Gavin G Smith: Spec Ops Z (Review)

book cover of Spec Ops Z

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When Vadim Scorlenski and his elite Spetznaz squad are sent to New York at the height of the Cold War, they’re told it’s a ‘training exercise.’ They discover, too late, that the ‘practice’ chemical weapon they’re carrying is all too real. They go to their deaths…

…and awaken to a city overwhelmed by the walking dead, even now spreading across the globe. Somehow holding onto their identities amid the mindless monsters, Scorlenski and his squad of zombie commandos set out to return to Russia.

Someone’s going to pay.

A handsome new re-issue of a high-octane military-SF, as Russian Spetsnaz commandos are turned into zombies in ’80s New York.

(Review)

Continuing my run of reading books i wouldn’t normally pick up….

I have to admit i love a good Zombie TV show, its post apocalyptic escapism at its best. So i thought i’d give a book a go. I have to admit i was really surprised at how much fun i had reading this book, and ripped through it in 2 days.

While the book contains the requisite amount of blood and violence that you must expect and need with a decent Zombie tale, this one also has more.

Its main characters, members of a Spetznaz Squad who are as tight knit as can be, having fought in some of the worst places on earth at the time… The author lays all the ground work for investing you in the characters who should be the bad guys in this tale, but who are really as used and betrayed as anyone in the book. Then not only do we have a squad of heavily armed soldiers surviving the Zombie apocalypse we have most of them trying to hold on to themselves after they have become Zombies, with no idea how or why they retain their minds, the team want revenge against their former masters, but along the way their retained humanity forces them to help the people they were sent to destroy.

Fast Paced, high octane, full of flat out action and surprising emotion.

I really enjoyed the book and really am looking forward to another book following Scorlenski and his squad.

(Parm)

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D L Marshall: Anthrax Island (Review)

A portrait of D. L. Marshall

D. L. Marshall was born and raised in Halifax, West Yorkshire. Influenced by the dark industrial architecture, steep wooded valleys, and bleak Pennine moors, he writes thrillers tinged with horror, exploring the impact of geography and isolation. In 2016 he pitched at Bloody Scotland. In 2018 he won a Northern Writers’ Award for his thriller novel Anthrax Island.

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FACT: In 1942, in growing desperation at the progress of the war and fearing invasion by the Nazis, the UK government approved biological weapons tests on British soil. Their aim: to perfect an anthrax weapon destined for Germany. They succeeded.

FACT: Though the attack was never launched, the testing ground, Gruinard Island, was left lethally contaminated. It became known as Anthrax Island.

Now government scientists have returned to the island. They become stranded by an equipment failure and so John Tyler is flown in to fix the problem. He quickly discovers there’s more than research going on. When one of the scientists is found impossibly murdered inside a sealed room, Tyler realises he’s trapped with a killer…

Review:

Anthrax Island is my first book of 2021 that departs from my normal reading pattern of Historical Fiction, Fantasy Fiction and a trashy action thriller to cleanse the reading palette. Chosen because i liked the cover… nothing more complicated than that.

The book follows John Tyler to a remote island riddled with deadly Anthrax, the reason on the surface is to fix some broken equipment, but this is a cover for his real role which is to find out who murdered the previous tech, and why?

I fully expected to struggle and slog my way through this book, remote crime with minimal action (or so i thought) add to that a dark wet days atmosphere and it can be a little too real and depressing for me, but Anthrax Island grabbed me right from the start, the opening of the book has you survive a Helicopter ride and stormy sea just to arrive, and once you arrive the characters immediately explode at you with their various idiosyncrasies and behavior.

As soon as you are introduced to them you start playing cluedo, it was X with the Y in the Z location, this keeps you guessing and flicking back and forth to check clues and detail. The author has a fantastic style of feeding you details and laying out all the facts for you, dragging you deeper and deeper into the plot, teasing more and more detail as its discovered and analyzed, if you can manage to put the clues and potential motives and opportunity together then you can discern who did it….. only you don’t, I was 30% right, the rest he kept me going right up to the action soaked reveal.

The writing is dark, engaging, utterly atmospheric and totally consuming. i cant wait to read the next book, John Tyler is a great character with so much back story and more to give.

(Parm)

 

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Simon Scarrow : Blackout (Review)

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Publication Date:18/03/2021

Berlin, December 1939

As Germany goes to war, the Nazis tighten their terrifying grip. Paranoia in the capital is intensified by a rigidly enforced blackout that plunges the city into oppressive darkness every night, as the bleak winter sun sets.

When a young woman is found brutally murdered, Criminal Inspector Horst Schenke is under immense pressure to solve the case, swiftly. Treated with suspicion by his superiors for his failure to join the Nazi Party, Schenke walks a perilous line – for disloyalty is a death sentence.

The discovery of a second victim confirms Schenke’s worst fears. He must uncover the truth before evil strikes again.

As the investigation takes him closer to the sinister heart of the regime, Schenke realises there is danger everywhere – and the warring factions of the Reich can be as deadly as a killer stalking the streets . . .

Review

I’m not usually a big fan of thrillers set in the pre or early war, they always seem to be a little depressing and dark and i read for escapism. But its a Simon Scarrow book so how could i not be intrigued! Even if its a massive departure from his trademark ancient Rome, Simon has such an engaging writing style i hoped that it would remove that dark depressing element for me.

As usual with Simon Scarrows work its very character driven, which is perfect for me, you engage with the characters as much as the story and you become invested in them, their safety and they choices.

Blackout is in essence a crime thriller, that happens to be set in the winter of 1939 Berlin, yes its is dark, depressing and cold. Yet at the same time Simon makes it atmospheric, ethereal so full of danger and forbidding. His Lead character reminded me a little of the older Cato to begin with and Hauser (his second in command) a little of Macro, the initial interplay between them very reminiscent of the way they bounced off each other. But soon the new characters and story took flight and you get drawn into the dark dangers of Berlin, the power shifts between the different parts of the growing, expanding Nazi war machine, the political maneuvering that is beginning to underpin and control everything , even the facts of a murder case.

Our main character Schenke is a detective, driven by the love of the law and finding the truth, his approach sits at odds with the climate of follow the party line, and so he tries to walk the middle ground, stick to the facts have no political opinion…. and almost impossible task in this new Berlin.

I did find at times that the book freaked me out, you’re sat there reading about the political situation in the months before WW2 had begun, the control of the media, the fear of the masses, the dissemination of  the “new” facts that the Nazis want you to believe, the twisted view and approach to life, and you cant help but think of Brexit, Covid and the current UK regime, it really sent chills down my spine how close we really are to repeating old mistakes.

The plot of the book brings in all of the investigation, the hunt for a psychotic rapist and killer, a man who could be mixed in with the highest powers of the Nazi party, the scary view that the message of who and how even when the case is solved, that what becomes the facts depends on Muller, the Gestapo and even higher to the very top of the Nazi regime. We experience the irrational view towards Jews, and at the same time we see that much of the German view is controlled by fear, that many like Schenke just want life to be fair, just and normal for all, to carry on with family at Christmas and to fall in love.

As my first read of 2021 it was really excellent, you feel the cold, the fear and the sudden violence, and you pull together the facts as they are presented, who the murderer is keeps you guessing right to the very end. I’m really looking forward to more of Schenke and Liebwitz (The Gestapo agent assigned to watch over him)

Highly reccomended

(Parm)

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Angus Donald: The Last Berserker (Review)

book cover of The Last Berserker

 

The Last Berserker

 (2021)
(The first book in the Fire Born series)

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The greatest warriors are forged in the flames

771AD, Northern Europe

Two pagan fighters

Bjarki Bloodhand and Tor Hildarsdottir are journeying south into Saxony. Their destination is the Irminsul, the One Tree that links the Nine Worlds of the Middle-Realm. In this most holy place, they hope to learn how to summon their animal spirits so they can enter the ranks of the legendary berserkir: the elite frenzied fighters of the North.

One Christian king

Karolus, newly crowned King of the Franks, has a thorn in his side: the warlike Saxon tribes on his northern borders who shun the teachings of Jesus Christ, blasphemously continuing to worship their pagan gods.

An epic battle for the soul of the North

The West’s greatest warlord vows to stamp out his neighbours’ superstitions and bring the light of the True Faith to the Northmen – at the point of a sword. It will fall to Bjarki, Tor and the men and women of Saxony to resist him in a struggle for the fate of all Europe.

 

Review:

Vikings… The north, the cold… and blood soaked battles… what more could you want? … Angus Donalds new series does contain all those elements, but its also a lot more. This is a story about the growth and youth of Bjarki and Tor, and their submersion into the mysteries of the north.

The Story begins with a bloodsoaked madman single handedly destroying a village, before dropping back in time to Bjarki’s neck in the hangmans noose, saved at the last by a wandering trader, and taken to the heart of the northern world to learn the ways of the warrior, His companions on this Journey Valtyr far Wanderer and Tor Hildarsdottir teaching him weapons, fighting, but more than that, they teach him about family something he knows little about having been a foundling, his parents dead, raised by the villager who lost the lottery, he has been seen as a nuisance all his life. Now someone can see something else in him, the potential, even if that potential is death and destruction.

Angus Donald is best known for his stunning Robin Hood Series, so this is a departure to something new but retaining his wonderful character driven plots, his unique style and humour comes across in the tale, and the adventure he imbues into all his tales shines through.

I personally love a book filled with blood soaked battles, and this book has that, but it has so much more, it explores the root of the Northman’s religion, the blossoming of the Christian faith through that Northman’s eye and we see the growth of friendship and family when experienced by someone who has never know it. From the simplistic rustic life in a poor Northman’s village to the dazzling wealth of the Royal Frankish court, this story is both broad in scope and intimate in emotion, I devoured the book, and have been left wanting more and more.

highly recommended

(Parm)

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Anthony Riches: Nemesis (Review)

Nemesis by [Anthony Riches]They killed his sister. Now he’ll kill them all.

Mickey Bale is an elite close protection officer. That’s why the Met police has given him the toughest job of all: guarding the Minister of Defence at a moment when Chinese-British relations have hit a deadly boiling point.

And when Mickey’s life isn’t on the line for his work, he’s taking his chances waging war on a powerful London gang family. Their dealer supplied a lethal ecstasy pill to his sister, and Mickey is determined to take them down, one at a time.

But will he get away with it – or will his colleagues in the force realise that the man on an underworld killing spree is one of their own?

 

(Review)

Anthony Riches is one of my favourite authors, he is well known for his (Roman) Empire series and its band of soldiers who pull off impossible missions with humour, flair and bloody skill. So when I heard that he had branched out into thrillers I was desperate to read it, and emails flew off to the publisher begging for a copy, if anyone could inject something new and exciting into the genre its Anthony Riches.

Nemesis is set around the life of Mickey Bale an elite protection officer for the Met, this set off a small red flag for me because my girlfriend works for the police and gets very irate if there are “mistakes” in police procedure… she has dismissed many a good read based on basic errors, but reading the first few chapters you could soon see that the author had done plenty of research (not a surprise) and made sure that the authenticity shines through. Mickey Bale is at the top of his game as a protection officer, but he has a past that includes the loss of a family member, and he wants payback.

What I wanted from the book was something, that felt real and totally new, not a new Jack Reacher or Win Lockwood, and I’m glad to say that what we get is new enthralling and pure Anthony Riches, a dark gritty action  thriller with the authors own blend of sardonic irreverent  humour, which works so well in his books and his characters, for me better and more readable and relatable than Jack Reacher.

