Monday, 30 October 2017

Review: The Lion of Midnight by J.D. Davies

I've been reading the historical fiction series by J.D. Davies over the past year and a half and you can find my previous reviews from this blog. The reason I've taken such a long time to get to the fourth installment is that while I've liked them well enough, they have not really pulled me in... until now. In the fourth novel in the series, J.D. Davies has hit on the right mix of action and intrigue and pushed aside, at least for now, the less interesting Quinton family secrets plotline that weighed down the earlier novels.

For a series that features sail ships and seascapes on the covers of the novels, the story has been pretty light on actual seafaring and naval action. The ship has always been more of a way for the author to transport his heroes to the setting of the latest story. And, for a large part, this holds true also in The Lion of Midnight: In 1666, Matthew Quinton receives a mission to go to Sweden and transport back a fleet of mast ships - ships transporting Swedish pines to be used as masts for English ships - past hostile forces. However, the situation in Gothenburg, Sweden, turns out to be more complicated than expected and Matthew confronts Catholics, Swedes who want to bring Queen Christina back to rule Sweden and other unexpected parties. But we do get a decent amount of shipboard action as well and I felt very satisfied with the overall mix by the time I reached the end.

Davies is a fine writer and able to keep the story going very well - especially now that Matthew is not fully engaged in the mysteries of his own family, for a change. The loyalties of other characters we meet in the story are delectably uncertain and keep you guessing until the final pages. The biggest surprise of all is saved for the very last page - at least if you are not too knowledgeable of Swedish history (so don't go and read the last page before you read the rest of the novel!). The historical detail is great. The mast ship mission, for example, comes directly from historical records, although Davies has changed the timing of the events a little bit - and, in the afterword, he admits to adding an extra castle on Swedish soil as well. There isn't that much swashbuckling, to tell the truth, although the term is used on the back cover. Matthew has not - at least thus far - been using his rapier very much. We do get a couple of such scenes this time around, however.

"Best in the series thus far" is the best way I can describe the novel. The refreshing look at the might of Sweden at this point in time - which never lasted more than a hundred years - kept me interested, especially since it was written by a non-Nordic author. Davies has dug into historical records and visited the museums in the area that he uses as the setting and it really shows: the historical detail is impeccable, insofar as I could judge. I hope this same balance of historical fiction and adventure will stay with us in future installments!

I urge you to dig into this series and especially this volume if the period and gripping yarns are at all your things.