How good it is to be back with Angus, Alan, Hanno and…the other bloke…oh yes, Robin of Locksley. How I’ve missed them.
So, what’s been a-happenin’ while I’ve been away?
Well, before we start, at the end of King’s Man there was a really poignant, thoughtful passage from the elder Alan Dale, musing on his life as the younger Alan. The memories were fresh, the people he knew still young, vibrant and alive. Never to weary, grow old or fade. A lovely ending to a superb book. So it was with no little anticipation, even excitement (I know, pathetic, isn’t it?) that I opened Warlord, the 4th in Angus Donald’s heroic re-imagining of the Robin Hood legends.
So, in King’s Man, Alan Dale seemed to be becoming more independent of Robin. Still a part of Robin’s band and one of his friends, not entirely stepping out of his shadow, but certainly seeing himself as, and being treated more and more like, an equal. That independence could be said to have come to fulfilment here in Warlord. Which is a book about Alan. His circumstances, his past and what is making him tick. Robin Hood actually only first makes an appearance on page 71. As I’ve mentioned before, Alan Dale is more of the centre for the ‘Outlaw’ tales’ focus than the reviews and the hype around a ‘new interpretation of the Robin Hood legend’ would have you believe. The books (I’ve read so far) could equally be about the legend of Alan Dale – and his friend/Lord/Master/protector/ally, Robin Hood. However, that probably wouldn’t sell books by the truckload, no matter how much more accurate it would actually be. And that’s probably why I’m not working in publishing right now.
Anyone could have written a series of books – indeed many anyones have and are still doing so – about Robin Hood’s life and times, narrated by and with Robin in the centre. But by looking slightly to the side, by actually writing about Alan, Angus is able to both root the stories in the historical reality of the period (so much as we are sure about), and also show his ideas for the (legendary, but most likely fictional) character of Robin Hood. By comparing and contrasting the Robin Hood of his legend, with what must have been typical behaviour for a chivalrous Knight of the period. Alan is much more than just the narrator however, which was my thought when I read the first few pages of the first book. He is far from a passive observer. His strong Christian beliefs are the light, while Robin and his more Pagan, more earthy, perhaps more real-world values, is (in) the shadow(s) created by that light. Because Robin doesn’t share Alan’s beliefs and seems more of a carefree, seize each opportunity as it comes, no matter from whence it comes, sort of character, it isn’t always plain-sailing between the two. In Alan’s view Robin is, more often than not, just a money-grabbing, opportunist god-less Pagan. Sometimes, only Alan’s respect for Robin’s sense of unquestioning loyalty in protecting those inside his family circle, keeps the two together. My thought is, that what perhaps makes Angus’s Robin appealing to us heathen sinners of today, is that Robin is actually like more like we are nowadays than Alan ever can be. I certainly have found some of Alan’s decisions only really understandable, if I try to imagine I’m back living in the late 12th Century.
The story told in Warlord, is actually a very interesting medieval mystery period piece, set in what we now call northern France. To have Alan at least in some way involved with the later life and death of Richard, Warlord has to be set in France. But to cope with the risk of readers being unable to identify with the Robin Hood legend going on in various 12th Century, not actually France places (and not swinging through the trees of Sherwood, drinking in ‘The Trip To Jerusalem’ and singe-ing the Sheriff of Nottingham’s beard), he concentrates his story’s focus on the tale of Alan’s search for the truth surrounding his father’s expulsion and death. In northern France. And ‘France’, we should remember, plays a very important part in the world of these English heroes. The characters speak French. They actually ARE French, for all intents and purposes. Alan is really Allan D’Alle, son of a French father, Henri. And Richard, Richard Cœur de Lion, the ‘Lionheart’ is in France, because it was his home. Because he is Duke of Normandy first and foremost. He might have been born in Oxford – only 91 years after Hastings – he spoke no English and was, during the 10 years of his reign, only actually in England for a total of six months. It’s only Robin that’s truly English and he’s the heathen. No change there, then.
Alan is in France at Richard’s request and the book opens with him riding headlong into trouble, to try and break the siege of a castle loyal to Richard, which is surrounded by the vastly superior forces of the King of (most of the rest of) France. They cling on to the castle, after many sterling deeds of derring-do, by the skin of their teeth. Then, Richard arrives, full of the joys of spring, and they have to move on, chasing ever after the cowardly French King. Alan can’t do much other than be told where to go and who to fight by Richard, but eventually does get time off for good behaviour to go on a quest of his own. He has spoken with a priest who knew his father and might be able to shed some light on his father’s background in France, the circumstances surrounding his expulsion and possibly who the mysterious figure, the ‘man you cannot refuse’, who might be behind his death, is. While he gets plenty of information from this priest, he also hears plenty that both disquiets him and shrouds his fathers past in yet more layers of mystery. Alan follows the trail through various regions of France all the way to Paris. Noting on his way, that the people who have information he might find useful, have a nasty habit of dying. Before, during and after they’ve spoken to him. When he finds the truth, and the reason behind the truth, it has been both staring him in the face and turns out to be way more dangerous than he could imagine. No one escapes Alan’s suspicion, not even Robin. He knows more than he’s letting on. Could he even have had some part in it all?
The main action of Warlord does seem to end a little early, to allow the next in the series, Grail Knight to be set up, but that apart, Warlord is a passionate, full-on, full-blooded, medieval tale of mystery and suspense. Events happen thick and fast; as you’d want them to, not always as you’d expect and not always as you’d actually want them too. And it whets the appetite for Grail Knight. Sitting on the shelf over there *points over there*
A short story, so I’ll keep it short.
OK, maybe a word or two more.
Long Way Down is what we in the trade are calling a ’14,000-word novella’ and I think I got it for free, off the US Kindle store. After Tony Black mentioned it on Twitter, I’m pretty sure.
It’s about a group of characters in Edinburgh, who could possibly be called some of the last chance saloon’s best customers. Those with their own stool and their name on their mug behind the bar. The main character Gus Dury has certainly known better times. When the story opens, he’s busy minding his own business, washing his clothes in a launderette and patching his iPod with an Elastoplast but then finds himself coerced by an old friend into helping to find an(other) old school friend. No problem. But it soon becomes clear, that the friend needs to find the other friend, to save his own skin. Then Dury realises he has to find a way of getting his first friend – and himself – out of a somewhat tricky situation involving, as it does, Irish gangsters and the decidedly un-amusing, amusingly named Edinburgh crime-boss, Boaby ’Shakey’ Stevens.
It’s written in a style that emphasises the Scottish-ness (or should it be Edinburgh-ness?) of the situation and the lifestyle of its main characters. The way people who are down on their luck, see their situation, shall we say. But by blaming it completely on luck, they surely don’t see how they can get out of it, so carry on refusing to realise they’re also to blame in the situation – and so carry on blaming it on luck. The style reminded me of another novel I read many years ago, by a Scottish writer called Jeff Torrington. The book was called Swing Hammer Swing! Long Way Down isn’t as thickly Scottish as that, but that’s probably because this is set in Edinburgh and not Glasgow. But there was something in the atmosphere of Long Way Down, that did remind me. What disappointed me a little, has really nothing at all to do with Tony Black and his writing. In the version I have, there is a list, amongst the quotes from reviewers, of who we should compare Tony Black to. I was a little disappointed not to see Mark Timlin’s name mentioned. Mark Timlin may be my personal favourite writer of this sort of on the edge – of despair, of crime, of death – drama, but I really do think that Tony Black and Mark Timlin can and should be compared. Favourably and to mutual benefit.
There are wry smiles to be had amidst the gritty realism, but it’s in no way a comedy. A tragicomedy maybe. Like ‘Rab C Nesbit’ for example (though that too, was Glasgow and Govan, rather than Edinburgh and Morningside), with the same energy and pathos and the lying in the gutter looking at the stars cursing your luck. Not the belly laughs, for sure, but the spirit. And in Long Way Down, you’re smiling with Dury, not at him. Though he does perhaps sometimes try a bit too hard with the street poetry and the flowery metaphors don’t always ring true. I felt it could have done with being more understated to be fully effective, otherwise it just gets in the way, as it becomes, of necessity, more and more elaborate, more and more ornate and so the less and less effective and more annoying it can get. It can come between the reader and the story, like a tall bloke sat in front of you in the cinema.
However, all in all, I look forward to getting hold of – even paying for! – some of Tony Black’s longer stories.
…took a week off last Friday.
Angus Donald‘s Warlord ‘finally’ gets a release in the US of A this week. Here’s what I am saying about it ‘it’s great!’, ahead of a full review soonest.
As I’ve mentioned before, he is finished, nearly, with the sixth instalment of his successful re-vamping of the Robin Hood legend, which has a release date of July 3 2014. You can, if you can wait that long, though I suppose you’re going to have to, order it from Amazon right now. Should give you a chance to catch up with reading all the others in the series. You can tell it’s a successful series, by the sprouting of other authors jumping (if one can both sprout and jump at the same time) on Angus’ Robin Hood bandwagon/coat-tails. Angus will always be the original and best in my opinion.
I’m just getting into liking/reading Anthony Riches‘ Empire series (and a good job too, as I have actually bought all six before reading any of them!) and now he’s on his way to finishing number seven! To be called The Emperor’s Knives, it is at something called ‘page proof stage’. It looks from the picture he posted on his Facebook page, like it’s been written, type-set and divided into the page-sequence as it will be in the final book version. Probably to check it runs on ok, with no ‘widows’ and what-have-you. A kind of what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of proof, I guess. As his picture of said proofs had a glass of a very amber looking liquid in it, this could take a while. Having said that, it is available for order on Amazon’s website, with a release date of February 13 2014. Just in time for Valentinus Day – should you feel the wife’ll go for a blood-soaked tale of ancient Rome, instead of flowers and chocs. Go to order and you will of course notice that while Amazon have a cover picture, they also have it listed as ‘Empirel VII…’ Maybe they’ve been on the amber liquid as well?
As he suggested at the end of Odin’s Wolves, young Giles Kristian has returned to the world of the Wolfpack. Only this time, if I understand it right, it’s a prequel to the previous saga of Raven and his motley crew. Called God of Vengeance, here’s what he’s told Amazon what to say about it:
Norway AD785. A land of petty kingdoms and ambitious men . . .
When King Gorm betrays Jarl Harald and puts his family to the sword, he makes a terrible mistake – he doesn’t kill Harald’s youngest son, Sigurd. Now on the run, hunted by powerful men and hiding in a sacred fen, Sigurd believes the gods have turned their backs on his family: his kin are slain or prisoners, his village attacked, its people taken as slaves. Honour is lost. Yet all men know that Ódin – whose name means frenzy – is drawn to chaos and bloodshed, as a raven is to the slaughtered dead. And Sigurd means to spill blood.
Alone but for a small band of loyal men including his red-bearded friend Svein, his father’s right-hand man Olaf, and Asgot the godi, Sigurd hungers to avenge the murder of his family. In an attempt to catch Ódin’s eye, the young man sacrifices himself – as the god once did – and it is during this ritual ordeal that Sigurd is shown a vision. The Wolf. The Bear. The Serpent. The Eagle. Sigurd will need the help of all these and more if he is to become a man whom others will follow…and if he is to make kings pay in blood for their treachery.
But the gods have spoken and Sigurd’s quest begins. Using cunning and war-craft he must gather the fiercest warriors of the north – warriors such as Bram who men call Bear, Black Floki who is death with a blade, and the shield Maiden Valgerd, who brave men fear – and convince them to follow him. For whether or not Ódin is with him, Sigurd will have his vengeance – and neither men nor the gods can stand in his way . . . Be assured that when the blood is flowing, the gods are watching…
Giles said yesterday, that he has finished the book, by which I guess he means he’s finished his first draft version and that when he’s rubbed out the doodles in the margins and shopping lists from the back, it’ll be on its way to the person at his publisher whose job it is to say “How am I supposed to sell this?!” There isn’t a cover image posted for God of Vengeance as yet, so I’ll have to keep an eye on that one as well. It’s available to order right now from Amazon, with a release date of 8 May 2014.
And as for names, if you’re thinking about the name Gorm there; I know Giles’ family (or at least part of it) come from Norway, but (where I live) Denmark’s first recognised king, was called Gorm den Gamle (Gorm the old). He ruled Denmark from 936 to 938 and was the son of Harthacnut and (amongst others) father of Harald Blåtand, who you know as Harold Bluetooth,
inventor of who gave his name to ‘Bluetooth’, the wireless means of connecting things like your iPhone, to your music player, etc. Gorm raised the first of the world famous Jelling Stones, here in Denmark. He is mentioned on it, because he had it raised in dedication to his wife Thyra. The perhaps more well-known of the Jelling Stones, was raised by Harald Bluetooth in memory of his father and mother. It has both the oldest representation of Christ in Scandinavia (Gorm was Pagan, but under Harald, Denmark became Christian) and the first known description of these lands as being ‘Denmark’. I live about 3/4 hour north of Jelling and if you’re even slightly interested in this sort of thing, I can confirm that a trip to see the stones will indeed blow your mind.
I love what Eric Van Lustbader is doing/has done in continuing Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne series of novels. Not least sticking to Ludlum’s idea that a book title should only have three words. ‘The’ being counted as one of them. Check it out.
And the good thing with these Bourne books, you get what you paid for. The plots are always reasonably water-tight and involve plenty of globe-trotting action (obviously without explaining where he gets the (large amounts of) country-relevant cash in each country from, though the Eurozone must be a god-send to modern Bourne-like spies, I guess).
‘Dominion’ is a little more ‘world-wide master plan’-like, than the previous one I read (and I do seem to have skipped ahead a couple of volumes with this one – unintentional and a little confusing at times), but it holds your interest and there is a good flow to it. Though, if I have to be honest, the machinations of pan-global, hyper-secret and ages-old criminal organisations aren’t where this book – or the whole of the Bourne-genre – work best for me. These stories work best concentrating in on simple problems, simple communications and on Bourne merely trying to do the right thing. Getting mixed up with and listening to tales of the childhood of shady, mega-rich, cigar-smoking ‘Mr Fixits’ isn’t where this book works best. Though Don Fernando does remind me of him there, from James Bond ‘Casino Royale’. The film version, you know who I mean.
But hey, you know where you are with a Bourne. Though often, you don’t. Trust no one, suspect everyone. Everyone is suspicious, everyone could be less or more than what they seem. There are no chance encounters, no one is who they say they are, no one means or does, what they say. Red herrings are always red herrings in disguise. And as for suspense – there are times when you have to look up, take a look around. What was that creak?! A look behind you, just in case, before reading on.
As for Jason Bourne himself. Well, he feels different in this book. I can’t quite put my finger on exactly why, but he does. More sure, maybe. More certain in his actions and commands and a lot less bothered by the ‘voices’ in his head, than the last one I read. More deadly too, I think. Here he seems tougher more inclined to using violence to solve a situation. He certainly uses some pretty underhand and (quite probably) painful fighting tactics. Then, what did strike me, when thinking about Bourne while reading this, was that I can’t actually remember in this book, or in other Eric Van Lustbader ‘Bournes’ actually, Bourne himself ever being described physically in any detail. I guess we all have our ideas, but I, of course, see Matt Damon. Only taller.
The central sections scenes do come fast and furious, they’re a regular machine-gun burst of frantic action and the book races along like mad. However, if anything, it does jump around between places and story threads a bit more than I’d really like. I’m working at least as frantically as Bourne is at keeping up with all the plot developments. There are a couple of times, again in the middle, perhaps I can dare say, where there are a few too many strands dangling at any one time and the cutting between strands, at first very exciting, can wear a bit. It can feel a bit like one of those pop video where they constantly cut from angle to angle, without letting your eye and brain take in all the elements properly.
Anything else wrong? Well, not much and maybe just me, but: Fortunately only twice does someone hate (or love) something “with every fibre of (their) being”, which is a lot less than most thrillers of this ilk (yes, I’ve corrected the spelling) which would mean that your ‘being’ was made of, at least in part, fibre. Or fibres. And, I do wish people would call each other by dialling the number, rather than ‘punching’ it in. It’s meaningless and unnecessary. Not to mention physically impossible on modern telephones. And, admittedly I don’t have the very latest up-to-date dictionary, but I’m pretty sure Eric Van Lustbader has made ‘hypervigilant’ up. But then, not many spy thrillers that have a Bob Dylan-quoting Russian intelligence operative. So all is forgiven.
When Bernard Cornwell is on form, he can be at least as good, if not a whole lot better, than most everyone else. When he’s ticking over, he’s also a whole lot better than a whole lot of other writers in the Historical Fiction field. And while there’s no doubt I enjoyed The Pagan Lord and thought it was very good, it does have the sound of Bernard Cornwell ticking over. I thought Death of Kings was an excellent book, but it doesn’t seem that Cornwell has used that as a transitional book to take Uhtred to better places, character-wise, or style-wise. I enjoyed this, don’t get me wrong. But I think Bernard Cornwell is a little on autopilot at the moment. In many ways, Cornwell is rather like the mood that radiates off Uhtred in The Pagan Lord – smart, cunning, savvy, clever. He’s been there, done that. Many times. But he’s also irritating. Why? Later.
It goes wrong for Uhtred, the ‘Pagan Lord’ of the title, from the beginning (actually, I’d like BC to give us an idea of how we’re supposed to pronounce ‘Uhtred’ in our heads while we’re reading this. Idea?) Uhtred goes to try to capture his son, to stop him from shaming the family name and becoming a priest. Of Christ, not Uhtred’s Odin. Uhtred is, understandably for an old-fashioned, died in the wool Viking, somewhat less than chuffed at this development. He tries to reason with his son, threatening to cut him off, as it were, but he instead almost accidentally manages to kill another priest. As you do. Uhtred most likely normally wouldn’t lose much, if any, any sleep over this sort of thing. But it isn’t the sort of thing that is going to endear him to his Christian neighbours. To make matters worse, he then returns home to find his hall has been attacked and burnt to the ground by Cnut Longsword, while he was away. He decides to meet with Cnut, only to find that Cnut thinks Uhtred has taken his (Cnut’s) wife and son. Which he hasn’t. And he suspects a double-cross. He returns home to find his peace-loving Christians neighbours have burnt down what remained un-burnt from the last burning. As you do in 10th Century pre-England. So, as he can’t convince anyone to trust him when he says there is treachery afoot, Uhtred’s not in the best of moods at the start of The Pagan Lord. Dark days for Uhtred and it doesn’t get much better.
Dark days indeed. And whaddaya know? There’s bad weather. Nearly all the time. Cornwell clearly wants us to get the message that the weather matches Uhtred’s mood. But that really is a bit too obvious for a writer of his calibre, isn’t it? And it’s all the bloomin’ time. I could be wrong on this but, I can’t actually remember there being good, or even fine, weather in any of Bernard Cornwell ‘Warrior Chronicles’ books. And there isn’t here. For instance, when he’s sailing off in his ship, ‘Middleniht’, there’s ‘grey sea, grey sky and a grey mist, and the ‘Middelniht’ slid through that greyness like a sleek and dangerous beast.’ I’m all for the weather as a way of mirroring a mood, but when it’s all the time, the time comes when you have to say ‘enough already with the dreadful weather!’ Obviously it’s England we’re talking about here, so it is going to rain more than most places in the 10th Century, but they had sunshine back then as well! Even in the North Sea. It was on occasion dry and mild in the 10th Century, the sleet in the middle of summer didn’t always come at you horizontally. But when the book opens with ‘A dark sky. The gods make the sky; it reflects their moods and they were dark that day. It was high summer and a bitter rain was spitting from the east. It felt like winter’, you just think ‘oh, here we go again’. Actually, the only time I can think of in The Pagan Lord when he gets good weather, is when he actually wants bad weather! Obviously as cover for a dastardly deed.
Having said all that, the weariness, as befits an old man – old for the Viking age anyway – the ’not again, I’m too old for this shit’ of Uhtred, is outstanding. Understandable, given his luck with Christian sons – Christians on general – and inflammable barns and houses, really. He’s a believable and sympathetic character and one Cornwell obviously loves. That comes over loud and clear. Uhtred is, if I’ve read rightly and with only a couple of historical ‘adjustments’ along the way, an ancestor of Cornwell’s. Would explain why.
So, my really big problem with this one?
And. And, and, and. And. Ands, every-bloody-where. In sentences, starting sentences, linking sentences. Ands after commas. Ands starting paragraphs, for goodness’ sake.
And way too many of them.
Cornwell achieves the matter of fact, authoritative style of Uhtred’s narrative, through using ‘and’ as a link in sentences. Like this:
“He (Æthelred) wanted the poets to sing of his triumphs, he wanted the chronicles to write his name in history, and so he would start a war, and that war would be Christian Mercia against Christian East Anglia, and it would draw in the rest of Britain and there would be shield walls again.”
Makes events that follow an and appear inevitable, no other outcome could possibly have happened. Makes it seem like the character of Uhtred is very decisive, knowledgeable and authoritative. Fine a few times. However, the constant, almost metronomic use of ‘and’ like that and too much, becomes irritating. And, time and time again – like the bad weather – enough! Try another approach once in a while. It really became a problem for me reading the book. Like it was standing in the way of my enjoying the book to the full. Like I would have done, if there were less ands. In the end, I was looking out for them and becoming more and more irritated. Starting sentences with an and is wrong, grammatically. You know it. Starting a paragraph with one is a real no-no.
“And I was a warrior, and in a world at war the warrior must be cruel.”
Like that. Still on the statute books as being punishable by a blood-eagle, if I’m not much mistaken. Unless you’re writing advertising copy. Then it’s ok. But this is a book, a decent one, this is Bernard Cornwell and he should know that it’s not ok.
And because he used it as a device so frequently, without seeming to even try to consider the maybes of any other kind of approach, is why I felt he was on autopilot, not really worried or thinking about it. Maybe he was thinking of the next Sharpe? I think if you only read Cornwell, you’d imagine that this is both how Historical Fiction is done and as good as it gets. Anyone who has read a few of the (now) many (many) other excellent writers on Cornwell’s block, like me, know different. Like I said, this is good, but while there is much to admire and recommend, I still came away from it feeling it could have been better. I’m no writer (that’s not news to you?), so I couldn’t for the life of me tell you how he should improve, but I just put it down at the end – even with the bombshell – and thought ‘ho-hum, autopilot’.
A family affair
If you look to the right >> you’ll see that I am currently reading Feud by Derek Birks. Unfortunately, what you can’t see how much I’m enjoying it. Well, now << you can see it.
Set in England in the mid 1450′s and (where I am at the moment) the 1460′s, the eagle-eyed historians amongst you will have noticed this is the time of The Wars of The Roses.
Anyway, on his Twitter Monday, Derek announced that the follow-up to Feud, to be called A Traitor’s Fate, will be out on Kindle on 1 November. As Feud has also been released on Apple’s iBooks, I’m guessing it will be available there at around the same time.
As I am reading – and enjoying – Feud on the Kindle app on my iPhone, I’m thinking I might as well get the new one on that as well. In a later Tweet, he also said he is starting the third in the series. I haven’t detected any clues as to a title yet, but – I better get reading!
Read more about what looks like being a truly epic series, amongst other things, on www.derekbirks.com
Back in the saddle
(Yet) Another book I enjoyed tremendously (this year?), was Hawk Quest, by Robert Lyndon (after a recommendation from Ben Kane). I noticed at the weekend, that Amazon have what appears to be his second book Imperial Fire available for pre-order here, with a release date of the 2nd January 2014. Here’s what the synopsis says: “
In the world after 1066, vast empires clamour for dominance.
From the Normans in the north to the Byzantines in the south, battles rage across Europe and around its fringes. But in the east, an empire still mightier stirs, wielding a weapon to rule the world: gunpowder.
Seeking the destructive might of this ‘fire drug’, the mercenary Vallon – a man made as of grit and earth as much of flesh and blood – is sent by the defeated Byzantine emperor on a secret and near-impossible quest to the far off land of Song Dynasty China. Alongside a squadron of highly trained soldiers, Vallon is accompanied by the learned physician Hero, hermit-like tracker Wayland and a young, ego-driven upstart named Lucas. All have their own reasons for going, all have secrets.
It’s a quest that will lead them across treacherous seas and arid deserts and into the uncharted land of mountains and plains beyond the Silk Road. Many will die… but the rewards are unbelievable.
The link with what I think of when I see ’1066′, was a little tenuous in Hawk Quest. So the ‘an epic novel of the Norman Conquest’, should possibly have had ‘of the Norman Conquests’ removed. It having very little to do with them, and all. This one too, with its ‘In the world after 1066′ seems to be a little pushing it a bit, given the ‘quest to the far off land of Song Dynasty China’ part. I’d be pretty certain that the Chinese had, at that point, no idea the year was 1066. Anywhere. It certainly wasn’t ’1066′ in China at the time, I’m thinking. But, it really doesn’t matter. Apart from to the person trying to place the book in the mind of the vast majority of their target market, I suppose. Hawk Quest was a world-wide success as far as I can see and, hopefully, this one will be just as excellent – not to mention epic – as its predecessor was.
There isn’t a cover picture yet for Imperial Fire, but you can place your order on Amazon here. As I have done. Or on Book Depository here. The only difference with the two (apart from that Amazon will be a little cheaper than Book Depository on release), is that you’ll pay for the book now on The Book Depository and at the time of release on Amazon.
Foyles Rush In
As I mentioned a week or so ago, Bill Bryson was calling for e-books to be somehow included with the purchase of a ‘normal’ version, perhaps the hardback, or to be offered at a reduced price, if you bought a physical copy as well. Amazon, I’m told, are doing something similar to how they offer an mp3 version of an album you have bought on vinyl. That kind of thing, but for books.
So to today. Today, I got an email from Foyles bookstore (they’re in the UK) the business part of which I’ve put above. As it says, they are , on selected titles, offering the e-book version as well, if you buy the hardback version. According to their webpage, it’s in conjunction with Harper Collins and there are – on the face of it – some pretty attractive (to me anyway) titles on their intro page. Immediately grabbing the eye are Max Hastings’ Catastrophe and Bernard Cornwell’s The Pagan Lord.
Here’s the deal. There are eight books from Harper Collins available in the ‘book bundle’ promotion. You buy one as shrink-wrapped hardback, you get a unique code which will allow you (or someone else) to download the e-book version. Presumably they’re shrink-wrapped to make sure the ‘someone else’ is someone you know and to stop someone else getting at the code without buying. If you have already bought a copy of one of the books in the promotion (presumably from Foyles), you can get a code from them. They suggest that they’re testing the waters here, with the inference being that they may offer more books from Harper Collins and more books from different publishers, if it goes well.
Price-wise however, the e-book version from Foyles is not free. Or anything near it.
Let’s look at the Bernard Cornwell The Pagan Lord. I pre-ordered and paid £11.25 for the hardback from Amazon – it was sent the day it came out. They’re currently offering it for £9.00. Other places linked to on the Amazon page for The Pagan Lord, are offering it for £5.99, with a couple of notes delivery. Even factoring in the exorbitant Danish VAT (‘MOMS’) and postage here to Denmark, the whole lot ‘only’ (you’ll see why ‘only’ in a moment or two) cost me £16.73.
Foyles, for the hardback and the e-book version bundle, want £25.00. And they’re suggesting that is a reduction on the normal price (of both?) of £30.00! The inside cover of my The Pagan Lord, states the RRP as £20.00. Elsewhere, Foyles are offering the hardback version of The Pagan Lord, at £15.00, stating that you save £5.00. If you scroll down to their section allowing you to download the e-book version only, and you’re looking at £13.99. Only £2.00 less than the hardback price. The e-book version doesn’t seem to be available on Amazon’s Kindle store as yet (there’s no link to it anyway), but it can’t be long off. Apple are offering it (here in Denmark) for 129 Kroner. That is £14.65, near as makes no difference. The UK iBooks site has it at £13.99. So Foyles’ e-book price is in-line with the cheapest available e-book price – so far.
However, that £13.99 is the iBooks ‘hardback’ price. The price now. On the Danish iBooks store, it is possible to pre-order, if you want to wait a while, the ‘paperback’ iBooks version. That will cost you 85kr, or £9.65. Well under the £13.99 Foyles are wanting for the here and now e-book version.
The bottom line? Foyles are offering the two, as a ‘book bundle’ for the knock-down price of £25.00. If you compare the cheapest price you could do the same (hardback and e-version) for, of £9.00 (I’ll go for the Amazon hardback price, but remember you could get it for as little as £5.99), and the cheapest (if you wait a bit) so far e-book version of £9.65, the whole will cost you £18.65. That’s £6.35 less. Which would, of course, would get you another hardback Pagan Lord. You do get free UK delivery (if you buy for over £10) from Foyles, but then you do from Amazon as well. To Denmark – it’d cost me another £5.00 to have it posted.
All in all, I think this is going to be a tough sell. I can’t see the advantage in going for a Foyles book bundle, even if I lived in the UK. I haven’t looked at the other books in the promotion, maybe you’ll save a fortune on some of them. But Bernard Cornwell is very popular, not just in Historical Fiction circles. So he should be a ‘typical’ example to use. Even a candidate for a ‘loss-leader’, I’d have thought. Unless people aren’t already clued up on what they can get books for, or if they don’t care what a book costs them, or they’re blinded by this being a bundle!, then this has got ‘no deal’ written all over it. As I’ve mentioned more than once, I’m absolutely not against paying full-whack/RRP for a book. I have done, I will do again. As I have also said more than once, I rather fear Amazon have got us accustomed to paying very little for a book. So little, that a not unreasonable RRP looks expensive. But I’m not so well-off I can just throw money away. I buy from Amazon when I want over £25.00 worth of books at the same time (free delivery to Denmark on orders over £25.00, you see). Or for single items, I’ll order from The Book Depository. And I did, this last summer, buy several books at RRP from Topping & Co in Ely. Happy to do so and happy to do so, so it supports the high-street book shops. Two were signed copies, so there was what you might call ‘added value’, but the other one wasn’t. Unfortunately, but understandably, other people are not so altruistic. And they’re surely going to look at that £25.00 price and say “no way!”, aren’t they? I wouldn’t be sounding so sure that this was going to take of, if I were Foyles. Though just because I can’t see why, doesn’t mean it won’t. I’ll be keeping an eye on this, that’s for sure.
If you haven’t already done so, you can see the Foyles book bundle deal here.