Skip to content

Review: Grail Knight

Grail Knight
Grail Knight by Angus Donald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m going to have to come right out and say it – I’m a huge fan of Angus Donald’s Outlaw Chronicles series. And Grail Knight is, in my humble opinion, his best yet.

I’m also a huge fan of Angus’ Alan Dale. Especially he ‘old’ one, the narrator, at the start and end of the books. The books hinge on Alan. He is the main character. He is doing the remembering and the telling of the stories and they are from his point of view. The old Alan writes with such pathos and feeling as though only now can he understand what the young Alan doesn’t always. About what he got mixed up in – and had to fight his way out of – and about Robin Hood and his own relationship with him. I, for one, would think there is mileage in a book solely of ‘old’ Alan’s reflections and his life ’now,’ the period when he’s recounting the tales of his youth. Check out the vivid, almost Disney-esque descriptions of Sherwood near the start and tell me that couldn’t hold its own throughout a whole novel. There you go.

Grail Knight was set up nicely in the previous book, ‘Warlord’ and gets going from the off. But not how you’re thinking. Not with a “Hey! Let’s go look for the Grail!”, from the start. It’s more subtle than that. The story casts out several strands, builds seemingly in other directions but then comes together to coalesce (if strands can coalesce) into that noblest of Middle Ages quests. But the reasons and the thinking behind the quest, from the characters and Angus here, are if you’re up for it, very interesting.

Of course, in the period the book is set, the Middle Ages, it is impossible to avoid talk of religion. It was, it seems, much more a part of peoples’ daily lives, than we can possibly imagine. In Angus Donald’s Outlaw series, there are often what seems like the equivalent of two religions they didn’t understand, fighting for control over their lives. Christianity maybe the ‘official’ religion, but people, out in the fields and forests, still need the help found in an older religion. Many have replaced faith in the gods and goddesses of the fields and the trees and the pools, with faith in other, newer kinds of equally inanimate objects that may or may not have had some connection with the new, one God. Which is how the book starts, with Alan trying to make sense of people putting faith in an ordinary-looking old flask they say was given to their priest in a dream. But which Alan knows he bought for a few coins in France, when he needed something to drink from. The book is in some ways an interesting exploration of who is right. The Grail of the title is nothing special to look at either. Angus goes for the idea that it was a fairly ordinary bowl, used by Jesus and the disciples at the last supper to mix wine in, but then held His blood, or drops thereof, at the time of His crucifixion. It is only special because of what it is believed to have contained. As is Alan’s flask. The Grail, many people believe, has power because of what it contained. Alan believes his flask could have the power he wants it to have, for the same reasons.

So, what Alan has to wrestle with is the, to him, absurdity, though sometimes the necessity, of trusting in or believing in, something you know cannot be what it seems others want it to be. During the novel, as events unfold, his view doesn’t exactly change, but he becomes more understanding. If someone thinks something can or did do what they said, who is he to contradict their belief? Alan, while having absolute faith in something, someone, he has never seen but has been told controls every aspect of his life, struggles to understand others’ faith in something they can see, right in front of them. Is it the ‘real’ grail they find? It is if enough people believe it is. It is, even if you’re the only person who believes it is. It is if Robin Hood tells you it is what you’re looking for. Interesting.

Grail Knight is an excellent, all-action, full-blooded story on – at least – a couple of levels and one which will reward you richly however you come at it. There is derring-do, there are narrow escapes against impossible odds. Nemeses are confronted, cultures clashed. Other varieties of Christianities looked at. There is remorse and redemption, friends measured and tested and some found wanting. There are other shocks and plenty of ‘endings’ (for various characters and not all of the at the point of a sword kind) a-plenty too, especially in the second half. Angus makes some very brave decisions on his characters’ behalf (you may need to set your face to stun on a couple of occasions). But they are the right decisions, as there can be no doubt now that Angus OWNS Sherwood, Robin and all.

If there was one way I think Angus could improve the series, it would be to have more tales set in England. His characters have ranged far and wide down the five books and I think that it is time to take them back to their mythological roots. He has reinvented the characters, yes, but he should be wary of taking them too far away from what it could be argued, people know and love about them. I have no idea what the storyline for ‘The Iron Castle’ is, but if that too involves foreign travel, so be it. The next one then should be set in England, in Sherwood (and not in caves) and feature the sherrif, or someone similar.

