Book Review – Silent Water by P K Adams – murder mystery – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“It is Christmas 1519 and the royal court in Kraków is in the midst of celebrating the joyous season. Less than two years earlier, Italian noblewoman Bona Sforza arrived in Poland’s capital from Bari as King Zygmunt’s new bride. She came from Italy accompanied by a splendid entourage, including Contessa Caterina Sanseverino who oversees the ladies of the Queen’s Chamber.

Caterina is still adjusting to the life in this northern kingdom of cold winters, unfamiliar customs, and an incomprehensible language when a shocking murder rocks the court on Christmas night. It is followed by another a few days later. The victims have seemingly nothing in common. Gossip, speculation, and suspicion are rife, but the perpetrator remains elusive as the court heads into the New Year.

As the official investigation stalls, Caterina—aided by Sebastian Konarski, a junior secretary in the king’s household—sets out to find the killer. With clues beginning to point to the queen’s innermost circle, the pair are soon racing against time to stop another murder.

Silent Water is a story of power and its abuse, and the extremes to which a person may go to find redress for justice denied. Although set at the dawn of the Renaissance era, its themes carry disturbing parallels to some of the most topical social issues of the 21st century.”

Silent Water is a thoroughly enjoyable murder-mystery set at the Polish court in 1519.

The main character is an interesting narrator, and if the beginning is a little slow, it isn’t long until the reader is thrust into the court politics of Poland and into the strange events surrounding the murder of a popular courtier.

Having read a few period murder mysteries lately, I must say this has been the most enjoyable. The author has a light touch while ensuring we know enough about the Polish Court and events in the wider European setting of the Reformation to make sense of the story.

Highly recommended for fans of period murder mysteries and those who love the sixteenth century.

I look forward to Book 2!

Silent Water is available now from here;

New Release alert – Kingmaker – England: The Tenth Century

Last July, I decided to hand my notice into work to write ‘full-time’. In a fit of panic at my decision, I wrote a book in about 5 weeks. That book was The King’s Mother.

This year, to celebrate my one year anniversary, I decided to celebrate by doing the same thing! (Yes, I know, why give myself more work to do? (I don’t know)).

Anyway, I’ve loved the challenge and it is a bit of a rush to fling yourself headlong into something. So, I’m proud to present Kingmaker – the story of Queen Eadgifu of the Anglo-Saxons. She is not a new ‘character’ for me, but rather one I’m returning to, after her appearance in The First Queen of England.

Queen Eadgifu has been a joy to write, and I’ve loved the challenge of writing one novel that covers the entire lifetime of a person, as normally, I tend to stick with just a decade at most.

I really hope that you, my readers, will find Lady Eadgifu as fascinating as I have, and also, that the middle of the tenth century will feel a little more accessible.

Here’s the blurb;

“This is the tenth century in Anglo-Saxon England between the reigns of Alfred the Great, and Æthelred the Unready.

As England’s first Viking Age grinds to a halt in a war of attrition that will see Jorvik finally added to the kingdom of the English, one woman will witness it all.

Seventeen-year-old Eadgifu knows little about her new husband; he’s old, he only wants to marry her because she’s so wealthy, he already has ten children, and he’s Edward, king of Wessex. He also hopes to claim Mercia as his own.

That he’s the son of King Alfred, the man credited with saving Wessex from the Viking Raiders adds no mystique to him at all.

Many say he’s handsome, but Eadgifu knows they speak of the man twenty years ago. Her mother won’t even allow her to be alone with him before their wedding.

But an old man will not live forever. The mother of his youngest sons can be more powerful than the wife of the king of Wessex, especially in the newly made kingdom of England where king’s lives are short and bloody, and war with the Viking Raiders is never far away.

Lady, wife, queen, mother, king’s mother, grandmother, ally, enemy, amenable and rebellious.

Lost to the mists of time, this is Queen Eadgifu’s story, Kingmaker.”

Kingmaker is released on August 29th 2019 and will be available from Amazon as both an ebook and a paperback.

I am calling Kingmaker, Book 2 in a series of standalone, but interconnected novels I’ve written about The Tenth Century. The Lady of Mercia’s Daughter (Book 1 ) is already available from here and at the moment it is 99p/99c and equivalent in every Amazon territory

 

Book Review – A Tapestry of Treason by Anne O’Brien – historical fiction – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“Her actions could make history – but at what price?

1399: Constance of York, Lady Despenser, proves herself more than a mere observer in the devious intrigues of her magnificently dysfunctional family, The House of York.

Surrounded by power-hungry men, including her aggressively self-centred husband Thomas and ruthless siblings Edward and Richard, Constance places herself at the heart of two treasonous plots against King Henry IV.  Will it be possible for this Plantagenet family to safeguard its own political power by restoring either King Richard II to the throne, or the precarious Mortimer claimant?

Although the execution of these conspiracies will place them all in jeopardy, Constance is not deterred, even when the cost of her ambition threatens to overwhelm her.  Even when it endangers her new-found happiness.

With treason, tragedy, heartbreak and betrayal, this is the story of a woman ahead of her time, fighting for herself and what she believes to be right in a world of men.”

A Tapestry of Treason is a stunning novel. The character of Lady Constance is a revelation – she is perhaps the most complicated of Anne O’Brien’s historical ‘women’ to date, and the book delightfully fluctuates between the conspiracies and treasons that she’s involved in, even though she is, but a woman in a man’s world. How she survived the king’s wrath on so many occasions is a bit of a miracle.

In the end, I was completely hooked on the novel, and just read the last 40% or so in one sitting, in heightened anxiety from each high to each new low. Lady Constance certainly wins the heart of the reader, even if she herself would never admit to even having a heart.

I believe this is the best of Anne O’Brien’s books to date.

Thank you to the Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy. I would certainly have read it anyway – and I’m just delighted I got to read it so far in advance of being released.

A Tapestry of Treason is now available in paperback, and is available here.

Book Review – Council (Helga Finnsdottir 2) by Snorri Kristjansson – historical fiction

Here’s the blurb;

“After five years on the road, Helga has finally settled near King Eirik’s court in Uppsala, where she’s well-regarded as a healer. She’s even in a relationship, of sorts.

But life is about to get a bit more exciting, for King Eirik has summoned all those who owe him fealty to the King’s Council and tempers are already flaring. The body of an unknown boy is found near the river, but with delegations from all over the country arriving and rumours of an imminent attack, there are more important things to attend to than the death of a nobody . . .

Only Helga suspects murder, until a second body makes it clear that someone is intent on breaking up the King’s Council – and that a traitor walks among them . . .”

Council by Snorri Kristjansson is not an ‘easy’ read, but rather a worthwhile one.

Beginning a few years after the events of Kin, the start of Council is a little jarring. I imagine those lucky enough to read Kin and then head straight into Council will not have the same problem of trying to remember who everyone is, and what happened in the previous book.

Which begs the question, do you need to have read Kin to enjoy Council? Possibly not, although it does add to the background story of the main character, and Kin is an excellent book, well worth reading.

Council is deeply ingrained in the day to day lives of the people of Uppsala, and there are many factions and people to come to know, although the story threaded through it is not complicated. The hints of events in the wider world keep the reader hooked – references to Hedeby and Harald Bluetooth.

Yet, it is in the final stages of the novel that the story really comes alive. While some of the book had been a struggle – I was disappointed that it ended when it did, although it does hint at much more to come for the main character.

I have a feeling this might be a ‘bridging’ book, between Kin, and what might happen to Helga in the future, and I find the possibilities exciting.

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

Council is available now.

Book Review – A Conspiracy of Wolves by Candace Robb – medieval murder mystery

Here’s the blurb;

“When a prominent citizen is murdered, former Captain of the Guard Owen Archer is persuaded out of retirement to investigate in this gripping medieval mystery.

1374. When a member of one of York’s most prominent families is found dead in the woods, his throat torn out, rumours spread like wildfire that wolves are running loose throughout the city. Persuaded to investigate by the victim’s father, Owen Archer is convinced that a human killer is responsible. But before he can gather sufficient evidence to prove his case, a second body is discovered, stabbed to death. Is there a connection? What secrets are contained within the victim’s household? And what does apprentice healer Alisoun know that she’s not telling?

Teaming up with Geoffrey Chaucer, who is in York on a secret mission on behalf of Prince Edward, Owen’s enquiries will draw him headlong into a deadly conspiracy.”

This is the first book of the series that I’ve read, and it took me a while to click with the characters and work out the ‘normal’ band of characters, and those who were involved in the conspiracy. I imagine that fans of the series would not have had the same problems and would have been able to leap right in.

The reimagining of York is detailed and enjoyable and the solving of the murder(s) is well done, even if the author relies a little too much on the ‘I can’t tell you now, but I’ll tell you later,’ scenario to build tension. Overall, an enjoyable read.

