Extended action scenes, battle scenes, meaningful depictions of large scale violence, can be hard to depict in prose. I don’t tend to enjoy reading them; maybe the screen is a better medium in this area. But there are some masterly literary practitioners of combat on a large scale (Abercrombie, McCarthy, Doctorow spring to mind). Willocks is another writer who excels in this area, and not only does he excel at depicting the appalling savagery of historical warfare, he also excels at recreating history and making the past, and its citizens, live so vividly.
Two epic stories here, often heartbreaking, with excruciating inner struggles that characters endure between baseness and grace. ‘The Religion’ probably remains one of my favourite novels. I read it on publication in 2006. It takes The Siege of Malta (1565) as its subject. Reading it left me feeling physically and mentally fatigued. A desert island book for me. Not long finished ‘The Twelve Children of Paris’. Also a masterpiece imo, and based on the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in Paris (1572); this one requires a strong stomach. Particularly poignant in a world still addicted to sectarian violence and both novels left me relieved that I was born in the late 1960s and not the 1560s. Each story completely transported me as a reader.
If you like grim but marvellous adventures of humanity in times of inhumanity, these are the first two books in the Tannhauser trilogy. I look forward to the third installment. One of the finest living British writers that I’ve read.