Book Review – The Queen’s Rival by Anne O’Brien – historical fiction – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“One family united by blood. Torn apart by war…

England, 1459: Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, is embroiled in a plot to topple the weak-minded King Henry VI from the throne. But when the Yorkists are defeated at the Battle of Ludford Bridge, Cecily’s family flee and abandon her to face a marauding Lancastrian army on her own.

Cecily can only watch as her lands are torn apart and divided up by the ruthless Queen Marguerite. From the towers of her prison in Tonbridge Castle, the Duchess begins to spin a web of deceit – one that will eventually lead to treason, to the fall of King Henry VI, and to her eldest son being crowned King Edward IV.

This is a story of heartbreak, ambition and treachery, of one woman’s quest to claim the throne during the violence and tragedy of the Wars of the Roses.”

The Queen’s Rival is a stunning look at the ‘later’ life of Cecily Neville from 1459 until 1483. This is not a ‘quiet’ period of history and to cover the tumultuous events, the author adopts the technique of recording the letters of the main protagonists, either from the pen of Cecily or from those who write to her.

It does take a little while to get used to the technique, but the reader is quickly drawn into the story, not perhaps by the events taking place, but rather by the relationship between Cecily and her two sisters, Anne, Duchess of Buckingham and Katherine, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. The words they share with each other are just what sisters might well say to each other, especially when they’re not likely to see each other soon.

More importantly, the sisters, while fiercely loyal to their Neville inheritance, are not of one mind about who should rule England, and who has the right to rule England. It highlights just how destructive the War of the Roses was, and is a genius way of quickly ensuring the reader appreciates that families were ripped apart by the protracted war.

This is the story of the women of the later 15th century. It’s their voices that we hear, as they try and come to terms with the rises and falls all of them experience. There are moments when the narrative is hard to read, either because you know what’s going to happen, or just because you really feel for Cecily and don’t want her to experience the tribulations than she does.

I am a huge fan of Anne O’Brien and the ‘forgotten’ women of the medieval period in England. While the author may stress that Cecily is not really a forgotten woman, I was not really aware of her before reading this book. The mother of two kings, the grandmother of future kings, and yet she could also have been queen herself. What an interesting life she led.

I highly recommend this book. And you can find my review here for A Tapestry of Treason.

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

The Queen’s Rival is released in ebook and hardbook on 3rd September 2020. (What a stunning cover.) It is released in paperback today, 15th April 2021.

New Release Alert – The Last Horse (Book III in the Ninth Century Series) – 27th August 2020

New Release alert for The Last Horse

It’s here, it’s here.

Here’s the blurb: (Spoilers – if you’ve not read The Last King and The Last Warrior.)

“The Raiders have been routed from Torksey, dead, or escaped.

Mercia lies broken but not beaten, her alliance with Wessex in tatters, her new king a warrior, not a ruler. And as he endures his coronation, as demanded by the bishops and ealdormen, there are stirrings from the east.

Coelwulf must again take to the trackways of Mercia. His destination, any place where the Raiders are trying to infiltrate the kingdom he’s fought so hard to keep whole, losing beloved friends in the process.

The year is AD874 and Mercia lies threatened. But Coelwulf, and his loyal warriors, have vowed to protect Mercia with their lives. They’re not about to stop now.”

Check out the reviews for The Last Horse on Goodreads.

If you’ve not yet delved into the series, then book 1, The Last King, is still 99p/99c (US)/ 99c (AU), 99c (CA) 0.99E (DE).

 

 

 

Book Review – Fortress of Fury by Matthew Harffy – Historical Fiction

Here’s the blurb;

“AD 647. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the seventh instalment in the Bernicia Chronicles.

War hangs heavy in the hot summer air as Penda of Mercia and his allies march into the north. Caught unawares, the Bernician forces are besieged within the great fortress of Bebbanburg.

It falls to Beobrand to mount the defence of the stronghold, but even while the battle rages, old and powerful enemies have mobilised against him, seeking vengeance for past events.

As the Mercian forces tighten their grip and unknown killers close in, Beobrand finds himself in a struggle with conflicting oaths and the dreadful pull of a forbidden love that threatens to destroy everything he holds dear.

With the future of Northumbria in jeopardy, will Beobrand be able to withstand the powers that beset him and find a path to victory against all the odds?”

