Highwayman: Winter Swarm is a novella-length story that appears to be an episode of a larger novel. This confused me a little until I read that the publisher, Endeavor Press, was publishing electronic novels in installments.
Samson Lyle is a former Roundhead major who is now a highwayman, doing his best to sabotage the efforts of Oliver Cromwell and particularly General Goffe. Lyle’s disaffection came about because of his refusal to participate in Goffe’s massacres of Catholics in Ireland. Lyle’s goodwife was killed in battle after this incident, and Lyle believes the death was no accident. Since then, he has been a bandit, seeking revenge.
Lyle, known as the Ironside Highwayman, is assisted by a teenage girl, Bella, whom he rescued as a young girl from prostitution, and a tavern owner, Eustace, whose live he saved. He also has various informants around the countryside.
The novella opens with a daring theft of the strongbox containing the back pay for the Middlehurst garrison. Later, Lyle attacks the salt detail, knowing Goffe cannot get through the winter without salt to preserve the meat.
This novella is mildly enjoyable as an old-fashioned swashbuckling adventure. If I understand what the publishers are doing correctly, I’m not sure how well it will work. As the first installment, the novella spent time on exposition that may have to be repeated, but it spent little time on characterization. In the tricks Lyle plays on the soldiers, it reminds me just a bit of the first book in Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, but there is no way to judge whether the series will develop any depth. In general, I felt the approach to be unsatisfying, even though I like the idea of reading a novel in serial form, like the Victorians did. But this episodic approach, which probably doesn’t assume people will read the episodes in order, is not the same thing. It reminds me more of episodic graphic novels, without the pictures.