Book Review – The Malice by Peter Newman – fantasy

“Gamma’s sword, the Malice, wakes, calling to be taken to battle once more.

But the Vagrant has found a home now, made a life and so he turns his back, ignoring its call.

The sword cries out, frustrated, until another answers.

Her name is Vesper.”

First things first, I’ve not read the Vagrant, but having received a free EArc of The Seven (Book 3) I dived right into it and then realised that I really should read, at least, the previous book.

The Malice starts very strongly – the world created feels both relatable and also very strange. This sums up much of the novel. The main characters of Vesper and the Kid are introduced very quickly and immediately feel like realistic characters. Yet the author’s writing style is sparse, almost to distraction, substituting words that sound like what they describe as opposed to describing them, for instance, a WarMech. For me, this meant that I was constantly grasping at even the smallest amount of description, which was strange because I often find author’s engaging in too much description and it annoys me, this was the complete opposite.

For all that, the world is richly imagined, in all its strangeness and it is very strange, and this makes it, at times, quite a difficult read, and that’s why it’s taken me a month to read because I just had to take a break half way through because the ‘weirdness’ and the writing style was giving me something of a headache.

For all that, the book is worthy of perseverance and I’m looking forward to reading The Seven.

All in all, not an easy read, but quite an intriguing one.

The Malice is currently available, as is The Seven, and the first book, The Vagrant.

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Book Review – Lancelot by Giles Kristian – highly recommended (historical fiction)

Here’s the blurb;

“Set in a 5th century post-Roman Britain besieged by invading war bands of Saxons and Franks, Irish and Picts, Giles Kristian’s epic new novel tells – through the warrior’s own words – the story of Lancelot, the most celebrated of all King Arthur’s knights. And it’s a story that’s ready to be re-imagined for our times.
It’s a story imbued with the magic and superstition that was such an integral part of the enchanted landscape of Britain during this dark times. Many of the familiar names from Arthurian mythology will be here – Mordred and Gawain, Morgana and, of course, Merlin – as will be those vital icons of the legend such as the Round Table and the sword in the stone but these will be reinvented, reforged for a new generation of readers.
Lancelot is a story of warriors and kings, of violent, of warfare and bloodshed but it is also a story of loyalty and friendship, of over-arching ambition, of betrayal and guilt, of love and lust, and the win tragedies of revenge and remorse.”

I received a free EArc from Netgalley.

Lancelot is a brilliant book. I really can’t recommend it enough – but at its heart, it is also flawed. The more I think about this, the more I imagine this might have been done on purpose – a mirror image of the character, perhaps.

When I first began reading Lancelot I simply thought the author had been very clever with his book title. (Go check my Goodreads log for the book – I say it there). The story, while it might have been about Lancelot, could just as easily have been about just about any character in post-Roman/pre-Saxon/settlement period Britain (everyone has their own word for this period). It was not necessarily a Lancelot that anyone would recognise.

For all that, the young Lancelot is an intriguing character, and even if the book had just been an author with a clever title, I would probably have been just as impressed as I ultimately was.

The world Lancelot inhabits is a wonderful reimagining of Britain at this strange time period – with the Romans fled, and the Saxons on the surge. It is stuffed with warlords and kings, with kingdom names and conjures up a wonderful landscape of the time period. While all the action takes place in those areas which would be termed, British or Pictish, the very ‘smell’ of the Saxons is always blowing on the wind., for all that it is modern-day Cornwall, Devon, Wales and Scotland that form the backdrop for the story and there are only very occasional Saxon characters.

We meet Lancelot in the first chapter, Guinevere takes longer to appear, and Arthur? Well, his father makes an appearance before him – and Arthur only arrives 50% through the book. And this is as it should be – after all, this is Lancelot’s story and not that of Arthur’s. We do meet Merlin not long after Guinevere – so the ‘names’ we know from the Arthur Legend are firmly there – Tintagel is often mentioned, as too is Excalibur.

As in any novel about a famous warrior, there is a great deal of training, fighting and ‘rough-stuff’ from the other boys being trained, but mixed with the twin thread of friendship and magic. The magic is artfully arranged – it is just ‘accepted’ without explanation, and that appealed to my less than ‘magical’ mind. Other authors may have ‘overcooked’ the whole Merlin/Druid/Old Gods stuff but I think it is handled exceedingly well throughout the story. The ‘friendship’ element is also very skillfully told – it becomes more and more important as the book progresses.

Lancelot has a lovingly crafted feel to it. It meanders down little-trodden paths, and we might be left wondering why, but just as Robin Hobb manages with her ‘Fitz’ books, it never feels irrelevant. It’s a delightful tale of occasional irrelevance, that I just didn’t want to end, and I never say that about a book.

There were times when I couldn’t fathom what the author would do with his characters next and there were parts where I felt cheated. At 80% through I was completely perplexed, and actually, the ending of the book is either its weakest element or the author at his cleverest (I still can’t decide). it is here that he relies most on the readers ‘prior’ knowledge of the Arthur legend – and we are left to make our own assumptions until the very final scene, when there is, once more, some closure.

I really did love this book, but I would have liked to be much, much longer – I would have liked all the ‘gaps’ filled in, I would have liked answers to question that are asked but never resolved, I would have like more Arthur and Lancelot, and I would certainly have liked more, much more, of those famous battles, but Lancelot is a wonderful and powerful retelling of a legend that we already think we know – but which is ripe for retelling. It relies on an understanding of the legend – while also reworking it. A fine piece of work that I thoroughly enjoyed – even if I didn’t initially want to! 🙂

Lancelot is released on 31st May 2018 and is well, well worth a read.

Get your copy here;

 

Book Review – Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence – fantasy – 5/5 stars

Here’s the blurb;

“In Mystic Class Nona Grey begins to learn the secrets of the universe. But so often even the deepest truths just make our choices harder. Before she leaves the Convent of Sweet Mercy Nona must choose her path and take the red of a Martial Sister, the grey of a Sister of Discretion, the blue of a Mystic Sister or the simple black of a Bride of the Ancestor and a life of prayer and service.

All that stands between her and these choices are the pride of a thwarted assassin, the ambition of a would-be empress wielding the Inquisition like a blade, and the vengeance of the empire’s richest lord.

As the world narrows around her, and her enemies attack her through the system she has sworn to, Nona must find her own path despite the competing pull of friendship, revenge, ambition, and loyalty.

And in all this only one thing is certain.
.
There will be blood.”

Read it in a day! What greater compliment is there.

Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence -the sequel to Red Sister – is a good book. Never doubt that. It might even be an excellent book – and just as with Red Sister there will be a wide swathe of people who rave about this book, ensuring everyone they know, and vaguely know, goes out to buy it. This is a good thing. Mark Lawrence is a great writer – he doesn’t mess around with anything we don’t need to know – everything to his writing has a point – whether we know it at the time or not. His storylines are pretty rock solid, and his ‘world-building’ never, ever deteriorates into long sweeping paragraphs that are unneeded and detract from the action (which can be a problem with fantasy writers).

Yet, in giving this book 5 stars, and saying how great it is, there is, I admit, a part of me, that wishes it were as dark and complicated and downright transfixing as his previous two trilogies. The Book of the Ancestor Trilogy, for all that some may call it ‘dark’, is almost a walk in the park compared to his previous diabolical creations of Jorg and Jalan – and I admit – for all that sometimes I did find them a bit too ‘dark’ – I miss that ‘darkness’. Don’t all shout at once, I appreciate that death-dealing nuns do sound pretty dark, but when it’s mingled with the whole ‘school’ scenario, it does lose its ‘dark’ appeal for me – and I find some of the much-quoted sentences a bit misleading as to the path the story ultimately takes. No amount of bloodshed can quite make-up for that, but, I am very excited to see what happens in Book 3. Clearly, there’s still a great deal to come in The Book of the Ancestors series, and I’m keen to see how it all ‘ends’, while also being a little wary – I don’t think the final book will answer all my questions – but then, many great fantasy writers (cough, Robin Hobb) leave us thinking about the might-have-beens.

So five stars – and Book 3 is on my ‘to-read’ list already.

Grey Sister is out in the UK today – for some reason we’re weeks and weeks behind EVERYONE else!

Book Review – Devil’s Wolf (High Corbett) by Paul Doherty – historical murder mystery

Here’s the blurb;

1296: King Edward I has led his army to Scotland, determined to take the country under his crown. But the fierce Scots have no intention of submitting to their oppressor and violent and bloody war breaks out.

1311: Sir Hugh Corbett, Keeper of the Secret Seal, finds himself back in Scotland and is revisited by the horrors he witnessed there fifteen years ago.

An anonymous letter was delivered to the new king. It promised information about a fatal incident that could allow England to finally bow out of the war with the Scots. Tasked with finding out the truth about the murder, Corbett is forced to take risks he would rather avoid and put his faith in the words of strangers.

But with an unknown traitor lurking in the shadows and danger around every corner, will Corbett be able to unravel the complex web of plots in time?

I received a free EArc from Netgalley.

Devil’s Wolf is an enjoyable jaunt through early fourteenth century England. I found it particularly enjoyable as its setting is very familiar to me.

While the beginning of the novel is somewhat repetitive, as Hugh tries to work out what’s happening and tries to order his thoughts, the end of the novel is far more complex and reads more quickly.

The characterisations are good, and the author certainly doesn’t shy away from killing off characters left, right and centre.

I credit this author with helping me learn to love reading again after a pretty rubbish time many years ago – his Egyptian books are wonderful – as such it’s great to discover all these other books of his, of which I was unaware.

Devil’s Wolf is out now and can be found here;

Book Review – Warrior of Woden by Matthew Harffy – historical fiction

Here’s the blurb;

“AD 642. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the fifth instalment in the Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell.

Oswald has reigned over Northumbria for eight years and Beobrand has led the king to ever greater victories. Rewarded for his fealty and prowess in battle, Beobrand is now a wealthy warlord, with a sizable warband. Tales of Beobrand’s fearsome black-shielded warriors and the great treasure he has amassed are told throughout the halls of the land.

Many are the kings who bow to Oswald. And yet there are those who look upon his realm with a covetous eye. And there is one ruler who will never kneel before him.

When Penda of Mercia, the great killer of kings, invades Northumbria, Beobrand is once more called upon to stand in an epic battle where the blood of many will be shed in defence of the kingdom.

But in this climactic clash between the pagan Penda and the Christian Oswald there is much more at stake than sovereignty. This is a battle for the very souls of the people of Albion.”

I received a free EArc from Netgalley.

Overall Book 5 is far stronger than Book 4 and it doesn’t do what I thought it would do (in a good way).

For nearly 50% of the book, Beobrand is a much happier character than we’ve seen before. I thought this was an excellent evolution of his character, but sadly it doesn’t last and soon he’s moaning as much as in the previous books. This is one of my biggest problems with the series. Beobrand is just not very likeable and I find that hard in a series focused on him and where he’s supposed to be the hero or even the anti-hero. He just isn’t heroic enough for my liking, and will clearly never be. He seems genuinely unhappy with his lot in life – unhappy with his not-wife, his son, his king, his hall, who he’s killed before, who he hasn’t killed before, his horse – it would be nice if he was happy about something! 🙂

As to the story itself, it’s a very ‘Northumbrian’ interpretation of events in Britain at this time – there is no attempt to offer anything other than the version of events as given by Bede and other sources, which means that poor old Eowa gets very short shift . This is a shame as there was definitely scope for betrayal and double-dealing here, but because the story is about Beobrand, the possibilities are not explored. In fact, the major players of the period are so distant as to almost be missing from the story completely – the story we get could have been written anytime, anywhere, it is not truly about events in Britain at the time – a shame really when the events themselves are so significant. It would have been good to have a stand-off between Oswald and Penda – a real grudge battle, but instead, Penda is never actually encountered, only his actions. The ‘real’ (and I use that with caution) events of the period are simply the background to the story – even as a warrior of the king, the focus remains firmly on Beobrand at all times.

Where events are specifically directed at the period, there is a lack of clarity – they are fighting the Welsh and hate them and yet Cynan is Welsh, and one of Beobrand’s trusted gesithas. Penda is a pagan and reviled as such for this (especially for his blood sacrifice) – and yet Beobrand is pagan as well with his hammer necklace etc. This might pass many people by, or it might annoy. I just found it confusing.

Yet if I overlook all those problems, the book is stronger than previous ones in the series. It could have been great but it doesn’t quite make it because of the issues listed above and because many of the battle scenes are a bit disappointing. Maserfelth – the great battle – becomes a bit of a rugby scrum, and it is the later, smaller (‘made-up’) skirmishes, that are written with more flow and clarity. As I said, it’s as though events in Britain are there only for Beobrand to ride through/stamp through and glower through, and essentially much of the last half of the book is setting up events for future books.

It will also be interesting to see what happens with Penda, for Penda, whether he is the ‘Warrior of Woden’ or not, is going to be around for a very long time to plague and terrorise the kingdom of Bernicia.

A firm 4/5 – the series is getting better but a few issues remain.

Warrior of Woden is released on 1st April 2018 and you can get a copy here.

 

Book Review – The Darkness by Ragnar Jonasson – mystery/Icelandic Noir

Here’s the blurb;

A young woman is found dead on a remote Icelandic beach.

She came looking for safety, but instead she found a watery grave.

A hasty police investigation determines her death as suicide . . .

When Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir of the Reykjavik police is forced into early retirement, she is told she can investigate one last cold case of her choice – and she knows which one.

What she discovers is far darker than suicide . . . And no one is telling Hulda the whole story.

When her own colleagues try to put the brakes on her investigation, Hulda has just days to discover the truth. A truth she will risk her own life to find.

I received a free EArc from Netgalley.

The Darkness is not the first book I’ve read by the author, and as such, it suffers from the same problems. It is very bluntly written, others might think this a reflection of the starkness of Iceland, but I think it’s just the author’s writing style, and while it makes for a ridiculously easy read it is not necessarily a good thing as there is a lack of description other than what the weather is doing and everything feels ‘half-formed’ and also, ‘too easy’. The causality of the book throws up few surprises.

There are three intermingling stories told in this incredibly short tale, and while they all eventually resolve into some sort of coherence, I didn’t find the resolution satisfying or indeed, that convincing.

I always want to enjoy these books set in Iceland, I am drawn to the bleakness of it all, but I am, sadly, often left disappointed, and this is the same for this book. There just needs to be ‘more’ to these stories, and even the unconventional ending is ultimately disappointing while also being bold, a strange this to say, but true all the same.

The Darkness is out today and can be found here:

Book Review – Kin by Snorri Kristjansson – An intriguing idea – Viking murder mystery

This book intrigued me from the beginning – but perhaps the comments I read such as ‘no one does Vikings like this’ were slightly misleading for this particular book by the author. To begin with, I was quite confused by the direction the story was taking.

The characters in the book are intriguing and well thought out – well, most of them are, some of them are just confusing and it does take a while to sort out who everyone is, and it does, I’m afraid to say, start to become much easier to understand once the ‘action’ has started and the number of characters has diminished somewhat. That said, it takes nearly half of the book for this to happen, and the anticipation of ‘who’ will be the victim does start to become more important than why there will be a victim because the why is very clear from early on.

Much of the story is told from one point of view, that of Helga, and that is good. However, every so often, the author does drop in a different point of view, which is a bit jarring and perhaps not needed.

That said the book flows well, and I enjoyed reading it and only spent some of my time wondering about the historical accuracy of it all, and whether certain things would actually have happened.

An intriguing idea.

Kin is released today and you can get a copy from here.

Book Review – The Seven by Peter Newman – fantasy – recommended

“Years have passed since the Vagrant journeyed to the Shining City, Vesper in arm and Gamma’s sword in hand.

Since then the world has changed. Vesper, following the footsteps of her father, journeyed to the breach and closed the tear between worlds, protecting the last of humanity, but also trapping the infernal horde and all those that fell to its corruptions: willing or otherwise.

In this new age it is Vesper who leads the charge towards unity and peace, with seemingly nothing standing between the world and a bright new future.

That is until eyes open.

And The Seven awakes.”

I received a free EArc from Netgalley and notice that this has just come out in paperback so I am sharing my review again!

After only a few pages, I decided to read the previous book in the series, as the world I discovered was both intriguing and quite alien. I thought I needed some back story, and indeed I did. My review for The Malice is here.

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2011536175?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

I should also perhaps have taken the time to read The Vagrant but impatience won out, and anyway, The Vagrant, unlike in The Malice, is a real part of this final part of the trilogy (I am assuming it’s the final part).

Anyway, back to The Seven.

The world created by Peter Newman throughout The Vagrant series is inherently alien. It feels new and strange and, on occasion, very, very weird. This, more than anything, immediately draws the reader in, for Newman’s descriptions are sparse in the extreme, and I was often left decrying his lack of description (which is weird for me because I often skip excess descriptions in books content to let my imagination hold sway). Neither is it just his descriptions that are sparse, the whole nature of the book is trimmed down so that you really have to read each and every word – there’s no skipping a bit because you sort of know what’s about to happen. There is also, in the grand scheme of things, little conversation. This ties with the ‘pared’ down nature of the planet that these people inhabit.

The characters in this final book – Vesper, Samael and Scout, The Vagrant, Jem, her daughter, Obeisance and The Seven, as well as The First, Neer and other characters from the earlier book (including The Buck although not as much as I might have liked) – are all scarcely sketched and yet all have very distinct characters. There is no need to’like’ any of the characters (not like in some books) and yet throughout the series you gain respect for them all – even when they might be being cowardly or acting contrary to what we might hope they do. This is a strength of the book – for all the weirdness and strangeness – these are people (I use that word lightly) that we can understand if not relate to.

I very much enjoyed the ‘backstory’ in The Seven. Throughout The Malice I found it a little distracting, but in The Seven, the back story is vitally important, and indeed, at the end, I would have liked to know more about Massala and her creations.

Book 3 is eminently more readable than The Malice – and I don’t think it was because I knew more about the ‘world’ of The Vagrant – I think the storyline is more recognizable and therefore flows better. Yet I don’t think the author ever quite gives the reader what they want – there is not really a happily ever after, there is just an ending, and one which is never wholly assured until it actually happens.

There are very good battle scenes, and very good ‘political’ scenes and yet through it all, the world of The Vagrant remains aloof – difficult to grasp onto. It is not a typical fantasy book and some might well struggle with it, but I think it’s well worth the struggle (The Malice took me a month to read because I struggled with elements of it – The Seven is a much quicker read) and it is refreshing to read something so very different and ‘new’.

The Seven is available now and can be purchased here;