The only list that mutters!

Well, it’s that time again, when everyone puts their list of best books of the year up, so I will too. They all put them up too early though, I wait until the year is actually over, if you’ve noticed.

So that makes my list that much better, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Anyway, in time-honoured tradition, here are all the books I finished last year, in the order I read them:

*You’ll note that they are books I read last year, not books that were necessarily released last year, though of course some were. Where I’ve got round to writing a review, click on the book title to go to the review page.

  1. The Templar Cross (Templar 2) : Paul Christopher
  2. Masters of Rome (Vespasian 5) : Robert Fabbri
  3. Crusade (The Making of England 2) : Stewart Binns
  4. American Assassin (Mitch Rapp 1) : Vince Flynn
  5. Good As Dead (Tom Thorne 10) : Mark Billingham
  6. Blood Tracks (Tess Grey and Po Villere 1) : Matt Hilton
  7. The Pale Criminal (Bernard Gunther 2) : Philip Kerr
  8. The Thunder God : Paul Watkins
  9. Hereward The Immortals (Hereward 5) : James Wilde
  10. Fire & Steel (King’s Bane 1) : C.R. May
  11. Kill Shot (Mitch Rapp 2) : Vince Flynn
  12. The Virgin of The Wind Rose : Glenn Craney
  13. Savage Continent. Europe in the Aftermath of World War II) : Keith Lowe
  14. Enemy of Rome (Gaius Valerius Verrens 5) : Douglas Jackson
  15. Cut and Run (Joe Hunter 4) : Matt Hilton
  16. A German Requiem (Bernard Gunther 3) : Philip Kerr
  17. The Templar Throne (Templar 3) : Paul Christopher
  18. The Double Game : Dan Fesperman
  19. Brother’s Fury (Bleeding Land Trilogy 2) : Giles Kristian
  20. Tripwire (Jack Reacher 3) : Lee Child
  21. Transfer of Power (Mitch Rapp 3) : Vince Flynn
  22. Hannibal. Fields of Blood (Hannibal 2) : Ben Kane
  23. Knight of The Cross : Steven A. McKay
  24. Blood and Ashes (Joe Hunter 5) : Matt Hilton
  25. Anarchy (The Making of England 3) : Stewart Binns
  26. Scourge of Rome (Gaius Valerius Verrens 6) : Douglas Jackson
  27. The Templar Conspiracy (Templar 4) : Paul Christopher
  28. The Maharaja’s General (Jack Lark 2) : Paul Fraser Collard
  29. Imperial Fire : Robert Lyndon
  30. Lionheart (The Making of England 4) : Stewart Binns
  31. The Third Option (Mitch Rapp 4) : Vince Flynn
  32. Rome’s Lost Son (Vespasian 6) : Robert Fabbri
  33. The Visitor (Jack Reacher 4) : Lee Child
  34. The Harrowing : James Aitcheson
  35. Keane’s Company (Keane 1) : Iain Gale
  36. The Far Shore (Agent of Rome 3) : Nick Brown
  37. Separation of Power (Mitch Rapp 5) : Vince Flynn
  38. Gods of War (King’s Bane 2) : C.R. May
  39. Executive Power (Mitch Rapp 6) : Vince Flynn
  40. The Secret Speech (Leo Demidov 2) : Tom Rob Smith
  41. Nemesis (Harry Hole 4) : Jo Nesbø
  42. The Count of Monte Christo : Alexandre Dumas
  43. Dead Men’s Harvest (Joe Hunter 6) : Matt Hilton
  44. Echo Burning (Jack Reacher 5) : Lee Child
  45. The Twelfth Department (Captain Alexei Dimitrevich Korolev 3) : William Ryan
  46. The Wolf and the Raven (The Forest Lord 2) : Steven A. McKay
  47. Hannibal. Clouds of War (Hannibal 3) : Ben Kane
  48. Without Fail (Jack Reacher 6) : Lee Child
  49. The Furies of Rome (Vespasian 7) : Robert Fabbri
  50. The Templar Legion (Templar 5) : Paul Christopher
  51. Blood and Blade (The Bernicia Chronicles 3) : Matthew Harffy
  52. Memorial Day (Mitch Rapp 7) : Vince Flynn
  53. The Death of Robin Hood (The Outlaw Chronicles 8) : Angus Donald
  54. Consent to Kill (Mitch Rapp 8) : Vince Flynn
  55. God of Vengeance (The Rise of Sigurd 1) : Giles Kristian
  56. Terror Gallicus (Brennus. Conqueror of Rome 1) : C.R. May
  57. Red Templar (Templar 6) : Paul Christopher
  58. Dead Letter Drop (Max Flynn 1) : Peter James
  59. The Devil’s Assassin (Jack Lark 3) : Paul Fraser Collard
  60. Act of Treason (Mitch Rapp 9) : Vince Flynn
  61. Persuader (Jack Reacher 7) : Lee Child
  62. Iron & Rust (Throne of The Caesars 1) : Harry Sidebottom
  63. Agent 6 (Leo Demidov 3) : Tom Rob Smith
  64. Protect and Defend (Mitch Rapp 10) : Vince Flynn

Well, looking at that list, you can maybe see that my aim for reading in 2016, was to read as many of the series as I’ve got (the books laid in for, Mitch Rapp for example), or already begun, as possible.

I had intended on not starting any new series in ’16, but didn’t quite manage it. I’m going to continue to read up the series I have started, then get on to the one-offs in 2017. I want to be able to still read series, but read the latest book, as it is released. Not be behind the curve. Also, there are some really quite interesting one-offs out there, and in my collection, that I’d really like to get on to. I’m not against reading series or authors writing them, but I’d like to see an author or publisher take more of a chance on a one-off. It seems a given that any new author is signed if he/she has one book finished and two more sketched out. We need to get away from that, I feel. Get away from the feeling that book one is merely setting the scene for two and three and is stretched out further than it really should have been, the otherwise really just fine Harry Sidebottom’s Iron and Rust springs to mind in that category.

I also have a few Non Fiction books lined up that I’d really like to get on with as well.

My Goodreads aim will again be to read 52 books in the course of the year. I made it up to 64 partially thanks to

  1. Two doses of Influenza, one after the other
  2. Some enforced ‘use it or lose it’ holiday home alone while the wife slaved
  3. Listening to audiobook versions of some of the books I actually have physical versions of (I’ve recently moved from Audible to Storytel. Nothing against Audible as a service, just that Storytel gives me unlimited listening a month, for one flat fee, whereas Audible gives you one credit for your fee, after that you have to buy, or wait for the next month’s credit). I can listen to and from work in the bus, and while walking from the bus to work and back and…well, you get the picture

52 – 64 books read in a year is really about the limit for reading, appreciating, ruminating on and writing an honest appreciation I think. Anyone saying they’re reading more, isn’t really doing any one of those properly. And you can quote me on that.

And speaking of categories…

consent-to-kill-vince-flynnblood-and-blade-matthew-harffyThe Award for the ‘Most Improved’ Series Award
Sharing this award is:
Vince Flynn for The Mitch Rapp Series
The still unexplained ten year gap between three and four (or was it two and three?) apart, this series gets better and better. I noted that he seemed to be aiming to write the perfect thriller, he’s there for the last two I’ve read. The UK publishers clearly want you to think ‘Jack Reacher’ when you see the covers, but these are so much better.
Matthew Harffy for The Bernicia Chronicles
Well, if you read book one and then book three, you’d wonder if they were written by the same person. So either he’s got a ghost-writer, or he’s improved a hundred-fold in the space of three books. Personally, I’m leaning towards the former.

the-wolf-and-the-ravenAward for the ‘Best Series Based on the lyrics for Duran Duran’s ‘Hungry Like The Wolf” Award
Steven A. McKay for Wolf’s Head, The Wolf and the Raven, Wolf’s Bottom, Rise of the Wolf, I’m On The Ground I’m After You and many more.

 

the-death-of-robin-hood-angus-donaldThe Award for ‘Sad To See It End’ Series Award
Angus Donald for The Outlaw Chronicles
I’ve maybe had my doubts about this series a couple of times – too much of it set in France – but…Angus got his revenge in the best possible way with an absolutely magnificent final book. He’s gone on to new writing pastures and I’m still misting over thinking about the final scene in this book. Really, do yourselves a serious favour and read the series (in order) if you haven’t done so yet. Robin Hood lives!

the-furies-of-rome-robert-fabbriThe Award for the Most Consistent Series Award
Robert Fabbri for Vespasian
When I’m blown away by book seven in an on-going series and champing at the bit for the next one, you know the series has something good going for it. The Furies of Rome was nothing short of a masterclass in Historical Fiction, one more authors in that field could well do with reading.

