Book Review – The Outcasts of Time by Ian Mortimer (Historical Fiction) Recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“The year is 1348 and brothers John and William have been infected by the plague. Their fate is sealed. Until a voice from the skies offers them a choice: ‘You may stay here and spend your last six days with your wife and children. Or you may put yourself in my hands now. I will wipe the scars from your face and the swellings from your body. I will extinguish your fever. I will let you live your last six days in the distance of the future.’

John and William agree: they will live for six more days and in return they will do good deeds in order to try to save their souls. But there’s a twist: each of those six days will begin ninety-nine years after the last, delivering them each time to an increasingly alien existence. As they travel, the reader travels with them, seeing the world change with conflict, disease, progress and enlightenment. But all the while time is counting down to a moment of judgement.”

I received a free E-Arc from Netgalley.

Ian Mortimer is a fantastic historian – looking at the past with new eyes and in so doing shedding light on events that are often, erroneously, presented as a fait accompli. For this reason, I was very excited to be given the opportunity to read and review his first work of fiction.

The Outcasts of Time is a deeply intriguing novel, looking not at the past through our perception, but rather the future (which is now our past) through the eyes of a man who lived over 600 years ago. This means that instead of our own misconceptions being applied to the past, every new century is seen afresh, with old eyes that note the changes and the differences as well as the similarities. That said, the novel is not always successful in doing this in an entertaining way, there are the odd occasions where I pondered whether the novel was actually going to be able to successfully bring to a conclusion what appears, at points, as nothing more than a random collection of chance encounters in and around the area of Exeter with different people throughout the 600 year period. I must point out, however, that in the end, I was very pleased to have all the events brought together and to be given some understanding of John’s ‘chance’ encounters.

The initial portrayal of the Black Death is as bleak as we could expect, and edged with harshness. I can understand why the events drove John to seek the option of travelling into the future as opposed to his hideous and painful death. What then transpires is a painstakingly detailed tramp through both the historical and the physical landscape. The book covers a small geographical area – wherever John and his brother could walk in a day’s journey. This feels, on occasion, a little restrictive, and yet the research involved in the endeavour can not be underestimated. Ian Mortimer has either envisaged, or drawn from the historical record, painstaking detail about the way the landscape, people and places changed throughout the 600 years from the Black Death. While this detail may occasionally slow the narrative it can not be ignored. What else would you notice if you did travel through time? It would be people’s clothes, haircuts, the decorations in their houses, the style of buildings and the food available to eat – not to mention the changes in bathrooms.

The grander events of history – the well known wars and kings and queens – are touched upon but they don’t constitute what John is hoping to achieve. He is looking for redemption – to save a soul in order to save his own – and his comments and feelings remain those of a man born and raised in the fourteenth century, confused and beguiled by events almost beyond his comprehension, which only increases with distance from his own time.

The author works hard to bring out every naunce of change through time – right down to evolving speech and the changing of names – by the end John is no longer John of Wrayment but John Everyman – time and language mangling his name, and depriving him of almost everything apart from his brother’s ring and his memories. By making John a stone carver, the author even manages to show that even something as ‘permanent’ as stone can be mangled and broken through time – the carvings John has made, based on his family and friends, gradually fall away and lose their shape. Nothing, it seems, is ever permanent, no matter the initial intent.

The people John meets are perhaps a little too easily convinced of his journey through time, and I do feel that the last two centuries – the 1800’s and 1900’s perhaps work better – but that is probably because they are more ‘real’ to me – they are more comprehensible to me just as those centuries closer to John seem to make more sense to him. This, I think, is to be expected.

I would also add that quite a bit of the novel is concerned with religion and religious change. This is fascinating, but also, on occasion, a little overpowering, and yet reflects the concerns of John very eloquently. It shows how recently religion has ceased to be such a major presence in the lives of many.

When John offers the opinion that “The man who has no knowledge of the past has no wisdom” he is speaking for the rationale behind this novel and doing so very eloquently.

Recommended to all who enjoy history and historical fiction.

The Outcasts of Time is released on 15th June 2017 and you can buy it here.

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Book Review – Kin of Cain by Matthew Harffy

Here’s the blurb;

“630 AD. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical novella set in the world of The Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell. 

Winter grips the land in its icy fist. Terror stalks the hills, moors and marshes of Bernicia. Livestock and men have been found ripped asunder, their bones gnawed, flesh gorged upon. People cower in their halls in fear of the monster that prowls the night.

King Edwin sends his champion, Bassus, with a band of trusted thegns, to hunt down the beast and to rid his people of this evil.

Bassus leads the warriors into the chill wastes of the northern winter, and they soon question whether they are the hunters or the prey. Death follows them as they head deeper into the ice-rimed marshes, and there is ever only one ending for the mission: a welter of blood that will sow the seeds of a tale that will echo down through the ages.”