Beobrand is becoming a firm favourite for fans of historical fiction. But, as many will know, I struggle a little with his ‘grumpiness.’ I have enjoyed the author’s new hero, found in The Wolf of Wessex, a whole lot more, and I’m really keen to read the new book A Time For Swords, as well. But, I’m always curious to see what Beobrand is up to, and therefore I was keen to get an advanced copy from Netgalley and the publisher.

Fortress of Fury is a solid addition to The Bernicia Chronicles.

It begins strongly, and slowly builds to the portrayal of Bebbanburg facing one of its greatest challenges throughout its long history. The battle scenes are well-played out and Beobrand earns battle glory for himself.

The scenes that follow the big battle are very much laying the groundwork for future stories about Beobrand and his band of geishas, and for that reason, I very much felt that the book peaked too soon. I was anticipating a blood and gore-drenched battle that lasted for days, and that was not what I got, concerned rather with events after the attack on Bebbanburg. It’s not a direction I was expecting, and it wrong-footed me a little.

That said, I look forward to seeing what trouble Beobrand and his geishas get themselves involved in next. I’m sure it’s not going to be pretty, and if Beobrand cracks a smile, I might well cheer!

Fortress of Fury is released on in ebook on 6th August 2020, and the audiobook and hardback will follow later in the year. (The cover is amazing).

Book Review – Camelot by Giles Kristian – historical fiction

Here’s the blurb:

‘Britain is a land riven by anarchy, slaughter, famine, filth and darkness. Its armies are destroyed, its heroes dead, or missing. Arthur and Lancelot fell in the last great battle and Merlin has not been these past ten years. But in a small, isolated monastery in the west of England, a young boy is suddenly plucked from his simple existence by the ageing warrior, Gawain. It seems he must come to terms with his legacy and fate as the son of the most celebrated yet most infamous of Arthur’s warriors: Lancelot. For this is the story of Galahad, Lancelot’s son – the reluctant warrior who dared to keep the dream of Camelot alive.’

I’ve just reread the review I wrote for Lancelot nearly two years ago, and even I’m blushing about how effusive I was about it!

Camelot begins in much the same way. The lead character is a young man, about to take his vows to become a monk on the tor at Glastonbury when his world completely changes. The depiction of life on the tor is wonderfully evoked, and even if the author could have just written ‘bird’ ‘tree’ and ‘flower’ I’m sure many will appreciate the attention to detail. (I’ve never been ‘at one’ with nature).

The story starts quite slowly, drawing you back into the world of post-Roman/pre-Anglo-Saxon Britain with deft skill and then the story truly begins to take shape, secrets are revealed, and the ties to the previous book begin to be revealed.

I truly don’t want to give too much of the story away, but the ‘quest’, for that is what it becomes, takes readers from Cornwall to Anglesey and then further, the fear of what is to come in the future a palpable threat and even though we all know what’s going to happen, in the end (outside the scope of the book) I couldn’t help but hope that it would all be very, very different. The characters demand it from the reader.

And the end, is once more, where I have some small complaints about the story. It’s not that it doesn’t do what I want it to do, it’s just that the ending seems wrong for the story, but then, perhaps, it was always going to because that is the legend of Arthur.

But before that ending, the legends of Arthur and his knights are beautifully evoked, and I think a particular strength is the depiction of King Constantine, a bit part character, but immensely powerful and the very embodiment of a land falling to chaos all around him, and yet not prepared to give way and accept what seems to be the inevitable.

This book, once more, has its flaws, some scenes seem unnecessary, and others are skipped over too quickly, but it feels so true to the legends. There’s so much that’s only half-seen, hinted at but never actually known.

A welcome return to Giles Kristian’s ‘world’ first created in Lancelot, and, I think the author notes at the end of the novel explain a great deal. Now, give me the story of Arthur and his knights at the height of their prowess (please!).

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

Camelot is available from 14th May 2020 from here:

Book Review – The Ruthless by Peter Newman – fantasy – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

Return to a world of crystal armour, savage wilderness, and corrupt dynasties in book two of The Deathless series from Gemmell award-winning author Peter Newman.

THE REBEL
For years, Vasin Sapphire has been waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. Now, as other Deathless families come under constant assault from the monsters that roam the Wild, that time has come.

THE RUTHLESS
In the floating castle of Rochant Sapphire, loyal subjects await the ceremony to return their ruler to his rightful place. But the child raised to give up his body to Lord Rochant is no ordinary servant. Strange and savage, he will stop at nothing to escape his gilded prison.

AND THE RETURNED…
Far below, another child yearns to see the human world. Raised by a creature of the Wild, he knows their secrets better than any other. As he enters into the struggle between the Deathless houses, he may be the key to protecting their power or destroying it completely.

THE WILD HAS BEGUN TO RISE.

The Ruthless by Peter Newman is a fantastic ‘Part 2’ of what will be a trilogy, charting The Deathless. The action picks up exactly where it left off, although sixteen years have passed, allowing the babies of the book to be all grown up and therefore more involved in what’s happening.

The likeable characters of Book 1 are there, Sa-at, Pari, Vasin, Chandi as well as a few that we didn’t like so much. The world created by Newman continues to be vivid and downright ‘weird’ and there were a few times when I felt a little ‘itchy’ so good were the descriptions of The Wild! All of the characters are set on paths that will see them coming into contact at one point or another, and the end is entirely satisfying, leaving me with many questions still to be answered, and a fear that something really BAD is going to happen in the concluding book of the trilogy. I read this book in just over 24 hours. It’s entirely absorbing, wonderful ‘weird’ and incredibly rewarding. Newman uses words to great effect and I just ‘got’ exactly what he was trying to portray. I really can’t recommend it enough.

Thank you to Netgalley for the review copy. I will be ‘singing’ about this series whenever I get the opportunity

The Ruthless is available from 30th April 2020 in paperback. I highly recommend it!

Book Review – Camelot by Giles Kristian – historical fiction

Here’s the blurb:

‘Britain is a land riven by anarchy, slaughter, famine, filth and darkness. Its armies are destroyed, its heroes dead, or missing. Arthur and Lancelot fell in the last great battle and Merlin has not been these past ten years. But in a small, isolated monastery in the west of England, a young boy is suddenly plucked from his simple existence by the ageing warrior, Gawain. It seems he must come to terms with his legacy and fate as the son of the most celebrated yet most infamous of Arthur’s warriors: Lancelot. For this is the story of Galahad, Lancelot’s son – the reluctant warrior who dared to keep the dream of Camelot alive.’

I’ve just reread the review I wrote for Lancelot nearly two years ago, and even I’m blushing about how effusive I was about it!

Camelot begins in much the same way. The lead character is a young man, about to take his vows to become a monk on the tor at Glastonbury when his world completely changes. The depiction of life on the tor is wonderfully evoked, and even if the author could have just written ‘bird’ ‘tree’ and ‘flower’ I’m sure many will appreciate the attention to detail. (I’ve never been ‘at one’ with nature).

The story starts quite slowly, drawing you back into the world of post-Roman/pre-Anglo-Saxon Britain with deft skill and then the story truly begins to take shape, secrets are revealed, and the ties to the previous book begin to be revealed.

I truly don’t want to give too much of the story away, but the ‘quest’, for that is what it becomes, takes readers from Cornwall to Anglesey and then further, the fear of what is to come in the future a palpable threat and even though we all know what’s going to happen, in the end (outside the scope of the book) I couldn’t help but hope that it would all be very, very different. The characters demand it from the reader.

And the end, is once more, where I have some small complaints about the story. It’s not that it doesn’t do what I want it to do, it’s just that the ending seems wrong for the story, but then, perhaps, it was always going to because that is the legend of Arthur.

But before that ending, the legends of Arthur and his knights are beautifully evoked, and I think a particular strength is the depiction of King Constantine, a bit part character, but immensely powerful and the very embodiment of a land falling to chaos all around him, and yet not prepared to give way and accept what seems to be the inevitable.

This book, once more, has its flaws, some scenes seem unnecessary, and others are skipped over too quickly, but it feels so true to the legends. There’s so much that’s only half-seen, hinted at but never actually known.

A welcome return to Giles Kristian’s ‘world’ first created in Lancelot, and, I think the author notes at the end of the novel explain a great deal. Now, give me the story of Arthur and his knights at the height of their prowess (please!).

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

Camelot is available from 14th May 2020 from here: (the preorder is currently only £2.99 for kindle – wowsers – so I’m posting this before release date for everyone to take advantage of the offer)

Book Review – The Body in the Garden by Katharine Schellman – historical fiction

Here’s the blurb;

“London 1815. Though newly-widowed Lily Adler is returning to a society that frowns on independent women, she is determined to create a meaningful life for herself even without a husband. She’s no stranger to the glittering world of London’s upper crust. At a ball thrown by her oldest friend, Lady Walter, she expects the scandal, gossip, and secrets. What she doesn’t expect is the dead body in Lady Walter’s garden.

Lily overheard the man just minutes before he was shot: young, desperate, and attempting blackmail. But she’s willing to leave the matter to the local constables–until Lord Walter bribes the investigating magistrate to drop the case. Stunned and confused, Lily realizes she’s the only one with the key to catching the killer.

Aided by a roguish navy captain and a mysterious heiress from the West Indies, Lily sets out to discover whether her friend’s husband is mixed up in blackmail and murder. The unlikely team tries to conceal their investigation behind the whirl of London’s social season, but the dead man knew secrets about people with power. Secrets that they would kill to keep hidden. Now, Lily will have to uncover the truth, before she becomes the murderer’s next target.”

The Body in the Garden is a fun and interesting read. While firmly grounded in the society of the day, it doesn’t labour points, as some authors might do, but rather absorbs everything as part of the space the characters are occupying.

I’m currently watching the TV adaptation of Sanditon and The Body in the Garden easily feels as though it follows many of the conventions well known from a Jane Austen book. If there is too much emphasis on the purchase of gloves and hats, then that was only what well-bred ladies would have been worried about!

The mystery is well put together, and there are any number of potential suspects along the way, which makes the story move along at a fine old pace, and not without some peril for the main character.

A thoroughly enjoyable read. I hope there are more mysteries for Lady Adler, and her ‘roguish’ captain to solve.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy, and good luck with the release.

The Body in the Guard is released on 7th April and is available from here:

Book Review – Starship Alchemon by Christopher Hinz – sci-fi​

Here’s the blurb;

“From the the award-winning author of the cult-80s classic Liege-Killer and The Paratwa Saga, comes Starship Alchemon – a deep-space action opera combined with a threat to all humanity.

Nine explorers aboard a powerful AI vessel, Alchemon, are sent to investigate an “anomalous biosignature” on a distant planet. But they soon realize their mission has gone to hell as deadly freakish incidents threaten their lives. Are these events caused by the tormented psychic mysteriously put aboard at the last minute? Has the crew been targeted by a vengeful corporate psychopath? Are they part of some cruel experiment by the ship’s ruthless owners? Or do their troubles originate with the strange alien lifeform retrieved from the planet? A creature that might possess an intelligence beyond human understanding or may perhaps be the spawn of some terrifying supernatural force… Either way, as their desperation and panic sets in, one thing becomes clear: they’re fighting not only for their own survival, but for the fate of all humanity.”

Starship Alchemon is an entertaining read, and clearly, the author has delighted in all those little details that flesh out a novel to make it seem as ‘realistic’ as possible.

There is a palpable sense of futility for part of the novel that had me reading during the day, rather than at night, in order to get to the end and while the ending was somewhat drawn out, it was also both quite satisfying and a little bit frustrating. That said, there were points that tested my interest and there were a large number of ‘information dumps’ that could possibly have been woven more neatly into the story. The characters could have been more fleshed out, but the backstory of the important ones was interesting and believable.

Overall, an entertaining and intriguing read. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

Starship Alchemon is released on 12th November 2019 and is available from here;

 

 

Book Review – Priest of Lies by Peter McLean – fantasy

Here’s the blurb:

Peaky Blinders with swords’ (Barnes & Noble), perfect for fans of Mark Lawrence and Joe Abercrombie.

‘The poorer and more oppressed people are, the weaker they become – until they just refuse to take it any more. Then they will rise up, and the gods help their oppressors.’

When Tomas Piety and his Pious Men returned from the war, he just wanted to rebuild his crime empire and look after his people. But the sinister Queen’s Men had different ideas and whether he likes it or not, he’s now a spy as well.

Now, half the city of Ellinburg lies in ashes and the webs of political intrigue are stretching out from the Queen’s capital to pull Tomas in. Dannsburg is calling.

In Dannsburg the nobility fight with words, not blades, but the results are every bit as bloody. In this pit of beasts, Tomas must decide once and for all whether he is truly the people’s champion . . . or just a priest of lies.

And as Tomas’ power grows, the nobility had better watch their backs . . .”

Priest of Lies is an enjoyable book, and one that would perhaps have been more enjoyable if I’d read book 1 in the series (no shouting at me at this point. It is possible to start a series with Book 2 – I’ve done it quite a few times) but  I’ve seen quite a bit of excitement for the book on Twitter, and it became a bit infectious, which is why I went straight into Book 2 when it became available on Netgalley (that, and Book 1 is £5.99 on kindle – I’d happily pay that for an author I love, but for a new author to me, I’m a bit hesitant.)

The writing is good, the character of Thomas Piety is bold and executed well, and yet for all that, I just didn’t quite enthuse over the story. The premise is both unusual and also quite predictable, and I always knew there was going to be a big showdown at the end, and there was, so I wasn’t disappointed in that.

There are a few story arcs that felt a bit too superfluous for my liking, and Thomas Piety has an annoying tendency of glossing over some details that I would have quite liked to be expanded upon and then going into detail regarding matters that I wasn’t interested in at all.

Overall, I enjoyed the story of Thomas Piety and I’m sure it will please fans of the series, but I just don’t think it’s my sort of thing! A firm 3/5. (I am a fan of Mark Lawrence, but not Pinky Blinders, or Joe Abercrombie.)

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

Priest of Lies is released today, 2nd July, and is available from here;

 

 

 

Odin’s Game – by Tom Hodkinson – historical fiction

Here’s the blurb;

“AD 915.

In the Orkney Isles, a young woman flees her home to save the life of her unborn child. Eighteen years later, a witch foretells that evil from her past is reaching out again to threaten her son.

Outlawed from his home in Iceland, Einar Unnsson is thrown on the mercy of his Uncle, the infamous Jarl Thorfinn ‘Skull Cleaver’ of Orkney. He joins forces with a Norse-Irish princess and a company of wolfskin-clad warriors to become a player in a deadly game for control of the Irish sea, where warriors are the pawns of kings and Jarls and the powerful are themselves mere game pieces on the tafl board of the Gods.

Together they embark on a quest where Einar must fight unimaginable foes, forge new friendships, and discover what it truly means to be a warrior.

As the clouds of war gather, betrayal follows betrayal and Einar realises the only person he can really trust is himself.

Not everyone will survive, but who will conquer all in Odin’s game?”

Odin’s Game by Tim Hodkinson begins with great promise. I hope, mirroring the writing style of the sagas, the story is simply told, occasionally a little monotonous, and yet, it’s Viking Age Iceland – the promise is there, all the time, expectant that finally there is a novel about the Icelandic way of life. Unfortunately, the novel moves away from Iceland quite quickly, and in doing so, becomes a more challenging read.

The characters are two dimensional, there is some jarringly ‘modern’ dialogue in there, as well as some that is stilted, and yet all mixed with what must be a great deal of research and commitment to telling a story in a ‘different way’ to much that is written about the Viking Age – journeying to Orkney and Ireland along the way, if as so often happens, staying with the Pagan/Christian storyline.

Einar, the main character, is never fully formed enough to elicit a great deal of sympathy from the reader, and his ‘talents’ appearing from nowhere (apart from his ability to tell a good story which he has been trained to do) are supposed to be gifts from Odin, but are, again, not fully explored enough to make the novel feel ‘well-rounded and finished.’

There is a huge amount of promise contained in this novel, but it slips away, never quite grasping the storyline firmly enough, and the ending is both rushed, and ultimately, unfulfilling. A true shame. Such an engaging idea, but a struggle to read. In the end, I willed myself to the end in the hope the ending would be as good as the beginning, only to be disappointed.

The three stars are for the promise of what could be a great novel.

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

(Note – I am obsessed with Viking Age Iceland – it is my passion – it is the basis of my first fantasy series – this may, potentially, account for my disappointment!)

Odin’s Game is released today (20th June 2019), and is available from here: