Author – Dan Jones
Pages – 456
Publishing Information – 15th September 2022, Head of Zeus
Thankyou to Aries Fiction/Head of Zeus, Andrew Knowles and of course the author of the book, Dan Jones for having me on this blog tour for Essex Dogs. All views expressed are my honest opinions.
Below you’ll find my ‘One Sentence Review’ followed by the blurb and then my full review of the book. Scroll further for an author bio and further blog tour information.
You can buy Essex Dogs here today.
The One Sentence Review
The Essex Dogs jump out from the page covered in mud and blood in an un-put-down-able historical epic, combining a brilliant cast of characters, a strong narrative and the sound historical accuracy you would expect from Dan Jones.
July 1346. The Hundred Years’ War has begun, and King Edward and his lords are on the march through France. But this war belongs to the men on the ground. Swept up in the bloody chaos, a tight-knit company from Essex must stay alive long enough to see their home again. With sword, axe and longbow, the Essex Dogs will fight, from the landing beaches of Normandy to the bloodsoaked field of Crecy.
There’s Pismire, small enough to infiltrate enemy camps. Scotsman, strong enough to tear down a wall. Millstone, a stonemason who’ll do anything to protect his men. Father, a priest turned devilish by the horrors of war. Romford, a talented young archer on the run from his past. And Loveday FitzTalbot, their battle-scarred captain, who just wants to get his boys home safe.
Some men fight for glory. Others fight for coin. The Essex Dogs fight for each other.
The Full Review
If you’d googled ‘Essex Dogs’ a few months ago, your first results might have been lyrics for the closing track of Blur’s 1997 self-titled debut album, or adoption links for canine friends in Chelmsford.
Now, along with some ads for some admittedly distracting pups, you’ll find yourself greeted by a striking red and blue book cover, and an invitation to march through 14th century France with a company of dogs that are altogether less friendly.
These are the titular Essex Dogs and it’s impossible to talk about anything else in this book without first applauding the characterisation of these morally grey soldiers, aswell as the many other colourful characters Jones has created (both fictional and real life figures he has brought to life).
The relationship dynamic of the soldiers with one another and the hierarchy above is perfectly captured and each is given a fully considered personality. This means you really get to know the Essex Dogs individually from the outset as if you are in the thick of it as part of the company yourself – there are no placeholders or cardboard cutouts of characters to make up the numbers. The lords and marshals even have distinctive identities on the page (Northampton being a personal favourite) so that soon after meeting them, you could tell them apart without even needing to know who is speaking.
Our main character, Loveday FitzTalbot is a compelling lead. He’s rough enough to be believable whilst morally ambiguous, loyal and brave enough to gain our support. It’s his morality and sense of purpose and self that he battles with throughout the book, wondering whether he can relate to the younger man he once was, whether he can do the things anymore than he used to be able to, morally speaking.
We are all survivors. Until we are not.
I won’t go through every character; I’ll let you enjoy meeting them all – but I have to give a (dis)honourable mention to Father. He’s a priest, formerly a decent fellow, who has turned into a bit of a rotten apple. You can almost smell him wafting from the pages. He’s a brilliantly written character I really enjoyed being introduced to.
It was always going to be the characterisation that would make or break this novel, given the author’s already successful background in writing popular narrative history. Perhaps Jones’ existing work inspired him to want to bring the history to life further, unshackled by the constraints of writing about a small number of usually prominent figures from limited source material. There is an obvious passion for painting colour into these characters, common soldiers’ voices we would rarely if ever hear from in the middle ages and this allows the author plenty of creative licence which is implemented very well.
Jones spoke on the History Extra podcast back in 2018 about “spending an immense amount of time on story architecture, story structure, the things that are familiar to anyone who watches Netflix series or big blockbuster movies… those tropes and shapes of storytelling are what we are exposed to so much… to bring them into history is the obvious thing to do“. If you read his history books, you will certainly feel this flavour strongly. He has however been able to fulfil this aim on a new level in Essex Dogs and juice up the history further to give things a visceral, gritty realness, thrusting events right in your face, and therefore upping the excitement factor further.
Jones last year published an enjoyable short medieval ghost story, The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings, based on medieval records from a 15th century monk – aside from its 57 pages however, he has gone from writing non fiction to a full length historical fiction novel seamlessly. To do this whilst incorporating compelling characters and a gripping story is a stunning achievement.
Of course, it goes without saying that the real history is strong throughout and this extends further than the narrative alone. There are countless nuances and nods to the culture, society and traditions of the 14th century setting it takes place in. It is meticulously researched; the extent of this knowledge is what makes the book truly immersive because it allows the characters to shine in a backdrop that already feels alive.
If you know the history of the Hundred Years War and 14th century England already, you’ll appreciate the little details. If you know next to nothing, or even if you know a lot, it’s likely you’ll still learn plenty along the way. It’s yet another reason I enjoyed the book so much and there was one particular feature I thought was implemented particularly well that links into this.
Introductory quotes at the start of chapters aren’t exactly new, but Jones introduces quotes taken from primary sources at the beginning of each chapter, and these real quotes or pieces of information relate to the events of the upcoming chapter. I loved this and it felt like a reminder that the author is still telling you a real life story – on his terms.
I tried to temper my expectations before reading Essex Dogs. Afterall, writing non fiction and writing fiction are two different beasts, and success with one isn’t guaranteed to carry over to the other – especially with a debut. I have to say that Dan Jones has smashed the portcullis and draped his colours over the castle walls here with a book that kept me reading well past an acceptable bed time. I kept the book in my car, I took it to work and I had it at the kitchen table while my son ate his breakfast. Yes, it’s one of those books.
Essex Dogs is a rip-roaring adventure full of ideas and characters I loved reading, and I’m thrilled to learn it’s a planned trilogy. My advice would be to buy this beautiful hardback as soon as you can and be here for the start of the journey.
Essex Dogs is released TODAY. You can buy it here and from all good book stores.
About the Author
Dan Jones is the Sunday Times and New York Times bestselling author of ten non-fiction
books, including The Templars, The Colour of Time and Powers and Thrones.
He is a renowned writer, broadcaster and journalist, and has for many years wanted to write authentic but action-packed historical fiction. His debut novel, Essex Dogs, is the first in a planned trilogy following the fortunes of ten ordinary soldiers in the early years of the
Hundred Years’ War. He lives near London with his family.
Follow the Publisher:
Facebook: Aries Fiction
My review was brought to you as part of the Aries Fiction/Head of Zeus blog tour, of which it was a pleasure to be a part.
Check out the blog tour banner below to see where you can find upcoming reviews on the tour aswell as those that have already been published.
I hope you enjoyed my review and that it’s helped you make a decision on this excellent book.