Monthly Archives: June 2013

Nathan Hawke: Gallow Crimson Shield (Review)

So who is Nathan Hawke?

Nathan Hawke is a British writer of fantasy fiction. He has worked variously in the City, as a consultant to the police and to the services. He has travelled in the far east, worked for a time in Las Vegas, was briefly involved in video game design, and once skied off a mountain under a parachute for a bet. His current ambitions include rafting the Colerado River and walking the Milford Track. The Gallow series are his first novels.

Below is the original announcement:

And there is also good news for British fantasy writer Nathan Hawke, who has signed a new three-book deal. The new series will features a hero that will appeal to fans of David Gemmell. The lead characters, Gallow, finds himself on the wrong side of wars, through his belief in honour.  As the series progresses, he must deal with the consequences of his actions and the truth of his relationships with others whose sense of honour is more tarnished than his own.

“Fantasy has been built on the exploits of those troubled, all too human men and women who have tried to make a difference, tried to do the right thing. Nathan’s conception of Gallow made it clear that here was a man who could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of them. It’s going to be great fun helping Nathan bring a new hero to a new generation of readers,” commented Simon Spanton, Deputy Publishing Director of Gollancz, who acquired world rights to the series from John Jarrold.

All three books will be published in quick succession in 2013.

Book Description (July 11th)

crimson shield

 I have been Truesword to my friends, Griefbringer to my enemies. To most of you I am just another Northlander bastard here to take your women and drink your mead, but to those who know me, my name is Gallow. I fought for my king for seven long years. I have served lords and held my shield beside common men. I have fled in defeat and I have tasted victory and I will tell you which is sweeter. Despise me then, for I have slain more of your kin than I can count, though I remember every single face.
For my king I will travel to the end of the world. I will find the fabled Crimson Shield so that his legions may carry it to battle, and when Sword and Shield must finally clash, there you will find me. I will not make pacts with devils or bargains with demons for I do not believe in such things, and yet I will see them all around me, in men and in their deeds. Remember me then, for I will not suffer such monsters to live.Even if they are the ones I serve.

Review
I literally begged to get my hands on this book, if you’re not sure why then look again at the cover art. Art in every sense of the word, so much so that Gollanzc have taken the brave and innovative step to not have the authors name or book title on the front cover. This truly is one of the finest book covers I have ever seen, I only wish this was a hardback, and I could buy the original art work.
So is this new book any good?
Oh yes! Its a fantastic blending of fantasy and historical fiction, and for once the announcement does not lead you astray “The new series will features a hero that will appeal to fans of David Gemmell” . Gallow is a character Gemmell would have been (I think) very pleased with. He is, as per Gemmells best, a flawed man, not a hero but heroic, a man with a code of his own. Someone who swims against the pack, struggling to appease the differing sides of his life and his past.
I was reminded so many times during the book of Gemmells Rigante, a mixture of Connavar and Bane the Bastard. As this is possibly Gemmells finest work, in my view that’s the biggest compliment I could give this book or any book. (Gemmell is my all time favourite author)
The world is very Norse, attacking the Saxon shore, Saxons settled and gone soft, become sheep. That is the Lhosir and the Maroc, I had not decided who to peg as the Vathan and look forward to the speculation of others, they are very Hun like, horse warriors with a dark god, tribal and warlike. The simple fact the book has me guessing and speculating rather than ploughing into the next read is again testament to its quality of plot and story telling.
I really do recommend this book, to fantasy or Historical Fiction fans
(Parm)
Future Books
Cold Redemption (8th August)
cold redemption
I fought against your people, and I have fought for them. I have killed, and I have murdered. I betrayed my kin and crippled my king. I led countless warriors to their deaths and fought to save one worthless life. I have stood against monsters and men and I cannot always tell the difference. Fate carried me away from your lands, from the woman and the family I love. Three hellish years but now, finally, I may return. I hope I will find them waiting for me. I hope they will remember me while all others forget. Let my own people believe me dead, lest they hunt me down. Let me return in the dark and in the shadows so no one will know. But hope is rare and fate is cruel. And if I have to, I will fight.
Last Bastion (Septmeber 12th )
last bastion
The last battle for the fate of your country is coming. My kin are out for blood and revenge. Another empire sees a chance to come in and pick up the pieces of our war. Most of your warriors are stuck hiding in the swamps, always aware that they do not have enough numbers to win a straight fight. And from over the seas, my people bring their most deadly weapons, the Fateguard. Living suits of armour, imbued with mystical and deadly power. The end times have come for your land. I have fought alongside you, I have bled for you, I have made myself a traitor to all I believe in for you. And yet you still do not trust me. But you have no option. This will be our last battle, and there is only one place that it can be fought. We must defend our stronghold, no matter how many lives it may cost, no matter how hard it is. For if we do not, there will be no mercy and no relief from the terrors to come. Good thing I’m on your side.

