I forget where I stumbled across Michael Arnold‘s work. It might’be been a blog post somewhere talking about his book covers, but not 100% sure. Anyways, Michael is a UK author who’s stories take place during a favorite period of mine — the English Civil War. He recently had a promotion to download his novella for free, so I jumped at the opportunity. It’s called Highwayman: Ironside and it takes place just after the English Civil Wars. As I’m editing a novel about my own highwayman, it was cool and thematically appropriate to read this story.
Right from the get-go it’s obvious that Michael is a big fan of both the time period he’s writing in as well as swashbucklers himself. It starts off with action — a chase scene — as a carriage is trying to outrun a highwayman barreling down on him. Their assailant is none other than Major Samson Lyle, aka the Ironside Highwayman. Lyle used to fight for the Roundheads but has grown disillusioned by their cause after some unfortunate events happened to him (I won’t spoil what). He hasn’t quite turned a 180 to join the obliterated Cavaliers cause, but as they say “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” so he takes pleasure in helping the Royalists and stealing from the Parliamentarians. It’s a weird Robin Hood-esque relationship, but with it’s own quirks and twists.
Lyle your classic, dashing swashbuckler with a chip on his shoulder. It makes him both bold and reckless, which is a beautiful combination for adventure stories. What’s so fun about a super cautious lead? Lyle doesn’t fight alone. His help comes in the form of the young Bella, the crotchety smuggler, Eustace Grumm, and his loyal steed, Star, who is rivals Grumm in crotchetyness and is very much a character on its own.
After robbing the coach he learns about a plan to move a political prisoner. Grumm warns against it, but Lyle can’t be moved once his mind is set to it. But he doesn’t know when the prisoner is to be moved. He needs to infiltrate a masquerade party thrown by a powerful Parliamentarian to get the info, by Lyle’s former comrade and now archenemy — Colonel John Maddocks — is in attendance and things get… tricky from there.
Since it’s a novella, it’s a quick read and it’s full of action and swordplay. Michael’s descriptions of the fighting is well done, and as one who practices historical fencing and owns a little collection of rapiers, his description of the swords — especially the Pappenheimer rapier — is very much appreciated. It’s really a classic swashbuckler tale written by a contemporary author. Something I wish we saw more of, but hopefully this is the start of it.
I highly recommend Highwayman: Ironside to anyone who enjoys gritty swashbucklers and the English Civil War, and is looking for a fun, fast read.