I received a free E-Arc from Netgalley.

Kin of Cain is a short story written in the same ‘universe’ as the Bernicia Tales. However, it is set some time previous to the first novel (I think 2 or 3 years) and this, for me is a very good thing because (spoiler ahead) it means that grumpy Beobrand has not yet made an appearance and instead the story focuses on his brother and a few of the other main characters, most notably Bassus. As such, it is much lighter in tone than the Bernician Chronicles and a far easier read. The story flows very well and if I’m slightly perplexed about where the ‘marsh’ and the ‘cliff face’ is in North Northumberland, I’m sure that someone will let me know soon enough. I do have a thing about only visiting sandy beaches for my walks and this might be my own oversight. (I’ve now been told it’s Dunstanburgh not Bamburgh area and this makes a whole lot more sense as there are massive cliffs at Dunstanburgh populated by a whole flock of seabirds).

The ‘monster’ is well portrayed as is the solving of the mystery of where it is and what it is.

I hadn’t realised that the author was offering a possible retelling of a very famous Anglo-Saxon story until the very end when it was made abundantly clear, as I think the story works very well on its own.

I’m sure fans of the Bernicia Chronicles will enjoy the story. I certainly did, and I do hope that the author considers more side-stories that focus on the other characters of his ”universe’ as opposed to Beobrand (hint hint, pretty please).

Book Review -The Riviera Express by T.P. Fielden

Here’s the blurb;

“Murder on the Riviera Express

Gerald Hennessey – silver screen star and much-loved heart-throb – never quite makes it to Temple Regis, the quaint Devonshire seaside town on the English Riviera. Murdered on the 4.30 from Paddington, the loss of this great man throws Temple Regis’ community into disarray.

Not least Miss Judy Dimont –corkscrewed hair reporter for the local rag, The Riviera Express. Investigating Gerald’s death, she’s quickly called to the scene of a second murder – setting off on her trusty moped, Herbert, she finds Arthur Shrimsley in an apparent suicide on the clifftops above the town beach.

Miss Dimont must prevail – for why was a man like Gerald coming to Temple Regis anyway? And what is the connection between him and Arthur? And just how will she get the answers she wants whilst under the watchful and mocking eyes of her infamously cantankerous Editor, Rudyard Rhys?”

I received a free E-Arc from Netgalley.

The Riviera Express is, quite simply, a very good read. The author does have a particular writing style which initially threw me and I worried that the novel would be a hard read, however, after only a few pages, I was used to the writing style, and while many might not appreciate the ‘wordiness’ the author choices to use, I found it fit very well with the novel.

The characters are nuanced and a little stereotypical, but then, that really is the point. It is Miss Dimont who is the star of the show and she receives the most back-story and is the least stereotyped, shortly followed by her fellow newspaper colleagues – the photographer, Terry, and her main rival/friend at the newspaper, Betty. The author also captures the essence of a 1950’s seaside town – the busy-bodies, the small mindedness, the general nosyness of everyone knowing everyone else’s business and the stresses and strains of keeping everyone happy within the small community that wants a localnewspaper but only if everyone is presented in their best light.

And yet into all this comes a little bit of glamour provided by one of the murder victims and his entourage. The author does a very good job of presenting the actors as actors – ensuring that their dramatic moments are always referenced to the film/play that they’ve stolen their lines from and juxtaposing the strange and magical world of actors to the more mundane events of life in a seaside town where the summer season has just ended.

The mystery that Miss Dimont finds herself unravelling, earns as much ‘spread’ as the development of the characters and the venue, which I’m sure will feature in more books in the future, and ends rather well with not so much a twist, as an unlooked for answer to all the questions.

Overall I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a historical novel with the added bonus of intrigue.

(I am a fan of historical who-dun-its be it Sherlock Holmes, Marple, Poirot, or my latest find – The Phryne Fisher books).

And you can buy the book from 23rd February from here:

Announcing the Winners of the Red Sister Art Contest

that thorn guy

First of all I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who took the time and submitted an entry (or more) to this competition, as well as to Mark Lawrence and Pen Astridge for their help in considering the submissions.

The three winning entries of this competition are:

Jorg on the Lichway’ (Chalk on wall) by Josiah Bancroft

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‘Marshal Jalan’ by Lily Yearwood

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‘Mother’s Music’ by Krystal Wolfe

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The fourth prize, randomly selected, and offered by Mark, goes to entry 4:

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‘Snorri vs Bear… minus Snorri. Didn’t go according to plan.’ by J.P. Ashman & Freya

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Honourable mentions go to:

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Katherine by Sarah Trac

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‘Red Kent by Juan Pablo Cartasso

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‘Bear’ by Vivianne Holmén

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Thank you very much for all the entries once again and special thanks to Pen Astridge for the great image used in the header.

Agnes

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