I had high expectations for this novel and was not disappointed. 'White Hawk (I): Revenge' was my introduction to David Pilling's writing when I happened to catch it as a Kindle freebie a few months ago. This one I purchased the day it came out (This may be the only Kindle book that I have willingly paid for!), so anxious was I to continue the story of Richard Bolton during the Wars of the Roses. The second installment of The White Hawk series begins approximately 8 years after the end of the first and covers the rebellions of Robin Redesdale and Lord Wells. Though he is briefly taken prisoner by the Earl of Warwick, Edward IV manages to crush both attempts at removing him from power. Richard Bolton is a diehard Lancastrian obsessed with putting Henry VI back on the throne. He has become so removed from the idea of regular life with a wife, family, and estates, that he jumps at the opportunity to fight against Edward regardless of who he must ally himself with or what the odds of success seem to be.
Though this novel is written from the Lancastrian point of view, Pilling does an excellent job of balanced storytelling. Henry VI does not enter the story at all, only those who are willing to risk their lives for his benefit, whether they believe him to be slightly addled or not. Edward may be the enemy, but he is still written as the glorious, larger than life soldier that few deny him to be. The only person written as a true villain is Warwick, and, really, for good reason. He did lead rebellion and cause the deaths of thousands, first to put Edward on the throne, then in attempts to remove him.
Pilling writes realistic, moving battle scenes with some men who bravely charge forth regardless of the odds and others who manage to hide in the back even if their side is victorious. Some men go bravely to deaths that they don't deserve, while others bribe their way out of those that are well earned. This is no historical fiction fluff. It is gritty, harsh, and real.
Richard has not forgotten the revenge he vowed in the first book of this series and it controls his life, effects his relationship with his remaining family, and keeps him from starting a life of his own not based on war. Pilling also describes the indecision and questions of loyalty of the Lancastrians who must decide whether fighting for Warwick or one of his agents is desirable. Is it enough to be fighting against Edward, who they consider to be a usurper, or should they hold out and fight only for Henry VI himself. It is a conundrum that I had not previously considered.
This novel may not be long, but it packs a big punch with fantastic and varied characters, remarkable historical research, and high quality writing.