Book Review – A Tapestry of Treason by Anne O’Brien – historical fiction – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“Her actions could make history – but at what price?

1399: Constance of York, Lady Despenser, proves herself more than a mere observer in the devious intrigues of her magnificently dysfunctional family, The House of York.

Surrounded by power-hungry men, including her aggressively self-centred husband Thomas and ruthless siblings Edward and Richard, Constance places herself at the heart of two treasonous plots against King Henry IV.  Will it be possible for this Plantagenet family to safeguard its own political power by restoring either King Richard II to the throne, or the precarious Mortimer claimant?

Although the execution of these conspiracies will place them all in jeopardy, Constance is not deterred, even when the cost of her ambition threatens to overwhelm her.  Even when it endangers her new-found happiness.

With treason, tragedy, heartbreak and betrayal, this is the story of a woman ahead of her time, fighting for herself and what she believes to be right in a world of men.”

A Tapestry of Treason is a stunning novel. The character of Lady Constance is a revelation – she is perhaps the most complicated of Anne O’Brien’s historical ‘women’ to date, and the book delightfully fluctuates between the conspiracies and treasons that she’s involved in, even though she is, but a woman in a man’s world. How she survived the king’s wrath on so many occasions is a bit of a miracle.

In the end, I was completely hooked on the novel, and just read the last 40% or so in one sitting, in heightened anxiety from each high to each new low. Lady Constance certainly wins the heart of the reader, even if she herself would never admit to even having a heart.

I believe this is the best of Anne O’Brien’s books to date.

Thank you to the Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy. I would certainly have read it anyway – and I’m just delighted I got to read it so far in advance of being released.

A Tapestry of Treason is now available in paperback, and is available here.

‘The Reading’ End of Year Review

I’ve read many, many books this year. Some have been fab, some not so fab, and some have just filled a little niche that needed filling. I’ve also written, read and re-read a fair few of my own books this year. But I’m not going to include those in this.

When I look back, I see I’ve read many historical fiction books this year – the majority just historical fiction, but also a few that were historical who-dun-its. I’m a fan of Marple and Poirot, so this does make sense to me.

In fact, 24 of the 71 books I’ve read this year (thank you for keeping track Goodreads), have been historical (and a further 6 of those have been my own historical fiction books, so yes, historical fiction accounts for a great deal of my reading.)

Of those, here are my five favourites of the year. I’m not going to put them in any order, because I enjoyed them all for different reasons.

Anne O’Brien’s A Tapestry of Treason was one of the first books I read this year, and it was a wonderful read. Commodus by Simon Turney was another of the stand out books, as was The Last of the Romans by Derek Birks (which I’ve just discovered I didn’t review on my blog, so there’s a link to Goodreads), Sword of Kings by Bernard Cornwell and Wolf of Wessex by Matthew Harffy. I was lucky enough to get review copies of many of these books, although I took a chance on The Last of the Romans through Kindle Unlimited and was really pleased I did.

I also read some historical fiction that really didn’t appeal to me, in the end. I prefer historical fiction to be about ‘real’ people (I know their stories will be fictionalized) and told in an engaging and interesting way.

As to the historical mysteries I read, I’m going to highlight Silent Water by PK Adams, a fellow indie author, who takes the reader to Tudor Era Poland. It was fascinating.

As to those novels I read which took a historical era as their background, I thoroughly enjoyed The Dark Days Deceit by Alison Goodman – a sort of fantasy/historical mash-up that concluded the trilogy in a completely satisfactory way.  And The Body in the Garden by Katharine Schellman which isn’t released until next year, but which is an enjoyable who-dun-it. I’ll review it closer to the time.

I also read quite a bit of sci-fi this year, and here the standout book must be Skyward by Brandon Sanderson. I didn’t realise it was aimed at a Young Adult audience. I devoured it, even though I’ve tried Brandon Sanderon before and really didn’t enjoy his story (ducks for cover). I’m really looking forward to finding the time to read Book 2.

I’ve not read as much fantasy as normal this year. But, what I did read was well worth it. Here, I’m going to wax lyrical about Peter Newman. His series, The Deathless, inhabits such a weird and wonderful world that it completely absorbs me. If you’ve not read the first two books in the trilogy, then you’re in for a real treat. The Ruthless was released earlier this year, and I know the third part is due out next year. I’m keen to read it.

I also read all of Mark Lawrence’s four releases this year – Holy Sister concluded the Book of the Ancestor trilogy, and he also released The Impossible Times trilogy, through Amazon Publishing. These are probably still fantasy but in a 1980’s setting (unless they’re sci-fi). I enjoyed them all, but confess, the D and D setting of The Impossible Times trilogy was a bit trying at times. Still, the 1980s was perfectly encapsulated – like an episode of Stranger Things.

I’m also going to mention the John Gwynne book I read this year – A Time of Blood. Foolishly, it wasn’t the first in a series, but goodness me, it was gripping, and I’ve now got the first book to read!

I’ve also listened to my first audiobook, and while I found it great to walk to, I confess, I’m not sure audio is for me. If I’m writing myself I have music on, and because I normally walk to get away from writing, I don’t find listening to stories to be restful. But I do have a fully stocked Audible library so that might change.

While I’ve managed to read a great many books this year, I’ve now found my enthusiasm for ‘new’ waning a little and I’ve sought refuge in a few classic PERN novels, and for 2020, I plan on indulging in the Deverry books by Katharine Kerr in anticipation of the new book coming out in 2020. The books have all been released with fantastic new covers, and I might just have to treat myself to them all over again.

I’ve also not read as many non-fiction books this year as I might normally do. But I think that will change in 2020. I’ve got a great deal of research to do for future projects. Of those non-fiction books I have read, they’ve all been something I was interested in any way, and I’m going to mention Warrior and The Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown. Both were very readable and well written.

I would like to thank Netgalley and also some very brave authors who’ve allowed me access to Advanced copies of their books throughout the year. It makes for much more varied reading!

 

‘My Writing’ End of Year Review 2019

Well, it’s been a busy year but I want to start by thanking all of my readers for continuing to read the books I write, for writing reviews and for interacting with me over on Twitter and via email. I really couldn’t do it without you!

And so to this year.

Well, it’s been a year of two halves. The beginning of 2019 saw me experimenting with a couple of fantasy books, The Innkeeper being released under a slightly different name, and the other secret project under an entirely new name.

I was also really slow to release anything new in the historical fiction genre. There was a good reason for this – I was crossing the timeline of two earlier books and I wanted to make sure the transition was smoother than I knew it was. So, the first two Earls of Mercia books have been comprehensively edited, fiddled with and generally made as good as I can make them without a complete rewrite. The Earl of Mercia’s Father and The Danish King’s Enemy are available in paperback. It’s to be hoped that these new editions will be available in ebook soon as well.

I needed to do this to continue the story of Lady Elfrida, first told in The First Queen of England trilogy, and continuing in The King’s Mother books. When I first wrote about Leofwine and Leofric, I had no idea that I would find myself writing about King Æthelred’s mother. It was fascinating to write the story of the late tenth century and early eleventh century from a different viewpoint. The Queen Dowager and Once A Queen were the first of my ‘new’ releases for the year.

I then turned my attention to a few of the fantastic women I’d discovered while writing about Lady Elfrida. Lady Eadgifu caught my attention because her life spans almost the entire period between The Lady of Mercia’s Daughter and the beginning of Lady Elfrida’s story. Kingmaker charts many of the events of tenth-century England, but The King’s Daughters took me to both East and West Frankia in the middle of the tenth century. It was a fascinating, if frustrating, experience.

I’ve also taken the opportunity to refresh another tenth-century project Brunanburh.

For NaNoWriMo, I’ve worked on another fantasy project which I hope to release early in 2020 and I’ve ended the year with a return to the world of the Earls of Mercia. Viking King was released on 24th December.

It’s been a busy and fascinating year, and I’m looking forward to 2020 and all the new journeys I’m going to be able to take.

If you want to keep up to date with news of releases and projects, then you can sign up to my email list here.

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: