Book Review – The Shadow Queen by Anne O’Brien (historical fiction) Highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“From the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Queen’s Choice

A tale of treachery, power-hungry families and legal subterfuges.

Woven through it is a remarkable story of a beautiful girl, desirable as a bride, growing to be a woman of foresight and power.

A story of love and loyalty and of the cost of personal ambition. The story of the woman who would ultimately wield power as the King Mother to 10 year old King Richard II.”

I received a free E Arc from Netgalley.

The Shadow Queen is a fantastic read. Very well paced from beginning to end, it charts the life of Joan of Kent, the cousin of King Edward III, who is a prominent character throughout the story. I always enjoy it when an author finds a 'new' historical character to offer to their readers - for too long the Tudors and the Wars of the Roses have garnered far too much interest, as have the few women who were prominent in Medieval Times - Isabella of Castille and Elearnor of Aquaitaine. Often, no matter how hard an author might try, historical events can only be manipulated so much and I much prefer a fresh story.

Joan is an acerbic character - and some of the best passages in the book stem from when her nature is allowed to fly free - this is often when speaking to the men in her life - but at these times the characters feel very alive and real. So beguiling is she that I found it difficult to put the book down and read it in two days, even though I was supposed to be reading another novel.

I don't wish to spoil the nature of the story - for the unravelling of events around Joan is one of the author's strongest story telling techniques - suffice to say while some elements of her life garner slightly too much time in the novel, and others a little too little - the story is fantastically well crafted without dwelling too much on romance and matters of the heart because this isn't in the strong willed nature of the Plantaganet Princess, who is only too aware of her own power and strength because of her blood.

5 stars and a highly recommended for this story.

I would, however, have liked some longer historical notes at the end with more details about Joan as opposed to the royal family members she interacted with.

And you can buy it here when it’s released on 4th May 2017.

 

 

 

Book Review – Catherine of Braganza by Sarah-Beth Watkins (history)

Here’s the blurb;

Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese princess, married Charles II in 1662 and became the merry monarch’s Restoration queen. Yet life for her was not so merry – she put up with the king’s many mistresses and continuous plots to remove her from the throne. She lived through times of war, plague and fire. Catherine’s marriage saw many trials and tribulations including her inability to produce an heir. Yet Charles supported his queen throughout the Restoration, remaining devoted to her no matter what. Outliving her husband, she ended up back in her home country and spent her final days as queen-regent of Portugal.

Although a historian myself, anything after the Tudors does almost defeat me because it’s not a period I’ve studied at great length – and this is probably just the right sort of book for me to read about a time period I know little about.

The author’s tone is light, and dispenses with any sort of discussion about sources and their reliability, rather focusing on what can be pieced together about Charles II’s Queen, which doesn’t seem to be a great deal. It is told in a chronological order – which I always like – and while I would have quite liked a list of Charles II’s mistresses and illegitimate children – Charles does not feature massively in the text. Not that he’s not there – and there are a few times when I was struck by Charles’ regard for his wife, unable to give him the legitimate sons he needed, and yet fiercely loyal to her for all that – apart from perhaps in his younger days when his treatment of her was quite scandalous.

Overall, a very enjoyable and quick read – I especially enjoyed the mentions of the French court as it brought back all my memories of studying Louis XIV. I think it would help to have some understanding of the time period when reading the book – but as I discovered while reading, I did actually know more about the time period than I thought I would.

This is released on 28th April 2017 and you can get a copy here;

 

On this day in history – April 23rd 1016 – the death of King Aethelred II of England

 

1001 years ago the death of Aethelred II of England came at a time of crisis for England. Aethelred had not been a popular king (at least according to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle) and he’d already been ousted from power once, back in 1013, when King Swein of Denmark, after years of failed attempts, had finally managed to win a resounding victory in England and sent Aethelred II to his brother-in-law’s Court in Normandy with his tail between his legs.

Sadly, King Swein did not live long, in fact not at all, lending credence to the idea that he might have been injured in one of the many battles with the Ealdormen of England who’d fallen, one by one, under his command. Swein’s son, Cnut, had hopes that the English would declare him their King, but he was young and the English seemed to take some delight in asking their deposed king back to England, which he ruled for another 2 years, with Cnut baying at his heels and hoping to repeat his own father’s success.

When Aethelred died, England was in the middle of a war between Aethelred’s son, Prince Edmund, and Prince Cnut; a war muddied by the dubious actions of one of the ealdormen of England, Eadric, named Streona – the aquisitor – in later sources. He had been Aethelred II’s son in law, and had risen to power in 1006 and somehow, and it is a mystery how, had managed to keep on the good side of Aethelred for the whole of the previous decade. It was, in many ways, Eadric’s actions throughout the rest of 1016 that essentially settled the matter of who of the two contenders for the kingdom would be victorious, but that, as many would say, is a matter for another story. But if you’re curious, then please have a look at my fictionalised account of the period; Cnut, the Conqueror.

Here’s the blurb;

A new chapter in the epic Earls of Mercia saga.

England: The Second Viking Age

To gain what he wanted, what he felt he was owed, he would do anything, even if it meant breaking his oaths to a woman he loved and the mother of his son.

Swein, King of Denmark, and briefly England, lies dead, his son ousted from England as King Aethelred returns from his exile in Normandy at the behest of his Witan and the bishops. Aethelred might have relinquished his kingdom to Swein, the Danish conqueror, but with Swein dead, the men have no interest in supporting an untried youth whose name resounds with the murder of one of England’s greatest bishop’s, a youth known only for his savagery and joy of battle, a true norse man who utilizes his weapons without thought.

But Cnut wants a kingdom and he will do anything to gain one.

As England is ravaged by a civil war between the sons of two former kings, Edmund, son of King Aethelred, and Cnut, son of Swein, the men must make personal decisions in the heat of battle as they strive to reclaim their birthrights whilst doing all they can to stay alive.

Cnut: the Conqueror, is an Earls of Mercia side story (full length novel) to mark the millennial anniversary of Cnut’s accession to the English kingdom in 1016.

 

 

Book Review – Alice and the Assassin by R J Koreto

Here’s the blurb;

“In 1902 New York, Alice Roosevelt, the bright, passionate, and wildly unconventional daughter of newly sworn-in President Theodore Roosevelt, is placed under the supervision of Secret Service Agent Joseph St. Clair, ex-cowboy and veteran of the Rough Riders. St. Clair quickly learns that half his job is helping Alice roll cigarettes and escorting her to bookies, but matters grow even more difficult when Alice takes it upon herself to investigate a recent political killing–the assassination of former president William McKinley.

Concerned for her father’s safety, Alice seeks explanations for the many unanswered questions about the avowed anarchist responsible for McKinley’s death. In her quest, Alice drags St. Clair from grim Bowery bars to the elegant parlors of New York’s ruling class, from the haunts of the Chinese secret societies to the magnificent new University Club, all while embarking on a tentative romance with a family friend, the son of a prominent local household.

And while Alice, forced to challenge those who would stop at nothing in their greed for money and power, considers her uncertain future, St. Clair must come to terms with his own past in Alice and the Assassin, the first in R. J. Koreto’s riveting new historical mystery series.”

I loved this book. From the first page you’re expertly drawn into New York in 1902 by the two main characters – Miss Alice Roosevelt – a very feisty 17 year old who speaks her mind, says the odd naughty word and lets no one get in her way because she is the President’s daughter, and Mr St Clair, an old (but not that old) soldier, lawman and rancher who is now her Secret Service Agent in light of the previous President’s assassination.

Immediately the reader is drawn into a possible conspiracy regarding the previous President’s assassination which no one, other than Miss Alice, thinks needs investigating and which only gets bigger as Alice and St Clair discover more and more, by calling on contacts and following up each and every lead they’re presented with. They visit the Italian district, the Chinese district, the docklands, the jail and the odd nice restaurant, as well as travelling on the ‘elevated’.

The storyline evolves at a good pace, the chapters are quite short and by the time you reach the end of the novel you might well have worked out who it is a little bit before Miss Alice, but other than that, you will have been kept guessing and wondering whether she’s making more of something than she should, to just relieve the boredom of her, and Mr St Clair’s days.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and very much appreciated the author’s efforts to describe old New York. I hope there are more books in this series.

This book is due for release in April 2017, and in the meantime you can preorder a copy here,

 

Book Review – Blood Forest by Geraint Jones (historical fiction) Highly Recommended

Here’s the blurb:

“Gladiator meets Full Metal Jacket in Geraint Jones’ spectacular debut Blood Forest, where honour and duty, legions and tribes clash in bloody, heart-breaking glory.

It is AD 9. In Northern Europe an army is dying, and an empire is being brought to its knees.

The Roman Empire is at the height of its power. Rome’s soldiers brutally enforce imperial rule, and its legions are the most efficient and aggressive fighting force in the world. Governor Varus leads 15,000 seasoned legionnaires north to subdue the Germanic tribes. To Rome these people are savages, ripe for conquest. But the Romans know little of this densely forested territory governed by fiercely independent chieftains. Rome’s supposed ally, Arminius, has unified the disgruntled tribes, leading the would-be conquerors towards a deadly trap. As the army marches deeper into enemy territory, one small band of soldiers must face the deadliest of foes, alone.”

I must first make two things very clear 1) I don't like Ancient Rome/the Romans and I have no interest in studying it because I'm an Anglo-Saxonist 2) I tried to give this book a 4 star but I've had to give it a 5. 

I am, I must confess, conflicted by those two points above! However, for all that I don't like books on Ancient Rome or the Romans (to me the Romans are all about sandals and skirts - and sandals are mentioned quite a few time) this story by Geraint Jones is stunning. I devoured it in two days and the reason I've opted for the 5 star is because the storyline infected my dreams last night and that means it's had a big impact on me. In case you want to know, it was the cover and the title that made me want to read the book.

I can not, and won't, attest to any historical accuracy in this story. As I said, I'm not a Roman historian however, the majority of this novel is about a small group of men, in a much larger army, and the events take place so far from Rome that the whole Roman 'thing' isn't actually all that important. This is a story of men, battle and comradeship, and perhaps, honour. It is very brutal, it is filled with foul language and hideous images of death and the dying. 

The author manages to avoid stereotyping his Roman soldiers, and all of the 'main' small group (Felix, Titus, Moon, Rufus, Chicken, Micon, Cnaeus and Pavo) have something to add to the story. It is told in the first person - which makes for a quick and easy read anyway - but our main character - whose name we only find out very late on in the novel and who we must call 'Felix' as the rest of the cast do - is an intriguing, if conflicted individual. And to be honest, most of the soldiers are conflicted - in the descriptions of the way the men deal with the violent conflict they find themselves in - the author spares nothing in allowing them to be twisted and changed by the many violent actions they've taken part in, or are forced to take part in, and while we may deplore their acts with our more modern sensibilities - so much of this novel is life and death that we too end up accepting what they're doing.

The reader might not like all of the men, I don't think we're meant to, but that means that we can respect the actions they take.

Even if you don't like Roman historical fiction, I would still recommend this novel to you. The writing style is fresh, the battle scenes well told so that even though there are many battle scenes, they never feel repetitive, and although I think the weakest part of the novel might well be its ending, when all the secrets and lies are exposed about the truth of the men making the decisions for the army that Felix and his comrades are a member of, I would still be interested in reading more about Felix.

This book is available to buy from April 9th 2017.

Book Review – Red Sister by Mark Lawrence (Highly recommended ) fantasy

Here’s the blurb;

It’s not until you’re broken that you find your sharpest edge

A brilliant new series from the bestselling author of PRINCE OF THORNS.

“I was born for killing – the gods made me to ruin”

At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones its novices’ skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist.

But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls as a bloodstained child of eight, falsely accused of murder: guilty of worse.”

 

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence is a stunning book – I can’t deny that – initially I wanted to hold with a four star review but I’ve changed it to a five star because it is that good, and while I have reservations about it from my view point of a fan of his two previous trilogies (completely unrelated to this book – although the previous two are related to each other (remember that when you finish reading this book)), that’s hardly the fault of this book.

Where to begin – Mark Lawrence never starts a book with endless world building – neither does he stick it down your throat about two or three chapters in – in fact he is elusive to it being almost frustrating about the visions he has in his head. This is a compliment. World building – so beloved of all fantasy authors (so it seems) often gives me a bit of a headache because it is so tediously done. Honestly, I’m not that interested in how magic systems work/religious sects organise themselves – if the story works and its believable then I’m happy. (Lawrence does provide a detailed explanation of all of this at the very beginning – but it’s not part of the text of the story and because I love surprises, I didn’t read it and still haven’t, it made me think he finds world building in the main text as tedious as I do and decided to get it over and done with in one foul-swoop).

In Red Sister, Lawrence has envisaged something new, and also, eminently relatable. This is frustrating – when he does ‘new’ it’s great but sometimes he falls back onto more conventional fantasy ideas and sometimes I want to beat him for being a little bit lazy, almost as though it’s all been a bit too much and he’s had to incorporate something into the text that is easy, and already ‘known’ by those who read fantasy. As such there are painful parts of the text which are too much like Harry Potter ( a lot too much like Harry Potter), and there are brilliant parts where his four ‘races’ – so different to elves, dwarves, orcs and dragons – speak for a level of imagination that few others can employ. The ending – so shocking to many in other reviews – was signposted a little along the way if you just looked – and the narrative – while brilliantly done – does tend to dwell on the day to day life of little more than a child at school.

There are flashes of that old Lawrence from his first two trilogies – the witty speech of Jalan and his self-obsessed nature – and the brutality of Jorg – but they are only flashes and I think that other fans of his work will be left feeling the same way I do – not hard done by – but surprised – like, constantly surprised – that he could have changed his style so much. I have hopes that Nona might become as foul mouthed as his first two main characters – but she’s at a convent so I might be reaching a little too far.

This story will, however, win Lawrence a whole host of new fans – I don’t know where they’ll go from Red Sister, apart from onto the sequels, because I’m not totally convinced that they will appreciate Jorg and Jalan. Neither am I trying to imply that Lawrence has sold out for a bigger audience – the book is still brilliant – it is worth a read – it’s an easy book to like and an even easier book to read – but, well … just but really. It’s weird to feel the way I do after a five star book – I think that really I was hoping for a little ‘more’ perhaps a book worthy of a 6/5!!

And you can buy it from April 6th here –

 

 

Book Review – The Life of Emma, Lady Hamilton by J. T. Herbert Baily (history)

Here’s the blurb;

Emma, Lady Hamilton, is best remembered as the mistress of Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson and the muse of English painter George Romney.

In The Life of Lady Hamilton, J. T. Herbert Baily traces the life of Lady Hamilton, born in 1765 to a blacksmith and christened Amy Lyon, along its startling rise to the upper echelons of English society and power.

Disputing other reports of Emma’s early life that depict her working as a model and dancer for charlatan James Graham’s ‘Temple of Health’, Baily depicts a young girl whose early falterings give way to later strength.

Losing her virtue at a young age, with a child to show for it, Emma swiftly came under the protective wing of Charles Greville, who installed her in a home in London and paid particular attention to her education, introducing her to music and art and improving her command of language such that she was in no danger of embarrassing herself — or, more importantly, him — when in Society.

For Emma herself, life with Greville was more than she ever dreamed, and a deep and abiding love for her protector blinded her to any realistic understanding of the future of their relationship.

Greville’s financial difficulties, Baily explains, led to his need to cast off Emma — through an underhanded scheme that delivered her into the hands of his uncle, Sir William Hamilton.

Devastated, Emma initially refused Hamilton’s overtures, but eventually became his mistress, and in time his wife.

Yet her relationship with Hamilton, and even Greville before him, paled in comparison with her passion for Nelson, and his for her.

Though both were married, they secretly carried on an affair that produced a daughter and lasted until the day of Nelson’s death, from which Emma never truly recovered.

James Thomas Herbert Baily (1865-1914) wrote several biographical works and also served as the editor of The Connoisseur, a British magazine for collectors.

Albion Press is an independent ebook publisher of classic books that have fallen out of print but deserve to be read once again. And indeed this biography of Emma, Lady Hamilton, should be as much interest to the reader for its content and writing style, as the object of its subject.

The book was written in the early 1900’s, by someone who clearly professed a great deal of respect and admiration for Lady Hamilton, and perhaps found it a little difficult to reconcile it with the more stringent mores of the early Twentieth Century. When reading the work, which is quaint and relies quite heavily on the actual texts of letter that Lady Hamilton wrote during her life, it is quite sobering to think that the author knew nothing of the two World Wars, or the vast advances in technology which have since overtaken the world, or even of the advance of Women’s Right, or of the more demanding rigours now required of a work of historical biography. There is no discussion of source material and at one point the author does make an assumption that the reader knows all about Nelson and the battles he commanded, which I think is no longer in the social consciousness of most people, swept away by the politics and war of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first.

However, the book is still worth a read for those who are interested in Lady Hamilton for both general interest and for those interested in the study of how women have been variously catalogued throughout history, and perhaps for those interested in the study of the Twentieth Century. Much current historical thought has its basis in the scholarship of the late Nineteenth and Twentieth Century and without their efforts history as we know it would not exist. For all it’s antique style, and flaws, this book is thoroughly enjoyable and only gets a three star review not because of its content and writing style but because of its age!

And you can buy a copy here;

Book Review – The Earthly Gods by Nick Brown (historical fiction)

Here’s the blurb;

“Unable to make any progress in locating the missing Indavara, a desperate Cassius has been given an unrewarding assignment in Antioch. But when an old ally’s daughter is kidnapped, he feels duty-bound to repay a long standing debt. Disillusioned with the tawdry demands of the Imperial Security Service, he disobeys his superiors and leaves Syria, determined to do some good.

Accompanied by nomadic chieftain Kabir and a trio of warriors, Cassius soon finds himself in Greece hunting a vicious band of slave-traders trafficking women across the Empire. But these are no common criminals, and as Cassius sets out to bring them down, he finds himself up against ruthless, cunning men with powerful friends and a lot to lose.”

This is the first Agent of Rome novel that I’ve read, but about the fourth or fifth ‘Roman’ novel I’ve read in recent weeks.

This novel is different to all the others as it is entirely fictitious and not reliant on an historical event, or on an important battle. Instead, the story reads a little more like a travelogue through some of the Roman provinces, ending up in Byzantium. For me, this wasn’t a particularly thrilling account, concerned rather too much with money, horses and obtaining food and somewhere pleasant to sleep (which seems to have been almost impossible).

The main ‘mystery’ itself – concerned with three missing girls from a Syrian tribe that one of the main characters has come upon in a previous novel, seemed very thin in places – I felt there was a lot of ‘padding’ to the story and not actually much story but a lot of travelling and interaction with other Romans who Cassius is trying to avoid – as effectively he’s AWOL from his post. This was perhaps done as a literary invention to create some tension to the novel, in which case, I don’t think it was very successful.

The sub-plot, concerned with Cassius finding his missing bodyguard, is given little room in the novel – just the odd chapter here and there told from the missing man’s point of view – and the eventual reason for the kidnapping of his bodyguard is not so much far-fetched, as downright disappointing, and his eventual discovery is accomplished incredibly quickly in the end and without any great drama.

Overall, I find the novel to be enjoyable but not riveting and although I read it quite quickly, some of that was down to simple perseverance. Perhaps I would have done better to start with an earlier book in the series but I’m not sure that Cassius, with all his arrogance, will ever quite be my idea of any sort of hero.

And you can buy it here;

Book Review – Eagles in the Storm by Ben Kane (historical fiction)

Here’s the blurb;

“Arminius has been defeated, one of the three eagles has been recovered, and thousands of German tribesmen slain. Yet these successes aren’t nearly enough for senior centurion Lucius Tullus. Not until Arminius is dead, his old legion’s eagle liberated and the enemy tribes completely vanquished will he rest. But Arminius is still at large, devious, fearless and burning for revenge of his own. Charismatic as ever, he raises another large tribal army, which will harry the Romans the length and breadth of the land. Into this cauldron of bloodshed, danger and treachery, Tullus must go – alone. His mission – to find and bring back his legion’s eagle – will place him in more danger than he has ever faced before. Can he succeed? Can he even survive?”

This is only the third book about the Roman Empire that I’ve read, and bizarrely, one of the other one’s (read in the last two weeks) begins where Ben Kane has clearly started his trilogy that ends with Eagles in the Storm. That’s a long way of saying that even though I’ve not read the two other books in this series, I have some idea of the storyline that Ben Kane has been writing about, and while it’s probably not necessary, as there are more than enough illusions to the previous 2 books in this one, it meant that I was very comfortable and could enjoy this book without worrying that I was missing out on back story.

The story is mainly told from three different viewpoints – Tullus, a Roman Army Veteran, Arminius, the enemy of the Romans and Piso, one of Tullus’ soldiers.

Tullus is an honourable soldier, bedevilled by the events that happened in AD9 when his men, under the command of Varus, were annihilated by the traitor Areminius, the Eagle of his Legion stolen, leaving him carrying the burden of revenge ever since.

Aremenius, the chieftain who masterminded the events of AD9, has been striving to keep the disparate tribes of his homeland united against the Romans ever since, and the previous year (AD15) saw him suffer a setback that he wishes to overcome with a new campaign against the Romans. This is pretty hard to organise, as the chieftains he needs to convince are not easily swayed, because they seem to spend much of their time a little bit too drunk!.

Piso, one of Tullus’ soldiers, provides the view point of a ‘normal’ soldier in the Roman army.

While I can’t attest to the historical accuracy, because I’ve never studied this time period, I found this to be a very enjoyable story, if a little too obsessed with the need for the men to ‘pee and poo’ (I’m using polite words here) while on the march, or while fighting. This is essentially a book about men but then, it’s a story of soldiers and I assume that the Roman’s perhaps didn’t invite women into the ranks.

The pacing of the book is good, there is a slight wrinkle near the end, but in the end everything ends as it needs to, and as it should. So yes, it’s a little bit predictable, but hey ho, it’s still a fun read and I’ve already downloaded the two ‘shorts’ that Ben Kane has written to accompany the trilogy.

This book is released on 23rd March 2017 and can be purchased from here:

 

Book Review – The Confessions of Young Nero (historical fiction)

Here’s the blurb;

“The New York Times bestselling and legendary author of Helen of Troy and Elizabeth I now turns her gaze on Emperor Nero, one of the most notorious and misunderstood figures in history.

Built on the backs of those who fell before it, Julius Caesar’s imperial dynasty is only as strong as the next person who seeks to control it. In the Roman Empire no one is safe from the sting of betrayal: man, woman—or child.

As a boy, Nero’s royal heritage becomes a threat to his very life, first when the mad emperor Caligula tries to drown him, then when his great aunt attempts to secure her own son’s inheritance. Faced with shocking acts of treachery, young Nero is dealt a harsh lesson: it is better to be cruel than dead.

While Nero idealizes the artistic and athletic principles of Greece, his very survival rests on his ability to navigate the sea of vipers that is Rome. The most lethal of all is his own mother, a cold-blooded woman whose singular goal is to control the empire. With cunning and poison, the obstacles fall one by one. But as Agrippina’s machinations earn her son a title he is both tempted and terrified to assume, Nero’s determination to escape her thrall will shape him into the man he was fated to become—an Emperor who became legendary.

With impeccable research and captivating prose, The Confessions of Young Nero is the story of a boy’s ruthless ascension to the throne. Detailing his journey from innocent youth to infamous ruler, it is an epic tale of the lengths to which man will go in the ultimate quest for power and survival.”

The Confessions of Young Nero is the third book I’ve read in the last three weeks about Rome and her Empire. I was most intrigued to find out more about a time period that I’ve little studied and which previously, I’ve had little interest in, but did find it quite annoying that there are no years given throughout the text – I wanted to know where Nero’s story fit with the other books I’ve read.

To begin with, The Confessions of Young Nero is a very good introduction to the life of corrupt Rome. The story starts when Nero can be no more than a three year old, and, being told in his voice, progresses well as he grows and develops while all around him the ambitions of his family, and then his mother in particular, guide his path. There are murders and plots and deaths and a wonderful collection of debauched characters, as there should be in any story of Rome, and all in all, the story begins to build to something that promises to be truly intriguing.

Sadly, this doesn’t happen. No sooner has Nero become Emperor than the focus of the book shifts and suddenly all the drama and intrigue happens only in Nero’s fantasies as he strives to be an artist as opposed to an Emperor. This would not have spoilt the story if the focus had been a little less on building works and reciting poetry, and playing musical instruments and more on how he actually governed, as there is very little of this, other than the occasional long list of people he has in positions of power who are fulfilling certain roles for him.

I understand from reading the comments by the author that this is very much a revisionist approach to Nero, and I have no problem with that at all. For too long the stereotypes of historical figures have masked any efforts to find out the truth beneath all the lies and mishaps of the survival of historical documents, and yet, in this case, the story that emerges isn’t one that holds the readers attention as well as it should have done.

There were brief glimpses that the story would become somewhat more interested in the way that Nero actually ruled, but these are never fully realised, and the reader is left thinking that being the Emperor was easy-peasy provided you could stay alive to do so. This is a shame. I would have liked to know more about events in Britain and more about events concerning the followers of Christ, but these details are only given in short bursts, two tantalizing to offer any real insight.

The author presents an incredibly detailed view of Rome and its surrounding cities – how realistic this is, or isn’t, I can’t say, but there are points when it does feel as though you might be strolling around Rome or Pompeii, and that is an enjoyable aspect of the novel.

I would say it started as a good 4/5 star novel, but withered away at the end when I was only reading because I knew I’d nearly finished it.

And you can buy it here;