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

New books for August

Well, two of the more note-worthy ones I acquired in August anyway.

I buy all my books, all the books I review here. Apart from three, so far.

It’s not that I wouldn’t like to get stuff sent to me for free by publishers, but more because I don’t/haven’t chased them for copies. I’d also maybe have to have a bit more of a high-profile website to be interesting to more publishers, and get free stuff sent, I guess.

The problem as far as I think, is that if I were on a lot of these here lists where bloggers get sent stuff before publication date, for free, for review, is that I’d feel under a certain amount of pressure to give the book a good review. Well, you would, wouldn’t you? I can think of (at least) one other blogger who does get a load of the same sort of thing that I read, sent for free from publishers. And doesn’t waste time letting us know about it. Judging by the pre-publication ‘progress-reports’ the authors concerned re-Tweet. Fair enough that the author wants the publicity and re-Tweeting a “really enjoying the start of a new series/the latest from (name of author here)” is gonna help on the self-publicity front. However, having seen these things re-Tweeted constantly, with every book released, leads me to wonder if she (maybe you know who I’m on about) has ever read a bad book? Ever. Doesn’t seem like it to me. I read plenty of bad books. And I like to think I say so. But not her, as far as I can see. I wonder, sometimes, if the authors don’t feel a little awkward about covering their noses at the smell of rat and re-Tweeting (yet another) glowing report from the reading front-line? I do and I’m only an irritated, keeping it real, part-time, bollocks blogger. Obviously a glowing review is a glowing review, close your eyes and press ‘re-Tweet.’

So, how much of it is a real, honest review and how much is ‘“Wow! Look at me, I got this for free, i read it before you! Oh, and thanks so much for sending me the book, please send me more”? I know what I think. And that’s (partly) why I have avoided trying to get hold of stuff from publishers. The three books I have had sent, I didn’t think they would send. Mainly because I live in Denmark, for a start. Amazon, for example, will have about £8 for posting a book here. The actual cost is probably a bit less, but for a publisher, it’d surely be easier to say ‘”no” to me and miss out on my small audience, than add that cost to their promo budget. The three I have been fortunate enough to be sent, I was contacted directly on Twitter, by the author(s) concerned. One where his publisher had asked him to see if I’d review it and another where he’d visited this site and thought my reviews were half-way decent and that I might be interested in the subject matter of his new book. With the latter, I was asked to send an email to the promo person and see if they were ok with sending the book to Denmark. They were. I get the feeling, from following them on Twitter, that if I were to ask, they’d send others. I don’t, for three reasons.

  • I have an enormous back-log of books to read, that I’ve bought with my own money, I really don’t need to add to it with free stuff.
  • I want to feel that I can review a book on its merits and not as a ‘thank you’ to the nice people for sending it to me and as a ‘please send me more ’cause I’ll guarantee a good review!’
  • I get the idea that stuff sent pre-publication date, for review purposes, is most often not the version that later appears as a First Edition. Not saying there’s anything fundamentally wrong with that, in itself, but I’ve begun collecting hardbacks and First Editions, and First Editions signed, wherever I can.

The books I’m on about above, the reviews that are reviews of freebies i’ve been sent are as follows:

The Splintered Kingdom1. The Splintered KingdomJames Aitcheson
James suddenly followed me on Twitter, then sent a message saying that his publisher had suggested he see if I would review the book. Maybe they’d seen my glowing review of the first in the series, Sworn Sword (which I’d actually bought from iTunes as an e-book and read on my iPhone). I didn’t tell James that I’d already ordered the book from Amazon when he contacted me – free stuff is free stuff, I say. I did warn them I lived in Denmark, but they weren’t put off and the book duly arrived. I loved it, as I had done Sworn Sword. I think this was a post-printing, pre-publication hardback copy.
Click on the book title or image above to read my review.

