Essex Dogs is the first instalment of a trilogy of books – or maybe two – which digs deep into the dirty underbelly of the Hundred Years' War. That conflict, between England and various nearby medieval realms, is traditionally written up by chroniclers and historians as a war in which kings and their subjects clashed, with their fierce combat mitigated and dignified by the knightly code of chivalry.
In Essex Dogs, set in the summer of 1346, we see the reality of the Hundred Years War for the ordinary combatants. They exist in a world where chivalry is at best an alien concept, and at worst an outright lie. The Dogs are a tight-knit band of warriors, most of them in some way compromised by their past, but bonded by their common wish to survive their ordeal and get home to England.
They are, I hope, memorable characters. Loveday, the leader, is increasingly uncertain about the life he has chosen. Scotsman, Millstone and Pismire, his trusty lieutenants. Father, the disgraced priest, more concerned with finding his next drink than ministering to his comrades’ souls. Romford, the lost soul from London, running away from himself, but heading towards trouble at every turn. Then, the deadeye archers: Tebbe and Thorp, Lyntyn and Darys. They have each others’ backs. But for how long?
Travelling from the bloodsoaked Normandy beaches to the broken bridges of the Seine, and on to a chaotic battlefield near the Somme, the Dogs are tested to the limits, both by the circumstances of war and the people they come across, from rogue companies and mad princes on their own side to cold-blooded killers on the other.
And in the end they must learn a terrible fact about the war their king is waging. Even when it’s over, it's never over.
With that in mind, the second instalment of the series follows continuously from Essex Dogs. Now, rather than marching into the unknown, the Dogs find themselves caught up in the siege of Calais – a brutal 11-month blockade of a small port on the French coast.
Why are they there? Why does the king care so much about taking it? What are they really fighting for? All this will be revealed as in book 2 as we peel back another layer of the war and discover who really wants it to last for a hundred years.
The second book is about money, merchants and the medieval ‘deep state’, which cares nothing for chivalry or the loyalty to kings, and only about the naked pursuit of power and profit. We will travel inside and outside Calais, from the siege city built outside the walls, to pirate ships patrolling the harbour, and into the dark corners of oligarchs’ houses, where the deals that shape – and end – lives are made.
And at the end, we hear the first, faint, chesty rattle of a natural disaster that is sweeping towards the Dogs and their world – and which will set the stage for the epic third book in the series.
Enjoy the ride.