Monthly Archives: August 2013

David Gibbins : Rome Total War: Destroy Carthage (Review)

David gibbins

David Gibbins has worked in underwater archaeology all his professional life. After taking a PhD from Cambridge University he taught archaeology in Britain and abroad, and is a world authority on ancient shipwrecks and sunken cities. He has led numerous expeditions to investigate underwater sites in the Mediterranean and around the world. He currently divides his time between fieldwork, England and Canada.

Buy a signed copy

Book Description:

rome TW

How far would you go for Rome? Carthage, 146 BC. This is the story of Fabius Petronius Secundus – Roman legionary and centurion – and his rise to power: from his first battle against the Macedonians, that seals the fate of Alexander the Great’s Empire, to total war in North Africa and the Seige of Carthage. Fabius’ success brings him admiration and respect, but also attracts greed and jealousy – the closest allies can become the bitterest of enemies. And then there is Julia, of the Caesar family – a dark horse in love with both Fabius and his rival Paullus – who causes a vicious feud. Ultimately for Fabius, it will come down to one question: how much is he prepared to sacrifice for his vision of Rome? Based on Total War: Rome II, the bestselling game, Destroy Carthage is the first in an epic series of novels. It is not only the tale of one man’s fate, but is also a journey to the core of Roman times, through the world of extraordinary military tactics and political intrigue that Rome’s warriors and citizens used to cheat death.


I have found this a tough book to review, i have been searching for what i hope is the best comparison to describe it. (not sure I cracked it but here goes)

The book right from page one suffers from and gains from its link to the video game (are they still called that… damn I’m showing my age) I loved the first Rome Total War, but it sucked time like a black hole. It and the Intro to the book gave the book a bit of a Manual feel. Then there is the style of the book, it instructs the reader, it gives a depth of background to Rome at the time that you dont find in many Roman fiction titles, the army, the politics and how they all fit together, all like a lesson plan, or a game world build.

All that may have you screaming…NOOOO don’t buy it… But that’s because i haven’t tempered it with..

David Gibbins is an excellent writer, i think he may have to blend his normal thriller style with the historical fiction writing to really lift the series to the next level. But what he does provide in this book is an insight into a period of Rome that few have covered, and a look at the political machinations of the Roman senate and upper echelons or power, and how the powers that be, may have finally ended up in front of the walls of Carthage. David does start to bring out his ability with characters creation, but i think some of that growth was hindered by the semi instructional style of the book.

I really want to see how this series progresses and grows. Here is a book I enjoyed and that taught me something, its not often I feel as if I have been educated throughout a book and entertained at the same time.

I really think you should try this book and stick with it to the end, If you’re a gamer you will love the information it gives on the different empires and the different army units and how to use them in battle. If you are a reader of fiction, then you will enjoy coming at a story from a different angle. I’m very interested to see how book two pans out. I’d love to see some comments on others views of this book.

But basically go buy the book.


Other books

Review of last book by David Gibbins

Jack Howard
1. Atlantis (2005)
2. Crusader Gold (2006)
3. The Last Gospel (2008)
aka The Lost Tomb
4. The Tiger Warrior (2009)
5. The Mask of Troy (2010)
6. The Gods of Atlantis (2011)
aka Atlantis God
7. Pharaoh (2013)
AtlantisCrusader GoldThe Last GospelThe Tiger WarriorThe Mask of TroyThe Gods of AtlantisPharaoh

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Filed under Historical Fiction

Anthony Riches: Eagles Vengeance (Review + Q&A)

About the Author


Anthony Riches began his lifelong interest in war and soldiers when he first heard his father’s stories about World War II. This led to a degree in Military Studies at Manchester University. He began writing the story that would become Wounds of Honour after a visit to Housesteads in 1996. He lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and three children.

Visit the authors web site

Buy a signed copy of Eagles Vengeance

Anthony Riches Q&A

 Tony congratulations on the release of Eagles Vengeance (book 6 of the Empire series)

The series with some of the most real soldiers in it I have read in Historical Fiction.

 Thanks Robin!

Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions:


1) Where did the inspiration for the main characters come from? Marcus, Dubnus etc (are they all imagination or do they contain some real people?)

 Marcus is based on the son of a family that was liquidated by Commodus, the Quintili. These two famous brothers of the senatorial class were rich and cultured men who had done their bit for the empire, both serving with distinction as consuls in the 150s, and who ended being murdered for their considerable wealth and property (in particular the Villa Quintilii which was coveted by the new emperor.  They provided the perfect exemplar for my protagonist’s back story, although an attempt to name him Quintili foundered on the need for something a little sexier – hence the switch to Aquila.

As to the rest, they are indeed sometimes people I’ve met. Dubnus is in reality the brother of a friend of mine, a senior NCO in the TA who once started a sentence towards an abusive supervisor ‘If you speak to me again in that tone I’ll put you on your arse…’ and ended it ‘…and that’s why you’re on your arse.’ A sentence I think I may have used in my turn, albeit on the page. I usually ask permission – unless the individual is unpleasant enough to merit an appearance without their knowledge!


2) This is book six in the series, do you have an end in sight? (or are there too many tales to tell?)

 I have my sights set on about 25 books. Any more might be excessive. We’re heading for York, in AD211 and the death of the emperor Septimius Severus. Perhaps Marcus will take the Long Walk (if you know your Dredd) after that…and perhaps he won’t!

 3) Who is your favourite character? and why?

 I’m not telling you, because you’ll make the mistake of thinking that person is safe from being killed off. Which they are most certainly not. No-one is safe…

 4) Do you have a writing process? plot it out? story board?

 Yes, my process is finely honed, albeit very simple – I sit down and write whatever comes into my head, once I know where the boys are going next. It means I have to do a good number of re-writes and edits to make it all seamless, but on the upside I don’t get much editing post version one. I wish I could plot it all out before hand, but either I can’t or (ask my work colleagues) I’m too lazy and prefer just to wing it (reader: even I it’s the latter!).

 5) Of the six books which is your favourite  (mine is still book one, Wounds of Honour)?

 Good question. And the answer is…book seven, The Emperor’s Knives! Once you’ve read book six (The Eagle’s Vengeance) you’ll know that the next one’s going to be very different. And terrific fun…well it terrific fun was to write, at any rate.

 6) What are your top 5 favourite reads?

 Bugger me Robin, that’s a tough one. I’ll tell you my five favourite writers – in no order at all:

Richard Morgan, for his fantastic Takashi Kovacs series. Altered Carbon is an absolute cracker of a sci-fi debut. I’m not quite so hot for his fantasy output, but it’s still good.

Lee Child – who apparently writes with a spliff on the go, I read the other day, and genuinely does seem to have a drug dealer on speed dial which I for one never saw coming – for the indestructible Jack Reacher. I suspect the old guy’s probably running towards the end of his fictional lifespan, but what great escapist fiction!

Iain M Banks – please note the M! The moment I discovered his Culture novels was a moment of revelation, and I mourn his passing every time I look at my bookshelves. Sci-fi of the very highest order.

Christian Cameron – if I wrote that well I’d be insufferably smug. The Long War series has to be the best sustained historical fiction series I’ve ever read.

And…turns to scan shelves…Patrick O’Brian, for his fabulous characterisation in the Aubrey/Maturin series.

I’ve missed out the man who wrote possibly the best military historical fiction story ever. Steven Pressfield’s Gates of Fire pips Cameron’s Killer of Men to that honour (in my opinion) by a short head, quite the most riveting tale of ancient warfare I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading (time after time) – but I’ve never had quite the same buzz from his stuff again, which is a shame.

And one more – this one a guilty pleasure – I love the Black Library’s Warhammer 40k inspired novels, especially Dan Abnett’s work. In space, no-one can hear the screaming roar of your assault cannon…

 7) What next for (the remaining) Roman warriors? (and yes that is a dig… character killer)

 Pain, blood, misery, death, blood, more blood and the occasional death of characters when I decide their time has come. Although now you’re moaning about it – again – I might speed up the process. Are there any characters with whom you feel especially connected? Dubnus, perhaps…?

 8) Have you thought about writing in another time period? if so when?

 Are you and Kate collaborating on these questions? The short answer is ‘not yet’ – I think. I think the secret of series writing is to keep the episodes flowing, and I don’t want to  risk falling between two stools at a time when Empire is gathering readers rather than losing them (fingers crossed for book six!). There is another series in me, but now, while I never say ‘never’ unless the proposal is the consumption of rice pudding, is probably not the time.

9) If you could have written any book in history which one and why?