Knights of the Hawk 22. Knights of The HawkJames Aitcheson
I had, once again already pre-ordered this one, though I admit I’d got ’em crossed the publisher would just send me a copy, me already being on their list (as I hoped it was how these things worked). Anyway, James again contacted me and asked if I’d like a review copy? Who am I to say ‘no’ eh? This one absolutely blew my little cotton socks off. From the way it was written, more for the way it was structured and finally for the way it suddenly threw the whole story out into a world filled with possibilities for the future of the character. It is indeed a thing of joy and beauty to behold. I think I read it all in one go sat on the sofa in the spare room, one rainy Sunday. I only had two weeks, I think, before publication date, and I was unsure as to when they’d want the review put up. I said to James that is was ready and posted it. Seemed to go down ok. I even made it my book of the year for last year – can’t say fairer than that.
Click on the book title or image above to read my review.

The Whitehall Mandarin3. The Whitehall MandarinEdward Wilson
Edward sent me a message on Twitter saying something like he’d visited the site, thought the reviews were pretty good and that the subject matter for his new book, might appeal. He thought if I contacted his publisher person, they’d be pretty sure to send me a review copy. So, with a ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ hat on, I sent an email off to the (very nice) person at Arcadia Books. She said they’d be delighted to send me a copy. Edward was right, the book was so ‘me’, it was untrue. I thought it was not just one of the best books I’ve read this year, but…well, if I could have given it 6 stars, it would have got 7. I thought I’d heard the name Edward Wilson before and took a look through my Amazon Wish List (kept for reference purposes now, you understand, as I’ve stopped buying from Amazon) and found several of Edward Wilson’s previous books there. So, I felt fully ok about giving it a good review, as I was highly likely to have bought, read and thoroughly enjoyed it of my own volition even if I hadn’t been sent a copy. The only ‘but..’ is, that this looks like what reviewers normally get sent, a ‘trade paperback.’ If I’d have bought a copy myself, I’d have got a hardback, First Edition (if I could).
Click on the book title or image above to read my review.

As I say, for me as a not very serious collector, this is one of the things that is stopping me from trying to get on more publishers’ lists. I want hardback, First Edition wherever possible. I haven’t re-bought The Whitehall Mandarin, because I already have it.  I don’t mind paying for books. I don’t mind one bit paying full-whack for them – if I feel that this keeps authors, publishers and bricks and mortar bookstores going, then I get a nice warm glow inside. I take a chance sometimes, and sometimes I’m lucky, sometimes not. That’s the way it goes. It keeps my reviews honest, I feel. I hope you feel the same way.

So, back to where I started:

Hereward IV - PersonalFirst Hereward. Wolves of New Rome, by James Wilde. Or Hereward IV. Obviously, Hereward, Hereward The Devil’s Army and Hereward End of Days were enough of a success for there to be more Herewards. I haven’t read this one as yet, so I can’t say if there’s an opening for even more Herwards, but I sure do hope so. This is as brilliantly thought out and executed a series as I’ve come across. From the cover(s) to the writing and the story presentation.

I, as I do with a lot of my books these days, got this from the good people at Goldsboro. Specialists in signed First Editions, they say – and they are. And this one is not only signed, but publication dated as well. That’s as far as I can see. And that’s pretty good, should this sort of thing ever attract the interest of other collectors.

Signed Hereward IVCheck it out. That’s signed, first lined (where they write the first line of the story (!)) and publication day dated. One better would be if it was dated pre-publication date, I think. But otherwise – and I stand to be corrected, as the man in the orthopaedic shoes once said – that’s about as good as it gets.

Vespasian 5 - Personal

 

 

 

 

Second new book in August, is Robert Fabbri’s Masters of Rome. This is also in a series, the Vespasian series, this one being Vespasian 5. I’ve read the first one, not unsurprisingly called Vespasian Tribune of Rome, so far and thoroughly enjoyed it. I then gave myself the mission of tracking down the intervening ones in hardback – and succeeded at not too horrendous a cost. At a very reasonable cost, I think. Some are second hand, but are in good condition, so there ya go.

