Goodreads really needs to tighten up its ‘recommends based on your…’ algorithms, or whatever the coding-ninjas call these things.
For the first, I don’t ever think I’ve seen anything in the recommendations they list, that I would either go within a million miles of, have heard about, or haven’t got already. OK, the middle one is supposedly why the recommendations are there/could be useful, but then one looks at the always dreadful cover and … nope!
Now “Because you shelved ‘Judgement and Wrath’” a book about a British vigilante/’problem’ solver, shooting it out with a nutcase American serial killer/professional hitman, they recommend one by a failed model/failed everything else, one by Sharon Osbourne and … well, I haven’t actually bothered looking any further along the line.
I wouldn’t normally have even looked at this panel, as I’ve learned there is nothing to see here. But, well I thought “what on earth are they recommending what looks to be a book with a bird on the cover for?”
I’m more likely to pull my own toe-nails out than even go into a shop that sells these books. So why are they so crap at it? Something to do with having been bought by Amazon, I bet you a zillion spondoolies. (Yet) another reason not to buy books from Amazon then.
I’ll be clicking on the ‘hide’ button in future.
And, we’re done.
He seems unlucky, that Joe Hilton. Two books in and two psychopathic serial murderers on his ass. Funny how the super-mad killers seem to be making a bee-line for Joe Hunter. How unlucky is that?! Ah, yes, but this one is actually a contract killer, or Contract Killer, I never know if these things should have caps or not. I suppose you ain’t gonna set it on your CV, or look it up as a job description in the newspaper, so maybe not, but anyway…
Joe Hunter is now seemingly established in the good ol’ US of A, down Florida way and seems to have joined his ex-Special Forces friend ‘Rink’ in running a Detective agency. Which, as the author himself hoped I would find by reading on (I don’t mess about, me!) kind of explains where he’s getting his money from these days. Though handing your fee back to the person buying your services ain’t gonna be good for business in the long run. We’ll see.
Cut the crap: I thoroughly enjoyed this one once I left my ego at the door and got on with enjoying it. There are surprises and there is invention and it goes, mostly, where you want it to and there’s enough here to have me on the old interwebings ordering the next one in the series before I’ve finished. Always a good sign. For the author. Maybe not for my bank balance or my long-term health if the wife finds out…Oh well, you only live once.
What I thought sometimes underway, was maybe Matt writes seeing the film of the story in his head while writing? The two books so far have all the elements that would make good films. Lose Joe’s northern accent maybe. But then, there’s a thing. I’m hoping that further stories might play up his English-ness a little more. It is mentioned once (I think it was just the once) and that was by Hunter himself. I’d have thought it was a reasonably exploit-worth angle, his British sound and attitude, northern attitude at that.
This time, Hunter takes on a job to find and rescue a young girl from a bully. Not at school or anything, but in one of Miami’s richest quarters and from one of Miami’s richest/most powerful families. Only, things aren’t all what they seem of course and Hunter isn’t the only one wanting to have words with the afore-mentioned family. There’s also someone called ‘Dantalion’, who was bullied at school and has been taking revenge – and lots of money – for it ever since. Now, ‘Dantalion’ wasn’t the name on his birth certificate, but is a persona he’s given himself – based on (apparently) a fallen Angel of the same name. The modern Dantalion wants to emulate the biblical one and that necessitates the killing of many people. Many, many people.
Of course, Joe Hunter isn’t a revenge killer. Oh no. Or an assassin of those who need assassinating. “I never saw myself as an assassin; still don’t. I saw the death we doled out as a necessary evil.” But, the thorny question of who decides if someone has reached the necessary level of evil, Joe or The Law, has got to rear its ugly head. Many times (too many times, if you ask me – I’m sure it can be done in more subtle ways) in the book, Hunter reminds us that he is only doing good, only dealing out hurt to those who really deserve having it dealt to. We are asked by him to join him, we are shown by the actions of the others, that he must be right, that we must agree with him. But…and there has to be a but, who IS he to decide? Of course, the books wouldn’t be near so exciting if he just Batman-style left the bad guys handcuffed to a lamp-post, but sometimes…It is an interesting dilemma this – the outside the law vigilante vs the ‘problem solver.’ And so far, while walking a very careful (sometimes feeling a little too overtly careful) Matt Hilton has dealt with the dilemma very well. He realises it might be seen as a problem for his readers, often having Hunter express aims or desires in such a way that you both aren’t confused by where he sees himself and you are more than likely to go along with him/the character. There’s no doubting, you do sometimes wish Hilton would unleash Hunter from his self imposed restraints, but he has to keep the character on the right side of this being ‘revenge porn’ and making sure we are crystal clear over who is the real bad guy here. However… there are, uncomfortable, similarities between Hunter and his nemesis Dantalion. I’m not sure if they’re intentional, but I noticed a couple anyway. For instance, Dantalion doesn’t shoot Jorgenson while he’s running away, because Dantalion wants to look him in the eyes when he kills him. Clearly the mark of a mad, psychotic killer who must be stopped at all costs, inside or outside the law. Then, Hunter says, a couple of pages later; “…things had got very personal between us and I’d only be happy if I was looking into the bastard’s face when I killed him. Using my SIG meant I’d be able to see the whites of his eyes.” Clearly the mark of a totally alright, stand-up kind of, doing the right thing, a hero…
The early style of switching back and forth one chapter on Hunter, one on the villain, can be a little tiresome, unneccesary even. There are only two strands to the story at that point, maybe there needs to be more, a third location. It is more mechanical than intuitive. Needs some work, that area. When the two meet and the action becomes ‘one’, then the flow is much better and the book zings along.
What I really liked was, whilst reading, I’d get to a point where the non-reading part of my brain (it is a thing, that) would be shouting “well, why didn’t he do THAT?! Why doesn’t he (for example) just stamp on the brakes and come up behind him?! Why do they always try to out run a more powerful car in a straight line?!” Then, a paragraph or so later, he does all I’ve been thinking. I’m then nodding (still mentally, you understand) and thinking “He’ll do, this Joe Hunter. Good lad.” So, not predictable, but going where you’d want it, where he should and making me out to be the fool. I like that. Though I still think answering and having a reasonably sensible conversation on your mobile phone while your tear-arsing after the deadliest killer ever, stretches it a little.
I like that Hunter is beginning to be more aware of what he is in danger of being seen as, and therefore Hilton of what he has created. To be honest, it would still work and the stories still be very popular if he just went after and killed the bad guys straight off. But for us bleeding-heart liberals, we need some kind of sign of awareness of the moral dimension and dilemma involved. Perhaps fortuitously for those untroubled by such fumblings, Hunter still gets the job done with great style and gusto. And that can also be said of the book(s) so far (I’m a bit behind I’ve only read the first two as yet). They are thrillers, they thrill. They are action books, there’s plenty of action. But there’s also something else. I can’t quite put my finger on it yet, but I’m going to enjoy reading more to find out. Maybe that’s it – they’re enjoyable. Maybe I should stop trying to over analyse, relax and enjoy the ride. Yes, I’ll do that.
Try as I might – and I tried – I could not get a fix on this one. I couldn’t see to figure out what he wanted to, or was was trying to do, with the book. In the end – and after reading the historical afterword at the back – it seemed most likely that he just wanted to find out about the incident and write down his notes. For himself. Putting his name on it – and it helps if the name you can put on it is Bernard Cornwell of course – and selling it was a bonus.
But that doesn’t help us readers, does it?
It is about an incident in the American Revolutionary war – against the British, if your history isn’t up to it. The British are building a fort at a place called (back then) Majabigwaduce. Nowadays it’s called Castine. Though that didn’t place it any more for me. In fact, the name Majabigwaduce provided a block on me getting a fix on the book right from the start. Being unable – in your head – to pronounce the place where all the action takes place, is not helpful for, even prevents, creating a bond of any sorts while reading. And a daft name at that. Were it me, I’d have kept with the name it has now and explained the change in the notes.
As far as I could gather, it was after the actual revolution, and while there was still some doubt as to where it would go. The attack on the fort set up by the British, was the US’s greatest loss of shipping in wartime, until Pearl Harbour. Or something like that. Many a reputation ruined, some created. The person who comes out of the whole situation – and the book – worst, is Paul Revere. There seems very little point to him at all. Apart from being picked up by an early version US marketing machine, that is. The British are doomed to lose the war, but they win the battle here. Mainly because the US forces are so incompetant. More than they are anyway.
And I never did property figure out who was on which side. Who were ‘rebels’ who were ‘loyalists’ as both sides seemed to use the terms about themselves. The Fort skated around looking for a purpose in the first half. Kind of found something to hook onto when the actual attack on the fort began. But then lost its way again. Flashes of ok-ness, but nothing more from then on in. He’s written better.
I have read a fair few books about the 1066 era now and I was beginning to think I’d maybe seen pretty much all there was to see in terms of how the story could be looked at. Stupid me. I was wrong. ‘1066 What Fates Impose’ has pretty much now set the Gold Standard for Norman Conquest fiction, just as Marc Morris’ ’The Norman Conquest’ has done for non-fiction of the period. In fact, I was drawn to compare the two a few times while underway, with ‘What Fates Impose’ coming out of it very well indeed. Both books have scope, sureness, readability and also a certain amount of tongue-in-cheek-ability (Face it, you got to enjoy a novel that can find place for lines (about Harald Hardrada) like “The old Viking warrior never felt comfortable in churches unless he was robbing them.”). It is also clear (to me) that G.K. has drawn many of the same conclusions as Marc Morris and also writes in a similar way that in its understatement, makes it easily understandable and accessible.
It’s hard not to take sides on the 1066 period – for an Englishman, anyway – and this book, while presenting scenarios for what happened, on both sides, doesn’t end up sitting on the fence either. Clearly its sympathies are with the English. William is a Bastard, literally and figuratively, Harold is a reasonably normal chap (in his youth, at least), thrust into history’s spotlight. He was tricked, the English were unlucky, William was ungracious while knowing he was riding his luck, he got what was coming in the end.
The book has a good, flowing style, full of understated period detail that doesn’t get all prissy, know-it-all, or ‘in your face’ and thereby obscuring the story. It is written in a calm, precise, knowledgable and authoritative way that gave me total confidence that, based on what evidence there is, it could well have happened like this, if the people behaved in this way, for these reasons. In fact, I could go as far as to say it did occur to me that it read as though you have happened upon a translation of a particularly well-kept diary from someone (somehow) close to all the action and all the participants. There were a couple of ‘bumps’ but they were very minor and absolutely nothing to get in the way of the enjoyment as a whole. I won’t pick them out as they may not be bumps for you.
The story proper starts in 1045, though there is an opening chapter that is well worth going back to, after you’ve finished. It works wonderfully well as both a scene-setter and a scene closer. Actually, is there any point in repeating the story? The bare bones you probably ‘know’ already. There are as many versions of what might have happened as there are people writing them. The story here is thusly; the relatively newly formed country of England is coming off the back of wins and defeat at the hands of Vikings and assorted other invaders, and hopefully coming into a period of calm and peace. What it actually gets is internal rivalries based on the pre-English country states – what are essentially birth-pangs and old rivalries that are hard to forget. What England really needs, is a strong king with a son ready to take over in the fullness of time. What it gets is a king they can support, but one that doesn’t, cannot, or at the very least is unable to, produce an heir who will be of age when he passes on. A vacuum of sorts is created almost by accident. There are various contenders and pretenders, with varying degrees of eligibility – depending on where you stand, of course. What is surprising to realise about this period – and I’m pretty sure it went on over here in Denmark at the time as well – is that the King was effectively elected. Of course, the son of the previous King stood the best chance, but in the case of no close heir, the vote went to the Witan, a pre-democratic periodic gathering of the good and the great. Those with the land and money and the armies to back it up, anyway. On the other side of the Channel, unable to understand how anyone but the King and his family could be King…is Duke William, head of a minor province, called Normandy. He’s not had it easy either, doubtful parentage, the constant threat of assassination while growing up and then having to hold on to power through sheer force of will. By being the biggest, baddest most ruthless of the whole pack. To say his claim to the throne of England, is doubtful, is actually to imbue it with more authority than it actually has. So, what then transpires, is the stuff of legend and has kept historians, writers and seamstresses in business pretty much ever since.
From there on – and based solely on the reading I have done – the book follows the events as they are known to us. And by ‘known’, I’d say it really should be read often as speculation, based on what is perhaps the least unlikely scenario. The ’true histories’ of the period are ’true’ to the facts as paid for by the person behind the writer of the history. It seems like a history was never written without an angle, an axe to grind, a point to make. ‘Facts’ were made to fit where they were wanted to be fitted. I get the idea that nowadays, we consider it a ‘fact’ if conclusions can be drawn from the repeated use of similar descriptions of events, that therefore they must have, most probably, happened – in some form of other. Or where archaeology, or probability based on archaeology, can maybe back them up. There you go. While ‘What Fates Impose’ is not meant to be an actual history of the period, I can imagine objections to it from any academics out there could perhaps hinge on the portrayal of how Harold came to pledge allegiance to William and thereby support William’s claim that Edward promised him the throne. You’re either going to like it or you’re not. But you cannot deny it works with the background of the characters and situations set up in the book. But I’ve no doubt that some – often self-proclaimed (I’ve come across them) – ‘experts’ will take exception and maybe overlook the book as a whole. They’d be doing themselves a great disfavour.
G.K., has created believable, realistic, human characters from some of history’s most iconic figures. It is good to have Godwin Sr., and Harold’s background filled out, for instance. Only ‘Shieldwall’ by Justin Hill (of the books I’ve read on 1066 so far) does something similar with the Godwin family. That Harold had plenty of children and two ‘wives’, for instance, was something I hadn’t realised. He’s drawn as a fairly normal young man, one we’d recognise and like, if we met him on the street today. For instance, he meets a pretty girl, falls in love, wants to spend the rest of his life with her. But because he becomes King, there are other demands, other priorities that cannot be avoided. Harold grows up and develops into a true king as the book progresses. From wild, though sensible and caring at heart, to be a proper statesman and envoy. HE has kingly qualities, that’s for sure. Oh, what we lost at Hastings…
William is very different. The way he portrayed in the book, reading between the lines, seems due to his trying to make amends, to compensate, for the feelings of inadequacy he must have felt because of the lowliness – and doubtful parentage – of his birth. He has something to prove and feels he can only do it by any means possible, fair or unfair, lawful or unlawful. He knows what he’s doing, can’t help himself and knows he’ll come to regret it.
Throughout the book, there builds a feeling of a far greater loss being imminent. Greater than ‘just’ the English warriors being beaten on that October day at Senlac Hill. Again, like Marc Morris does at the start of ’The Norman Conquest’, G.K., hits us with a couple of very telling facts. Here, they are about the situation before and after the invasion. In 1066, England had a population of about two million. One hundred years later, the population was halved. No famine, no plague. Just William and “Norman civilisation.” Many times during the reading of the book, I got the strong sense – intentional or unintentional – that he feels a way of life, a tradition, a history and a bright future, was about to be wiped out. Not just half the population, something more.
Events unfold, bridges are crossed and then burned behind them and an unstoppable historical ball is set rolling. There are times when it seems like the least worst option, for William at least, is to press on with the whole sorry mess. So we move inexorably towards 1066 and October 14th and the battle. Even though I’ve read many books now, which detail the weeks and days leading up to and including the battle, even though we wouldn’t be who we are today without having been the Normans first – I’ve never had a feeling of encroaching dread like I did while reading the final third of this book. I think it says so much about the quality of the preceding passages and the quality of the writing and presentation of those last few days and hours, that it’s like while I know what happened and it can’t (obviously) be any other way, I still hoped, I still thought ‘we’ and Harold might just do it. The victory was there. The victory was there for us to lose. And we did. Our luck just wasn’t in that day. It could have been so different. The tension, is stomach clenching. I’m reading the words and another part of my brain is shouting to the English characters “go on, GO ON!” I know it can’t be any other way, but still…might it? He dangles victory in front of Harold, it’s there for him to take, if only…And it’s gone. As it surely must have been. It really held me tight in its spell and have me hoping that this time Harold would win. That William would get the humiliation – and horrendously painful – death he’s got coming. Harold seems to have done everything right, except be finally lucky. I didn’t want to read on. I wanted to stop there and imagine what could have been…
‘What Fates Impose’ really is Historical Fiction par excellence. It’s going take a good book, a very good book indeed, to beat this re-telling of the 1066 story. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and I recommend it without hesitation.
*I should make it clear that I was contacted by G.K. Holloway, who had visited my blog and thought I might enjoy his book and would I like a copy in return for an honest review. The above is my honest opinion.
Arriving faster than a spaceship landing on a comet (a shade under two weeks from London to Denmark – that’s about a week less than ‘usual’), yesterday this little beauty arrived.
Thanks again to the very wonderful folks at Goldsboro Books, that’s a signed, first edition of Bernard Cornwell‘s latest, number eight in The Warrior Chronicles series. I can’t say yet if there’ll be a number nine, but I wouldn’t bet against it.
The cover follows the previous design and looks absolutely fab-tastic. If I can say that? Anyway, a whole lot better than the up-dated paperback versions have been. Maybe I’ll put something together on that at a future date.
As I remember, I did find the previous one, The Pagan Lord, a little bit on autopilot, so here’s hoping this is better.
Goldsboro have sold out of the signed ones, but you can (and should) buy a copy at The Book Depository, here.