August 1144. Osbern de Lench is known far and wide as a hard master, whose temper is perpetually frayed. After riding to survey his land and the incoming harvest from the top of the nearby hill, his horse returns to the hall riderless and the lifeless body of the lord is found soon after.
Was it the work of thieves, or something closer to home? With an heir who is cast in the same hot-tempered mould, sworn enemies for neighbours, and something amiss in the relationship between Osbern and his wife, undersheriff Hugh Bradecote, the wily Serjeant Catchpoll and apprentice Walkelin have suspects aplenty.
Blood Runs Thicker is the first book I’ve read by Sarah Hawkswood, although this is a long established series that somehow, I’ve missed before.
I confess, I struggled a little with the ‘ye olde wordy’ language and speech but soon became accustomed to it, and could settle into the carefully crafted reconstruction of the period.
The story quickly gathers pace, and I was drawn into the mystery. The characters are well-sketched, and the interactions between Bradecote, Catchpoll and Walkelin lighten the narrative. I think Walkelin will be a character that develops moving forward in the series.
And the resolution of the mystery is deliciously complex and thoroughly enjoyable. I’ll certainly be reading more of this series, a firm 4/5 from me.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.
Blood Runs Thicker is released 18th March 2021, and can be purchased here.
And if you’re curious, please do check out the other review on the Blood Runs Thicker Book Blast.
It is September 1941 and young Freddie Hackett is a message runner – he collects messages from a government office and delivers them to various destinations around London. He sets off one day with a message, along a route of bombed-out houses, and witnesses a murder. Freddie instinctively wants to summon the police, but he has an envelope to deliver first – all communications during wartime could be urgent. When the man who answers the door appears to be the very same person he has just seen kill another, Freddie rushes to the police, but is summarily dismissed. However, he remembers an address in Fitzroy Square, belonging to a private investigator, Maisie Dobbs. Will she believe him and help solve the mystery?
The Consequences of Fear is the first Maisie Dodds book I’ve read (I know, it’s number 16 – but I’ve just ‘got’ into books from this time period). It won’t be the last.
For a first time reader, there were a few stumbling blocks now and then throughout this book, only to be expected, of course. There are clearly well-loved, repeat characters in this book, and the author does a great job of involving as many of Maisie’s friends and allies as possible. This allows the case to be quite complex as she attempts to solve it, running between London and Chelstone.
I really enjoyed how deeply embedded the story is in the history of the period, and I think Maisie will be a fascinating character to uncover in earlier books.
Thoroughly enjoyable, even for a newbie.
Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy.
The Consequences of Fear is released today, 18th March 2021, in hardback, and on 23rd March in ebook. Get it here.
Thrust out into the Wild, young Princess Agata has no skills to survive.
In the early dawn of what is modern Georgia, a kingdom once known as Iberia teeters between hordes of enemies. Byzantines eye the soaring mountains and lush, fertile valleys tucked between Asia and Europe. Turks and Arabs rattle sabres along her eastern borders, coveting the lucrative Silk Road and the growing power of the mysterious Khazars – a Marauder people – loom large.
Motherless young Princess Agata has only known the solid stone walls of the palace. As the fourth daughter of Vax’tang II, she is instructed in the basic skills expected of her station and otherwise ignored and left to her own devices until the day she is old enough to be a marriage pawn in her father’s hands.
As her 16th birthday draws ever nearer, Princess Agata hopes to join the convent led by the powerful Byzantine, Abbess Shingli, and escape her cruel father.
But on the night of her sister’s wedding, Marauder warriors led by cruel warlord, General Kazan, attack the city and breach the walls of the palace. Agata must choose to stay and perish or escape into the lonely mountains of the Wild.
Alone and hungry, cold and terrified, Agata longs for the safety she once knew.
As political powers vie for Iberia, the young princess is hunted by a cunning traitor as well as the fierce warrior, Kazan.
Reeling at the treachery and anguished at the death of her warrior women, the seeds of vengeance and rebellion stir in Agata’s young heart.
Agata, Princess of Iberia is such a good book. The first 10% entirely draws the reader in, investing them with a need to know what’s going to happen as the city is overrun by marauders. Agata is a character who develops throughout the story so that by the end, she’s almost unrecognisable from the character we’re first introduced.
And she’s not the only strong female character, this book is stuffed with them, and all of them are engaging and clearly defined.
There are twists and turns, double-crossing galore, and just a really well-told story. Loved it:) And the cover is beautiful.
Agata is available now, and can be purchased from here.
Today, I’m excited to share with you my review for Masters of Rome by the combined talents of Simon Turney and Gordon Doherty. This is the second book in the trilogy. Check out my review for book 1, Sons of Rome, here.
Here’s the blurb
Their rivalry will change the world forever.
