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on October 13, 2009
Beginning in 1033, this is the first part of a trilogy following the fortunes of the remarkable and ambitious Hautville family. A minor Norman baron, the penurious but prolific Tancred de Hautville produced 12 strapping sons (not to mention the odd daughter). Refused service with their overlord Duke Robert of Normandy, who regards them as a threat, the mettlesome Hautville sons contemplate their bleak future. Trained as warriors from an early age, they look south to Italy, where Norman mercenaries are in great demand. William de Hauteville, the oldest, sets off with his brother, Drogo. They know that they must not just make their own way in the world, but also prepare the way for their younger siblings.

Eleventh century Italy is a land of many principalities, full of turmoil and constant warfare. There are many players contending for power: in northern Italy the Western Holy Roman Emperor based in Germany controls several territories, including the Papal States; in central Italy Lombard lords hold independent duchies; in southern Italy the eastern Byzantine Empire and the Saracens hold sway. Soon there will be another player added to the board; the Normans, no longer satisfied with fighting on behalf of others, but hungry for lands and titles of their own.

"Mercenaries" takes a little getting into; the Italian situation is complex and convoluted and repays a bit of background reading. It's useful to have a map of 11th century Italy at hand (I found one at the online Medieval Sourcebooks Maps). Once all the main characters and places are established, the story picks up momentum and rattles along at a spirited pace. The de Hautville brothers are clever, likeable rogues, who soon find work with Norman mercenary captain, Rainulf Drengot and quickly grasp where they can best place themselves to greatest personal advantage. The power struggle between two warring Lombard lords, Guiamar, deposed Duke of Salerno, and his deposer, Pandulf, Prince of Capua, provides a rich opportunity for Drengot and his company of mercenaries, thanks to quick-witted William. There's plenty of action, and clearly more to come in "Warriors" and "Conquest", due out next year.

This is an entertaining workman-like adventure. Its characters are a mix of actual historical figures and fictional ones, and the author provides a helpful note explaining which is which and some historical information. One complaint; there are some errors which should have been picked up during copy-editing, and the most obvious and irritating mistake is repeated throughout the story. The basic fighting unit of the Norman knights was not, as written here, a convoy, but a conroi: a unit of mounted knights, somewhere between twenty and fifty men and horses in size. The knights in a conroi would ride knee-to-knee in strict formation, acting rather like a cavalry version of the shield-wall.
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on February 9, 2011
I was extremely disappointed in this novel. The substance of the book was interesting and educational, but the story telling was very poor. The author starts off with a plot that follows two groups of people. A pair of Norman brothers who act as mercenaries, and two noble siblings. The chapters alternate between the two sets of protagonists, but there is such a lack of cohesion between the story and the characters, that although one can predict that the protagonist groups will eventually interact, you really just don't care. Many times throughout the book, I simply wanted it to be over. I finished it because I was interested in the factual end of the book, and not the characters, who are so lacking in depth that they appear one dimensional. The two brothers are not nearly as flat as the noble brother and sister protagonists, but they could not alone save the book. It is a shame because the historical story was a good one, and one with which I was utterly unfamiliar. Unfortunately, I will not be back for the rest of the trilogy. I will stick with Conn Iggulden and Bernard Cornwell, and those who make a good attempt at weaving characters and historical accounts as well as those two, such as Sam Barone.
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on August 12, 2009
In my opinion, the author's previous work has been uneven. Part 1 of Mercenaries rises above this level, weaving high Middle Ages details with compelling plot lines and historically compelling action. If you like this type of novel, you will revel in this and, hopefully, subsequent volumes!
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on December 7, 2012
This is a great book, couldn't put it down. It was well crafted, with an interesting and progressive plot, interesting characters, and accurate historical details.

The period in Europe just before the Battle of Hastings has been poorly covered in fiction, and I think Jack Ludlow has really carved out a compelling niche here. I read this book in a single day, it was that good.
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on April 4, 2013
This was a good book, I enjoyed it and all the books in this series. I am not going to give details, why I enjoy books like this and someone else does is very different just a good story told well
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on March 3, 2013
Mercenaries is the first part of the story of the de Hauteville brothers who came to dominate southern Italy, particularly Sicily, about 1,000 years ago. The book shines a light on the a forgotten corner of history from the point of view of the de Hauteville family, one which I (more interested in the Byzantine side of this time) had not thought of.

I enjoyed the book although I thought the main point of view character, William de Hauteville, could have been drawn with a bit more emotion - I didn't think his motivation was just fighting and money. Also, knowing some of the history of the time, I thought the timing of various events was a little off, but the book omits references to the years of the occurrences, so I wasn't sure until I checked. However, the author's note at the end mentioned that he knew he was doing it, and did it for dramatic emphasis. That wasn't something I would do, but at least he knew he was doing it. Most readers would probably not realize it and just enjoy the story.
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on September 6, 2012
As a compulsive reader of historical fiction, particularly those novels with a military component, I have read over 100 novels in the past year. This rates as one of best, if not the best, of this genre. Set in 11th century France and Italy, it tells the story of a the migration of Norman knights to Italy initially as mercenaries and subsequently as players in their own right through the story of one Norman family. The characters are rich and well drawn, the details thorough and convincing and the tale is well told. Based on the historical family whose tale is told, it answers the question of how the Normans came from France to become a power in southern Italy and Sicily. Well worh the read.
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on January 1, 2016
great read
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on September 10, 2010
This book is a good introduction to the series and has a solid feel for the lovers of historical fiction.
It has all the key ingredients, interesting historical setting, good strong main characters, a decent smattering of politics, intrigue and dastardly bad guys, plus a good helping of medieval warfare and action.
I will be looking for the other books in the series.
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on June 26, 2015
It's gd to c how d series began, but a books 📚 later in d series are much cooler. William de hauteville is quite a minor character compared to Robert guiscard, d first king 👑 of Norman Naples and for good reason.
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