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.
I know I won’t have been the only one to have struggled to find books engaging throughout 2020but there are two trends that have mainly characterised my reading throughout the year. I’ve either found myself in Early England (before 1066), or in the loving embrace of cosy 1920s murder mysteries. I don’t think it’s possible to get further apart.
But there are some books that have fallen outside of those two trends, and two of these books, have been my standout books of the year.
I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy from Netgalley so didn’t have to wait until the summer to enjoy it.
Here’s the blurb:
“One family united by blood. Torn apart by war…
England, 1459: Cecily, Duchess of York, is embroiled in a plot to topple the weak-minded King Henry VI from the throne. But when the Yorkists are defeated at the Battle of Ludford Bridge, Cecily’s family flee and abandon her to face a marauding Lancastrian army on her own.
Cecily can only watch as her lands are torn apart and divided up by the ruthless Queen Marguerite. From the towers of her prison in Tonbridge Castle, the Duchess begins to spin a web of deceit – one that will eventually lead to treason, to the fall of King Henry VI, and to her eldest son being crowned King of England.
This is a story of heartbreak, ambition and treachery, of one woman’s quest to claim the throne during the violence and tragedy of the Wars of the Roses.”
I loved this book, and more than that, O’Brien’s choice to tell her story almost exclusively through letters inspired me when I was struggling to write Lady Estrid, and gave me a means to tell a complex family story. But, even without that, I highly recommend this book. Anne O’Brien tells engaging and captivating stories of England’s forgotten women, and that is just the sort of book that appeals to me.
It’s available now in ebook, audiobook and hardback, and when I wrote this, the ebook was only 99p, an absolute steal.
Next up on my list of excellent reads is Camelot by Giles Kristian.
Here’s the blurb:
Britain is a land riven by anarchy, slaughter, famine, filth and darkness. Its armies are destroyed, its heroes dead, or missing. Arthur and Lancelot fell in the last great battle and Merlin has not been these past ten years. But in a small, isolated monastery in the west of England, a young boy is suddenly plucked from his simple existence by the ageing warrior, Gawain. It seems he must come to terms with his legacy and fate as the son of the most celebrated yet most infamous of Arthur’s warriors: Lancelot. For this is the story of Galahad, Lancelot’s son – the reluctant warrior who dared to keep the dream of Camelot alive
Camelot had a wonderful feel to it, and while, I wasn’t quite as enamoured of it as I was Lancelot, the sort-of prequel, I still can’t recommend it enough. The way Kristian evoked the Arthurian legend was amazing. No matter how much I ‘knew’ what was going to happen, I still wanted the characters to triumph, and that, was a little piece of genius.
Camelot is available now in hardback, ebook and audio book.
One thing I’ve noticed is that I really didn’t read a lot of fantasy this year, which is strange for me. When I did read, I found solace in some tried and tested favourites, Mark Lawrence’s The Girl and the Stars, Katharine Kerr’s return to Deverry with the wonderful Sword of Fire and Terry Pratchett – I’ve been trying to listen to some audiobooks, and although I’m still not sure I like it, I have found the Terry Pratchett audiobooks to be great entertainment, especially as I’ve read all the books in the past. I have the last book in Peter Newman’s Deathless Trilogy to read as well, but I’ve been saving it up because it’s going to be a real treat.
(I’ve just noticed that Mark Lawrence wrote a review for Sword of Fire on the cover. How funny. But, I’ve been a fan of Katharine Kerr for well over twenty years – maybe that’s why I like Mark Lawrence as he clearly is as well.)
But to return to historical fiction, I have stepped, just once or twice, further back in time than the Early English period to the Romans and the Greeks.
Sons of Rome by Turney and Doherty was a fantastic read, each author taking the part of one of two characters, interchanging their lives in a format that worked so well. I have book 2 to read now and I’m excited about that. And also The Gates of Rome by Conn Iggulden was a stellar read, and I’m still quite cross about the ending! He better put that right if there’s a sequel. I’m also going to give an honourable mention to Derek Birk’s Britannia World’s End. I really, really loved the first book. The second book was not quite as stellar but was still a welcome return to the characters from Book 1.
