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;

Book Review – Warrior: A Life of War in Anglo-Saxon England by Edoardo Albert and Paul Gething – historical non-fiction/fiction

Here’s the blurb;

“Warrior tells the story of forgotten man, a man whose bones were found in an Anglo-Saxon graveyard at Bamburgh castle in Northumberland. It is the story of a violent time when Britain was defining itself in waves of religious fervour, scattered tribal expansion and terrible bloodshed; it is the story of the fighting class, men apart, defined in life and death by their experiences on the killing field; it is an intricate and riveting narrative of survival and adaptation set in the stunning political and physical landscapes of medieval England. Warrior is a classic of British history, a landmark of popular archaeology, and a must-read for anyone interested in the story of where we’ve come from.”

Warrior is an extremely well-written book. But it is not at all what I thought it would be. It is not so much the story of the warrior whose skeleton was discovered in the Bowl Hole at Bamburgh, as the story of the archaeological digs that have taken place at Bamburgh Castle, and the personalities involved, the ‘history’ (bizarre as it sounds) of the development of archaeology as a science throughout the twentieth century and a snapshot of events that occurred in Northumberland from about AD599-635, mixed in with the history of the Conversion of the Anglo-Saxons, which were taking place at the same time. (On another note, I have been on the beach at Bamburgh when a random storm has blown in – on this occasion hail on a summer’s day. It does happen).

As such, this short book attempts to accomplish a great deal, in only very few words, and for those new to the time period, or with a passing interest in all things archaeological, or for those fans of Bernard Cornwell’s Uhtred and the TV series, The Last Kingdom with its ‘hero’s’ focus on Bebbanburg, this will be a real treat.

The story takes the reader from Kent to Iona and many, many places in between. The research and attention to details can’t be faulted, and neither can the fact that the author admits that much of his story will be ‘made up’ and probably inaccurate, and yet, the ‘fiction’ of the warrior’s story is maintained, along with the desire to make the archaeology ‘fit the ‘facts” of the ‘history’ and it is here that the book falters for anyone who has more than a passing interest in the period, and who will understand all the speech marks in that last sentence.

But, for those new to the study of Anglo-Saxon England, this book will provide an excellent starting point, placing the skeleton in a ‘possible’ historical setting.

(I am hoping that the site report for the dig at Bamburgh will be/is available and this might quench my thirst to know more details about the actual finds rather than the potential historical context in which it might have taken place.).

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

Warrior is available from 19th September 2019 from here. If you are interested in reading more about the time period then try Pagan Warrior, and the two follow-up books which tell the story of King Penda, King Edwin, and Oswald ending in AD955.

 

Book Review – Skyward by Brandon Sanderson – sci fi – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“Spensa’s world has been under attack for hundreds of years. An alien race called the Krell leads onslaught after onslaught from the sky in a never-ending campaign to destroy humankind. Humanity’s only defense is to take to their ships and fight the enemy in the skies. Pilots have become the heroes of what’s left of the human race.

Spensa has always dreamed of being one of them; of soaring above Earth and proving her bravery. But her fate is intertwined with her father’s – a pilot who was killed years ago when he abruptly deserted his team, placing Spensa’s chances of attending flight school somewhere between slim and none.

No one will let Spensa forget what her father did, but she is still determined to fly. And the Krell just made that a possibility. They’ve doubled their fleet, making Spensa’s world twice as dangerous . . . but their desperation to survive might just take her skyward . . .”

Wowsers! This book is fantastic. It sucked me in, and I read it in a day. I’ve only read one Brandon Sanderson book before, and to be honest, I really didn’t enjoy it. But the cover for this book intrigued me, and then the writing and the story did the rest. I admit it is not the most unique of storylines, and yes, the ending is somewhat predictable but the story is action-packed and filled with engaging characters and peril aplenty.

I highly recommend this book and look forward to reading Book 2, although it says it’s not out until December!!! December!! How cruel.

Skyward is released on 19th September 2019 in paperback 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: