Publisher: Head of Zeus (Trade Paperback – 31 May 2022)
Series: Standalone/Book One
Length: 474 pages
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Get ready for one of the most thrilling historical adventures of 2022 with the wildly entertaining and deeply captivating medieval fiction novel, The Lawless Land, by the outstanding team of Boyd and Beth Morrison.
Despite my recent focus on other genres, historical fiction in all its forms remains one of my favourite book categories to check out, especially with awesome new novels coming out all the time. One of the best examples of this is The Lawless Land, which I was lucky enough to receive a copy of a little while ago. The Lawless Land was a fascinating read that takes some great protagonists on a bold adventure through medieval Europe. This book was written by Boyd and Beth Morrison, a brother and sister team who have deeply impressed me. This was a rather interesting combination of writers, as Boyd Morrison is an acclaimed thriller and historical fiction author, and Beth Morrison is the Senior Curator of Manuscripts at the J. Paul Getty Museum and has a PHD in history. These overachieving siblings really cooked up something special here with their first book, and I loved the outstanding story it contained.
In 1351, Europe is in utter chaos as the Hundred Years’ War rages in France and the Pestilence ravages the countryside, depopulating towns and devastating cities. These are dark days indeed, and only the desperate and the foolish can be found traversing the roads. Unfortunately, this includes skilled knight Gerard Fox, whose lands and titles have been taken from him as punishment for a crime against the church, and who is now forced to wander the world by himself, desperate to reclaim his family’s honour.
Journeying towards the castle of Lord Tonbridge, the one man who may be able to prove his innocence, Gerard witnesses a band of armed men waylaying a noblewoman. Impulsively jumping into action, Gerard saves the women, slaughtering her attackers and forever changing his life. The young woman, Lady Isabel, is Lord Tonbridge’s betrothed, who has fled from her future husband, taking with her a sacred relic she is sworn to protect. Forced to abandon his own quest, Gerard agrees to escort Isabel to safety, however, he is unaware of the chaos that is about to be unleashed upon him.
Tonbridge had promised Isabel’s relic to an ambitious Cardinal in Paris, one who is determined to rise to the station of Pope. Desperate to reclaim the relic and use it to cement his position, the Cardinal and his pawn, Tonbridge, unleash their substantial forces to hunt down Gerard and Isabel. Fleeing their pursuers, Gerard and Isabel traverse the breadth of England and France to find safe harbour for the relic. Forced to contend with dangerous foes around every corner, Gerard, Isabel, and their faithful companions will face the worse that medieval Europe has to offer and more. But worse lies in wait for Gerard, as he bears a dark connection with his pursuers that will ensure they will never stop hunting him.
Wow, now this was a really cool historical fiction novel. The exceptional writing team behind The Lawless Land have produced an outstanding novel that is extremely exciting, action-packed, and character driven, while also being heavy on the historical detail and accuracy. This results in an exceptional and epic historical thriller read that I had an absolute blast getting through and which gets a well-deserved five-star rating from me.
The Lawless Land was such a cool read, and I quickly fell in love with its brilliant and exceptional story. Essentially an adventure thriller set in medieval times, the authors start The Lawless Land off very quickly, showing the protagonist in battle as he saves the damsel in distress, only to end up in even more trouble. Effectively introducing the key characters early on, you get a real sense of the novels impressive style right at the start, especially with its gritty feel and intense action sequences. The story soon evolves into a high stakes chase across Europe, as Gerard, Isabel and their companions try to outrace and outwit their opponents to save Isabel’s relic and get revenge for Gerard. The authors make excellent use of multiple character perspectives here to showcase the chase from both sides, and you get a good look at the various schemes and ploys of the antagonists, as well as the full depths of their villainy. These amazing and action-packed scenes are expertly interspersed with some flashback chapters that examine the full history and tragedy of the protagonists, especially Gerard, and work to fully establish the enmity between him and the antagonists. This entire first half of the book is very well written, and the authors’ excellent style will appeal to wide range of readers, not just historical fiction fans, as anyone who enjoys a great adventure or gripping thriller read, can get really engrossed in this excellent story.
This perfectly sets up the second half of this epic novel, which sees the character involved in all manner of carnage and battle as they attempt to win. I honestly powered through the last 250 pages or so in a day; I was having that much fun reading it. This second part has everything, including jousting tournaments, prison breaks, desperate chases, elaborate skirmishes, political intrigue, skullduggery and more action than you can shake a stick at. There is even a full-on judicial duel (think The Last Duel), which was one of the most impressive and gritty fights in the entire book. There are some intriguing twists, clever reveals, major tragedies, and some outstanding action throughout this entire second half, and it was so much fun to see it all unfold. I really must highlight the impressive action of The Lawless Land, as all the fights felt particularly realist and very epic, and you can honestly feel every powerful swing and strike of steel on steel. The authors bring all the established story elements of The Lawless Land together extremely well in the end, and readers will come away satisfied, especially with the fun conclusion and the great ending for the characters. While this is ostensibly a standalone read, and the authors do wrap up everything really well, there is potential for a sequel at the end, and I for one would not be opposed to seeing more from these characters in the future.
