Book Review – Daughters of Sparta by Claire Heywood

Here’s the blurb:

Two sisters parted. Two women blamed. Two stories reclaimed.

‘Required reading for fans of Circe . . . a remarkable, thrilling debut’ – Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue

‘Fluent and persuasive. I admire the ambition with which Heywood tackles the subject, to which she brings freshness and verve. I enjoyed it very much’ – Elizabeth Buchan, bestselling author of The Museum of Broken Promises

For millennia, two women have been blamed for the fall of a mighty civilisation – but now it’s time to hear their side of the story . . .

As princesses of Sparta, Helen and Klytemnestra have known nothing but luxury and plenty. With their high birth and unrivalled beauty, they are the envy of all of Greece.

Such privilege comes at a high price, though, and their destinies are not theirs to command. While still only girls they are separated and married off to legendary foreign kings Agamemnon and Menelaos, never to meet again. Their duty is now to give birth to the heirs society demands and be the meek, submissive queens their men expect.

But when the weight of their husbands’ neglect, cruelty and ambition becomes too heavy to bear, they must push against the constraints of their sex to carve new lives for themselves – and in doing so make waves that will ripple throughout the next three thousand years.

Daughters of Sparta is that most wonderful of books – one that draws you in from the very first pages and won’t let go of you until the end. I read it in just over a day. I didn’t want to put it down.

The storytelling is engaging, the characters of Helen and her sister, beautifully sketched while everyone around them, apart from their mother, stays very much in the background. This is their story.

At times the reader will hate either or both of the sisters, at other times, the reader will understand their pain, their desire to be more than their birthright.

A beautifully evocative story that speaks of the loneliness of royal marriage, of the heavy, and life-threatening expectations placed on young women to become mothers, and you will be swept along by a tale you think you know but might not.

5 stars from me.

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

Daughters of Sparta is available now in ebook, hardback and audiobook.

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Anarchy by Tracey Warr

Welcome to the blog. Your book, The Anarchy, is set in a time period that I thoroughly enjoy and sounds absolutely fascinating. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.

Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life? 

The Anarchy is set 1121–1139 and focuses on the later life of the Welsh noblewoman, Nest ferch Rhys. It is the final book in my Conquest trilogy telling the story of Nest’s turbulent life. Gwyneth Richards has argued that historiography has had a male bias ‘which has hitherto rendered women more invisible than is warranted by the available sources’ (2009, p. 24). Near-invisible women in the early middle ages are the territory of my historical fiction. I take the often very slight references to them in medieval chronicles and charters and imagine into the gaps. My first novel on an 11thcentury countess of Toulouse and Barcelona, Almodis de la Marche, came from a few sentences in the Chronicle of Ademar de Chabannes. My second novel came from a few more sentences in the same medieval chronicle on a different woman who was kidnapped by vikings. The Conquest trilogy derives from a couple of paragraphs on Nest ferch Rhys in Brut y Tywysogion (The Chronicle of the Princes

1 Brut y Twysogion (Chronicle of the Princes)
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chronical_of_the_Princes_(f.260).jpg Attribution: National Library of Wales, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Nest ferch Rhys was the daughter of the last independent king in Wales, Rhys ap Tewdwr. Her father and three of her brothers were killed by invading Normans and she was probably raised in the Norman court. She became the mistress of the Norman king, Henry I, and had a son with him. She was married to Gerald FitzWalter, the Norman steward of Pembroke Castle, which had been part of her father’s kingdom. The Welsh prince, Owain of Powys, abducted her from Gerald for a few years. After Gerald died, she was married to Stephen de Marais, the Norman constable of Cardigan Castle. The character Haith in my novel is based on Hait who is documented as the sheriff of Pembroke in the 1130 pipe roll, the records of the court (Green, 1986). Hait is presumed, from his name, to have been Flemish. It is my invention to make him a close friend of King Henry. According to Nest’s grandson, Gerald of Wales, Hait was the father of one of Nest’s sons. 

Once I have a spark from a primary source such as the Brut y Tywysogion to set me off, I pursue several lines of enquiry to find out everything I can about my characters, their relationships with one another, and the contexts they lived in. The lines of enquiry I pursue are further primary sources, genealogical research, biographies, the literature and art of the time, objects in museums, maps, site research at places associated with the characters, and contextual research—finding out, for example what people in those times and places wore and ate, what games they played and what books they read. I do as much research as I can online and buy key books and then I spend days in the British Library poring over the more inaccessible sources.

Other primary sources I drew on for The Anarchy included William FitzStephen’s account of Norman London and the books written by Nest’s grandson, Gerald of Wales. The genealogical research gives me a sense of the relationships between people and, for instance, an idea of how many children my heroine had and when. One key resource I use for genealogical research is Charles Cawley’s Medieval Lands, which can be searched online (2014). Genealogies are often set out following the patriarchal line. I make an effort to perceive the matriarchal line too, as far as possible. Family and kin—on both sides—were extremely significant for medieval people.

Despite sometimes being described as the most famous early medieval Welsh woman, the historical record of Nest is slender. Her kidnap from her husband Gerald FitzWalter by Prince Owain Cadwgan, which probably occurred at Cilgerran Castle, is briefly described in Brut y Tywysogion (The Chronicle of the Princes). Nest is credited with advising Gerald to escape down the castle toilet chute, which let out onto the dungheap below, outside the castle walls. (See my earlier blogpost on the wily Gerald: https://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/2016/11/a-norman-frontiersman-in-wales.html.) 

Kari Maund and Susan Johns have both written important studies on Nest ferch Rhys. I also research the people around her and try to get a sense of the atmosphere of the Norman court that Nest found herself in. C. Warren Hollister and Judith Green’s biographies of King Henry I were invaluable and writing the character of the king in my novels was one of the most enjoyable parts of composing them. I also drew on David Crouch’s book on the Beaumont twins to think about the personalities and factions at court. Reading journal articles, such as Eleanor Searle’s study of the marriages of Norman conquerors to Welsh and Anglo-Saxon heiresses, often gives me key information or details to use. 

My research on the literature of the time, such as The Mabinogion and the poems of the Welsh bards, helps me find fragments of the authentic voice of that period that I can use. In The Anarchy, Breri the Welsh bard is a double agent, spying for both the Welsh and the Normans. Amanda Jane Hingst’s book on the medieval writer, Orderic Vitalis, also gave me valuable material. Vivid details of daily life can be drawn from manuscript illustrations and objects in museums, and I often use particular objects, such as goblet or a ring, as a significant motif in the story. 

In the opening chapter of The Anarchy, Nest, has been widowed from one Norman and is married unwillingly to another, Stephen de Marais. After the ceremony, she absconds, leaving her wedding ring on the table in the great hall. 

Fourteenth-century medieval finger-ring, probably a wedding ring. The inscription probably reads ‘I will serve you until I die’. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Medieval_finger_ring_(showing_internal_inscription)_(FindID_199291).jpgAttribution: The Portable Antiquities Scheme/ The Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

I walk the sites of the novel, visiting castle ruins. Even though there is rarely much to see surviving from the 12thcentury, site research gives me atmosphere, weather, birdsong, the lay of the land. I draw up my own chronology, genealogies, and maps to help me flesh out the fictional world of my characters so that it is imagined, but credible, built on a structure of recorded history.

(Historical references are listed below).

Brut y Tywysogion (Chronicle of the Princes). Written 681–1282. Thomas Jones transl. (1953) Caerdydd: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru.

Ademar de Chabannes, Chronique, 3 vols., translated by Yves Chauvin and Georges Pon (2003) Turnhout: Brepols.

Cawley, Charles (2014) Medieval Lands, http://fmg.ac/Projects/MedLands/Search.htm.

Crouch, David (2008) The Beaumont Twins: The Roots and Branches of Power in the Twelfth Century, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

FitzStephen, William, Norman London. Written around 1183. Essay by Sir Frank Stenton & Introduction by F. Donald Logan (1990) New York: Italica Press. 

Gerald of Wales, The Itinerary Through Wales and the Description of Wales. Written 1191 and 1194. Lewis Thorpe, transl. (1978), Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Green, Judith A. (2009) Henry I King of England and Duke of Normandy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hingst, Amanda Jane (2009) The Written World: Past and Place in the Work of Orderic Vitalis, Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Indiana Press.

Hollister, C. Warren (2001) Henry I, New Haven/London: Yale University Press.

Johns, Susan M. (2013) Gender, Nation and Conquest in the High Middle Ages: Nest of Deheubarth, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Maund, Kari (2007) Princess Nest of Wales: Seductress of the English, Stroud: Tempus.

Richards, Gwyneth (2009) Welsh Noblewomen in the 13th Century, Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press.

Searle, Eleanor (1980) ‘Women and the legitimization of succession’ in Brown, R. Allen, ed., (1981) Anglo-Norman Studies III: Proceedings of the Battle Conference, pp. 159-170.

Thank you so much for sharing your research with. It’s great to see all the resources you used. I also smiled because Kari Maund was one of my lecturers at university. Her books on the early Welsh period are wonderful.

Here’s the blurb:

Unhappily married to Stephen de Marais, the Welsh princess, Nest, becomes increasingly embroiled in her countrymen’s resistance to the Norman occupation of her family lands. She plans to visit King Henry in the hope of securing a life away from her unwanted husband, but grieving for the loss of his son, the King is obsessed with relics and prophecies.

Meanwhile, Haith tries to avoid the reality that Nest is married to another man by distracting himself with the mystery of the shipwreck in which the King’s heir drowned. As Haith pieces together fragments of the tragedy, he discovers a chest full of secrets, but will the revelations bring a culprit to light and aid the grieving King?

Will the two lovers be united as Nest fights for independence and Haith struggles to protect King Henry?

Universal Links: 

The Daughter of the Last King (Book 1)

The Drowned Court (Book 2)

The Anarchy (Book 3)

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Meet the Author

Tracey Warr (1958- ) was born in London and lives in the UK and France. Her first historical novel, Almodis the Peaceweaver (Impress, 2011) is set in 11th century France and Spain and is a fictionalised account of the true story of the Occitan female lord, Almodis de la Marche, who was Countess of Toulouse and Barcelona. It was shortlisted for the Impress Prize for New Fiction and the Rome Film Festival Books Initiative and won a Santander Research Award. Her second novel, The Viking Hostage, set in 10th century France and Wales, was published by Impress Books in 2014 and topped the Amazon Australia charts. Her Conquest trilogy, Daughter of the Last King, The Drowned Court, and The Anarchy recount the story of a Welsh noblewoman caught up in the struggle between the Welsh and the Normans in the 12th century. She was awarded a Literature Wales Writers Bursary. Her writing is a weave of researched history and imagined stories in the gaps in history.

Tracey Warr studied English at University of Hull and Oxford University, gaining a BA (Hons) and MPhil. She worked at the Arts Council, Institute of Contemporary Arts, Chatto & Windus Publishers, and edited Poetry Review magazine with Mick Imlah. She also publishes art writing on contemporary artists, and in 2016 she published a future fiction novella, Meanda, in English and French, as part of the art project, Exoplanet Lot. She recently published a series of three books, The Water Age, which are future fiction and art and writing workshop books – one for adults and one for children – on the topic of water in the future. She gained a PhD in Art History in 2007 and was Guest Professor at Bauhaus University and Senior Lecturer at Oxford Brookes University and Dartington College of Arts. Her published books on contemporary art include The Artist’s Body (Phaidon, 2000), Remote Performances in Nature and Architecture (Routledge, 2015) and The Midden (Garret, 2018). She gained an MA in Creative Writing at University of Wales Trinity St David in 2011. She is Head of Research at Dartington Trust and teaches on MA Poetics of Imagination for Dartington Arts School.

Connect with Tracey Warr

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on The Anarchy Blog Tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Curse of Conchobar by David Fitz-Gerald

Today, I’m delighted to welcome David Fitz-Gerald to the blog. I asked him about the historical research he undertook to write his new book.

Research is my rabbit hole and full immersion is my favorite form. Sometimes, that’s easier said than done, especially during a worldwide pandemic, when travel is restricted and museums are closed. For some eras, there’s almost too much information available, whereas artifacts from distant historical periods are often scarce.

The Curse of Conchobar is set in New York State, long before written history reflects the “discovery” of North America. It is now more commonly believed that European people explored North America hundreds of years earlier than 1492. With each new scientific discovery, it seems, earlier new firsts become accepted.

My main character needed a rich back story. The one I invented for him was inspired by our family’s visit to Ireland in 2019. If we had known what was coming, I’ll bet we would have stayed much longer. My favorite part of our visit was the day that we spent at the Cliffs of Moher. I would love to have visited Skellig Michael, where Conchobar grew up among monks and learned to be a mason. As a hiker and mountain climber, I would love to have climbed the steps to see the ancient structures. Fortunately, I found this stunningly beautiful drone footage, by Peter Cox Photography, on youtube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxU6kk24mho

I’ve also had the pleasure of visiting Stonehenge in England and I’ve always been fascinated by megalithic stone structures. There are many smaller stone structures in New York, New England, and Canada that make you wonder, who built this, when did they build it, and what motivated them to do so? When Conchobar returns to masonry in my book, he creates just such a structure. As I was writing the book, the image of a stone chamber in Leverett, Massachusetts, from The New England Historical Society’s (NEHS) website inspired me to imagine what Conchobar could build in his new home in Northern New York State. According to NEHS, “Speculation now runs rampant about the origins of the mysterious stone structures. Did medieval Irish monks, American Indians or Vikings build them? Or did the English colonists just build them as root cellars?” I choose to believe the first theory presented. Don’t miss the other pictures on this website, but the one I’m referring to is the first picture. https://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/6-mysterious-stone-structures-new-england/

The civilization that Conchobar encounters along the banks of what will later be known as the Hudson River is a precursor to the Haudenosaunee, also known as Iroquois. I placed my fictional village for the people in my book, Wanders Far, featuring Conchobar’s descendants, on Garoga Creek, a tributary of the Mohawk River, based on archaeology. If you’d like to spend some time in my research rabbit hole, may I recommend this report, Three Sixteenth-Century Mohawk Iroquois Village Sites, from The University of the State of New York:  https://exhibitions.nysm.nysed.gov/publications/bulletin/503-14603.pdf

There is some debate about whether Native Americans inhabited the Adirondacks. I’m confident that they did and I think that science is proving it. If you’re curious about the evidence, you might be interested in this. The First Adirondackers: Part One and Part Two, from Curiously Adirondack.

