Book Review – Commodus by Simon Turney – historical fiction – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“Welcome to a fracturing Roman empire in the second century AD: ravaged by plague and with wars rumbling on along all frontiers. One man tries to hold everything together but, beset by personal tragedy from a young age, who is holding him together?
You’ve heard the stories: the crazy emperor who thought he was Hercules and fought in the Colosseum as a gladiator. But is ‘crazy’ too easy a label? Could there have been a method behind the perceived madness?”

Commodus by Simon Turney is my sort of historical fiction – people who actually lived – with their lives told in an intriguing and interesting way, bolted around known ‘facts’ and not a little imagination to bring the character alive! This is the first book I’ve read by Simon Turney but it won’t be the last.

The story is a well-told tale of a Roman Emperor who, I must assume, has a bit of a bad reputation. This is a sympathetic account of his rule, and I doubt I’ll be the only person who finishes the novel and considers just what it is about him that’s quite so bad (apart from his delight in killing exotic animals that would garner a great of bad press in our day and age) – in that respect, the author does an excellent job of rehabilitating a bit of a dodgy character.

A thoroughly enjoyable read. Highly recommended. I read it in a day!

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

Commodus is now available in paperback, and is available from here, as well as from other retailers!

 

 

Book Review – Silent Water by P K Adams – murder mystery – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“It is Christmas 1519 and the royal court in Kraków is in the midst of celebrating the joyous season. Less than two years earlier, Italian noblewoman Bona Sforza arrived in Poland’s capital from Bari as King Zygmunt’s new bride. She came from Italy accompanied by a splendid entourage, including Contessa Caterina Sanseverino who oversees the ladies of the Queen’s Chamber.

Caterina is still adjusting to the life in this northern kingdom of cold winters, unfamiliar customs, and an incomprehensible language when a shocking murder rocks the court on Christmas night. It is followed by another a few days later. The victims have seemingly nothing in common. Gossip, speculation, and suspicion are rife, but the perpetrator remains elusive as the court heads into the New Year.

As the official investigation stalls, Caterina—aided by Sebastian Konarski, a junior secretary in the king’s household—sets out to find the killer. With clues beginning to point to the queen’s innermost circle, the pair are soon racing against time to stop another murder.

Silent Water is a story of power and its abuse, and the extremes to which a person may go to find redress for justice denied. Although set at the dawn of the Renaissance era, its themes carry disturbing parallels to some of the most topical social issues of the 21st century.”

Silent Water is a thoroughly enjoyable murder-mystery set at the Polish court in 1519.

The main character is an interesting narrator, and if the beginning is a little slow, it isn’t long until the reader is thrust into the court politics of Poland and into the strange events surrounding the murder of a popular courtier.

Having read a few period murder mysteries lately, I must say this has been the most enjoyable. The author has a light touch while ensuring we know enough about the Polish Court and events in the wider European setting of the Reformation to make sense of the story.

Highly recommended for fans of period murder mysteries and those who love the sixteenth century.

I look forward to Book 2!

Silent Water is available now from here;

Book Review – Commodus by Simon Turney – historical fiction – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“Welcome to a fracturing Roman empire in the second century AD: ravaged by plague and with wars rumbling on along all frontiers. One man tries to hold everything together but, beset by personal tragedy from a young age, who is holding him together?
You’ve heard the stories: the crazy emperor who thought he was Hercules and fought in the Colosseum as a gladiator. But is ‘crazy’ too easy a label? Could there have been a method behind the perceived madness?”

Commodus by Simon Turney is my sort of historical fiction – people who actually lived – with their lives told in an intriguing and interesting way, bolted around known ‘facts’ and not a little imagination to bring the character alive! This is the first book I’ve read by Simon Turney but it won’t be the last.

The story is a well-told tale of a Roman Emperor who, I must assume, has a bit of a bad reputation. This is a sympathetic account of his rule, and I doubt I’ll be the only person who finishes the novel and considers just what it is about him that’s quite so bad (apart from his delight in killing exotic animals that would garner a great of bad press in our day and age) – in that respect, the author does an excellent job of rehabilitating a bit of a dodgy character.

A thoroughly enjoyable read. Highly recommended. I read it in a day!

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

Commodus is now available in paperback, and is available from here, as well as from other retailers!

 

 

Book Review – Ælfred’s Britain – Max Adams – Highly Recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“In 865, a great Viking army landed in East Anglia, precipitating a series of wars that would last until the middle of the following century. It was in this time of crisis that the modern kingdoms of Britain were born. In their responses to the Viking threat, these kingdoms forged their identities as hybrid cultures: vibrant and entrepreneurial peoples adapting to instability and opportunity.

Traditionally, Ælfred the Great is cast as the central player in the story of Viking Age Britain. But Max Adams, while stressing the genius of Ælfred as war leader, law-giver, and forger of the English nation, has a more nuanced and variegated narrative to relate. The Britain encountered by the Scandinavians of the ninth and tenth centuries was one of regional diversity and self-conscious cultural identities: of Picts, Dál Riatans and Strathclyde Britons; of Bernicians and Deirans, East Anglians, Mercians and West Saxons.”

Aelfred’s Britain is an excellent book, not confining itself to the period of Alfred’s rule but comprehensively offering an account of England from the reign of Alfred’s grandfather to the end of the reign of his youngest grandson (King Eadred) in 955. This makes it much more than a book about Alfred and rather a book about Britain and the Vikings just before, after and during The First Viking Age.
Instead of focusing on England and the Vikings, the book covers the actvities of the Vikings in Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, in a very similar vein to the wonderful book by Claire Downham ‘Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland: The Dynasty of Ívarr to A.D. 1014’, along the way noting events on the Continent and in the homelands of the Vikings and Danes.
This ia an important development in the history of the period and a step that should have been taken long, long ago. There is little point in knowing events in England in isolation during this period – a wider view point should and must be adopted.
The author also employs an enjoyable and enlightening look at the ‘map’ of Britain – offering something of a handy guide to the various ‘stopping-off’ points available to the men and women from Scandinavia along the coast and riverways.
Some may find the author’s naming conventions a little annoying – but it seems to me that all historians have a preferred naming convention and insist on sticking to it no matter what – and it is only a slight bug-bear but that is because I know much of the period well.
This is a far more ‘historical’ book than The King in The North (which I always felt was too much like a travel guide for comfort) but it is, at heart,a book by an archaeologist, and this means that the archaelogy is used to ‘clothe’ the ‘known’ historical facts and vice versa. Yet, and I must applaud this, the author, while relying on some slightly dubious ‘primary’ sources, does ensure that the reader is aware of this – and the reader would do well to heed the warnings.
Overall a very enjoyable book, filled with fascinating insights that adopts a view point that has been a long time in being applied to this time period.

The hardback and ebook is out now and can be purchased here;

 

 

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: Assassin’s Fate by Robin Hobb (fantasy) Highly, highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

The final book in the Fitz and the Fool trilogy.

Prince FitzChivalry Farseer’s daughter Bee was violently abducted from Withywoods by Servants of the Four in their search for the Unexpected Son, foretold to wield great power. With Fitz in pursuit, the Servants fled through a Skill-pillar, leaving no trace. It seems certain that they and their young hostage have perished in the Skill-river.

Clerres, where White Prophets were trained by the Servants to set the world on a better path, has been corrupted by greed. Fitz is determined to reach the city and take vengeance on the Four, not only for the loss of Bee but also for their torture of the Fool. Accompanied by FitzVigilant, son of the assassin Chade, Chade’s protégé Spark and the stableboy Perseverance, Bee’s only friend, their journey will take them from the Elderling city of Kelsingra, down the perilous Rain Wild River, and on to the Pirate Isles.

Their mission for revenge will become a voyage of discovery, as well as of reunions, transformations and heartrending shocks. Startling answers to old mysteries are revealed. What became of the liveships Paragon and Vivacia and their crews? What is the origin of the Others and their eerie beach? How are liveships and dragons connected?

But Fitz and his followers are not the only ones with a deadly grudge against the Four. An ancient wrong will bring them unlikely and dangerous allies in their quest. And if the corrupt society of Clerres is to be brought down, Fitz and the Fool will have to make a series of profound and fateful sacrifices.

ASSASSIN’S FATE is a magnificent tour de force and with it Robin Hobb demonstrates yet again that she is the reigning queen of epic fantasy.”

First things first, I love the Robin Hobb’s Fitz books. I’ve tried to read other books of her’s set in the same ‘universe’ and struggled to varying degrees – I did best with her Dragon books and failed magnificently with The Liveship Traders, but this is not because the books are bad, not at all, it’s because Fitz and his Fool and the Wolf are absent from the books and it’s those characters, as well as the many others that populate her three Fitz trilogies, that draw me into her richly imagined word.

This, is the final book in the third trilogy, and it is an absolute monster, coming in it at over 900 pages, but oh, how I warred with myself. I didn’t want it to end, and I was equally desperate to get to the end; to know what finally happened to Fitz. I tried to stop myself at 45% of the way through but found I was unable to, oh, and you’re kept guessing until the very, very end – so don’t be thinking that anything is going to be resolved any sooner than that.

These stories can be laboriously slow – taken up with one of the things I most hate about epic fantasy – the constant travelling and journeying to new countries – but somehow Robin Hobb gets away with it in ways I will not allow another author to do. Each detail is beautifully drawn out, and you’re left wondering how she has the patience to craft her stories so precisely and so well. There is no hint of a headlong rush to the end, and none of the characters are skimmed over – each is allowed to fully evolve and have their due time on the page and in the reader’s mind before the inevitable conclusion.

I can’t gush enough about how wonderful this final book was – it didn’t feel final for the vast majority of it – it’s not the work of an author giving a few more pages for a host of adoring fans – but rather a fully rounded and complex story. This third book still has much to offer readers, and I’m left wondering where Robin Hobb will venture next – will the story of the Farseers continue? (as really it must) or is this a fond farewell to the whole world of dragons and Skill users she’s evolved over the differing trilogies?

What I know is that I cried when I should have done, and left the trilogy feeling as though a job had been exceptionally well done and my own half-formed hopes and dreams for the characters had been both wholly-wrong and yet also rightly achieved.

I can’t recommend this book enough and for all those who’ve not yet read any of the three trilogies, I can feel only envy that you still have it all to come.

For my earlier reviews of the previous 2 books check here;

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1110324862

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1719671174

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

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 –