As I’ve tried to say, Grail Knight is a beautifully planned and executed novel. Richly imagined, I would think is the way reviewers would describe it. I really couldn’t have enjoyed its thrilling and rewarding tale if I’d tried. If you thought that with book number five an author could perhaps be forgiven, that it might even be understandable, for taking his or her foot off the gas, eye off the ball. Then with Angus, you need to think again. Grail Knight will be a tough act to follow, but then I’ve thought that sort of thing with Angus before. I thought King’s Man would be difficult to follow, but he proved me wrong and I’m so much looking forward to being proved wrong again, when Alan and Robin – and some of the others from Sherwood – return for book six The Iron Castle – very soon.

View all my reviews

Friday book news 18 April

“Who’s that over there on the throne?”
Bernard Cornwell, who is, according to my blog statistics, the name to tag for almost unimited page views, has announced two books coming out soonest. Why am I reminded of the Simpsons‘ Captain (to paraphrase) “‘Tis no man, ’tis a remorseless writing machine, arr.”
Well, I’m, how can I put it? A little ‘suspicious’ of a writer like him who churns books out at the rate of knots he does. Just seems too quick, going from the Tweets/posts/time other writers say their books take, for each book to truly have had his full attention at the time of writing. Seems like his diary might go something like “got up, wrote a book, had breakfast, messed about, wrote another book, messed about, went to bed.”
If I’m being charitable and imagining another, a different scenario, I would say he may well have (at least) two on the go the whole time. But for me, that’s one too many. As I’ve mentioned/mused before, I’d guess he feeds his markets with (at least) one new book a year. Markets? Sharpe, Warrior Chronicles, other. Like I said, ‘machine’, and who wants a book written by a machine? The Pagan Lord was clearly written by a machine. One that hadn’t been updated to Grammar 2.0, the version that doesn’t allow sentences and/or paragraphs to start with ‘and.’

WaterlooAnyway, calming pills having been taken…and (!) we see BC has a book, a non-fiction book no less, about Waterloo coming out on the 11th September. About the 1974 Eurovison winning songthe history of the railway station  battle of Waterloo in 1815. The blurb runs thusly:

‘Some battles change nothing. Waterloo changed almost everything.’ Bestselling author Bernard Cornwall is celebrated for his ability to bring history to life. Here, in his first work of non-fiction, he has written the true story of the epic battle of Waterloo – a momentous turning point in European history – a tale of one campaign, four days and three armies. He focuses on what it was like to be fighting in that long battle, whether officer or private, whether British, Prussian or French; he makes you feel you are present at the scene. The combination of his vivid, gripping style and detailed historical research make this, his first non-fiction book, the number one book for the upcoming 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. It is a magnificent story. There was heroism on both sides, tragedy too and much misery. Bernard Cornwell brings those combatants back to life, using their memories to recreate what it must have been like to fight in one of the most ghastly battles of history. It was given extra piquancy because all of Europe reckoned that the two greatest soldiers of the age were Napoleon and Wellington, yet the two had never faced each other in battle. Both were acutely aware of that, and aware that history would judge them by the result. In the end it was a victory for Wellington, but when he saw the casualty lists he wept openly. ‘I pray to God,’ he said, ‘I have fought my last battle.’ He had, and it is a story for the ages.

It could actually be worth a read. But I think I’ll leave it until prices have settled down a little, or look for it second-hand. as Waterloo and that era, has never been of particular interest to me.

The Empty Throne 1The other however, is of more immediate interest to me, being the continuation, number 8 in fact, of that there The Warrior Chronicles.
Interesting that they’ve put a dummy cover up, a place-holder, if you will, instead of leaving the space blank until they actually do have the final(ish) cover done, as they did if I remember rightly with The Pagan Lord. Although, even that (the picture put up before launch) on Amazon, wasn’t the final version. Compare and contrast, if you have the hardback TPL.
What actually makes me laugh with this, is the ‘may contain nuts’ on a packet of peanuts-type warning that this may not be the actual final cover. “Oh, really?!” Clearly, the previous titles in this particular (cover style) incarnation of The Warrior Chronicles would at least suggest a picture as well as type, but that warning seems almost to be suggesting that some people might in some way feel short-changed, if there wasn’t also a picture on there. I’m laughing too, because having worked in the advertising business, where we sometimes did mock-ups like that, I can see, if it were our firm looking after this, the final cover coming back from the printer still with Final Cover Coming Soon, slap-dab in the middle! It happens, let me assure you. Primarily when everyone assumes that someone else will sort it before it goes off to the printer and the printer doesn’t see checking the thing or warning of possible mistakes, as any of his business. Assumption is always the mother of all It’s the law.

Waterloo comes out 11th September and you can order/pre-order from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (US) Does only seem to be available to order on Kindle as yet.

The Empty Throne comes out 23rd October on Amazon (US) again, does only seem to be available for order on Kindle as yet. Or Amazon (UK)

Distant thunder
Those BC books are for sale later in 2014, but if you want to really plan ahead, try this on for size:
Anthony RichesA new book in Anthony Riches epic Empire series, is listed now on Amazon – for release 5th March 2015! So time to order it on Amazon, then time to forget you’ve done so and order a signed one on Goldsboro and end up with two. D’oh!
Anyway, it will (though as release date is just under a year away and things could change) be called Thunder of the Gods. Good title, as Shakespeare once said. As you might guess, there isn’t a cover sorted as yet. A quick count up from my bookshelf tells me it will be number…eight in the Empire series.
I haven’t seen mention of this new one on Anthony’s Facebook page, or website (though that does seem to be lagging a little behind). It’s probably because he is, along with Ben Kane and Russ Whitfield, involved in preparations for, and taking part in, The Romani Walk II. It is (click on the link for more information) a walk in full Roman kit, in aid of Medicine sans Frontiers and Combat Stress, from Capua to the forum in Rome, where they will fight a series of lions and tigers before the survivor earns their freedom. Except for the bit about fighting the lions and tigers and earning their freedom.

Here is, as far as I can tell, the route of this new Romani Walk. Well, what Apple Maps suggests would be the best route anyway (click to enlarge) or if you have Apple maps, click here:

Romani Walk IIWhilst Apple suggests walking time is just 1 day and 14 hours, it doesn’t actually give the option for seeing how long it would take in full Roman military gear. I’m guessing a bit longer. I think that the 1 day etc, is if you did it in one go, without stopping at all (and not in Roman gear). I don’t know how long they plan to spend on the walk, but I’d guess the Scriptores Tres will probably take about a week. There’s a film crew going along as well, so expect to see some sort of documentary up somewhere, TV or on-line, in the not too distant future. Should be fun.

I wasn’t looking for a new AR book (honest, I don’t just trawl Amazon all day) it just popped up in the ‘you might like’ part of my Amazon page. I’m not going to pre-order it this time. Not because I would forget (which I would) but in protest at Amazon removing the free Super Saver delivery to Denmark! It’ll soon have Amazon on their knees, just you wait and see!

Pre-order Thunder of the Gods on Amazon (UK)

Matt Hilton
Dead Men's DustI’ve been following a thriller writer called Matt Hilton on Twitter and so decided to test the waters by getting hold of his first book in his Joe Hunter series. As far as I can tell,  he released the ninth in the series in January and is on the go with number ten. If you’re wondering where on earth I’m getting all the money from to buy so many books and ‘test the waters’, relax. I search for second-hand ones. I have a few places I check and I’ve had good results. This Matt Hilton one, I’ve gone for off‘s second-hand section. They do ‘free’ delivery to Denmark as well, so as Amazon have stopped delivering for free (if you ordered over £25)  I’m probably going to use them a lot more in the future.
What I can do, is when I get a book delivered from a place, I can let you know how the service and condition is/was. Fair enough? Most of the books I’ve had second hand so far, have been in excellent nick. Only a bunch of paperbacks I got through Amazon’s secondhand network didn’t live up to their ‘good or very good’ claims. Otherwise, the hardbacks I’ve gone for have been surprisingly tip-top in their condition. Plus, I can get stuff delivered out here in Denmark, from the UK, cheaper than it would cost me to get the bus, return, into town (Aarhus). So, suddenly the cost looks a lot more reasonable.

