The White Company is a motley group of English mercenaries, fighting under the leadership of Sir Nigel Loring. Bound by an unquestioning respect for social order, patriotism and a lust for adventure, the company makes its way to France to fight in the local wars. With assiduous attention to historical detail, Conan Doyle paints a convincing picture of the chivalric life and manners of the 14th century. With a fresh, concise style, this is a robust and stirring tale of adventure with the spirit and humorous touch of a Chaucerian raconteur.
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I had high hopes for this audiobook: the author of Sherlock Holmes writing a historical adventure featuring a mercenary company of bowmen during the 100 Years War between France and England! It???s really an episodic Bildungsroman about Alleyne Edricson, who at age 20 must leave his cloistered abbey life to experience the big world outside for a year so as to be able to make an informed decision about where he???d like to spend the rest of his life, abbey or world. He immediately meets two boon companions, John, a red-haired giant (reminiscent of Little John) and Aylward, a veteran bowman of the famed White Company. John and Aylward are full of lusty life, eating, drinking, wooing, and fighting with gusto, while Alleyne is an appealing protagonist: innocent, kind-hearted, loyal, and brave. And many of the scenes are exciting and or funny and or interesting, informed as they are by Doyle???s detailed research of and enthusiasm for 14th century warfare and life. And he doesn???t ignore the complexities of human nature, showing, for example, the same man bragging about the fancy goods he???s pillaged in France and then resenting being conned out of a few coins for some ersatz holy relics.
The reader, Nick Rawlinson, delivers a fine performance, changing his voice effectively for different English accents, as well as for Italian, French, and Spanish ones, whether the voices of women or men or of conniving and sadistic lords or open-hearted and open-handed chivalrous heroes. He???s even good at singing the several rough country or mercenary songs scattered throughout the book.
Finally, I had hoped for a more tightly constructed story. And I wonder at the honor and fame seeking chivalry that has Sir Nigel more than once leading his men to avoidable and horrific battles. Are these the virtues and men that Britain may be in sore need of again some day, as Doyle opines? But let that pass: the book is an enjoyable romp through the 14th century British, French, and Spanish countrysides
A young-adult historical adventure novel that I might have enjoyed more if I'd first read it as a kid. As it was, I found it acceptable but only rarely gripping or absorbing; what held my attention was the vital and versatile performance by Nick Rawlinson, whose virtuoso rendering of innumerable regional and national accents, distinctively individual voice characterizations, and zestfully-paced storytelling convincingly galvanize what for me would have been a semi-moribund, strictly juvenile classic.