One of the most compelling parts of The Lawless Land was the brilliant dive into the history of medieval Europe. The writing team clearly did their research when it came to this novel, which is hardly surprising considering the scholarly expertise of one of its authors. As such, this novel is loaded with impressive and captivating historical detail which isn’t overshadowed by some of the more over-the-top action. You get a great sense of the how bleak and brutal the continent was at this point in history, with some chilling depictions of plague and pestilence, as well as some intriguing looks at The Hundred Years’ War, including a full flashback chapter to the Battle of Crécy. The authors spend time exploring a ton of fascinating stuff from this period, including knightly conduct, the power and influence of the church, day to day life for people in cities and the countryside, and so much more. I particularly loved the scenes set around a tournament in France, where the protagonist engages in a series of jousts. The sheer amount of detail and realism around these scenes are so very cool, and you can really picture how everything would have looked and felt. There is also a great examination of medieval manuscripts (again, because of one of the author’s academic focuses), which become a key part of The Lawless Land’s plot, and it was really interesting to examine the significance and process behind them. All this impressive work around the setting and other historical elements of The Lawless Land really enhanced the overall quality of the book, and I loved how seamlessly it was worked into the epic narrative.
I also must highlight the fantastic characters featured within The Lawless Land, which includes an awesome balance of likeable protagonist and maniacal villains who hunt them. The story is perfectly split between the two groups, and you get some fun and intense competing views of events throughout the story as a result. The protagonists are headlined by the awesome character of Gerard Fox, a wandering knight, banished from his family’s lands by the church following a confrontation with one of the antagonists years ago. Dragged into this conspiracy by accident, Gerard becomes Isabel’s companion and protector, and tries to escort the relic to safety. A man of action and honour, Gerard is haunted by his past and his many failures, which include watching his brother die in battle, and being tricked into losing everything. He is also obsessed with discovering the true fate of his mother, and her mysterious disappearance and certain revelations draw him into this conspiracy even further. A lot of the novel revolves around Gerard’s past, and it was fascinating to see him come to terms with it and try to balance this current quest with his own desires. Gerard ends up being a pretty awesome protagonist to follow, especially with his martial prowess, unique weaponry, penchant for mischief and trickery (like a certain French fox), and his unbending desire to do the right thing.
Gerard is accompanied by some interesting companions, and the most prominent of these is Lady Isabel. A noblewoman who was forced into marriage, Isabel seeks to protect her family’s most sacred relic from her betrothed and goes to great length to escape him. Although she is initially seen as a bit of a damsel in distress, you soon begin to realise that there is a lot more to Isabel than what first appears, as she is an incredibly capable woman with some keen insights and strategies that prove invaluable to her companions. The authors work some excellent storylines around Isabel in this novel, and you really come to appreciate and enjoy her pluck, courage and intelligence. There is also a very clever twist about this character revealed in the second half of the book, which was set up extremely well by the authors, including in some flashbacks that both hint at and hide the truth from the reader. I also should mention the fun supporting characters of Henri and Youssef, two friendly rogues who have substantial history and friendship with Gerard. Henri and Youssef are excellent additions to the protagonists, and their fun personalities balance well with Gerard and Isabel’s to create a very likeable group of heroes that you become quite attached to, even if that leads to eventual heartbreak for the reader.
I also need to talk about The Lawless Land’s outstanding trio of villains who dog the protagonists’ steps throughout the entire narrative. This includes the evil Lord Tonbridge, Isabel’s betrothed who she runs away from. While Tonbridge is mainly hunting them for Isabel’s relic, it also becomes clear that Tonbridge is even more obsessed with righting the perceived slight to his honour and is eager for vengeance. However, Tonbridge is also partially subservient to villainous French cardinal Molyneux, who has promised him power and a kingship if he succeeds. Molyneux is particularly despicable, as an ambitious and immoral member of the church who is attempting to become Pope. Using his influence and the protection of the church for his advantage, Molyneux gains large amount of money and land through unscrupulous means and has some dark history with Gerard’s family, which deeply impacts both his and Gerald’s motivations to confound each other. The final villain is Molyneux’s vassal and bastard son Basquin, who serves as the protagonist’s main pursuer. A skilled swordsman and tactician, Basquin is a worthy, if not superior, foe to Gerard, whom he bears a powerful grudge against. There is some fascinating history behind Basquin that became quite an awesome part of the plot, and it was great to see the intense and captivating confrontations between the two. The authors take Basquin in some intriguing directions in this book, especially when his own desires clash with that of his abusive father, forcing him to go rogue and enact his own ambitious plan. All these villains were extremely well written, and it proved highly entertaining to see them go up against Gerard, Isabel and the rest throughout The Lawless Land. I had such a great time with the characters in this book, and their intense relationships, rivalries and schemes added so much to the power of the novel.
Overall, The Lawless Land was an exceptional and impressive historical fiction read from the great new team of Boyd and Beth Morrison. These two talented writers came up with something very special with The Lawless Land, and I loved the outstanding and highly addictive narrative contained in this book. Featuring a ton of epic action, some amazing characters, and some superb historical detail, The Lawless Land was an incredible read that comes very highly recommended by me.