Signed Vespasian 5

 

This one, is signed and dated. As far as I can tell, as the publication date was the 7th of August, this one is pre-publication dated! Sweet. As Robert lives in Berlin, I’m guessing he and Goldsboro had to work in a visit to the shop around both their schedules. I did notice, after I’d ordered my copy, a second possibility for order on Goldsboro. I think they offered version that was also first lined. But as that was put up on their website after I’d already ordered this version, I couldn’t be bothered going through all the rigmarole of cancelling and re-ordering. Plus it was more expensive. This one’ll do (very) nicely. It’s the first of his I’ve got that is signed.

I have bought a couple of others this month, but they were a second-hand (1972 paperback copy!) non-fiction book about the Viking voyages to North America and a comic book of the Pathfinder film – about Viking voyages to North America…they’ll have to wait for a Viking voyages to North America-type post.

Today, 14 October, is the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings

Tom Lovell's painting of Hastings
A painting of the battle by Tom Lovell, commissioned by National Geographic.

Today, the 14th of October, in 1066, the Norman conquest of Britain really got underway following their victory over the English at The Battle of Hastings.

Well, I’m guessing that the date is more the historian’s best guess, rather than having actual written (or otherwise) evidence for it. Until we find a diary with

“14 October 1066. Got up, messed about a bit, fought in Battle of Hastings. Went home”,

it’s probably going to be a best guess, date-wise. And didn’t we change calendars at some point since then? Or is that taken into account?

Nevermind, today is the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings in 1066, hoorah!

Except it was a little further inland, seven miles to be exact, from Hastings, at a place now called Battle. There’s lucky, eh?

“Where shall we have our battle?”
“Well, there’s a place just up the road called Battle?”
“Brilliant!”

Is probably how it didn’t go.

So, William the Conqueror – except he wasn’t ‘conqueror’ going into the battle (and he wasn’t The Bastard, either. He might well have been one, but I guess you didn’t call him that to his face. And live very long), met Harold Godwinson (he of very few nick-names) And we lost. As I’m still English, it’s still ‘we’.

I’m not going to try and go into the details of the battle, that takes a long time and a better writer. If you want to know more, you can do so here. The English Heritage site for the site, is here.

So, why highlight the battle? Well, as I mentioned previously, just at the moment, several of the books, several of the series of books I’m reading, seem to be set in the period leading up to the battle, the battle itself and the aftermath, life as a result of the Norman victory.

So, let’s take a look along the shelves in the Library here at Speesh Towers:

The Norman Conquest 2I’ll start with the non-fiction outing, The Norman Conquest, by Marc Morris. A really tremendous book and a great, thrilling, read. I’ve rambled on previously and at length about this book, so I won’t go into depth once again about how good it is.
It just is.
And, he recently made nonsense/mincemeat of the claims that even Battle wasn’t the actual site of the battle. Go read it for yourself and decide if you want to argue with him.

Justin Hill - ShieldwallShieldwall by Justin Hill (and the follow-up Hastings, whenever that comes out) is set in the years before the Norman invasion. Hastings, I’m guessing, will probably take in the battle.

If I were you, I’d buy the paperback version of this one. The cover is really good.The hardback, for some reason, is really poor in comparison. Just as well they didn’t just republish with the hardback cover in this case.

Berwick Coates - The Last ConquestOne I have yet to read, is The Last Conquest by Berwick Coates. The blurb says “The Normans have landed in Sussex, ready for battle. They have prepared for everything about the English – except their absence… King Harold and his fyrd, are hundreds of miles away, fighting to expel the Viking host in the north. But they have heard that William has landed and rumour is that they are marching back, triumphant and dangerous – and spoiling for a second victory…This is the story of the greatest battle ever seen on British soil and of the men who fought it.”

HerewardHereward The Devils Army2Hereward End of DaysJames Wilde‘s Hereward, Hereward The Devil’s Army, Hereward End of Days, cover the period of the invasion, but are more concerned with the English resistance in the period immediately after the battle at Hastings.