Not perhaps as easy to jump in and out of the world of Owen Archer as other medieval mysteries, but I will certainly be looking for some of the earlier books now.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

A Conspiracy of Wolves, and all the previous ten books in the series are available now.

 

Book Review – Oathbreaker by Adam Lofthouse – historical fiction

Review of Oathbreaker by Adam Lofthouse (Roman historical fiction)

Here’s the blurb;

“It’s not the shadows you should fear, but what hides within.”
Alaric is an enemy of Rome.
For too long he has thwarted the empires attempts to gain control over the land that has long resisted them: Germania.
To the Romans he is a scourge, always evading their carefully laid traps. But to the tribes he is much worse: Outlaw, chief killer, battle turner, Oathbreaker.
All men know him, all men fear him. At his back is a war host, on his shoulder sits Loki, the Trickster.
A deal has been struck between the legions and the tribes: lifelong enemies agree to become friends, for a time. The eagles’ march with the wolves, together they hunt the raven.
Isolated and lacking in allies, will Alaric be able to break free from the noose that slowly encircles him? Or will the Sly One once more come to his rescue?
OATHBREAKER: One man’s stand against the tyranny of empire.

Here’s my review:

The main character in Oathbreaker, Alaric, is very far from being any sort of hero. Yes, he might be prepared to stand apart from the might of the Roman Empire, but he doesn’t care who he tramples on along the way. Sometimes he’s almost likeable, but a lot of the time, he’s just a single man, making slightly dodgy decisions, often based on his own rage and fury, and trying to live with the consequences.
Alaric is proud of his reputation, but of course, it means that he has far more enemies than allies, as becomes clear as the plotline develops. Alaric also suffers from that most common of problems, he believes the accolades he receives and even revels in them. Having not read the previous two books by this author, which feature Alaric, I’m not sure how his character develops after the events of Oathbreaker, but I’m curious to find out.
Unlike many ‘Roman’ era books, there is actually very little Roman in Oathbreaker. Rather the story is of outsiders looking in, understanding how the Roman Empire works, perhaps better than the Romans do!
Oathbreaker rarely falls into the traps of novels sent in this era, although there are a few ‘back story’ elements that are a little too expected, and the reader, just like Alaric’s most loyal friend, Ketill, does work out what’s actually happening long before Alaric does!
A firm four stars from me – it’s great to read a book that merges the Roman world and that of tribal Germania and have it told from the viewpoint of those tribes. I look forward to reading more.

Oathbreaker is available now, and should be on the list of all who read Roman historical fiction!

You can get a copy from here:

 

Book Review – The Exiled by David Barbaree – Historical Fiction

Here’s the blurb:

“A.D. 79. Parthia is gripped by civil war. One king vying for the throne, desperate for help, welcomes an alliance from an unlikely source: a man claiming to be Nero, the dethroned Roman emperor.

Meanwhile, young Gaius wishes he could spend his summer on the Bay of Naples amongst his books. Instead Pliny, the famous admiral, has sent him to befriend the nephew of Ulpius, the mysterious blind senator from Spain. A man Pliny does not trust.

But when a Parthian hostage is nearly killed, days before Parthian emissaries are expected, and as rumours of the False Nero entering the land reaches Rome, Gaius and Pliny race to learn how these events are connected.

As the political intrigue comes to a head, something happens that only the mysterious clairvoyant Sibyl could have foreseen: Mount Vesuvius erupts, and black ash fills the sky . . .”

It was always going to be a big task to produce a novel quite as good as Deposed (which was excellent and fully worthy of five stars.)

The Exiled does a good job of trying to be as good as the first book, but somehow, and despite, or perhaps because of, the sheer amount of political intrigue going on, it does not match up to the sheer audacity of Deposed. Indeed, for quite a large swathe of the book, I was wondering if it was a standalone novel and not at all related to Deposed. But, I pressed on, hopeful that it would improve.
And it did. From about 50% the book picks up and the seemingly disparate events begin to fall into place, and the careful plotting and planning of the book begin to reveal themselves.
While some of the characters remain underdeveloped, and some of the chapters feel ‘too thin,’ it can’t be denied that the story is both clever and solidly told, and the ending is unexpected.
I hope that this series continues.
Thank you for my review copy Netgalley.

