By Lesley Lodge
It’s 1647: a time of bitter civil wars in England. Wayland, the village blacksmith, returns from army service to find his wife, Rebecca, murdered and his son traumatised and struck dumb. Wayland’s overpowering desire for revenge is thwarted by the collapse of laws and a dearth of clues to her sadistic killer. Thwarted, that is, until the villagers ask him to investigate a runaway horse. Whilst searching for its rider, he discovers instead the body of a young boy, cut with symbols in the same way as Rebecca’s body had been. The clues abound and confuse with elements of witchcraft, religious hatred and the enmities of civil war.
Wayland sets out on a perilous journey to find the killer, taking with him his son Jonathan and Alun, a canny Welsh baker. But just as they find their first suspect, they are trapped in the brutal Siege of Colchester, facing ever more dangerous challenges. Wayland, Alun and Jonathan must draw on all their strengths, devise new strategies and make agonising decisions, if they are to stay alive and find the real killer before he strikes again.
“Justice is not for the likes of you to give.”
But it wasn’t justice that Wayland sought. It was revenge. If the war had not kept him away, then this would never have happened. Nevertheless, when he found out who was responsible for his wife’s death, then he would let the anger consume him, and he would be avenged. But first, there was something else he had to do.
While searching for the rider of a runaway horse, Wayland stumbles upon a gruesome discovery. A young boy has been brutally murdered, his body defiled by strange yet oddly familiar symbols. Wayland is charged by the Coroner to find out the identity of the boy. But with a brutal Civil War still ravaging the country, Wayland must be careful. With the Royalists so close, if it were to be found out that he once fought on the side of Parliament, the consequences could be dire.
However, time is running out, for the murderer will strike again, it is just a question of when.
With a compelling narrative, crisp prose and captivating characters, all set within the backdrop of the English Civil War, Wayland’s Revenge by Lesley Lodge is the kind of book that lovers of quality historical fiction can get very excited about. Not only is it a fabulous murder mystery, but it is also a poignant story of one man whose life has been torn asunder by the terrible realisation that the one person he had sworn to protect had died while he was away fighting a war that seemingly had no end.
At times Wayland’s Revenge is a heart-wrenching read, and it left me in tears on more than one occasion. Wayland’s reaction to the news that his wife had at first been accused of witchcraft while he was at war was one of utter disbelief, as is the fact that no one dared take a stand against such an injustice. The harrowing account of Rebecca’s trial by water is devastating as it is told from the perspective of her young son. Jonathan is a character who witnesses not only his mother’s trial but her subsequent murder, and because of this he is mute for the majority of this book, but his despair needed no words for Lodge demonstrated his torment and his agony through his actions. I thought Jonathan’s depiction was absolutely brilliant. Kudos, Ms Lodge.
I adored the characterisation of Wayland. Wayland is a man who takes responsibility very seriously. He cannot stand by and see a woman abused, and he will, regardless of who the abuser is, step in and stop it. So to discover that his wife had not only been accused of witchcraft, had faced the trial by water, only to survive it, but was then murdered, almost breaks him. Wayland is torn apart by guilt and his need not only for vengeance but to understand why his wife was taken from him so brutally. He is a man seeking answers, and he will not be content until he has them. However, the war between the King and Parliament sets the pace of his investigation, which at times Wayland finds incredibly frustrating. Wayland isn’t always the hero in this story, and there are times when his anger, his hate, makes him lose all notion of reason, but Lodge always pulls him back when he is tottering on the edge.
Wayland’s reaction to Jonathan was sublime. Wayland does not know how to get through to his son. In a time where there wasn’t therapists or counsellors, I thought the way Wayland handled it was as historically accurate as Lodge could get. Wayland really struggles, he doesn’t know what to say to his son or how to say it, which I thought was incredibly heartbreaking and had me reaching for the Kleenex. There is no doubt in my mind that Lodge certainly has a novelist eye for the human condition, for she has captured every conceivable emotion.
Wayland isn’t on this journey alone, however, Alun is on it with him. Alun is a very grounded individual who can step out of the situation and see things sometimes a little more rationally than Wayland can. Together, they make quite the formidable pair, and if anyone is going to get any answers, it will be these two.
I am not going to talk about the antagonist as I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I would like to mention the depiction of some of the historical characters in this book. I thought Lodge’s portrayal of Sir Charles Lucas was sublime as was the portrayal of Thomas Fairfax. Lodge brought both of these characters gloriously back to life.
The historical detailing of this book has to be commended. It is painstakingly obvious that Lodge has spent many hours researching this era, for she has brought it back to life in all its magnificent detail. Lodge’s understanding of the events that led up to the massacre of unarmed women after the Battle of Naseby and the harrowing account of life at Colchester during the long eleven-week siege is diligently represented in this remarkable story of war, love, revenge, and finally, closure.
I was excited to read a book where the author had a clear understanding of everything equestrian. This may seem like a small thing to notice, but Lodge’s depiction of the horses was truly wonderful. Coming from an equestrian background, I often lament the way horses are represented in historical fiction. Lodge understands what these majestic animals can and cannot do, and her depiction of the starving animals, and there somewhat bullying behaviour towards each other, while the Royalist were under siege in Colchester was particularly well-drawn.
I thoroughly enjoyed every word, every syllable, every sentence of Wayland’s Revenge by Lesley Lodge. This is the kind of book that I could happily read over and over again.
I Highly Recommend.
Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.
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Lesley Lodge now lives on a smallholding bafflingly close to Luton after many years working on regeneration projects in south London. Lesley's historical crime thriller novel, published 2018, is set in 17th century England and features ex-soldier and blacksmith Wayland seeking revenger for the brutal murder of his wife. Lesley has previously had several short stories published. Blues to Orange, about a farmer ruined by the foot and mouth outbreak, was a Luton Literary Prize Winner. She is a past Time Out and Jim Beam Whiskey Cult Film Buff of the Year.