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 – 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.

 

Pre-order alert – The Queen Dowager and Once a Queen – historical fiction – the continuing story of Lady Elfrida

I did it! Yep, the preorder for The Queen Dowager is now LIVE on Amazon, in advance of release day which is 27th June 2019.

https://amzn.to/2YUw2k3

And, and, there is another surprise as well, for not only is The Queen Dowager ready for preorder, so too is the last book in the trilogy, and the last book on Lady Elfrida. Once a Queen will be released on 25th July 2019.

onceaqueen

I will be sharing more information as the release date grows closer!

https://www.canva.com/design/DADbJNtCtQs/view

To be in with a chance to win one of three ebook copies of The Queen Dowager, just leave a comment below and I’ll randomly select 3 winners on 15th June 2019, and then make contact with the lucky three!

New Release Alert – The Queen Dowager by M J Porter (The King’s Mother Book II)

So, it’s been a while, but both The Queen Dowager, and Always A Queen, are near to being released. I decided to write both books together, one after another, and to ensure that this second trilogy about Lady Elfrida truly did justice to the intriguing woman I believe she was. (It’s also involved a major overhaul of the first two books in The Earls of Mercia series, which will also be available in paperback soon).

The cover for The King’s Mother has been ready for a while, but the cover for Always A Queen is still under construction.

But, aside from that, I thought I’d share a bit of the ‘blurb” for The Queen Dowager.

“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 will share more details as soon as I have them!

 

Storm of Steel by Matthew Harffy – historical fiction

Here’s the blurb;

“AD 643. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the sixth instalment in the Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell.

Heading south to lands he once considered his home, Beobrand is plunged into a dark world of piracy and slavery when an old friend enlists his help to recover a kidnapped girl.

Embarking onto the wind-tossed seas, Beobrand pursues his quarry with single-minded tenacity. But the Whale Road is never calm and his journey is beset with storms, betrayal and violence.

As the winds of his wyrd blow him ever further from what he knows, will Beobrand find victory on his quest or has his luck finally abandoned him?”

Storm of Steel is the next book in the Bernicia Chronicles, following the life of Beobrand – henceforth known as ‘grimdark’ Beo or just plain grumpy. Life seems quite hard for Beo, often torn between the decisions he makes and the oaths he must fulfil, and this is just another of those occasions when he’s forced to take actions he might not strictly have wanted to.

The majority of Storm of Steel takes place at sea, or near the sea. There’s a lot of ‘ship’ stuff and the weather, as always in Anglo-Saxon England (he he) is rubbish, and its winter and no one sails in the winter, apart from grimdark Beobrand. There are storms aplenty and it always seems to rain/snow/sleet! There’s a lot of sea sickness and quite a bit of action. And then, almost abruptly, the book ends.
There are many things about the book that are good, but at times the story feels a little laboured, and I still don’t like the scenes where the POV moves away from Beobrand. The story is not particularly complicated, and because it’s Beobrand, even the scenes where his life might be in peril, are destined to end with his survival. That said, the final big ‘scene’ is very well written and enjoyable (but yes, it takes place both at sea. on the shore and in the rain – in fact, I think it’s snowing and sleeting), but I would have liked a bit more here, rather than moving forward to a few months later.
A firm 4/5 and my thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the review copy.

Storm of Steel is released on 9th May 2019 and you can purchase a copy here, although other retailers are available!

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 – The Tragic Daughters of Charles 1: Mary, Elizabeth and Henrietta Anne by Sarah-Beth Watkins – Historical Non-Fiction

Here’s the blurb;

“Mary, Elizabeth and Henrietta Anne, the daughters of King Charles I and his queen, Henrietta Maria, would be brought up against the background of the English Civil War. Mary would marry William, Prince of Orange, and be sent to live in the Netherlands. Elizabeth would remain in England under Parliamentary control. Henrietta Anne would escape to France and be the darling of the French Court. Yet none of the Stuart princesses would live to reach thirty. The Tragic Daughters of Charles I is their story.”

The Tragic Daughter of Charles is a well-named, and well-presented account of the daughters born to Charles I and his wife. The author, as ever, relies extensively on the letters her subjects wrote, and these are often presented in their entirety allowing the reader to understand the subjects well.
In some ways, it glosses over the Civil War and the Restoration of Charles II but this is because the focus is on the daughters/sisters and I believe the author manages to isolate them well from the greater backdrop of events, while also including the pertinent points.
A thoroughly enjoyable, short, read.

A firm 4/5 and my thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the review copy.

The Tragic Daughters of Charles I is released on 26th April 2019 and can be purchased here, although other retailers are also 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 – Queen of the North by Anne O’Brien – historical fiction

Here’s the blurb;

“To those around her she was a loyal subject.

In her heart she was a traitor.

1399: England’s crown is under threat. King Richard II holds onto his power by an ever-weakening thread, with exiled Henry of Lancaster back to reclaim his place on the throne.

For Elizabeth Mortimer, there is only one rightful King – her eight-year-old nephew, Edmund. Only he can guarantee her fortunes, and protect her family’s rule over the precious Northern lands bordering Scotland.

But many, including Elizabeth’s husband, do not want another child-King. Elizabeth must hide her true ambitions in Court, and go against her husband’s wishes to help build a rebel army.

To question her loyalty to the King places Elizabeth in the shadow of the axe.

To concede would curdle her Plantagenet blood.

This is one woman’s quest to turn history on its head.”

Queen of the North by Anne O’Brien is an engaging novel. Elizabeth Percy is an intriguing character – in many ways just as headstrong as her husband – Harry Hotspur, and with a firm belief in the value of her own royal birthright.

The blurb for the book is, sadly, misleading. Much of Elizabeth Percy’s vitriol is not directed against Richard II, indeed she seems to really rather like him for the brief appearance he makes, but rather against the next king, Henry IV, who usurps the throne, with the support of the Earl of Northumberland and her husband, but who then fails to pay the desired blood price. It is Henry IV that she wishes to see removed from the throne of England, not Richard II, although it is her nephew that she wishes to replace him with. In this, her husband is very much in agreement.

There is a wonderful sense of impending doom throughout the first half of the novel, but I didn’t feel as though the second half succeeded with quite the same sense of drama. That said, Elizabeth is too interesting a character to not want to read about all of her life, and I enjoyed the character’s own journey to self-realisation that occurs by the final pages of the book.

All in all, a firm addition to Anne O’Brien’s cast of somewhat ‘unlikely’ heroic women of the Middle Ages who have sadly been overlooked by the joy that is popular history.

A firm 4/5 and my thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the review copy.

Queen of the North is released in paperback on 18th April 2019, and you can grab your copy here, although other retailers are available. (To all GOT fans, I dare you to say this title without a bit of Jon Snow – King of the North – ’cause I can’t.)

And, just to tease you, the next book in Anne O’Brien’s expanding collection, A Tapestry of Treason, due out in August 2019, is a wonderful and delightful book. Check it out as well.