Ben Kane (Lionheart) Review.

book cover of Lionheart

 

Lionheart  (2020)
(The first book in the Richard the Lionheart series)

 

1179. Henry II is King of England, Wales, Ireland, Normandy, Brittany and Aquitaine. The House of Plantagenet reigns supreme.

But there is unrest in Henry’s house. Not for the first time, his family talks of rebellion.

Ferdia – an Irish nobleman taken captive during the conquest of his homeland – saves the life of Richard, the king’s son. In reward for his bravery, he is made squire to Richard, who is already a renowned warrior.

Crossing the English Channel, the two are plunged into a campaign to crush rebels in Aquitaine. The bloody battles and gruelling sieges which followed would earn Richard the legendary name of Lionheart.

But Richard’s older brother, Henry, is infuriated by his sibling’s newfound fame. Soon it becomes clear that the biggest threat to Richard’s life may not be rebel or French armies, but his own family…

(Review)

I will have to admit that when i heard Ben Kane was writing about Richard the Lionheart i groaned a little, im always going to read a book by him because he is simply an excellent writer, But…. I hate the crusades, or at least i usually find that i do, there is usually just a bit to much pious religion, knights flogging themselves and dodgy priests galore, so i tend to steer clear of them, in the same way i tend to with anything plague related, because they are just dark and grim.

With Lionheart though Ben has taken me back to his writing style of 12 years ago, taking a character from youth and growing the story around them, in this case Rufus (Ferdia), and then he lets the story resolve its-self around this character, its a style i love and always makes me very invested in a character.

The story of Rufus takes us from his time as a hostage to his families good behaviour, through the harsh times and brutality of his captivity, to his steady rise as a squire and beyond. We get to see life in a border castle, through to royal courts of europe and the battles for the provinces of Duke Richards lands and those of France and Normandy. Ben has a style and ability to remove the grandeur that can be distracting to the story and concentrate on the intimate life of his character, the world is how Rufus perceives it and gives a different lens to the times. Mixed in with his view comes that of Sir William Marshall, who allows us to see a different view, that of a Knight in the employ of the Royal Heir Henry, and thus the pair provide opposing views of the machinations of the big stage and its players.

I devoured this book in a couple of days, and at 400 pages its no small read. But the whole concept and the characters had me from the first chapter and didn’t let go, it left me desperate for the next installment of what i think will be Ben Kanes best work to date, this is easily going to sit in the top 5 for the year for me.

Very Very Highly recommend this book

(Parm)

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Forgotten Legion Chronicles
   1. The Forgotten Legion (2008)
   2. The Silver Eagle (2009)
   3. The Road to Rome (2010)
   The March (2018)
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Hannibal
   1. Enemy of Rome (2011)
   2. Fields of Blood (2013)
   3. Clouds of War (2014)
   The Patrol (2013)
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Spartacus
   1. The Gladiator (2012)
   2. Rebellion (2012)
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Pompeii (with Stephanie Dray, Sophie Perinot, Kate Quinn and Vicky Alvear Shecter)
   A Day of Fire (2014)
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Eagles of Rome
   0.5. The Shrine (2015)
   1. Eagles at War (2015)
   1.5. The Arena (2016)
   2. Hunting the Eagles (2016)
   3. Eagles in the Storm (2017)
   Eagles in the Wilderness (2019)
   Eagles in the East (2020)
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Clash of Empires
   1. Clash of Empires (2018)
   2. The Falling Sword (2019)
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Richard the Lionheart
   1. Lionheart (2020)
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Filed under Ben Kane, Historical Fiction

Conn Iggulden: The Gates of Athens (Review)

book cover of The Gates of Athens

 

 

490 B.C.

Two great empires are about to go to war . . .

The momentous struggle between Athens and Sparta as rival powers and political systems will last for twenty-seven years (431 to 404 BC).

It will end in the fall of a dynasty.

Filled with cunning political scheming and astonishing military prowess, invasions and treacheries, plagues and slaughters, passion and power, Conn Iggulden brings to life one of the most thrilling chapters of the ancient world.

Review:

As always with Conn Iggulden he has produced a great book set against an epic backdrop of history, he has populated it with big names from history and set the scene for action and adventure in spades and he pulls it off as usual with a casual ease, and the pages fly by while you read and get drawn back in time.

But…. and this is a big but for me as i don’t think i’ve every criticized anything he has written before (and this is purely personal my feeling , not the writing), the main protagonists for me didn’t come alive. This is usually the authors bread and butter and something that he achieves with ease. Now this may be me and my own fault as a reader because i have read some truly astounding books in this period, and while i was reading this i was also reading the latest daily doses of Arimnestos by Chrstian Cameron as part of Authors without borders where i have grown with that character from his youth over 7 books . I also think that with Conn i have come to expect the characters to also grow from a youth into the great warriors/ Statesmen that he is well known and loved for writing, in this book those people are already leaders, so there felt like no emotional tie to them, that bond that is created, wasnt….I have high hopes that this will resolve in book 2 as we have followed the growth of Cimon and touched on Pericles as a youth as well.

That said thats my (very) person gripe, the book is still an astounding story, from Marathon through to the sacking of Athens its a truly amazing period of history with so much going on and so many heroic names that you can fail to be stunned by the momentous events and people, i know it will sit proudly in my book collection and i look forward to the next in this new series.

(Parm)

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Filed under Conn Iggulden, Historical Fiction

Christian Cameron: The Last Greek (Review)

book cover of The Last Greek

 

The Last Greek: Book 2 in the Commander series:

211BCE. The Roman invasion from the western seas is imminent, and from the south the Spartans are burning and pillaging their way north.

Battle-hardened Philopoemen believes the Achean League is facing annihilation if it does not arm. But without a formal army or cavalry, they don’t stand a chance. Convincing his friend and healer Alexanor that the threat is real, together they begin to build a massive cavalry guard from the ground up – one that will fight on all fronts.

It is the last roll of the dice for the Achean League. But Alexanor knows Philopoemen is one of the greatest warriors Greece has ever known – the New Achilles. The Last Greek.

Review

Im sure many of you who read my reviews will know whats coming…. blah blah… Christian is brilliant etc… yes i will admit to loving his work… but why?

I have had the pleasure of getting to know Christian for over 10 years, and in that time his writing has never wavered, his drive to write has always been there, and the quality and depth has always pushed to be better and better, which i think is a reflection of the man behind the books, check out his Web site 

What you will see from his web site his how much experience and effort goes into each book, the level and depth of research, and more than anything the passion to learn and to know and to share it all in a way that we can all enjoy, and not just the fighting and the weapons, but everything down to a simple meal, the discomfort of travel, the quality and skill of everyday artisans, there is no area he doesn’t want to learn and share.

So when i pick up a book like The last Greek i know that i will be entertained , but also i will be lost in the depth of reality that exists in the book, the real sense of passion and excitement, the love and the losses are all there and come across with a totally engaged and  unrelenting passion of someone who wants to know more and to share what he has found.

In The Last Greek we once again follow Philopoemen through the eyes of his friend Alexanor, as they try to survive the politics of the Achean League, the friendship that is Philip of Macedon and on top of that build an army that can defend them against a ring of more powerful enemies. Christian Cameron shows us how they may have managed the politics of the time, deals with Slavery, women’s rights, the politics between other nations, the religion of the times, inc the Olympics and more. Among all this we learn about training both cavalry and infantry, outfitting them, the crippling costs, the impacts of soldiers away from their real professions, heroism, revenge, love, loss and so much more. This books follows the many battles and preparation for those battles back and forth across the cities of the league, the almost wins, the almost losses and the rebuilding to do it all again, to survive is often a victory…..i will admit to just becoming utterly swallowed up by every book he writes inc this one, the engagement for the reader is total, and the ending is always bitter sweet, a culmination that also leaves that sense of loss when you leave new friends behind.

As always i cant recommend Christians books highly enough, and given how fast he writes if you have not yet dived in… you have so many great adventures ahead (see below for bibliography), He writes so often about a warrior being a master of what he does, a killer of men, or a tactician being at the peak of his game…. well when it comes to writing Christian Cameron is a true master at his craft at the top of his game.