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Iain Gale: Keanes Company (2013) Review

gale

Born in London , Iain Gale began writing historical fiction in 2005 after a successful career as an art critic and journalist.
He has experience as a judge in prestigious art and literary prizes and served for a number of years on the visual art committee of the Scottish Arts Council. He was also instrumental in the foundation of the Edinburgh Art Festival. Iain is currently an active member of the Scottish Committee of the Society of Authors, the Friends of the Waterloo Committee and the Waterloo 200 Committee.
In 1997 Iain was commended as Art Critic of the Year in the Bank of Scotland Press Awards.He has also made numerous appearances on national radio, including the BBC World Service, BBC Radio 4, LBC radio and Radio Scotland.Iain is married to an Edinburgh GP and between them they have six children aged between 17 and 7 and two impossible Labradors. They divide their time between Edinburgh and Fife.

keane

Publication Date: 25 April 2013 | Series: Keane 1

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James Keane, officer in the 27th Foot, card sharp, ladies’ man and one of the finest but most rebellious soldiers in the British army, is under threat of court martial for disobeying Wellesley’s strict rules. But his special, even ungentlemanly, skills have caught his general’s eye, so he is selected to form a unique unit which will work behind enemy lines.

Keane’s next task is to hand-pick his band of men, some from prison for their aptitude at lock-picking and forgery as well as fighting skills, and form them into an effective unit before being sent on their first intelligence-gathering special mission, this time to link up with a lethal Spanish guerrilla leader.

Stealing into Oporto, Keane’s men have to hold a vital post over the river a crossing against overwhelming forces, before being detached once more into the high mountains on another mission where the strains of the diverse characters of the unit test Keane’s leadership skills to the uttermost.

Review:

Author Iain Gale begins a new series with his protagonist James Keane, and oh what a series it is. I will not pretend to know the history of this type of Soldier in this period. But Keane commands the first example of Special forces for the British Army. A company of men with exceptional skills, and like most highly skilled and tuned men, men with their own flaws and issues. These men are the top of their field, but don’t think SAS, imagine the time period and the pool being pulled from. Heroic, but flawed. Keane must shape this group, a group with access to the best materials and also privy to information the enemy would kill to get their hands on, into the best of the best. Viewed with suspicion, envy and potentially awe by their comrades in other units, the regular troops, cannon fodder.

This is a must for those who love Sharpe and or the peninsular war. It takes the sort of story a Sharpe fan would love and takes it to the next level. Anyone who knows Iain Gales work will already be aware that he is an exceptional writer, skilled in bringing the sights sounds smells and brutality of war out on the page and alive in the imagination.

 Fans of Bernard Cornwell: please do beware this covers the same ground trodden by the illustrious Sharpe, and as such there can be only one hero… But also remember, Sharpe is fictional, as is Keane, so don’t expect Sharpe to save the day in Gales book. There is an element of the Dirty Dozen style in the band, but for me that added to the enjoyment, in this style plenty may seen…how shall I say… Magnified, something that seems a little unbelievable, but remember these boys are the elite company.  This really is action adventure set with a historical back ground, something I suspect would have been published in Boys own once upon a time.

In summary…Loved it, bring on book 2.

 Highly recommend

(Parm)

Other titles

Jack Steel
1. Man of Honour (2007)
2. Rules of War (2008)
3. Brothers in Arms (2009)
Man of HonourRules of WarBrothers in Arms
Peter Lamb
1. Black Jackals (2011)
2. Jackals’ Revenge (2012)
Black JackalsJackals' Revenge
Novels
The Four Days in June (2006)
Alamein (2010)
Keanes Company (2013)
The Four Days in JuneAlameinKeanes Company

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Michael Arnold: Assassin’s Reign (The fourth book in the Civil War Chronicles series)

About Michael Arnold
Mike arnold
Michael lives in Hampshire with his wife and young son. His childhood holidays were spent visiting castles and battlefields, but his fascination with the civil wars was piqued partly by the fact that his hometown and region of Hampshire are steeped in Civil War history.
Book Description
Assassin
The forces of King Charles are victorious; their Parliamentarian enemies in deep crisis. In the west, the crucial port city of Bristol has fallen, and Royalist eyes fall quickly upon neighbouring Gloucester. Its walls are weak, its garrison under strength, and its governor – Sir Edward Massie – suspected of harbouring sympathy for the King. Stryker and his men are with the army as it converges on Gloucester, still reeling from the loss of a close friend at the bloody Battle of Stratton. Ordered to infiltrate the rebel city on a mission to discover whether Massie will indeed surrender, Stryker reluctantly embarks upon his most desperate mission yet. But Gloucester’s defenders are more resolute than any had imagined, and catastrophe soon befalls him. With his life seemingly forfeit, Stryker is spared by an unlikely saviour; Vincent Skaithlocke, his former commander. The mercenary has returned to England to fight for Parliament, and offers Stryker his protection. As old friends adjust to life fighting for opposing sides, Stryker begins to question his own loyalties . . . but a chance discovery makes him realise that all in Gloucester is not what it seems, for a hidden menace threatens his own life, and that of King Charles himself.
Review
This latest book in the story of Innocent Stryker is one of brooding malevolence, politics, revenge and heroism. If the English Civil War had been taught in anything remotely this interesting and exciting a way when i was at school, it would have made months of school lessons a joy (yet my history teacher made it worse than watching paint dry).
Mike Arnold has an ability to tell an exhilarating story and imbue it with a rich atmosphere. Bringing to life the sounds smells and horror of battle and the civil war period, providing you with an insight into the mind of a real warrior, not so much a patriot, but a man of war, a man bred to war in all its horror and finding himself at home.
That does not make Stryker a psychopath, just a man who knows his occupation, the good and the bad. Able to bring a sense of personal honour to the fore, who can recognise the valour of others no matter what side they are on, and also the evil no matter the side they are on.
This book takes Innocent on a tour of all his emotions, concern for his lady, fear from the enemy within his own forces, and fear of capture while undercover, the thrill of battle, joy at an old friend and horror of the machinations of the possible assassination of his King.
This truly is Mike Arnolds best work so far and right up there with the best books of 2013, I don’t re-read many books, but very much want to with this one, truly a tale by a story teller at the top of his game.
Highly Recommended
(Parm)
Civil War Chronicles
1. Traitor’s Blood (2010)
2. Devil’s Charge (2011)
3. Hunter’s Rage (2012)
4. Assassin’s Reign (2013)
Traitor's BloodDevil's ChargeHunter's RageAssassin's Reign

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Christian Cameron: Tom Swan and the Head of St. George Part Six: Chios

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Christian Cameron was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1962. He grew up in Rockport, Massachusetts, Iowa City, Iowa, and Rochester, New York, where he attended McQuaid Jesuit High School and later graduated from the University of Rochester with a degree in history.

After the longest undergraduate degree on record (1980-87), he joined the United States Navy, where he served as an intelligence officer and as a backseater in S-3 Vikings in the First Gulf War, in Somalia, and elsewhere. After a dozen years of service, he became a full time writer in 2000. He lives in Toronto, Canada with his wife Sarah and their daughter Beatrice.

