Title: Highwayman: Ironside
Author: Michael Arnold
Published by: Sharpe Books
Publication date: 11 Mar. 2018
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Private Collection
A nation reeling from the turmoil of bloody civil war. An island in the iron grip of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate.
The forces of King Charles have been defeated. The sovereign is dead, his supporters beaten, humiliated and scattered.
But it is not just former Cavaliers who find themselves hounded by the new regime. Many of those who fought for Parliament have fallen foul of the oppressive rule of the Major-Generals.
One such man is Major Samson Lyle: Roundhead, outlaw, fugitive. Forced into exile after a dispute with the ruling elite, he has returned, intent on waging war against those now in command. Skilled with pistol and blade, Lyle takes the fight onto the busy roads south of the capital, forging a formidable reputation as a notorious highwayman.
Along with his trusted young ward Bella, and Eustace Grumm, an irascible former smuggler, Lyle dodges the ever-present threat of capture to menace those against whom he has sworn revenge. But when the robbery of a powerful lawyer alerts Lyle to the imprisonment of a former comrade, the Major is plunged into a dangerous game of intrigue and deceit that may finally prove his undoing. And he must tread carefully, for Parliament have dispatched their own man to hunt the elusive outlaw.
The villainous Colonel John Maddocks is tracking Lyle’s every move, and soon he will come face to face with the Ironside Highwayman.
I picked the series of Highwayman books up from a charity shop in Louth and read them all back to back. Was tempted to review them all together, but getting more posts on the blog felt like a good idea at the time!
Highwayman: Ironside is the first short story in a three-book short story series. Set in the Cromwellian, post-civil-war era of England, Samson Lyle has abandoned the life of his military career, gone deserter and now makes a living as the renown Ironside Highwayman. Caught up in a feud that has become nothing but personal against former allies, Lyle has to navigate the intrigue of politicians and their wayward parties in order to gain the upper hand on his foes.
Highwayman: Ironside is a short story/novella that thrusts the reader deep into the action. It’s a fast-paced adventure of vivid sword fighting, unique-firearms and outwitting the enemy in all manner of dastardly ways. Samson Lyle is a bit akin to Sharpe in many ways, an anti-hero that’s going about doing the right thing in all the wrong ways. He is an easy character to root for, mostly because his backstory is relatable and tragic; having quit the Irish War for it being to depraved, he returns to England as a deserter only to find that the army is after him for treachery and has murdered his wife. The backstory is given plenty of detail and helps to build up the character we read about within. He’s an entertaining protagonist in the fact that he’s a swash-buckling man of the people, that’ll stop at nothing to claim his revenge.
Alongside him is Bella, the young teenage girl that introduced herself to Lyle as a prostitute. Lyle freed her from the bonds of such an inappropriate lifestyle for a young girl and they’ve been bonded together ever since. Also with them is the elderly smuggler, Eustace Grumm, who owes Lyle his life. Together, they make an interesting team for all their individual quirks and eccentricities. The most interesting of all though was Star, the post-traumatically-stress horse that Lyle insists on using despite the dangers of riding a mount that bolts at the sound of gunfire.
The plot of the novella is straight-forward and highly entertaining with the twists and turns it provides. Lyle acquires the papers detailing a prisoner transfer; freeing a Royalist during the time of Parliamentarian reign would strike a blow against Cromwell and his Major-Generals and thus Lyle sets his heart on breaking the prisoner free. The catch is that he doesn’t know when the prisoner will be transferred and the only way to get the information is to attend a masquerade ball and keep his identity a secret.
Highwayman: Ironside packs a good punch for such a short book. The novella starts thrusting the reader in the middle of an action scenes; a carriage chase, and doesn’t let up until the Highwayman does what he does best, robbing the occupants. The novella contains a lot of elements that you’d expect from a much larger novel and while there are times when the pacing slows, the story doesn’t necessarily suffer for it. There are hints of romance, fighting, tension, political intrigue, breath-taking close shaves and Lyle doing his best to one-up his rivals and foes. All set on a back-drop of dry humour and shocking background stories.
The story is wrapped up very quickly and the ending did feel somewhat rushed compared to the slow build up of the first half of the book, but I enjoyed the unique quirks of each of the characters – to the point that I binge read the other two novellas in the series right afterwards – and the historical era and accuracy was really captivating. Having said that, I know very little of my history, which is half the reason I read these sorts of novels. So, if they are truly accurate or not, I don’t know. Everything felt realistic and believable to me.
Lyle is a very sensational character, he escapes escapades at the last moment. Leaving the reader feeling breathless. And it’s this that I truly enjoyed about these novels. There is a level of threat that the characters face and you don’t know if they’ll all make it out alive, but hope that they do.
A character driven story that involves all the sensationalism you’d expect of an anti-hero Highwayman. A short novella, that packs a punch in terms of content with lots of action right from the first page. Highly entertaining historical-fiction novella that speaks with era accurate authority.
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