Book Review – Skullsworn by Brian Staveley (fantasy)

Here’s the blurb;

“Brian Staveley’s new standalone returns to the critically acclaimed Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne universe, following a priestess attempting to join the ranks of the God of Death.

Pyrre Lakatur doesn’t like the word skullsworn. It fails to capture the faith and grace, the peace and beauty of her devotion to the God of Death. She is not, to her mind, an assassin, not a murderer–she is a priestess. At least, she will be a priestess if she manages to pass her final trial.

The problem isn’t the killing. Pyrre has been killing and training to kill, studying with some of the most deadly men and women in the world, since she was eight. The problem, strangely, is love. To pass her Trial, Pyrre has ten days to kill the ten people enumerated in an ancient song, including “the one you love / who will not come again.”

Pyrre is not sure she’s ever been in love. If she were a member of a different religious order, a less devoted, disciplined order, she might cheat. The Priests of Ananshael, however, don’t look kindly on cheaters. If Pyrre fails to find someone to love, or fails to kill that someone, they will give her to the god.

Pyrre’s not afraid to die, but she hates to quit, hates to fail, and so, with a month before her trial begins, she returns to the city of her birth, the place where she long ago offered an abusive father to the god and abandoned a battered brother—in the hope of finding love…and ending it on the edge of her sword.”

So I am new to the writing of Brian Staveley and I found this book to be a slog from beginning to end, and in the end, it was only sheer determination that drove me to the end, and not a desire to know the ending of the narrative. The novel felt very much like the hot and muggy climate that the story takes place in, and which the author goes to great pains to constantly describe, it clung to you, the smell, the heat, the sweat, but a good shower and the whole thing was washed clean away with little remaining to remind you of the story.

There are moments in this book when I thought it was fantastic, but they were too short and too few and far between and sadly, were too often stopped abruptly by a complete change of pace by the author, or the ending of a chapter. And, my word, does the author like to ‘world build’. I would have much preferred a style that didn’t involve long and torturous ‘backfill’ when a character did something that the author was unable to explain away. I felt, almost like a bad joke, that if it needed that much explanation then, really, that scene shouldn’t have happened or wasn’t needed.

There were also moments when the plot made no sense whatsoever. There are too many ‘gods’ and too many events that seem ‘forced’. There is no overriding narrative that holds the story together, and the author revels in using language that I’ve never heard of. Repeatedly I had to make use of the dictionary on kindle to understand the words – a strange occurrence as I’ve never had to do this before in any of the many books I’ve read. There are also, and this is a pet peeve, lots of silly sounding names for all the peripheral characters – Gods, people, places.

I very much tried to be open minded about the novel. From my own experience about writing side-stories to an already established universe, I know how hard it can be to find a storyline that doesn’t depend on the other novels – one that truly stands alone – and from what I can gather, I think the author has done this. However, if the novel was intended to inspire me to read more of the ‘world’ that has been created, it has failed. While Pyrre may have been a bold and decisive character, ultimately, I found her to be too ‘little’. There was little to love there, in fact, the characters who surround Pyree are far better – perhaps because we don’t constantly have to listen to their self-doubt – Ruc Lan Lac, Kossal and Ela. They might be more one-dimensional – but they are easier to connect to and understand.

Yet, I still give the novel 4 stars – mainly because it is so detailed and confident in itself and I’m sure that fans of the series will love it.

And you can buy it here from April 25th 2017;

 

 

 

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 – 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 – Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson (fantasy)

Here’s the blurb;

“Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasy trilogy overturns the expectations of readers and then goes on to tell the epic story of evil overturned in a richly imagined world.

A thousand years ago evil came to the land and has ruled with an iron hand ever since. The sun shines fitfully under clouds of ash that float down endlessly from the constant eruption of volcanoes. A dark lord rules through the aristocratic families and ordinary folk are condemned to lives in servitude, sold as goods, labouring in the ash fields.

But now a troublemaker has arrived and there is rumour of revolt. A revolt that depends on criminal that no-one can trust and a young girl who must master Allomancy – the magic that lies in all metals.”

Wow, this book starts with quite a bang, dragging you in, and then seems to sort of stop for a bit, by which time I was considering not reading anymore but really, did I have any choice?

It was a thoroughly enjoyable novel but didn’t quite produce what I was expecting it to, becoming an almost typical fantasy book, complete with the same themes etc. Some of it was also a bit too nice! I know that might sound daft but I was expecting terrible events that never really materialised. That said, I will be reading Book 2 and 3.
I very much enjoyed the interplay of the short chapter headings and the way they contrasted with the story – and the little twist at the end was clearly quite obvious if I’d been paying enough attention!

On a final note – it is a typical fantasy book – it is very long and detailed, and sadly, Book 2 has not started well – but I might persevere.

And you can buy it here;

Book Review -Ruddy Gore by Kerry Greenwood

Here’s the blurb,

“Running late to a gala performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore, Phryne Fisher meets some thugs in dark alley and handles them convincingly before they can ruin her silver dress. She then finds that she has rescued the handsome Lin Chung, and his grandmother, who briefly mistake her for a deity.
Denying divinity but accepting cognac, she later continues safely to the theatre where her night is again interrupted by a bizarre death onstage.

What links can Phryne find between the ridiculously entertaining plot of Ruddigore, the Chinese community of Little Bourke St., or the actors treading the boards of His Majestys Theatre?”

Netflix keeps suggesting that I watch the TV series of these books and so I was pleased to be offered the opportunity to read a free E-Arc in exchange for a review from Netgalley.

So, I knew that this was a period piece and I do love a good mystery and I wasn’t disappointed. The writing style is light and infectious (if occasionally a little muddled with Gilbert and Sullivan quotes – something I’m not very familiar with), and the characterisation of Miss Fisher is excellent. It didn’t matter that this was book 7 and the first one I was reading.

I very much enjoyed the attention to detail of both being in a theatre and the 1920’s in Australia, as well as the back story in London, and I might just listen to Netflix and give the TV series a view as well.

Would recommend to all those who like a good period piece who done it.

And you can buy it here;

Just so you know – I am now completely addicted to these novels. They’re short and sweet and very easy to read.

 

Book Review – Blood and Blade by Matthew Harffy

Here’s the blurb from the book

“635AD. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and third instalment in The Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell. 

Oswald is now King of Northumbria. However, his plans for further alliances and conquests are quickly thrown into disarray when his wedding to a princess of Wessex is interrupted by news of a Pictish uprising.

Rushing north, Oswald leaves Beobrand to escort the young queen to her new home. Their path is fraught with danger and uncertainty, Beobrand must try to unravel secrets and lies if they are to survive.

Meanwhile, old enemies are closing in, seeking brutal revenge. Beobrand will give his blood and blade in service to his king, but will that be enough to avert disaster and save his kith and kin from the evil forces that surround them?”

Blood and Blade by Matthew Harffy is the third book in his Bernicia Chronicles following the exploits of his, quite frankly, bad-tempered warrior, Beobrand. He’s no hero – he’s too self-involved, grumpy and lacks any likeable characteristics, even though the author is at pains to explain this away due to the tragedies that have befallen him in Book 2.

However, these do not excuse the foul natured monster that Beobrand has become, and I did struggle to understand why any man, or woman, would want to spend any time with him or rely on him in his guise as a warrior or a lover. He is, quite simply, lacking in any likeable qualities, without even the spark of any humour to soften his harshness, no matter how often Athelstan tries to recount his exploits in the mead hall and make them appear heroic, it simply does not work for me.

The constant shifts in point of view in chapters is annoying, but this is something that I personally don’t understand or like in any novel so it’s not a particular complaint about this author. I’m always left feeling that if the chapter needs a shift in POV then it’s either not a chapter and needs splitting, or the author needs to approach this part of the novel in a different way – give the voice of the story to a different member of the cast.

The storyline of Blood and Blade is somewhat simplistic, and you do reach a certain part of the novel and know exactly what has to happen before it reaches its end. Nothing unexpected happens to bring the novel to its conclusion. This is somewhat of a shame. I would have liked even the idea of a different ending.

The author is at pains to show society, as he perceives it, at this time, and the insistence on the small details is repetitive, as is the constant recounting of Beobrand’s aches and pains, recovering wounds and new ones that he receives.

I would reiterate, Beobrand is no hero, but neither is he an anti-hero. He’s been thrust into a time in history that is very exciting, and yet it seems that with his constant moaning and complaining, that he has no appreciation of this and is never likely to. For a young man, he often appears to be about 100 years old.

On a final note. I still do not like the way the author treats women of this period. They are either witches, bed companions, or someone else’s bed companions, and they are presented as petty and mean to each other. This might be a novel about a (very) grumpy warrior, but Anglo-Saxon women were and should be, given the place in society that they earned and deserved. Much of this is, obviously, to do with the author’s interpretation of this time period, and I suppose, it is worth remembering that it is a work of fiction and not fact. Still, this is also a shame and I hope, something, that is corrected in later books to allow the author to reach a wider fan base.

Overall, the novel was enjoyable to read and you can buy it here;

 

 

The Liberties of Historical Fiction and What makes a perfect work of historical fiction

Non-fiction is a wonderful genre when the author has an engaging writing style; but historical fiction can really bring an historical event to life – so that we can visualise it and, if we’re really lucky, put ourselves in that time and place with the characters.

But with that said, historical fiction is responsible for reenforcing outdated ideas about the past, and when it becomes popular (or rather if) does it do more harm than good?

As a self-confessed history nerd, I know that if a work of fiction captures my imagination, I will nine times out of ten, research the time period myself and see how realistic the portrayal was. It doesn’t spoil my enjoyment of the fiction if I find huge errors, but it might make me a little wary when reading future books by the same author. 

Often the worse thing, in my opinion, that an historical fiction author can do is weave a fictional character into a sea of ‘real’ historical characters and present them as just as real. Not that I don’t appreciate that many ‘bit parts’ will be fictional, but surely, not the main character in a story of King’s and Princes. (I was once traumatised after reading a trilogy of books of over 500 pages each when this first happened to me – and I’m naming no names!)

But there are also far worse things – they can use glaringly modern terms, or misinterpret the events, or put a rosy ‘romantic’ glow over it all (as happens in much historical fiction about women!) or present their heroine as rising about the societal norms whilst inflicting those norms on other characters.

Don’t get me wrong here, I strongly believe that humankind has not suddenly undergone some strange enlightenment in the past century. I believe romantic love must have existed for far longer than some historians would have us believe. Today’s population can’t wholly be the result of non-consensual sex and rape, for if it us, what does that really say about men and women as two separate genders. I think some commons sense must be applied. Men and women have been in relationships since they first walked on Earth. And in Anglo-Saxon and Viking times (before the Christianisation took place) men relied on their wives or common law wives to run their homes in their absence. If not love, then at least trust must have existed.

But I digress, so far my pet hates are too much romance, too much ‘bad’ history, and too much ‘one rule for everyone else and a different one for the authors hero or heroine’. To that I must add historical fiction that’s exclusively ‘man’ orientated – battles, blood and gore (yawn!).

So what makes my perfect word of historical fiction;

1) a good storyline that’s more truth than fantasy

2) a firm grounding in the time period

3) characters who are people

4) to be taught something

5) a series of books – I don’t like stand alone novels as a reader, I’ve not yet decided as an author.

6) something different – not the same people told from a different point of view i.e. the Tudor women.

If I think of anything else, I’ll add it on. Let me know what you think.