The Exiled was released on 27th June 2019 and is available from here;

New Release Alert – The Queen Dowager by MJ Porter – historical fiction

It’s release day.

The Queen Dowager is available from today in both ebook and paperback.

Here’s the blurb.

“No woman had ever held so much power and lost it on the whim of her son, the king.

Six years of political ostracism has brought Lady Elfrida low. Desperate to be welcomed back to court, she risks all to make an ally of England’s Viking enemy.

Failure risks exile. Forever.”

I’ve really enjoyed writing this second to last book on Lady Elfrida. I truly hope that all my readers enjoy it as much as I have. And don’t forget the final book, Once A Queen will be released on 25th July 2019! Not long to wait.

 

Odin’s Game – by Tom Hodkinson – historical fiction

Here’s the blurb;

“AD 915.

In the Orkney Isles, a young woman flees her home to save the life of her unborn child. Eighteen years later, a witch foretells that evil from her past is reaching out again to threaten her son.

Outlawed from his home in Iceland, Einar Unnsson is thrown on the mercy of his Uncle, the infamous Jarl Thorfinn ‘Skull Cleaver’ of Orkney. He joins forces with a Norse-Irish princess and a company of wolfskin-clad warriors to become a player in a deadly game for control of the Irish sea, where warriors are the pawns of kings and Jarls and the powerful are themselves mere game pieces on the tafl board of the Gods.

Together they embark on a quest where Einar must fight unimaginable foes, forge new friendships, and discover what it truly means to be a warrior.

As the clouds of war gather, betrayal follows betrayal and Einar realises the only person he can really trust is himself.

Not everyone will survive, but who will conquer all in Odin’s game?”

Odin’s Game by Tim Hodkinson begins with great promise. I hope, mirroring the writing style of the sagas, the story is simply told, occasionally a little monotonous, and yet, it’s Viking Age Iceland – the promise is there, all the time, expectant that finally there is a novel about the Icelandic way of life. Unfortunately, the novel moves away from Iceland quite quickly, and in doing so, becomes a more challenging read.

The characters are two dimensional, there is some jarringly ‘modern’ dialogue in there, as well as some that is stilted, and yet all mixed with what must be a great deal of research and commitment to telling a story in a ‘different way’ to much that is written about the Viking Age – journeying to Orkney and Ireland along the way, if as so often happens, staying with the Pagan/Christian storyline.

Einar, the main character, is never fully formed enough to elicit a great deal of sympathy from the reader, and his ‘talents’ appearing from nowhere (apart from his ability to tell a good story which he has been trained to do) are supposed to be gifts from Odin, but are, again, not fully explored enough to make the novel feel ‘well-rounded and finished.’

There is a huge amount of promise contained in this novel, but it slips away, never quite grasping the storyline firmly enough, and the ending is both rushed, and ultimately, unfulfilling. A true shame. Such an engaging idea, but a struggle to read. In the end, I willed myself to the end in the hope the ending would be as good as the beginning, only to be disappointed.

The three stars are for the promise of what could be a great novel.

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

(Note – I am obsessed with Viking Age Iceland – it is my passion – it is the basis of my first fantasy series – this may, potentially, account for my disappointment!)

Odin’s Game is released today (20th June 2019), and is available from here:

Book Review – Commodus by Simon Turney – historical fiction – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“Welcome to a fracturing Roman empire in the second century AD: ravaged by plague and with wars rumbling on along all frontiers. One man tries to hold everything together but, beset by personal tragedy from a young age, who is holding him together?
You’ve heard the stories: the crazy emperor who thought he was Hercules and fought in the Colosseum as a gladiator. But is ‘crazy’ too easy a label? Could there have been a method behind the perceived madness?”

Commodus by Simon Turney is my sort of historical fiction – people who actually lived – with their lives told in an intriguing and interesting way, bolted around known ‘facts’ and not a little imagination to bring the character alive! This is the first book I’ve read by Simon Turney but it won’t be the last.

The story is a well-told tale of a Roman Emperor who, I must assume, has a bit of a bad reputation. This is a sympathetic account of his rule, and I doubt I’ll be the only person who finishes the novel and considers just what it is about him that’s quite so bad (apart from his delight in killing exotic animals that would garner a great of bad press in our day and age) – in that respect, the author does an excellent job of rehabilitating a bit of a dodgy character.

A thoroughly enjoyable read. Highly recommended. I read it in a day!

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

Commodus is now available in paperback, and is available from here, as well as from other retailers!