Thirty-three years prior to William's successful campaign in England, he is a young boy who has already been declared the future heir to the Dukedom, much to the consternation of Tancred de Hauteville who has been priming his sons as the future Norman leaders. Who knew Duke Robert would dismiss his son's legitimacy and favour direct blood over convention? Deciding that their fortunes would never be found in Normandy, and probably not even what is now known as France, Tancred's two eldest sons set off on a mission to Italy to hire out their knightly skills, becoming mercenaries.
There is something about this novel that truly appealed to me. I can't really place my finger on it as there are issues, but it has drawn me in, and I want more. While we don't really get too deeply into any of the characters, there is a stand-out in the second eldest son, Drogo. Perhaps the next two books in the series will address this, or there is a reason why we are so well informed about this character rather than William, the older of the two. What this book does do, is give an impression of how complex dealing with different hierarchies within the mercenary world as well as those of the Church and nobility, particularly in the region of what is now known as modern day Italy.
The one criticism I have, and again it may be addressed in the follow-up novels, is the compression of time. I had, incorrectly assumed as it turned out, that this story took place over a period of a year, two at most. That is not at all the case. There is an author's note, but while there is a small explanation about some of the fictionalised elements, there is no real explanation as to why time is not really dealt with in the book itself. But getting past that, I am looking forward to the rest of the series.