Review: Lionheart by Stewart Binns

Lionheart Stewart Binns5 of 5 stars

The Making of England 4

My version:
Paperback
Historical Fiction England, Crusades
Penguin
2013
Bought

1176 England

King Henry II reigns over a vast empire that stretches the length of Britain and reaches the foothills of the Pyrenees. But he is aging, and his powerful and ambitious sons are restless.

Henry’s third son, Richard of Aquitaine, is developing a fearsome reputation for being a ruthless warrior. Arrogant and conceited he earns the name Richard Lionheart for his bravery and brutality on the battlefield.

After the death of his brothers, Richard’s impatience to take the throne, and gain the immense power that being King over a vast empire would bring him, leads him to form an alliance with France.

And so Richard begins his bloody quest to return the Holy Land to Christian rule.

I was, I must admit, more than a little sad to have come to the end of this series (what do you call one more than a trilogy?). I’ve grown to rather like Stewart Binns’ style and the sheer audacity of what he’s tried to do here. A history of the formative years, decades, of ‘England’ the land and the idea as we know it today from our history lessons.

The term ‘Lionheart’ has gone down in that there history, and so much so, that it maybe has lost some of its significance. Most people could probably add ‘Richard, The…’ before ‘Lionheart’, but how much more do we know? I knew a little, but not much. Now, I know a whole lot more. About the man, as far as history can tell us about his personality, his background, his reasoning and most importantly, his place at the heart of forming English history. Binns does an excellent job in showing his early years, his coming to power and the changes that brought to the character of the man. A really fine job.

The book, as said, continues in the same vein as the first three, with an easily digestible and flowing style of writing. Again, and given his writerly background, you can imagine that it is all soundly researched, maybe a few liberties here and there, but all fits in rather well. It probably couldn’t be taught as History in schools, but youngsters would still get a good grasp of the overall picture of the period by reading these books. And, I would imagine the Hist Fic purists would not look too kindly on this sort of thing – mostly the Indie ones, who seem to think THEIR research is better than everyone else’s, have you noticed that? Anyway, if you can, get hold of the whole series from the start and go through it all, you’ll never get a better over view of how England and the English came to be and came to be as we are.

You can buy Lionheart at The Book Depository

Related reviews on Speesh Reads:

ConquestCrusadeAnarchy Stewart Binns

 

 

 

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Review: Anarchy by Stewart Binns

Anarchy Stewart Binns

5 of 5 stars

The Making of England 3

My version:
Paperback
Historical Fiction England
Penguin
2013
Bought

1186 – England.

Gilbert Foliot, the Bishop of London, has witnessed first-hand the terrifying and bloody civil wars that have ripped the country apart under the reign of King Henry II – a time in history so traumatic it became known as The Anarchy.

The greatest letter writer of the twelfth century, Foliot writes of a man who has impacted history – Harold of Hereford. Harold, one of the nine founders of the Knights Templar, is a heroic survivor of the fearsome battles of the Crusader States and a loyal warrior in the cause of Empress Matilda.

During a time of ruthless brutality, greed and ambition, Harold carries the legacy of England’s past and its hopes for the future.

Set out as quite a few books set in this period are, by someone telling the story of someone else, or someone telling their story to someone else…get over the initial groans, and you’ve got a really good, involving, interesting and evocative story. Here, it’s even a bit more convoluted, as the story teller is telling a story, as it was told to him by Harold of Hereward, in letters to his church friend high up in the Vatican. However, It continues and fits seamlessly after the previous book, Crusade and, I think, may well turn out to be the best of the series (though there’s only one more to go). Hereward’s descendants are still involved, but, of course, as the story moves on, there are fewer who actually knew him and his legend grows. Though, for all his multifarious exploits in foreign climes, as told in these books and James Wilde’s books, if you think about it, his exploits never seem to have reached back to England. There, there is still mystery and intrigue surrounding him – explained here and by James Wilde as the result of a pact made with King William, to cease the resistance, leave England and never come back.

I found no real fault in the quality of the writing, but I can imagine quite a few aficionados will. There’s a real fluid flow to the story, a sense of purpose and no one can argue he doesn’t know his way around a story, or how to tell it. If you take the time to think about the story, the people, the times, you could end up, as me, feeling quite affected by the concepts of loyalty to people and ideals, that are expressed here. I was very sad to finish the book. As in, there being a slight watering of the eyes, that people gave their own futures, for the futures of others (and theres no surprise he is a former soldier and teacher has also written books on WWI and WWII). People who put their own hopes and dreams to the side, for the sake of other people. Most poignant of all, the link to Harold, Hereward and what might have been on Senlac Hill if just five minutes had gone differently in 1066.

Say what you like about the writing, the books, they do inspire to maybe go find out more about the periods. If only to see if the people did really do all the things he has them doing. Anyway, quite apart from feeling proud that there were such men who called themselves Englishmen and were willing to lay down their lives, or change their lives, for the ideal of an England their children could be proud of.

You can buy Anarchy at The Book Depository

Related reviews on Speesh reads:

ConquestHerewardHereward Wolves of New Rome

 

 

 

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Review: Hereward The Immortals by James Wilde

Hereward The Immortals5 of 5 axe blows

My version:
Hardback
Historical Fiction Hereward, Normans, Vikings
Bantam Press
2015
Bought, Signed

AD1073. Under the merciless sun of the East, a dark force has risen – a Norman adventurer whose bloody and unquenchable ambition rivals that of King William himself. He has conquered his land, built his fortress and he has amassed his army. And now he has taken Constantinople’s ruler as his prisoner…

It falls to Hereward to rescue this precious captive. For the great warrior-in-exile and his spear brothers, it will mean mounting a raid that could prove the most daring of their lives. Assisting them in this task, will be an elite and legendary band of fighters, the Immortals – so-called because they believe they cannot die in battle. But it will not be enough – for enemies hide within the bloated, bejewelled heart of Byzantium: vipers who would spread their poison, who wish to see the English dead and who will strive to turn a mission that was at best dangerous into one that is now suicidal…

Before I opened the book, I really didn’t want to like it. I didn’t want them to think I could be bought by putting my (blog) name on the back. Did I mention they’d printed a quote from my review on the back? Well, that SPEESH there, that’s me, that is.

And yet, I failed. They won.

Well, you know the kind of book you know is going to be a beast right from the first sentence? This.

All the old memories and pleasure from previous outings with Hereward come flooding back right from the start. The Immortals really is everything you want from – not just a Hereward book, but from – a book. And, that’s a full stop back there.

Hereward The Immortals Signed pageThat Hereward left England and later journeyed to Constantinople to join the Varangian guard, seems to be common, almost accepted, knowledge amongst Historical Fiction authors, well, those I’ve read anyway. I’m doubtful that there is any hard evidence for this, though to be fair, there’s little hard evidence for anything to do with Hereward. The way I see that, is that it means there’s plenty to get your teeth into, for the writer and a reader. Only stick-in-the-muds are gonna get all po-faced on our asses and poo-poo certain ‘liberties’ but, as I pointed out to one, if you can’t point out that it didn’t happen and it is possible, then shut the fuck up and go back to writing your historical romances (Mr Wilde does address some of the limitations of the source material at the end of the book).

So, if you’ve been with James Wilde’s story so far, you’ll know that after being on the losing side at Hastings, and later at Ely, Hereford made a deal with William the Bastard, to leave England and never come back. Hereford seems intent on upholding his side of the bargain and, over the last couple of books, has made his way to Constantinople, intent on joining, with his loyal band of followers, the Emperor’s Varangian guard. They are prevented from joining by the animosity of certain guards with long memories and because they haven’t got the signing-on fees. This book sees the rage at the injustice of their situation, explode in glorious fury.

Hereward’s small band of Ely rebels, has got even smaller over the course of the last couple of books and continues that way here. However, the really interesting ones, Kraki, Guthrinc, Herrig ‘The Rat,’ for instance, seem to develop and fill out a little more here, come more out of the background, prove they are not the ‘Enterprise’ landing party member in the red shirt, and sometimes almost take equal billing with our main man. And, where there are good, honest warriors, there will always be…Ragener. What’s left of him anyway. He was the one that scared us shitless in the original trilogy and while he may have lost a few body parts, he’s certainly lost none of his menace. He is a superb adversary for the story, an unpredictable, predictably evil homicidal maniacal mirror to the well-meaning character of Hereward.

I’m not sure how old Hereward is here (I’m sure I could figure it out if I put my mind to it), but the point is there’s still lots of life in the character, literally and physically. Both in this story and, hopefully, for plenty of stories to come. There’s passion a-plenty. There are do-or-die, breathless, white-knuckles gripping the book battles, that will get the pulse racing, the heart beating, the nerves a-jangling. Desperate last minute, backs against the wall, no end in sight rescues and escapes against all the odds. The story itself feels like it’s balanced on a knife- an axe-edge, the whole way through. Like their fate could go either way at any time. Hereward The Immortals has it all…and is quite probably the most complete, certainly the most enjoyable, since the series began. Probably was as enjoyable to write as it was to read. Certainly hope so.

You can buy Hereward The Immortals at The Book Depository

Related reviews on Speesh Reads that you may find useful:

HerewardHereward The Devils Army2Hereward End of DaysHereward Wolves of New RomeConquest

 

 

 

Me, on Goodreads

Review: Crusade by Stewart Binns

Crusadeout of 5 knights

My version:
Paperback
Historical Fiction Norman Europe
Penguin Books
2012
Bought from Waterstones

1072. England is firmly under the heel of its new Norman rulers. The few survivors of the English resistance look to Edgar the Atheling, the rightful heir to the English throne, to overthrow William the Conqueror. Years of intrigue and vicious civil war follow, which will see brother against brother, family against family, friend against friend.

In the face of chaos and death, Edgar and his allies forma a secret brotherhood, pledging to fight for justice and freedom wherever they are denied. But soon they are called to fight for an even greater cause: the plight of the Holy Land. Embarking on the epic First Crusade to recapture Jerusalem, together they will participate in some of the cruellest battles the world has ever known – the savage Siege of Antioch and the brutal fall of Jerusalem – and together they will fight to the death.

Stewart Binns’ second book in his Making of England tetralogy (go look it up), brings us to the aftermath of the 1066 conquest. Hereward, who was the source for the story in book one, is gone from England and here, we see the story through they eyes of Edgar, who should, by rights, if it wasn’t for William invading and all, be King of England. He isn’t. He’s a recluse in the northern parts of England, in touch with the land and the ancestors of the ancient peoples. So the story is told by him and of course, is based around his travels and recollections. Hereward still casts a long shadow over the book. Here, he is as much a talisman, as the amulet they carry. If only he would come back, or come to their aid, it’ll be alright. Hereward is getting a re-working through James Wilde’s books, but he still needs to emerge from the title of England’s forgotten hero (for example my spell-check constantly wants to alter Hereward to Hereford, the ignominy!). Stewart Binns has done his part excellently in Conquest and here in Crusade.

How much is truth and how much is fiction, it’s hard to tell. Though, that is a good thing. Of course, the stand-out highlights, the aftermath of the invasion, the Norman possessions in Italy and Sicily, the First Crusade are well-documented historical fact. A lot of the other stuff, the friends and companions he makes and travels and fights with, not so sure. As with the first book, to have the aim of basically weaving a tale around and through the major (European and Middle Eastern) events of the period, does mean the main character has got get around a fair bit, meeting the leading personalities and being present at a vast assortment of the major battles, etc. If you’ve read the first, you’ll know the type of thing going on here. However, rather than seeming strained, Stewart Binns’ style and plotting really doesn’t feel too strained. Actually, it reminded me of Tim Severin’s Viking series in that way. A thorough knowledge of the main points, interestingly and well formulated into a story. As with Tim Severin’s work(s) I also found that Binns’ style is a nice type of melancholy, as befits a main character telling his story, looking back, missing the friends he’s telling about and maybe rueing the chances he didn’t take, the opportunities he didn’t make the most of and the way fate passed him by. There are therefore, some nicely poignant sections. Particularly referring to Senlac Hill (look it up). About it now being just 20 years after and all Englishmen are thinking about it constantly. Not something I’d thought about before as we usually see the next period of history, through the Normans’ eyes.

It’s an un-cluttered style, simple and direct, no aires and graces. I’ve not read reviews of this (or the other books), but I’d imagine that many self-styled ‘discerning’ Historical Fiction writers and reviewers would pooh-pooh the books for this very reason. You and I; we can sit back and enjoy the ride. And enjoy it I did, very much.

You can buy Crusade at The Book Depository

Related reviews:
Conquest Hereward Hereward The Devils Army1 Hereward End of Days Hereward Wolves of New Rome

Me, on Goodreads

Review: Hereward Wolves of New Rome

Hereward Wolves of New Rome

Hereward Wolves of New Rome by James Wilde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was very pleased about this one. About how good it was and how it developed and, I felt, totally refreshed the series I have loved from the start, from the opening chapter, in fact.

Fast-paced and urgent, streamlined and effective, it is tightly-written, yet still felt like James was enjoying (tremendously) having set his character free from the historical straight-jacket. Of having to fit into the period of English history Hereward began in and what is known about him occurs. As with James Aitcheson’s final book in the ‘Bloody Aftermath’ series, this really is a great leap forward for the character, the series and not the least, for us.

As far as I can see, what little there is known about the ‘historical’ Hereford, stops a short while after the Battle of Hastings in 1066. It seems there was sporadic English ‘resistance’ in the period following and Historical Fiction writers (those I’ve read, anyway) have decided it was Hereward doing the leading of the resistance. Until it all stopped. As the population dropped from 2,000,000 before the invasion, to 1,000,000 in the years afterwards, thanks to King William’s bringing of Norman ‘civilisation,’ it’s clear that the/any resistance stopped primarily because there were very few English people left to do the resisting. Hist Fic writers have decided that Hereward survived and, for one reason or other, left England, with a band of followers. He travelled east to Constantinople, to seek his fortune – and work off his frustrations – with the Emperor’s Varangian Guard.

In End of Days (the one before this) Hereward comes to an agreement with William, to leave England. Hereward is ‘convinced,’ shall we say, by William, of the health benefits both to the (remaining) English people and to himself, if he does so. So, he leaves. Luckily for us, James’ Hereward leaves with several of the more interesting characters from the previous stories. He can’t leave with his love interests (as Stewart Binns has ‘his’ Hereward do in ‘Conquest’), but here he has Kraki, the ex-Viking and Alric, the monk – and Hereward’s conscience – who has been with Hereward from the start. They are now much more than just supporting characters and I really liked their development here. Hereward ihimself, is still plagued, unusually for a man who generally lets his axe talk first and asks questions later, by regrets and remorse, guilt and a sometimes irritating level of uncertainty about the rights or wrongs of his actions. That’s how we would be, I guess, but would a 11th Century warrior have those same doubts? To that level? I’m not so sure. It’s not James’ fault, writers generally seem to think that by adding in that sort of thing, it gives their character depth and we’d understand it. We can’t, no matter how much archaeology advances, look inside someone from the period’s head and understand their feelings, but you do sometimes wish, they were a bit more convinced of themselves, feel justified in doing what they do, from the off. A Jack Reacher set in the 11th Century maybe (to my credit, I have subsequently learned that James sold his Hereward books to his publishers as ‘a Jack Bauer (24) for the 11th Century.’ Glad I got roughly in the same ball-park first!). Anyway, fortunately for us, Hereward has a tough time controlling his demons and often just gets on with the slaying of enemies.

Clearly, to continue the Hereward series, James had to take Hereward out of England, it couldn’t have continued on otherwise. I must admit, I wasn’t all that hopeful of the success of the series after book three, which while good, did, on reflection, feel like it was a bit forced. Here, in Wolves, James’ Hereward has broken his historical shackles, there is a real sense of purpose – from James as well as Hereward – and a really great flow to the story. Hereward grows and the series will continue, that I know. And I’m really looking forward to it doing so, on the reading of this.

Buy Hereward Wolves of New Rome

See also

Hereward

Hereward. The Devil’s Army

Hereward. End of Days

If it’s 2015, it must be time for – Book of the Year 2014!

I thought I’d actually wait until the year was over (2014, just in case you…) before putting my heads together and seeing what I’d read that was worthy of

The Speesh Golden Bookmark*

for best book/read I read in 2014.

As usual, I don’t seem to have read any of other places’ ‘Books of the Year.’ Partly because I don’t often get on to actually reading books that were released in the year their list covers.

Anyway, I have readed** a fair few books this year. Listened to a fair few as well, after being temporarily (slightly) blind.

So, with grateful thanks to our sponsors –

RegionMidt (the people I work for and who pay, indirectly, for all the books and who really need to put a stop with the Danish Government’s attempts to starve the hospitals of money, calling it ‘savings’ when everyone at the sharp end (me) knows they’re ‘cuts.’ How can you put a price on health? Your health, my health. Can’t. Bastards).

Sydbank (our bank who turn a blind eye to a little overdraft now and then).

And a couple of authors who were kind enough to send me a copy of their books after reading this here blog and surmising, correctly as it turned out, that I might like to be sent their book(s): Here is a list of all the books I have finished in 2014. In order of finishing:

1. The Bourne Imperative : Eric Van Lustbader
2. The Ways of the World : Robert Goddard
3. Ratcatcher : Tim Stevens
4. Secret of the Seventh Son : Glenn Cooper
5. The Last Conquest : Berwick Coates
6. Stay Another Day : Mark Timlin
7. Swords of Good Men : Snorri Kristjansson
8. The Last Minute : Jeff Abbott
9. Arrows of Fury : Anthony Riches
10. Grail Knight : Angus Donald
11. Hannibal. The Patrol : Ben Kane
12. The Small Boat of Great Sorrows : Dan Fesperman
13. Stettin Station : David Downing
14. Elizabeth’s Sea Dogs : Hugh Bicheno
15. The Whitehall Mandarin : Edward Wilson
16. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Sp : Len Deighton
17. The Lion and The Lamb : John Henry Clay
18. The Rule of Four : Ian Caldwell
19. Out of Exile : Luke Preston
20. Conquest : Stewart Binns
21. Defender of Rome : Douglas Jackson
22. The Lost Symbol : Dan Brown
23. Of Merchants and Heroes : Paul Waters
24. Fortress of Spears : Anthony Riches
25. The Holy Thief : William Ryan
26. The Leopard Sword : Anthony Riches
27. Dead Men’s Dust : Matt Hilton
28. The Wolf’s Gold : Anthony Riches
29. The Dying Hours : Mark Billingham
30. A Farewell to Justice : Joan Mellen
31. The Bat : Jo Nesbø
32. Siege of Heaven : Tom Harper
33. Book of Souls : Glenn Cooper
34. Rome’s Executioner : Robert Fabbri
35. The Eagle’s Vengeance : Anthony Riches
36. A Colder War : Charles Cumming
37. The Emperor’s Knives : Anthony Riches
38. Natchez Burning : Greg Iles
39. The Wolves of the North : Harry Sidebottom
40. 1066 What Fates Impose : G.K. Holloway
41. The Fort : Bernard Cornwell
42. Judgement & Wrath : Matt Hilton
43. The Amber Road : Harry Sidebottom
44. Not In Your Lifetime : Anthony Summers
45. Mission To Paris : Alan Furst
46. The Bourne Retribution : Eric Van Lustbader

So, the best of the year?

Gonna have to be in two categories here. Historical Fiction and plain old Fiction. Maybe also Non-Fiction. Go on then, Non-Fiction as well.

“So what are they?!”

Best Historical Fiction book I read all year:

What Fates Impose1066 What Fates Impose by G.K. Holloway

No doubt about this one. And it’s not just because I finished it late in the year and can’t remember too far back…It’s because it’s a superb book, telling an interesting story in a wonderful way. I can’t remember being so impressed by a book for a good long while. I even forced it upon my neighbour (I/we live in Denmark, he’s also English, fortunately) and he loved it as well. You will believe the English are gonna win, I can assure you. Could do with the cover being a bit more dynamic, but otherwise, I cannot recommend this to you all highly enough.

The author had a look at the type of books I read/reviewed on the site and asked if I would like a copy sent. I haven’t been paid for the review other than getting the book for free.

Here’s my review.
Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

Good ol’ G.K. also informs me that it’s on Amazon UK and Amazon US, should you really not want to get it from The Book Depository.

The Best Fiction book I read in 2014

…well, there were two. In order of equalness – or alphabetical, you decide –
I give you:

9780007467471A Colder War by Charles Cumming

Stunning book, absolutely. Glues itself to your hands, turns your brain inside out and has me counting the days to a sequel/follow up/his next one. Spy story par-excellence, bang up to date, harking back to the great spy novels of yore. Simple and effective and much better than a fair few others of his I’ve read. For once, the references to John le Carré are right. Go buy it.

Here’s my review.
Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

 

 

The Whitehall MandarinThe Whitehall Mandarin by Edward Wilson

OK, I read a lot of John le Carré when I was younger, so I like a good spy story and this is just that. Not in the shadow of le Carré at all, out on its own. A really interesting, intreguing journey through the’ 60’s, ’70’s, spy scandals, the diplomatic hot-spots and turning points. World-wide in scope, uniquely English in execution. I loved this one from start to finish. Get it bought. Do it now!

Here’s my review.
Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

 

 

The Best Non-Fiction book I read all 2014, was:

A Farewell To JusticeA Farewell to Justice. Jim Garrison, JFK’s Assasination and the Case That Should Have Changed History by Joan Mellen

First, an absolutely incredible piece of work. Mind-boggling marshalling of facts into evidence. I really did think this was the last word on the whole affair. Joan Mellen owns the Kennedy conspiracy. Though… Anthony Summers has butted in with Not In Your Lifetime, Mellen still rules – for now.

Another pretty dreadful cover – and don’t let the Oliver Stone quote put you off, you need to read this book.

Here’s my review.

Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

Mentioned in dispatches:

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles.

Fabulous. Stunning. All that.

I posted a review. The Natchez tourist people follow me on Twitter. Excellent stuff.

Here’s my review.
Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

Alan Furst - Mission to ParisMission to Paris by Alan Furst

His best…so far.

1939, Paris, Berlin, Paris. Subtle, suspense, something else good beginning with ‘s.’

Here’s my review.
Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

The Small Boat of Great SorrowsThe Small Boat of Great Sorrows by Dan Fesperman

The Balkans, the Second World War, the Balkan conflict, Italy. One that gets better the more I think about it. And bought for a song in the Porthcawl RNLI shop. Result.

Here’s my review.
Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

I hope you enjoyed the books you read in 2014 and that you’re looking forward to the ones you’ll read in ’15.

Remember to read real books (that’ll be ones made from paper) and make sure you only ever use Amazon for books if you really can’t avoid it, or until they start paying the right amount of tax. Like you and I do.

*There isn’t a golden bookmark. I made that up.

**Yes, I know…

Review: Conquest

Conquest
Conquest by Stewart Binns
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is probably going to be seen as a guilty pleasure and I have glanced at reviews which would suggest it is quite possibly not all that cool to say (a bit like admitting to thinking The Da Vinci Code was one hell of a rattling good and enjoyable read, which is was, you know it), but … I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Yes, I can see what is wrong with it, but as a whole, it holds together nicely, and with a relatively unobtrusive style and is an all round rattling good tale.

Of course, I’ve come across Hereward several times. Several recent book series have featured the 11th Century Fenland Terror. James Aitcheson has had him in his tale. James Wilde has written three, soon to be four, excellent novels based on him and his exploits, real or imagined. The brilliant Marc Morris, in his The Norman Conquest non-fiction look at the people who brought you 1066 and all that, mentions Hereward several times and provides a good look at all the facts, the few there are, about him, as well as mentioning some of the more speculative stories. Whether you come from other books to Marc’s book, or go from there to other Herward stories, you can see that (amongst others) the two James’ do at least touch base with what is ‘known.’ As does Stewart Binns here. However, and perhaps even more than James Wilde (at least until I’ve slapped some peepers on #4 ‘The Wolves of New Rome’), he picks up the Hereward ball and runs more than a little further with it. Wilde and Binns both seem to agree on Hereward’s struggle with his anger issues, but they solve them in different ways. I don’t think James Wilde has his Hereward at Senlac Hill, nor does James Aitcheson. Their Herewards only really come front of stage in the period after Hastings. I think both Binns and Wilde are also implying that Hereward, real person or not, is possibly the source for the later development of the Robin Hood myth. Something that possibly Robert Holdstock might like to comment on (if he hasn’t already done so and quite honestly, after struggling through the stream of consciousness nonsense that was most of Gate of Horn, Gate of Ivory, I finally let him go his own way) in a ‘Mythago Wood’ novel. I don’t know.

The story begins, perhaps surprisingly, in the mountains of Greece. To where the heir to the Eastern Roman Empire, travels in search of enlightenment from a legendary old warrior, now turned hermit. Turns out, the old warrior knew the Prince’s father, fought for him in the Varangian Guard. The warrior is now 82, but instead of giving the Prince the One to Ten of what to do, tells him a story, from which he can draw his own lessons from. It is the warrior’s life story.

You’ve guessed by this point, that the old hermit, is Hereward, though he does seem to have the name Godwin for some reason. He begins telling his story from his wild childhood days, through his rebellious youth, to adulthood and maturity, through many of the period’s historic milestones his lifespan has encompassed. He was, of course, at Hastings and tried to rally the English forces thereafter, but had to, in the end, leave and travel abroad.

There are several nice touches. Here, Hereward has to persuade a reluctant Harold to take the throne. Where Harold actually sympathises with Edward’s position and therefore, William’s claims. You can see, with some of the incidents that go on in Harold and Hereward’s time in Normandy, where some of the tactics they would later use against William, come from, for instance. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence for any of the above, though if I remember rightly, James Wilde does have Hereward on the continent before Hastings. Here, Edward, on his deathbed, makes Harold his successor. Again found in other books and history. After the rebellion dies out, Hereward agrees to go abroad (James Wilde has his Hereward meeting William, but only after the battle, Morris says there is a legend that they met), to save England from further turmoil and anguish at William’s hands, but that could be blamed on Hereward.

As a whirlwind tour of the period’s hotspots and big names, in Britain and (the rest of) Europe, it is undoubtably a great read. Some of the people he meets, may be stretching it a little, but then I don’t know enough about (for instance) Spanish folk-law to comment with any certainty. In that respect, it read a little like Tim Severin’s Viking trilogy, just crammed into one book. Severin has one Viking journeying to all the places associated with the Vikings’ history, meeting most of the big players and generally living the fullest life imaginable (another excellent read/guilty pleasure if you’re one of the costumes and corset Ancient and Medieval Historical Fiction lilly-livers elsewhere on Goodreads). Maybe this is like that but on steroids, having to pack it all into one book and all. And it can feel a bit mechanical for that. Like he had to check all the names and places of his list and he was damned if he wasn’t going to get them all in! The stuff about a mystical talisman too, I could have done without. Never liked fantasy elements creeping in to what essentially wants to be read like a true story. Takes it all on a bit of a seers and sages trip. It’s better when it has even its tenuous grip on reality. But, people of the time believed in all that and the One God to rule them all hadn’t replaced the touching of wood to ask for the help of the spirit who lived in that wood … still hasn’t really, has it?

So, it gets a solid three stars from me. However, it gets a fourth star solely for mentioning, on several occasions (starting on page 385) the Bishop of Aarhus. Why? Well, that’s the town in Denmark where I now live! Cool, eh? It is Scandinavian’s oldest town, I read today, though in Viking times, was called ‘Aros.’ However, I haven’t checked when the name changed, so I can’t call young Stewart B. on it. Not that anyone would know where a town called ‘Aros’ was…hmm…not that namy people know where Aarhus is, so much of a muchness.

Leave your ego at the front cover and enjoy a good romping read. I for one will certainly be getting hold of the next in what I think is a trilogy. These sort of things usually are.

Oh yeah, read the dedication at the start. A very interesting, quite possibly unique, sentiment. I’ve not come across its like before. Proves his heart’s in the right place, whatever you think of the rest of the book.

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Reading Conquest by Stewart Binns

ConquestHad this one waiting on the shelf for a while. 300-odd pages in and Hereward reminds me of Robert E.Howard’s Conan. Ordinarily, that would be good, but this is England, not Cimmeria or even Hyboria.

Reading Conquest by Stewart Binns

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