Book Review – Bright Blade: The Byrhtnoth Chronicles: Book 3 by Christine Hancock – historical fiction

Here’s the blurb;

Byrhtnoth thinks only of killing the man who stole his sword and wounded his wife. But the blade of revenge can strike both ways.
Erik Bloodaxe has broken his oath and claimed the throne of York. In his anger, King Eadred sends his army to ravage Northumbria.
Sent north with the ships, Byrhtnoth suffers storms at sea and fire on land. After an encounter with an old enemy, he is left broken, in mind and body.
Can Byrhtnoth survive until help arrives?
Will he ever fight again?

Bright Blade is the third book about Byrhtnoth (who would, in time, become Ealdorman Byrhtnoth in tenth-century England). I’ve read the previous 2 books and enjoyed them, and I think the cover for book 3 is really striking. With book 3, I felt ‘hooked’ from the beginning and the storyline flowed really well. I enjoyed the ending (no spoilers here), as it built cleverly to an unexpected climax.

This series is set in the tenth century (along with the more recent Uhtred books by Bernard Cornwell, as well as my own books in The Tenth Century series, and the later Chronicles of the English, The First Queen of England books, and even The Earls of Mercia begins in the tenth century) and as such, it’s really enjoyable to see a different perspective to my own, and also to encounter a character, Byrhtnoth, who is so important in The First Queen of England books.

I think all the ‘cool kids’ are writing about the tenth century, and I’m really looking forward to reading the final book in the series when it’s available.

Bright Blade is available now on Amazon.

 

 

 

New Release Alert – The Queen Dowager by M J Porter (The King’s Mother Book II)

So, it’s been a while, but both The Queen Dowager, and Always A Queen, are near to being released. I decided to write both books together, one after another, and to ensure that this second trilogy about Lady Elfrida truly did justice to the intriguing woman I believe she was. (It’s also involved a major overhaul of the first two books in The Earls of Mercia series, which will also be available in paperback soon).

The cover for The King’s Mother has been ready for a while, but the cover for Always A Queen is still under construction.

But, aside from that, I thought I’d share a bit of the ‘blurb” for The Queen Dowager.

“No woman had ever held so much power and lost it on the whim of her son, the king. Six years of political ostracism has brought Lady Elfrida low. Desperate to be welcomed back to Court, she risks all to make an ally of England’s Viking enemy. Failure risks exile. Forever.”

I will share more details as soon as I have them!

 

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.

Book Review – The Wolf of Wessex by Matthew Harffy – historical fiction – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

AD 838. Deep in the forests of Wessex, Dunston’s solitary existence is shattered when he stumbles on a mutilated corpse.

Accused of the murder, Dunston must clear his name and keep the dead man’s daughter alive in the face of savage pursuers desperate to prevent a terrible secret from being revealed.

Rushing headlong through Wessex, Dunston will need to use all the skills of survival garnered from a lifetime in the wilderness. And if he has any hope of victory against the implacable enemies on their trail, he must confront his long-buried past – becoming the man he once was and embracing traits he had promised he would never return to. The Wolf of Wessex must hunt again; honour and duty demand it.

I was lucky enough to get an EARC of Wolf of Wessex from the author.

I’ve read all the previous books by Matthew Harffy set in seventh-century Bernicia, and many will know that I have a few complaints about his grumpy main character. Wolf of Wessex is a breath of fresh air, set two centuries later and with a new main character who doesn’t infuriate me with his grumpiness and general ill-temper all the time.

I’d give Wolf of Wessex a full 5/5, without even having to think about it. The story presses on at a good pace,  there are lots of short, sharp chapters, and a good mystery as well.  The attention to detail with regards to the forest landscape was really good as Dunston is forced to leave his home while still utilising the skills his solitary lifestyle has taught him.

The writing truly flows, the descriptions feel natural, and the pacing is fab. It’s a page-turner that I highly recommend.

Wolf of Wessex is released on 14th November, and is available from here:

Book Review – Starship Alchemon by Christopher Hinz – sci-fi​

Here’s the blurb;

“From the the award-winning author of the cult-80s classic Liege-Killer and The Paratwa Saga, comes Starship Alchemon – a deep-space action opera combined with a threat to all humanity.

Nine explorers aboard a powerful AI vessel, Alchemon, are sent to investigate an “anomalous biosignature” on a distant planet. But they soon realize their mission has gone to hell as deadly freakish incidents threaten their lives. Are these events caused by the tormented psychic mysteriously put aboard at the last minute? Has the crew been targeted by a vengeful corporate psychopath? Are they part of some cruel experiment by the ship’s ruthless owners? Or do their troubles originate with the strange alien lifeform retrieved from the planet? A creature that might possess an intelligence beyond human understanding or may perhaps be the spawn of some terrifying supernatural force… Either way, as their desperation and panic sets in, one thing becomes clear: they’re fighting not only for their own survival, but for the fate of all humanity.”