As competition for the imperial throne intensifies, Constantine and Maxentius realise their childhood friendship cannot last. Each man struggles to control their respective quadrant of empire, battered by currents of politics, religion and personal tragedy, threatened by barbarian forces and enemies within.
With their positions becoming at once stronger and more troubled, the strained threads of their friendship begin to unravel. Unfortunate words and misunderstandings finally sever their ties, leaving them as bitter opponents in the greatest game of all, with the throne of Rome the prize.
It is a matter that can only be settled by outright war…
Here’s my review
Masters of Rome is the stunning sequel to Sons of Rome, and the juicy jam? in this trilogy about Maxentius and Constantine, and the state of the Roman Empire in the early 300’s.
It is a book of vast scope, and yet perfectly held in check by the twin authors, Turney and Doherty, both taking the part of one of the main characters. Taking the reader from Rome to Africa, from Gaul to Rome, the scope of the novel is massive, and yet it never feels it. Never.
I am in awe of the skill of both authors to bring something as complex as this time period to life with such apparent ease (I know it won’t have been easy, but it feels it). Each chapter flows into the next, the desire to give both characters an equal voice, never falters, and quite frankly, I have no idea how the trilogy is ultimately going to end, but I am desperate to know:)
I highly recommend Masters of Rome, especially and particularly for those, who have no knowledge of the history of the period (like me) because it is absolutely fascinating and told with panache and skill, with an eye to detail. And those who do know the period, you’re still in for a treat as we follow the lives of Constantine and Maxentius and the inevitable march to war.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.
Masters of Rome is released today, March 4th, in ebook and you can purchase here.
England, 1925. Louisa Drew lost her husband in the First World War and her six-year-old twin sons in the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Newly re-married to a war-traumatised husband and seven months pregnant, Louisa is asked by her employer to travel to Clewer Hall in Sussex where she is to photograph the contents of the house for auction.
She learns Clewer Hall was host to an infamous séance in 1896, and that the lady of the house has asked those who gathered back then to come together once more to recreate the evening. When a mysterious child appears on the grounds, Louisa finds herself compelled to investigate and becomes embroiled in the strange happenings of the house. Gradually, she unravels the long-held secrets of the inhabitants and what really happened thirty years before… and discovers her own fate is entwined with that of Clewer Hall’s.
An exquisitely crafted and compelling mystery that invites the reader in to the crumbling Clewer Hall to help unlock its secrets alongside the unforgettable Louisa Drew.
I’ve been drawn to books like The Quickening for my last few reads, and it’s helped that there’s been a good selection in the Kindle 99p sale.
The Quickening sits comfortably within its genre – it’s not a terrifying ghost story, although it is eerie in places, and with a definite supernatural element.
The main character, Louisa Drew, immediately earns the sympathy of the reader. A life challenged by recent tragedies, a desire to move on from them finds her in an uncomfortable position, hungering for the life she once led before the war, with the promise of the future not quite what she’d thought it might be. Combined with the secrets that permeate Clewer Hall, the scene is set for a fascinating and intriguing story as we learn more about Louisa, and more about the inhabitants and history of Clewer Hall, and the famous seance of thirty years before.
An enjoyable read.
I snapped this up for 99p in the kindle sale, and you can buy it here.
In Edwardian Suffolk, a manor house stands alone in a lost corner of the Fens: a glinting wilderness of water whose whispering reeds guard ancient secrets. Maud is a lonely child growing up without a mother, ruled by her repressive father.
When he finds a painted medieval devil in a graveyard, unhallowed forces are awakened.
Maud’s battle has begun. She must survive a world haunted by witchcraft, the age-old legends of her beloved fen – and the even more nightmarish demons of her father’s past.
Spanning five centuries, Wakenhyrst is a darkly gothic thriller about murderous obsession and one girl’s longing to fly free by the bestselling author of Dark Matter and Thin Air.
Wakenhyrst drew me in because of the blurb and the cover. It might have helped that I’ve just read a few books with a similar theme – supernatural mixed with historical fiction.
Wakenhyrst didn’t disappoint. The character of Maud was immediately engaging, that of her father, quite distant, until we get some way through the book, and the reader begins to realise the story is about the relationship between Maud, her father, the fen and the local church.
What delighted me about this book was just how deeply embedded it was in the distant past – both the Early English period, and the fifteenth century, moving forward to the early 1900s and also stopping off in the 1960s, making use of the pervading attitudes in all four time periods to drive the narrative.
It’s not an easy, pleasant read, but it is a worthwhile read, extremely atmospheric and with a little twist, right at the end, which makes sense of so much more. Recommended.
It was 99p on Kindle when I purchased it, and still was when I wrote this review. You can purchase here.
Now, confession time, I’ve not quite finished reading yet, so my review is ‘pending,’ but it doesn’t matter. I’ve read enough to know this book is fantastic, and so I’m going to shout far and wide on its release day.
