Wolves of Winter is the second book in Dan Jones historical Essex Dogs trilogy which is following a crew of English soldiers in the early days of what was to become known as the Hundred Years War. The first volume, Essex Dogs, took the men from their landing in France to the battle of Crécy in 1346. After a brief cold open featuring a character who will become more prominent as the story goes on, the sequel picks up where the first book left off, with the men plundering the battlefield before being marched to the King’s next objective: Calais.
A few characters have died along the way, but the Essex Dogs are continue to be led by Loveday Fitztalbot, who is still trying to understand why their former leader, only known as The Captain, left them. The other main point of view character for this volume is the youngest member of the crew Romford, a crack bowman but also partial to mind-altering substances and has a propensity to be efficiently and dangerously violent when needed. While there is some plundering on the way, the main narrative focusses on the lengthy siege of Calais during which time the Dogs have ups and downs including having to run a brothel in the siege town that is established against the walls of Calais and being put on trench digging detail.
Like Essex Dogs before it, Jones has delivered another fascinating slice of medieval history told from the ground. The story is violent, desperate and profane but also incredibly fascinating. While there are a couple of key characters, Jones makes readers care about the whole crew and understand that this is war and that none of them are safe. He brings to life the divide between the haves and have-nots but also the esteem in which the common men hold royalty. Of interest, in particular, is the way in which Jones gets behind the reasons for the war in the first place which were predominantly mercantile. And for those looking for the actual potted history of the events, Jones provides it at the end of the book, revealing some of the minor liberties he has taken to get his characters into the thick of the action.
Wolves of Winter ends at quite a definitive point, although leaves at least one question dangling. But this is the second book in a projected trilogy and the Hundred Year War itself is obviously far from over. It will be interesting to see how Jones brings things together and what aspect of this conflict he choses to cover in the final book in this series.
For more of Robert’s reviews, visit his blog Pile By the Bed
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Essex Dogs (Dan Jones) – book review
- The Beasts of Paris (Stef Penney) – book review
- He Who Drowned the World (Shelley Parker-Chan)
Robert Goodman is a book reviewer, former Ned Kelly Awards judge and institutionalised public servant based in Sydney. This and over 450 more book reviews can be found on his website Pile By the Bed.