Starship Alchemon is an entertaining read, and clearly, the author has delighted in all those little details that flesh out a novel to make it seem as ‘realistic’ as possible.

There is a palpable sense of futility for part of the novel that had me reading during the day, rather than at night, in order to get to the end and while the ending was somewhat drawn out, it was also both quite satisfying and a little bit frustrating. That said, there were points that tested my interest and there were a large number of ‘information dumps’ that could possibly have been woven more neatly into the story. The characters could have been more fleshed out, but the backstory of the important ones was interesting and believable.

Overall, an entertaining and intriguing read. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

Starship Alchemon is released on 12th November 2019 and is available from here;

 

 

Book Review – Sword of Kings by Bernard Cornwell – historical fiction

Here’s the blurb;

“Uhtred of Bebbanburg is a man of his word.

An oath bound him to King Alfred. An oath bound him to Æthelflaed. And now an oath will wrench him away from the ancestral home he fought so hard to regain. For Uhtred has sworn that on King Edward’s death, he will kill two men. And now Edward is dying.

A violent attack drives Uhtred south with a small band of warriors, and headlong into the battle for kingship. Plunged into a world of shifting alliances and uncertain loyalties, he will need all his strength and guile to overcome the fiercest warrior of them all.

As two opposing Kings gather their armies, fate drags Uhtred to London, and a struggle for control that must leave one King victorious, and one dead. But fate – as Uhtred has learned to his cost – is inexorable. Wyrd bið ful ãræd. And Uhtred’s destiny is to stand at the heart of the shield wall once again…”

I sometimes feel that this series of books has long since run its course, but Sword of Kings, Book 12, had me intrigued just from reading the blurb.

Lord Uhtred has firmly moved into a time period I know, study and write about, and while sometimes it’s hard to read the way another person treats ‘your’ characters, I thoroughly enjoyed the starkly different interpretation of events surrounding King Edward’s death, because, quite simply, there is no ‘right or wrong’ when writing about this period. It’s a very much anything goes scenario, and into this, Lord Uhtred, bored and old, having finally captured Bebbanburg, is allowed to take centre stage.

Uhtred is older, but not wiser, and once more, if it wasn’t for the intervention of others, he would certainly not make it to the end of Book 12, hale and hearty.

Uhtred has as many enemies as normal, and his loyalties are split, but the will is strong to enact some revenge when he realises his ships are being attacked by an old enemy he ‘s made an oath to kill. Heading South, with the news that King Edward is either dying or dead, while plague pushes its way ever northwards, there’s a great deal of time spent on board ship. There’s a battle on a ship, and then another battle, and then there’s tides, rivers, currents, different boats, oars, sails and many other ship related activities. (It does get a little repetitive). There’s the Farne Islands, Kentish coasts, London, rivers in Mercia, London once more and then a bridge as well as a wall.

The action is pretty full-on but somewhat repetitive. Uhtred makes any number of bad decisions, and then the quest for revenge drives him on, even though it probably shouldn’t.

In effect, Uhtred turns the tide of ‘history’ once more, and not necessarily to his favour.

The old rivalries between paganism and Christianity continue, as does Uhtred’s unease with the plans the new king has for Northumbria, and for him. It’s these scenes that I find most tedious. I would like a little more nuance to Uhtred, but it seems his character will never develop more than it has. BC tries to make Uhtred appear as more than just a thug by adding a few women to the cast, as well as a host of orphans, and having his relationships with them testify that he isn’t ‘a ‘bad man’ just a righteous one who must abide by his oaths.’ Essentially, if Uhtred likes you, then that’s good, but if not, then you’re in trouble.

There are many elements to the story that I would change – the insistence on Anglo-Saxon place names being one of them, the ship ‘lingo’ another one – but hey, it’s Uhtred. You know what you’re getting from the start, and you won’t be disappointed, although you might feel a bit seasick!

Here’s to the next book.

Sword of Kings was released on 3rd October, and is available from here:

Book Review – Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown by J F Andrews – historical non-fiction

Here’s the blurb;

When William the Conqueror died in 1087 he left the throne of England to William Rufus … his second son. The result was an immediate war as Rufus’s elder brother Robert fought to gain the crown he saw as rightfully his; this conflict marked the start of 400 years of bloody disputes as the English monarchy’s line of hereditary succession was bent, twisted and finally broken when the last Plantagenet king, Richard III, fell at Bosworth in 1485. The Anglo-Norman and Plantagenet dynasties were renowned for their internecine strife, and in Lost Heirs we will unearth the hidden stories of fratricidal brothers, usurping cousins and murderous uncles; the many kings – and the occasional queen – who should have been but never were. History is written by the winners, but every game of thrones has its losers too, and their fascinating stories bring richness and depth to what is a colourful period of history. King John would not have gained the crown had he not murdered his young nephew, who was in line to become England’s first King Arthur; Henry V would never have been at Agincourt had his father not seized the throne by usurping and killing his cousin; and as the rival houses of York and Lancaster fought bloodily over the crown during the Wars of the Roses, life suddenly became very dangerous indeed for a young boy named Edmund.

Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown is an engaging study of exactly that. Taking the reader from the years after the Norman Conquest until the beginning of the Tudor era, there is much to learn about those who should have been king or queen had happenstance been a little different.

The author has an engaging writing style, and if, every so often, the opinions offered are purely based on the author’s personal preference, it can be overlooked, as most historians will always have a personal favourite or enemy from the time period that they study, and the author does make it clear when offering a personal opinion.

It is a very readable book, and I particularly enjoyed reading about Lady Constance at the beginning of the 1400s (as I’ve just read a fiction book about her). Neither does the author shy away from such difficult topics as the murder of the lost heirs, and is as even-handed when recounting the lives of the Black Prince, as those who suffered at the hands of over-mighty uncles.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown is released on 2nd October, and is available from here; and also from here:

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Lost-Heirs-of-the-Medieval-Crown-Hardback/p/16791

(I am struggling to get a cover image so please click one of the links as it is really quite fab!)

 

Book Review – The Black Hawks by David Wragg – fantasy

Here’s the blurb;

Dark, thrilling, and hilarious, The Black Hawks is an epic adventure perfect for fans of Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch.

Life as a knight is not what Vedren Chel imagined. Bound by oath to a dead-end job in the service of a lazy step-uncle, Chel no longer dreams of glory – he dreams of going home.

When invaders throw the kingdom into turmoil, Chel finds opportunity in the chaos: if he escorts a stranded prince to safety, Chel will be released from his oath.

All he has to do is drag the brat from one side of the country to the other, through war and wilderness, chased all the way by ruthless assassins.

With killers on your trail, you need killers watching your back. You need the Black Hawk Company – mercenaries, fighters without equal, a squabbling, scrapping pack of rogues.

Prepare to join the Black Hawks.

The Black Hawks by David Bragg is a fun book, if a little slow to get going, with the first 20% all a bit ‘go here, but then, go back here,’ before the characters really start to feel fleshed out and enjoyable.

When the narrative is focused on the members of The Black Hawks, the book is at its finest – and the section that runs from about 20% to 50% is rife with promise, humour and a great deal of action.

After that, the novel  tends to fall down a few fantasy ‘holes’ and the reliance on a religion as the ultimate ‘baddies’ feels laboured and a bit disappointing. I was hoping for something a bit different for The Black Hawks company to get their teeth into, as they certainly deserved it.

I read on though, hoping for something a ‘little more’ only to be further disappointed that the book has no true ending, but rather just stops. This is frustrating. Series and trilogies should still ensure that the characters reach an ‘ending’ even if it is only the beginning of something else, and leading into another book. The ending of The Black Hawks is frustrating and as a marketing ploy, I wouldn’t allow myself to be drawn into it.

Overall, this book holds a bucket load of promise, and while hugely enjoyable in places, it lacks the real punch of ‘original’ which I think the fab characters truly deserved. A firm 4/5. I wish it had been a 5/5, and I wish it had truly had an ‘ending.’

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

The Black Hawks is released on 3rd October and is available from here;

 

Book Review – The Mitford Scandal by Jessica Fellowes – historical fiction

Here’s the blurb;

The newly married and most beautiful of the Mitford sisters, Diana, hot-steps around Europe with her husband and fortune heir Bryan Guinness, accompanied by maid Louisa Cannon, as well as some of the most famous and glamorous luminaries of the era. But murder soon follows, and with it, a darkness grows in Diana’s heart . . .

This wonderful new book in the bestselling The Mitford Murders series sees the Mitford sisters at a time of scandalous affairs, political upheaval and murder.

The Mitford Scandal is not at all what it is sold as – it is not a 1920’s whodunit – but rather a tedious excursion through late 1920’s Europe where I turned every page just waiting for something to happen, only for each ‘event’ to be the ending of a chapter, rather than a beginning.

The writing style is odd in the extreme, some events told in explicit detail, others glossed over as though not important, and the years, yes years, covered in this novel, are done so in choppy chapters that seem to add little or nothing to the story.

I think the author struggles to reconcile the life her ‘main’ character, the lady’s maid, Louisa has, with the events that are being narrated. It just doesn’t work, not at all, and the odd few chapters told from the viewpoint of Guy are equally as jarring.

Hugely disappointing as I am a fan of a good 1920’s murder-mystery, but this is not one, only morbid curiosity kept me reading until the end (it is not a long book), which is as poorly constructed as the rest of the novel.

Apologies. I really don’t like to leave negative reviews, but my thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy.

I have looked at reading previous books in this series of books (this is book 3), and I know they have a great of deal of hype around them. I think this probably added to my disappointment – sometimes hype is not a good thing for a series of books to have!! Apologies again. (The cover is lovely!)

The Mitford Scandal is released on 26th September and is available from here;