powder, although not the details of its making, and his goal is to avenge the reason for his seeking redemption, using the powder. It becomes his mission in life, his obsession, and over the ensuing chapters Jared, with Perkyn's aid, tries to work out how to use this mysterious powder to bring down the high and mighty. It brings Jared back to his village, only to discover he has changed as has his village, and it isn't really where he wants to be. He moves to Coventry seeking to set up a business, but the guilds there won't allow him. So he seeks other avenues and meets up with the wife of his late cousin, who likes his vision for using the powder. Over months and years he tests the powder in various ways to use it as a weapon against a host of foes. Powers in Italy and Belgium show interest. But there is always an impediment to Jared's experiments. Ultimately, his quest brings him back to England and the Court of young Edward III.

The chapters are short but the story is long and captivating. The plan is cunning and the struggle is compelling. Your payoff is the life-changing journey.

I'm a big fan of Julian Stockwin novels. He doesn't disappoint. Powder of Death is a good example. Like The Silk Tree before it and his long-running Kydd Series novels that continue as I write, Stockwin is a master teller of grand historical fiction tales. Pick one, any one, and you will be highly entertained. Today, I suggest you read Powder of Death. It's a great adventure.

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