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 – 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.

 

 

 

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 – 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;

Book Review – The Irish Princess by Elizabeth Chadwick – historical fiction

Here’s the blurb;

“Her father’s only daughter.
Her country’s only hope.
Ireland, 1152

The King of Lenister, awaiting news of his newborn child, is disappointed to hear he has a daughter. Diarmait MacMurchada wanted another strapping son to shoulder a spear, wield a sword, and protect his kingdom. But the moment Diarmait holds tiny Aoife in his arms, he realised she would be his most precious treasure.

1166

Forced into exile Aoife and her family find themselves at the mercy of Henry II. Aoife – aware of her beauty but not its power – intrigues and beguiles Henry in equal measure. He agrees to help her father, an alliance that leads the MacMurchadas to the charistmatic Richard de Clare, a man dissatisfied with his lot and open to new horizons.

Diarmit promises Richard Aoife’s hand in marriage in return for his aid in Ireland, but Aoife has her own thoughts on the matter. She may be a prize, but she is not a pawn, and she will play the men at their own game. For herself, for her family, and for her country.

From the royal halls of scheming kings, to staunch Welsh border fortresses and the wild green kingdoms of Ireland, The Irish Princess is a sumptuous, journey of ambition and desire, love and loss, heartbreak and survival.”

The Irish Princess is a welcome return to the world of William the Marshall and Queen Alienor. Yes, they might not appear in the book for any great length of time, if at all, but the reader knows that they are ‘off’ in the background, living their own lives, while young Aoife is trying to do the same. (I am a huge fan of the William Marshall books – in many ways, he was one of the inspirations for Ealdorman Leofwine in the Earls of Mercia books that I write.)

The setting of Ireland for much of the book provides a new arena for readers of Elizabeth Chadwick, and it’s enjoyable. Events in Ireland can be complicated, and the author makes the reader aware of what’s happening without providing too much detail so that it never becomes too complicated.

Aoife is an intriguing character – fiercely proud of her heritage, she is also determined to hold onto her birthright, whatever it takes, and if I would have liked to know more about Aoife, and her Irish family by the end of the novel, then that is a good thing. I don’t know if this is a standalone novel, or if it will have a sequel, and if it doesn’t, I imagine many of my questions could be answered by forcing myself to reread The Scarlet Lion (if I must! – I can’t imagine it’ll be any form of hardship).

A thoroughly enjoyable read – it took me only three days to complete the book – and recommended for all fans of Elizabeth Chadwick, and those with an interest in the Empire of Henry II.

On a personal note – I do enjoy it when an author has the freedom to play around with some of their characters a little bit. This book is very much a prequel to The Scarlet Lion and I’m pleased that both the author and the publisher pursued this idea.

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

The Irish Princess is released on 12th September 2019 and is available from here: