Book Review – Daughters of Sparta by Claire Heywood

Here’s the blurb:

Two sisters parted. Two women blamed. Two stories reclaimed.

‘Required reading for fans of Circe . . . a remarkable, thrilling debut’ – Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue

‘Fluent and persuasive. I admire the ambition with which Heywood tackles the subject, to which she brings freshness and verve. I enjoyed it very much’ – Elizabeth Buchan, bestselling author of The Museum of Broken Promises

For millennia, two women have been blamed for the fall of a mighty civilisation – but now it’s time to hear their side of the story . . .

As princesses of Sparta, Helen and Klytemnestra have known nothing but luxury and plenty. With their high birth and unrivalled beauty, they are the envy of all of Greece.

Such privilege comes at a high price, though, and their destinies are not theirs to command. While still only girls they are separated and married off to legendary foreign kings Agamemnon and Menelaos, never to meet again. Their duty is now to give birth to the heirs society demands and be the meek, submissive queens their men expect.

But when the weight of their husbands’ neglect, cruelty and ambition becomes too heavy to bear, they must push against the constraints of their sex to carve new lives for themselves – and in doing so make waves that will ripple throughout the next three thousand years.

Daughters of Sparta is that most wonderful of books – one that draws you in from the very first pages and won’t let go of you until the end. I read it in just over a day. I didn’t want to put it down.

The storytelling is engaging, the characters of Helen and her sister, beautifully sketched while everyone around them, apart from their mother, stays very much in the background. This is their story.

At times the reader will hate either or both of the sisters, at other times, the reader will understand their pain, their desire to be more than their birthright.

A beautifully evocative story that speaks of the loneliness of royal marriage, of the heavy, and life-threatening expectations placed on young women to become mothers, and you will be swept along by a tale you think you know but might not.

5 stars from me.

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

Daughters of Sparta is available now in ebook, hardback and audiobook.

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Anarchy by Tracey Warr

Welcome to the blog. Your book, The Anarchy, is set in a time period that I thoroughly enjoy and sounds absolutely fascinating. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.

Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life? 

The Anarchy is set 1121–1139 and focuses on the later life of the Welsh noblewoman, Nest ferch Rhys. It is the final book in my Conquest trilogy telling the story of Nest’s turbulent life. Gwyneth Richards has argued that historiography has had a male bias ‘which has hitherto rendered women more invisible than is warranted by the available sources’ (2009, p. 24). Near-invisible women in the early middle ages are the territory of my historical fiction. I take the often very slight references to them in medieval chronicles and charters and imagine into the gaps. My first novel on an 11thcentury countess of Toulouse and Barcelona, Almodis de la Marche, came from a few sentences in the Chronicle of Ademar de Chabannes. My second novel came from a few more sentences in the same medieval chronicle on a different woman who was kidnapped by vikings. The Conquest trilogy derives from a couple of paragraphs on Nest ferch Rhys in Brut y Tywysogion (The Chronicle of the Princes

1 Brut y Twysogion (Chronicle of the Princes)
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chronical_of_the_Princes_(f.260).jpg Attribution: National Library of Wales, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Nest ferch Rhys was the daughter of the last independent king in Wales, Rhys ap Tewdwr. Her father and three of her brothers were killed by invading Normans and she was probably raised in the Norman court. She became the mistress of the Norman king, Henry I, and had a son with him. She was married to Gerald FitzWalter, the Norman steward of Pembroke Castle, which had been part of her father’s kingdom. The Welsh prince, Owain of Powys, abducted her from Gerald for a few years. After Gerald died, she was married to Stephen de Marais, the Norman constable of Cardigan Castle. The character Haith in my novel is based on Hait who is documented as the sheriff of Pembroke in the 1130 pipe roll, the records of the court (Green, 1986). Hait is presumed, from his name, to have been Flemish. It is my invention to make him a close friend of King Henry. According to Nest’s grandson, Gerald of Wales, Hait was the father of one of Nest’s sons. 

Once I have a spark from a primary source such as the Brut y Tywysogion to set me off, I pursue several lines of enquiry to find out everything I can about my characters, their relationships with one another, and the contexts they lived in. The lines of enquiry I pursue are further primary sources, genealogical research, biographies, the literature and art of the time, objects in museums, maps, site research at places associated with the characters, and contextual research—finding out, for example what people in those times and places wore and ate, what games they played and what books they read. I do as much research as I can online and buy key books and then I spend days in the British Library poring over the more inaccessible sources.

Other primary sources I drew on for The Anarchy included William FitzStephen’s account of Norman London and the books written by Nest’s grandson, Gerald of Wales. The genealogical research gives me a sense of the relationships between people and, for instance, an idea of how many children my heroine had and when. One key resource I use for genealogical research is Charles Cawley’s Medieval Lands, which can be searched online (2014). Genealogies are often set out following the patriarchal line. I make an effort to perceive the matriarchal line too, as far as possible. Family and kin—on both sides—were extremely significant for medieval people.

Despite sometimes being described as the most famous early medieval Welsh woman, the historical record of Nest is slender. Her kidnap from her husband Gerald FitzWalter by Prince Owain Cadwgan, which probably occurred at Cilgerran Castle, is briefly described in Brut y Tywysogion (The Chronicle of the Princes). Nest is credited with advising Gerald to escape down the castle toilet chute, which let out onto the dungheap below, outside the castle walls. (See my earlier blogpost on the wily Gerald: https://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/2016/11/a-norman-frontiersman-in-wales.html.) 

Kari Maund and Susan Johns have both written important studies on Nest ferch Rhys. I also research the people around her and try to get a sense of the atmosphere of the Norman court that Nest found herself in. C. Warren Hollister and Judith Green’s biographies of King Henry I were invaluable and writing the character of the king in my novels was one of the most enjoyable parts of composing them. I also drew on David Crouch’s book on the Beaumont twins to think about the personalities and factions at court. Reading journal articles, such as Eleanor Searle’s study of the marriages of Norman conquerors to Welsh and Anglo-Saxon heiresses, often gives me key information or details to use. 

My research on the literature of the time, such as The Mabinogion and the poems of the Welsh bards, helps me find fragments of the authentic voice of that period that I can use. In The Anarchy, Breri the Welsh bard is a double agent, spying for both the Welsh and the Normans. Amanda Jane Hingst’s book on the medieval writer, Orderic Vitalis, also gave me valuable material. Vivid details of daily life can be drawn from manuscript illustrations and objects in museums, and I often use particular objects, such as goblet or a ring, as a significant motif in the story. 

In the opening chapter of The Anarchy, Nest, has been widowed from one Norman and is married unwillingly to another, Stephen de Marais. After the ceremony, she absconds, leaving her wedding ring on the table in the great hall. 

Fourteenth-century medieval finger-ring, probably a wedding ring. The inscription probably reads ‘I will serve you until I die’. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Medieval_finger_ring_(showing_internal_inscription)_(FindID_199291).jpgAttribution: The Portable Antiquities Scheme/ The Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

I walk the sites of the novel, visiting castle ruins. Even though there is rarely much to see surviving from the 12thcentury, site research gives me atmosphere, weather, birdsong, the lay of the land. I draw up my own chronology, genealogies, and maps to help me flesh out the fictional world of my characters so that it is imagined, but credible, built on a structure of recorded history.

(Historical references are listed below).

Brut y Tywysogion (Chronicle of the Princes). Written 681–1282. Thomas Jones transl. (1953) Caerdydd: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru.

Ademar de Chabannes, Chronique, 3 vols., translated by Yves Chauvin and Georges Pon (2003) Turnhout: Brepols.

Cawley, Charles (2014) Medieval Lands, http://fmg.ac/Projects/MedLands/Search.htm.

Crouch, David (2008) The Beaumont Twins: The Roots and Branches of Power in the Twelfth Century, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

FitzStephen, William, Norman London. Written around 1183. Essay by Sir Frank Stenton & Introduction by F. Donald Logan (1990) New York: Italica Press. 

Gerald of Wales, The Itinerary Through Wales and the Description of Wales. Written 1191 and 1194. Lewis Thorpe, transl. (1978), Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Green, Judith A. (2009) Henry I King of England and Duke of Normandy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hingst, Amanda Jane (2009) The Written World: Past and Place in the Work of Orderic Vitalis, Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Indiana Press.

Hollister, C. Warren (2001) Henry I, New Haven/London: Yale University Press.

Johns, Susan M. (2013) Gender, Nation and Conquest in the High Middle Ages: Nest of Deheubarth, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Maund, Kari (2007) Princess Nest of Wales: Seductress of the English, Stroud: Tempus.

Richards, Gwyneth (2009) Welsh Noblewomen in the 13th Century, Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press.

Searle, Eleanor (1980) ‘Women and the legitimization of succession’ in Brown, R. Allen, ed., (1981) Anglo-Norman Studies III: Proceedings of the Battle Conference, pp. 159-170.

Thank you so much for sharing your research with. It’s great to see all the resources you used. I also smiled because Kari Maund was one of my lecturers at university. Her books on the early Welsh period are wonderful.

Here’s the blurb:

Unhappily married to Stephen de Marais, the Welsh princess, Nest, becomes increasingly embroiled in her countrymen’s resistance to the Norman occupation of her family lands. She plans to visit King Henry in the hope of securing a life away from her unwanted husband, but grieving for the loss of his son, the King is obsessed with relics and prophecies.

Meanwhile, Haith tries to avoid the reality that Nest is married to another man by distracting himself with the mystery of the shipwreck in which the King’s heir drowned. As Haith pieces together fragments of the tragedy, he discovers a chest full of secrets, but will the revelations bring a culprit to light and aid the grieving King?

Will the two lovers be united as Nest fights for independence and Haith struggles to protect King Henry?

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The Daughter of the Last King (Book 1)

The Drowned Court (Book 2)

The Anarchy (Book 3)

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Meet the Author

Tracey Warr (1958- ) was born in London and lives in the UK and France. Her first historical novel, Almodis the Peaceweaver (Impress, 2011) is set in 11th century France and Spain and is a fictionalised account of the true story of the Occitan female lord, Almodis de la Marche, who was Countess of Toulouse and Barcelona. It was shortlisted for the Impress Prize for New Fiction and the Rome Film Festival Books Initiative and won a Santander Research Award. Her second novel, The Viking Hostage, set in 10th century France and Wales, was published by Impress Books in 2014 and topped the Amazon Australia charts. Her Conquest trilogy, Daughter of the Last King, The Drowned Court, and The Anarchy recount the story of a Welsh noblewoman caught up in the struggle between the Welsh and the Normans in the 12th century. She was awarded a Literature Wales Writers Bursary. Her writing is a weave of researched history and imagined stories in the gaps in history.

Tracey Warr studied English at University of Hull and Oxford University, gaining a BA (Hons) and MPhil. She worked at the Arts Council, Institute of Contemporary Arts, Chatto & Windus Publishers, and edited Poetry Review magazine with Mick Imlah. She also publishes art writing on contemporary artists, and in 2016 she published a future fiction novella, Meanda, in English and French, as part of the art project, Exoplanet Lot. She recently published a series of three books, The Water Age, which are future fiction and art and writing workshop books – one for adults and one for children – on the topic of water in the future. She gained a PhD in Art History in 2007 and was Guest Professor at Bauhaus University and Senior Lecturer at Oxford Brookes University and Dartington College of Arts. Her published books on contemporary art include The Artist’s Body (Phaidon, 2000), Remote Performances in Nature and Architecture (Routledge, 2015) and The Midden (Garret, 2018). She gained an MA in Creative Writing at University of Wales Trinity St David in 2011. She is Head of Research at Dartington Trust and teaches on MA Poetics of Imagination for Dartington Arts School.

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Curse of Conchobar by David Fitz-Gerald

Today, I’m delighted to welcome David Fitz-Gerald to the blog. I asked him about the historical research he undertook to write his new book.

Research is my rabbit hole and full immersion is my favorite form. Sometimes, that’s easier said than done, especially during a worldwide pandemic, when travel is restricted and museums are closed. For some eras, there’s almost too much information available, whereas artifacts from distant historical periods are often scarce.

The Curse of Conchobar is set in New York State, long before written history reflects the “discovery” of North America. It is now more commonly believed that European people explored North America hundreds of years earlier than 1492. With each new scientific discovery, it seems, earlier new firsts become accepted.

My main character needed a rich back story. The one I invented for him was inspired by our family’s visit to Ireland in 2019. If we had known what was coming, I’ll bet we would have stayed much longer. My favorite part of our visit was the day that we spent at the Cliffs of Moher. I would love to have visited Skellig Michael, where Conchobar grew up among monks and learned to be a mason. As a hiker and mountain climber, I would love to have climbed the steps to see the ancient structures. Fortunately, I found this stunningly beautiful drone footage, by Peter Cox Photography, on youtube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxU6kk24mho

I’ve also had the pleasure of visiting Stonehenge in England and I’ve always been fascinated by megalithic stone structures. There are many smaller stone structures in New York, New England, and Canada that make you wonder, who built this, when did they build it, and what motivated them to do so? When Conchobar returns to masonry in my book, he creates just such a structure. As I was writing the book, the image of a stone chamber in Leverett, Massachusetts, from The New England Historical Society’s (NEHS) website inspired me to imagine what Conchobar could build in his new home in Northern New York State. According to NEHS, “Speculation now runs rampant about the origins of the mysterious stone structures. Did medieval Irish monks, American Indians or Vikings build them? Or did the English colonists just build them as root cellars?” I choose to believe the first theory presented. Don’t miss the other pictures on this website, but the one I’m referring to is the first picture. https://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/6-mysterious-stone-structures-new-england/

The civilization that Conchobar encounters along the banks of what will later be known as the Hudson River is a precursor to the Haudenosaunee, also known as Iroquois. I placed my fictional village for the people in my book, Wanders Far, featuring Conchobar’s descendants, on Garoga Creek, a tributary of the Mohawk River, based on archaeology. If you’d like to spend some time in my research rabbit hole, may I recommend this report, Three Sixteenth-Century Mohawk Iroquois Village Sites, from The University of the State of New York:  https://exhibitions.nysm.nysed.gov/publications/bulletin/503-14603.pdf

There is some debate about whether Native Americans inhabited the Adirondacks. I’m confident that they did and I think that science is proving it. If you’re curious about the evidence, you might be interested in this. The First Adirondackers: Part One and Part Two, from Curiously Adirondack.

The characters in The Curse of Conchobar and Wanders Far travel great distances and survive extreme situations in the wild. I have spent countless hours trying to make sure that the creatures I write about are indigenous. For example, I was tempted to write about honey bees, only to discover that they are not native and didn’t arrive in North America until the 17th century. Crisis averted! It is amazing how many bodies of water would not exist if it weren’t for dams built by modern man, and it is hard to find accurate maps from prehistoric times, so I tried to prove that each waterway existed in ancient times before I wrote about them. And I’ve spent countless hours researching what ancient foragers might have found in New York’s primeval forests. Are you curious about how Native Americans built canoes from materials found in the woods? Check out this historic video from 1946.

As for the wanderlust, on May 5, 2018, I set out from Plattsburgh, New York, and walked to Lake Placid, home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. I made the 50-mile journey to commemorate the historic 1963 trek of Lake Placid postman, Denny Miller, and also to make sure that the great distances my characters travel are realistic. I set out at midnight and limped into Lake Placid at dark, almost twenty hours later. The next day, I could barely walk. I’m older than most of the distance hikers I have written about, so I figure they can handle 30-miles a day when they need to.

You know the kind of person that takes pictures of historical mile markers so they can reread them later? How about the guy that has to read every placard in the museum―the one that has to be kicked out at closing time because there’s too much to see in just one day? Or the one that irritates the family by going miles out of the way to see something that nobody else is interested in? That’s me!

Thank you for spending a few minutes with me in my rabbit hole.

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. Good luck with the new book.

Here’s the blurb:

Banished by one tribe. Condemned by another. Will an outcast’s supernatural strengths be enough to keep him alive?

549 AD. Raised by monks, Conchobar is committed to a life of obedience and peace. But when his fishing vessel is blown off-course, the young man’s relief over surviving the sea’s storms is swamped by the terrors of harsh new shores. And after capture by violent natives puts him at death’s door, he’s stunned when he develops strange telepathic abilities.

Learning his new family’s language through the mind of his mentor, Conchobar soon falls for the war chief’s ferocious daughter. But when she trains him to follow in her path as a fighter, he’s horrified when his uncanny misfortune twists reality, causing more disastrous deaths and making him a pariah.

Can Conchobar defeat the darkness painting his steps with blood?

The Curse of Conchobar is the richly detailed prequel to the mystical Adirondack Spirit Series of historical fiction. If you like inspiring heroes, unsettling powers, and lasting legacies, then you’ll love David Fitz-Gerald’s captivating tale.

Buy The Curse of Conchobar to break free from the fates today!

Trigger Warnings: Violence

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Meet the Author

David Fitz-Gerald writes fiction that is grounded in history and soars with the spirits. Dave enjoys getting lost in the settings he imagines and spending time with the characters he creates. Writing historical fiction is like making paintings of the past. He loves to weave fact and fiction together, stirring in action, adventure, romance, and a heavy dose of the supernatural with the hope of transporting the reader to another time and place. He is an Adirondack 46-er, which means he has hiked all of the highest peaks in New York State, so it should not be surprising when Dave attempts to glorify hikers as swashbuckling superheroes in his writing.

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The Curse of Conchobar is available for free in exchange for signing up for David’s email list via BookFunnel: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/iwczowhp8q

Tour Schedule Page Don’t forget to check out the other stops on The Curse of Conchobar blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Steel Rose by Nancy Northcott

Today I’m delighted to welcome Nancy Northcott to the blog with a post about the research she undertook to write The Steel Rose.

Your book, The Steel Rose, is set in not one, but two historical time periods. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.

Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life? 

Hi, MJ, and thanks for having me!

My research process starts with reading general histories of the relevant period, then narrows to the issues and conditions I intend to use in the story. I rely primarily on books but sometimes consult websites. When I feel that I have a reasonable understanding of the era, I refine the story to eliminate any misconceptions. Then I start writing. As I write, questions often arise. I keep a list and check those every week or two. 

I knew this book would be primarily set during the Napoleonic Wars, mostly in England. I’ve read quite a few books set during that period, but reading about it is very different from writing about it. This was a time of social codes that seem very elaborate to me, and I didn’t feel well versed in those rules. 

I read several books about England during this era, including Jenny Uglow’s In These Times, which is about life in Britain during the Napoleonic Wars, and Roy & Lesley Adkins’s Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England. I looked at several sourcebooks on Regency social activities and manners. Because they weren’t always consistent, I consulted two authors who’ve each written numerous Regency romances. They very generously answered my many questions and cleared up some inconsistencies. I did cut down on some of the requisite bowing and curtseying in the interests of moving the story along.

This is Hyde Park’s Rotten Row, where the Regency elite, the ton, rode out to see and be seen.

Characters need clothes, of course, and I’ve been interested in historical costume most of my life. I always like playing in a new era. The Art of Dress by Jane Ashelford and Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion by Hilary Davidson were particularly useful for this book.

The action in The Steel Rose climaxes at the Battle of Waterloo. As you’re probably aware, there have been enough books written about that battle to fill a library, possibly with double or even triple shelving! I read enough to feel that I had a general sense of what happened. There seems to be some dispute about what actually was decisive in the battle’s final hour. I went with the option that best fit my story and gave a nod to the Prussians, who drew off Napoleon’s reserves at a critical time. They inspired the hero and heroine’s actions toward the end of the battle.

I also read Stephen Coote’s Napoleon and the Hundred Days, which focuses on the period between his escape from Elba and his defeat at Waterloo. Coote’s book and a similar one had a lot of useful information on conditions in France and the reactions to his return. Coote also included information about Napoleon’s time on Elba.

I consulted a number of books and a few websites about the different military units at Waterloo and their uniforms. There are people devoted to the customs of English Regency society, historical reenactors and others who pore over accounts of Waterloo, and people who immerse themselves in both. I wanted to do everything I could to get this right.

I’ve never been to Waterloo, but I did find commemorative art in the subway (passage under the street, for my fellow Americans) at Hyde Park Corner, the Tube stop for the Duke of Wellington’s residence, Apsley House.

Waterloo art from the subway

The second era that comes into play is the late medieval period, which we see briefly via the heroine’s seer vision. The trilogy follows the descendants of a wizard who unwittingly helped murder Edward IV’s sons, who’re known as the Princes in the Tower. He didn’t realize the agents he helped sneak into the Tower would murder the boys on the orders of his liege lord. Horrified by what he’d done, he threw himself on the mercy of the boys’ uncle, King Richard III. The king told him not to say anything until given leave, but King Richard met his fate at Bosworth Field before ever telling the wizard to reveal the truth.

The Tudors who came after Richard III blamed him for the boys’ deaths and anything else they could. Speaking up while they ruled would’ve been considered treason. The wizard would’ve been executed and his information suppressed. So he cursed the heirs of his line to not rest in life or death until they cleared the king’s name. After death, their souls are trapped in a wraith-filled shadowland between the worlds of the living and the dead. 

In each book of the trilogy, that generation’s heirs seeks the information that will lift the curse and release their kinsmen’s souls.

This is Middleham Castle, sometime home of Richard, Duke of Gloucester:

I’ve been reading about Richard III and the Wars of the Roses most of my adult life, so I was already pretty familiar with that part of the story and the period. One of my unpublished novels is set during the late 1400s. 

One of the women from that era, Lady Eleanor Butler, appears in The Steel Rose. Edward IV clandestinely married her before he wed Elizabeth Woodville, who became his queen. Lady Eleanor was still alive when Edward and Elizabeth wed, which meant this later marriage was bigamous. After his death, his prior marriage to Eleanor was revealed. His union with Elizabeth was declared invalid and their children deemed bastards. They were thus ineligible to inherit the throne. Richard III, then Duke of Gloucester, was the next male heir and became king.

That’s a long road to get around to saying I didn’t know a lot about Lady Eleanor and so did some research on her. I found only one book about her, Eleanor The Secret Queen by the late Dr. John Ashdown Hill, MBE, who was also a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Historical Society and a member of the Richard III Society in addition to other groups. 

Not to toss a cat among the pigeons, but I’ve come to believe Edward IV’s sons outlived their uncle. The Tower was not only a prison but a royal residence. If those boys had disappeared overnight, there would’ve been people to attest to that, people the Tudors would’ve trotted out on public display, which didn’t happen. Matthew Lewis’s The Survival of the Princes in the Tower is an excellent look at the various theories about their fates. He presents the evidence for each, notes the strengths and weaknesses of each theory, and lets readers draw their own conclusions. He also has published an excellent biography of Richard III, Richard III: Loyalty Bids Me.

This, of course, is the Tower of London, where so many of my characters’ troubles started!

A third historical era also figures in the book, again in the heroine’s visions, but discussing it would spoil part of the mystery for readers. I’ll just say I did some brief research in books and checked some aspects online.

As readers may have gathered from looking at the photos in this blog, all of which I took, I like to walk the ground where the story takes place, to stand in the places the characters do. Topography changes over time, of course, and landmarks disappear. Still, being in those settings helps me imagine what they would’ve been like during the story’s period with people moving through them. Sometimes those visits give me ideas, and sometimes they just make me feel closer to the characters.

Walking the ground isn’t always possible, of course. Travel is expensive and more complicated than it used to be. There are places I plan to use for books that I may never see. Books and travel websites can be satisfactory substitutes as sources.

Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?

I don’t mind sharing at all, but there isn’t really one book I turn to. What I keep close depends on what I’m writing. I’ve found books by Osprey Publishing invaluable sources for military uniforms and equipment of different eras. They’re written for military history buffs, so they include wonderful detail and color plate illustrations. www.ospreypublishing.com.

For The Steel Rose, I kept The Waterloo Companion by Mark Adkin, Waterloo: The Campaign of 1815, Volume 2, by John Hussey, Waterloo: Battle of Three Armies by Lord Chalfont, and the Osprey series on Waterloo handy. I was lucky to have most of this research done before the public health crisis shut down interlibrary loan.

The new series I’m starting is set in the world of the Boar King’s Honor trilogy. The first book ties into The Herald of Day, which is set during the reign of Charles II. Much of the action in this new book takes place at Whitehall Palace, so I kept Whitehall Palace: The Official Illustrated History by Simon Thurley by the computer with the Restoration era reconstruction bookmarked. I also relied heavily on Liza Picard’s Restoration London.

I  frequently turn to a National Trust book I’ve had for years, The Art of Dining: A History of Cooking & Eating by Sara Paston-Williams. It covers food preparation and dining from the medieval to the Edwardian periods. I’m not a foodie, so food isn’t a huge part of any book I write. The characters have to eat sometimes, though, and I want to feed them appropriate food.

As you can see, my main sources vary by the project. It’s fun to look at so many.

Thank you again for having me, MJ! I’ve enjoyed this.

Thank you so much for sharing your fascinating research. It is good to visit the places you’re writing about. Good luck with the new book. (All photographs are the property of Nancy Northcott.)

Here’s the blurb:

A wizard’s misplaced trust

A king wrongly blamed for murder

A bloodline cursed until they clear the king’s name

Book 2: The Steel Rose

Amelia Mainwaring, a magically Gifted seer, is desperate to rescue the souls of her dead father and brother, who are trapped in a shadowy, wraith-filled land between life and death as the latest victims of their family curse. Lifting the curse requires clearing the name of King Richard III, who was wrongly accused of his nephews’ murder because of a mistake made by Amelia’s ancestor.

In London to seek help from a wizard scholar, Julian Winfield, Amelia has disturbing visions that warn of Napoleon Bonaparte’s escape from Elba and renewed war in Europe. A magical artifact fuels growing French support for Bonaparte. Can Amelia and Julian recover the artifact and deprive him of its power in time to avert the coming battles?

Their quest takes them from the crowded ballrooms of the London Season to the bloody field of Waterloo, demanding all of their courage, guile, and magical skill.  Can they recover the artifact and stop Bonaparte? Or will all their hopes, along with Amanda’s father and brother, be doomed as a battle-weary Europe is once again engulfed in the flames of war?

The Steel Rose is the second book in the time-traveling, history-spanning fantasy series The Boar King’s Honor, from Nancy Northcott (Outcast Station, The Herald of Day).

This novel is available to read with #KindleUnlimited subscription.

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Meet the Author

Nancy Northcott’s childhood ambition was to grow up and become Wonder Woman. Around fourth grade, she realized it was too late to acquire Amazon genes, but she still loved comic books, science fiction, fantasy, history, and romance. She combines the emotion and high stakes, and sometimes the magic, she loves in the books she writes.

She has written freelance articles and taught at the college level.  Her most popular course was on science fiction, fantasy, and society.  She has also given presentations on the Wars of the Roses and Richard III to university classes studying Shakespeare’s play about Richard III. Reviewers have described her books as melding fantasy, romance, and suspense. Library Journal gave her debut novel, Renegade, a starred review, calling it “genre fiction at its best.”

In addition to the historical fantasy Boar King’s Honor trilogy, Nancy writes the Light Mage Wars paranormal romances, the Arachnid Files romantic suspense novellas, and the Lethal Webs romantic spy adventures. With Jeanne Adams, she cowrites the Outcast Station science fiction mysteries.

Married since 1987, Nancy and her husband have one son, a bossy dog, and a house full of books.

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on The Steel Rose blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Girl From Venice by Siobhan Daiko

Today, I’m excited to welcome Sioban Daiko to the blog with a post about the historical research undertaken to write The Girl From Venice.

Thank you for having me on your blog. I would say that, thus far, I have a huge connection to the places I write about in my historical fiction.

My parents bought an old farmhouse near Asolo in the Veneto in the mid-sixties. From then on, it became my second home, a place where I would spend the summers as a student and, then, later, where my husband and I would take time out from our busy lives to relax. 

Eventually, after our son had left home and I retired from teaching languages in a Welsh comprehensive school, we moved here permanently and I was able to indulge my love of writing. I’d been a fan of historical fiction for years and fascinated by how past events still resonate in the present. 

The first book I published was set in the Veneto of the 16th and 20th centuries, a homage to Asolo and Venice, Lady of Venezia.  

There are many references in Asolo to the Venetian noble woman, Caterina Cornaro, who was married to the King of Cyprus. She died in Venice on 10 July 1510, a year after the Barco, her villa of delights, was damaged by a fire set by the League of Cambrai troops. It was there that she had established a court of literary and artistic distinction and where Pietro Bembo set his platonic dialogues on love, Gli Asolani.

Image of Asolo Shutterstock Standard License

Although “Lady of Venezia” is the first novel I published, it isn’t the first book I wrote. I was privileged to have grown up in Hong Kong during the post-war era, and I hope that my personal experience of a time and place which no longer exist has lent an authenticity to The Orchid Tree, my debut novel. My grandparents were interned in the Stanley Civilian Camp like the family in my story. Gran and Grandpa didn’t talk much about their harrowing time in the camp. When they were liberated, they were so thin they resembled walking skeletons, and both died relatively young due to post-starvation-related illnesses. Their lives were similar to those of the characters in The Orchid Tree, in that they lived on the Peak in a house with nine servants and shared some of the colonial attitudes of my expatriate characters, however that’s as far as the similarities go.

After writing an erotic novella, Veronica Courtesan, an imaginative take on the life of the infamous Venetian courtesan, Veronica Franco, I took a break from writing historical fiction to focus on contemporary romance, which I published as SC Daiko. It was fun for a while, but there was a tale I’d been wanting to tell for years. It needed a lot of research, but I finally got round to doing it and then wrote The Girl from Venice, my new release.

I’ll never forget my initial impression of the Avenue of Martyrs in Bassano del Grappa. The shock and the horror when I saw the trees where the Nazi-Fascists hung some of the young partisans who dared to confront them in 1944. I decided to weave those events into a story based on how many locals, such as the family of farmers next door to my parents’ place, hid Venetian Jews during the war. They inspired me to create the character of Lidia in The Girl from Venice.

Image Bassano del Grappa Shutterstock Standard License

The fictional village of Sant’Illaria is founded upon the villages at the foothills of Monte Grappa, all of which lost young men in horrific circumstances during that dark period of Italian history. I decided to create Sant’Illaria rather than use an actual place out of respect for the memory of those who lost loved ones. 

Photo of Monte Grappa

I read many books for inspiration and information, including:

Maria de Blasio Wilhelm, The Other Italy, The Italian Resistance in World War II

Luigi Meneghello, The Outlaws

Caroline Moorehead, A House in the Mountains, The Women Who Liberated Italy from Fascism

David Stafford, Mission Accomplished, SOE and Italy 1943-1945

H. W. Tilman, When Men & Mountains Meet

I only start writing once I’ve done enough research to jot down a timeline of events and thought about my characters so long and hard that I can hear their voices and they become real to me. I do a chapter-by-chapter outline so I have a clear roadmap of the story but allow myself to add or take away from it when necessary.

Thank you so much for sharing your research with us. Good luck with the new book.

Here’s the blurb:

Lidia De Angelis has kept a low profile since Mussolini’s racial laws wrenched her from her childhood sweetheart. But when the Germans occupy Venice in 1943, she must flee the city to save her life.

Lidia joins the partisans in the Venetian mountains, where she meets David, an English soldier fighting for the same cause. As she grows closer to him, harsh Nazi reprisals and Lidia’s own ardent anti-fascist activities threaten to tear them apart.

Decades later in London, while sorting through her grandmother’s belongings after her death, Charlotte discovers a Jewish prayer book, unopened letters written in Italian, and a fading photograph of a group of young people in front of the Doge’s Palace.

Intrigued by her grandmother’s refusal to talk about her life in Italy before and during the war, Charlotte travels to Venice in search of her roots. There, she learns not only the devastating truth about her grandmother’s past, but also some surprising truths about herself.

A heart-breaking page-turner, based on actual events in Italy during World War II

Trigger Warnings: Death, Miscarriage, PTSD, Rape

Available on Kindle Unlimited.

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Meet the author

Siobhan Daiko is an international bestselling historical romantic fiction author. A lover of all things Italian, she lives in the Veneto region of northern Italy with her husband, a Havanese puppy and two rescue cats. After a life of romance and adventure in Hong Kong, Australia and the UK, Siobhan now spends her time, when she isn’t writing, enjoying the sweet life near Venice. 

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on The Girl From Venice blog tour. Tour Page

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Golden City by A B Michaels

Today, I’m excited to welcome A B Michaels to the blog with a fascinating post about the series, The Golden City.

Bringing America’s Gilded Age to Life One Detail at a Time

My series, “The Golden City,” is set during America’s Gilded Age, which ran from the end of the Civil War to approximately the start of World War I.  To fit the story I had in mind for The Art of Love (Book One), my main characters had to be living in San Francisco around the turn of the twentieth century. The city was booming by then, flush with the wealth of not one but two major gold rushes (California and the Klondike).

I picked San Francisco because I knew the city well from having grown up near it, as well as attending graduate school there.  In addition, as a teenager, my grandfather had worked in Canada’s Yukon Territory (where the Klondike River gave up its riches) and I’d recorded his recollections a few years before he died.  What better place to start my research than with an eyewitness account!

Happily, that time and place has turned out to be a treasure-trove of fascinating history. The late 1800’s to early 1900’s was filled with breakthroughs in science, industry, medicine and social customs. America was on its way to becoming the global leader that it is today, and women were beginning to realize they had power of their own. 

 

Golfer

Primary source material abounds in print and online (e.g., Jack London’s reporting on the San Francisco earthquake of 1906) and there is ample scholarship about such (often arcane) subjects as the prostitutes of the Barbary Coast (the city’s Red Light district); the fight against the bubonic plague (which flared up in the city around 1900); and the notorious corruption scandal that saw the indictment of the mayor and the resignation of virtually all members of the city’s board of supervisors. As a result, I have, and continue to accumulate quite a library that covers my historical niche. 

Bookcase

For The Art of Love, I began with my grandfather’s recollections and expanded further to learn the details of placer gold mining. 

Miner

I knew my female lead was going to be an artist, so I immersed myself in the art trends of the time (luckily, San Francisco had a thriving art scene then).  And, because a story must have conflict, I looked into the roadblocks, such as restrictive divorce laws, that men and especially women faced during that time. Eventually I focused on a fictional young woman who is caught in a social bind and must pay a terrible price in order to help her sister and gain her freedom to become the artist she was born to be.  

Now that I am more familiar with the time period in which I write, I’ll skim my resources on hand to find a kernel for my next story.  Or, I’ll peruse the digital newspaper archives from way back then.  The San Francisco Call, for example, was one of the main periodicals of that era (it evolved into the San Francisco Examiner). 

Newspaper

About a year and a half ago, in a brief article from 1903, I found just the type of story I was looking for because it involved both Spiritualism and “insane” asylums, two movements I knew were important during the Gilded Age.  That short newspaper article formed the basis of my latest book, The Madness of Mrs. Whittaker.

What resources can I not live without?  Undoubtedly, the Internet! I use it to corroborate facts I’ve learned elsewhere, but even more so, I use it as a quick source to fill in all the details that I can’t otherwise find: prices of hotel rooms, for example, or the types of restaurant food popular back then. How about hair or clothing styles for both men and women (Did every man wear those horrid mutton chop whiskers?!). 

Man with mutton chops

Other important aspects: communication and transportation. How common were telephones back then? (Answer: not very.) What did train tickets cost and what train routes would my characters have taken?

One of the most important details, in my opinion, is the use of slang and when it made its way into the American lexicon.  I can’t have my characters exclaiming “Awesome!” back in 1900!

One fan recently asked when the term “car” was first used as slang for “automobile.” My novel (in this case, The Depth of Beauty) took place in 1903, a time when cars weren’t all that common except among the upper classes, so the use of the word sounded strange to him.  I knew the etymology of the word “car” dated back centuries (It comes from the Latin word carrus which means “wheeled vehicle.”).  I had to dig a little to find that the phrase “motor car” dates from 1895 (in Britain) so I feel confident that the word was shortened to “car” by 1903, at least in America. Had I found that the word entered our vernacular later than 1903, I would have quickly made the correction.

Readers care about such minutiae, and so do I. Perhaps it seems trivial but making sure I get such facts right is my pledge to readers.  I want them to know that the period details they read about in my stories are as accurate as I can make them. Sure, the stories and the characters are fiction (with a few historical figures thrown in to make things interesting), but by and large, readers are learning what life was like “back in the day,” whether it was living through a massive earthquake, suffering from bubonic plague, or getting stuck in a mental asylum with no easy way out.

One more note about historical research as it pertains to fiction: I try to follow the old adage “less is more.”  Recently a friend who loves historical fiction said to me, “I’d love doing the research—not the writing, just the research!” And I knew what she meant.  It’s completely engrossing to learn about a different place and time—what challenges men and women faced, what disadvantages they experienced, what everyday life was like.  And it’s so tempting to share much of what I’ve learned.  But I try very hard to make the historical detail serve the story.  I want readers to care about what’s happening within my fictional world; I can’t afford to bog them down with too much description or explanation (what writers sometimes call an “info dump.”) My goal is to have readers effortlessly merge into the Gilded Age as they follow characters they care about, picking up interesting details here and there, and knowing that when it comes to historical verisimilitude, I won’t lead them astray.

Thank you so much for sharing such a fascinating post. Good luck with all the books in the series.

                                                                       

Here’s the blurb

Your Journey to The Golden City begins here…

FORTUNESACRIFICE…PASSION…and SECRETS

A tale of mystery, social morality and second chances during America’s Gilded Age, The Art of Love will take you on an unforgettable journey from the last frontier of the Yukon Territory to the new Sodom and Gomorrah of its time – the boomtown of San Francisco.

After digging a fortune from the frozen fields of the Klondike, August Wolff heads south to the “Golden City,” hoping to put the unsolved disappearance of his wife and daughter behind him. The turn of the twentieth century brings him even more success, but the distractions of a hedonistic mecca can’t fill the gaping hole in his life.

Amelia Starling is a wildly talented artist caught in the straightjacket of Old New York society. Making a heart-breaking decision, she moves to San Francisco to further her career, all the while living with the pain of a sacrifice no woman should ever have to make. 

Brought together by the city’s flourishing art scene, Gus and Lia forge a rare connection. But the past, shrouded in mystery, prevents the two of them from moving forward as one. Unwilling to face society’s scorn, Lia leaves the city and vows to begin again in Europe.

The Golden City offers everything a man could wish for except the answers Gus is desperate to find. But find them he must, or he and Lia have no chance at all.

Buy Links: 

The Art of Love

The Depth of Beauty

The Promise: 

The Price of Compassion

Josephine’s Daughter

The Madness of Mrs Whittaker

Meet the author

A native of California, A.B. Michaels holds masters’ degrees in history (UCLA) and broadcasting (San Francisco State University). After working for many years as a promotional writer and editor, she turned to writing fiction, which is the hardest thing she’s ever done besides raise two boys. She lives with her husband and two spoiled dogs in Boise, Idaho, where she is often distracted by playing darts and bocce and trying to hit a golf ball more than fifty yards. Reading, quilt-making and travel figure into the mix as well, leading her to hope that sometime soon, someone invents a 25+ hour day.

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Don’t forget to check out the other blogs on The Art of Love blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Today, I’m reviewing The Fort by Adrian Goldsworthy (Roman historical fiction) as part of its new release blog tour

Here’s the blurb:

AD 105: DACIA

The Dacian kingdom and Rome are at peace, but no one thinks that it will last. Sent to command an isolated fort beyond the Danube, centurion Flavius Ferox can sense that war is coming, but also knows that enemies may be closer to home.

Many of the Brigantes under his command are former rebels and convicts, as likely to kill him as obey an order. And then there is Hadrian, the emperor’s cousin, and a man with plans of his own…

Gritty, gripping and profoundly authentic, The Fort is the first book in a brand new trilogy set in the Roman empire from bestselling historian Adrian Goldsworthy.

The Fort by Adrian Goldsworthy is good ‘Roman’ era fiction.

Set in Dacia in AD105, it is the story of ‘The Fort’ under the command of Flavius Ferox, a character some will know from Goldsworthy’s previous trilogy that began with Vindolanda.

Mistakenly thinking this was an entirely new trilogy with all new characters, it took me a while to get into the story. Everyone seemed to know everyone else apart from me. But Ferox is a good character, and he grounded me to what was happening in the immediate vicinity of the Fort, and apart from once or twice, it didn’t really matter what had gone before.

This is a story of suspicions, ambition and lies, and it rumbles along at a good old pace. This isn’t the story of one battle, but rather many, a slow attrition against the Romans by the Dacians.

Overall, this was an enjoyable novel, and some of the fighting scenes were especially exciting. Those with an interest in Roman war craft will especially enjoy it, although, I confess, I don’t know my spatha from my pilum (there is a glossary, fellow readers, so do not fear.)

About the author

Adrian Goldsworthy has a doctorate from Oxford University. His first book, THE ROMAN ARMY AT WAR was recognised by John Keegan as an exceptionally impressive work, original in treatment and impressive in style. He has gone on to write several other books, including THE FALL OF THE WEST, CAESAR, IN THE NAME OF ROME, CANNAE and ROMAN WARFARE, which have sold more than a quarter of a million copies and been translated into more than a dozen languages. A full-time author, he regularly contributes to TV documentaries on Roman themes.

Adrian Goldsworthy , Author , Broadcaster , Historical consultant .

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Year We Lived by Virginia Crow

Today I’m delighted to welcome Virgina Crow to the blog with a post about the historical research she undertook to write The Year We Lived.

Hello and thank you for hosting me and my book on your blog, and for inviting me to share such a fantastic topic with your readers!

I know the research process is slightly different for different writers. The first thing I have to say is that I love research! I would say that, for every statement of historical significance in my book there is about ten-times more research which has gone into the writing of it. In fact, my editor does occasionally point out to me that my readers don’t always need quite so much historiographical details!

Researching so far back in time was quite new to me. Most of the historical fiction I’ve written before has a lot more primary sources to excavate and delve into, especially in those pre-Covid days when a trip to a museum was easily available!

The first thing I had to familiarise myself with was the landscape. I’ve always been surrounded by maps – my dad has a collection of hundreds of them – and some of my favourite books as a child were a massive geography book and the Weetabix atlas! Since my dad is an out-and-out Lincolnshire yellowbelly, I have always known the changing landscape of that particular county! To look at a map of the eleventh century fenlands my characters would have known, it is startlingly different to the lay of the land in the twenty-first century!

This landscape was full of islands, which were often indistinguishable from the rest of the boggy marshes, something which made the hidden Hall in The Year We Lived a very believable concept! When I delved deeper into the case of Hereward, I realised how paranoid William the Conqueror was about the Fens and the threat they posed. It made sense to have the brutal lordship of Henry De Bois situated here in an attempt to crush what William was led to believe were a group of Saxons ready for insurrection.

Next came the characters. For this, I knew I wanted people outside the conventional image of the Normans so, on flicking through various websites and pages about the number of non-Normans on William’s side in the Battle of Hastings, I settled on the possibility of making my French characters Burgundian instead. I loved the headstrong and stubborn trait which seemed to come hand in hand with being from Burgundy, and it’s something I tucked into each of those characters.  But the French court at this time was a topic which was totally new to me. When I was studying for my MLitt, I remember my lecturer saying that it was totally acceptable to use Wikipedia as a first port of call providing you checked out everything which was on there, so this was what I did as I researched the major players.

One of the things I love the most about writing historical fiction is how, providing you read around the family and situation, you can convince your audience – and sometimes yourself – of the existence of your characters. Every single one of my Burgundians came from a real family, all of which are referenced in some sneaky way or another. I love weaving little clues into my writing, and I think doing it in a historical setting just makes it all the more fun (but then I could be biased!).

The final thing, which I found perhaps the most fascinating of all, was exploring the superstitions of the time. These were often localised but some things were pretty generally accepted.  Having been raised on a diet of myths and legends, this was something I absolutely loved exploring. Something I discovered was that many of these superstitions made sense.  A lot of them have their roots in logic, but they were without the understanding of science which we have now.  There is no shortage of these words of wisdom, many of which are still in existence today in some shape or form. Perhaps because of the oral nature of these hand-me-downs and the weirdness they relate, these were easier to place in the map and chronology of my research. I tucked into books and theses to uncover some of the most bizarre anecdotes imaginable, and nestling them into The Year We Lived – I hope – helps the plot and characters come to life.

After all, it’s our idiosyncrasies which make us unique!

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. It’s always fascinating to discover what prompts people to write the books they do.

Here’s the blurb;

It is 1074, 8 years after the fateful Battle of Hastings. Lord Henry De Bois is determined to find the secret community of Robert, an Anglo-Saxon thane. Despite his fervour, all his attempts are met with failure.

When he captures Robert’s young sister, Edith, events are set in motion, affecting everyone involved. Edith is forced into a terrible world of cruelty and deceit, but finds friendship there too.

Will Robert ever learn why Henry hates him so much? Will Edith’s new-found friendships be enough to save her from De Bois? And who is the mysterious stranger in the reedbed who can disappear at will?

A gripping historical fiction with an astonishing twist!

Amazon UK • Amazon US • Amazon CA • Amazon AU • Barnes and Noble • Waterstones • Kobo • Smashwords • Crowvus

Meet the Author

Virginia grew up in Orkney, using the breath-taking scenery to fuel her imagination and the writing fire within her. Her favourite genres to write are fantasy and historical fiction, sometimes mixing the two together such as her newly-published book “Caledon”. She enjoys swashbuckling stories such as the Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas and is still waiting for a screen adaption that lives up to the book!

When she’s not writing, Virginia is usually to be found teaching music, and obtained her MLitt in “History of the Highlands and Islands” last year. She believes wholeheartedly in the power of music, especially as a tool of inspiration. She also helps out with the John O’Groats Book Festival which is celebrating its 3rd year this April.

She now lives in the far flung corner of Scotland, soaking in inspiration from the rugged cliffs and miles of sandy beaches. She loves cheese, music and films, but hates mushrooms.

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Book Review – Agata, Princess of Iberia by Emma C Buenen – historical fiction – recommended

Here’s the blurb;

Thrust out into the Wild, young Princess Agata has no skills to survive.

In the early dawn of what is modern Georgia, a kingdom once known as Iberia teeters between hordes of enemies. Byzantines eye the soaring mountains and lush, fertile valleys tucked between Asia and Europe. Turks and Arabs rattle sabres along her eastern borders, coveting the lucrative Silk Road and the growing power of the mysterious Khazars – a Marauder people – loom large.

Motherless young Princess Agata has only known the solid stone walls of the palace. As the fourth daughter of Vax’tang II, she is instructed in the basic skills expected of her station and otherwise ignored and left to her own devices until the day she is old enough to be a marriage pawn in her father’s hands.

As her 16th birthday draws ever nearer, Princess Agata hopes to join the convent led by the powerful Byzantine, Abbess Shingli, and escape her cruel father.

But on the night of her sister’s wedding, Marauder warriors led by cruel warlord, General Kazan, attack the city and breach the walls of the palace. Agata must choose to stay and perish or escape into the lonely mountains of the Wild.

Alone and hungry, cold and terrified, Agata longs for the safety she once knew.

As political powers vie for Iberia, the young princess is hunted by a cunning traitor as well as the fierce warrior, Kazan.

Reeling at the treachery and anguished at the death of her warrior women, the seeds of vengeance and rebellion stir in Agata’s young heart.

Agata, Princess of Iberia is such a good book. The first 10% entirely draws the reader in, investing them with a need to know what’s going to happen as the city is overrun by marauders. Agata is a character who develops throughout the story so that by the end, she’s almost unrecognisable from the character we’re first introduced.

And she’s not the only strong female character, this book is stuffed with them, and all of them are engaging and clearly defined.

There are twists and turns, double-crossing galore, and just a really well-told story. Loved it:) And the cover is beautiful.

Agata is available now, and can be purchased from here.

Connect with the author on Twitter and on her website.

Welcome to today’s stop on the ‘Fire and Ash’ blog tour by Thomas J Berry

Today, I’m delighted to be hosting the Fire and Ash blog tour by Thomas J Berry, and I’ll be sharing an exciting excerpt from the book. But first, the details.

Here’s the blurb:

“Five men and women in Ancient Greece are set on a dangerous journey of self-discovery during the bitter conflict of the Peloponnesian War.

While mighty Athens struggles to rebuild after a devastating campaign abroad, the feared warriors of Sparta prepare to deliver the final blow in a decades long war. No one is safe anymore as the conflict shifts across the Aegean to the shores of wealthy Persia. Old colonies, once loyal to Athens, are eager to rebel and the Great King is willing to pay anything to regain his control over them. These coastal plains set the stage for massive battles and heartbreaking defeats. This time there will be only one true victor.

The news coming out of Sicily ripples across the cities of Ancient Greece like a thunderbolt and it is left to the poor and desperate to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. One young mother is suddenly faced with a horrible tragedy and struggles against all odds to make a new life for her family. An eager boy looking for adventure enlists in the new Athenian ranks but finds life on campaign a lot more than he bargained for. A Spartan officer in the twilight of his years struggles to adapt to a young man’s army and an exiled Athenian strives to earn his way back into the graces of his beloved city. The harem girls in a Persian court meet a handsome foreigner and one risks everything for a chance at love.

As the conflict between Athens and Sparta builds to a final showdown, five men and women struggle to come to terms with their changing world. What will they find in the ashes when peace finally comes?”

But enough of that. Here’s the excerpt,

“A few moments later, the tent flap opened, and two figures entered. Memo looked up and smiled at the newcomers. Doro and Three-Fingers stood before him looking a bit anxious. 

“What’s wrong, fellas? You look like death warmed over.”

“We saw Alcibiades this morning, but he left before we could talk to him,” Fingers stated simply. “Hadn’t heard from the man in years.”

“I spoke with him briefly,” Memo admitted. “But I had to practically throw myself in his path.”

“We noticed you bent his ear a bit,” Doro said enviously. “What did he say? How does he account for himself these days?”

“He and Timandra keep to themselves at Pactye,” Memo explained. “The Thracians are his only friends up in that region.”

“Is that all he said?” Doro asked, sounding a little disappointed. 

“Well, he did mention something, but it’s probably not important.”

“Spill it,” Fingers said. “Where Alcibiades is concerned, nothing should be overlooked. He’s a military genius and you know it.”

Memo looked at his friends. “He thinks the Spartans are playing us. Last night, after we retired from the straits, he spotted a pair of their ships lagging behind their main body. They weren’t aggressive, just…hanging out, watching us. He thinks they were spying on our movements for some reason.”

“Lysander doesn’t want to do anything but watch these days! It’s driving me crazy,” Fingers retorted in disgust. 

“They can look at us all they want as long as they keep their distance,” Doro muttered. Then he laughed loudly. “Perhaps they wanted to join us for supper!” 

“Did he mention this to the Generals?” Three-Fingers inquired. 

“I don’t think so. I was close enough to hear much of their exchange and I wrote it down so the Council will receive a report on his surprise visit. I’m sure they’d be interested in hearing what he’s been doing.”

They talked for a little longer but soon Doro and Three-Fingers departed, ready to board Twisted River, a newer trireme captured from the Chians a few months ago. He knew their attitude toward the Spartan leadership was common among the crews. Lysander had developed a reputation as a skilled commander, yet he had turned passive since the Athenians arrived on the scene. 

Konon was due back today and perhaps he’d bring some good news with him. Perhaps even a letter from home if my wife was able to get a note off. He had last seen Alexandra when he returned to state his case at the trial of the Generals a year ago. It had been a quick visit, but he had tried to make the most of it. She was 37, nine years his junior, and had spent much of the last decade raising their three children without him. He told himself he was simply doing his part for the war effort. Such excuses rang hollow, however, when he finally saw his 21 year-old-son or his two daughters and wondered where the time had gone.

Julius had matured in many ways, he noticed, especially his height. The young man stood just over six feet tall and could wield a sword and shield if he was pressed into service but preferred more skilled vocations. On his last visit, Memo learned about his legal appointment in the capital. His son was crafting bills and helping to defend poor folk in drafty, marble courtrooms. He was proud of the young man Julius had become and was chagrined at not being there to see him grow up.

Life had changed little for his two youngest. Eurynome was 11 this year and Rhea nine. They spent most days helping their mother and the two family slaves with household chores. Nomy enjoyed working the loom but hated the smell of fresh dye while the little one was being tutored in herbal remedies and poultices by an old practitioner. When this blasted war is over, he thought, I’ll be able to return home and become a father to them once more.

Despite the hardships, he knew his family fared better than most. His own father had been a respected diplomat in the city and accumulated a substantial house, servants, and investments before he passed away years ago. Alexandra now lived frugally off the interest his estate provided and the funds Memo send her from his pay. Somehow, she made it all work, but he knew it wasn’t easy.

He rose from his table and walked outside to a lonely camp. Most of the men were now at sea in one of the 180 warships lined up against their Spartan adversaries. Tydeus was a conservative type but that wasn’t surprising. Most of the democrats had lost their lives on the tympanon boards. There weren’t many to choose from when the city finally cooled off and started looking for replacements.

It seemed ironic how quickly the Assembly had a change of heart after the executions. With their bloodlust satiated for the moment, they realized they needed new leadership for the large fleet still in Persian waters. Konon was the obvious choice but he couldn’t, and shouldn’t, do it alone. Tydeus was sent forth, together with Menandros, Philokles, and Adeimantos. In true democratic fashion, the five generals were instructed to alternate command between themselves daily to avoid a concentration of power. It was an interesting experiment, Memo thought, but it had its drawbacks.

Tydeus possessed a calm, steady demeanor while Philokles had earned an ignoble reputation with both friend and foe. At the beginning of the summer, he had captured two Chian vessels and threw the crews overboard, drowning hundreds of men. A few years earlier, he made a motion before the Council that all prisoners of war should have their right thumb cut off so they will never pick up a sword against Athens again. Fortunately, the resolution was not passed for it could have led to similar retribution against their own soldiers captured in the field. 

As the ships returned that evening with nothing to show for their efforts but empty bellies, Memo met his companions as they disembarked along the sandy beaches. The Twisted River had backed into its position and was lifted onto four logs to dry out overnight. The constant patrol on the water this week had further aggravated some warping along the starboard side and the Captain wanted to add more tar to its hull after the men took their meal. As thousands of sailors started up the narrow paths leading towards distant towns and markets, the work remained unfinished. It would be well after dark before they returned.

The following morning, Memo greeted Konon as he emerged from the officer’s pavilion. His flagship, the Equinox, was being prepped for a day at sea and would join the rest of the armada as they faced off once more against the Spartans. The men were growing hungrier by the day, with little to find away from camp and few provisions coming down from Sestos. He asked the General when things were going to change but he only got a non-committal response.

“Philokles is in command today and I will leave that decision to him,” Konon replied casually. He had eaten his fill at Sestos the night before, so hunger was not a paramount issue at the moment. If Lysander wanted to delay battle, Konon had no objection. He had all the time in the world.

Memo spent the day writing formal letters to the city governor at Byzantium, two island towns bordering on revolution, and a daily report of the fleet’s activities, or lack thereof, in the Hellespont. The Council would soon tire of the General’s patient attitude and force Konon to use his superior numbers for what they were intended. Crush the Spartans and force them to retreat from the region. He added one last letter to the pile as well, a personal note to Alexandra. He smiled as he sat back in his chair. Regular correspondence with family back home was just one of the perks of his job. 

The sun was falling from the sky at a slow but steady rate. Helios was guiding his golden chariot towards the western horizon and soon Doro and Three-Fingers would meet him for their evening walk into Sestos. He hated the journey. It was ten miles overland and it took them almost three hours to cross through the deep streams, grassy plains, and thick underbrush to reach the markets before they closed for the day. 

He looked out across the water and saw the vessels approaching at a leisurely rate. There were 180 triremes on the water today, including the state ship, Paralus, which had arrived from the capital two days before. It was meant to ferry important dignitaries around and serve as the official ambassador of the empire. Its presence here meant only one thing. Athens was watching Konon’s activities with great interest.

Memo crossed his arms and gazed across the waters, but shadows obscured the distant port of Lampsacus on the opposite coast. He wondered if the two ships Alcibiades had reported were still watching them. Maybe there was a simple answer for it. As the Twisted River was pulled up along the beach next to dozens of other warships, Memo put it out of his mind. His friends disembarked and they headed off through the brush towards the markets at Sestos.

Ten minutes later, he heard a distant shout and turned his head back towards the camp for a second. As he did so, his eyes widened in abject terror. The horizon was full of warships, rowing like the very demon dog of Hades was chasing them. And they were heading straight for the Athenian beach!”

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Meet the Author

Thomas Berry received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from St. Bonaventure University.  He takes pleasure in extensively researching both historical fiction and non-fiction stories.  In his spare time, he enjoys long distance running and has completed several marathons.  He currently lives with his wife and children in New Jersey.  You can learn more about Thomas and his historical novels at his website, www.thomas-berry.com.

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(Thank you to Coffee Pot Book Club Tours @maryanneyarde)