Book Review: The Sons of Brabant by Michael Bolan

As much as I enjoy writing books set in a relatively obscure portion of history, it can also get lonely. I watch other writers bond over a shared interest in Regency England, Ancient Rome, Tudor England, Revolutionary France and other more “popular” time periods with just a little jealousy. So imagine my delight when I discovered another writer currently crafting a series set during the Thirty Years War.

The Sons of Brabant is the first book in The Devil’s Bible series by Prague-based writer Michael Bolan. It’s a great read.

the sons of brabant

Europe is on fire. Fuelled by religion, politics and power, war rages across the continent, pitting father against son, and brother against brother.

In the wake of such conflict come horrific famine and deadly plagues. Rumours begin to surface of the End of Days, of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the violent Renaissance of Mankind.

As Europe burns, betrayal and feuding rages in the Brabant family. Why does Reinald, the powerful yet dishonest Duke fear his younger siblings so? How will headstrong Leo and noble Willem outsmart their older brother, and take back what is rightfully theirs? And what of Isabella, their troublesome younger sister, whose fiery temper lands her in love and in trouble…

Vowing to put right the wrongs of their family and bring an end to their brother’s deadly plans, Willem, Leo and Isabella must chart a course through war, famine and pestilence.

Meanwhile Reinald forms an unlikely and deadly alliance with a megalomaniac, a warmonger, and a deranged yet brilliant scientist, hell-bent on seeing their holy mission through to its grisly conclusion.

Can the Sons of the King of Brabant survive? Help appears from the most unlikely of places…

 

The Sons of Brabant tracks the lives of four siblings, Willem, Leo, Isabella and Reinald- children of the Duke of Brabant. When the duke dies, the succession is less than clear-cut and the duchy ends up in Reinald’s hands. His three siblings exile themselves, and over time head up a highly competent band of mercenaries, called the Sons of Brabant, active in the later battles of the Thirty Years War.

In the meantime, Reinald pursues a surprisingly sinister course of action, becoming involved with some of the most famous characters of the time. I don’t want to give away anything about this apocalyptic part of the plot, so I’ll just say that it’s unbelievably cool and inventive and I’m a bit jealous that I didn’t think of it.

Another surprise in this book is the use of aspects of Irish folklore, which are woven into the storyline of the Sons of Brabant mercenary band. At first it’s hard to see how Reinald’s story and those of the Sons belong together, but they do start to converge by the end of the book.

Meticulously researched and intelligently written, The Sons of Brabant is a dense, challenging read. Even though there is no shortage of excitement, the story spins itself out gradually, culminating in an especially action-packed climax. The plot is complex, but well-thought-out and blessedly free of holes. I especially appreciated the portrayal of a war-weary Europe and the appearance of a certain Swedish general.

I enjoyed most of the characters, even the bad ones (okay, especially the bad ones), although I wished for more Isabella. She’s an intriguing character with great potential and didn’t get much to do in this book, though I have a feeling that might be remedied in future installments.

A few minor quibbles: there were flashbacks strewn throughout that didn’t do much to advance the plot. They generally didn’t add much in terms of character development and tended to slow the action unnecessarily. I also couldn’t decide if I liked the use of omniscient point of view. It’s used rarely enough that it jumped out at me and took me out of the story a few times early on, until I got used to it.

Even though this first part of the story was satisfyingly wrapped up, many questions remain unanswered, with promise of catastrophic confrontations to come. Fortunately, there won’t be a long wait for the next installment since it comes out this fall. I’m looking forward to it!

 

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