Saturday, November 12, 2022

Book Review | Essex Dogs

Some men fight for glory. Others fight for coin. The Essex Dogs fight for each other.



Not exactly a surprise, or maybe a huge surprise, since it is historical fiction?

But it's also Dan Jones, so come on.

I own two copies of this beauty. One I pre-ordered from The Broken Binding and it is gorgeous. I wrote about it HERE. The first, however, came from Dan himself because he had announced on his Facebook page that the ARC was available on NetGalley. Sad for me, it was only on NetGalley UK at that time; I whined about it, so Dan went out of his way and EMAILED ME MY VERY OWN COPY.

I devoured it, which surprised even me, but ONLY because it is historical fiction.

I'm not going to lie, I was a little nervous going in. I love medieval history (OBVIOUSLY), but warfare and military history in general is not my thing. And anyone who has been here for a minute knows that I typically dismiss historical fiction because why would you read made-up stories set in the coolest time period ever, when you can just read REAL stories about REAL people like my girl Eleanor of Aquitaine, who actually existed?

You know when you DO read those historical fiction books though? When they're written by a historian who actually cares about accuracy and knows what the fuck he is talking about.

The book opens in July of 1346. The Essex Dogs have arrived in Normandy, a group of ten men heading towards their destiny to partake in one of the most important battles in history, the Battle of Crécy. They certainly recognize the importance of what is coming, in the early years of what will become the Hundred Years' War.

I think one of the reasons I liked this one so much is that it is the story of ordinary soldiers, the real men on whose backs wars were really won or lost as the king they were fighting for looked on the battlefield from afar. FitzTalbot leads his men into battle time and again as they fight their way across Normandy. Despite the fact that summer was for war and war was a fact of life, he cares for his men and wants to get them home when all is said and done. However, I will not tell you if he is successful in that.

The men truly begin to shine in their own ways as we get bits of backstory for each as the novel goes on. We find out their individual motivations for going to war, but the bottom line is the men are close as brothers and would do anything for one another. They depend on one another for survival, at all costs. It would have been easy in a novel like this with ten Dogs, for them to blend together, but that did not happen. Each stands on his own, with his own personality, and I was never going back and forth trying to figure out who was who again. I hate when that happens in novels, because it is such a disruption to the story.

Despite being a book about medieval warfare and all the atrocities and horror that come with that, the fact that the novel is so character-driven is what kept me so engaged. War is terrible and violent and something I typically don't care to read about. But I cared about these characters, and their relationships truly were the heart of the story, despite the bloodshed. Time and again through banter and arguments, highs and lows, the men become so real. It was easy to get lost in the story because of how well Jones writes these characters. He truly has a talent for fiction (which I both love and don't love, because I want to know what is coming next for these guys, but also...non-fiction will always be my first love).

Even with this fantastic cast of characters straight out of Jones' imagination, we are treated to appearances by real historical figures -  Edward III, his son Edward, the Black Prince, and the Earl of Northampton. Including them, but not putting them at the forefront, balances the story really well.

Side note: I think we all know what kinds of war crimes occur, especially against women, and have occurred since man began making war. I appreciate Jones not going into detail on said war crimes despite the reality that those crimes did occur and are implied here.

Okay, so despite everything I have said about not typically enjoying military history, I loved Band of Brothers and could watch it over and over. Saving Private Ryan is one of my favorite movies of all time. I was constantly reminded of those groups of men roaming across France as I followed the long and violent journey of the Essex Dogs. Congratulations Dan Jones, you are now the Steven Spielberg of medieval history!

And given the fact that medieval history is kind of Jones' thing, it would have been easy for the story to get bogged down with historical details, but that does not happen. The book is gritty and authentic and raw. It never feels like there's too much information for those even with the least amount of knowledge of the period.

Despite the cyclical nature of war and the constant skirmishes and battles the men participate in, it does not feel like the same thing over and over again. There are raids on villages, the storming of castles, and all manner of events in between. It's exhausting at times, given the chaotic brutality of war, but the story moves along at a good pace.

No question, the book is fantastic. I can't wait to see what happens next. Get to it, Dan! (He's working on book two now, not sure how far along he is in the process. Also, check out his Friday Lives on Facebook because they are still a thing and still fucking hilarious.)

Highly, highly recommended.


  1. Nice to have the author send you a copy of his book.

    1. Right? I adore Dan Jones, and most of the time I think he gives me early access to his books because:

      a) he knows I am going to buy it when it is out anyway
      b) he doesn't want me to flutter about and bother him

      Mostly kidding, but also not really. He is one of the coolect authors I have had the pleasure of meeting. Hilarious and humble, for sure. He's a gem!

  2. Historical fiction is funny that way- I agree, why read something made UP about a time period that is fascinating enough on its own? I mean fiction is fiction, but history is history. anyway, having said that, glad this lived up to the high standard. This sounds awesome, and I want to read it although I'm going to read his Plantagenets first.

  3. I remember you talking about this one back when it was announced, so I'm so pleased it lived up to the hype! I agree that historical fiction can be either not accurate or too bogged down by the history, so I love that Jones was able to balance it out. I wouldn't normally pick up this kind of book, but you've got me intrigued. It may be one I work in for the end of the year!

    1. It's not my normal fare either, but you know me - I'd read a book about watching paint dry if Dan Jones wrote it. I breezed through it pretty fast, would be a good one to end the year with while on holiday!


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