Here’s the blurb;
“The bestselling author of The King in the North turns his attention to the obscure era of British history known as ‘the age of Arthur’.
Somewhere in the dim void between the departure from Britain of the Roman legions at the start of the fifth century and the days of the venerable Bede, the kingdoms of Early Medieval Britain were formed. But by whom? And out of what?
Max Adams scrutinizes the narrative handed down to us by later historians and chronicles, stripping away the most lurid nonsense about Arthur and synthesizing the research of the last forty years to tease out strands of reality from myth. His central theme evolves from an apparently simple question: how, after the end of the Roman state, were people taxed? Rejecting ethnic and nationalist explanations for the emergence of the Early Medieval kingdoms, Adams shows how careful use of a wide range of perspectives from anthropology to geography can deliver a picture of the emergence of distinct polities in the sixth century that survive long enough to be embedded in the medieval landscape, recorded in the lines of river, road and watershed and in place names.”
To give you a taste of what you might find within the pages of The First Kingdom, I’m going to share my review for Ælfred’s Britain, another truly fantastic, and incredibly accessible and readable book.
“Aelfred’s Britain is an excellent book, not confining itself to the period of Alfred’s rule but comprehensively offering an account of England from the reign of Alfred’s grandfather to the end of the reign of his youngest grandson (King Eadred) in 955. This makes it much more than a book about Alfred and rather a book about Britain and the Vikings just before, after and during The First Viking Age. Instead of focusing on England and the Vikings, the book covers the actvities of the Vikings in Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, in a very similar vein to the wonderful book by Claire Downham ‘Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland: The Dynasty of Ívarr to A.D. 1014’, along the way noting events on the Continent and in the homelands of the Vikings and Danes. This is an important development in the history of the period and a step that should have been taken long, long ago. There is little point in knowing events in England in isolation during this period – a wider view point should and must be adopted. The author also employs an enjoyable and enlightening look at the ‘map’ of Britain – offering something of a handy guide to the various ‘stopping-off’ points available to the men and women from Scandinavia along the coast and riverways. Some may find the author’s naming conventions a little annoying – but it seems to me that all historians have a preferred naming convention and insist on sticking to it no matter what – and it is only a slight bug-bear but that is because I know much of the period well. This is a far more ‘historical’ book than The King in The North (which I always felt was too much like a travel guide for comfort) but it is, at heart, a book by an archaeologist, and this means that the archaelogy is used to ‘clothe’ the ‘known’ historical facts and vice versa. Yet, and I must applaud this, the author, while relying on some slightly dubious ‘primary’ sources, does ensure that the reader is aware of this – and the reader would do well to heed the warnings. Overall a very enjoyable book, filled with fascinating insights that adopts a view point that has been a long time in being applied to this time period.”
Hopefully, this sets the scene for the direction taken within the pages of The First Kingdom.
The First Kingdom is released today in ebook, hardback print book, and audio book, and you can purchase it here;
On a side note, I’ve just noticed that The King in the North is on special offer for just 99p as an ebook. You won’t be disappointed with this detailed analysis of the seventh century, and at times, you will truly be walking through the Northumbrian landscape.
Watch this space for my full review of The First Kingdom, which I’ll write as soon as I’ve finished reading. I’m savouring this one because it is just so good.
When Rósa is betrothed to Jón Eiríksson, she is sent to a remote village.
There she finds a man who refuses to speak of his recently deceased first wife, and villagers who view her with suspicion.
Isolated and disturbed by her husband’s strange behaviour, her fears deepen.
What is making the strange sounds in the attic?
Who does the mysterious glass figure she is given represent?
And why do the villagers talk of the coming winter darkness in hushed tones?
The Glass Woman is an intriguing tale of Iceland in the late 1600s.
I make no bones that I am fascinated by Iceland, perhaps not during this time period, but earlier, when the country was being settled. I tried this book on the off-chance – Jane Eyre in Iceland – yes, please.
And indeed, it is a dark tale, told from the viewpoint of Rosa. It is dark, frightening and claustrophobic, and reads very much like a much more modern Icelandic ghost story I read recently. It makes you shiver, it makes you feel for Rosa, but then everything changes and the book is not at all what you think it’s going to be.
I found the story intriguing and engaging, and if it’s not Jane Eyre in Iceland, it’s because the book is actually much harsher.
Somehow, and I have no idea how, I’m about to release Book X (yes X) in the Earls of Mercia series, and that doesn’t include the three direct side-stories, or Lady Estrid, which could also be said to be a side-story, books. I decided it was time to take a hard look at myself, and why my very first historical fiction project is proving to be the longest so far.
The Earls of Mercia inspiration
The last century of Early England is a place well-trodden by non-fiction and historical fiction authors, so why did I choose to tell it through the eyes of a handful of people who almost slip through the historical record unnoticed because of the ‘giants’ of the period?