SwornSwordThe Splintered KingdomKnights of the Hawk 2James Aitcheson‘s Sworn Sword, The Splintered Kingdom and Knights of the Hawk are also set in the period in the immediate aftermath of the battle of Hastings, but are seen from the Norman’s side.

Hawk Quest Hardback 1Hawk Quest, by Robert Lyndon, is set in the period of the battle and invasion, but the action takes place away from the usual places associated with the Norman conquest. Though it is subtitled An Epic Novel of the Norman Conquests.

You can possibly add Angus Donald‘s Robin Hood series as well, though it comes a little while after 1066, it is still dealing with how life was as a consequence of the invasion.

Well, that’s what I’ve got on my shelves. I will no doubt, buy more. I’m always open to good recommendations, if you have any.

I’ve visited the battle site, at Battle, and even on a wet and miserable Autumn afternoon, as it was for me and possibly them then, it is a place well worth taking the time seeing.

Friday book news

Angus Donald

Robin Hood – six on TV?

Angus Donald – long-time friend of this blog and general Robin Hood-type author – has announced on his Twitter account that;

“I have just signed a contract with a big US media company giving them to option of making a TV series or film of The Outlaw Chronicles. Yay!”

As he himself says, it’s an option, not a promise. But still, exciting times. He also says he has finished the first draft of the follow up to Grail Knight, called The Iron Castle. This will be number six in his Robin Hood chronicles, if my memory serves. One can only hope they don’t try and squeeze six books into one film. So maybe a tv series would be better.

wpid-Photo-19032013-20.37.jpgHoly WarriorKing's Man 2Warlord 1Grail Knight

 

Robin Hood – the story so far. Click on a cover to go to the Book Depository page for that book.

Luke PrestonExile, on main street

Cuddly, loveable Luke Preston, the psychopathic madman at the helm of the Tom Bishop novel called Dark City Blue I read, reviewed and liked a lot recently, has announced that the second Tom Bishop story, called Out of Exile has just hit the street. Subtitled ‘A Tom Bishop Rampage’, it may be just available as an e-book right now, so you better get a Kindle app for your iPhone. Like me. You can read more about Luke and quite probably ‘Tom’, on Luke’s new design website. He’s also on Facebook and posted today that you can actually get Dark City Blue FREE on Apple’s iBooks store. Unfortunately not in the Danish one so far, but certainly the US iBooks store. You can also it looks, download it for free from Luke’s publishers website, here. If you go through the buying process, you do have to leave your name and address and an email, but you can leave the ‘store details’ box un-checked. You can then choose to download a file for a Kindle, or an ePub file which will work on your iPhone (by dropping it into your iTunes). I just tried it out and it works a charm. Go! Free’s free – what have you got to lose?

On the subject of free. This is a promotion for a book Luke has put a lot of time and effort into and he of course needs to make a living out of it – and even with the release of Out of Exile, he only has two books to make a living from. He isn’t releasing one every other week, like Lee Child or Bernard Cornwell. So I asked him (on Facebook) how he felt about giving his hard work away for free. He said:

Luke Reply

I’d love to get to chat with him about the why’s and wherefore’s of giving away your blood, sweat and daily bread-winning work for free. The problem I see it is if you get used to getting stuff for free, maybe even just by waiting until the next book comes out, then you get used to getting stuff for free. And don’t get used to paying the author their due for a book. Just like Amazon and supermarkets have conditioned us into thinking books cost £5.99. That’s not a living wage for an author, unless you’re an author selling a supermarket truck-load of books. Maybe the next time he’s in Denmark…In the meantime, grab it while it’s hot! Then buy the follow-up!

Ben KaneThe K Team

Ben Kane showed us the covers for two of his books and finished with the blotting paper, before sending off the final draft, of the third Hannibal story, to be called Clouds of War to the publishers. You can, should you wish (and should said publishers actually receive said final draft, I guess), pre-order it from Amazon now (you only pay for it when it’s actually released). So that’ll be winging it’s way to Speesh Towers when it’s released next February.

HerewardThe Wilde Bunch

And finally, James Wilde tells me that the third and final Hereward story, Hereward End of Days, hasn’t got  a US release date as yet. Nor even a new US name either, I presume. Seems, even though it is the final part in a trilogy and American readers who have bought one and two will be mightily disappointed (not to mention mightily out of pocket if they have to order an import), it isn’t yet certain it will be published in the US: Seems like the arrangement is to “see how it goes” with The Winter Warrior. It must have gone ok with The Time of the Wolf for Winter Warrior to be published, so let’s hope for the same result again.

And the picture’s of Hereward and probably not James Wilde. He’s a camera-shy young fellow.

Review: Hereward: End Of Days

Hereward: End Of Days
Hereward: End Of Days by James Wilde
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Don’t you just love it when things come together?

I go on holiday to the UK and pick up Hereward The End of Days. Amongst other places, we visit friends who live in Ely. On my birthday, the 7th of August, unfortunately a few days after we returned from the afore-mentioned trip, James Wilde is in Ely doing a signing of Hereward End of Days. On my return I finish Marc Morris’ The Norman Conquest before starting End of Days.

Anyway…

It’s never easy (I guess) writing a book based on a factual figure. Mainly because of those pesky facts. You can say ‘this happened, then that happened, then this happened’, but someone will always pop up who ‘knows better’ and takes the author to task, because he or she has played fast and loose with the ‘facts’ – as they see them. Luckily with Hereward – and the whole period really – the ‘facts’ as we have them are more than a little fast and more often than not, extremely loose. So there’s actually plenty of scope for the imagination, even whilst remaining inside a framework of what we have been handed down as ‘fact’. Whilst I disagree with the person making the argument; look at the recent controversy regarding the new theory as to where the battle of Hastings took place. We knew it wasn’t Hastings. But now someone is suggesting it wasn’t at Battle either. If you were in the non-Battle battle camp, you could say we know there was a battle and who the two sides were, but that’s about it.

From my reading of Marc Morris’ The Norman Conquest, it seems like the ‘histories’ of the period we have were either been written a long time after the event, or a long time after the event and to an agenda. Most often because someone paid someone else to write a history and the ‘history’ reflects that. You’re not going to pay for something you don’t like. Not now, not in the 11th Century. Even if they weren’t paid, writing a long time after the event and writing from the point of view of one side or the other from the conflict, is going to colour your 20/20 hindsight. The problem as I see it as well is, even if an un-biased, contemporary history suddenly popped up now, no one would believe it. Because it more than likely wouldn’t fit the ‘facts’ as we now believe them to be. As I said, the facts surrounding Hereward are more than a little vague. And while you may not like some of the ways James Wilde has Hereward interacting with other historical figures, unless you are going to come with incorrigible facts stating the opposite or different, you can’t – in my book – take James Wilde too much to task for what in his books, he has his Hereward say and do. And this is meant to be fiction, after all. I don’t remember James Wilde suggesting these books should be taught in school history lessons. Maybe I missed that. Again, from my reading of Marc Morris’ The Norman Conquest (admittedly the only history of the period I have read (so far), but it would seem Mr Morris has written his after reading a whole lot more than me, so I’ll go with the theory of ‘why have a dog and bark yourself?’ on this one), James Wilde does at least – with Hereward End of Days – stay in line with the ‘facts’, such as we have them. Even to the seemingly unlikely meeting with William towards the end – oh, come on, it’s flagged all the way through and was written about by a Monk in the 12th Century, so it’s hardly a plot spoiler. As Marc Morris puts it;

“…the monk of Ely who wrote the Gesta Herewardi in the early twelfth century did so with the clear intention of defending the honour of a defeated people. Hereward is presented as not only heroic but also chivalrous, a worthy adversary for his Norman opponents. The underlying message of the Gesta is that the English and Normans could coexist on equal terms. Indeed, in this version of the story, Hereward and the Conqueror himself are eventually reconciled.”

Both the character of Hereward and the book are more restrained, more subdued than (in) its two predecessors. Hereward in End of Days is no longer the whirlwind of death and destruction we met in the first book. Well, he is, but he realises if left to career out of control, the death the whirlwind would inevitably lead to, would be his own. So Hereward has had to mature somewhat. He has to be older and wiser and he finds that with maturity comes change and responsibility. He has to realise it’s not just about him and his anger any more. Whilst earlier in the series he cared nothing for himself and his actions, now he is responsible for much more than just the lives and future of his close friends and companions – he’s also responsible for the hopes and indeed the hope for the future, of all the English. That is, what’s left of them after William has been travelling through his green and conquered land. The 11th Century prophets of doom might say the days that are ending are those of mankind itself, but in reality, while once Hereward – ‘the last Englishman’ – dreamt of leading a rebellion that would save the English from the Norman tyranny and conquest, he knows that in order to defend the honour of a soon to be defeated people it must instead be the end of his rebellion’s days.

End of Days, brings to a thoroughly satisfying conclusion the various strands begun in the previous two books. Hereward’s vicious, scheming adoptive brother and his seemingly implacable and sworn psychopathic enemy, the Viking ‘Redteeth’, get what’s coming to them, whilst the addition of the character of the Norman knight ‘Deda’ is an excellent way of further blurring the difference between Norman war machine and the old English ways. One that sets the scene for how England developed under Norman rule. But once again one of the strongest characters in ‘End of Days’ are The Fens themselves. The ancient, mysterious lands that give the rebels an almost impenetrable fortress in which to gather strength and from which to fight back, are a constant source of comfort, concealment and the fitting place to make a last stand.

We’re almost certain Hereward existed, but we ALL know he didn’t win. He didn’t free the English people and he didn’t send the Normans packing. He lost. And that has surely been James Wilde’s biggest challenge all the way through this series – to make a compulsive, compelling story from a set of circumstances we already know the basic facts of. A challenge he rises to admirably. I thought many a time while reading this, it was a similar situation to (for example) books like The Day of The Jackal. You know the ‘Jackal’ doesn’t succeed, but it’s still an incredibly thrilling, heart-pounding story all the same. As is Hereward’s. Half of me, while reading the book, still hoped Hereward would somehow succeed. Even though I know he didn’t. See? That’s good writing.

This conflict could never be a battle amongst equals and William as we know, thanks to much greater resources, comes out on top. The English and Normans might be able to coexist on something approaching equal terms, but Hereward and William cannot. Though I did feel that on some occasions, James Wilde was actually showing us that Hereward and William were essentially very similar. Both leaders equally beset by treachery and treason, betrayal and seemingly implacable enemies. Sometimes it feels like the only people Hereward can trust to be consistent in what they say, are his enemies. In contrast to William though, Hereward can at least trust them to try and kill him from the front, in daylight. Hereward in the end recognises that he and William can’t coexist on equal terms and so after their reconciliation, he has to go bravely into that good night of history and myth.

Signed End of DaysSo, the End of Days would also seem to be the end of James Wilde’s Hereward books. That is of course presuming it is just a trilogy. Hereward has been fresh and riotously entertaining. An in-your-face, unforgettable meeting with one of English history’s original ‘forgotten’ heroes. James Wilde has succeeded in turning Hereward into a vital, living, breathing, death-dealing, honest, fallible, believable human being. A worthy adversary for William and the Normans. My attention and anticipation has been held fast all the way through, by glorious, addictive story-telling and good old-fashioned, can’t turn the pages fast enough, reading enjoyment of the finest kind. I do hope the good Mr Wilde can somehow find a way to keep Hereward going in some form or other. The character of the knight Deda would seem to offer some positive avenues, though would possibly take him into areas already occupied by James Aitcheson‘s ‘Tancred‘. The legend of Hereward has it that he either went into exile or carried on with his rebellious ways in the Fens or, a number of other possibilities. He didn’t die at the end of his struggles to rid England of the Normans and there is certain evidence for his exploits in hiding being the template for the later Robin Hood legend, so there might be scope for further novels.

But, maybe it is best to let Hereward end his days here and remember him the way he was.

The fact is, it’s sure not going to be easy not having another Hereward book to look forward to.

View all my reviews

More posts about Hereward and Wolf

Ahem, well…

Following on in a way from the post the other day about Angus Donald which, for the one and a half people who read all the way down to the end of the post, ended with me was musing on differences between UK and US covers for the same book.

In that post, I was saying I much preferred the US version of Angus’ first in the Outlaw series. I felt it conveyed more of the mysterious and fleeting nature of trying to tie down the Robin Hood myth. Whether that was the illustrators intention or not, it worked for me.

So, it led me on to remembering a Twitter conversation – if swapping a couple of 140 character messages can ever be called a ‘conversation’ – with James Wilde. He of the really rather superb Hereward series of books.

He was saying that he had finished the draft of the next (and hopefully not the last) in the series; Hereward. End of Days. He was also saying that he had been asked by his American ‘people’ if he couldn’t see about changing the title of the second Hereward book, Hereward The Devil’s Army.

Here’s our exchange (I’m ‘Speesh2‘, for new readers. I’m also ‘Speesh‘, but that’s for another day):

James Wilde Tweet 1

James Wilde Tweet 2

James Wilde Tweet 3I had asked him what the problem with ‘The Devil’s Army’ was, ‘devil’, or ‘army’. I wasn’t really thinking it would be ‘Hereward’ that would be the problem.

Don’t believe me?

Well, I got the idea that if he was saying Hereward (the name) was the problem with book two, then what about book one, just called ‘Hereward’. So, some checking and plenty of clicking on images later and what had me fooled, what I thought was perhaps another, preHereward book by James Wilde, turns out to be the US version of the first Hereward.

Check this out:

The-Time-of-the-Wolf-Wilde-James-9781605984162

HerewardHow about that? On the left is the US version, on the right the UK version (click on a picture to go to the relevant Amazon page). Of Hereward. As it came out in the UK first and he is an Englishman, I think it’s only fair it remains the ‘Hereward’ series and not the ‘Time of the Wolf’ series, eh?

I don’t know what to think about that cover really. It is changing two elements, rather fundamental elements at that. The title. And the illustration. It’s a different book. Though the story is the same (I’ve checked). Against all my better judgement, I really like the US version. But it’s not ‘Hereward’. Part of me says ‘Oh for goodness’ sake, come on! No! It shouldn’t be changed!’ Then again, the ex-advertising and marketing man in me says ‘well, they know their business over there and they’ll only change it if they think it’s not going to sell as it is for British audiences’. Having said that…you can order the ‘other’ version of Hereward/The Time of the Wolf on the UK Amazon site! Which, while still thinking it is completely wrong for the story, it still is one hell of a strong, moody picture and I just might get it. Look, I got a shed-load of money back from the Danish Tax man and we’ve (me and the good Mrs D. Though actually, she isn’t. As she’s kept her own surname. And they don’t have ‘Mrs’ over here anyway…) come to an agreement that we can spend some of it as we wish. So why not? It’s listed as ‘available from these sellers’, so it’s going to be a US import and some sellers are saying ‘New’. Prices start around the £11.05 mark, plus P&P. So for me, to get it to Denmark, you’re looking at about Kr 136.84 all-in. Don’t mind if I do!

UPDATE: The Time of the Wolf should be with me this week, I’m reliably informed.

And, finally Esther…

I find I can’t, as yet, explain this:

Hereward The Devils Army1

Hereward The Devils Army2

Can you see it?

More later…