Review: Hereward The Bloody Crown – James Wilde

hereward-the-bloody-crown-james-wilde4 of 5 stars

Series: Hereward 6

My version: Hardback
Historical Fiction 1066, Eastern Roman Empire
Bantam Press
2016
Bought, Signed

1081. And so the battle for the crown of the Holy Roman Empire begins…

Within the city of Constantinople itself, three factions will go to any lengths – will, it seems, kill any who might stand in their way – to seize the throne.

And outside the city’s walls, two very different but equally ambitious armies gather, threatening a siege that would crush this once-mighty empire forever. To the west, wait the voracious forces of the most feared Norman warlord of his day. In the east, the Turkish hoards are massing. These would be at war with each other but for their shared lust for slaughter – and for Constantinople’s gold.

And in the midst of this incipient maelstrom of brutality and betrayal, Hereward and his spear-brothers ready themselves for what could be their final stand…

This just might be the final Hereward. The jacket blurb does indeed describe it as ‘the dramatic final chapter’ though at the end, Mr James does more than hint, if the wind is in the right direction, he may return to Hereward at some time in the future. I think the time is right to leave Hereward in Constantinople. He’s run his course for now, and this is a fine send-off, if it be that. It’s a story full of action, full of Hereward (and others)’s last moment interventions and piles on the excitement almost non-stop. Almost, because I can really do without the convoluted, back-stabbing, two-faced politiking that Hist Fic authors always entangle their stories of post-Roman empire Constantinople with. I”m not saying it didn’t happen, but a couple of lines would be enough for me/us to get the picture. All ‘that sort of stuff‘ has been trotted out so many times – you should register with an author that you’ve read it all before, you know how it was, so they (and you) can skip it this time out. Especially as this is supposed to be a tale of Hereward and his warriors. And saying that – it’s a shame there hasn’t been more time to go into the minor characters. The ones Hereward brought with him and have been with him through thick and thin, they sound an intriguing bunch and lose out on page space, with all the various Constantinople ‘Houses’ trying to second guess each other. However, there is (more) mileage to be wrung out of Hereward as the antidote to all that poison. A simple warrior, seeing to the heart of the problem – and doing something about it. If I were to draw a parallel with other books I’ve read plenty of recently, I’d have to mention Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp character. He is, as above, a simple man, someone who sees where the problem is and gets things done. Other parallels are of course, with the politicians in Vince Flynn, the factions here. Really goes to show that nothing changes but the genre.

You can buy Hereward The Bloody Crown from Booksplea.se

Related reviews on Speesh Reads:

HerewardHereward The Devils Army2Hereward End of DaysHereward Wolves of New RomeHereward The Immortals

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

Light/bushel removal

Hereward Back CoverHereward The Immortals

Hot on the heels of me only just noticing I was quoted on the inside of Snorri Kristjanssons really rather fine book Path of Gods (review), I now have just noticed I’m quoted on the back of James Wilde‘s latest in his Hereward saga, Hereward, The Immortals.

I buy way too many books, that’s for sure. I often forget if I’ve bought one, I sometimes forget I’ve already got one and end up with two. I also have a tendency to put a new arrival on one side and only look at it properly, when I’m about to read it. So, The Immortals has of course, been out for a while, so when I thought I’d read it next, last night, imagine my surprise.

I don’t contact people, writers or publishers as king for free books review copies. If they want to contact me and are ok with sending a copy to Denmark, that’s fine. A few have, but in a way I’d really rather they didn’t, as I have a whole load I’ve bought myself, that I want to read and feel I don’t owe the person who sent it to me a good review. A few authors have contacted me and asked me to do them a favour and review their book and I’ve been extremely fortunate that their work has been very good and I’ve felt just fine about giving it a good review. James Wilde hasn’t contacted me, neither has his publisher. The Hereford books I’ve read, I’ve bought myself (though the hardback of the first, Hereford, which I already had in paperback, was given to me as a present, by a friend who lives in Ely and got it James was doing a signing at Toppings there).

I don’t make any money from the blog here, I sometimes wish I did. But I’m just fine with buying my books, I like doing that just as much as I enjoy reading the book, it’s only the bank manager who occasionally takes exception.

The bottom line is – you can trust my reviews more than others, because I’ve paid for the books. And so I’m under no obligation (and let’s face it, from the glowing reviews I read of absolute bollocks, a fair few reviewers do good reviews to order) to be effusive over absolute crap just because I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds.

So, if you are a passing author, published, self-published, or none of the above – sound me out. Now that I can put ‘as seen on the back of real published and in the shops and everything books’ blogger on my CV. Though what the Design department thought when someone told them to put ‘Speesh’ on the back of an otherwise perfectly good book cover, I don’t know.

Me, on Goodreads if you like.

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

Review: The Last Viking by Berwick Coates

The Last Viking

The Last Viking by Berwick Coates

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the story of how you really want 1066 to finish. After this battle – stop. Harold and the English win the battle of Stamford Bridge, see off the last Viking challenge. Nothing else happens. Everyone lives happy ever after.

If you’ve read anything about the 1066 period, about before or after the actual invasion, then you’ll know the bare bones of the story. And, if you know the bare bones, that’s ok. Because, as even the most arrogant of female historical fiction authors will surely admit (even of it is only through gritted teeth and with one of her many cats held over a hot fire), the bare bones of the story, is about all historians do know for sure. So if you know just a little bit, you’re pretty much up to speed. What you need to do then, is think about how it was 1,000 years ago. Remove yourself from the 21st Century and think about it. Who else only knew a little bit about what went on, was going on? Yup. People like you and me, the ordinary man and woman of England of course. We do forget sometimes, we need to be reminded by books like this, that people hadn’t much of an idea of what was actually going on. Not just in the other parts of the country, but in the next village often. I know they did travel more than we perhaps think, but think about it. No Newspapers with news only a few hours old, no TV or radio with live reports, no internet with live streaming and all the news and opinions available, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and immediately. No, if books like this (and the previous, The Last Conquest) do nothing else, they remind us of how it must have been on the ground – and higher up the system – for the people of the time. it’s like the phrase ‘the fog of war.’ They mean, I think, trying to peer through the clouds of information, misinformation, disinformation, maybes, bluffs and misdirection, to see the truth of the situation. Who is doing what and where and when and where they’re planning to be next and when. In the 11th Century, as this (and previous) book put over very well indeed – simply trying to find out where your enemy (and indeed, your friends, for that matter) are, was a huge problem. Especially if you were trying to fight off an invasion, or two. Or three. Let alone making any plans of what to do when you did find them. That’s probably why all the clever leaders down history, let their enemy come to them, at a place of their choosing. But finding out where your enemy is, reading between the lines of books like this, is a slow process of eliminating places where he is not. Even then, by the time a message has got back to you, you only really know where he was not, a few days ago. The way I read it, that’s what Mr Coates is trying to put over in his books. Though in Conquest he has William waiting for Harold came to him (mainly because he didn’t know where Harold was, or even if he’d won at Stamford Bridge. But then, Harold had a plan of where he would be, knowing the ground around Hastings and managed eventually, to let William come to him.

All that does raise the question of why Mr Coates has released the books in this order. The battle prior to that (not) at Hastings, after the book of that battle. I’m really not sure. I’m not sure though, if you would get more, or less, from reading them in the ‘right’ order. Maybe. Up to you. I had no choice, having already read ‘Invasion.’ If you haven’t read either yet, read The Last Conquest first.

To place the book in context with a couple of other books I’ve read about the period recently, it begins later than 1066 What Fates Impose, later than Shieldwall and earlier than James Aitcheson’s series and James Wilde’s Hereward books. Actually, we start off in Scandinavia, the land of Harald Hardrada, The Last Viking in question. Not with him, but amongst his people in some background to why and (possibly) how he managed to put an invasion-sized army together. He wasn’t, of course, the last Viking, as some of the people who went over with him, came back, but that’s mythology for you. Anyway, actually, apart from figuring in the background as at the start, one of the forces considering an invasion of England, Hardrada doesn’t feature in the book. Not a speaking part. The rest of his family, yes, but the ‘old viking’ himself, no. His deeds and character are sketched in by his wife and daughter, with whom the book spends a deal of time with, again, through their contacts with the Vikings at the start of the book as they prepare for and execute, their invasion plans.

The book though, is mainly over in England. It seems common knowledge amongst the peasants in the field, that the ailing King has indeed promised the throne to ‘The Bastard.’ And while William might be biding his time the other side of the Channel, the Normans are already in England. Edward’s been ‘knee-deep in Normans for years.’ And the English aren’t really sure where the King’s housecarls’ (his ‘sworn swords’) sympathies lie. Harold here is again presented as a very sympathetic figure. He could be presented differently, if a writer wished, going against what seem to be the previous King’s wishes and taking the throne for himself after familial manoeuvring into position, but in the books I’ve read, he is presented in a pretty sympathetic light. Here, he is intent on doing what is best for the country. Whilst he isn’t thrust unwillingly into the ‘job,’ he can clearly see that there are no other candidates that can do the job as well as him. None that aren’t Norman, anyway. His brother Tostig might – and does – disagree (as does their mother), much to Harold’s irritation, and he too wants to seize the throne. The view here, is that Tostig’s doing it for himself, Harold for the good of England. Hoorah! Harold therefore realises that he needs to be seen (eventually) by his own people, as doing the right thing for England. “‘Harold wants the throne, but he wants it delivered properly – open election, according to all custom and etiquette.’” Again, as I’ve pointed out in reviews for other books, note ‘election’ and ‘according to all custom.’ Interestingly, Mr Coates has Harold stating that he did swear an oath to William, but (as ‘1066 What Fates Impose’) under duress. Harold is also open about the validity of the oath and whatever it contained. “I know what I swore in that oath and what I did not, and so does William. It certainly did not include crowning him King of England. Besides, it was under some form of duress. And no oath under duress counts. Everyone knows that, never mind William.” Unfortunately, as we know, William wasn’t the understanding ‘oh yeah, you’re right, I’ll get me coat’ kind of person. Another interesting point was to cover why, if Harold knew William was delayed by bad weather and that Hardrada had arrived, he didn’t attack him earlier than at Stamford Bridge. At Fulford, for example. Here, Harold has a stomach bug, which delays his arrival, allowing Hardrada to come to Stamford bridge to exchange hostages, not realising that Harold and the English army was galloping up just the other side of that hill there. Hoorah!

‘The Last Viking’s Harold is sure, dynamic, clear sighted, sensible, certain of his own and therefore England’s success against whoever or all those who would attack her. We see what Harold might have been going through, waiting and preparing, not knowing from which end of the land an attack was going to come from first. But knowing that an attack was coming. I kept thinking underway, that maybe his intention was maybe of somehow presenting Harold as ’The Last Viking’ of the title, but it never came about.

All in all, from the little I know of the period, Mr Coates writes pretty much in line with the other histories of the period, non- and fiction-wise. The book’s narrative doesn’t have to travel near and far to gather the scraps of information. That is brought to it, partly by Harold’s spy master, by Welsh archers, by Scarborough Shire Reeves (remind you of anything?) and overheard gossip. He sets out the historical background for the period and his story in conversations and observations between ‘ordinary’ people. Well, not those out in the fields covered in shit, but those shall we say just outside the circles of power, and by not being on the inside, they can give it some – often earthy – perspective for us. We hear of Harold’s plans, his worries and his hopes, the background information coming from the ordinary people hearing rumours and having friends who have actually seen the fire-breathing dragons roaming the skies. As you do. Once in a while, some of the minor characters chatting about major events, can feel a bit too forced, a bit too obvious, but it generally works a treat.

The whole book is vivid and very readable, a good flow and structure and with plenty of sparkling dialogue – like people would discuss things, then as now. You and I would fit right in, it’s only time that separates us.

Oh, and, as ever – stay on for the Historical Afterword, really interesting.

Hey! I’m on Goodreads here.

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.

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.

View all my reviews

Friday Book News – 16 May

All Kindles Lead to Rome
Exciting Roman news, if news about Roman stuff excites you. Yeah? Well, read on then…
Robert Fabbri announced he will have a new short-story exclusively out on Kindle, on 21 May.
The Racing FactionsIt’s kind of like a side-project of sorts, to his ‘day job’ of the Vespasian novels, the first of which, Vespasian Tribune of Rome, I read – and enjoyed – not so long ago. Featuring a character called Marcus Salvius  Magnus, it is in fact the second ‘side-story’ he has written, the first was called The Racing Factions. As the name possibly suggests, it was set in and around the chariot racing scene in ancient Rome and involved bets not being honoured, vengeance being extracted in the shady underworld of Rome and attempting to fix elections and chariot races. In The Dreams of Morpheus, they’re saying this will happen:

The Dreams of Morpheus

Rome, AD 34. Marcus Salvius Magnus, leader of the Crossroads Brotherhood, is searching for the resin of an eastern flower that can unlock the realm of Morpheus. His patron, Senator Pollo, needs it for the city’s most powerful woman, the Lady Antonia, in order to recoup a considerable debt.
Meanwhile, rebellion is in the air. The people in Magnus’ area believe they are being given short measure at the grain dole. As the Ides of October festival dawns bright and clear to celebrate the completion of agricultural and military campaigns, a violent riot erupts. Can Magnus help right the wrongs that have been perpetrated upon the stirred-up crowd?
In this exclusive e-novella for fans of the Vespasian series, Magnus must lead his men in securing a deal over the sale of the highly treasured resin, with its unique power to transport the taker to another place, whilst battling his way through Rome’s savage and corrupt political arena.

If you live in a land that allows Kindle downloads (to your Kindle device or iPhone app) you should commence rejoicing now, then pre-order. If you live in a land that doesn’t allow Kindle downloads, you may need to – ahem – jump through a few hoops…

Dreams of Morpheus on Amazon Kindle

The Racing Factions on Amazon Kindle


Hereward IV
When in Rome…the next in James Wilde’s Herward series ‘Wolves of New Rome’ has got a cover.
Hereward Wolves of New RomeAnd this is it.
Absolutely excellent that it is the same style as the previous three. Someone somewhere at James’ (UK) book company, knows how to do their job, eh? I have seen other series where they change the covers, even subtly (though non the less irritatingly) between three and four. Douglas Jackson’s ‘of Rome’ series springs immediately to mind. I can’t always guess why, but maybe they had agreed a trilogy of Herewards covering his ‘known’ life, or at least that we have other people from the period and after writing about him, with an option for (at least) a fourth. Here with James’ original three, maybe they thought he’d greater a strong enough brand with the guy who plays Hereward and the type, to carry the series onwards. As I say, as far as I can see, there isn’t a right lot of evidence, archaeological or otherwise, for Hereward outside his legend status. I haven’t read enough about Hereward after he leads the rebels to William the Conqueror at Ely and then goes off into the mists of history…to say what even the legends say happens next. Stewart Binns’ Hereward does go on to join the Varangian Guard, which is what James Wilde’s Hereward seems to be doing as well, so maybe there is some sort of legend of that happening. James in Hereward III, seemed to also be suggesting that Hereward could be the source of the robin Hood legends. If you’ve read Hereward III, you’ll know what I mean.
Can’t wait – well, I can obviously, but you get the idea – until 31 July (when Amazon say it is released).
James Wilde website
And speaking of Robin Hood…


The name is Hood, Robin Hood
OutlawThe title of the seventh book in Angus Donald‘s Robin Hood Outlaw Chronicles will be The Bloody Charter. I’m not gonna guess what it’s about just yet, but Angus says it will feature, or at least include, Robin’s (in Angus’ Robin Hood world, that is) two sons Miles and Hugh.
If you haven’t got started on this series yet, get stuck in now, you have a lot of reading pleasure ahead of you. If you’ve been in but not continued for any reason – get back in, the last published story Grail Knight, was absolutely excellent.
Here’s a handy, cut-out-and-keep guide to the books in the order you (not necessarily) need to be reading them in:

1. Outlaw   BUY
2. Holy Warrior   BUY
3. King’s Man   BUY
4. Warlord   BUY
5. Grail Knight   BUY
6. The Iron Castle (published 3 July)   ORDER
7. The Bloody Charter (published in 2015)

Click on the title, to go to my review of the book, click on BUY to order it.
I’ve linked here – and will do more and more in the future – to The Book Depository. TBD will send worldwide with free post and, in contrast to Amazon, do pay tax in the UK. I know TBD are owned by Amazon, but so long as Amazon don’t pay tax in the UK, but charge me for that tax, I won’t use them. Especially as well, as I have mentioned before, they won’t now send free to Denmark when ordering over £25. There are plenty of other places that are equally as good and which do pay tax.
There is even, in the UK, a movement to have customers boycott Amazon, until they pay proper tax. Like you and I do.
Check this article from The Guardian.