My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Sir Richard Treadwell, a royalist knight, has returned to England following a five year exile to lead a coup against Oliver Cromwell. But after stumbling on a plot to assassinate Cromwell by an agent of Satan, he sets out instead to save Cromwell, and in doing so prevent the End of Days.
Richard Treadwell was an officer in King Charles army, until Cromwell took over and had the King assassinated. Now, Richard sells his sword wherever it is needed. But then Cardinal Mazarin contracts Richard’s services to identify an individual who has made a pact with the Devil for some nefarious cause. Haunted by events of his past and disturbed by the passing of one of his oldest friend, Richard tries to escape the Cardinal’s commission by returning to England, disguised as his deceased comrade. If he is captured, he risks execution, but he is desperate to see his family and escape the fate of dying an old man in his bed. In England, Richard quickly falls foul of a militia leader, Gideon Fludd, when he kills the man’s brother in self-defense. He is captured and taken prisoner by Gideon, only to find that Gideon is the person consorting with powers beyond human comprehension and is planning on bringing about the End of Days by killing Cromwell. Richard is rescued by d’Artagnan, a musketeer in the Cardinal’s employ. But things only get stranger from this point on, as Richard finds himself being hunted by roundheads, Gideon Fludd and demonic forces.
The story is written in first person, from Richard Treadwell’s perspective, who is painted as an Errol Flynn type, with a deep sense of justice and integrity that has become somewhat buried under the weight of his experiences and his disappointment with life. He comes across a whole host of characters who either try to aid or heed him in his mission, the most prominent of which is a former soldier who fought against the royalists, but has since fallen from grace. The musketeer d’Artagnan doesn’t resemble the character we have come to know through the various adaptations of Dumas’s The Three Musketeers. Here, he seems to be an older and more cynical version, who still respects loyalty and camaraderie but now places duty first. There are also cameos by a stoic Cromwell and a flustered John Milton too, but they feature late in the novel and the latter hardly impacts the plot at all, beyond Beal perhaps alluding to the events of his story being the source of inspiration for Paradise Lost.
The historic setting is well rendered with a good amount of description that brings 17th century France and England alive. The writing also has a period feel to it, with Beal making use of some of the vocabulary of the time and affecting a similar style to swashbucklers like Captain Blood by Rafael Sabitini. What Beal does really well is writing fight-scenes, with a good use of historical weaponry and gritty choreography. Disappointingly, the main bulk of the story is swashbuckle free, with a little at the beginning, a little in the middle and a chunk of it at the end.
The tone of the book has a definite Gothic feel to it, with brooding descriptions and an impending sense of something dark growing within the periphery of your vision. Some readers may find Beal’s Gothic style off-putting, but it really does lend itself to this cross-genre story, which is broadly historic fiction, but has strong elements of horror and fantasy thrown into the mix.