Rebel Rebel
FeudA Traitor's GateOne I thoroughly enjoyed a while back, was Feud  by Derek Birks. Feud is the first of his Rebels and Brothers series, set during The Wars of The Roses (1455-ish – 1487-ish). Again, not a period I know an awful lot about, but it does look like I’m about to be a whole lot ‘klogere’, as I now say here in Denmark, cleverer as you would probably say wherever you are. This is because Derek is well under way with #3 in his series, this time to be called Kingdom of Rebels. He mentions on Twitter that the is currently screaming (and looking at previous posts where he describes the bath-loads of blood being spilled so far, I use that word advisedly) past the 117,000 words on that there third book. I have the first two on Kindle and have so far only read the first one –  not through any intention, just that it hasn’t reached the top of the electronic pile as yet. Though I am looking forward tremendously to when it does. The links (if you click on the covers, will take you to the paperback versions, both are, as I say, available on Amazon’s Kindle service – should you be lucky enough to live somewhere where they allow you to download a Kindle version…but that’s another story.

You can follow Derek - and get your own blood-soaked updates - on Twitter here.

Friday Book News 11 April

As my sight is returning, slowly, to something in the vicinity of normal, my snazzy new magnifying glass reveals that…

Dark City BlueOut Of ExileLuke Preston, the terrible infant (where DID I put that French dictionary?) of Australian e-novels,  or something like that, says he is nominated for a prize.
It’s the International Thriller Writers 2014 Awards and Luke is in the running for BEST EBOOK ORIGINAL NOVEL.

Other, clearly not as important, sections are Best Hardcover Novel, Best First Novel, Best Paperback Original Novel, Best Short Story, Best Young Adult Novel,
You can see all the award categories and all the other runners and riders, here.

It seems that poor old Luke will have to turn up in person in NYC to collect his prize, should he win. I haven’t seen the odds yet, but it could be worth a flutter.
The 2014 ITW Thriller Award Winners will be announced at ThrillerFest IX, July 12, 2014, at the Grand Hyatt, New York City.

Dark City Blue is available at Amazon as paperback, or Kindle
Out of Exile is available as a Kindle edition only as yet.

Whose castle is this?!

OutlawAngus Donald reports from a warm typewriter, somewhere in the south east of England, that whilst the book hasn’t got a cover sorted yet,

The Iron Castle (book 6) is finished. Written, edited, proofread.”

The Iron Castle, as Angus so rightly observes there, will be book number 6 in his fantastic, the original and best, Outlaw Chronicles. And will be unleashed July 3rd. So that gives you plenty of time to get the first five read, doesn’t it?

You can and indeed should, order The Iron Castle on Amazon.

Far Fetched

The Forgotten LegionThe Silver EagleTheRoadToRomeIf you have read, even if you haven’t but have merely glanced at the backs of, some of Ben Kane‘s early books, that’ll be The Forgotten Legion trilogy then, you may be interested in this article. It comes from The Daily Telegraph (UK) and appears to show that researchers have genetic evidence of contact between a ‘forgotten’ legion (or two) of Roman soldiers and people in China. Villagers in the remote north west of China have been tested and been found to have DNA which suggests they have had contact with Europeans, evidencing Roman-like features. Long noses, some with fair hair, a tendency to wear togas and stab each other in the back (except the toga wearing and the stabbing each other in the back). Check it out back there, or here.

(The sub-head above, comes from the late, lamented father of a friend of mine, who sometimes used to describe something he thought was unlikely, as being ‘like shit from China. Far fetched’)

Just a short one this week, as I’ve been on ‘late shifts’ at the hospital and with the times of those shifts being nicely in the middle of the day, it means I’ve not had much time before or after.

Review: The Whitehall Mandarin

The Whitehall Mandarin The Whitehall Mandarin by Edward Wilson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For an old Cold War spy (novel-reading) warrior like me, I really can’t resist books that come with recommendations like, “The thinking person’s John le Carré” and especially when it is described as an “old fashioned spy story.” Drawback is, many of the ones I go through with that their outside, can’t deliver on the inside.

With The Whitehall Mandarin, Edward Wilson delivers. It’s a dramatic step up from the bright shiny, trashy, ‘me-too’ thrillers one sees so (too) many of. There’s a depth of ambition, an understated confidence, an assurance and understanding of nuance, that makes it simply a delight to read. I was hooked (lined and sinkered) from the first page and kept spellbound to the last.

The story begins in 1957, though is still feeling echoes of the Second World War, 1948 and one Lady Penelope Somer’s time in Malaysia. She later becomes the first woman to be Permanent Under Secretary of State – effectively head – at the Ministry of Defence and is also the character around whom the story ultimately revolves. However, she’s not the story’s main figure, dare I say. That honour goes to William Catesby – he’s the one with most page-time here anyway. He shares his name with one of English history’s most infamous traitors, Robert Catesby (I didn’t know that either), one of the ringleaders of the Gunpowder Plot of 5 November, 1605. That slight ancestral problem aside, our Catesby is an SIS officer who, as his colleagues – on both sides – frequently point out, is a working class lad from a nondescript East Anglian fishing village, with slight socialist tendencies that are now somewhat at odds with his chosen profession and especially the social circles in which he now operates. He is, as opposed to his not so illustrious predecessor, employed to track spies and traitors down, rather than recruit them. Although, hmmm…maybe…Anyway, as the story begins, we do indeed find him working to uncover a traitor. An American one. One the scientists and Naval officers he’s recruited, think is passing their information on to the Americans. Their information is being passed it on alright – but to the Russians. And that first double blind, is it a double – or triple bluff – should set you up nicely in the frame of mind to wrestle with the twists and tangles the plot will have you tied up in later. Catesby and the British SIS roll the American and his network up and pass him over to the US authorities, who bundle him off back ‘home’ to the States for further ‘processing.’ End of problem. Except it isn’t. It’s just the start. And becomes a problem on both sides of the Atlantic and all the way over to the far East.

It is a beguiling and entrancing tale, that weaves itself deftly in and out of the main events and political flash-points of the late ’50’s and ’60’s. From the fall-out after World War II, the start of the Cold War, the Bay of Pigs ‘debacle’ (depending on where you saw it from), to the Cuban missile crisis, the assassination of JFK, the Profumo affair, the Paris riots and on to the disaster that was the corporate sponsored mess of the Vietnam War. A war the biggest superpower in the world couldn’t hope to win, but didn’t dare admit it. Especially to itself. The story snakes and twists its way along the corridors of power and through seedy parties in stately homes full of people who should know better, but had enough influence that they really didn’t need to worry whether they needed to care, to end up amid the jungles of Vietnam and finally, the minefields of Whitehall. Phew! There is undoubtedly a lot going on in and a lot to take from this wonderful novel. Primarily, I thought anyway, how an individuals idealism has to be sacrificed to ‘realpolitik’ when national strategy becomes involved. The price paid by individuals caught up in the great game – those further down the pile, as well as those at the top. That ‘realpolitik’, as the book says a couple of times, derives in part from the mantra; ‘our enemy’s enemy is our friend.” When expedient reality intrudes on political ideals – as many of the characters, from Catesby to Cauldwell, to Miranda to the USA and Vietnam, find out. Often at the cost of a ‘Faustian pact with Satan.’ (I knew studying Christopher Marlowe at school would come in handy one day!).

The book treats you like an adult, WITH an attention span, is one way I thought of it whilst under way. It’s not all laid on a plate for you and you will have to rewind a few times to make sure you got it right. OK, just me then…It manages to be both modern and timeless at the same time. By being set in the past, dealing with past events, he has a chance to concentrate on the fears and contradictions bound up in what surely was the ‘golden age’ of spying. Without doubt, spies operated on a higher intellectual plane back then (in the books, anyway). Look nowadays, at the ‘Bourne’ films and their “get me eyes on him people, now!” – shouts person in control centre, to some nerd just out of college employed to press buttons. In ‘The Whitehall Mandarin’, technology is dependant on having enough coins in your pocket for the phone booth, hoping the people in the flat opposite can’t lip read and remembering the appropriate colour of drawing pin to leave in a park bench. American intelligence agencies might be rushing headlong into the future, but thankfully, the British secret service still reminds me of the well-meaning likes of Monty Python: “Can you keep a secret?” “Yes!” “Well you’re in then!” And if there’s one thing the book’s final premis is based around, it’s the British aristocracy’s ability to do just that. Keep a secret.

The Whitehall Mandarin certainly hits the sweet spot of style and substance, dead centre. Its messages come from the situations and mistakes of the past, but as those mistakes are still being made today, it is clearly still relevant, in the here and now. It all makes The Whitehall Mandarin an absolutely captivating read and a delight of anticipation to return to after being away. It’s superbly well-paced, with a balanced structure that not only helps to increase the reading pleasure, but must have been a joy, not to mention fantastic fun, to plan and then write. The feeling of satisfaction when Edward realised it was all going to come together, is only to be jealous of. Yes, there are some weighty themes from some of recent history’s pivotal periods dealt with here, but the book always seems to remember to be an enjoyable experience. And it is unquestionably exciting, not to mention extremely tense, as you try and make sense of all the clues, the lies and half truths, the double or triple bluffs, the what-ifs, buts and maybes, that lead to an almost breathless rush to try and keep up with Catesby as he nears the point of unlocking the story’s final secrets. I’m thinking that this will be the book I’ll be measuring all my other ‘thrillers’ against in the future. And most will be found wanting.

For sheer fun on the reader’s side, the post-WWII, Cold War generation of spying will surely never be equalled and I admit I purred like the cat that got the cream throughout reading The Whitehall Mandarin. In contrast to many others, this is a modern spy novel that does deserve to be compared with the greats of yesteryear on its cover. You really shouldn’t let a book of this calibre, this level of satisfying enjoyment, pass you by. Do whatever you can to get hold of a copy. Have sex with a teddy bear if you have to – better still, go to a bookshop and buy one, how old fashioned is that?

View all my reviews

According to Amazon, The Whitehall Mandarin will be released on 15 May in the UK, 20 May in the US.

You can buy it at:

Amazon (UK)

Amazon (US)

The Book Depository (Free Worldwide delivery, don’t forget)


Reading The Lion and the Lamb by John Henry Clay

The Lion and The LambAnother story of Roman Britain set up around Hadrian’s Wall, by the looks of it. Will be interesting to see how it compares to Anthony Riches Empire series – which seems to have staked the territory around the Roman Wall out pretty well so far.
Impressive, solid feel to the hardback version I have, with nice embossing on the cover. All looking good so far.

Reading The Lion and the Lamb by John Henry Clay

View on Path

Book News Friday 16 May

…can see pretty well. Colours still very light and it’s like looking into bright sun the whole time, but I can read ok and that’s what matters.

And what have I been reading about?

The Fifth Legion

Enemy of RomeDouglas Jackson another Blog Fave™ has produced the cover for the next in his ‘…of Rome’ series, called Enemy of Rome. As Douglas says in his Facebook posting, this is more or less how it will look, there may be some tweaks between now and publication. Can’t see why, it looks the apis genu to me. Unless some other very famous in the field, or related field, author decides to put a soundbite together that can be used on the cover. It will be released on August 28th. Order at The Book Depository.

Stylistically, it is a continuation of the covers so far for Douglas’ books. And all the better for that. I wasn’t happy (like that matters) about the title typeface change between #3 and #4, I will admit. But that was more for it breaking up an otherwise perfectly reasonable sequence. I think the ‘new’ face is better, however, it does join a list of other authors in the same HF field. Just hope people don’t get confused, or is that the idea?

The first three below, are the (hardback) ones I have. However, as you can see, Avenger of Rome, did get up-dated to the new typeface for release in paperback. If I’d been collecting the paperback versions, I’d have been a bit miffed.

Hero of Romedefender-romeAvenger of RomeDouglas Jackson - Avenger of RomeSword of Rome cover






Others to have gone down this route are:

Hannibal Clouds of War New Front

The Emperor's KnivesThey’ll all make for a fantastic collective shot some day in the future, that’s for sure.

It’s been a while since I had anything much to do with specifying typefaces, 10 years this year actually (9th May, to be pedantic), but I’ll take a run at them being based around Times New Roman. What say you?

 Historical Faction

SwornSwordThe Splintered KingdomKnights of the HawkIf reading about times gone by has whetted your appetite for all things old and you’re thinking “but, where can I find out more about that sort of thing?” Well, let’s face it, even if you’re not thinking that, I’m going to link you anyway…and if perchance, you should find yourself reading James Aitcheson‘s magnificent 1066 ‘Conquest’ series, he has ridden to your rescue. He has finally found a use for the reams of research material amassed while writing about The Norman Conquest and has begun posting a series of articles to his website. You need to click on ‘Tancred’s England’ at the top there. I have suggested further items could be on Tancred’s visits to Dublin and Scotland (hope I’m not giving to much away there, if you haven’t read that far). Which has of course led to a rethink of the name for the section. Favourite at the moment, could well be ‘Tancred’s World.’ Which would, as James points out, allow for his imagination to take full flight when planning Tancred’s further adventures. I have suggested Tancred visits Denmark (the Normans were ‘North Men’ after all), mainly in the hope of meeting James on a future research trip. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Boomtown Rats
Looking back, thinking back, whatever, I find I actually enjoyed Stuart Neville’s Ratlines more than I perhaps made out in my review. When I have a slightly less long ‘to read’ shelf over there *points over there*, I will investigate his previous works. However, I will also be ordering up his new one, called ‘The Final Silence.’ It’s out on the 17th of July. I got hold of Ratlines because of the WWII connection and the new one looks more of a mystery, psychological, murder, suspense novel. Phew!

Final Silence - ProofOn Twitter, there was posted a shot of what the lady (@Crime_Queen) said was the proof version of the book.

Final SilenceWhich, as you can see, is a fair bit different to the cover Amazon have in place for pre-ordering.

I’ve not read any Lee Child (though I do know he is a fellow Brummy, albeit an Aston Villa fan. Still, nobody’s perfect…Actually, surprised Lee’s quote wasn’t “Bostin’!” I guess he’s moved away), but I would have thought his was a very good name for having on the cover, as in the Amazon version. I also like the more ‘open’ style of the Amazon version, especially the knocked over chair. It gives it a little something, as my old boss was want to say. I asked ‘Crime Queen‘ wha’goahn? And she says that the proof version she posted a picture of is not the version that mere mortals like you and I will be reading. It is a copy just for booksellers (which I’m not) and reviewers (which I’m not an important enough one to be worth sending one *sob* I suppose I should have asked. Damn!).

You can also follow Stuart Neville on Twitter.

Ah, so…
Not to be outdone by Douglas Jackson (see above), James Douglas has announced he has a new book out, called The Samurai Inheritance. Well, I knew that, so it’s more an announcement of what the cover will look like.

The Samurai InheritanceSomething like this in fact:

‘James’, says that the strap lines may well change (Hey! I’ll do a couple for the usual fee!). With the fairly obvious Robert Ludlum references, well, in the titles anyway, they should get a copy to him to re…ah, I see…to Eric Van Lustbader then.

Moving straight on…’James’, the little tease, teases thusly: “From the back streets of Berlin to the jungles of Bougainville, Jamie finds himself on the trail of the last great secret of World War Two and embroiled in a conflict the world isn’t supposed to know about.”

The other Jamie Saintclair adventures from Douglas ‘James’ have been superb reading, so I’m really looking forward to slapping some peepers on this one. It will be released on 28th August.

Review: Arrows of Fury

Arrows of Fury
Arrows of Fury by Anthony Riches
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had to, thanks (?) to an eye infection, ‘read’ this with Audible. And very glad I was too. What top notch entertainment it is! So good in fact, I’ve had it read to me twice inside a month – and enjoyed every single Roman minute of it.

