Review: 1356 – Bernard Cornwell

1356
1356 by Bernard Cornwell
My rating : 4 of 5 stars

Set after the English victory at Crécy, during the Hundred Years’ War and leading up to what by all accounts, this one included, was the apocalyptic battle of Poitiers in the year 1356 of the title. We’re in deepest darkest France and there’s something about a mythical lost sword – ‘la Malice’ – being found and transported somewhere by someone. It’s the sword supposedly used by St Peter – and maybe even touched by You Know Who – in the Garden of Gethsemane, when the Romans came to make an arrest. Of course, the side who has control of the sword, will have God on their side, even more than the other side say they have. God, while being on both sides’ side, is urging them to do to the other side, what His son – He Himself, if you subscribe to the three-in-one principle – spent His whole life and Ministry preaching against. Most of the story follows one Thomas of Hookton, an English archer and leader of a band of warriors, who seems to have a reputation amongst the French, as he is known as Le Batard. Clearly, the ’s’ hadn’t been invented at that point. He is after the sword as well. Though his purpose for finding it is subtly different from the others’. We finally meet ’The Black Prince’ (though, as Cornwell points out, he wasn’t known as ‘The Black Prince’ at the time, nor for a long time afterwards), who is engaged in rampaging through large parts of ‘France,’ trying to get the King of France to come to battle. If the King doesn’t, then the English continue their trail of devastation and destruction and stack up the treasures they find on the way. Win win. However, by the climax, the English do seem to have bitten off more than they can chew and become holed up near Poitiers and the French decide now would be the time to catch an English army, tired and weakened by hunger, at a disadvantage. Especially, as the French now possess the mythical sword and the accompanying support of the chap ‘upstairs.’ But, as anyone knows, so it’s not giving the game away any, the English…Well, despite having read a little of the history of the time at school, I can safely say that Cornwell’s writing here is such that the result is on several knife-edges (sword edges?) throughout. He really is a master of the tense battle scene, the pivotal moment.

It can be tricky keeping track of who is who and who is/isn’t on who’s side. What with some French being on the French side, a fair few ‘English’ being as French as the French – and the Scottish…being the enemies of just about everyone, here mostly the English. Though, that’s not unusual. We do need to be reminded of course, that at this time, the majority – if not all – of the English royalty and aristocracy, spoke (what is now) French. They came form (what is now) France and more often than not, preferred to live there. Large parts of (what is now) France were, it seems, under English control, thanks, most likely, to the legacy of the Norman Conquest. The English characters all seem very down-to-earth, practical and likeable. The Black Prince, is actually quite likeable and Cornwell seems at a loss to know why history remembers him as TBP. The French, are what we English imagine the French to have been/are like – airy, gloomy, on a mission from God and generally running scared. The Scots, of course, are beard-tearingly madder than bulldogs licking piss off a nettle. No change there. I can’t believe Cornwell would go to such stereotypical lengths, so it may just be me. Though, in the Afterward, I think I can see what he’s trying to do with the two sides, in reflecting in their characters, giving the ground reasons for why the outcome was what it was. Very good.

BC does also want us to learn something about life and warfare in the C14th. The book and the general non-battle conversation, is peppered with facts and explanations about the period. You can usually see – and this applies to all books, when ‘a fact’ is coming up, when you read a character saying something and the person being spoken to says (something like) “Wait! What do you mean? Tell me more…” and hereafter follows the lesson. Cornwell actually, manages to disguise it better than most. So it becomes an enjoyment rather than a chore, as Harry Sidebottom makes it. You do wish though, that just once, a historical fiction book set (say) between 800 and 1700 wouldn’t have people rambling on about The Church on every bleeding page. It really is the way to make a dull book. The all-encompassing fatalism, that has become more than a little tiresome in some of the later ‘Warrior Chronicles,’ that no one actually controls their own destiny, can’t take a shit without judging if it is God’s Will before or after, or has any meaningful say over their own lives, is again here in abundance. Difference is, in ‘The Warrior Chronicles’ (at least for BC’s ancestor) it was that no one could know, influence change or even know, what the Norns had spun (him being a Viking and all). Without letting you know until afterwards, of course. Here it is just God. He’s still not letting you know in advance of course, but at least now He has People, many people, to speak for Him.  It is clear that this is one of the themes Cornwell wants to get over, the religious mess. The Church being the self-appointed interpreters of His Will on Earth, have clearly gone such a long way from the original Message, that they can’t get back. What they have decided is the Will Of God, is the opposite of that they were supposed to be teaching. Pertinent. Set in France, and all…

It’s a good tale that rattles along at a fair old pace and mostly seems to fulfil what he set out to do with it. It has a sense of purpose that the last of his I read The Fort lacked. He still likes his, what I call ‘arms-length’ descriptions, matter of fact, blunt style of description especially in the battles, but here it works well and much better than the last Warrior Chronicles one I read. 1356 knows where it’s going, what it has to do to get there and goes to it with alacrity. There’s plenty going on, plenty of action and battle action, with last minute rescues, tense stand-offs and “Ha! Take that!” a-plenty. It’s a very visual and visceral book (in the battle scenes), but with nuances, information and messages as well. Plenty to get your teeth and brain into.

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Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?

It is an unwritten law, that hardback covers must be worse than their paperback versions. That’s The Law. Not a lot you and I can do about it.

Some books, however, do skip the trend, sneak past the Book Law Enforcement patrols and make sure their hardback versions have halfway decent covers. I’m thinking of the last two Bernard Cornwell titles here. Both of which, in their muted, autumnal tones in hardback, are still better than the technicolour paperback versions.

Check them out (top two, hardback. Bottom two, paperback):

The Pagan LordBernard Cornwell The Empty Throne

The Lords of the North 2The Last Kingdom 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now comes Giles Kristian’s latest in paperback. With a cover that simply slaughters the hardback version, stone dead.

Here’s the hardback version.             Here’s the paperback version.

God of Vengeance

Giles Kristian God of Vengeance PB (small)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, you tell me, were the two side by side on the shelf, price not an issue, which you’d go for…Exactly.

“Read me, or I’ll kill you.”

I do feel Giles plays the whole Viking genre a bit too much for laughs sometimes, but there’s no doubt he does write a decent, tight, interesting story. I haven’t got onto God of Vengeance (in either form) as yet, but I speak from having read the Raven saga series proper and the first of his English Civil War saga.

There does seem to be a move towards having actual people on the covers of the kind of historical fiction I like. Not the Mills & Boon-like crap, books with the words ‘Queen’ or ‘Lady’ in their title, or ‘passion’ or ’emotions’ in their back-blurb. You know, the proper stuff.

Ben Kane (as mentioned previously) for example.

Ben Kane - Hannibal Fields of BloodHannibal Fields of Blood PaperbackHannibal Clouds of War

Ben Kane Clouds of War PB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first Hannibal, is the hardback, the next is the paperback version. Much better. Now, it seems they’ve learned their lesson and for Clouds of War, both the hardback and paperback have the same, powerful, figure-based cover. I have said ‘trend‘ so I better come with other examples. Well, Anthony Riches has been there for a long time with his covers (the first few were clearly illustrations, but the recent ones are obviously done in a photo studio), Douglas Jackson and Angus Donald. How’s that?

I’m not saying that covers should be so good you wanna frame them…though that might be an interesting revenue stream for authors to consider…but when you shell out over £25-odd notes for them to be sent to Denmark, you wanna feel like they put the same amount of effort into designing the cover, as you have into the earning of the money to buy the book. No?

Click on a book cover and you link to The Book Depository for buying.
Don’t buy from Amazon unless you really, really have to.

Friday book news 18 April

“Who’s that over there on the throne?”
Bernard Cornwell, who is, according to my blog statistics, the name to tag for almost unimited page views, has announced two books coming out soonest. Why am I reminded of the Simpsons‘ Captain (to paraphrase) “‘Tis no man, ’tis a remorseless writing machine, arr.”
Well, I’m, how can I put it? A little ‘suspicious’ of a writer like him who churns books out at the rate of knots he does. Just seems too quick, going from the Tweets/posts/time other writers say their books take, for each book to truly have had his full attention at the time of writing. Seems like his diary might go something like “got up, wrote a book, had breakfast, messed about, wrote another book, messed about, went to bed.”
If I’m being charitable and imagining another, a different scenario, I would say he may well have (at least) two on the go the whole time. But for me, that’s one too many. As I’ve mentioned/mused before, I’d guess he feeds his markets with (at least) one new book a year. Markets? Sharpe, Warrior Chronicles, other. Like I said, ‘machine’, and who wants a book written by a machine? The Pagan Lord was clearly written by a machine. One that hadn’t been updated to Grammar 2.0, the version that doesn’t allow sentences and/or paragraphs to start with ‘and.’

WaterlooAnyway, calming pills having been taken…and (!) we see BC has a book, a non-fiction book no less, about Waterloo coming out on the 11th September. About the 1974 Eurovison winning songthe history of the railway station  battle of Waterloo in 1815. The blurb runs thusly:

‘Some battles change nothing. Waterloo changed almost everything.’ Bestselling author Bernard Cornwall is celebrated for his ability to bring history to life. Here, in his first work of non-fiction, he has written the true story of the epic battle of Waterloo – a momentous turning point in European history – a tale of one campaign, four days and three armies. He focuses on what it was like to be fighting in that long battle, whether officer or private, whether British, Prussian or French; he makes you feel you are present at the scene. The combination of his vivid, gripping style and detailed historical research make this, his first non-fiction book, the number one book for the upcoming 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. It is a magnificent story. There was heroism on both sides, tragedy too and much misery. Bernard Cornwell brings those combatants back to life, using their memories to recreate what it must have been like to fight in one of the most ghastly battles of history. It was given extra piquancy because all of Europe reckoned that the two greatest soldiers of the age were Napoleon and Wellington, yet the two had never faced each other in battle. Both were acutely aware of that, and aware that history would judge them by the result. In the end it was a victory for Wellington, but when he saw the casualty lists he wept openly. ‘I pray to God,’ he said, ‘I have fought my last battle.’ He had, and it is a story for the ages.

It could actually be worth a read. But I think I’ll leave it until prices have settled down a little, or look for it second-hand. as Waterloo and that era, has never been of particular interest to me.

The Empty Throne 1The other however, is of more immediate interest to me, being the continuation, number 8 in fact, of that there The Warrior Chronicles.
Interesting that they’ve put a dummy cover up, a place-holder, if you will, instead of leaving the space blank until they actually do have the final(ish) cover done, as they did if I remember rightly with The Pagan Lord. Although, even that (the picture put up before launch) on Amazon, wasn’t the final version. Compare and contrast, if you have the hardback TPL.
What actually makes me laugh with this, is the ‘may contain nuts’ on a packet of peanuts-type warning that this may not be the actual final cover. “Oh, really?!” Clearly, the previous titles in this particular (cover style) incarnation of The Warrior Chronicles would at least suggest a picture as well as type, but that warning seems almost to be suggesting that some people might in some way feel short-changed, if there wasn’t also a picture on there. I’m laughing too, because having worked in the advertising business, where we sometimes did mock-ups like that, I can see, if it were our firm looking after this, the final cover coming back from the printer still with Final Cover Coming Soon, slap-dab in the middle! It happens, let me assure you. Primarily when everyone assumes that someone else will sort it before it goes off to the printer and the printer doesn’t see checking the thing or warning of possible mistakes, as any of his business. Assumption is always the mother of all f.ups. It’s the law.

Waterloo comes out 11th September and you can order/pre-order from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (US) Does only seem to be available to order on Kindle as yet.

The Empty Throne comes out 23rd October on Amazon (US) again, does only seem to be available for order on Kindle as yet. Or Amazon (UK)

Distant thunder
Those BC books are for sale later in 2014, but if you want to really plan ahead, try this on for size:
Anthony RichesA new book in Anthony Riches epic Empire series, is listed now on Amazon – for release 5th March 2015! So time to order it on Amazon, then time to forget you’ve done so and order a signed one on Goldsboro and end up with two. D’oh!
Anyway, it will (though as release date is just under a year away and things could change) be called Thunder of the Gods. Good title, as Shakespeare once said. As you might guess, there isn’t a cover sorted as yet. A quick count up from my bookshelf tells me it will be number…eight in the Empire series.
I haven’t seen mention of this new one on Anthony’s Facebook page, or website (though that does seem to be lagging a little behind). It’s probably because he is, along with Ben Kane and Russ Whitfield, involved in preparations for, and taking part in, The Romani Walk II. It is (click on the link for more information) a walk in full Roman kit, in aid of Medicine sans Frontiers and Combat Stress, from Capua to the forum in Rome, where they will fight a series of lions and tigers before the survivor earns their freedom. Except for the bit about fighting the lions and tigers and earning their freedom.

Here is, as far as I can tell, the route of this new Romani Walk. Well, what Apple Maps suggests would be the best route anyway (click to enlarge) or if you have Apple maps, click here:

Romani Walk IIWhilst Apple suggests walking time is just 1 day and 14 hours, it doesn’t actually give the option for seeing how long it would take in full Roman military gear. I’m guessing a bit longer. I think that the 1 day etc, is if you did it in one go, without stopping at all (and not in Roman gear). I don’t know how long they plan to spend on the walk, but I’d guess the Scriptores Tres will probably take about a week. There’s a film crew going along as well, so expect to see some sort of documentary up somewhere, TV or on-line, in the not too distant future. Should be fun.

I wasn’t looking for a new AR book (honest, I don’t just trawl Amazon all day) it just popped up in the ‘you might like’ part of my Amazon page. I’m not going to pre-order it this time. Not because I would forget (which I would) but in protest at Amazon removing the free Super Saver delivery to Denmark! It’ll soon have Amazon on their knees, just you wait and see!

Pre-order Thunder of the Gods on Amazon (UK)

Matt Hilton
Dead Men's DustI’ve been following a thriller writer called Matt Hilton on Twitter and so decided to test the waters by getting hold of his first book in his Joe Hunter series. As far as I can tell,  he released the ninth in the series in January and is on the go with number ten. If you’re wondering where on earth I’m getting all the money from to buy so many books and ‘test the waters’, relax. I search for second-hand ones. I have a few places I check and I’ve had good results. This Matt Hilton one, I’ve gone for off Play.com‘s second-hand section. They do ‘free’ delivery to Denmark as well, so as Amazon have stopped delivering for free (if you ordered over £25)  I’m probably going to use them a lot more in the future.
What I can do, is when I get a book delivered from a place, I can let you know how the service and condition is/was. Fair enough? Most of the books I’ve had second hand so far, have been in excellent nick. Only a bunch of paperbacks I got through Amazon’s secondhand network didn’t live up to their ‘good or very good’ claims. Otherwise, the hardbacks I’ve gone for have been surprisingly tip-top in their condition. Plus, I can get stuff delivered out here in Denmark, from the UK, cheaper than it would cost me to get the bus, return, into town (Aarhus). So, suddenly the cost looks a lot more reasonable.

Rebel Rebel
FeudA Traitor's GateOne I thoroughly enjoyed a while back, was Feud  by Derek Birks. Feud is the first of his Rebels and Brothers series, set during The Wars of The Roses (1455-ish – 1487-ish). Again, not a period I know an awful lot about, but it does look like I’m about to be a whole lot ‘klogere’, as I now say here in Denmark, cleverer as you would probably say wherever you are. This is because Derek is well under way with #3 in his series, this time to be called Kingdom of Rebels. He mentions on Twitter that the is currently screaming (and looking at previous posts where he describes the bath-loads of blood being spilled so far, I use that word advisedly) past the 117,000 words on that there third book. I have the first two on Kindle and have so far only read the first one –  not through any intention, just that it hasn’t reached the top of the electronic pile as yet. Though I am looking forward tremendously to when it does. The links (if you click on the covers, will take you to the paperback versions, both are, as I say, available on Amazon’s Kindle service – should you be lucky enough to live somewhere where they allow you to download a Kindle version…but that’s another story.

You can follow Derek – and get your own blood-soaked updates – on Twitter here.

Friday Book News!

Is actually on a Friday!

If you can wait that long…well, I suppose you (and I) are going to have to wait that long…the next by Bernard Cornwell (probably not the very next by Bernard Cornwell, as he’s probably got half a dozen Sharpes and several other standalone books out before then) but the next in his Warrior Chronicles (I think it is called this week) the follow up to The Pagan Lord, is out 23 October. You can pre-order it now on Amazon, here. Amazon have it listed as Warrior Chronicles 8, so I’d say there needs to be some work done on that title before publication day. I can’t see it available for pre-order elsewhere as yet.

Speaking of new books and new book covers and no covers…Angus Donald has the paperback of Grail Knight (book five in The Outlaw Chronicles series) coming out on May 8th. As Angus quite rightly points out in a new blog post, the paperback has a new cover. Being pedantic (as I am); it never actually had an old cover. The thing is the paperback has a different cover to the hardback.

Grail KnightGrail Knight PaperbackHere they are for you to compare and contrast.

The hardback is on the left, the paperback on the right.

I liked the hardback cover very much when I saw it, but I think the paperback cover has improved on it. As I look at the two now, I think hardback – passive, paperback – active. If I may go out on a limb here, I’d say the paperback cover as it appears now on Amazon’s UK page for it, is actually the US version. Purely for the inclusion of ‘a novel…’, something for some reason, US publishers seem to think their readers need to be told/warned about.

You can order the paperback of Grail Knight from Amazon here. You can order it at The Book Depository here.

Book six in The Outlaw Chronicles, The Iron Castle, could be describes as being ‘in the can’, were it a film. As it’s a book, it at the publisher, having Angus’ notes, coffee stains, margin shopping lists and doodles tippexed out, ready to be printed. The liquid paper should be dry around the 3rd of July, when Amazon have it down as being released. They don’t have a cover shown for it as yet. I’ll keep ’em peeled for it.

Pre-order The Iron Castle at Amazon

Pre-order The Iron Castle at The Book Depository

If you are a fan of Angus’ Outlaw Chronicles – as any sane person is – you really should go read his blog post (here’s the link again), as there is very good news regarding the future of his series.

Berwick Coates - The Last ConquestOne I’m enjoying very much at the moment, is The Last Conquest, by Berwick Coates.

The Last Viking

And I notice that what appears to be the next by him they’re calling the new BC, The Last Viking, is out around the 10th of April.

From the sales blurb:

With the death of Edward the Confessor, the crown of England is hanging in the balance. And in the north Harald Hadrada, the Norwegian Viking leader, is determined to take his chance of capturing the country. But Harold will not let that happen without a fight. Charismatic and the leader of a mighty army, he is determined to make Hadrada the last Viking in England. And so the bloodiest battle yet fought on English soil is about to begin. At stake is sovereignty, freedom and honour.

That would make it seem, chronologically, to be set before The Last Conquest…interesting trick, if he can pull it off. I’ll be seeing said trick (hopefully) being pulled off, as I have taken the precaution of pre-ordering it, in all its signed goodness, from Goldsboro Books this time.

Otherwise, it’s at Amazon, here.

Or The Book Depository, here.

Happy reading!

Review: The Pagan Lord

The Pagan Lord
The Pagan Lord by Bernard Cornwell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Bernard Cornwell is on form, he can be at least as good, if not a whole lot better, than most everyone else. When he’s ticking over, he’s also a whole lot better than a whole lot of other writers in the Historical Fiction field. And while there’s no doubt I enjoyed The Pagan Lord and thought it was very good, it does have the sound of Bernard Cornwell ticking over. I thought Death of Kings was an excellent book, but it doesn’t seem that Cornwell has used that as a transitional book to take Uhtred to better places, character-wise, or style-wise. I enjoyed this, don’t get me wrong. But I think Bernard Cornwell is a little on autopilot at the moment. In many ways, Cornwell is rather like the mood that radiates off Uhtred in The Pagan Lord – smart, cunning, savvy, clever. He’s been there, done that. Many times. But he’s also irritating. Why? Later.

It goes wrong for Uhtred, the ‘Pagan Lord’ of the title, from the beginning (actually, I’d like BC to give us an idea of how we’re supposed to pronounce ‘Uhtred’ in our heads while we’re reading this. Idea?) Uhtred goes to try to capture his son, to stop him from shaming the family name and becoming a priest. Of Christ, not Uhtred’s Odin. Uhtred is, understandably for an old-fashioned, died in the wool Viking, somewhat less than chuffed at this development. He tries to reason with his son, threatening to cut him off, as it were, but he instead almost accidentally manages to kill another priest. As you do. Uhtred most likely normally wouldn’t lose much, if any, any sleep over this sort of thing. But it isn’t the sort of thing that is going to endear him to his Christian neighbours. To make matters worse, he then returns home to find his hall has been attacked and burnt to the ground by Cnut Longsword, while he was away. He decides to meet with Cnut, only to find that Cnut thinks Uhtred has taken his (Cnut’s) wife and son. Which he hasn’t. And he suspects a double-cross. He returns home to find his peace-loving Christians neighbours have burnt down what remained un-burnt from the last burning. As you do in 10th Century pre-England. So, as he can’t convince anyone to trust him when he says there is treachery afoot, Uhtred’s not in the best of moods at the start of The Pagan Lord. Dark days for Uhtred and it doesn’t get much better.

Dark days indeed. And whaddaya know? There’s bad weather. Nearly all the time. Cornwell clearly wants us to get the message that the weather matches Uhtred’s mood. But that really is a bit too obvious for a writer of his calibre, isn’t it? And it’s all the bloomin’ time. I could be wrong on this but, I can’t actually remember there being good, or even fine, weather in any of Bernard Cornwell ‘Warrior Chronicles’ books. And there isn’t here. For instance, when he’s sailing off in his ship, ‘Middleniht’, there’s ‘grey sea, grey sky and a grey mist, and the ‘Middelniht’ slid through that greyness like a sleek and dangerous beast.’ I’m all for the weather as a way of mirroring a mood, but when it’s all the time, the time comes when you have to say ‘enough already with the dreadful weather!’ Obviously it’s England we’re talking about here, so it is going to rain more than most places in the 10th Century, but they had sunshine back then as well! Even in the North Sea. It was on occasion dry and mild in the 10th Century, the sleet in the middle of summer didn’t always come at you horizontally. But when the book opens with ‘A dark sky. The gods make the sky; it reflects their moods and they were dark that day. It was high summer and a bitter rain was spitting from the east. It felt like winter’, you just think ‘oh, here we go again’. Actually, the only time I can think of in The Pagan Lord when he gets good weather, is when he actually wants bad weather! Obviously as cover for a dastardly deed.

Having said all that, the weariness, as befits an old man – old for the Viking age anyway – the ’not again, I’m too old for this shit’ of Uhtred, is outstanding. Understandable, given his luck with Christian sons – Christians on general – and inflammable barns and houses, really. He’s a believable and sympathetic character and one Cornwell obviously loves. That comes over loud and clear. Uhtred is, if I’ve read rightly and with only a couple of historical ‘adjustments’ along the way, an ancestor of Cornwell’s. Would explain why.

So, my really big problem with this one?

And.

And. And, and, and. And. Ands, every-bloody-where. In sentences, starting sentences, linking sentences. Ands after commas. Ands starting paragraphs, for goodness’ sake.

And way too many of them.

Cornwell achieves the matter of fact, authoritative style of Uhtred’s narrative, through using ‘and’ as a link in sentences. Like this:

“He (Æthelred) wanted the poets to sing of his triumphs, he wanted the chronicles to write his name in history, and so he would start a war, and that war would be Christian Mercia against Christian East Anglia, and it would draw in the rest of Britain and there would be shield walls again.”

Makes events that follow an and appear inevitable, no other outcome could possibly have happened. Makes it seem like the character of Uhtred is very decisive, knowledgeable and authoritative. Fine a few times. However, the constant, almost metronomic use of ‘and’ like that and too much, becomes irritating. And, time and time again – like the bad weather – enough! Try another approach once in a while. It really became a problem for me reading the book. Like it was standing in the way of my enjoying the book to the full. Like I would have done, if there were less ands. In the end, I was looking out for them and becoming more and more irritated. Starting sentences with an and is wrong, grammatically. You know it. Starting a paragraph with one is a real no-no.

“And I was a warrior, and in a world at war the warrior must be cruel.”

Like that. Still on the statute books as being punishable by a blood-eagle, if I’m not much mistaken. Unless you’re writing advertising copy. Then it’s ok. But this is a book, a decent one, this is Bernard Cornwell and he should know that it’s not ok.

And because he used it as a device so frequently, without seeming to even try to consider the maybes of any other kind of approach, is why I felt he was on autopilot, not really worried or thinking about it. Maybe he was thinking of the next Sharpe? I think if you only read Cornwell, you’d imagine that this is both how Historical Fiction is done and as good as it gets. Anyone who has read a few of the (now) many (many) other excellent writers on Cornwell’s block, like me, know different. Like I said, this is good, but while there is much to admire and recommend, I still came away from it feeling it could have been better. I’m no writer (that’s not news to you?), so I couldn’t for the life of me tell you how he should improve, but I just put it down at the end – even with the bombshell – and thought ‘ho-hum, autopilot’.

View all my reviews

Friday book news

A family affair

Feud

If you look to the right >> you’ll see that I am currently reading Feud by Derek Birks. Unfortunately, what you can’t see how much I’m enjoying it. Well, now << you can see it.

Set in England in the mid 1450’s and (where I am at the moment) the 1460’s, the eagle-eyed historians amongst you will have noticed this is the time of The Wars of The Roses.

Anyway, on his Twitter Monday, Derek announced that the follow-up to Feud, to be called A Traitor’s Fate, will be out on Kindle on 1 November. As Feud has also been released on Apple’s iBooks, I’m guessing it will be available there at around the same time.

A Traitor's Gate

As I am reading – and enjoying – Feud on the Kindle app on my iPhone, I’m thinking I might as well get the new one on that as well. In a later Tweet, he also said he is starting the third in the series. I haven’t detected any clues as to a title yet, but – I better get reading!

Read more about what looks like being a truly epic series, amongst other things, on www.derekbirks.com

BuyFeud: Kindle UK   Kindle UK   Paperback UK   Paperback US   Apple iBook

Back in the saddle

Hawk Quest Hardback 1

(Yet) Another book I enjoyed tremendously (this year?), was Hawk Quest, by Robert Lyndon (after a recommendation from Ben Kane). I noticed at the weekend, that Amazon have what appears to be his second book Imperial Fire available for pre-order here, with a release date of  the 2nd January 2014. Here’s what the synopsis says: ”
In the world after 1066, vast empires clamour for dominance.
From the Normans in the north to the Byzantines in the south, battles rage across Europe and around its fringes. But in the east, an empire still mightier stirs, wielding a weapon to rule the world: gunpowder.
Seeking the destructive might of this ‘fire drug’, the mercenary Vallon – a man made as of grit and earth as much of flesh and blood – is sent by the defeated Byzantine emperor on a secret and near-impossible quest to the far off land of Song Dynasty China. Alongside a squadron of highly trained soldiers, Vallon is accompanied by the learned physician Hero, hermit-like tracker Wayland and a young, ego-driven upstart named Lucas. All have their own reasons for going, all have secrets.
It’s a quest that will lead them across treacherous seas and arid deserts and into the uncharted land of mountains and plains beyond the Silk Road. Many will die… but the rewards are unbelievable.

Robert Lyndon
Robert Lyndon

The link with what I think of when I see ‘1066’, was a little tenuous in Hawk Quest. So the ‘an epic novel of the Norman Conquest’, should possibly have had ‘of the Norman Conquests’ removed. It having very little to do with them, and all. This one too, with its ‘In the world after 1066’ seems to be a little pushing it a bit, given the ‘quest to the far off land of Song Dynasty China’ part. I’d be pretty certain that the Chinese had, at that point, no idea the year was 1066. Anywhere. It certainly wasn’t ‘1066’ in China at the time, I’m thinking. But, it really doesn’t matter. Apart from to the person trying to place the book in the mind of the vast majority of their target market, I suppose. Hawk Quest was a world-wide success as far as I can see and, hopefully, this one will be just as excellent – not to mention epic – as its predecessor was.

There isn’t a cover picture yet for Imperial Fire, but you can place your order on Amazon here. As I have done. Or on Book Depository here. The only difference with the two (apart from that Amazon will be a little cheaper than Book Depository on release), is that you’ll pay for the book now on The Book Depository and at the time of release on Amazon.

Foyles Rush In

Foyles Book Bundles

As I mentioned a week or so ago, Bill Bryson was calling for e-books to be somehow included with the purchase of a ‘normal’ version, perhaps the hardback, or to be offered at a reduced price, if you bought a physical copy as well. Amazon, I’m told, are doing something similar to how they offer an mp3 version of an album you have bought on vinyl. That kind of thing, but for books.

So to today. Today, I got an email from Foyles bookstore (they’re in the UK) the business part of which I’ve put above. As it says, they are , on selected titles, offering the e-book version as well, if you buy the hardback version. According to their webpage, it’s in conjunction with Harper Collins and there are – on the face of it –  some pretty attractive (to me anyway) titles on their intro page. Immediately grabbing the eye are Max Hastings’ Catastrophe and Bernard Cornwell’s The Pagan Lord.

Here’s the deal. There are eight books from Harper Collins available in the ‘book bundle’ promotion. You buy one as shrink-wrapped hardback, you get a unique code which will allow you (or someone else) to download the e-book version. Presumably they’re shrink-wrapped to make sure the ‘someone else’ is someone you know and to stop someone else getting at the code without buying.  If you have already bought a copy of one of the books in the promotion (presumably from Foyles), you can get a code from them. They suggest that they’re testing the waters here, with the inference being that they may offer more books from Harper Collins and more books from different publishers, if it goes well.

Price-wise however, the e-book version from Foyles is not free. Or anything near it.

The Pagan Lord (printed)Let’s look at the Bernard Cornwell The Pagan Lord. I pre-ordered and paid £11.25 for the hardback from Amazon – it was sent the day it came out. They’re currently offering it for £9.00. Other places linked to on the Amazon page for The Pagan Lord, are offering it for £5.99, with a couple of notes delivery. Even factoring in the exorbitant Danish VAT (‘MOMS’) and postage here to Denmark, the whole lot ‘only’ (you’ll see why ‘only’ in a moment or two) cost me £16.73.

Foyles Logo

Foyles, for the hardback and the e-book version bundle, want £25.00. And they’re suggesting that is a reduction on the normal price (of both?) of £30.00! The inside cover of my The Pagan Lord, states the RRP as £20.00. Elsewhere, Foyles are offering the hardback version of The Pagan Lord, at £15.00, stating that you save £5.00. If you scroll down to their section allowing you to download the e-book version only, and you’re looking at £13.99. Only £2.00 less than the hardback price. The e-book version doesn’t seem to be available on Amazon’s Kindle store as yet (there’s no link to it anyway), but it can’t be long off. Apple are offering it (here in Denmark) for 129 Kroner. That is £14.65, near as makes no difference. The UK iBooks site has it at £13.99. So Foyles’ e-book price is in-line with the cheapest available e-book price – so far.

However, that £13.99 is the iBooks ‘hardback’ price. The price now. On the Danish iBooks store, it is possible to pre-order, if you want to wait a while, the ‘paperback’ iBooks version. That will cost you 85kr, or £9.65. Well under the £13.99 Foyles are wanting for the here and now e-book version.

The bottom line? Foyles are offering the two, as a ‘book bundle’ for the knock-down price of £25.00. If you compare the cheapest price you could do the same (hardback and e-version) for, of £9.00 (I’ll go for the Amazon hardback price, but remember you could get it for as little as £5.99), and the cheapest (if you wait a bit) so far e-book version of £9.65, the whole will cost you £18.65. That’s £6.35 less. Which would, of course, would get you another hardback Pagan Lord. You do get free UK delivery (if you buy for over £10) from Foyles, but then you do from Amazon as well. To Denmark – it’d cost me another £5.00 to have it posted.

All in all, I think this is going to be a tough sell. I can’t see the advantage in going for a Foyles book bundle, even if I lived in the UK. I haven’t looked at the other books in the promotion, maybe you’ll save a fortune on some of them. But Bernard Cornwell is very popular, not just in Historical Fiction circles. So he should be a ‘typical’ example to use. Even a candidate for a ‘loss-leader’, I’d have thought. Unless people aren’t already clued up on what they can get books for, or if they don’t care what a book costs them, or they’re blinded by this being a bundle!, then this has got ‘no deal’ written all over it.  As I’ve mentioned more than once, I’m absolutely not against paying full-whack/RRP for a book. I have done, I will do again. As I have also said more than once, I rather fear Amazon have got us accustomed to paying very little for a book. So little, that a not unreasonable RRP looks expensive. But I’m not so well-off I can just throw money away. I buy from Amazon when I want over £25.00 worth of books at the same time (free delivery to Denmark on orders over £25.00, you see). Or for single items, I’ll order from The Book Depository. And I did, this last summer, buy several books at RRP from Topping & Co in Ely. Happy to do so and happy to do so, so it supports the high-street book shops. Two were signed copies, so there was what you might call ‘added value’, but the other one wasn’t. Unfortunately, but understandably, other people are not so altruistic. And they’re surely going to look at that £25.00 price and say “no way!”, aren’t they? I wouldn’t be sounding so sure that this was going to take of, if I were Foyles. Though just because I can’t see why, doesn’t mean it won’t. I’ll be keeping an eye on this, that’s for sure.

If you haven’t already done so, you can see the Foyles book bundle deal here.

Ain’t goin’ on no book cover, Hannibal!

I’ll admit to having been a bit lax on the Ben Kane front lately. I read the Forgotten Legion series and enjoyed them all tremendously.

In fact, I’m crediting The Forgotten Legion, the first book, with re-kindling my interest in Historical Fiction (though not Horsetorical Fiction, as that was before spellcheck pointed it out) as a genre and book-reading in general as a sport, after many years lying fallow.

Hannibal Enemy of RomeBen Kane - Hannibal Fields of BloodI have bought/collected the Hannibal series (ok, the two) so far, as hardbacks. The first one was a little difficult to get hold of, but the second, Hannibal Fields of Blood I got recently as a new release. I’ll get onto reading them as soon as I’ve read the firsts in the other series, of authors new to me, that I haven’t started yet. Seems only fair.

But…then Ben posts these.

Hannibal Clouds of WarFirst up, is the design (proposed) for the third book in the Hannibal series, Hannibal Clouds of War. Then there’s the paperback version of Hannibal Fields of Blood.

As you can see, these are something new, but in a similar vein, to the previous two Hannibal covers and I think the new close-up idea works very well indeed. And is strong enough to be continued. I thought the cover to Hannibal Enemy of Rome was good, but maybe playing a little safe, a little too passive, maybe? Hannibal Fields of Blood and its Iwo Jima pastiche* turned it into, what it says, a ‘pastiche’. Now, being an ex-advertsing man, I am interested in and generally have strong opinions on, book covers for good or bad. I can well imagine that was really funny and highly thought of at the end of a very long day and after a liquid lunch. I’ve been there. But really, someone somewhere should have said at sometime before they were confronted with several thousand of them “…no, really, what have you got to show me?” I would have.

Hannibal Fields of Blood Paperback

These two are a departure for the series. So if you were hoping to get in as quick as possible and buy them to make up a set, before they redesigned them – you’ll already have been disappointed by Hannibal #2, I guess. The closest Ben Kane has got to having a theme run through his book series’, is with The Forgotten Legion. Though my copy of the first book, in paperback, is different in design to number two and three. However, you can now get it in the same design. Should you wish to have them all looking the same. Bus since then, with Hannibal and Spartacus, Ben’s books have changed design between ‘volumes’ and certainly and radically, between hardback and paperback. Maybe it’s a deliberate design decision, I don’t know. I’m not going to die in a ditch for continuity, but I can’t fathom why they feel the need to re-invent the wheel each time.

But for these two, I’ll happily make an exception.

These are superb cover designs from whoever is doing them on Ben’s behalf. Really much more of a realistic feel (thanks to photographs!) and a general ‘in your face’ angle to the both. I really hope they don’t get changed too much (if they find it necessary) from these seemingly finished ideas. I’d guess that if they do do anything with them, it will be to add some embossing or gold to the titles or Ben’s name, much as on the recent The Pagan Lord, by Bernard Cornwell (another one which prompted me to get it in hardback, rather than waiting and adding it to the paperbacks I have of all the others). But that was also because they changed the designs of the ‘Warrior Chronicles’ paperbacks which would have ‘spoiled’ my series, I thought, so I might as well break into the series with a hardback this time. I think the soldier on Hannibal Clouds of War (and Ben has said that the helmet is wrong for the period the book is set in) could look perhaps a little more animated. As in, perhaps some clouds of frosty breath, some sweat maybe. That kind of thing. Not much. Doesn’t need too many things going on. The paperback for Hannibal Fields of Blood is just fine, by me. Just add in the Pagan Lord embossing and we’re done. They’ve even got the type-feel consistent. With Ben’s name and the ‘of’ in both titles. Down the pub, fellas!

The Time of the Wolf Hardback The-Time-of-the-Wolf-Wilde-James-9781605984162It seems that Hannibal Clouds of War cover, is most likely the ‘nearly done’ version they need to give Amazon to put on the page for ordering it. It may change – slightly – before it lands in your lap. Similar to what I noted with James Wilde‘s US version of Hereward, The Time of the Wolf. See pictures, left (look at the sword hilt. The image on the left, is how the printed book is, the one on the right is from Amazon’s page for the book. Still there too). We can just hope that they stay consistent with any further Hannibal stories Ben might write (I have no information on this is a trilogy or a quartogy or a fiveology…erm, but I would recommend keeping the type style of Ben’s name as a logo of sorts for future releases, in or out of Hannibal territory. That’s siurely a no-brainer…). One thing I think we can be sure of, is any further Hannibal’s from Ben, will have ‘of’ in the title somewhere.

I have written on this blog before on book covers, or two specific covers. If you’d like to investigate that, you can do so here and here. I’m currently mulling over another book cover post, based on the profusion of really terrible covers there are out there. But that’s to come later and will not be featuring these two new Ben Kane‘s.

Hannibal Clouds of War, is released 27 February 2014 and is available to order as we squeak. Hannibal Fields of Blood paperback is available to order on Amazon, but seemingly not from them, as yet. The page seems to be more or less the hardback’s page.

*I know that the famous picture, of the men raising the flag, as portrayed on ‘Hannibal Fields of Blood’, was itself re-staged for the photograph. But still, I’d have thought the men involved, or the surviving relatives of the men involved, could have been shown a little more respect. I know it’s been pastiched before, but I don’t think that is an excuse to do another pastiche of something these men fought and other men died, for.

Say what you like about Amazon…

The Pagan Lord…but. I ordered Bernhard Cornwell’s latest in the (let’s see what they’re calling the series this week) ‘Warrior Chronicles’, The Pagan Lord a good while back. When it was announced I think.

I got an email from Amazon last Friday, that they had dispatched the book.

It arrived, here in Denmark, Monday morning around 10.00. Delivered by a very pleasant lady from Post Danmark.

I’m thinking that must be some sort of a record. That Amazon must have some sort of arrangement with the Post Danmark people. Whatever they did – maybe it was just magic – you can’t fault service like that.

The Pagan Lord (printed)So, a hardback, first edition and I began reading Monday afternoon. As I’d coincidentally just finished the previous one (Olen Steinhauer Victory Square).

Incidentally. The picture to the left here, is a scan of the actual version I have. As I’ve noted before, the picture Amazon show, isn’t always the one you get. Amazon seem to get an image ahead of publication and use that. I’m not actually sure they ever update it, even after publication. So, you will see is is slightly different from the pre-publication version. As far as I can see, the actual image of the warrior is the same. Bernard Cornwell’s name is the same typeface, but now it’s in white. The title is in gold not white and the copy at the bottom is different. Instead of the standard ‘In a clash of kingdoms…’, there is the more book-specific ‘one man will decide the fate of a nation.’ It’s a really good looking affair. A matt cover, with embossed author name and title and really does look and feel worth the money. I’m about half way through now, enjoying it very much and review ideas are forming up nicely.

I’m going to recommend this one to you, purely based on the cover and the half I’ve read. If you’ve read the previous six, you’ll get more out of it, but if you haven’t, this one hangs together just fine on its own.

Review to follow as soon as I’m done.

Bernard Cornwell IS The Pagan Lord!

If it were a film he was about to star in, maybe.

However, it looks like the ink, the paint and the photo developing fluids are all dry on the next from the production line that is Bernard Cornwell.

It’s been listed on Amazon for order for a couple of months actually, though with just a blank shape where the cover would be. But it would seem now that someone at The Great Man™’s publishing people has got their finger out and sent a scribble on the back of an envelope over to be added to the book details.

The Pagan LordI have to admit, the cover does actually look very good.

But, as I have discovered previously, there is room for change in the covers Amazon show now and the one that ships. The Pagan Lord is due for release in the UK on 26 September. So there could be (minor, hopefully) differences between now and then.

I have all the previous books in this series, but in paperback. As I am warming more and more to buying books in hardback, I thought as this looks a good cover, I’d pre-order. The price is a little extravagant – to Denmark, is gonna cost me around £25.00 what with Danish Sales Tax at 25% and postage and all. But, hey! It’s only money, eh?

Back to the books though: Did you know they’re now called The Warrior Chronicles? The first one I thought, and after some checking, Amazon have #4, Sword Song, listed as this as well; were more the Alfred the Great series, than anything else? Just me then. But now they’re The Warrior Chronicles. Maybe more appealing to people who don’t want to think they risk learning something about a long-dead, fuddy-duddy old English King, maybe? On another site, they’re The Saxon Stories.

You’ll also have noticed the strap-line from the first books is back as well. Slightly altered. On the first few books, it was In A Clash Of Heroes, The Kingdom Is Born. Fair enough, now that time has moved on, the kingdom is a small boy in shorts going to boarding school. So the strap-line has moved on too. It kind of went awol a little, on The Burning Land, unless you count The Sunday Times Bestseller as a strap-line. Then it morphed into Amid Battle And Betrayal, The Kingdom Will Rise for Death of Kings. But now it’s a little more coherent, seen over the whole series, and is; In A Clash Of Kings A Kingdom Is Born. As Uhtred looked to be going back up north in the last one, as I remember, it could be that this is going to be about Northumberland being brought to heel. As it was.

Bernard, I like to call him Bernard, but not Bern-Ard, is also in that class of writer where his name is bigger than the book title. Clearly people are going to by anything such a writer writes because he’s written it, even if it does turn out to be his shopping list.

The Last KingdomThe Pale HorsemenThe Lords of the NorthI have the previous 6 of whatever the series is called, in paperback. I’ve shown the first three I have to the left here. Even then, even when it could have been just a trilogy, some clown saw fit to change the lettering style from #2 to #3. Don’t these people check? Look? So my beef is that in the time the series has been going, there have been (at least) two re-designs as far as I can see. I don’t have, or have seen, the hardback versions of the earlier books, so I don’t know if they’ve been any more consistent. But it is irritating, when you’ve done your very best, got in there and bought the books as soon as they’ve come out in paperback – and they foist a re-design on you. Not quite as bad as the Robert Jordan Wheel of Time abhorrence(s), but to those of us who give a shit, intensely irritating all the same.

The Last Kingdom 2The Lords of the North 2The Pale Horseman 2I’m not that huge a fan of Bernard Cornwell and I remember buying (the first in the series) The Last Kingdom because I thought the cover looked good. And hey! There are Viking ships on it, what’s NOT to like? There’s no doubt he’s a good writer, with a great feel for historical novels. The last in the Warrior Chronicles; Death of Kings, I thought was an excellent, subdued, thoughtful, reflective novel and extremely enjoyable for it. However, I tried with his Arthur trilogy and found them almost unreadable. I sometimes think he’s more machine than man, when it comes to writing – seemingly churning them out regularly, with a couple of Sharpe‘s in between for good measure. I’d like to feel there was a bit more effort, more sweat and/or tears in their writing. And some more communication from The Great Man™, to us, his faithful payers of his rent. Rather than a moan on his website that he can’t get an answer out of Facebook for something or other. That has been up on his website for so long, it’s grown hair. And in the news section, the top story is that 1356 is available for pre-order. I’ve had that here, in hardback since it was released the 27th September 2012. So much for wanting the website “to be useful, a place where you can find information about the novels.” I’d just like to feel he came down from the mountain and moved amongst us a little more often.

Maybe he will when he reads how good I think the cover for The Pagan Lord looks? It’s worth a try.