Rora tells a fictionalized version of a true story. In the mid-1600s, the Duke of Savoy, aided by the Catholic Church, launched a violent campaign to destroy Protestantism in his corner of the world. Joshua Gianavel (that’s how it’s spelled here) lead a campaign to defend his small municipality and his small force of countrymen successfully repelled the much larger, more well trained government forces for a surprising period of time. I think Huggins has wanted to tell this story for a long time. In his first book, A Wolf Story, one of the heroic wolves was named Gianavel and there was a villainous black panther named Incomel after one of the Catholic Inquisitors involved in the campaign against Rora. And Huggins had one of the characters mention the story of Rora in his second novel, The Reckoning. This is a story passionately told and the first (and, I think, only) one of Huggins’ books to be a historical novel. The book is, as is usual with Huggins, at its best when focusing on action violence. This book gives him the chance to work in the arena of large battles involving thousands of men and he takes to it quite well. The battle sequences here are gripping and Huggins manages to make you really feel the scale of the battle while also helping you stay focused on the important characters in the fight. It’s exciting & violent. The character work is archetypal, but not in a lazy way. Huggins refuses to really excoriate the Duke of Savoy, painting him as a wise, but unsure, youth; he reserves his ire for the Catholic Inquisitors. But other characters are surprisingly vivid, a smuggler who finds himself caught up in the battle for Rora, a Puritan spy sent by Oliver Cromwell to investigate the war, an assassin priest with a vendetta against the Inquisitors that have corrupted his beloved Church. And if Gianavel is a bit bland in his stalwart heroics, Huggins gives him some surprisingly troubling moments as well, as in one really surprising scene in which he coldly executes a friend upon discovering that he’s sent communications to the enemy. It’s a compelling and brisk read and the book takes some genuinely surprising turns, especially toward the end. Huggins’ prose never really feels historic or epic in any way. I would call this a pulp novel that happens to also be historical rather than a historical novel and the book sometimes spends long sections on philosophical discussions only to skip over a whole series of fascinating events, particularly in the last few chapters. But it’s still a quite entertaining read. 3 stars.
tl;dr – Huggins gives a passionate retelling of real historic events in a novel that’s still more pulp action-adventure than epic historical novel; great action – some good characters. 3 stars.