History is filled with those who get swept aside because other events overtake their achievements, and so it is with the Earls of Mercia. They were a family who ‘ruled’ continually from 993 to 1066 – a feat not even achieved by the Wessex royal family, begun by King Alfred, during the same time period. In the annals of the time they’ve been pushed to the side by the likes of Eadric Streona, King Cnut and the family of Godwine, by the events of both 1016 and 1066, and also by the fact that when the family married into royalty, it was destined to be short-lived.
I ‘discovered’ my first character – Ealdorman Leofwine – while meandering down the aisle in a university library. By rights, I shouldn’t have been there, not in that section, and equally, I shouldn’t have gone on to write my dissertation about him, but I did, but only after I’d made him into a fictional character. So just what was it that made him so appealing as a character?
As I read about the family, in Stephen Baxter’s, The Earls of Mercia, Lordship and Power in Late Anglo-Saxon England, I was flabbergasted that this character existed and yet hadn’t been put to good ‘use.’ Ealdorman Leofwine, his sons, grandsons, and great-grandchildren were witnesses to all of the events I’ve mentioned above. Not only did they witness them, but they were involved as well. I remember picking up and reading Frank Barlow’s book on the Godwines and being disgusted that Ealdorman Leofwine, Earl Leofric, Earl Ælfgar and his sons and daughter get little more than the odd mention. The desire to tell a story only about the Godwines excluded the perfect foil for them. I couldn’t allow that to stand.
But, how to tell the story of a century, of four generations? Initially, my idea was to tell a retrospective story, through the eyes of the great-grandson who did survive the tumultuous events of 1066, using the idea of a scribe writing down the family’s history while he was imprisoned at the request of William the Bastard for well over a decade. I still have the words I first wrote. But, that was not the route I eventually went down. No, I wanted to make Ealdorman Leofwine more than just someone’s ancestor, I wanted to make him a person in his own right, even if I do harbour the suspicion that he might have been retrospectively given greater influence than he might have claimed.
And that is the path that I’ve continued to tread. My overarching ambition is to tell the story of the years from 993-1066, but each player must have their own story, they must all be allowed to live, before they die; they must all be people in their own right. And now, as I begin to retell the story that so many are familiar with, that of the reign of Edward the Confessor and the events that led to 1066, I’m pleased by my decision to ensure the Earls of Mercia have their own story to tell – and also by the fact that because of that, other historical characters are also having their story retold a little – the oft-forgotten or misunderstood characters, and that means kings as well as earls and great ladies.
I’m pleased that people who read about the Earls of Mercia are able to consider that the Godwines were not quite the ‘top-dogs’ they might appear to be from such a distance. Not that it doesn’t involve playing around with what some might call the ‘facts’ but that is the joy of historical fiction – in getting to know my characters, in playing around with the information that we do have, I can find other possibilities, and they are not quite as far-fetched as it might be believed.
I began writing the first book in the Earls of Mercia series in 2011. Since then I’ve been slowly working my way backwards through Early England, as well as slightly forwards in Denmark. It has meant that the first two books in the series have undergone some subtle changes as they’ve been rereleased in paperback and the copyright returned to me by my publisher. So, for any who haven’t started the books yet, it isn’t necessary to start with book 1, or even book 2, but if you’re going to, then the paperback version – The Earl of Mercia’s Father – is the correct edition to read. But I genuinely hope, that it should be possible to pick up any of the books and still be able to understand what’s happening and enjoy the individual title.
Something sinister is afoot in the streets of Dundee, when a puppeteer is found murdered behind his striped Punch and Judy stand, as children sit cross-legged drinking ginger beer. At once, Dandy Gilver’s semmingly-innocuous investigation into plagiarism takes a darker turn. The gruesome death seems to be inextricably bound to the gloomy offices of Doig’s Publishers, its secrets hidden in the real stories behind their girls’ magazines The Rosie Cheek and The Freckle.
On meeting a mysterious professor from St Andrews, Dandy and her faithful colleague Alex Osbourne are flung into the worlds of academia, the theatre and publishing. Nothing is quite as it seems, and behind the cheerful facades of puppets and comic books, is a troubled history has begun to repeat itself.
The Mirror Dance is my first encounter with Dandy Gilver, even though this is book 15 of a 1930s mystery series.
The story is told from Dandy Gilver’s point of view, and while she does sometimes share thoughts and speech which are a little wordy, it doesn’t detract from the storyline, which is satisfying and quite deliciously complex.
Even though the voice of the narrator, Dandy, gives a few hints that all is not as it seems, I genuinely didn’t work out what had happened until it was revealed at the end.
A really enjoyable and entertaining read. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.
The Mirror Dance is released on the 21st January 2021 in hardback and ebook and is available here;