A taste for history is one of the most admirable passions of the mature and well-educated individual who always exhibits an interest in the experiences of previous generations and long-ago states. The ability to write high-quality historical fiction is rare. Few writers have the style and the skills to keep the reader engaged without over supersaturating the plot with unnecessary information such as dates, names, and chronologies. The White Company is a spectacular example of an exceptionally good historical novel by an outstanding and versatile writer.
The plot of The White Company revolves around the Hundred Years’ War, which was fought between England, France, and Spain. The story tells about the Iberian military campaign, launched by Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince, the culmination of which was the grand battle of Najera. The author gives a captivating depiction of English archers and the Yeomen and the social class they represented, and places a big emphasis on their role in the English victory. The reader will find himself in the era of the twilight of knighthood, when heavy but beautiful armor became obsolete due to the invention of gunpowder and firearms. It also has full and detailed descriptions of heraldry, the laws of knighthood, vicious sea and land battles, tournaments, and, of course, passionate and faithful love. The White Company enjoys a large following from readers and historians alike.
“Then must you strive to be worthy of her love. Be brave and pure, fearless to the strong and humble to the weak; and so, whether this love prosper or no, you will have fitted yourself to be honored by a maiden’s love, which is, in sooth, the highest guerdon which a true knight can hope for.”
The novel also contains a sort of prophecy, which Conan Doyle has put into the mouth of Tiphanie Raguenel, the wife of a famous French knight and General Bertrand du Guesclin. In this prophecy, Lady Tiphaine describes in vivid colors the future progress of Western civilization, starting with the great geographical discoveries and with the story of the rise of Great Britain and the subsequent hegemony of its former colony, the United States of America.
This book is the gold standard of the adventure novel, the true quintessence of the genre. It is the first book in the literary series about Professor Edward Challenger. The story describes the adventures of a British crew during their expedition to South America.
“So tomorrow we disappear into the unknown. This account I am transmitting down the river by canoe, and it may be our last word to those who are interested in our fate.”
The travelers find themselves on an inaccessible mountain plateau, a reference to Mount Roraima, where they discover a lost world which is inhabited by dinosaurs, mammals, apes which closely resemble humans, and primitive humans.
“Round-headed,” he muttered. “Brachycephalic, gray-eyed, black-haired, with suggestion of the negroid. Celtic, I presume?”
On the plateau, Professor Challenger finds what turns out to be a prehistoric pterodactyl. He decides to take the wing of the animal, along with some photos of its corpse, back to England and present it as a proof that dinosaurs still exist.
Unfortunately, he is unable to convince the members of the National History Museum, who accuse him of presenting false proof. Professor Challenger has no other choice but to embark on another journey to gather up more evidence to convince the stubborn scientists of the truth of his discoveries. This time, he is accompanied by Professor Summerlee, a member of the Museum, who has expressed his wish to see Challenger’s success or failure with his own eyes. The second expedition promises to be even more challenging and dangerous than the first.
Moreover, the novel has a romantic storyline which tells the story of a member of Challenger’s crew whose name is Edward Malone. He is a reporter for the Daily Gazette who is eager to go on a dangerous mission just to make an impression on the beautiful Gladys Hungerton.
“That delicately bronzed skin, almost oriental in its coloring, that raven hair, the large liquid eyes, the full but exquisite lips,—all the stigmata of passion were there. But I was sadly conscious that up to now I had never found the secret of drawing it forth. However, come what might, I should have done with suspense and bring matters to a head tonight. She could but refuse me, and better be a repulsed lover than an accepted brother.”
This is certainly a very brave and romantic move on his side, but it remains to be seen whether the young lady will appreciate him or not. All we can say is that this won’t be another love story with a sweet, happy ending.