Prolific historian Dan Jones has turned his deep knowledge to provide the basis of a fictional account of the start of the hundred years war in Essex Dogs. The book is the first of a planned trilogy about a group of scrappy fighters caught up in the wars between the British and the French, a conflict that ran from 1337 to 1453.
The book opens in July 1346, Loveday and his group of fighters, who call themselves the Essex Dogs, are part of a huge English invading force landing on the beaches of France. While the core of the Dogs – Loveday Fitztalbot, Millford the Scotsman, Pismire and a defrocked, mentally unstable ex-priest just known as Father – have been together for many years, the group also includes a young bowman called Romford and a pair of Welsh brothers. After successfully supporting the landing, the army begins its rampage across the French countryside. The narrative follows the army over the next couple of months through to the decisive battle of Crécy at the end of August.
Jones effectively captures medieval fighting at the ground level. So this is not a book for the squeamish, there is plenty of bloodshed and close-in combat, including some intense hand to hand scuffles not only with the enemy. But he also gives a complex view of the command structure of the army – the commanders, the knights and a prince keen to prove himself in battle. Again, none of these are people readers might want to have dinner with but they are fascinatingly drawn by Jones.
At the heart of this book, though, is Loveday and his desire to do right by his men. To keep them together, to keep them alive and to get them paid. And it is here that Jones excels, delivering a group of flawed but loveable rogues that readers can get behind and follow. And through following them, become immersed in the world of the fourteenth century battlefield. This is the first of a trilogy and is a great calling card for volumes to follow.