Simon Scarrow: Hearts of Stone (review)

Simon Scarrow

Simon Scarrow is a Sunday Times No. 1 bestselling author. His bestsellers include his novels featuring Roman soldiers Macro and Cato, most recently THE BLOOD CROWS, PRAETORIAN and THE LEGION, as well as SWORD AND SCIMITAR, about the 1565 Siege of Malta, and four novels about the lives of the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon Bonaparte. He is the author with T. J. Andrews of the bestselling ARENA, introducing the gladiator hero Pavo, and the new ebook novella series INVADER.

Simon’s novels have been published in the USA and in translation all around the world.

Author website

Book Description

Buy a Signed Collector’s Edition

Hearts of Stone

The fierce courage of the men and women of the Greek Resistance is brought to vivid life in Sunday Times bestseller Simon Scarrow’s powerful new novel of World War II. 1938. A perfect summer on the Greek island of Lefkas for three young people untroubled by the simmering politics of Europe. Peter, visiting from Germany while his father leads an archaeological dig, has become close friends with locals Andreas and Eleni. As the world slides towards conflict and Peter is forced to leave, they swear to meet again. 1943: Andreas and Eleni have joined the partisan forces resisting the German invasion. Peter has returned – now a dangerously well-informed enemy intelligence officer. A friendship formed in peace will turn into a desperate battle between enemies sworn to sacrifice everything for the countries that they love…


I have been waiting for this book from Simon Scarrow since 2012, because when ever he steps away from the Roman world he manages to produce something special. The last time was Sword and Scimitar , a fantastic view of one of histories great turning points.

This latest book is set during a much more recent, more sensitive era, both pre WW2, during and post WW2. An era filled with so many atrocities and horrors that don’t often translate to a book and yet with so many tales of courage and sacrifice that should be remembered.

For me that’s what this book has at its core, a retelling of the type of heroism and sacrifice that existed in Greece during the war, a remembrance of the level of horror visited down  to the level of one small group of friends in one small community on one small island. The backdrop of youthful friendship is a fantastic foil for the war-time age of the characters, the change caused by war and impact it has had on each of the core group of friends and family, how they are all irrecoverably changed by circumstance and situation. The setting and device of the search for the tomb of Odysseus adds a level of romanticism to the plot that’s coupled with the young love of Eleni and Andreas and the bitter-sweet sense of missed opportunity for Peter. How many of us have had grandparents / Great Grandparents lost in the wars, or returned but with painful memories? how many of them have shared those stories even a little bit, sanitised to protect us from the enormity that was war? Simon delivers that experience in a realistic and emotive fashion, showing the power of those memories and the importance of not forgetting, and learning from our collective pasts, and how much brighter the flame burned because of the simpler yet harsher times.

Simon as always has managed to bring all of the plot elements and characters together into a well researched, sympathetically told tale, add to this his usual impeccable research and awareness of the landscape and the end result is a highly engaging, very personal account of War torn Greece. The element that drives the story forward without it being “just another war story” is the time-slip device, the plot told from present day, Eleni looking back and retelling her experiences to her granddaughter, sharing that glimmer of the past, the hardships, the life lived, against the modern world of her granddaughter determined to not let the past slip away. It’s the constant drift back and forth in time that drives the reader to want to turn just one more page… and then suddenly the book is gone, finished.

If i had one niggle with the book its at the start, there are some very jarring, for want of a better phrase ” digs” at modern society, modern devices etc, the social commentary of modern times.. and i have to say i agree with just about every single one of them, i just didn’t feel they added to the book, in fact i didn’t think they worked in the book, they felt a little like a soap box moment before the book. (sorry Simon, agreed with pretty much every word though), they pulled me away from the story. When i wanted to be drifting into the world Simon had created i kept jarring back to reality, for me the points would have worked much better in the afterword, at this point the poignant finish of the book leaving the reader reflective and open to reading about why the world needs history, why we should learn from it, why we need to switch off from the internet etc..But this was a small quibble in what is another really good book, one where every character is someone, and you care what happens to them. 

