There are various tests that every historical novel has to meet before it can be considered a success. The Last Roundhead by Jemahl Evans passes these with flying colours The historical world of the English Civil War is rendered so credibly it’s easy to imagine the author experienced the 1640s himself. The Last Roundhead is a modern novel, of course, but it feels beautifully of the time in which it is set. Everything from period insults and expletives to sexual and religious politics feel right. Historical figures such as John Hampden, John Hurry and Samuel Luke are realised convincingly and seamlessly woven into the fictional elements of the story. The extent of the author’s evident research can be seen on every page, but is easily forgotten, so smoothly is the narrative crafted.
None of this would matter if the main character was not someone the reader could believe in and identify with, and in Blandford Candy, The Last Roundhead has a central figure as likeable as he is flawed. Candy (who, in a nice touch, is an ancestor of Clive Candy, Powell & Pressburger’s Colonel Blimp) narrates the tale from Restoration-era London, where the mythologising of the Civil War has already begun. This way we get to contrast the irascible elder with his younger self. Not that the young Blandford is any more idealistic than his older self – without giving too much away, he is tipped into the Civil War on Parliament’s side more through accident than design, and no doubt like many scions of the landed gentry, has to deal with the consequences of divided loyalties in his own family. He also has to deal with the consequences of his own love of women, drink and hats. We follow Blandford as he falls in with a miscellany of Civil War era characters from the puritanical to the dissolute, through historical events such as the Battle of Edgehill and the Battle of Chalgrove Field.
The bawdy humour of the 17th century runs through the book, turning black on occasion, and punctuated with moments of heartwrenching loss. This is a war story, as well as a coming of age tale and a historical romp in the picaresque tradition of Defoe, Sterne and Smollett. It’s also a darn fine read, which will be enjoyed equally by scholars of the 17th century and readers with a casual interest in the era.