(Parm)

Series
Alan Craik (as by Gordon Kent)
   1. Night Trap (1998)
aka Rules of Engagement
   2. Peace Maker (2000)
   3. Top Hook (2002)
   4. Hostile Contact (2003)
   5. Force Protection (2004)
   6. Damage Control (2005)
   7. The Spoils of War (2006)
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Tyrant
   1. Tyrant (2008)
   2. Storm of Arrows (2009)
   3. Funeral Games (2010)
   4. King of the Bosporus (2011)
   5. Destroyer of Cities (2013)
   6. Force of Kings (2014)
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Long War
   1. Killer of Men (2010)
   2. Marathon (2011)
   3. Poseidon’s Spear (2012)
   4. The Great King (2014)
   5. Salamis (2015)
   6. Rage of Ares (2016)
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Tom Swan and the Head of St George
   1. Castillon (2012)
   2. Venice (2012)
   3. Constantinople (2012)
   4. Rome (2013)
   5. Rhodes (2013)
   6. Chios (2013)
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Chivalry
   1. The Ill-Made Knight (2013)
   2. The Long Sword (2014)
   3. The Green Count (2017)
   4. Sword of Justice (2018)
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Tom Swan and the Siege of Belgrade
   1. Tom Swan and the Siege of Belgrade: Part One (2014)
   2. Tom Swan and the Siege of Belgrade: Part Two (2014)
   3. Tom Swan and the Siege of Belgrade: Part Three (2014)
   4. Tom Swan and the Siege of Belgrade: Part Four (2015)
   5. Tom Swan and the Siege of Belgrade: Part Five (2015)
   6. Tom Swan and the Siege of Belgrade: Part Six (2015)
   7. Tom Swan and the Siege of Belgrade: Part Seven (2015)
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Tom Swan and the Last Spartans
   1. Tom Swan and the Last Spartans: Part One (2016)
   2. Tom Swan and the Last Spartans: Part Two (2016)
   3. Tom Swan and the Last Spartans: Part Three (2017)
   4. Tom Swan and the Last Spartans: Part Four (2017)
   5. Tom Swan and the Last Spartans: Part Five (2017)
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Commander
   1. The New Achilles (2019)
   2. The Last Greek (2020)
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Novels
   Cauldron of Violence (2000) (as by Gordon Kent)
   Washington and Caesar (2001)
   The Falconer’s Tale (2007) (as by Gordon Kent)
   God of War (2012)
   A Song of War (2016) (with Libbie Hawker, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear Shecter, Stephanie Thornton, S J A Turney and Russell Whitfield)
   Tudor Knight (2019)
   Hawkwood’s Sword (2021)
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Filed under Christian Cameron, Historical Fiction

Giles Kristian: Camelot (Review)

book cover of Camelot

 

Britain is a land riven by anarchy, slaughter, famine, filth and darkness. Its armies are destroyed, its heroes dead, or missing. Arthur and Lancelot fell in the last great battle and Merlin has not been seen these past ten years. Now, the Saxons are gathering again, their warbands stalk the land, their king seeks dominion. As for the lords and kings of Britain, they look only to their own survival and will not unite as they once did under Arthur and his legendary sword Excalibur.

But in an isolated monastery in the marshes of Avalon, a novice of the order is preparing to take his vows when the life he has known is suddenly turned upside down in a welter of blood. Two strangers – the wild-spirited, Saxon-killing Iselle and the ageing warrior Gawain – will pluck the young man from the wreckage of his simple existence. Together, they will seek the last druid and the cauldron of a god. And the young man must come to terms with his legacy and fate as the son of the most celebrated yet most infamous of Arthur’s warriors: Lancelot.

For this is the story of Galahad, Lancelot’s son – the reluctant warrior who dared to keep the dream of Camelot alive . . .

Review

For many who read my ramblings about books it will come as no surprise i loved this book, its predecessor Lancelot was my book of the Year last year, and it was hugely justified, a book that spoke so much from the heart and wove a new version of a fantastic legend ( Review of Lancelot )

Camelot once again sees the storytelling brilliance of Giles Kristian reach for and attain new heights.

Many of his readers will be used to the cut and thrust of the viking tales fueled with daring deeds and bloody battles (told with his elegance of phrase and character insight), but Camelot is several steps above this, it continues a journey begun in Lancelot where the authors writing ascended to a new level, where emotions are laid bare, where middle genre historical fiction (as some may term “Swords and sandals”) becomes a leap into something much more, something that speaks to the heart, mind and soul of the reader, where every phrase and passage is weighed for its ability to tell its own tale, to wring out the emotions and make the reader ask questions of the story and characters and themselves.  The writing makes you experience every nuance of the world, the actions of the characters and the emotions they generate.

This book for me was Giles Kristian taking his writing to new and heady heights, and taking the reader along for the ride, every single page and description and narrative was packed with meaning and emotion, and had clearly been examined and weighted before it made it into the book. Giles continues to take his skill as a musician and apply it to his novels, that skill that a lyricist has to distill a story down to as few words as they can yet convey so much more than is written, to make you feel every passage and word, to leave the telling half on the page and half in the mind, to let the ears and the mind take hold of the story and add personal layers to it…. just the same way we do with a song, and thus leaving the story very personal and individual to the reader.

Giles Kristian makes us do all of this and more with this story of and it is now his story….. i don’t say it lightly , but this duology for me is now the go to Arthurian tale, surpassing Bernard Cornwells tale, which for many years was the Arthurian benchmark.

Every year i look out for the book that will define my years reading…. and its going to take something very exceptional to stop Camelot being that book and for the second year running, Giles Kristian being the top author.

This gets the highest recommendation i can give, it has across the board reading appeal, so don’t get ties by genre loyalty, no matter what you enjoy this book will give you you want and need…. it truly is a classic being born.

(Parm)

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John Gwynne: A Time of Courage (Review)

 

book cover of A Time of Courage

The demon king Asroth has been freed from his iron prison. Now, alongside his dark bride Fritha, he plans to conquer the whole of the Banished Lands.
In the shadows of Forn Forest, Riv and the surviving Ben-Elim desperately search for a way to unite those who remain against Asroth’s vast army.
Far in the west, Drem is with the Order of the Bright Star, besieged by a demon horde. Their fragile defenses are on the brink of shattering, but they know that it is better to fight and die than to live without hope.
And across the Banished Lands, armies are heading south, to settle ancient grudges and decide the fate of humanity.

Review

A Time of Courage brings to conclusion the epic second trilogy from John Gwynne, as with all final books in the series its a bitter sweet read, as you race towards a conclusion, you also fear the ending, the end of a long standing relationship with so many truly wonderful characters and a land that has become home on many evenings.

As a stand alone series Blood and bone is simply brilliant, but when you wrap in The faithful and the Fallen you get a series that can easily sit among the all time great fantasy series, Blood and bone brings this to the fore even more than any other book with so many reflections to the past, bringing together the 2 series and the wrapping up of a war that has spanned thousands of years and pages.

There will be many who find the final battle both breathless, heart breaking and the utter chaos that is battle and see this as the best of the book and series, and i loved it…. but i loved more the pulling together of all the bands of people, all the parts of the host that would defend the land and look to defeat Asroth and his army. There was so much life, love and hope in those final weeks, and while you knew no one was safe from the Banished lands ultimate killer (the author), you had as much hope as the characters that your favorites would make it, that love would conquer all, that those who had worked so hard and given so much would receive the reward of a peaceful life…. And when some of those people fell it was to cries of nooo, and true emotional loss…. such is the power and skill of the writing.

So while i now suffer my book hangover, that im sure will last for a while… i utterly recommend this book, this series and all of John Gwynne’s writing, believe me, the pleasure is worth the pain of the end….. and there is always hope of a return….

(Parm)

Series

Faithful and the Fallen
   1. Malice (2012)
   2. Valour (2014)
   3. Ruin (2015)
   4. Wrath (2016)
Tales of the Apt (with Frances Hardinge, Joff Leader, Tom Lloyd, Juliet E McKenna, Keris McDonald, Peter Newman, Justina Robson, David Tallerman and Adrian Tchaikovsky)
   The Scent of Tears (2018)
Blood & Bone
   1. A Time of Dread (2018)
   2. A Time of Blood (2019)
   3. A Time of Courage (2020)
Novellas
   Better to Live than to Die (2015)

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Filed under Fantasy, John Gwynne

James Wilde: Bear King (Review)

book cover of The Bear King

 

For all the darkness in the land, there is hope. And it rests with one man. Lucanus – the one they call the Wolf – is a warrior. He wears the ancient crown of the great war leader Pendragon, and he wields a sword bestowed upon him by the druids. And he is the guardian of a secret entrusted to him and to protect that secret will demand untold bravery and sacrifice beyond measure – but to lose it would mean the end of everything worth fighting for.

Before Camelot. Before Excalibur. Before all you know of King Arthur. Here is the beginning of that legend….

Review

I grew up reading the legends of Robin Hood, King Arthur etc… and Arthur was always the head of a band of knights, and as a kid you didn’t question it, it wasn’t until much later that the glaring issues of arms and armour, ethos etc presented themselves… so it was fantastic to have an author like Cornwell challenge all that with his Warlord Chronicles to bring Arthur back into the muck and grime of the dark ages, Now both Giles Kristian and James Wilde have taken that further with examining the myth and coming at the tales from a new perspective, so for me there are now 3 must read Arthurian tales, Bernard Cornwell (Warlord Chronicles), Giles Kristian (Lancelot / Camelot) & now James Wilde (Dark Age).

Bear King completes the Dark Age saga, where we started pre Arthur, the story arc comes to its climax with the introduction of Arthur and not how i would ever have envisaged it. James Wilde mixes myth and story telling into the historical backdrop of the Roman Withdrawal of Britain, the power vacuum and the strife this causes he brings in old enemies, old friends are reunited, and new fantastic characters ( Niall of the Nine hostages being my favorite), the backdrop is the quest for the Cauldron of the Dagda / Holy Grail .. and the pending war with rivals to the crown.. the only man who can pull together the people, to stave off the impending darkness is Lucanas whom everyone believes is dead, but legend says will return in the hour of need, the true Pendragon…

I was riveted to this book, James Wilde weaves this final book in the series with such skill and attention that i struggled to put the book down at night. His characters are as always perfectly drawn, fallible yet heroic, his friends dedicated, funny, sardonic and better men than they know, there is betrayal, heroism, vast action and terrible fear …. true light can only been seen after terrible darkness and its through this darkness that James takes the reader…. this is simply and excellent tale, one of the best re-imagining of the iconic Arthur myth out there, and for me James Wilds best book to date.

Highly recommended

Parm

Series

Hereward
   1. Hereward (2011)
aka The Time of the Wolf
   2. The Devil’s Army (2012)
aka The Winter Warrior
   3. End of Days (2013)
   4. Wolves of New Rome (2012)
   5. The Immortals (2015)
   6. The Bloody Crown (2016)
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Dark Age
   1. Pendragon (2017)
   2. Dark Age (2018)
   3. The Bear King (2019)
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Filed under Historical Fiction, James Wilde

Jonathan French: True Bastards (Review)

book cover of The True Bastards

Fetching was once the only female rider in the Lot Lands. Now she is the leader of her own hoof, a band of loyal half-orcs sworn to her command. But the hoof she inherited is on the brink of collapse.

Tested to the breaking point by the burdens of leadership, Fetching battles desperately to stave off famine, desertion and the scorn of the other half-orc chieftains, even as orcs and humans alike threaten the Lots’ very existence.

Then an old enemy finds a way to strike at her from beyond the grave – and suddenly only one faint hope for salvation remains.

Review

The Lot Lands series i suspect may be a little marmite for some people to pick up… I mean its Half Orcs riding hogs (no not a harley… a hog a very big pig… with horns to hold on to), as a story its rude, violent and chock full of profanity… and under that is an amazing story that you also come to understand needs all that profanity and violence… i mean would you expect Sons of anarchy or Deadwood to be a great TV series without the nudity and the violence and the swearing?? (No… its relevant to the characters and the situation)… Book one Grey Bastards had me laughing out loud and riveted to the page, it really was something new.

True bastards though felt like a deeper more personal story as Fetching struggles to carve out a new lot for her band of Half orcs, not just battling the harsh land, and enemies on every front, but also orc chauvinism, personal demons and a magical illness… into that mix comes her past and a terrible adversary… She must face her own demons and seek alliances with traditional enemies… she must turn the whole of the Lot Lands on its head to survive.

The whole story is just brilliant, it will engage you from the very first page and drag you along through the hunger, the violence the intrigue and the camaraderie, it will make you a member of the hoof or leave you in the dust….

This is a series that gets better with each book and i have high hopes for the next book, Jonathan French is a fresh new voice with lots to say…

Very Highly Reccomended

(Parm)

Series
Lot Lands
   1. The Grey Bastards (2015)
   2. The True Bastards (2019)
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