Gods of War CR MayThe Award for The Most Surprisingly Good Series Award
C. R. May for King’s Bane. Well, where did this come from?! Somewhere in East Anglia, I think. And the post to Denmark … well, anyway, Cliff (I feel I can call him Cliff now) was kind enough to send me a copy of the first King’s Bane book, and i was seriously blown away with how good it was and how quickly I became completely immersed in the pre-Viking European world he created.

The Bleeding LandBrothers' FuryThe Award for Biggest Disappointment Award
No! Not in that way…it’s because there are (so far) only two in Giles Kristian’s absolutely magnificent English Civil War trilogy. It’s listed as a trilogy and is set up after book two for a number three, but for one reason and/or another, it’s just a duo as yet. But what a hum-dinger book three is/will (hopefully) be. Maybe we should crowd-fund it? Stranger things have happened. I’m in!

 

But…here is the book I was most impressed with, made the biggest impression on me in 2016

The Prestigious Solid Gold Speesh Reads Best Book of 2016 Award


The HarrowingThe Harrowing
: James Aitcheson

From the moment I started it to the moment I finished it, there was never any doubt in my mind that this was going to be the best book I would read all year. I’m still reviewing the video his words created in my mind every so often. I don’t think it will fade. It was a book set in the aftermath of 1066, that felt bang up to date. It’s the best of 2016 and probably many other years as well.

My review

You can buy The Harrowing here

Honourable mentions

The Death of Robin Hood : Angus Donald
It’ll be a classic for future generations.

The Thunder God : Paul Watkins
Unbelievably good Viking saga. How they should be wrote.

Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith
The final bittersweet book in the Leo Demidov trilogy.

Well, thanks for reading all the way down here, thanks for reading my blog in 2016, I hope you come back in 2017. I also hope the books you read last year, were at least as good as those I read. Have a happy and safe new year – and, good reading!

Review: The Harrowing by James Aitcheson

The Harrowing5 of 5 stars

My version:
Uncorrected bound proof (!)
Historical Fiction England, Norman Conquest
Heron Books
2016
Sent by James Aitcheson

In the aftermath of 1066, a Norman army marches through the North of England: burning, killing and laying waste to everything in its path. The Harrowing has begun.

As towns and villages fall to the invaders, five travellers fleeing the slaughter are forced to band together for survival. Refugees in their own country, they journey through the wasteland, hoping to find sanctuary with the last stand of the Saxon rebellion. But are they fleeing the Normans, or their own troubles?

Priest, Lady, Servant, Minstrel: each has their own story; each their own sin.

As enemies past and present close in, their prior deeds catch up with them and they discover there is no sanctuary from fate.

I absolutely adore books like this, I really do. Books clearly written from the heart, that are trying to do something a little different, a little bit more with the genre. And pull it off, obviously. Spectacularly so, in the case of The Harrowing. 

If you’ve read any of James Aitcheson’s previous books set in the period just after the cataclysm in English history that was 1066 and the Norman conquest, or any of the many good books there are about just now that are set in the period, then you’ll be familiar with the period. However, that is just where The Harrowing begins to set itself apart from the others. In his previous series, James wrote about the years after 1066, but seen through the eyes of Tancred, a Norman knight. Now, Tancred did become more and more Anglicised as the books progressed and did come to understand and sympathise with the ideals and something of the plight of the English he was responsible for. The Normans here, are an evil, dark presence, most often only glimpsed in the distance, though the results of their passing and presence can be seen and felt all around. Actual contact, is kept to just a couple of incidents – this is because The Harrowing is written focusing on the plight of the English, two devastating years after 1066. And a thoroughly desperate plight it is. In order to put down the last of the English resistance in the northern parts of the just conquered kingdom, and thoroughly extinguish not just the rebellion, but any thoughts of the possibility of rebellion in the future of his reign, William decided to go all in. That meant a truly awesome and awful, search and destroy, slash and burn, scorched earth destruction of the lives, livestock and livelihoods of the English in the north. A policy that came to be known as The Harrying of the North, or simply The Harrowing.