Book Description

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TS6
A young Englishman, Tom Swan, finds himself in the midst of the Turkish siege of one of the riches islands in the Genoese Empire. Swan’s biggest problem is that he hates the Genoese a good deal more than he hates the Turks. Despite which, he has to catch the spy, steal the ring, kill the traitor, and if possible rescue the princess. Or maybe just bed her.

All duty, of course. So he can get home to the Cardinal, his boss, and his wife, the most beautiful woman in Italy. Suddenly he’s a Knight, a man of action, a leader of men. And none of those are roles he asked for. From the Knights of Rhodes to the court of Mehmet II and Pope Pius II, Swan has to use his sword-and his wits-just to stay alive. And married.

Review

I have called each of these short stories an episode, i do this because this series feels like some of the best episodic short stories i have read. It would make an amazing TV series that would make programs like the Tudors, Spartacus or Borgias’ pale in comparison.
Christian has a clear love of Greece, history, weaponry, fighting skills, Italy…. and on and on. He is a true renaissance man, He is in my mind the inspiration for Tom Swan. If there was a time machine the author would have been off already, but lacking that he travels in the mind and fortunately takes us with him.
Tom Swan 6: you may expect battles and sword fighting, and there is some of that, but the fighting is intimate, and built around intrigue and elements of misdirection, planning to a degree that is unexpected, bringing together strands that began in each episode. There is also great humour, great compassion, camaraderie, humility and personal growth. Couple that with the PTSD that Tom Swan clearly still carries from the last episode and this is a stunning end to a brilliant series…. And Season 2 is on the horizon.

Highly Recommended
(Parm)

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)
TyrantStorm of ArrowsFuneral GamesKing of the BosporusDestroyer of Cities
Long War
1. Killer of Men (2010)
2. Marathon: Freedom or Death (2011)
3. Poseidon’s Spear (2012)
4. Artemesium (2013)
Killer of MenMarathon: Freedom or DeathPoseidon's Spear
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)
CastillonVeniceConstantinopleRomeRhodesChios
Novels
Washington and Caesar (2001)
God of War (2012)
Alexander: God of War (2013)
The Ill-Made Knight (2013)
The Long Sword (2014)
Washington and CaesarGod of WarAlexander: God of WarThe Ill-Made Knight

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James Barclay: Beyond the Mists of Katura (Review)

The Author

jame barclay

James Barclay was born in 1965 and is the most successful UK fantasy writer of his generation. He still works in the City of London as a advertising manager for a leading investment house.

Click this link to learn more about James Barclay and visit his web site

Book Description

Beyond the Mists of Katura (2013)
(The third book in the Elves series)

Elves

Thousands of years ago the elves were enslaved by the Wytch Lords.

Murdered in their thousands, worked to death in slave gangs and divided against themselves, the wounds inflicted by man run deep – and elves have very long memories.

Two of them – Auum and Takaar – led the rise against their enslavers, and united their people against men in order to free their nation.

Now Calaius is at peace …but that doesn’t mean their nation is safe. Men need their help.

The Wytch Lords have rallied, men’s magic has grown more powerful, and their politics have become altogether more dangerous.

Especially now: one of the mages has created a spell, called Dawnthief, which has the potential to destroy all living things on the planet. All four magical colleges are fighting to seize it and, in the background, the Lords have schemes of their own. Schemes which involve crushing the elven nation for good.
Whoever seizes the spell, it places the elves in tremendous danger. But can Auum and Takaar overcome their differences and work together to save Calaius?
 And even if they can, is it not already too late …?

Review

I have been a fan of James Barclays work since 1999 when Dawnthief first hit the book shelves. His style so reminiscent of my then favourite author David Gemmell. The characters flawed but heroic, larger than life yet down to earth. The action fast and furious and the body count high. And yet despite that there has been something that has niggled at me since Once walked with Gods, a feeling that he had strayed from his earlier writing prowess.

With Beyond the Mists of Katura I think I have finally nailed the problem, The characters are still great, the writing fast yet sparse where needed and powerful and emotional where required. The plot pushes ahead at a furious pace and the body count leaves me wondering if there will be anyone left alive.

The niggle i fnally figured out is with the Elves themselves, whilst they are not unbeatable, despite their near immortality and their legendary fighting prowess. Its the constant description of an elf in fighting mode, there are only so many times you need to read about what part of what hand or foot or throwing knife did what damage. The action is too intimate, it needs to be pulled back to the broader picture sometimes, and have more of the emotional depth of the scenes at the end. The finale with Auum is simply excellent. Takaar is also such an excellent character, so flawed so damaged by his long life and so dangerous no one can predict his next action, perfect fodder for a great story. The book brings the whole series plot full circle back to Dawnthief, and ends the cycle. I think this is a good thing, I’d like to see James break away again as his did with the blooming excellent Ascendants of Estorea.

Would I recommend?

Yes to all existing fans of James Barclay, for newbies, i think you need to start at the beginning, I would have been a little lost and overcome by the battles if not for the back story.

overall a 4/5 for the end of a series

(Parm)

Other titles

Chronicles of the Raven
1. Dawnthief (1999)
2. Noonshade (2000)
3. Nightchild (2001)
The Raven Collection (omnibus) (2011)
DawnthiefNoonshadeNightchildThe Raven Collection
Legends of the Raven
1. Elfsorrow (2002)
2. Shadowheart (2003)
3. Demonstorm (2004)
4. Ravensoul (2008)
ElfsorrowShadowheartDemonstormRavensoul
Ascendants of Estorea
1. The Cry of the Newborn (2005)
2. Shout for the Dead (2007)
The Cry of the NewbornShout for the Dead
Elves
1. Once Walked With Gods (2010)
2. Rise of the TaiGethan (2012)
3. Beyond the Mists of Katura (2013)
Once Walked With GodsRise of the TaiGethanBeyond the Mists of Katura
Novels
Vault of Deeds (2008)
Vault of Deeds
Chapbooks
Light Stealer (2003)
Light Stealer

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Henry Venmore-Rowland: The Sword and the Throne (20th June 2013)

The Author

HVR

Henry Venmore-Rowland was born and bred in rural Suffolk. Aside from the occasional family holiday, often to Italy, his only escape from school and village life was in the pages of historical fiction. His fascination with military and political history, the kings and battles approach, somehow got him into Oxford to read Ancient & Modern History at St. John’s College. After dedicating so much time to reading grand tales of epic wars and political intrigue, trying his hand at writing such a story was always inevitable. The Last Caesar is his first novel. He lives in Suffolk.

Buy the Hard Back from Amazon

Buy a Signed Hardback

Sword and throne

Book Description

AD 69. Aulus Caecina Severus has thrown in his lot with the hedonistic Vitellius and prepares his legions for a gruelling march over the Alps.

Driven by the desire to repay the treachery of his former patron, the Emperor Galba, and to keep his rival Valens in check, Severus leads his army against barbarian rebellions and against the mountains themselves in his race to reach Italy first. With the vast Po valley almost in sight, news reaches the army that Galba has been killed in a coup, and that Otho has been declared Emperor by the Praetorians who he had bribed to murder their own emperor.

But there is no turning back for Severus, even if he wanted to. The Rhine legions want their man on the throne, and they won’t stop until they reach Rome itself. Even once Otho is defeated, the battle for supremacy between Severus and Valens is far from over. The politics of the court and the mob is the new battleground, and Severus needs the help of his wife Salonina and his freedman Totavalas in this constant game of thrones. When stories spread of a new power in the east, Severus has to decide where his real loyalty lies: to his Emperor, to his city or to himself?

Review:

Last year saw the début release of the fantastic The Last Caesar. (Review Link) That book saw the meteoric climb of Aulus Caecina Severus. Well written, well-paced and full of action. This book, book two is always a potential issue for any new author. Second books have the worry that it may not be as good or well received as the first book.

But panic not, Henry manages to weave another splendid tale, this time following Severus on his final rise and then very sudden and catastrophic decline. Henry’s best achievement is his characters, Severus is so likeable despite his obvious flaws and self-serving nature. The real brilliance of this book and the last sits in the form of Totavalas, I wish there had been more of him, and I hope that Henry will one day write his story.

I always feel uncomfortable saying the history is spot on, I just don’t have the required depth of knowledge to confirm that, but I can say it felt right, and the bits I looked up were right. But if the feel of the period is right and it can transport you to another time with its clear real characters then for me it hits the nail on the head. Chuck in the writing style, one that avoids all the not required fluffy descriptive and focuses on the plot and the people and you get a great read.

A better book then Last Caesar? Yes in my opinion it is, As it clearly shows progression in style and skill from book one, Henry is clearly someone who intends to become a name to be reckoned with in the genre. I very much want to see where he goes next.. my hope is Totavalas, but I feel Henry has something new and unique up his sleeve.

 Recommended

(Parm)

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Nick Rennison: Carver’s Quest

The Author

Nick R

Nick Rennison is a writer, editor and bookseller. His books include Sherlock Holmes: An Unauthorised Biography, Robin Hood: Myth, History, Culture, The Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide and 100 Must-Read Historical Novels. He is a regular reviewer of historical fiction for both The Sunday Times and BBC History Magazine.

Book Description

Carver

It is 1870. When amateur archaeologist Adam Carver and his loyal but obdurate retainer Quint are visited in their lodgings in London’s Doughty Street by an attractive young woman, their landlady is not pleased. The visitor’s arrival pitches Carver and Quint headlong into an elaborate mystery which comes to centre on the existence (or not) of a lost text in Ancient Greek, one that may reveal the whereabouts of the treasure hoard of Philip II of Macedonia. Two deaths soon ensue as master and manservant follow what clues they can grasp in the roughest and most genteel parts of the teeming metropolis, with the whiff of cordite and blackmail never far from their nostrils. The scene shifts to Athens and the wilder fastness of a Greece gripped by political unrest as Carver and Quint join forces with Adam’s former Cambridge tutor in an attempt to track down the elusive text. But nothing is quite what it seems, and no one involved is prepared for the final, shocking denouement amidst the extraordinary hilltop monasteries of Meteora…

Review

This book has much to make it appeal to the reader of Historical Fiction and Historical Crime Fiction because it is advertised as Flashman meets Sherlock Holmes. The only problem with that description is that it builds a level of anticipation in the reader. There isn’t even the smallest spark of Flashman in this novel, and the only similarity to a Sherlock Holmes novel is the time period and that Carver has a sidekick.

This isn’t a bad book, its just not a thrilling book, well not for the first two thirds, then when we finally reach Greece it starts to pick up. The early part of the book seems to be too much laying of ground work and back story. For me the author should have built this part of the tale into the treasure hunt, maybe in a retrospective / timeslip. To borrow a phrase from a fellow reviewer, the early part of the book seems a 2 dimensional world with 2 dimensional people.

Rallis and Greece seem to be the catalyst that brings the book finally to life. Which is a shame, the author clearly knows and likes his time period especially 1870’s London, he has no issue with the use of the English language, but maybe that contributes to my issue. Any book blurb that contains the phrase “but his obdurate retainer” is going to be somewhat wordy, and this book was most certainly that.

This is a 430 page book and took me a week to read, about four times longer than it should. It was a slog. But that said I did finish it, something made me keep reading. Maybe it was the premise of finding the treasure of Philip of Macedon, maybe it was the grumpy nature of Quint the “Obdurate Retainer”? I honestly don’t know, this isn’t a bad book, and unlikely to be a great book, personally for me it was frustrating and hard work, a slog. But I spent a week with Carver and and Quint and even got to like Quint by the end, any experience is ultimately something learned so it wasn’t time wasted.

I cant recommend it, Personally it wasn’t my cup of tea, but i can see how some will enjoy it so read the blurb, have a think. If you like the time period you may enjoy it.

3/5 Stars

(Parm)

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