Whores and Heroines–writing about war and women


One of the best blogs you can read, if you dont follow you should do so.

Originally posted on With Pen and Sword:

common womenCavalry MaidenTigressUlrich

This is not, strictly speaking, a book review of ‘Common Women’ by Ruth Mazzo Carras or of ‘The Cavalry Maiden’ or ‘The Tigress of Forli’ or Ulrich’s superb ‘Midwife’s Tale’ although I truly recommend all four books.

It is more of an essay on writing about women in the midst of war.  I’m going to try to keep this as unpolitical and coldly analytical as I can.  But I have to say, up front–I’m a feminist, and the story I’m about to tell can be pretty awful.  You can stop here, if you like.

War is terrible, and yet many men enjoy it.  Certainly, a great many people enjoy reading about it.  And I confess that I study it and (sometimes) enjoy writing about it.  But to the women of the past–and this cannot be too much emphasized–war was probably the most horrible thing they could imagine, especially when war…

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Matthew Harffy The Serpent Sword (Bernicia Chronicles Book 1) Review


Matthew Harffy is currently writing a series of novels set in seventh century Northumbria. The first book isThe Serpent Sword. The sequel is The Cross and The Curse.

In his day job he is a manager of fifteen technical writers, so spends all day writing and editing, just not the words he’s most interested in! Prior to that he worked in Spain as an English teacher and translator. He has co-authored seven published academic articles, ranging in topic from the ecological impact of mining to the construction of a marble pipe organ.

Matthew is outnumbered at home by his wife and their two daughters.

When not writing, or spending time with his family, Matthew sings in a band called Rock Dog.

The Serpent Sword (Bernicia Chronicles Book 1)

Author Web site



Certain that his brother’s death is murder, young farmhand Beobrand embarks on a quest for revenge in war-torn Northumbria. When he witnesses barbaric acts at the hands of warriors he considers his friends, Beobrand questions his chosen path and vows to bring the men to justice.

Relentless in pursuit of his enemies, Beobrand faces challenges that change him irrevocably. Just as a great sword is forged by beating together rods of iron, so his adversities transform him from a farm boy to a man who stands strong in the clamour and gore of the shieldwall.

As he closes in on his kin’s slayer and the bodies begin to pile up, can Beobrand mete out the vengeance he craves without sacrificing his own honour … or even his soul?

Buy the book


Once again its been one of those occasions where i feel privileged to be asked to read and review a book by a debut author, anytime someone trusts you with something which has been their passion and that has consumed hours, days weeks and months of their life is something you should and i do cherish. At the same time it does not earn you a free pass to a good review.

What does earn you praise is something new, something set in a period where many others have not gone before, when you can couple together plot, great characters, scene setting and action packed fight scenes. This is just what you get with Serpent Sword.

Beobrand is a well thought out totally rounded character, the author builds his personality slowly and carefully and provides lots of depth and emotion to really tie the reader to his fate. He then couples this with something many authors fail at, which is bringing the supporting cast to life, spending as much time bringing to life the characters who are destined to die. Its this level of commitment to characters that pays off with a powerful rich story that sucks you in and drives you to turn the next page and the next until you suddenly notice its 2am.

The antagonist in the plot Hengist is the perfect foil for our protagonist Beobrand, someone who impacts multiple aspects of his life, someone truly nasty that the reader can dislike and wish to see destroyed. The author plays out that inevitable conclusion with care and precision, taking you to the edge and back more than once, until you are champing at the bit to see him gutted on the end of Beobrand’s sword.

The time period being Dark Ages allows the author a large amount of scope to round his plot using history as a guide and not a restriction. As someone who reads a lot of Roman fiction its fun seeing the Romans viewed as giants of the past, people of myth almost. with an incredulity towards the structures they left behind. At the same time there is a rich culture of sights sounds smells and society that the author draws you into and makes you a part of.

this is an excellent debut… and i can promise an better follow up (I’ve been fortunate enough to see that also) so add this to the list of an excellent new voice who will be a fast riser.






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Anthony Riches Thunder of the Gods (2015) Review

Author website


About the author

Buy a signed copy from Goldsboro Books

Buy a signed Limited edition

Buy from Waterstones



The eighth book in the Empire sequence takes Centurion Marcus Aquila and his Tungrian legion on a dangerous mission to the heart of the Parthian empire

With Rome no longer safe Marcus and the Tungrians are ordered east, to the desolate border lands where Rome and Parthia have vied for supremacy for centuries.

Ordered to relieve the siege of an isolated fortress, their task is doomed to bloody failure unless they can turn the disaffected Third Legion into a fighting force capable of resisting the terrifying Parthian cataphracts.

And Marcus must travel to the enemy capital Ctesiphon on a desperate mission, the only man who can persuade the King of Kings to halt a war that threatens the humiliation of the empire and the slaughter of his friends


Whenever there is a new Anthony Riches book in the offing it always create an air of anticipation in my reading schedule, Its very easy for me to say Tony is a fun read but really he is so much more than that. His early books were just that, great fun, but I always felt that this squad of Tungrians could be from any time period, they were/ are the epitome of what I expect squaddies to be, they are just the same as many soldiers I have known…. Only tougher and more dangerous, purely by dint of the time period they live in, where life is cheap, Tony captures the essence of the men on the front line so well and the fatalistic approach to much of their everyday life. What is so easy to miss in the early books is the subtle web that Tony weaves to draw the reader in, to create the Roman world and the politics that surround the people in the book, its so fun and the language so irreverent that its easy to miss the subtlety, but its there, and he orchestrates ii in what appears an effortless fashion, to build a world and a group of men that capture the imagination, and hold on for grim death.

Then comes Tony’s real talent as a writer, again something quite subtle, but when I find myself talking books and using him as an example to all and sundry on the right way to do something then surely that means he must be one of the best? (at least for me). Its his characters, its very easy I think for a writer to spend time on his key characters, his hero(es), to build them up so we worry about them, so we are invested in them, but many writers do this at the expense of the supporting cast. Tony treats all the characters as the main character, there is no supporting cast, you become invested in everyone. He does this I think with a malicious glee, because then he becomes the Atropos, holding the abhorred shears over the thread of each characters life, leaving you to worry over the fate of everyone, adding a heightened sense of anticipation to each and every scene. This delivers so much more than the average book for the reader, because you do not know who will survive the book, I honestly don’t think a single character is safe, he will kill anyone if the story calls for it, unlike many writers who protect their heroes. I have read more than one book of Anthony’s that has left me shouting “no F—ing way” at the fate of a character, he is the only author who does that to me.

Thunder of the Gods reproduces all this fantastic skill and does it against the dangerous backdrop of the Parthian empire, a part of the world in the forefront of everyone’s minds at present with ISIS and the destruction of historic sites that someday may only be left in the wonderful descriptive and imagination of writers like Tony. This book takes us on a tour of the edges of this territory, into the heart of the empires deadly politics.  Having been a fan of Tony’s since book one I have no qualms in saying that this is his best work to date. It may not have had me swearing at him like the last book, but it is wonderfully descriptive, highly emotive and just a sheer pleasure to read. As ever he will without doubt appear in the fight for my end of year top 10.

Highly recommended, (this book and this series, so prev reviews below)




1. Wounds of Honour (2009)
2. Arrows of Fury (2010)
3. Fortress of Spears (2011)
4. The Leopard Sword (2012)
5. The Wolf’s Gold (2012)
6. The Eagle’s Vengeance (2013)
7. The Emperor’s Knives (2014)
8. Thunder of the Gods (2015)

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Clothes Make the Character (Or why everyone in the Traitor Son series has to have a wardrobe)


Another great blog from Christian Cameron: if you dont follow his blog, then read this and then go follow him!

Originally posted on With Pen and Sword:

My daughter, in her silk and fur, between Giulia Grigoli of Verona. Italy and xxxxxx who made Giulia's dress and her own. My daughter, in her silk and fur, between Giulia Grigoli of Verona. Italy and Monica Rossi aka Sartoria Mondro who made Giulia’s dress and her own.  Beatrice’s dress by me. 


Yes, it’s true—I have closets full of historical clothes. In fact, not only do I have closets full, but so do my wife and daughter—clothes for at least three time periods (besides our own, of course) and sometimes four. Or five.
Nor are these clothes, strictly speaking, costumes. To me, a costume is something that looks real but is not—the most extreme, and perhaps wonderful, example I ever saw was a staging of Shakespeare’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ where all the elaborate Elizabethan fashions were dome in garbage bags, duct tape and glue. They looked fantastic, I promise you—and they wouldn’t have allowed you to light a camp fire or walk in the woods or ride a horse or, really…

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SJA Turney : Praetorian: The Great Game (Review / Blog Tour)

Author Bio in his own words

Find me on Twitter @SJATurney

I live with my wife, son and daughter, and two (close approximations of) dogs in rural North Yorkshire, where my wife and I both grew up, surrounded by friends and family. A born and bred Yorkshireman with a love of the country, I cannot envisage spending my life anywhere else, though my anchor is sometimes tested as the wanderlust hits and we travel wherever I can find the breathtaking remains of the classical world. I have a love of travel and history, architecture and writing and those four interact well enough to keep me almost permanently busy.

Since leaving school and University, I have tried a great number of careers, including car sales, insurance, software engineering, computer network management, civil service and even paint ing and decorating sales. I have lived in four counties and travelled as widely as time and budget allowed and find myself finally back where I began and finally doing something I love.

Having written a number of unpublished short stories in my early days, I decided back in 2003 to try and write a full length novel. That was the start of Marius’ Mules. Being a lover of Roman history, I decided to combine my love of writing and my love of classical history. Marius’ Mules was followed two years later by Interregnum, my attempt to create a new fantasy story still with a heavy flavour of Rome. Since then, the success and popularity of both have inflated my head so that I can no longer comfortably fit through doors, and has spawned sequels to each work, with the fantasy trilogy complete, six volumes in the Marius’ Mules series, and two books of the Ottoman Cycle quadrilogy now out.

I maintain another website detailing the Roman sites I visit and photograph, and write a blog about books. I am an almost terminally chatty person. That’s just a due warning if you feel like contacting me (see above.) I am always happy to speak to people and have put together an FAQ gathered together from things I have been asked previously.

Praetorian Blog Tour

(in case you can’t read the image)

Thursday 12th:    SJAT’s blog (https://sjat.wordpress.com) – Extract of the book, Competition, Background to the story and other bits and pieces
Friday 13th:        I and I (https://bantonbhuttu.blogspot.co.uk/) – Review
Saturday 14th:    For Winter Nights (https://forwinternights.wordpress.com/) - Guest post on writing about historical locations
Sunday 15th:      Parmenion Books (https://parmenionbooks.wordpress.com/) – Review
Monday 16th:     Hoover Book Reviews (https://hooverbookreviews.wordpress.com/) – Review and Q&A
Tuesday 17th:     Reading Gives Me Wings (https://readinggivesmewings.wordpress.com/) – Review & interview

Praetorian Front Cover (1) - Copy

Buy the book….A Bargain at £1.99 (uk)

Buy the book….A Bargain at $3.01 (usa)

Promoted to the elite Praetorian Guard in the thick of battle, a young legionary is thrust into a seedy world of imperial politics and corruption. Tasked with uncovering a plot against the newly-crowned emperor Commodus, his mission takes him from the cold Danubian border all the way to the heart of Rome, the villa of the emperor’s scheming sister, and the great Colosseum. 

What seems a straightforward, if terrifying, assignment soon descends into Machiavellian treachery and peril as everything in which young Rufinus trusts and believes is called into question and he faces warring commanders, Sarmatian cannibals, vicious dogs, mercenary killers and even a clandestine Imperial agent. In a race against time to save the Emperor, Rufinus will be introduced, willing or not, to the great game. 

“Entertaining, exciting and beautifully researched” – Douglas Jackson 

“From the Legion to the Guard, from battles to the deep intrigue of court, Praetorian: The Great Game is packed with great characters, wonderfully researched locations and a powerful plot.” – Robin Carter


When Simon said he was writing a new Roman series i worried that it would be Fronto by another name, something so easy to do when you have a series as successful as Marius Mules. Simon very generously involved me in his writing process, sending me the book in very early stages for comment and feedback (he knows i love that sort of thing, and pretends i add value). This allowed me to See Rufinus evolve, and soon dispelled any concerns about a carbon copy of Marius Mules, this was something new, something sharp and intelligent, full of intrigue, but still laden with Simon’s sharp wit and mischievous humour.

Rufinus takes the reader from the Legion to the Guard, from battles to the deep intrigue of court, Praetorian: The Great Game is packed with great characters, wonderfully researched locations and a powerful plot that fans have come to associate with Simon Turney.

This truly is the start of something new and special i highly recommend it


Marius’ Mules
1. The Conquest of Gaul (2009)
aka The Invasion of Gaul
2. The Belgae (2010)
3. Gallia Invicta (2011)
4. Conspiracy of Eagles (2012)
5. Hades’ Gate (2013)
6. Caesar’s Vow (2014)
7. The Great Revolt (2014)
Prelude to War (2014)
The Conquest of GaulThe BelgaeGallia InvictaConspiracy of Eagles
Hades' GateCaesar's VowThe Great RevoltPrelude to War
Tales of the Empire
1. Interregnum (2009)
2. Ironroot (2010)
3. Dark Empress (2011)
InterregnumIronrootDark Empress
Ottoman Cycle
1. The Thief’s Tale (2013)
2. The Priest’s Tale (2013)
3. The Assassin’s Tale (2014)
The Thief's Tale The Priest's TaleThe Assassin's Tale
Praetorian: The Great Game (2015)
Praetorian: The Great Game
Tales of Ancient Rome (2011)
Tales of Ancient Rome


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Rory Clements: Q&A:

Rory Clements

About Rory Clements

Many thanks to Rory Clements for answering a few questions: I will be following up with a review of Holy Spy very soon. (if you have not read any of the John Shakespeare series, why not??)

  1. When I write a review I always like to give some background on the author, So who is Rory Clements? And why did he become a writer?

I was a grammar school boy, then journalist. But I always wanted to write books and live the glamorous lifestyle of Ian Fleming. Now, at last, I am writing books full-time, but I still don’t have my Goldeneye. Norfolk (where I live) is lovely, but it’s not the Caribbean.

  1. 2009 saw the first book in the John Shakespeare series, given all the penchant for swords and sandals books around that time, what made you choose Elizabethan England?

Well, I conceived the idea of the John Shakespeare series in the early 1990s, then spent fifteen years researching the period and planning the books. Why Elizabethan England? Because it’s the most glamorous time in history. No period has such an incredible cast of characters: Elizabeth, Mary Queen of Scots, Ralegh, Drake, Will Shakespeare, Marlowe, Walsingham, The Earl of Essex and many more. It was a time terror, war, conspiracies and religious strife – yet it was also a time of wonderful new worlds, both geographic and artistic.

  1. Who are the writers that have influenced you most, from making you want to be a writer, through to style?

What I like in a writer is the ability to create rich worlds and compelling stories – and to communicate them clearly and with verve. Someone like Graham Greene or Somerset Maugham or Robert Harris.

  1. John Shakespeare , what was the influence behind him as a main character, the investigator, rather than the person at the centre of power (eg a book following Elizabeth)? Is he based on anyone you know?

He’s based on his brother, Will. He is a humane, brave, intelligent man – in an era when the horror of public executions and bear-baiting were the norm. He is a man of action rather than poetry – but he share values of integrity and decency with his brother.

  1. Your books contain more than a whiff of the atmospheric of the time period, so barring a time machine stashed under the stairs where does the inspiration come from for the sights sounds and smells of Elizabethan England?

That’s where reading and imagination comes in. You don’t just think what was there – but what was missing. What was life like without proper sewerage, without the systems of communication we use, without any concept of Darwin’s theories? Then you think yourself into that world. It’s what novelists do. Particularly historical novelists.

  1. So 7 books into the series (congratulations), is there a defined story arc for John Shakespeare? And if so what comes after?

I do have further plans for John Shakespeare but can’t reveal them yet. What comes after? Well, I do have ideas for other, non-Tudor stories. Watch this space.

  1. If you had the choice of any other genre to write in, what would it be and why?

Today. There has never been a better time to be a writer. Books need never go out of print – and a huge audience is just a keyboard click away.

  1. What / who do you read for fun?

I read history books and novels of all sorts. If they’re not fun, they get tossed aside pretty quickly. The writer’s job is to keep the reader enthralled and entertained. If the reader’s bored, it’s the author’s fault. Recently I have read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, a proof copy of Jakob’s Colours by Lindsay Hawdon, A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre, Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. I enjoyed them all immensely.

  1. If you could invite any four people from throughout history or fictional writing to dinner, whom would it be and why?

I did suggest elsewhere that I would like to invite some ghastly tyrants so that I could tell them what I thought of them before poisoning their soup. But for engaging conversation and great gossip, I would like Miguel de Cervantes, Anne Boleyn, Marilyn Monroe and Samuel Pepys.

  1. Finally, the bit most authors would shy away from. You have a soap box and the publisher has asked you to stand outside Kings cross and pitch your latest book Holy Spy to the passers buy… what would your pitch be to make the public buy this book/ series?

‘Free beer with every book!’ Not sure my publisher would go for that, but I think it would sell…


Books by Rory Clements



John Shakespeare
1. Martyr (2009)
2. Revenger (2010)
3. Prince (2011)
4. Traitor (2012)
5. The Heretics (2013)
5.5. The Man in the Snow (2012)
6. The Queen’s Man (2014)
7. Holy Spy (2015)
The HereticsThe Man in the SnowThe Queen's ManHoly Spy

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Writing about Fighting


Everything a reader or writer might want to know about how a fight scene is written.

Originally posted on With Pen and Sword:

Charette's FiorLeoni's Manciolino11047112_10153145736917354_343562661_n11026409_10153145736587354_1777156127_n

I am often asked–often by readers, but occasionally by other writers–about writing fight scenes.  I thought I’d write a sort of mixed book review, ‘sport’ review and writing tutorial.

The three books (really, two books and a series) are, in no particular order, Bob Charette’s brilliant Armizare, the Chivalric Martial Arts System of Il Fior di Battiglia; Guy Windsor’s carefully illustrated, easy-to-use series called ‘Mastering the Art of Arms.’ and Tom Leoni’s excellent translation of Manciolino’s Opera Nova, called The Complete Renaissance Swordsman.

Leoni's Manciolino

First, martial arts interest me.  Passionately.  The martial arts that interest me were–and are– deadly–probably far more lethal than those practiced in most store-front dojos–but that’s not my interest at all.  I will never (I hope) face an opponent with lethal intent while wearing 80 pounds of plate armour and wielding a spear.  (BTW, the above was not a cheap shot at other martial arts.  Armizare–the…

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