We’re back in AD 182, in Roman Britain, in the Roman Legions, at the northern edge of the province of Britannia, in what I suppose could be called no man’s land, between Hadrian’s and the Antonine Wall(s). Not the ideal place to be if you’re a Tungrian Legionarry from Tungria, but most definitely the place to be if you’re a reader after entertainment, enjoyment and excitement. Why not the ideal place to be if you’re a Legionary? Mainly because the people who do want to be there, the thousands of blue-painted local tribes, don’t want you there. And are about to set about removing you. Forcibly. But at least the Tungrians have been there a while, they almost know what to expect and from where to expect it. What then the new arrivals from warmer climes, the detachment of archers (the dealers of those furious arrows?) from Syria – how must they be feeling, strangers in a decidedly strange land?

I would describe ‘Arrows of Fury’ as taking place very close to the action. It doesn’t mess about and try and cut away, back and forth trying to control a confusing multitude of story threads, in multiple locations and have characters speculating the whole time on what may or may not be happening and to whom, in those other locations. This takes you right to the heart of where the story – and action – is. The sights, the smells, the living and the dying. This is straight ahead storytelling. Drops you in it and gets on with it. However, being a story about Rome and Romans, tension and treachery are, inevitably, never that far from the surface. On either side of the Wall. The Romans may – or may not, depending on which of the Centurians you talk to – have a fugitive from Imperial justice, a traitor to some, amongst their number. Can he be found, can he be kept secret? The native tribes are trying to build up their strength to send the Romans packing, but are led by a man seemingly as intent on removing tribal leaders he sees as rivals, as he is the Romans. Perhaps the interesting difference with ‘Arrows of Fury’ (and presumably the others in the series I have, but have yet to read) is that the tension is actually created in the form of screaming multitudes of barbarians arriving out of the mist before you’ve had your breakfast. A much more ‘honest’ tension, I feel, than that created by multi-faceted power struggles in the Senate. Just me?

It’s a ‘strong’ story. No doubt about that. Strong characters and – understandably (unless you’re one of the delicate ladies who lunch, of the various ‘Historical Fiction’ groups on Goodreads who can’t understand) – strong language. Unless you’re gonna go to your grave deluding yourself that Historical Fiction is heaving bodices and essentially ‘Murder She Wrote’ set several hundred years ago, then you’re gonna understand one thing about this type of Historical Fiction. We (those of us reading this now) read in English. We want to read a book set in Roman times. They spoke Latin. We (unless we’re related to Harry Sidebottom) can’t understand Latin. So the people doing the walking the talking the fighting and the speaking, have to converse in English in the story we’re reading. Arrows of Fury wouldn’t sell many copies (outside of Oxford) if it was written in Latin. So what is happening, is Anthony is writing, in English, in the manner of the Romans. Consider it a kind of translation. Now, we’re dealing with soldiers here. Apart from the Officer, the Equine class I think were the top of the Roman heap, they aren’t going to be all that well educated. And anyway, let’s face it, when down to your last half dozen comrades, with your backs to the burning stockade, with several hundred half-naked, hairy, screaming for blood, painted blue warriors about six paces away, axes red with your friend’s blood about to come down on your head, an ‘oh dear me, we’re in trouble here’, just ain’t gonna cut the Roman mustard. Is it? It is if you read the really childishly naive comments irritating the fuck out of me in several discussions there, but not if we’re dealing with the Roman soldiers on the frontiers of the Empire in Northern Britain in AD 182 in Anthony Riches’ books. Deal with it.

Personally, I’m not gonna argue the toss about wether a Roman soldier would have exclaimed (the Latin equivalent of) ‘fuck me sideways’. I know I would have said that or its Latin equivalent) were I a Roman soldier faced with hoary hoards of blue-painted animals in human guise descending at a great pace upon me, so I’m cool.

Arrows of Fury is a gripping story (mostly around the throat) that builds on the previous book – Wounds of Honour – the first In Anthony Riches’ Empire series, pretty seamlessly. A down and dirty tale of life on the front line, life on the edge at the edge of the Roman Empire. We know the characters, we know the time and the location, we know they’re going to have to get out of tight spots, we just don’t know how. Still, we’re not alone in that… There are (so far) seven books in the Empire series and it would seem like Anthony Riches has hit on a reasonably simple formula. Tell it like it is. Or was.

View all my reviews


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 361 other followers

%d bloggers like this: