Paperback version of The Splintered Kingdom coming soon

If you aren’t looking forward to the third in James Aitcheson’s ‘1066 The Bloody Aftermath’ series, I will be calling at your house soon, wanting to know why.

Jam-packed full of incident, detail, description and all sorts of violent, Norman Conquest goodness, this has been an incredibly powerful start from a talented young author reasonably new to the Historical Fiction world.

SwornSwordThe first in the series called Sworn Sword’, set an incredibly high standard. It introduced us to a Norman Knight called ‘Tancred’, fresh from fighting and winning, of course, at Hastings. He’s now trying to come to terms with a country and a people who either don’t know, or are unwilling to accept, that they have been conquered. As you would expect maybe.

I found it particularly interesting to find myself, as an Englishman, trying my best not to sympathise with an invading Norman knight, a Frenchman for goodness’ sake, subduing the ‘rebels’, my fellow countrymen! It’s much more usual, to read about, or see things from the poor, downtrodden Saxon’s side. That on its own is worth getting stuck into this series for.

PrintNumber two in the seriesThe Splintered Kingdom’, came out in hardback last summer and more than consolidated the promise shown by Sworn Sword. And you can, indeed you should, get it as a hardback on Amazon. Now, on his Facebook page this last Monday, James has posted a picture of how the paperback cover for number two in the ‘1066: Bloody Aftermath’ series will look.

And this is it.

You wouldn’t want to be stood there in yer jim-jams trying to duck out the way of that, now would you?

Seems like they’ve decided to colour up the background there, doesn’t it? And move James’ name up to the top. Typeface for the title is different as well. Maybe considered a bit bolder? The main figure, presumably of Tancred, seems the same, but the fight now seems to be taking place at night, or at least later in the day, than the hardback cover. Interesting that. Don’t know if that’s to make it stand out more, or look the same as other books of this ilk. I wouldn’t mind asking someone like James to explain the process of deciding upon a cover and the process of going from hardback to paperback covers.

Hmm…Just me then.

And, no self-respecting book these days would be seen out without a prominent ‘he/she’s really ace’ – type quote from cuddly Ben Kane. Wouldn’t be proper.

I have the hardback, but I will also be ordering the paperback as well.

But, that’s just madness, I hear you cry!

Well, there’s something I want to check. Which I’m not going to go into details about, but which I mentioned to him at the time I got my pre-release copy (just thought I’d drop that in…hey, it’s the only one I’ve ever had, gotta get some mileage out of it!).

You can order The Splintered Kingdom in paperback on Amazon here. Other good booksellers are available, as they say.

They also say good things come in threes, here’s hoping they also come in fours, fives, sixes, etc., if you know what I mean?

Breaking Hereward III news!

So, hot on the heels of my exclusive (that is, if you rule out the author mentioning it on Twitter and the cover appearing on Amazon) news the other day, of Hereward III quite probably being due out/available to order/buy in July…Comes official confirmation. For ‘official confirmation’, read; you can now order it on Amazon.

Hereward TweetJames Wilde posted this on Twitter on Thursday, I think.

(Not really the best way to pretend it’s ‘Breaking News’, eh? “I think…”)

This does at least give us a look at the cover – and it doesn’t disappoint. Looking at that, I feel quite alright about what is going to be inside. Clearly, as a recent film so aptly put it; ‘There will be blood…’

Here’s the cover a bit larger. Looks like more of the same, eh?

That’s a good thing, by the way.

It would be interesting to find out who is playing Hereward on these covers. To get an idea of how/who makes the choices in the book cover process.

Is it an actor? It obviously wouldn’t be good to have a recognisable actor on the front, as it would make you think more of the previous characters the guy has played; ‘that’s him from there. You know, that film where he’s a spaceman!’, rather than ‘Hey! That’s Hereward from the two previous books!’. While I do hope lots and lots of people read – and enjoy – the Hereward books as possible, as I have done, I’m sure being on the covers of James Wilde’s Hereward books, isn’t going to raise type-casting concerns for the chap…

But, is it a friend of the author’s? Or, how much influence does an author actually have in these sort of decisions? I would have thought, as the book publisher is the one putting the money up front initially (I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the arrangement wasn’t a lot like record contracts used to be in the good olde days, where the artist pays the money back out of (hopefully) future earnings) and they (the publisher), knowing the business of what sells, what is appropriate, what is needed, would have the final say. But, how much artistic control does the author have in these decisions? Has an author ever dug their heels in for their ideas and taken a book away from the publisher, because they had a ‘difference of opinion’ over the cover? I see the cover of a book as fulfilling the old cliche; ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression.’ It’s that simple and that important.

I’ll have to ask Mr Wilde sometime. On Twitter, that is. I don’t want you getting the impression I know him!

Erm, anyway, back to the ‘News’ angle.

You can pre-order Hereward. End of Days on Amazon now. I’m guessing it is probably just the version at the moment. Mainly because I’m pretty sure that the publication date for the first two in the series was later in the USA than the UK, and there did have to be some changes, not least in the title. Not sure why it was deemed necessary, but there you go. The release date seems to be set at 9 – 13 July. You can pre-order it now for £14.99 (128kr, $23.25, €17.40), as I have done, The money will only come out of your account when it is shipped (mainly for my Father, that) and if the price is different on release date (obviously hopefully lower) you pay the price on release date. If you’re in Denmark, as I am, you pay Danish VAT/Sales Tax…but that’ll still be cheaper than getting it down town Aarhus – even when you take into account paying postage to Denmark, as the order is below £25. Unless that bookstore I was in the other day is doing a deal, though I suspect not…but, I’m rambling.

There are several interesting loose ends to be picked up and continued after Hereward. The Devil’s Army. Rivalries to be continued and Normans to be vanquished. At least temporarily, given the larger historical context. But never mind that, I think this is the one I’m most looking forward to (so far) this year.

Go order it now! There’s clearly an upward curve on these Hereward books – the first was great, the second was greater, the third will be great…well, whatever is better than ‘greater’. And hopefully, despite End being in the title, there will be a #4, #5 and so on…I’ll have to ask him.

What else are we looking forward to? Why, it’s Hereward III

When I say 'we', of course I mean 'me'.

Book three in James Wilde's 'Hereward' series.

Hereward is, as the book jackets have it: “The last Englishman. The first freedom fighter. The forgotten hero.”

The first 'Hereward' book from James Wilde, was just called 'Hereward'. Which is fair enough. For those of us of a certain age and nationality, quite possibly of the English persuasion, as I said in my review of 'Hereward'; it is almost impossible not to think '…the Wake' after hearing/saying 'Hereward'. But, perhaps to signal this was going to be a different look at the Hereward legend, not that there have been too many others I can well imagine, '…the Wake' was perhaps deliberately absent. It was a title given to him (long) after his death, so I suppose that too is fair enough.

'Hereward' was excellent. A real storming, take no prisoners start to a trilogy (?). From the first paragraphs, I had an image of this wild, relentless warrior character emerging from the snowy mists of ancient England of the 11th Century, I really felt this was an exciting, new, thoroughly believable, well-rounded, detailed and nuanced character. A freshness and verve one doesn't come across every day. A character well worth reading more about.

I wasn't wrong. Far from being the 'difficult second album', the second Hereward, 'Hereward. The Devil's Army', was more of the same – and then some. Much more betterer, as my old Dad often says. My review.

So, apart from some up-dates on having to change titles for an American audience (something I am opposed to, but then again, I'm not an author), what do we know about number three? well, we know it will be called (at least on this side of the pond) 'Hereward. The End of Days' and it's on it's way. Any more? A little. In a Tweet last Friday, James Wilde said thus:

“The script for Hereward End of Days was delivered to my editor before Christmas…only I've just fetched it back to add more to it. But! Still on course for July publication!”

I don't know if this is going to be a trilogy, or if he will continue the Hereward story for as long as it is inspirational – I certainly hope for the latter. Of course, any part three of a series with 'End' in the title will fill me with a sense of foreboding, but fingers crossed. Anyway, we have 'only' until June to wait to find out. I'll try and remember to post an up-date when it's possible to pre-order on Amazon-type places.

I think this Hereward series is going to be seen as a classic in the future.

James Wilde comes from the same region of England as I do and his Twitter identity is named accordingly. He is @manofmercia – well worth a follow or two.



The Splintered Kingdom-come.

Without wishing in any way to make this sound like a regular occurrence, my advance copy of James Aitcheson’s new novel ‘The Splintered Kingdom’ arrived in the post this lunchtime.

The series James is writing, is subtitled ‘1066: The Bloody Aftermath’.

I read his previous book (I downloaded it in iBooks on my iPad/iPhone), his first, ‘Sworn Sword’ a while back and thought it was excellent. It was, for me at least, an unusual book in that it was written from the point of view of the conquering Normans, where we English (at least) are used to hearing, seeing and reading stories of the Conquest, from the poor/heroic Saxons‘ side.

‘Sworn Sword’ was, as I hope my review on here and/or Goodreads makes clear, a thoroughly enjoyable, gripping and even thought provoking entry into the Historical Fiction genre by a new, young and extremely talented writer.

But then, I read for pleasure and write reviews on Goodreads because I like to read Historical novels and like to try and encapsulate what I thought of the books I read, for my own pleasure. I keep this blog going for my own pleasure, I don’t expect anyone to read it, apart from those who perhaps key in the addresses they really wanted to visit, wrongly and stumble here by mistake.

Links get posted to Facebook and onto my Twitter account.

James must have seen a Twitter link and re-Tweeted the link to my review.

He then followed me and sent a direct message asking if his publishers, Random House, could send me a pre-release copy of ‘The Splintered Kindgom’ for me to review.

I, of course, said ‘yes’ (when I read the DM he sent me, I actually shouted ‘YES!!!’).

I pointed out that while I would of course love it if they sent me a copy, I live in Denmark. If that was still ok, then send away. It seems it was and the book arrived today.

In one piece too, which isn’t always the case with parcels sent here from the UK.

So, I’m gonna get cracking with the readin’ and the writin’ of the review.

I will be totally honest with what I think of the book – but, let’s face it, it would be a long way to fall in a short time if it isn’t at the same level as ‘Sworn Sword’ – that I can guarantee.

And that’s mainly based on the face that review copy or not, I had actually pre-ordered ‘The Splintered Kingdom’ on Amazon a month ago. So I would have read and reviewed my copy of the book whatever.

Just looks now like some lucky acquaintance/relative will be getting a very nice Christmas present this year.

Review: Holy Warrior

Holy Warrior
Holy Warrior by Angus Donald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A powerful, provocative and thought-provoking read, this is the second installment in Angus Donald’s re-interpretation of the Robin Hood myth.

Even though you are prepared for this not being your usual Robin Hood story, Angus Donald still keeps you gripped and surprises you at nearly every turn. Mainly, I’d say, because like the first in the series, ‘Outlaw’, whilst of course headlined as a Robin Hood story, it was in reality more about the tale of Alan Dale, than of Robin Hood.

‘Holy Warrior’ is the same and more so.

Angus Donald’s Robin Hood is a dark and fairly mysterious presence, often in the background of the story. When taking the lead, he is an interesting enigma; a pragmatic, powerful figure, an idealist, but also a realist. Happily for me though, he is still the pagan Robin from ‘Outlaw’. He hasn’t a lot of time or patience for Alan’s ‘new’ Christian preaching, preferring I thought, to steer his own course through his own beliefs and ideals. Here, he seems to be what I hope I interpret correctly; a coalescence of the pagan history, legends and folk heroes of old Britain (older than ‘England’), an honourable man, of and for the people.

It’s a harsh book in some ways. The first one I thought, was necessarily harsh in its description of Robin Hood and his earthy, matter-of-fact paganism. Some incidents which, for me, were integral in both separating this Robin Hood from the one we think we knew (thanks to tradition, Hollywood and the Nottingham tourist people) and emphasising the fact that the Robin Hood legend has developed out of a strong, much more ancient British pagan tradition – encompassing, amongst other traditions, the Green Man – was not to everyone’s taste. And those who found a certain ‘sex’ scene too much in book one, will certainly find plenty to enjoy being shocked about here. Better stay indoors with your Mills & Boon ‘histories’  the rest of your life then, because this is how it was. Not always as nice as Errol Flynn would have you believe.

But, as I’ve said before, this is really the story of – and of course, by – Alan Dale. Alan worships the ground Robin walks on, especially you could say – as Alan is a good God-fearing Christian – when they reach The Holy Land. But, as Robin confuses, insults, disappoints and angers Alan on a regular basis, the hero worship is often also against Alan’s better judgement. He cannot leave him, though he sometimes wishes he could.

We learn more about Robin and what he believes in, partly because he is taken away from his comfort zone of England and Sherwood. The story roams through the Mediterranean, from the Norman stronghold of Sicily, to Cyprus and on to The Holy Land with The Third Crusade. Robin and his band of men are at the beck and call of King Richard, in repayment of a debt and clearly against his better judgement. But who is using who? It seems that Robin has his own agenda to follow out in The Holy Land. And it is, shall we say, more about pennies, than pennitence.

There is no way Robin is the title’s Holy Warrior. Maybe Richard is and Alan would probably like to think he is.

Whilst the next book in the series is called The King’s Man, I would say that title actually was more relevant here, as a reference to Alan’s relation to Robin. Robin is the ‘king’ of Alan’s world and Alan is, though he might frequently say he wishes it wasn’t so, is always going to be his man.

Looking forward to the next one. Ooh! I just downloaded it!

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Review: Britain AD: A Quest for Arthur, England and the Anglo-Saxons

Britain AD: A Quest for Arthur, England and the Anglo-Saxons
Britain AD: A Quest for Arthur, England and the Anglo-Saxons by Francis Pryor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just when you thought you had the early history of Britain straight:

Celts living peacefully fighting with each other. Romans invade and rule and civilise. Romans go back to Rome, leave some Romanised British and other troops here. Civilisation declines, cities are deserted, fields overgrown, forests cover the land. Angles, Saxons, Jutes and others seize the opportunity to invade and stay. Poor Celts are pushed west and north to the fringes and Britain becomes Angle-Land. (Early) English springs up, the new England enters the Dark Ages and people long for King Arthur to return before Vikings come and Normans conquer again. And especially afterwards.

Just when all the historical novels and films you’ve seen fitted that ‘truth’…along comes Francis Pryor and says ‘maybe you should think again.’

I’m not goiing to spoil the book for you, by going into precisely what he does think happened in the first 700 years Anno Domini. But whilst the conclusions he presents are perhaps a little less spectacular – and certainly not as blood-soaked – than the picture we perhaps all have of boatloads of Germans and south Scandinavians sailing over and taking advantage of a vacuum created by the sudden departure of the Romans – proto-Vikings who then set about killing everyone and setting up their own, new country: His are at least conclusions based on the archaeological record and not the few surviving ‘histories’ we have, surely written at the time to satisfy an audience, who largely wanted to hear what they wanted the documents to say.

However, Francis Pryor is far too respectable an archaeologist to say ‘THIS is exactly what happened.’ He knows that he is still presenting interpretations of the facts – until we invent time-travel, i guess. He does still point out that these are conclusions and interpretations based on archeological study of what we have available now; evidence- and technology-wise. He points out how interpretations of the archeological facts have themselves changed, throughout the 20th Century, for example, as more and more sophisticated techniques and ways of studying these ‘facts’, have developed down the years. But he can back up his conclusions with a lifetime of archeological work and an inquisitive ability to think around a problem and say ‘what if what we ‘know’, is wrong? Are we fitting the facts to what we want to believe?’ Similarly to what the writers of the first histories tried to do, if you ask me.

Above all, this is a fascinating, engrossing, and extremely readable tour around ‘Britain’, pre- and post-Roman invasion. If you’ve read the first of his Britain books; Britain B.C., you’ll know how Franics Pryor works and writes and you won’t be disappointed. I understand he is now the main archaeologist on ‘Time Team’, which unfortunately we don’t get out here in Denmark, but is an excellent appointment in my book. I felt he writes as if he is explaining things over a long lunch and a coffee in a cafe – warm and friendly and relaxed. Just right.

One thing I was not happy about – but that hadn’t influenced my decision to read the book – was that the sales blurb does, mischievously I think, try and sell the book on the promise of an explanation of the Arthurian legends. But the book rarely touches on that. If you read it hoping to find Geoffrey Ashe-like revelations, you’re going to be disappointed. The Arthurian legends are investigated and a possible explaination put forward. But no one is named as the ‘real’ Arthur, no place is pointed to as being the real Camelot or Mount Badon. You’ll have to go and visit Cadbury Castle and let your schoolboy/girl imagination wander.

Otherwise, go read this one NOW! And especially before you see another King Arthur or Robin Hood film!

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Early 2011 Reading List

Ok. This is what I’m looking forward to getting stuck into over the next couple of months – or three, depending on how knackered I am when I come home or go to bed…

In no particular order, either of merit or of reading.

The Lucifer Gospel : Paul Christopher

“In the desert of north Africa, Finn Ryan stumbles upon a seventy-year-old plane wreck – and a shocking revelation that threatens to unravel an entire faith.”

All Hell Let Lose : Max Hastings

“This is military history at its most gripping. A veritable tour de force.”

The Thieves of Faith : Richard Doetsch

“A master thief. A priceless treasure. The world’s most heavily guarded fortress – about to be breached.”

Gospel Truths : J. G. Sandom

“How many must die to keep the Church’s most carefully guarded secret of all?”

Gates of Fire : Steven Pressfield

“An epic novel of the battle of Thermopylae.”

Viking 3: King’s Man : Tim Severin

“A tumultuously epic story of valour, treachery and derring-do.”

Britain A.D. : Francis Pryor.

“A quest for Arthur, England and the Anglo-Saxons.”

I have a few on the old iPad2 as well, but I won’t be getting on to them until I’m done with this lot – and this post has taken me long enough (who’d have thought that getting thumbnail pictures of books, to range left to the copy that goes with them, in a stack, would be so difficult impossible?), so that’ll have to wait for another time.

I will, of course, review them as I finish them. Otherwise, catch me on Goodreads.