The Next Best Thing to Being There
I first read Death’s Head when it came out in installments, with breaks of several months between the four releases, and I enjoyed it so much that I decided to read it again as a unit. If anything, it was better the second time around. I’ve read several of Mr. Broomall’s novels, and they’re all good, but this one takes the cake. Robert Broomall writes with an almost magical economy of phrasing. The words he chooses, the sentences he constructs, have a certain rhythm that is difficult to describe and hard to find … but you know when you find it that this author has the gift. And that’s what makes Death’s Head such an easy read, in spite of its gargantuan length. In the hands of a less capable writer, this could have been a disaster, but Mr. Broomall has crafted a story that flows so smoothly that it’s almost impossible to put down. Mr. Broomall has an instinctual grasp of plot, setting, and dialogue. His characters are varied, well-defined, and memorable. His starkly real 12th century world is populated by people lovable, nefarious, and in-between, and all of them are consistently rendered and possess their own voice so they are easily distinguished from one another. I connected with the protagonist, Roger, immediately. From the first page I was along for the ride, following Roger on his journey (both literal and figurative) as events propelled him from England to the Holy Land to the depths of his own soul. Death’s Head is not for the faint of heart. Not only is it long, but it’s gritty and violent and frequently gruesome. It pulls no punches when portraying war, disease, poverty, famine, and corruption in the 12th century. Painstakingly researched, the novel is so realistic and immersive that I often forgot I was reading. I was there. Mr. Broomall has taken a historical epic with a cast of thousands (literally) and deftly boiled it down to a novel that somehow balances great entertainment with historical authenticity. Be prepared to get sucked into the story, but watch out … you may actually learn something along the way.