There are so many thrillers out there that have American / Hollywood action and humour, but this book is pure Brit, in style, humour and action, action that is exciting but in no way over the top, if I had to find any comparison it would be Guy Richie meets the bodyguard (that’s the Richard Madden one… not Kevin Costner), and this book has brilliant TV series written all over it. This is my favorite thriller of this year and the last few years. There is so much more to come from Mickey Bale, and I hope we get to see it soon.

Very Highly Recommended

(Parm)

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Jonathan Spencer : Lords of The Nile (review)

book cover of Lords of the Nile

 

Lords of the Nile

 (2020)
(The second book in the William John Hazzard series)

 

The battle for Empire rages across Egypt

The thrilling second novel in the William John Hazzard series, following Napoleon’s Run.

Malta, June 1798. Captured by the French after hurling himself into the enemy ranks, Hazzard is now a prisoner of Bonaparte and his nemesis, the spy-catcher Derrien. He has, however, uncovered the deadly purpose of Napoleon’s fleet: the conquest of Egypt.

Their bold plan is to cut open the ancient Suez Canal and then sail through the Red Sea to attack India, the jewel in England’s crown.

As Napoleon’s great armada prepares to sail, Nelson’s fleet, still scouring the Mediterranean in vain for the French, is nowhere to be seen. If Hazzard can’t find a way to stop this – no-one will.

But help comes from an unexpected quarter – the missing Admiralty agent…

From the shores of Malta to the truly epic encounter of the Battle of the Nile – this is the explosive beginning of the French invasion of Egypt. Never give up the boat.

 

Review

This is the second book in this stupendous new series and in some ways the harder book, Napoleon’s Run the first book in the series was such blockbusting start that repeating that impact is extremely difficult, beating it almost impossible… but he did!!

Lords of the Nile is a such breathtaking frenetic plot that it truly does exhaust the reader, I found myself getting faster and faster in my reading, tearing through the pages, only to realise that i was trying to match the pace of  the characters and the plot, it is so immersive you can’t help but be sucked into it, swept away by it, pushed to tears by it and utterly enthralled by it.

In the last few years I’ve picked up a few new authors that have stunned me with the impact of their books and dazzled me with the skill and pace of their stories… Jonathan Spencer is one of the best of these, in two books he now resides as one.. of my “Must read” authors, a drop what you’re doing, or what ever else you are reading and read it now writer.

Hazzard will give Sharpe a run for his money any day, and im sure Jack Lark would be happy to serve with him… my favourite book this year and i’ve read some great ones.

Highest recommendation

(Parm)

(Excuse the brevity of review…. i have a broken hand … this took ages… 😉

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Simon Turney / Gordon Doherty : Sons of Rome (Guest Post & review)

book cover of Sons of Rome

Sons of Rome  (2020)
(The first book in the Rise of Emperors series)
A novel by Gordon Doherty and Simon Turney

Four Emperors. Two Friends. One Destiny.

As twilight descends on the 3rd century AD, the Roman Empire is but a shadow of its former self. Decades of usurping emperors, splinter kingdoms and savage wars have left the people beleaguered, the armies weary and the future uncertain. And into this chaos Emperor Diocletian steps, reforming the succession to allow for not one emperor to rule the world, but four.

Meanwhile, two boys share a chance meeting in the great city of Treverorum as Diocletian’s dream is announced to the imperial court. Throughout the years that follow, they share heartbreak and glory as that dream sours and the empire endures an era of tyranny and dread. Their lives are inextricably linked, their destinies ever-converging as they rise through Rome’s savage stations, to the zenith of empire. For Constantine and Maxentius, the purple robes beckon…

Guest Post

A Choice of Emperors
by Gordon Doherty & Simon Turney

Between 305 and 312 AD, the Western Roman Empire was dominated by two figures. The conflict between Constantine and Maxentius – and in particular their seismic battle at the Milvian Bridge in 312 – has grown over the centuries to achieve mythic proportions, and like all myths we must look beyond the obvious if we wish to discern the truth. The rivalry between the two emperors was not a religious schism, nor a personal crisis, it was simply a conflict between two men who claimed rulership over one land. That Constantine has come down through history to become arguably one of the most famous of emperors, while Maxentius has been vilified and damned by the centuries and even then to become an almost forgotten figure, is largely the work of Christian writers colouring events with their inescapable bias.

Constantine’s history before his rise to the purple is scarcely covered, with a few events and anecdotes and little in the way of confirmed motivation. Maxentius’s life, even throughout the better-recorded period during which the two emperors came to blows, is barely detailed at all except insofar as it impacts upon Constantine. So what was the history of these two men who rose to become the two most powerful figures in the West, and was there more to their conflict than the simple inevitability of power-clashes?

When Gordon and Simon first conjured up the idea of writing the tale of these two larger-than life figures, the first challenge was deciding where to begin. Well, what better place to begin than at the beginning? The child is the father of the man, after all. Thus, Simon and Gordon instigated their tale during the early years of Maxentius and Constantine, in better times, prizing open their little-known childhoods and trying to understand the humans behind the history.

What history does not tell us is whether their paths crossed in those earlier days. This was a welcome challenge for Gordon and Simon, the opportunity to debate and speculate over how the two characters might plausibly have possibly known one another in childhood and adolescence. Both were children of Rome’s leading men, so it seemed likely that they could have met at the many imperial court gatherings across the empire. The starting point seized, the story planned, Gordon and Simon were all set to begin writing. All that remained now was to each settle upon which protagonist each author would write.

Simon’s literary career thus far had been solidly built upon tales of the Roman military. As such, the action-packed life of Constantine, with his war-hero record and empire-spanning military career which propelled him to power, might seem the obvious choice. However, Simon has always had a soft spot for history’s underdogs, and the idea that Maxentius, perhaps Rome’s quintessential underdog, might be more than simply a black-and-white villain was too much to refuse. With little confirmed information about Maxentius in sources, and much of that clearly apocryphal and biased, the opportunity to create a vision of this man as he might have been was a great pull. And so Simon turned away from his usual military fare and began to explore the world of a man who was more politician and patriot than warrior and hero.

Gordon’s writing career has largely centred on the late Roman Empire and the period that led to the collapse of the West and the continuation of the ‘Byzantine’ Empire in the East. Many point to Constantine’s day as the definitive starting point for that period. But in his reading, Gordon has long been unsatisfied by the polarised opinion surrounding Constantine: he was either a saint, the thirteenth apostle who bestowed Christianity upon the world of Late Antiquity… or he was a political monster, bloodthirsty, manipulative, ambitious and determined to make the world his own. But no man is all good or all evil. This was the proverbial gauntlet for Gordon – to explore the fog in between these two extremes, to mine the scant anecdotes and scraps of evidence we have for Constantine the person and to truly understand his motivations.

Armed with their story plan, their burning enthusiasm to tell the tale of these two giants of history, Gordon and Simon set to work. The story of Constantine and Maxentius begins with ‘Sons of Rome’.

Review

What happens when two very talented and prolific authors get their heads together and come up with an idea…. The result can be pure genius.

Simon Turney and Gordon Doherty with over 56 novels between them have really become among the best individual writers in their genre, but combining their talents… that was something new and would need a huge amount of cooperation and discussion. Thankfully these two friends have meshed together their talents and voices seamlessly.

Sons of Rome is a story that grabs you from the first page, it follows both Maxentius and Constantine from childhood , through their growth to power and how they survive the perilous intrigue and back stabbing that forms the daily life in the courts of Emperors, how their personalities and Psyche were formed, how they developed into such powerful figures of history.

Both of these authors are characters writers and creators, in their various series they have a skill that breathes life into dusty history, adding flesh to these famous names is not enough, they want you to love their creations, to root for them, to become invested in them, but with diverging agendas you find yourself invested in two people who are destined to become at odds with one another, its a strange feeling. The style of one author writing Constantine and the other Maxentius and then having them staggered through the books adds a frenetic pace to the reading of this book, you cant put it down because you want to find out what Constantine did next, then how did Maxtenius react to that…. and on and on until…. suddenly the book is over and you’re left desperate to have more.

I honestly put this book as a really contender for book of the year, its a brilliant achievement, and one i encourage you all to read.

(Parm)

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Jonathan Spencer : Napoleon’s Run (Review)

Napoleon’s Run

 (2020)
(The first book in the William John Hazzard series)
A novel by Jonathan Spencer

book cover of Napoleon\'s Run

 

One man against an armada

London, 1798. Late one night, a junior naval officer at the Admiralty intercepts a coded despatch, marked with blood: Napoleon Bonaparte is about to launch the largest invasion fleet in history. Target: unknown.

England is vulnerable, bereft of allies, and the Sea Lords fear a direct assault on Britain. Admiralty Intelligence sounds the alarm and prepares to unleash Nelson and the Mediterranean squadron.

But before they can, they need vital information. They need a special officer to infiltrate by land or by sea to uncover the destination of Napoleon’s armada – a man who never stops.

Marine Lt William John Hazzard.

But will he agree to help them?

Betrayed by the Admiralty at the African Cape three years earlier, Hazzard has vowed never to trust them again. Bitter memories poisoned his return home, and his devoted fiancée Sarah, unable to bear his pain any longer, disappears in Naples – never to be seen again.

But the Admiralty knows just how to get him back.

They know where Sarah is, and her life is in danger…

Review

Its been ages since there was a new Napoleon fictional tale out, having enjoyed the likes of Bernard Cornwells Sharpe and Simon Scarrows Wellington i had high expectations.

To start with i was a little concerned, it all felt a bit to Sharpe, the grizzled veteran officer and the big Sargent, but very quickly that dissipated, and gave me a sense of Paul Collards Jack Lark, the same dark, brooding, tortured quality of character. This is no bad thing, because the Jack Lark series is one of the best Historical Action series out there for character driven plot.

Jonathan Spencer though soon started to plot his own course, a debut is always going to feel a bit like something else because we all have influences, its the mark of a new great writer when you see their own style come to life and their characters chart their own course.

Marine Lt William John Hazzard is a new name on the role call of great characters, but a worthy one, dark, brooding, full of menace, and also regret and love. A man who bucks the trend of dilettante officer in an army where rank is purchased, this is a man very much like Sharpe and Lark, a man who charts his own course, a man who shares the dangers and struggles of his men, a man with a conscience and his own moral compass. Orders are to be carried out, but not if they impinge on his own morality.

In this book we see Hazzard badly treated by the admiralty and yet despite a long convalescence from the injuries bot physical and mental he finds himself dragged back into their world of intrigue and back stabbing. His lady love is on danger and they use this to trap him, to use his passion, his moral compass and his drive to get her back safe…

Hazzard set out with a backing cast of veterans, men who have seen it all and are loyal only to their officer, the man who has sweated and bled alongside them, a man who has earned their respect, a man who they would die for, because he would die for them.

I found myself utterly engrossed in this book, its wonderfully vivid characters and explosive action, there was never a moments peace to relax and pause for breath, Hazzard goes at 100mph and never lets up in his search, not for one moment does he think of personal danger, only how he can find Sarah and save her, and you the reader are dragged along on a white knuckle adventure by his Bombay coat tails.

A fantastic Debut, a man to watch, i feel we will be seeing many more fantastic books and a definite contender for a top 5 spot in my best book of the year

Highly Recommended

‘Never give up the boat’

(Parm)

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Kenneth Cameron: Moody and the Fateful Lightning (Review)

Once a Roman soldier, the man called Moody wanders through time and space, following voices calling him for help and never understanding what drives him to obey. A few years after the end of America’s Civil War, his hot-air balloon follows a tornado into a small Southern town, seeking a woman he thinks he heard as Lulu. But Lulu turns out to be the handsome and commanding madam of a brothel in Darktown, an enclave of impoverished freed blacks across the railroad tracks from the whites-only Doobeyville. He Wants Lula, not Lulu – the disturbed daughter of “Lord” Doobey, owner of a thousand slaves – eight years after slavery was supposedly been abolished.

Moody is drawn into a world of racial injustice that makes him the object of a Ku Klux lynching after a kaleidoscopic mix of a tournament of “White Knights,” a charge of murder, a chain gang, and a surreal trial. Fighting his way free of the lynching, he confronts the slave owner in a climax that endangers Darktown itself and even his own existence.

 

Review

Self published books are always a bit of a crap shoot, except that more and more authors with a writing pedigree are embarking on this route, one of these is Kenneth Cameron a man with a fantastic writing bibliography (see below) 26 Novels is an impressive number in anyone Biblio.

Now at the impressive age of 89 Kenneth has embarked on another series about Moody, Moody is a complex character, a time travelling angel of good? a man driven to end evil? a man directed by unknown voices and compulsions?  Born at the end of the Roman occupation of Britain he became a warrior and follows his own moral compass.

In fateful Lightning Moody and his sidekick arrive in Southern mid west america, just after the Civil war, racism is still rampant, and made worse by having had to emancipate their slaves…. but emancipation is only an idea when the locals can still hold the power of life and death over the ex slave population, when they can still brutalize and abuse them, and control their every waking and sleeping moments. Moody is called by a voice asking for help arriving with his wagon full of everything he could ever need, a wagon akin to the doctors tardis, with never ending compartments. Moody must find out why he has been called, he must walk the line between the white overlords and the Black slaves, his swarthy skin seeing him truly accepted by neither.

On the surface this is a great supernatural story of good vs evil, but at its core its also a story of the evils of slavery and the horror that that life and society created. Its a story that entertains and educates, the delights and horrifies the reader in equal measure, and its one that i enjoyed more than i expected to, and left me wanting to see where Moody goes next, what adventure will call him, what wrong will need to be put right.

(Parm)

Series
Alan Craik (as  Gordon Kent)… Co written with Christian Cameron
   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)
Denton
   1. The Frightened Man (2008)
   2. The Bohemian Girl (2009)
   3. The Second Woman (2010)
   4. The Haunted Martyr (2013)
   5. The Backward Boy (2013)
   6. The Past Master (2013)
   7. The Oxford Fellow (2013)
Louisa Conan Doyle Mystery
   Winter at Death’s Hotel (2012)
Novels
   Fair Game (1973) (as by George Bartram)
   A Job Abroad (1975) (as by George Bartram)
   The Aelian Fragment (1976) (as by George Bartram)
   White Peril (1977) (as by George Bartram)
   The Sunset Gun (1983) (as by George Bartram)
   Under the Freeze (1984) (as by George Bartram)
   In the Noonday Sun (1985) (as by George Bartram)
   Master of Secrets (1987) (as by George Bartram)
   The Sun Is Bleeding (1989) (as by George Bartram)
   Cauldron of Violence (2000) (as by Gordon Kent)
   The Falconer’s Tale (2007) (as by Gordon Kent)

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Theodore Brun: A Burning Sea (review)

book cover of A Burning Sea

A Burning Sea  (2020)
(The third book in the Wanderer Chronicles series)

Erlan Aurvandil has turned his back on the past and his native Northern lands, taking a perilous journey to the greatest city in the world, Constantinople. But as his voyage ends, Erlan is brutally betrayed, captured and enslaved by a powerful Byzantine general. Meanwhile, Lilla Sviggarsdottir, Queen of Svealand, has lost her husband and with him, her father’s kingdom. Her life in danger, Lilla escapes to find Erlan, the one man who can save her, following his trail to the very gates of Constantinople. But corruption infests the city, and a dark tide is rising against the Emperor from within his own court. As the shadows darken and whispers of war begin to strengthen, Erlan’s fate becomes intertwined with that of the city. Are they both doomed to fall, or can freedom be won in the blood of battle?

Review

This is a series that has intrigued me since book one, its in the main an Historical Fiction novel, but dances around some fantasy and supernatural, which is to say that in its historical period anything that cannot be explained has a supernatural/ fantasy edge, especially with the introduction of Azazel (from the book of Enoch, the demon/ fallen angel that corrupted man). Its the inclusion of this element/ character at first that made me skeptical of the book, but came for me to make the book. It added a darker hidden element to the original plot, and now in book 3 has become a driving force in Erlan’s travels and life. It is to excise this influence that he leaves and travels to Constantinople and becomes embroiled in the politics and war of a much larger world, truly a wanderer, a man haunted by so much of his past that he must keep moving, a man who is driven to be more than he is, but weighted down by so much regret for what has gone awry with his life and his perceived destiny.

To offset Erlans POV we also have Lilla’s, who herself has gone through so much to and given up so much to save her fathers kingdom, only for it to be cruelly snatched away from her again. She must chase Erlan footsteps into the unknown, following his trail to the greatest city on earth, and attempt to bring him and hopefully an army back and win her kingdom again.

This for me is easily the best book of the series, while i have enjoyed the Azazel edge to the tales, book 3 brings about its climax (or does it… never assume and author is done)… Erlans internal fight against the taint of this demon and its baresark rage sets him apart, but his fight for more, to prove he is more, that he can fight and live without the demon really makes his character stand out in book 3, we start i think to see who Hakan is and can be. The inclusion of Einar in the book is IMHO genius, he brings the needed humour to the tale that could otherwise be too dark at times, a character with indomitable courage and will, a man with an iron word who will be there to the end and beyond, and most especially with something sarcastic or funny to add.

In among all the fighting and scheming is also a love story and a story of personal discovery, Erlan has loved and lost, and in that loss he lost his identity, he lost his home, his life and how to be himself, in part he has run from so he is so he can try and escape the pain of that loss, both family and his childhood love. Nothing in his life prepared him for the pain he would feel and the desolation it would bring to his world, i think this allowed him to throw himself into what ever came next, he had tried to numb himself to mental emotion and pain, and accept the physical pain in its stead, this helped shape the warrior he has become, his fatalistic approach to all, yet some part of Hakan is always there because he still craves that friendship, and then the sunrise of Lila has slowly made him doubt Erlans existence….its this underlying plot that really gives the story its power.

All of this is against the backdrop of Constantinople on the verge of destruction, the Muslim army is at the door, traitors abound, and a new emperor must walk the tightrope of politics and war, both internally and externally. I normally shy from byzantine books, but every now and again someone manages to show me the majesty and the machinations of the time and its location and so hooks me (it helps that it includes vikings).

I find these days the speed that i read is a very good indication of my enjoyment, this is a 512 page book, a decent door stop, as all in the series have been. But i read it in the same amount of time i read my last 200 page book, its a book that engages from the first page, and throws you into the plot, i felt at times like i’d been kidnapped, stuck in the bowels of the ship or the corner of a cell to cower and endure the journey/ confinement, to feel all the trials of Erlan and just when finally we are saved from servitude and punishment i was thrust with him into the tale of backstabbing and war. its a book that thrills and exhausts at the same time (i was up until the early hours reading this, i couldn’t put it away). I’m now left lamenting the end, but rejoicing that there will be more, and i shall be prodding Mr Brun for book 4…. because i cant wait.

This book is easily going to be top 10 for the year, i highly suspect top 5.

Very highly recommended

(Parm)

 

 

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Series
Wanderer Chronicles
   1. A Mighty Dawn (2017)
   2. A Sacred Storm (2018)
   3. A Burning Sea (2020)
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Novellas
   A Winter’s Night (2018)
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Filed under Historical Fiction, Theodore Brun