I’m very interested to see what stand alone novel Simon produces next. and recommend that you buy this one immediately


Cato & Macro
1. Under the Eagle (2000)
2. The Eagle’s Conquest (2001)
3. When the Eagle Hunts (2002)
4. The Eagle and the Wolves (2003)
5. The Eagle’s Prey (2004)
6. The Eagle’s Prophecy (2005)
7. The Eagle in the Sand (2006)
aka The Zealot
8. Centurion (2007)
9. The Gladiator (2009)
10. The Legion (2010)
11. Praetorian (2011)
12. The Blood Crows (2013)
13. Brothers in Blood (2014)

1. Young Bloods (2006)
2. The Generals (2007)
3. Fire and Sword (2007)
4. The Fields of Death (2010)
The Wellington and Napoleon Quartet: Young Bloods / The Generals / Fire and Sword / Fields of Death(omnibus) (2015)

1. Fight for Freedom (2011)
2. Street Fighter (2012)
3. Son of Spartacus (2013)
4. Vengeance (2014)
Roman Arena
1. Barbarian (2012)
2. Challenger (2012)
3. First Sword (2013)
4. Revenge (2013)
5. Champion (2013)
Arena (omnibus) (2013)

1. Death Beach (2014)
2. Blood Enemy (2014)
3. Dark Blade (2014)
4. Imperial Agent (2015)
5. Sacrifice (2015)

The Sword and the Scimitar (2012)
Hearts of Stone (2015)
Britannia (2015)

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Writing about history–and trying to live it, too


Latest blog from Mr Cameron… A very interesting video blog

Originally posted on With Pen and Sword:

I thought I’d try a different media.  This video was made by my friend Allan Joyner of Allan Joyner Productions.  The music is by Schola Magdalena .  The thoughts are almost entirely my own.

And by the way, I’m all to aware of the many inaccuracies the camera catches, despite all of our best efforts.  Reenacting is always, at best, a compromise.  But there’s a lot we can learn from it, anyway.

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Writing about Craftspeople — Aurora Simmons


Aurora is wonderful, I have several pieces she has made. It’s wonderful to have unique hand made things in this cardboard cutout age.

Originally posted on With Pen and Sword:

Iphone late May 2015 005

Aurora SImmons

It is not all about weapons and armour.

Alright, I know a few of you are reeling in shock, but honestly, the recreation of the past doesn’t actually require weapons and armour at all, and fascinating as some of us may find martial arts, tactics and strategies and the material culture of conflict, really, there’s so much more.  People lived, loved, ran races, lounged on couches, and wore clothing and jewelry and ate food.

Lived, as I said.

I happen to have the pleasure of knowing a great many craftspeople.  Rather like the blog I wrote about Hannah Lowe and people who train and practice hard, craftspeople are often very different.  They have very rugged and sometimes stubborn personalities.  They can focus–incredibly–for long stretches without boredom.  I know a few craftspeople, and I suspect J.R.R. Tolkien did too… the dwarves may represent a stereotype, but it is also…

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Mark Lawrence: Liars Key (Review)

Mark Lawrence

Mark Lawrence

Mark Lawrence is married with four children, one of whom is severely disabled. His day job is as a research scientist focused on various rather intractable problems in the field of artificial intelligence. He has held secret level clearance with both US and UK governments. At one point he was qualified to say ‘this isn’t rocket science … oh wait, it actually is’.

Between work and caring for his disabled child, Mark spends his time writing, playing computer games, tending an allotment, brewing beer, and avoiding DIY.

The Prince of Thorns is his first published novel. It is the beginning of a projected trilogy following the fortunes of Honorous Jorg Ancrath.

Author Website

The Liar’s Key

(The second book in the Red Queen’s War series)
A novel by Mark Lawrence

Liars key


From the critically-acclaimed author of PRINCE OF FOOLS comes the second volume of the brilliant new epic fantasy series, THE RED QUEEN’S WAR. ‘If you like dark you will love Mark Lawrence. And when the light breaks through and it all makes sense, the contrast is gorgeous’ ROBIN HOBB The Red Queen has set her players on the board…Winter is keeping Prince Jalan Kendeth far from the longed-for luxuries of his southern palace. And although the North may be home to his companion, the warrior Snorri ver Snagason, he is just as eager to leave. For the Viking is ready to challenge all of Hell to bring his wife and children back into the living world. He has Loki’s key – now all he needs is to find the door. As all wait for the ice to unlock its jaws, the Dead King plots to claim what was so nearly his – the key into the world – so that the dead can rise and rule.


For those who have not read it, the Broken Empire series is an excellent fantasy series, one that take the reader right to the edge, page after page…. and yet i have found myself enjoying the Red Queens War much more, i cant quite pin down why, it may be the more general appeal of the series. I feel it spans a broader age spectrum? It may be the utter Britishness of the of the humour on the book? either way the characters rapidly win you over in this book, and then drag you along on a wild ride.

This is no fantasy that sets out to to give you a muscle bound hero or the slightly flawed hero, this series gives you an out and out unabashed coward, in the form of Prince Jalan, a character who while a coward has many redeeming characteristics. He is funny, heroic when there is absolutely no way out of it, and ultimately a friend to his direct opposite Snorri (well as long as the friendship doesn’t put him in danger), Snorri, a Viking, Huge muscle bound, deadly, and with courage enough for all, is the perfect foil for all that nervous cowardliness.

Liars Key isn’t as dark as Prince of Fools, we still face a race against the undead/ unborn. But we start to unravel and learn more about the past that has led our two protagonists to this point, which great wheels are in motion, how the great politics work, and we get to enjoy the growth of Jalan and his friendship with Snorri and the rest of their group. This time the group travel south, back to and through Vermillion. Jalan learns about the red Queen, the silent sister and more of his family, and more than anything he gets angry, he learns about his mothers death, and this ignites a desire for revenge, all this tempered with his individual style of self preservation.

The more books i read by Mark Lawrence the more hooked i become on his style. Another wonderful comparison has been the ability to read this series alongside Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea series. Both very different in style to their own other work, and from each other but both wonderfully compelling and absorbing. I cant decide who has the better series here…. but i think Mark is leading by pure dint of the dry humour of Jalan.

This is a series i very very highly recommend to readers of all books, don’t be tied by genre, this is exceptional writing, so pick up and oar and row the whale road with Snorri and Jalan, everything is set up for a fantastic book three.




Broken Empire
1. Prince of Thorns (2011)
2. King of Thorns (2012)
3. Emperor of Thorns (2013)
Mark Lawrence 2-Book Bundle (omnibus) (2013)
Sleeping Beauty (2014)
The Complete Broken Empire Trilogy (omnibus) (2014)


Red Queen’s War
1. Prince of Fools (2014)
2. The Liar’s Key (2015)

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Episodic Books (a bit of a brain dump)

Episodic Books

There has been something going around and around my head for the last few months with regards to books, publishing and the future of books.

Modern society seems to have a demand for vastly increased speed that far outstrips standard publication, a demand that is hard to keep up with especially when you think in terms of the average of 1 book per year from most authors.

If you ask most book lovers, they want and need the feel of a hardback book, and that tangible connection to the author, one that they can get signed, they can keep on a shelf and go back to again and again when it’s an author they love, this is the oil that keeps the publishing machine going. Now we also have a new audience that desire eBooks, they want cheap, they want faster. They don’t feel the need for that tangible connection to the author, for them the transient nature of the eReader gives them what they need.

In 2001 Kiefer Sutherland made the move from high paid film actor to TV actor, why? When interviewed he saw the writing on the wall, the number of companies making new films per year had reduced dramatically, this meant that the number of opportunities to lead a film would also reduce dramatically. So he switched medium to TV, and with the birth of the hit series 24 came the birth of something totally new, highly addictive episodic TV that left you wanting, demanding the next episode. The DVD release phase of this led to the new phrase “box set binging”.


Box Set binging, is something that highly appeals to the time starved modern person, and is something that from its inception with 24, then lost and many other series has grown into a new medium of consuming TV.

Netflix, Lovefilm, amazonPrime, all allow you to download entire series in one go and watch back to back, no adverts and no waiting for the next week’s episode. So popular is this new medium that these companies have branched out into commissioning these programs and releasing them as entire box sets before they even hit the TV and get slowly spun out week after week by the normal TV channels.

So how can this medium be shifted to the literary world? Serials! A series written in the author’s world against side characters or new characters just set in a similar or different time period location, explore more of the writer’s world. Many published authors have a key series with their publisher, the one that they are known for, the one that the readers look forward to and the reviewers hope will drop through the letter box, but the wait for that book is a year, and with good reason. I have been lucky enough to be very involved in the process of creating the final print ready book and it has so many fine details that need to be looked at and considered, be they for the printing set up, the cover art, the editing or any part of the creation. But even with all of those it’s possible to speed up the production, especially if you remove the need for printing.

So something that I have seen starting to grow, but by no means given the credence yet that it deserves is the eBook series. There are many Short stories out then from writers, a quick 50-100 pages set in around their world and characters, but many are just stand alone tales. These however are in my view eclipsed by the few trailblazers going beyond that, my favorite being Christian Cameron and his series Tom Swan. A series written in its own time period, not an advert for any other books he writes but a story that can stand on its own merits, each segment approx. 50 -100 pages long and set for a 24 book series at least (more if we beg I’m sure). The installments come out at regular intervals and as such really appeal to the new box set binge desire to have regular updates from your favorite writer. The great thing is that these serials can even then be released in tangible Hardback or paperback format at some future date as a compilation, 6-8 stories equaling your average hardback book, for the true box set binge experience. Depending on the sale-ability of the series the release could be small run, high quality or large volume standard format, which ever meets the needs of that writer’s audience and the publisher.


The final question really is can the author run this series parallel to anything being released by the publisher?

Why not? This is something that can be run through the publisher or separate from the publisher, either way benefits both the author and the publisher. If you tie readers into a regular purchase, a regular read, the latest episode of a story and they become hooked. Then they come back time after time, as long as the story stays fresh and new. All of this creates new readers, and retains existing readers. These readers then buy the full novels. So the only real limit is the writing time of the author.

Does it work for specific genres? I don’t really think this type of publishing is genre tied, I can’t see any subject that would not work in an episodic release basis. There are some I can see working better than others. Historical Fiction, Action adventure, Fantasy and Dystopian. Just because they lend themselves to the shorter cliff hanger, they don’t need the full misdirect of a crime novel or the gentle build of the literary novel.

This really leaves one key issue, is it good for the author? any authors living comes from books and book sales, those sales need to give a proportionate return to the outlay in time and effort on their part. This is of course on taking into account self publishing, as traditional publishing also needs to factor in the publisher making a profit also, this profit will inevitably take from the authors cut. Which returns us to the question, should the author self publish a serial to self promote their larger works via traditional publishing? or can the 2 meet an equitable compromise? Then you need to factor price.

Amazon do a 70% royalty option as well as a 35% one. But the minimum you can sell a book at on the 70% is $2.99 (approx £1.30) , which takes us back to expectation and the consumer demand. Consumers tend to want things cheaper and cheaper and often with artistic material for free. If you take the average price for short stories $0.99 (or maybe 99p) but that puts you in the 35% Royalty bracket. This means that for every 99p issue I sell I will book sold the author takes home with about 25p. quite a difference when you factor in that a 100 page novella is a quarter of a full book in terms of actual writing and takes the same time to publish after writing is finished (it still needs to be proof read, edited and formatted and to have cover art). Ultimately an author can write 3 of those novellas (maybe 2.5) in the same time as one novel. That would mean making only 75p instead of £1.30. It then becomes a gamble on volume to make the same if not more, which is always the gamble of the author, can they find the next big seller, the Harry Potter / Dan Brown volume seller. Is the publicity also a factor for the full novels? (takes a greater mind than me to know).

I hope we see more of this style of read….. as long as it is not at the expense of the tangible book, and not at the expense of the author. Who knows, maybe it will further increase people’s desire to read and the authors income? And if handled correctly via traditional publishers maybe they could move away from Amazon dominance of the eBook market and host their own selling sites for this mainly eBook driven market?

…none of this is new by the way…. think back to the Penny Dreadful for example, weekly stories that were hugely popular.

anyway…. now i have scribbled this down and bounced it off someone else it may stop being a nagging thought. (hope you enjoyed a tour of my brain.. and its latest nagging book thought).


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Good History Writing — In Praise of Ben Kane


Great blog about a fantastic author written by another splendid author … (Some great insights)

Originally posted on With Pen and Sword:


I love Ben Kane’s books.  I look forward to them eagerly; I get them in hardcover; I’ll eventually meet him and get some of them signed.  (Getting all of them signed seems unlikely, given the decline in international baggage allowance and my near-constant need to get armour into my baggage.  A problem that I suspect Ben Kane shares.)


Because he is as devoted to authenticity as anyone who writes in our sub-genre of military historical fiction.


That’s Ben, in Roman Legionary kit, pinched from my friend Robin Carter’s blog.  In fact, Robin will provide a guest post this Friday, as I’ll be in the Adnacrags–er, the Adirondacks.

But… why does authenticity matter?

Well, at least for me as a reader, it’s like this.  Ever see an episode of ‘Sherlock’ on BBC?  When I’m reading Historical Fiction (or fantasy, to be honest) and I come to something I…

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Writing about Fighting: Practice and Exercise


Every day is a school day…

Originally posted on With Pen and Sword:


You must be asking yourself what this fourteen year old ballerina has to do with martial arts, fighting, and history?

In fact, I suspect that almost everyone who swings a sword or reenacts can stop reading.  I suspect that everyone trained in any sport or physical art can look at this young woman, and guess what today’s blog is about, and what I’m going to say.

By the way, this is Miss Hannah Lowe of Toronto.  She is a passable Italian longswordswoman, and an effective arming sword fighter as well.  And from her (and her brother Hamish, who is currently enrolled in the National Ballet School) I learned some dramatic and important–in in some cases, disheartening–lessons about history, and about fighting.

Hannah has been dancing since she was three years old.  By fourteen, she has reached a stunning level of proficiency; if you saw her dance the role of the…

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