Book Review – Camelot by Giles Kristian – historical fiction

Here’s the blurb:

‘Britain is a land riven by anarchy, slaughter, famine, filth and darkness. Its armies are destroyed, its heroes dead, or missing. Arthur and Lancelot fell in the last great battle and Merlin has not been these past ten years. But in a small, isolated monastery in the west of England, a young boy is suddenly plucked from his simple existence by the ageing warrior, Gawain. It seems he must come to terms with his legacy and fate as the son of the most celebrated yet most infamous of Arthur’s warriors: Lancelot. For this is the story of Galahad, Lancelot’s son – the reluctant warrior who dared to keep the dream of Camelot alive.’

I’ve just reread the review I wrote for Lancelot nearly two years ago, and even I’m blushing about how effusive I was about it!

Camelot begins in much the same way. The lead character is a young man, about to take his vows to become a monk on the tor at Glastonbury when his world completely changes. The depiction of life on the tor is wonderfully evoked, and even if the author could have just written ‘bird’ ‘tree’ and ‘flower’ I’m sure many will appreciate the attention to detail. (I’ve never been ‘at one’ with nature).

The story starts quite slowly, drawing you back into the world of post-Roman/pre-Anglo-Saxon Britain with deft skill and then the story truly begins to take shape, secrets are revealed, and the ties to the previous book begin to be revealed.

I truly don’t want to give too much of the story away, but the ‘quest’, for that is what it becomes, takes readers from Cornwall to Anglesey and then further, the fear of what is to come in the future a palpable threat and even though we all know what’s going to happen, in the end (outside the scope of the book) I couldn’t help but hope that it would all be very, very different. The characters demand it from the reader.

And the end, is once more, where I have some small complaints about the story. It’s not that it doesn’t do what I want it to do, it’s just that the ending seems wrong for the story, but then, perhaps, it was always going to because that is the legend of Arthur.

But before that ending, the legends of Arthur and his knights are beautifully evoked, and I think a particular strength is the depiction of King Constantine, a bit part character, but immensely powerful and the very embodiment of a land falling to chaos all around him, and yet not prepared to give way and accept what seems to be the inevitable.

This book, once more, has its flaws, some scenes seem unnecessary, and others are skipped over too quickly, but it feels so true to the legends. There’s so much that’s only half-seen, hinted at but never actually known.

A welcome return to Giles Kristian’s ‘world’ first created in Lancelot, and, I think the author notes at the end of the novel explain a great deal. Now, give me the story of Arthur and his knights at the height of their prowess (please!).

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

Camelot is available from 14th May 2020 from here: (the preorder is currently only £2.99 for kindle – wowsers – so I’m posting this before release date for everyone to take advantage of the offer)

‘The Reading’ End of Year Review

I’ve read many, many books this year. Some have been fab, some not so fab, and some have just filled a little niche that needed filling. I’ve also written, read and re-read a fair few of my own books this year. But I’m not going to include those in this.

When I look back, I see I’ve read many historical fiction books this year – the majority just historical fiction, but also a few that were historical who-dun-its. I’m a fan of Marple and Poirot, so this does make sense to me.

In fact, 24 of the 71 books I’ve read this year (thank you for keeping track Goodreads), have been historical (and a further 6 of those have been my own historical fiction books, so yes, historical fiction accounts for a great deal of my reading.)

Of those, here are my five favourites of the year. I’m not going to put them in any order, because I enjoyed them all for different reasons.

Anne O’Brien’s A Tapestry of Treason was one of the first books I read this year, and it was a wonderful read. Commodus by Simon Turney was another of the stand out books, as was The Last of the Romans by Derek Birks (which I’ve just discovered I didn’t review on my blog, so there’s a link to Goodreads), Sword of Kings by Bernard Cornwell and Wolf of Wessex by Matthew Harffy. I was lucky enough to get review copies of many of these books, although I took a chance on The Last of the Romans through Kindle Unlimited and was really pleased I did.

I also read some historical fiction that really didn’t appeal to me, in the end. I prefer historical fiction to be about ‘real’ people (I know their stories will be fictionalized) and told in an engaging and interesting way.

As to the historical mysteries I read, I’m going to highlight Silent Water by PK Adams, a fellow indie author, who takes the reader to Tudor Era Poland. It was fascinating.

As to those novels I read which took a historical era as their background, I thoroughly enjoyed The Dark Days Deceit by Alison Goodman – a sort of fantasy/historical mash-up that concluded the trilogy in a completely satisfactory way.  And The Body in the Garden by Katharine Schellman which isn’t released until next year, but which is an enjoyable who-dun-it. I’ll review it closer to the time.

I also read quite a bit of sci-fi this year, and here the standout book must be Skyward by Brandon Sanderson. I didn’t realise it was aimed at a Young Adult audience. I devoured it, even though I’ve tried Brandon Sanderon before and really didn’t enjoy his story (ducks for cover). I’m really looking forward to finding the time to read Book 2.

I’ve not read as much fantasy as normal this year. But, what I did read was well worth it. Here, I’m going to wax lyrical about Peter Newman. His series, The Deathless, inhabits such a weird and wonderful world that it completely absorbs me. If you’ve not read the first two books in the trilogy, then you’re in for a real treat. The Ruthless was released earlier this year, and I know the third part is due out next year. I’m keen to read it.

I also read all of Mark Lawrence’s four releases this year – Holy Sister concluded the Book of the Ancestor trilogy, and he also released The Impossible Times trilogy, through Amazon Publishing. These are probably still fantasy but in a 1980’s setting (unless they’re sci-fi). I enjoyed them all, but confess, the D and D setting of The Impossible Times trilogy was a bit trying at times. Still, the 1980s was perfectly encapsulated – like an episode of Stranger Things.

I’m also going to mention the John Gwynne book I read this year – A Time of Blood. Foolishly, it wasn’t the first in a series, but goodness me, it was gripping, and I’ve now got the first book to read!

I’ve also listened to my first audiobook, and while I found it great to walk to, I confess, I’m not sure audio is for me. If I’m writing myself I have music on, and because I normally walk to get away from writing, I don’t find listening to stories to be restful. But I do have a fully stocked Audible library so that might change.

While I’ve managed to read a great many books this year, I’ve now found my enthusiasm for ‘new’ waning a little and I’ve sought refuge in a few classic PERN novels, and for 2020, I plan on indulging in the Deverry books by Katharine Kerr in anticipation of the new book coming out in 2020. The books have all been released with fantastic new covers, and I might just have to treat myself to them all over again.

I’ve also not read as many non-fiction books this year as I might normally do. But I think that will change in 2020. I’ve got a great deal of research to do for future projects. Of those non-fiction books I have read, they’ve all been something I was interested in any way, and I’m going to mention Warrior and The Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown. Both were very readable and well written.

I would like to thank Netgalley and also some very brave authors who’ve allowed me access to Advanced copies of their books throughout the year. It makes for much more varied reading!

 

Book Review – The Black Hawks by David Wragg – fantasy

Here’s the blurb;

Dark, thrilling, and hilarious, The Black Hawks is an epic adventure perfect for fans of Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch.

Life as a knight is not what Vedren Chel imagined. Bound by oath to a dead-end job in the service of a lazy step-uncle, Chel no longer dreams of glory – he dreams of going home.

When invaders throw the kingdom into turmoil, Chel finds opportunity in the chaos: if he escorts a stranded prince to safety, Chel will be released from his oath.

All he has to do is drag the brat from one side of the country to the other, through war and wilderness, chased all the way by ruthless assassins.

With killers on your trail, you need killers watching your back. You need the Black Hawk Company – mercenaries, fighters without equal, a squabbling, scrapping pack of rogues.

Prepare to join the Black Hawks.

The Black Hawks by David Bragg is a fun book, if a little slow to get going, with the first 20% all a bit ‘go here, but then, go back here,’ before the characters really start to feel fleshed out and enjoyable.

When the narrative is focused on the members of The Black Hawks, the book is at its finest – and the section that runs from about 20% to 50% is rife with promise, humour and a great deal of action.

After that, the novel  tends to fall down a few fantasy ‘holes’ and the reliance on a religion as the ultimate ‘baddies’ feels laboured and a bit disappointing. I was hoping for something a bit different for The Black Hawks company to get their teeth into, as they certainly deserved it.

I read on though, hoping for something a ‘little more’ only to be further disappointed that the book has no true ending, but rather just stops. This is frustrating. Series and trilogies should still ensure that the characters reach an ‘ending’ even if it is only the beginning of something else, and leading into another book. The ending of The Black Hawks is frustrating and as a marketing ploy, I wouldn’t allow myself to be drawn into it.

Overall, this book holds a bucket load of promise, and while hugely enjoyable in places, it lacks the real punch of ‘original’ which I think the fab characters truly deserved. A firm 4/5. I wish it had been a 5/5, and I wish it had truly had an ‘ending.’

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

The Black Hawks is released on 3rd October and is available from here;

 

Book Review – The Sword Saint by C.F Iggulden – The Empire of Salt Book III – fantasy

Here’s the blurb;

“THE EPIC CONCLUSION TO THE BESTSELLING EMPIRE OF SALT SERIES.

Cities have been broken. Empires have fallen. And darkness is coming.

Success has drawn a cold gaze. A false king seeks dominion. His soldiers will bring desolation and despair to Darien. With treachery on all sides, the ancient capital looks set to fall.

Yet within the walls of that great city, a small team gathers. Tellius knows each one: a hunter, a gambler, a dead man, a wielder of threads – and the sword saint of Shiang. When Darien herself is threatened, Tellius will ask them to stand.

A city is worth more than the lives of those within. Darien’s streets and courts and homes and taverns are a bonfire on the hill, a beacon of life and light in the world.

That is why they will die to save her.”

I have read and enjoyed the previous two books in this trilogy. Reviews can be found here for Darien. As such, I was really quite pleased to find the third part available as well.

The Sword Saint is a solid ending to the trilogy that began with Darien.

The scope of the trilogy can’t be faulted – city-wide, not just character-centred and yet it is the characters that spoke most to me. It is good, in this final part, that we are reunited with the characters of book 1 as well as book 2. As such, The Sword Saint feels more complete than Book 2.

It is Tellius that binds all three stories together, just as much as Darien itself, and some of the ‘newer’ characters feel a little superfluous in this final book. Yes, I know they add to the storyline, but it could have been done a bit quicker, and more time spent on Tellius et al.

Overall, I enjoyed The Sword Saint, but I would have liked a few questions answered and I would have loved much, much more of the warriors who defend Darien once more. But, I suppose it’s better to leave an audience wanting more!

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

The Sword Saint is available now from here (the cover is fab!);

 

Book Review – Priest of Lies by Peter McLean – fantasy

Here’s the blurb:

Peaky Blinders with swords’ (Barnes & Noble), perfect for fans of Mark Lawrence and Joe Abercrombie.

‘The poorer and more oppressed people are, the weaker they become – until they just refuse to take it any more. Then they will rise up, and the gods help their oppressors.’

When Tomas Piety and his Pious Men returned from the war, he just wanted to rebuild his crime empire and look after his people. But the sinister Queen’s Men had different ideas and whether he likes it or not, he’s now a spy as well.

Now, half the city of Ellinburg lies in ashes and the webs of political intrigue are stretching out from the Queen’s capital to pull Tomas in. Dannsburg is calling.

In Dannsburg the nobility fight with words, not blades, but the results are every bit as bloody. In this pit of beasts, Tomas must decide once and for all whether he is truly the people’s champion . . . or just a priest of lies.

And as Tomas’ power grows, the nobility had better watch their backs . . .”

Priest of Lies is an enjoyable book, and one that would perhaps have been more enjoyable if I’d read book 1 in the series (no shouting at me at this point. It is possible to start a series with Book 2 – I’ve done it quite a few times) but  I’ve seen quite a bit of excitement for the book on Twitter, and it became a bit infectious, which is why I went straight into Book 2 when it became available on Netgalley (that, and Book 1 is £5.99 on kindle – I’d happily pay that for an author I love, but for a new author to me, I’m a bit hesitant.)

The writing is good, the character of Thomas Piety is bold and executed well, and yet for all that, I just didn’t quite enthuse over the story. The premise is both unusual and also quite predictable, and I always knew there was going to be a big showdown at the end, and there was, so I wasn’t disappointed in that.

There are a few story arcs that felt a bit too superfluous for my liking, and Thomas Piety has an annoying tendency of glossing over some details that I would have quite liked to be expanded upon and then going into detail regarding matters that I wasn’t interested in at all.

Overall, I enjoyed the story of Thomas Piety and I’m sure it will please fans of the series, but I just don’t think it’s my sort of thing! A firm 3/5. (I am a fan of Mark Lawrence, but not Pinky Blinders, or Joe Abercrombie.)

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

Priest of Lies is released today, 2nd July, and is available from here;

 

 

 

Book Review – The Ruthless by Peter Newman – fantasy – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

Return to a world of crystal armour, savage wilderness, and corrupt dynasties in book two of The Deathless series from Gemmell award-winning author Peter Newman.

THE REBEL
For years, Vasin Sapphire has been waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. Now, as other Deathless families come under constant assault from the monsters that roam the Wild, that time has come.

THE RUTHLESS
In the floating castle of Rochant Sapphire, loyal subjects await the ceremony to return their ruler to his rightful place. But the child raised to give up his body to Lord Rochant is no ordinary servant. Strange and savage, he will stop at nothing to escape his gilded prison.

AND THE RETURNED…
Far below, another child yearns to see the human world. Raised by a creature of the Wild, he knows their secrets better than any other. As he enters into the struggle between the Deathless houses, he may be the key to protecting their power or destroying it completely.

THE WILD HAS BEGUN TO RISE.

The Ruthless by Peter Newman is a fantastic ‘Part 2’ of what will be a trilogy, charting The Deathless. The action picks up exactly where it left off, although sixteen years have passed, allowing the babies of the book to be all grown up and therefore more involved in what’s happening.

The likeable characters of Book 1 are there, Sa-at, Pari, Vasin, Chandi as well as a few that we didn’t like so much. The world created by Newman continues to be vivid and downright ‘weird’ and there were a few times when I felt a little ‘itchy’ so good were the descriptions of The Wild! All of the characters are set on paths that will see them coming into contact at one point or another, and the end is entirely satisfying, leaving me with many questions still to be answered, and a fear that something really BAD is going to happen in the concluding book of the trilogy. I read this book in just over 24 hours. It’s entirely absorbing, wonderful ‘weird’ and incredibly rewarding. Newman uses words to great effect and I just ‘got’ exactly what he was trying to portray. I really can’t recommend it enough.

Thank you to Netgalley for the review copy. I will be ‘singing’ about this series whenever I get the opportunity

The Ruthless is available from 30th April 2020 in paperback. I highly recommend it!

Book Review – Limited Wish by Mark Lawrence – fantasy – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“One choice. Two possible timelines. And a world hanging in the balance.

It’s the summer of 1986 and reluctant prodigy Nick Hayes is a student at Cambridge University, working with world-renowned mathematician Professor Halligan. He just wants to be a regular student, but regular isn’t really an option for a boy-genius cancer survivor who’s already dabbled in time travel.

When he crosses paths with a mysterious yet curiously familiar girl, Nick discovers that creases have appeared in the fabric of time, and that he is at the centre of the disruption. Only Nick can resolve this time paradox before the damage becomes catastrophic for both him and the future of the world. Time is running out—literally.

Wrapped up with him in this potentially apocalyptic scenario are his ex-girlfriend, Mia, and fellow student Helen. Facing the world-ending chaos of a split in time, Nick must act fast and make the choice of a lifetime—or lifetimes.

Game on.”

Limited Wish is a far more enjoyable read than Book 1 in the series, possibly because I know what to expect now, (but also because there’s less ‘mirror action’ in the D & D game than in Book 1 – sorry, not a fan because I’ve never played it, and I just don’t get it (ducks for cover!)). I read it in a few sittings, and look forward to Book 3 to discover just how Nick fares. A 5/5 from me.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a review copy.

Limited Wish is released on 28th May and is available from here.

 

Book Review – Peter Newman – The Deathless – Fantasy

Here’s the blurb;
“The demons…

In the endless forests of the Wild, humanity scratches a living by the side of the great Godroads, paths of crystal that provide safe passage and hold back the infernal tide. Creatures lurk within the trees, watching, and plucking those who stray too far from safety.

The Deathless…

In crystal castles held aloft on magical currents, seven timeless royal families reign, protecting humanity from the spread of the Wild and its demons. Born and reborn into flawless bodies, the Deathless are as immortal as the precious stones from which they take their names. For generations a fragile balance has held.

And the damned…

House Sapphire, one of the ancient Deathless families, is riven by suspicion and madness. Whole villages are disappearing as the hunting expeditions holding the Wild at bay begin to fail.

Then, when assassins strike, House Sapphire shatters.

Nothing lasts forever.”

The Deathless by Peter Newman is a stunning work of fantasy.
It is a much easier read than The Vagrant books (which I loved for their sparseness and downright weirdness, and would recommend to everyone – reviews here Book Review – The Malice by Peter Newman – fantasy  Book Review – The Seven by Peter Newman – fantasy – recommended ), but the world created is still vibrantly strange. The first few pages draw you into this new world and immediately grip. There is no huge dump of information, and many readers will read on, mouth agape, wondering just what is going on. If you’re in two minds at this point, just carry on. It is worth it.
With the introduction of more characters, the strangeness occasionally lapses, the characters really quite human with their concerns, and ambitions, but it’s never far from the reader. We are reminded of The Wild, The Deathless and the land beneath the castles of The Deathless repeatedly, and the main action takes places both in the sky and below it.
It is truly a stunning idea, realised, and my only quibble is that the ending is too sudden, and too much is left unanswered. I’m sure this will be resolved in Book 2, and I look forward to reading it in June 2019 (hint, hint, nudge, nudge.)
I received a review copy from the publisher, but I had already purchased the audiobook, only I prefer to read it.

The Deathless is released on 2nd May in paperback, with a fab new cover! The Ruthless (book 2) is releasing in June 2019, and I do now have my review copy. I shall post a review ASAP. (Other retailers are available!)

Book Review – A Time of Blood by John Gwynne – Fantasy – Highly Recommended

Here’s the blurb;

Defy the darkness. Defend the light . . . At the battle of Starstone Lake, Drem and his friends witnessed horrors they’ll never forget. They saw magic warping men into beasts and a demon rise from the dead, creating something new and terrifying. So they flee to warn the Order of the Bright Star. But the demons’ high priestess, Fritha, is determined to hunt them down. Concealed in Forn Forest, Riv struggles to understand her half-breed heritage. She represents the warrior angels’ biggest secret, one which could break their society. So when she’s found by the Ben-Elim’s high captain, he goes in for the kill. Meanwhile, demonic forces are gathering a mighty war-host, to crush their enemies and rule the world of man. All while the Ben-Elim are fractured and facing betrayal. Like heroes of old, Riv, Drem and the Bright Star’s warriors must battle to save their land. But can the light triumph when the dark is rising? A Time of Blood (Of Blood and Bone: Book Two) is the spectacular follow-up to A Time of Dread by John Gwynne.

‘This is extraordinarily good, an epic feat of the imagination. In this series Gwynne is setting a new benchmark in fantasy. I’d love to see it on screen’

Giles Kristian ‘A great read that accelerates the pace and goes one up on its excellent predecessor . . . Exciting, action-packed fantasy’

Mark Lawrence A Time of Blood by John Gwynne is a great book. Or rather, A GREAT BOOK.
I have not read any of John Gwynne’s other books, and yes, this is Book 2 in a series and I HAVE NOT READ BOOK 1. (If you read the book, you’ll understand the capitals.) I was interested in it because it’s title is so like that of the wonderful Deverry books by Katharine Kerr – at least in the UK – where one of the series is called A Time of Omens, A Time of Justice, A Time of Exile and A Time of War. I was hoping for something as good as Deverry and found it, although it is much bloodier, as the title suggests.
It is a sign of just how well this book is written, that I picked it up, and by 5% through, was fully committed to the characters even though I had no back story, and, to be honest, very little idea of what was actually going on, and it is not that easy to work out what’s happening, but I wanted to.
The main characters are all intriguing and well-written, and there is a great deal of action and many battle scenes. The different POV’s mean that we don’t always know what’s happening with some characters, as the scenes taking place are described by someone else, even though the others are there. I believe it’s this that allows the story to move so quickly.
While the idea behind the story may not be that original, two sides on opposite sides of an impending war, the way the story unfolds is exhilarating and exquisitely well told.
I’m already a bit forlorn as I need to know what happens next!

A Time of Blood was released in hardback and ebook on 18th April 2019 and is available here (as well as with other retailers). I highly recommend this book. A firm 5/5. I read it in a day!

Book Review – Breaking the Lore by Andy Redsmith – Fantasy

Here’s the blurb;

“A magical, mischievous mystery perfect for fans of Douglas Adams and Ben Aaronovitch

How do you stop a demon invasion… when you don’t believe in magic? Inspector Nick Paris is a man of logic and whisky. So staring down at the crucified form of a murder victim who is fifteen centimetres tall leaves the seasoned detective at a loss… and the dead fairy is only the beginning.

Suddenly the inspector is offering political asylum to dwarves, consulting with witches, getting tactical advice from elves and taking orders from a chain-smoking talking crow who, technically, outranks him.

With the fate of both the human and magic worlds in his hands Nick will have to leave logic behind and embrace his inner mystic to solve the crime and stop an army of demons from invading Manchester!”

I am a fan of quirky fantasy (Robert Rankin/Terry Pratchett) and was intrigued by the concept of Breaking the Lore. And for about 50% of the book I really quite enjoyed it. It’s not a difficult read, the chapters are short, the characters quite fun – although Malbus is the standout character. However, the story quickly ran out of steam, and I found the last 40% really hard to get into. At this point, the really short chapters didn’t help a great deal, the jokes were all getting a bit stale, and Nick Paris was spending a lot of his time ‘pondering’ but never really finding any answers to his questions, or indeed, doing a great deal to find the answers.
There’s a great deal of potential in Breaking the Lore, but in the end, it fails to live up to that potential, and I was just pleased to get to the end.
With a little less pondering, more of Nick Paris actually doing some police work and following up on his hunches as opposed to leaving them hanging in an effort to extend the story, this could be a really fun book. Perhaps Book 2 will be stronger.
A firm 3/5. Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy.

Breaking the Lore was released on 15th April 2019 and is available now from here;