I’ve also taken on some beta reading projects this year, and have been really impressed by the quality of fiction that people are writing. I’ve been taken to Australia and New Zealand at the time of the gold rush, to Ancient Egypt, to Tudor England, 17th century Paris, 19th century Italy and now I find myself in 19th Century America. I hope these books are released and then I can share my reviews. I read books listed on Netgalley and also on The History Quill. If you love getting your mitts on books before they’re released, I highly recommend both of them, and The History Quill especially if you’re after fresh new voices in historical fiction.
But finally, I will mention the books I’ve read from the Early English period. I’ve not read as widely as I might have liked, but it can be hard to read what you’re writing about at the same time. I’ve spent some time with Matthew Harffy’s creations with Fortress of Fury and A Time For Swords. I’ve also returned to the world of Christine Hancock’s Bright Helm and I can assure that she has a new book, hopefully next year, which readers are going to really, really enjoy – a slight diversion from Byrhtnoth but still very much mentioning him. I’ve been lucky to read a really early copy of it, and I love it already. Bring it on!
I have the last Uhtred book to read, War Lord, but I’ve been saving it up for the holidays.
But, the thing that has really got me through the year has been a vast selection of murder mystery books. The majority have been set in the 1920s in the UK, but I have just discovered E M Powell’s Stanton and Barling mysteries set in the 1100s. These are so entertaining, if quite gory, and what I enjoy most about them, is I’ve never yet guessed who actually committed the murders! The same could be said for the Posey Parker mystery books by L B Hathaway which elevate the 1920s murder mystery to a whole new level. The Verity Kent murder mysteries are also excellent, and have a theme that runs through them all.
So, what I can take away from this is that much of the year has been spent reading cosy murder mysteries, although not many of them have been that cosy. It seems that I need a good mystery to help me unwind and one that’s not too gritty, and one that’s certainly set in the past.
Thank you to the authors who’ve kept me entertained this year, and happy reading everyone. I’m looking forward to more in 2021.
“Separated by anger and unanswered questions, Byrhtnoth and Saewynn are brought together by a tragic death. Re-united, they set out on an epic voyage to discover the final truth about his father. The journey takes them far to the north, to Orkney, swathed in the mists of treachery, and to Dublin’s slave markets where Byrhtnoth faces a fateful decision. How far will he go, to save those he cares for?”
First things first, Bright Helm is book four in a tightly woven series about young Byrhtnoth, more famous for dying at the Battle of Maldon in AD991, than for anything else. But, he must have had a life before that fateful battle and the author has devised an intriguing and engaging story about his youth, weaving the tale through known historical ‘fact’ of the 940’s and 950’s in Early England.
This is a time period that I’ve also written about and studied, and I have been lucky enough to have early access to Bright Helm, as well as other books in the series. I’ve enjoyed arguing about plot developments and also taken fresh insight from decisions made for the characters. It’s strange to have ‘your’ characters in the hands of someone else, but hey, this is historical fiction, these characters belong only to themselves and the author who writes about them.
What I really enjoyed about Bright Helm was the journey Byrhtnoth has to make. Along the way, he encounters any number of ‘historical’ characters, and winds up visiting both the Orkney Islands and Ireland. I love the Orkney Islands, and I could ‘see’ everything that the author described in such detail.
The book really gather pace as it roars towards its end and I found myself, and this doesn’t often happen in books where I know so much of the back story, just relaxing and allowing the story to unfold without worrying that I might not like it. As I said to the author, I found that she really found ‘her stride’. The pacing was sound, the story thoroughly intriguing, and well, I’m just looking forward to the next book (which might be the last in the series) to find out how it all ends.
I highly recommend this book, and if you’ve not read the earlier books in the series, I believe you could jump in with Book 4, or enjoy starting at the very beginning.