I woke up one morning on holiday last week to find an incubus in my bed – on the Kindle beneath my pillow, where I’d been reading the night before.
I’d forgotten that I’d preordered the latest in David Penny’s Thomas Berrington series, but was glad to find it. Although I had no idea what an incubus was, I was confident that The Incubus, the fourth book in a planned series of ten, would be a cracking holiday read.
A Hazardous Journey – Just the Beginning
This time, Thomas’s first whiff of a murder mystery appears while he is escorting a hundred Moorish refugees to safety in war-torn territory where Spanish troops are eroding the power of the Moors. After a hazardous journey they take refuge in the soon-to-be-besieged clifftop town of Ronda. (Stupidly, I took a while to stop mentally reading it as Rhondda, an entirely different place!)
Here the mystery thickens, and Thomas is torn between tracking down a serial killer and seeking resolution to the conflict between the two cultures that is decimating lives and territory.
One Life Against Many
There is an uncomfortable irony in Thomas and his trusty team of fiancee Lubna and sidekick Jorge spending so much time pursuing the perpetrator of a serial killer while so many lives are lost as a matter of course in the battles between Moors and Spanish.
While Thomas is of course a surgeon rather than a soldier, his combative skills are called on more than ever in this book. There are many scenes of hand-to-hand fighting, as well as numerous grisly deaths.
Normally I’d baulk at scenes of violence, not because I am squeamish about blood, but because I don’t like life being cheapened, but in these books, although there are many deaths, the fighting is done with appropriate surgical precision, and the descriptions do not at all glorify the violence.
Indeed, there are at least two points where Thomas, who should be hardened to such things, muses on the fragility of life and the closeness of life and death, “separated by a heartbeat”, and the many deaths make life seem more valuable rather than less, and that’s what makes the bloodshed tolerable to me as a reader.
Rich in Historical Detail
As with previous books in the series, there is plenty of historical detail, with real characters woven into the story. While it is very much a historical chronicle, it is also an especially interesting read for our times, with power changing hands and cultures clashing, with Thomas, as neither Moor nor Spaniard, caught up in the middle. Reading the word “refugees” in the context of medieval history startled me somewhat, and led me to a bit of “plus ca change” reflection. was also bemused by Thomas worrying in the midst of all the mayhem as to whether he’s spending enough quality time with his soul-mate Lubna (my words, not his), and these human touches also temper the bloody plots with kindness and compassion.
Bring on Book 5!
The new strand introduced about the African slave trade and its impact on maritime history adds another layer to this fascinating series, and I’m looking forward now to seeing that further developed in future books.