The characters in The Curse of Conchobar and Wanders Far travel great distances and survive extreme situations in the wild. I have spent countless hours trying to make sure that the creatures I write about are indigenous. For example, I was tempted to write about honey bees, only to discover that they are not native and didn’t arrive in North America until the 17th century. Crisis averted! It is amazing how many bodies of water would not exist if it weren’t for dams built by modern man, and it is hard to find accurate maps from prehistoric times, so I tried to prove that each waterway existed in ancient times before I wrote about them. And I’ve spent countless hours researching what ancient foragers might have found in New York’s primeval forests. Are you curious about how Native Americans built canoes from materials found in the woods? Check out this historic video from 1946.

As for the wanderlust, on May 5, 2018, I set out from Plattsburgh, New York, and walked to Lake Placid, home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. I made the 50-mile journey to commemorate the historic 1963 trek of Lake Placid postman, Denny Miller, and also to make sure that the great distances my characters travel are realistic. I set out at midnight and limped into Lake Placid at dark, almost twenty hours later. The next day, I could barely walk. I’m older than most of the distance hikers I have written about, so I figure they can handle 30-miles a day when they need to.

You know the kind of person that takes pictures of historical mile markers so they can reread them later? How about the guy that has to read every placard in the museum―the one that has to be kicked out at closing time because there’s too much to see in just one day? Or the one that irritates the family by going miles out of the way to see something that nobody else is interested in? That’s me!

Thank you for spending a few minutes with me in my rabbit hole.

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. Good luck with the new book.

Here’s the blurb:

Banished by one tribe. Condemned by another. Will an outcast’s supernatural strengths be enough to keep him alive?

549 AD. Raised by monks, Conchobar is committed to a life of obedience and peace. But when his fishing vessel is blown off-course, the young man’s relief over surviving the sea’s storms is swamped by the terrors of harsh new shores. And after capture by violent natives puts him at death’s door, he’s stunned when he develops strange telepathic abilities.

Learning his new family’s language through the mind of his mentor, Conchobar soon falls for the war chief’s ferocious daughter. But when she trains him to follow in her path as a fighter, he’s horrified when his uncanny misfortune twists reality, causing more disastrous deaths and making him a pariah.

Can Conchobar defeat the darkness painting his steps with blood?

The Curse of Conchobar is the richly detailed prequel to the mystical Adirondack Spirit Series of historical fiction. If you like inspiring heroes, unsettling powers, and lasting legacies, then you’ll love David Fitz-Gerald’s captivating tale.

Buy The Curse of Conchobar to break free from the fates today!

Trigger Warnings: Violence

Get your copy.

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Meet the Author

David Fitz-Gerald writes fiction that is grounded in history and soars with the spirits. Dave enjoys getting lost in the settings he imagines and spending time with the characters he creates. Writing historical fiction is like making paintings of the past. He loves to weave fact and fiction together, stirring in action, adventure, romance, and a heavy dose of the supernatural with the hope of transporting the reader to another time and place. He is an Adirondack 46-er, which means he has hiked all of the highest peaks in New York State, so it should not be surprising when Dave attempts to glorify hikers as swashbuckling superheroes in his writing.

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The Curse of Conchobar is available for free in exchange for signing up for David’s email list via BookFunnel: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/iwczowhp8q

Tour Schedule Page Don’t forget to check out the other stops on The Curse of Conchobar blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Girl From Venice by Siobhan Daiko

Today, I’m excited to welcome Sioban Daiko to the blog with a post about the historical research undertaken to write The Girl From Venice.

Thank you for having me on your blog. I would say that, thus far, I have a huge connection to the places I write about in my historical fiction.

My parents bought an old farmhouse near Asolo in the Veneto in the mid-sixties. From then on, it became my second home, a place where I would spend the summers as a student and, then, later, where my husband and I would take time out from our busy lives to relax. 

Eventually, after our son had left home and I retired from teaching languages in a Welsh comprehensive school, we moved here permanently and I was able to indulge my love of writing. I’d been a fan of historical fiction for years and fascinated by how past events still resonate in the present. 

The first book I published was set in the Veneto of the 16th and 20th centuries, a homage to Asolo and Venice, Lady of Venezia.  

There are many references in Asolo to the Venetian noble woman, Caterina Cornaro, who was married to the King of Cyprus. She died in Venice on 10 July 1510, a year after the Barco, her villa of delights, was damaged by a fire set by the League of Cambrai troops. It was there that she had established a court of literary and artistic distinction and where Pietro Bembo set his platonic dialogues on love, Gli Asolani.

Image of Asolo Shutterstock Standard License

Although “Lady of Venezia” is the first novel I published, it isn’t the first book I wrote. I was privileged to have grown up in Hong Kong during the post-war era, and I hope that my personal experience of a time and place which no longer exist has lent an authenticity to The Orchid Tree, my debut novel. My grandparents were interned in the Stanley Civilian Camp like the family in my story. Gran and Grandpa didn’t talk much about their harrowing time in the camp. When they were liberated, they were so thin they resembled walking skeletons, and both died relatively young due to post-starvation-related illnesses. Their lives were similar to those of the characters in The Orchid Tree, in that they lived on the Peak in a house with nine servants and shared some of the colonial attitudes of my expatriate characters, however that’s as far as the similarities go.

After writing an erotic novella, Veronica Courtesan, an imaginative take on the life of the infamous Venetian courtesan, Veronica Franco, I took a break from writing historical fiction to focus on contemporary romance, which I published as SC Daiko. It was fun for a while, but there was a tale I’d been wanting to tell for years. It needed a lot of research, but I finally got round to doing it and then wrote The Girl from Venice, my new release.

I’ll never forget my initial impression of the Avenue of Martyrs in Bassano del Grappa. The shock and the horror when I saw the trees where the Nazi-Fascists hung some of the young partisans who dared to confront them in 1944. I decided to weave those events into a story based on how many locals, such as the family of farmers next door to my parents’ place, hid Venetian Jews during the war. They inspired me to create the character of Lidia in The Girl from Venice.

Image Bassano del Grappa Shutterstock Standard License

The fictional village of Sant’Illaria is founded upon the villages at the foothills of Monte Grappa, all of which lost young men in horrific circumstances during that dark period of Italian history. I decided to create Sant’Illaria rather than use an actual place out of respect for the memory of those who lost loved ones. 

Photo of Monte Grappa

I read many books for inspiration and information, including:

Maria de Blasio Wilhelm, The Other Italy, The Italian Resistance in World War II

Luigi Meneghello, The Outlaws

Caroline Moorehead, A House in the Mountains, The Women Who Liberated Italy from Fascism

David Stafford, Mission Accomplished, SOE and Italy 1943-1945

H. W. Tilman, When Men & Mountains Meet

I only start writing once I’ve done enough research to jot down a timeline of events and thought about my characters so long and hard that I can hear their voices and they become real to me. I do a chapter-by-chapter outline so I have a clear roadmap of the story but allow myself to add or take away from it when necessary.

Thank you so much for sharing your research with us. Good luck with the new book.

Here’s the blurb:

Lidia De Angelis has kept a low profile since Mussolini’s racial laws wrenched her from her childhood sweetheart. But when the Germans occupy Venice in 1943, she must flee the city to save her life.

Lidia joins the partisans in the Venetian mountains, where she meets David, an English soldier fighting for the same cause. As she grows closer to him, harsh Nazi reprisals and Lidia’s own ardent anti-fascist activities threaten to tear them apart.

Decades later in London, while sorting through her grandmother’s belongings after her death, Charlotte discovers a Jewish prayer book, unopened letters written in Italian, and a fading photograph of a group of young people in front of the Doge’s Palace.

Intrigued by her grandmother’s refusal to talk about her life in Italy before and during the war, Charlotte travels to Venice in search of her roots. There, she learns not only the devastating truth about her grandmother’s past, but also some surprising truths about herself.

A heart-breaking page-turner, based on actual events in Italy during World War II

Trigger Warnings: Death, Miscarriage, PTSD, Rape

Available on Kindle Unlimited.

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Meet the author

Siobhan Daiko is an international bestselling historical romantic fiction author. A lover of all things Italian, she lives in the Veneto region of northern Italy with her husband, a Havanese puppy and two rescue cats. After a life of romance and adventure in Hong Kong, Australia and the UK, Siobhan now spends her time, when she isn’t writing, enjoying the sweet life near Venice. 

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on The Girl From Venice blog tour. Tour Page

New Release alert and book review – Death at the Mint by Christine Hancock – historical mystery (tenth century)

Today, I’m really excited to spotlight Death at the Mint by Christine Hancock. Christine writes the Byrhtnoth Chronicles set in the middle of the tenth century, but in Death at the Mint, she has taken one of our favourite characters and allowed him to solve an intriguing mystery.

Here’s the blurb:

“When Wulfstan swore revenge on his enemy, he expected to die. Now that man is dead.
Far to the south, another body is found in an Essex wood.
Abbot Dunstan of Glastonbury is concerned. The victim ran the mint. Is the king’s coinage in danger of corruption?
Dunstan sends Wulfstan to Maldon to investigate.
Can Wulfstan discover the truth? Is there a connection with his own past?
Having lost everything he held dear; can he learn to live again?”

“Finally, Wulfstan – my favourite character in the Byrhtnoth Chronicles – has been given his own story. Read and enjoy!”
Ruth Downie, author of the Gaius Petreius Ruso Mysteries.

(The cover is fantastic)

I was lucky enough to get to read an early draft of Death at the Mint, and also the finished product. Firstly, an assurance, yes, Wulfstan is a character from the previous books but if you haven’t read them (which you might want to do after this one) it won’t detract from your enjoyment. Not at all. This is an excellent standalone Saxon mystery.

Wulfstan, his hound and his horse, make an intriguing team and what I particularly enjoyed was the reimagining of life in a Saxon settlement. This is something I’ve always been a bit terrified of doing in my own books, and Christine Hancock does it incredibly well. Added to which, the mystery will really draw you in.

This was a wonderful book, the mystery has a satisfying ending, which I don’t think readers will guess.

Death at the Mint is released today, 1st July, in ebook, and it’s well worth a read if you enjoy the time period and a good old mystery.

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Pact by Tom Durwood

Today I’m delighted to welcome Tom Durwood to the blog with a post about his new book, The Pact.

As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.

Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life? 

A central question! The answer is this:

a) read and understand everything I can find on the era, following tributaries wherever they lead  

b) take notes   

c) put all sources and notes in a drawer and write a character-based story where the research finds its own way in.

Readers can tell in an instant when you don’t know what you’re talking about. If I don’t go the extra distance to understand how a seven-lock canal is built, or how to fix a broken wagon wheel, then my story has no value. 

My heavy-handed initial plotting and attention to detail tend to weigh the stories down. The best parts are the discovered or unexpected parts – where the characters respond to situations which neither they, nor I, nor the reader saw coming.         

Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?  

Yes, I certainly do have two authors whose work always gets me back on the right track – Louis L’Amour and Robert E. Howard. I re-read the ‘Solomon Kane” stories and Westerns like “Kilkenny” whenever I can, and listen to them on audio as well. Both of these authors are natural storytellers, which I am not. Their works have that page-turning quality that my work rarely does, so living in their worlds does me good.   

As to historians, I love Barbara Tuchman and Gibbons for their strong voices. I am very happy when I can find opportunities in my own stories to echo their seeming mastery of the material. 

Chinese girl
Illustration copyright 2021 by Jessica Taylor. From “The Illustrated Colonials Book One: The Pact.”
Topkapi_palace_roof
Illustration copyright 2021 by Mai Nguyen. From “The Illustrated Colonials Book One: The Pact.”
Saratoga 1
Illustration copyright 2021 by Timothee Mathon. From “The Illustrated Colonials Book One: The Pact.”
Map square Boston Illustration copyright 2021 by Karin Willig. From “The Illustrated Colonials Book One: The Pact.”

Here’s the blurb:

Six international teens join the American Revolution.

Coming of age and making history.  

They went into 1776 looking for a fight. Little did they know how much it would cost them… 

Six rich kids from around the globe join the Bostonian cause, finding love and treachery along the path to liberty. 

A new perspective on one of history’s most fascinating moments. 

Amply illustrated edition of a young-adult historical fiction novel. 

This novel is available on #KindleUnlimited

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Meet the author

Tom Durwood is a teacher, writer and editor with an interest in history. Tom most recently taught English Composition and Empire and Literature at Valley Forge Military College, where he won the Teacher of the Year Award five times. Tom has taught Public Speaking and Basic Communications as guest lecturer for the Naval Special Warfare Development Group at the Dam’s Neck Annex of the Naval War College.

Tom’s ebook Empire and Literature matches global works of film and fiction to specific quadrants of empire, finding surprising parallels. Literature, film, art and architecture are viewed against the rise and fall of empire. In a foreword to Empire and Literature, postcolonial scholar Dipesh Chakrabarty of the University of Chicago calls it “imaginative and innovative.” Prof. Chakrabarty writes that “Durwood has given us a thought-provoking introduction to the humanities.” His subsequent book “Kid Lit: An Introduction to Literary Criticism” has been well-reviewed. “My favorite nonfiction book of the year,” writes The Literary Apothecary (Goodreads).

Early reader response to Tom’s historical fiction adventures has been promising. “A true pleasure … the richness of the layers of Tom’s novel is compelling,” writes Fatima Sharrafedine in her foreword to “The Illustrated Boatman’s Daughter.” The Midwest Book Review calls that same adventure “uniformly gripping and educational … pairing action and adventure with social issues.” Adds Prairie Review, “A deeply intriguing, ambitious historical fiction series.”

Tom briefly ran his own children’s book imprint, Calico Books (Contemporary Books, Chicago). Tom’s newspaper column “Shelter” appeared in the North County Times for seven years. Tom earned a Masters in English Literature in San Diego, where he also served as Executive Director of San Diego Habitat for Humanity.

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Don’t forget to check out the other steps on The Pact blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Sigurd’s Swords by Eric Schumacher

Today I’m delighted to welcome Eric Schumacher to the blog with a fantastic post about his new book (available for preorder now) Sigurd’s Swords.

Your book, Sigurd’s Sword, is set in a time period I love, but I don’t know as much about events in the land of the Rus as I’d like, or about Olaf Tryggvason’s early years. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.

Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life? 

First of all, thank you for having me on your wonderful blog and for your interest in Sigurd’s Swords

My research isn’t as much of a process as it is a series of rabbit holes that I tend to climb down to gather information that I then convert to notes. I keep those notes in the writing program I use so that I can refer to them often as I write. That said, I often go back to the original sources for more information or for clarity. 

It is a bit tricky writing about Vikings, because they did not chronicle their events in writing. There’s was an oral culture. So what information we have comes from outside sources, and usually from sources who wrote their works decades or even centuries after the people lived and the events occurred. Thanks to the Byzantines, Sigurd’s Swords is the only book I have written that actually had a contemporary writer who chronicled some of the events in the book.

Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?

Yes! I usually start in the same place for all of my books. That place is the sagas, and in particular, Snorre Sturlason’s Heimskringla, or “The Lives of the Norse Kings.” That provides me with the guardrails and the general outline of the story. However, Snorre wrote his series of tales centuries after my character Olaf lived, so I cannot rely on him 100% for the details of my books. Nor does he get into the minutiae that help add flavour and depth to the story, such as weaponry, fighting styles, flora and fauna, food and beverages, the types of dwellings that existed, and so on. For those things, I rely more on individual books or research papers I find online. 

In the case of Olaf and his time in Kievan Rus’, I also turned to other sources that I found. The Russian Primary Chronicle, to which I found a reference on Wikipedia, was a tremendous help. Like the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, it is broken down by year, so it provided me with a better sense of the timing of events and what events my characters may have experienced during their time in that kingdom. That, in turn, led me to other sources for more detailed descriptions of those events. The Byznatines were a great help for this. Civil servant John Sylitzes wrote his “A Synopsis of Byzantine History” in AD 1081, which covered the Siege of Drastar I have in my novel. Leo the Deacon, who was at the siege, also wrote about it in his Historia. The foreign policy of the Byzantines is described in The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, and was also helpful to provide larger context for why certain events might have unfolded the way they did, such as the Siege of Kyiv in AD 968. Having these sources also provided a secondary verification of the timing of things. 

All that said, there was still much I could not unearth about the Rus or Olaf during that time. So I tried to fill in the gaps with plausible plotlines and information based on the research I could find. I hope it all comes together in an enjoyable story for your readers!

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. It sounds fascinating, and I will have to hunt some of it down. Good luck with the new book.

Here’s the blurb;

From best-selling historical fiction novelist, Eric Schumacher, comes the second volume in Olaf’s Saga: the adrenaline-charged story of Olaf Tryggvason and his adventures in the kingdom of the Rus.

AD 968. It has been ten summers since the noble sons of the North, Olaf and Torgil, were driven from their homeland by the treachery of the Norse king, Harald Eriksson. Having then escaped the horrors of slavery in Estland, they now fight among the Rus in the company of Olaf’s uncle, Sigurd. 

It will be some of the bloodiest years in Rus history. The Grand Prince, Sviatoslav, is hungry for land, riches, and power, but his unending campaigns are leaving the corpses of thousands in their wakes. From the siege of Konugard to the battlefields of ancient Bulgaria, Olaf and Torgil struggle to stay alive in Sigurd’s Swords, the riveting sequel to Forged by Iron

Pre-order link

Meet the Author

Eric Schumacher (1968 – ) is an American historical novelist who currently resides in Santa Barbara, California, with his wife and two children. He was born and raised in Los Angeles and attended college at the University of San Diego.

At a very early age, Schumacher discovered his love for writing and medieval European history, as well as authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Those discoveries continue to fuel his imagination and influence the stories he tells. His first novel, God’s Hammer, was published in 2005.

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Sigurd’s Swords blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Competition time with The History Quill – win one of three Viking fiction books

Today I’m excited to share with you the details of a giveaway for a copy of The Last King, as well as 2 other Viking books by Eric Schumacher, Forged by Blood, and Kelly Evans, The Northern Queen, with The History Quill.

To be in with a chance of winning one of the 3 books, just click this link and add your details.

The competition runs until 30th June 2021, and please check the entry requirements.

If you don’t know The History Quill yet, they’re there for writers and readers, providing book recommendations through their book club and important resources for writers and would be writers.. Pop by and have a good look, and join the book club if you’re looking for good recommendations.

Good luck everyone.

Welcome to today’s stop on the new release blog tour for The Serpent King by Tim Hodkinson

Here’s the blurb:

The fight for vengeance has no victors…

AD 936

The great warrior, Einar Unnsson, wants revenge. His mother’s assassin has stolen her severed head and Einar is hungry for his blood. Only one thing holds him back. He is a newly sworn in Wolf Coat, and must accompany them on their latest quest.

The Wolf Coats are a band of fearsome bloodthirsty warriors, who roam the seas, killing any enemies who get in their way. Now they’re determined to destroy their biggest enemy, King Eirik, as he attempts to take the throne of Norway.

Yet, for Einar, the urge to return to Iceland is growing every day. Only there, in his homeland, can he avenge his mother and salve his grief. But what Einar doesn’t know is that this is where an old enemy lurks, and his thirst for vengeance equals Einar’s…

Read Tim Hodkinson’s newest epic Viking adventure.

Here’s my review

The Serpent King by Tim Hodkinson is the fourth instalment in The Whale Road Chronicles, reuniting readers with Einar and the rest of the Wolf Coats.

It is an energetic and fast-paced jaunt through the sea kingdoms of Norway, the Scottish islands, and Iceland, and although we don’t go to Ireland, it’s never far from the characters’ thoughts.

I love this series because the author twists his story through the ‘known facts’ of the time period. I know what’s coming, and many others will also know what’s coming in future books, but the joy is in how we get there.

About the author

Tim Hodkinson was born in 1971 in Northern Ireland. He studied Medieval English and Old Norse Literature at University with a subsidiary in Medieval European History. He has been writing all his life and has a strong interest in the historical, the mystical and the mysterious. After spending several happy years living in New Hampshire, USA, he has now returned to life in Northern Ireland with his wife Trudy and three lovely daughters in a village called Moira.

Tim is currently working on a series of viking novels for Ares Fiction, an imprint of Head of Zeus.

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Today, I’m reviewing The Fort by Adrian Goldsworthy (Roman historical fiction) as part of its new release blog tour

Here’s the blurb:

AD 105: DACIA

The Dacian kingdom and Rome are at peace, but no one thinks that it will last. Sent to command an isolated fort beyond the Danube, centurion Flavius Ferox can sense that war is coming, but also knows that enemies may be closer to home.

Many of the Brigantes under his command are former rebels and convicts, as likely to kill him as obey an order. And then there is Hadrian, the emperor’s cousin, and a man with plans of his own…

Gritty, gripping and profoundly authentic, The Fort is the first book in a brand new trilogy set in the Roman empire from bestselling historian Adrian Goldsworthy.

The Fort by Adrian Goldsworthy is good ‘Roman’ era fiction.

Set in Dacia in AD105, it is the story of ‘The Fort’ under the command of Flavius Ferox, a character some will know from Goldsworthy’s previous trilogy that began with Vindolanda.

Mistakenly thinking this was an entirely new trilogy with all new characters, it took me a while to get into the story. Everyone seemed to know everyone else apart from me. But Ferox is a good character, and he grounded me to what was happening in the immediate vicinity of the Fort, and apart from once or twice, it didn’t really matter what had gone before.

This is a story of suspicions, ambition and lies, and it rumbles along at a good old pace. This isn’t the story of one battle, but rather many, a slow attrition against the Romans by the Dacians.

Overall, this was an enjoyable novel, and some of the fighting scenes were especially exciting. Those with an interest in Roman war craft will especially enjoy it, although, I confess, I don’t know my spatha from my pilum (there is a glossary, fellow readers, so do not fear.)

About the author

Adrian Goldsworthy has a doctorate from Oxford University. His first book, THE ROMAN ARMY AT WAR was recognised by John Keegan as an exceptionally impressive work, original in treatment and impressive in style. He has gone on to write several other books, including THE FALL OF THE WEST, CAESAR, IN THE NAME OF ROME, CANNAE and ROMAN WARFARE, which have sold more than a quarter of a million copies and been translated into more than a dozen languages. A full-time author, he regularly contributes to TV documentaries on Roman themes.

Adrian Goldsworthy , Author , Broadcaster , Historical consultant .

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