I use the above, modern warfare terms advisedly, because while it is a Historical Fiction of course, set 950 years ago, it’s a very modern novel and not just in language and style. The landscape it describes the five characters journeying through, compares in intensity and devastation, and at times bleak economy of writing, with any modern, post apocalypse novel – or film. Such is the devastation wrought by the Normans in revenge for the English daring to rebel in their own land against William’s new austerity, that in the hardest hit areas of England, the counties of Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland, Lancashire, Cumberland and Westmorland, some reports claim around 100,000 people died. Out of a total population of between one and a half and two million. And they of course, were the lucky ones. For the homeless, destitute survivors, it got worse. Whole towns and villages were devastated, ruined, destroyed. People’s homes, history, culture, lost forever. The scenes that resulted, that are sparingly and superbly described here, would surely be recognisable to anyone familiar with modern post-apocalypse novels and films such as I Am LegendWorld War Z or Mad Max. But the devastation clearly wasn’t just confined to the landscape and property, people losing everything left them devastated as well. As with the films, survival was the name of the game. And that is what James is concerned with here. The landscape’s devastation an external manifestation of the characters’ inner mental shock and awe.

So, it is against this dreadful backdrop that The Harrowing begins and is set. The characters find each other, each looking for survival and maybe hope. They have no future, their past has been swept away. However, they do have one thing. Guilt. They each have secrets they want kept hidden and yet, as they journey onwards towards their hopes, these secrets come out and they are forced to confront them and each other, with what they’ve done.

(The population in the northern counties was very Danish. As someone who lives now in Denmark, I can recognises ‘Tova’ as the Danish name Tove, it’s pronounced the same. Her friend Ase, would be Åse. ‘Beorn,’ is Bjørn. And they played Tæfl (helps having those characters on your keyboard)).

The Harrowing is nothing less than a magnificent book, melancholy and moving, a truly mesmerising experience. Heartbreaking at times, heartwarming at others, this is without doubt a book written from the heart, to the heart. A story of people confronting their past, surviving their present and trying, somehow, to believe they might, just might, have a future. More so than his previous 1066 series, The Harrowing is also a wistful, poignant look back at the England, and not least the English people, that was lost, crushed by the Normans in 1066. That an England survived for you and I, is thanks to people like Beorn, Tove, Skalpi, Merewyn, Guthred and the handful of others.

What James has written, is their memorial. Simple folk, surviving in terrible times with few expectations. Folk crushed by the Normans and as history is written by the victors, all but forgotten. What they deserve, is – as James writes for Beorn:

“Someone to know his story, to know who he was. Who he really was. Someone to know what he’d done, and to go on and live happy and well so that all his striving didn’t turn out to have been for nothing.”

In a book that takes place over just eight days, this hugely impressive book will stay with me for much, much longer. The Harrowing is incredibly imaginative, stylish, intriguing, complex and simply wonderful. Be prepared to be entranced and enraptured, if not, check your pulse, you’ve died.

As I finish, there’s a tear in my eye, and a smile on my face.

You can buy The Harrowing from all the regular outlets, I recommend The Book Depositoryfree worldwide shipping!

Related reviews on Speesh Reads:

SwornSwordThe Splintered KingdomKnights of the Hawk 2

 

 

 

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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.

Book News Friday 16 May

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

And what have I been reading about?

The Fifth Legion

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Others to have gone down this route are:

Hannibal Clouds of War New Front

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

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

 Historical Faction

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

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

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

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

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

You can also follow Stuart Neville on Twitter.

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

The Samurai InheritanceSomething like this in fact:

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

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

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

Review: The Last Caesar

The Last Caesar
The Last Caesar by Henry Venmore-Rowland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Is there room in the Roman market for another author writing fiction set in Ancient Rome? When you’re as good as this, there is. When your name’s as big as Henry Venmore-Rowland – you better create a lot of room.

And he does, he has.

Henry Venmore-Rowland (so good they named him thrice?) was a new author to me – and reading his biography and looking at his picture, he’s a new author to him as well! He is powerful young, that’s for sure. But, as James Aitcheson (Sworn Sword, Splintered Kingdom, Knights of the Hawk) has proved, age is no barrier to writing absolutely tip-top Historical Fiction. And it isn’t here either.

The Last Caesar is a really good, readable book. An engaging, accessible and maybe even surprisingly confident first effort. If someone popped up half way through and said HV-R was a wizened professor of Romeology at some ancient university, you’d believe them.

The main character, who tells the tale, is Aulus Caecina Severus. He’s a likeable chap, just into his 20s as his tale starts. He is writing his story as an older man remembering how it was. So he is able to add some hindsight. Like Alan Dale in Angus Donald‘s Outlaw Chronicles. But this is much more of a conversational style. He’s writing, it seems, as though this story will be read by a person from the same period, not later generations. So there isn’t the need for so much explanation, as he presumes you know what he’s talking about. It all creates a much more conversational, open, accessible style. There are nods and winks and things taken for granted, as someone would who was writing for people who knew his world, because they were living in it. Makes for a really open and inviting sort of style, I felt.

His story starts with Severus seeing action in Britain, the last days of the defeat of Boudicca. This caught my attention, as I’d just come off the back of an exceptionally good novel by Anthony Riches, set roughly in the same period and part of the Roman Empire. Though his recollections actually begin in the reign of Nero, with his posting to Hispania and his intention to use this as a way to return to Rome a wealthy man. He gets invited to a meeting, which turns out to be a meeting to plot the overthrow/removal of the Emperor Nero. Which puts him over a rather Roman-type barrel really. There’s no real way back after you’ve been to an ‘overthrow the Emperor’ party. The story does, of necessity for staying withing binocular distance of the historical facts, move on to Spain, to France to Germania and the massed Legions of the Rhine. As HV-R points out at the afterword, he sticks close to what facts are known about the year of the four emperors (as he says, the eighteen months of the five emperors doesn’t have the same ring), so the journeying and the people met are in keeping with what actually happened.

And given the fact that I can tend to glaze over at the use of too many Roman names and lose track or even interest – in the case of the last Harry Sidebottom I read – in who Severus Aquilla Maximus was or who he’s double-crossing (insert Roman word here) with his (insert Roman name of instrument here), this never feels like you really should have paid more attention because I’m gonna be testing you at the end and you’ll be kept in after school if you’re not 100% correct (hello Prof. Sidebottom again).

The Last Caesar is a really good, solid, enjoyable story, with characters that are easy to care about and care enough about to care about what might happen to them in their future. And with enough other, more minor characters, to keep one more than intrigued as to what fate might have planned for them in their future. This book is – as yet – one of two and, as these things usually get written in threes, we can only hope that we shall be spending a lot more time in the exciting company of AC Severus et al. There is a lot of politicking as the action his lead character could have taken part in, is of course limited. So it isn’t staggering from one pitched battle to another. But the politicking, the back-stabbing etc doesn’t descend into cliche, as you find in some Roman stories, but rather backs up, compliments and makes understandable the characters actions.

A thoroughly coherent, believable and interestingly enticing read. I look forward to getting stuck into the second (and hopefully more) novel(s) from young Henry Venmore-Rowland.

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Review: Knights of the Hawk

Knights of the Hawk
Knights of the Hawk by James Aitcheson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Being English, I see Hastings from the English side. We were invaded. They came from Normandy. They won, we lost. Later, we fought back. And lost again. I ‘know’ of course, about how badly ‘we’ were later treated by ‘them.’ Think Robin Hood. It’s taken for granted that the Normans are the bad guys. One-dimensional bad guys at that. Until I read James Aitcheson’s Sworn Sword, I hadn’t actually considered that there might actually be a Norman side to 1066 and all that. Which was why, to me at least, Sworn Sword came as such a fresh, wonderful, confusing surprise. Suddenly here was I, an Englishman, rooting for Tancred á Dinant, one of ‘them.’ A horrid Norman.

After reading Knights of the Hawk, over a couple of days, though at more or less one sitting, I can safely say that the freshness, the surprise and the satisfaction, are all still there. And then some. Expertly written, with passion and verve, Knights of the Hawk is by far the best book I will read all year. Five of Goodreads’ finest stars. Straight out. No doubt. No other conclusion possible.

Expertly weaving his way in and out of what (little) we know of the history of this period (as Tancred says; “…the seasons turn and the years and the decades pass, the stories grow ever wilder, and the myths grow more powerful than the truth”) James Aitcheson has created a novel – a series of novels now – brim-filled with the energy, with the sights and sounds and not least the smells, of daily life – and death – on and away from the battlefields of the new Norman Britain. Compelling and gripping and packed with nerve-tingling, nail-biting action, ‘Knights of the Hawk’ is a story that really could have happened, but one I now think only James could have written.

It is five years since the slaughter at Hastings and the English resistance still hasn’t been extinguished. The Norman invasion of Britain is bogged down, literally, in and around the English rebels’ stronghold at Ely. Something needs to be done to rescue the conquest and someone needs to do it. Now. Step forward Tancred á Dinant. A Norman knight who came over with William, who fought at Hastings and who ruled lands in the west of England as vassal to his sworn lord, Robert Malet. But who has, despite saving the day on frequent occasions in the years since Hastings, fallen somewhat in the esteem and pecking order amongst his fellow Normans. He can’t understand why he is ‘reduced to this escort duty’, guarding supply wagons, instead of being richly rewarded for his efforts in securing the England for King William. Wealth and fame, battle honours and leadership, look to be passing him by. While he could be forgiven for giving up and going home, he’s still the only one who actually delivers the goods and gets the Normans into Ely.

Then, when they’ve achieved what they set out to do, reached a point where they might have expected to be able to sit back and enjoy the fruits of all their labours, it starts to unravel for Tancred. He has go against his sworn lord and he suddenly finds enemies where he thought he had friends. Hell, as a Norman, you must realise you’re in trouble when you realise you identify with the English leader who stood between you and all you thought you ever wanted. Hereward. “He and I were more similar than I’d realised. We both strove for recognition for our deeds, and struggled against the weighty oaths that bound us. Both of us had at one time led whole armies into the field, yet now found ourselves in somewhat humbler circumstances, lacking the respect we craved and which for a while at least we had commanded.” However, as we find out later, by removing Hereward for the Normans, Tancred has in fact removed the obstacle stopping him from getting on with living his own life.

That’s just the first part of the story, as the book can be said to divide itself into two parts. The first, is in line with what we know of the early years of the conquest. The character of Tancred is James’ invention, but the events the books have described and the five years it took before William had anything that passed for total control over his newly conquered kingdom, the treachery, the back-stabbing, the rebellions at Ely led by Hereward, all happened. Exactly what happened, we don’t know. But I’ll go for James’ version if it comes to a vote.

The second half of the book moves away from inserting Tancred into known events, and we sail (literally) off into the unknown. Into Tancred’s own, self-determined future. He has to leave, to find himself. He has lost his faith in the Norman system, so he must find someone from his past, who can give him a future he can believe in. He has been a part of the Norman war machine, he must now go in search of who he, Tancred, really is. “The Breton had become a Norman, had become bound to England.” By freeing himself, Tancred realises it can be he who decides who he is and what path his own future should take.

It is of course, the character of Tancred that carries the book. We’ve a reasonable idea of his character from previous novels, but through the course of ‘Knights of the Hawk’, he fills out. He’s always been adaptable, resourceful and believable, now he’s a much more nuanced and fully-rounded character. Actually, he’s got the decency you normally associate with being English! But Tancred is sometimes too decent, not devious enough, too trusting to imagine for instance, someone might be laying a trap for him. ‘Friend’ or foe. As the book progresses, Tancred adapts. I won’t say he ‘learns’, but he becomes more aware of other possibilities than the one he has rushed headlong into. He is a Knight, an honourable one at that, but this belief in his own honour and trustworthiness, as proved time and time again in the most desperate of circumstances, sometimes blinds him. That his fellow Normans might see his honourable actions in a different way, in a maybe more cynical way and use his trustworthiness against him, that’s what he doesn’t see at first. And it causes frustration, which leads to rashness which leads to murder and exile. Not just from a land and friends – also an ideal. Of honour. Leaving all he knew behind and seemingly having his options reduced, as it were, actually helps him become a more complex character.

‘Knights of the Hawk’ begins stealthily, but like a hunting party in the midst of the mists and marshes of Ely, it creeps up and ambushes you. Rich with compelling dialogue and vigorously peppered with heart-stopping action, desperate feats of derring-do, incident and intrigue, this is a book that keeps you on your toes at all times. Not least with the unexpected alliances that pop up. Unexpectedly. The tension, the suspense and the don’t dare breathe even though you’re just reading the book, in case you give Tancred away – those sequences are astoundingly well-handled. There are highs and lows and heartbreaks, great tragedy and blinking away the tears optimism. There is so much to remember this book for, but (for now) the way James draws out a scene, twisting the tension level up and up and leading to the final delivery of the outcome – while you’re trying not to break the tension and flick a look at the last lines to see how the paragraph ends – is what I will perhaps remember perhaps the most from this novel. If you’re going to say you ‘devour’ a book, then this is delicious. Oh, and an ending that is…well, you’ll have to read it, wipe your eyes and trust that Tancred is back soon.

This novel has really showcased what a really fine new, young writer we have on the Historical Fiction (battle) field, in James Aitcheson. It surely won’t be long before we’re comparing people like Bernard Cornwell and Conn Iggulden, to James. There is a maturity and confidence to his writing, that if you’d said this was James 20th book, you’d believe it. The surprising thing is, Knights of the Hawk is just James’ third outing – we really are spoiled to still have so much to look forward to from him.

And we learned that 11th Century Welshmen liked cleaning their teeth. A lot.

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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.

Review: The Norman Conquest

The Norman Conquest
The Norman Conquest by Marc Morris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At one point in The Norman Conquest, writing about the Bayeux Tapestry, Marc Morris says; “No other source takes us so immediately and so vividly back to that lost time.”

I’ll say exactly the same about this book.

It really is an astoundingly well written and well put together book. Easily the Norman period’s equivalent of Max Hastings’ All Hell Let Loose and Antony Beevor’s The Second World War. For what it’s worth, for me, that’s the highest praise I can come up with. As with those two, this really deserves at least 6 stars.

You know what happened don’t you? Normans come over, beat Harold at Hastings, conquered us, spoke French, tormented Robin Hood, etc, etc. But wait. Do you really know what happened, or why, or where?

The Norman Conquest is packed full of stuff you didn’t know. Or thought you knew, but as you will soon find out, had wrong. For one (and I’m not giving anything away as if you read the first few pages in a bookshop while deciding about getting it, you’ll come across this); The Bayeux Tapestry. Not a tapestry. Not made in Bayeux. And once that has finished rocking your Norman world, you’re ready to read on.

Marc Morris has an open, inviting and encouragingly readable style. He’s very honest and critical when discussing the few sources we have for events of this period in an excellent ‘down-to-earth’, matter of fact style. He’s very good at cutting through the reams of ancient hype and he’s perfect at reading between the medieval lines of 1,000-year old press releases and spin doctors’ erm…spin. History written by the victors and by the losers (sometimes for the victors), has been simmered down and when the mists have cleared, we have Marc Morris’ The Norman Conquest.

This is surely how to write a modern non-fiction history book and I thought the back-cover quote from someone reviewing it in ‘The Times’ had it about right: “Compelling…Morris sorts embroidery from evidence and provides a much needed, modern account of the Normans in England that respects past events more than present ideologies.”

If you have even a passing interesting in reading Justin Hill’s Shieldwall, James Wilde’s Hereward series, Angus Donald‘s Outlaw series, or James Aitcheson‘s Conquest series, or even if you have read one, more, or all of the above – think of this as a companion piece. Read The Norman Conquest and you’ll get even more enjoyment out of them. Even in retrospect.

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You should of course, buy The Norman Conquest at your local, bricks and mortar bookshop. However, if that really isn’t possible, you can get it at (amongst other places) these fine purveyors of on-line bookery:

Amazon
Abe Books
Book Depository

Just 122 days and one Knight to go

What are we waiting for at the moment?

Why it’s Knights of the Hawk by our pal James Aitcheson of course! And it’s out on the 24th of October.

Knights of the HawkI’m writing another post partly because there’s a new image of the cover available on the Random House website and partly because I’m really looking forward to slapping some eyes on the story.

Here’s what the blurb is saying;

“The third novel in the compelling Conquest series (1066: The Bloody Aftermath) from the author of Sworn Sword. Perfect for fans of Ben Kane.

AUTUMN, 1071. The struggle for England has been long and brutal. Now, however, five years after the fateful Battle of Hastings, only a determined band of rebels in the Fens stand between King William and absolute conquest.

Tancred, a proud and ambitious knight, is among the Normans marching to crush them. Once lauded for his exploits, his fame is now fading. Embittered by his dwindling fortunes and by the oath shackling him to his lord, he yearns for the chance to win back his reputation through spilling enemy blood.

But as the Normans’ attempts to assault the rebels’ island stronghold meet with failure, the King grows increasingly desperate. With morale in camp failing, and the prospect of victory seeming ever more distant, Tancred’s loyalty is put to the test as never before.”

In the Random House post, they seem to be hedging their bets on the name for the series. Both ‘1066 The Bloody Aftermath’ and ‘conquest’ making an appearance. Amazon have it as just the ‘Conquest series.’

You can order it as of now on Amazon UK, or Amazon US. Also on Random House, The Book Depository, or your local book seller.

From the writer of these fine books:

Sworn Sword, hardback, paperback – my review

SwornSwordSworn Sword Paperback

The Splintered Kingdom, hardback, paperback – my review

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