My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Last Roundhead is the best historical fiction I have read in years!
This is the tale of Blandford Candy, the last roundhead alive in 1719 when he wrote his memoirs. In the long hot summer of 1642 he is forced to leave home because his sister has discovered that he is having an affair with his eldest brother’s wife to be. He rides up to London in search of fame and fortune, just in time to be enlisted in his uncle’s Regiment. It is by far the best historical fiction that I have read since I finished reading the Flashman papers.
The Last Roundhead
Laid out in the style of the Flashman papers, Candy’s story is very well researched and thoroughly end noted. The history is part of the story and doesn’t get in the way, it all makes sense without reading the end notes (although if you do you will learn about mid seventeenth century England). Blandford Candy is not Flashman, his character is wholly different. For a start he lacks the bully boy swagger and cowardice of Flashman, although like Flashman he often gets involved in things that he would not have done otherwise, and he’s lead by lust more than brains. He does have brains though, and they get him out of some of the scrapes along with a measure of luck.
Candy is an unreliable narrator from a period where truth and accuracy were seen as perspectives rather than necessities in journalism. The chapters in the book are interspersed with correspondence and news pamphlets from the time, giving us other perspectives than just Candy’s. Like many of his time he is sophisticated in his cynicism of the printed material.
He is the third son of a middling family. Candy has been brought up as a gentleman, but also has an understanding that there will be no inheritance for him. The social position leads him falling naturally into being a young officer in his uncle Samuel Luke’s cavalry troop. This takes him to Edgehill, where his flamboyant red hat marks him out for special attention in the melee with Prince Rupert’s cavalry. Barely surviving the initial clash he recovers his composure and is able to participate later in the breaking of the King’s infantry, where he kills a red-headed ensign and takes the colour.
Back in London he becomes one of the 24 scouts when Parliament appoints Samuel Luke as Scoutmaster General. This leads to a whole load of skulduggery and plotting as well as a raid to uncover the printing press producing pamphlets for the royalists in London. He also goes to Oxford over the winter with the peace commissioners where he meets his middle brother, recently knighted by the King for loyal service. There’s a whole load of hidden plot here that develops through the rest of the story.
We see Blandford Candy being transformed from an innocent young man driven more by libido than anything else into a hardened warrior, confirmed roundhead and cynical agent for Parliament. He also develops close friendships with the other scouts, and there are moments of tragedy when some of them die, whether from disease or enemy action. There’s a lot of promise for more in the book too, references to other events and interesting characters, including Rochester. I certainly hope that there are as least as many of these as there were of the Flashman papers.
The book is available for pre-order, and is on general release from 1 August. Jemahl Evans kindly sent me an advanced reading copy knowing that I was a book reviewer and a member of the English Civil War Society. The Last Roundhead has exceeded my expectations and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone that enjoys history, thrillers, spy stories or mysteries, because it has all of these wrapped in together.