The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney
The English Civil War is so often portrayed as a conflict between the royalists and the puritans that one forgets it began as a conflict between the king and parliament. So it is interesting to read a novel set during this initial period before the whole edifice of English society had been overturned but when, nevertheless, structures were beginning to crumble.
Cleverly dovetailed into history, with its spurious but convincing provenance and its cast of real and invented characters, The Last Roundhead is the story of Blandford Candy, who is obliged to join the parliamentary army to avoid a scandal at home.
It's a period of political and military uncertainty. Both sides are at war but both sides are also involved in a protracted series of negotiations. Many of the parliamentarians still feel a good deal of loyalty towards their king and although attitudes are hardening , there is still room for sympathies to change. It is in this environment that Blandford finds his true vocation. He becomes a Scout, a spy for the parliamentary party with a licence to unravel the enemy's machinations.
To his own surprise, he proves successful at espionage but everything else in his life goes awry. His friends are killed; he loses the woman he loves; and his two brothers, who have joined the royalist party, are determined to see him dead. Finally, he becomes the target of an a determined assassination plot.
Laced with disenchantment at the incompetence of powerful men, the novel pulls off that difficult trick of seeming entirely authentic while simultaneously resonating with a contemporary sensibility. When I got to the end, I immediately wanted to go back to the history books and find out more about the characters who flitted in and out of its pages.