 Now that’s a good one. Ignoring contemporaries whose work makes me envious, I’d like to have written the complete history of the Roman legions in the early 5th century, before the sources we know existed but do not have today were lost. What a story that would have made…

thank you for taking the time with these questions….now crack on with book seven and eight.



Book Description 

eagles 6

The Tungrian auxiliary cohorts return to Hadrian’s Wall after their successful Dacian campaign, only to find Britannia in chaos. The legions are overstretched, struggling to man the forts of the northern frontier in the face of increasing barbarian resistance.

The Tungrians are the only soldiers who can be sent into the northern wastes, far beyond the long abandoned wall built by Antoninus, where a lost symbol of imperial power of the Sixth Victorious Legion is reputed to await them. Protected by an impassable swamp and hidden in a fortress atop a high mountain, the eagle of the Sixth legion must be recovered if the legion is to survive.

Marcus and his men must penetrate the heart of the enemy’s strength, ghosting through a deadly wilderness patrolled by vicious huntresses before breaching the walls of the Fang, an all-but-impregnable fort, if they are to rescue the legion’s venerated standard. If successful their escape will be twice as perilous, with the might of a barbarian tribe at their heels.

 Eagles Vengeance Review

Our heroically dangerous Tungrians are back in Britain. Returning from their exploits in Dacia, triumphant, but with the knowledge of loss. (Tony does love to bump off a character or two).

Eagles vengeance is no different, In this latest book, Book six in the Empire series, Tony Riches send the reader on a thrill ride of dangerous exploits, daring action, Violent barbarian encounters and political manoeuvring, that will see the deaths of so many men and women we meet for the first time and some we have known for a while.

Tony’s writing is for me subtly different from many others in the genre. Take for example  Douglas Jackson (insert review ink) who writes with such passion and detail, while retaining a narrow cast. Tony Riches gives us the broad canvas of the Tungrian Cohorts, delving into the lives of so many of his men, and exploring who the Centurions and Chosen men of this group are. He brings the camaraderie of the squaddie to life in the ancient world. Many authors bring life to their characters, but miss this feeling of the group, the passion of the legion or men. Tony always hits this square on, and it’s not just his unique colourful turn of phrase, it’s something of the man himself, someone who comes alive in a group, a man built to entertain and be larger than life. That’s the passion he brings to people like Marcus and Dubnus and the men of the Tungrian Cohorts.

I enjoyed this book, but I don’t think I can say too much about itnot without giving away what happens to whom and why and where, and those are spoilers I would not want. I can say that while it’s not my favourite book in the series, (that’s still reserved for Wounds of Honour), it’s an excellent read that can stand alone and provide hours of entertainment. But my personal advice would be go buy all the books if you have never read the series, follow the life and exploits, the ups and downs of the hardest b@stards in the Roman Legion.

Highly recommended


 Other books

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)
Wounds of HonourArrows of FuryFortress of SpearsThe Leopard SwordThe Wolf's GoldThe Eagle's Vengeance


Filed under Historical Fiction

James Douglas: The Excalibur Codex (review)

Biography of Douglas Jackson

Douglas Jackson Author

Douglas Jackson was born in Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders in the summer of 1956. Educated at Parkside Primary School and Jedburgh Grammar School, he left three weeks before his 16th birthday with six O levels and no idea what he was going to do with the rest of his life.

Fortunately, a friend worked in the local employment office and got him a place on a Youth Opportunities Scheme. It turned out to be restoring a Roman marching camp at Pennymuir in the Cheviot Hills and he had a wonderful summer turning turf and dreaming of Romans.

Obviously, he couldn’t do that for the rest of his life. He was good at English and had a voracious reading habit, and his dad pointed him towards an advert for a junior reporter with the local paper – and changed his life. The next 30-odd years were spent working in local and national newspapers before he sat down in 2005 to work on a ‘project’. After a year of writing on the train and whistling the theme to the Great Escape he finally reached The End, and the project became a book. That book was The Emperor’s Elephant, which, with a bit of help from, eventually became Caligula and Claudius. which were bought by Transworld for a ‘six figure sum’. When the publishers offered him a second deal to write three more books, he decided with the support of his family to try writing full time. He has now published five historical novels and two thrillers (as James Douglas), with a further five books in the pipeline

Doug now lives in Bridge of Allan, a lovely village on the doorstep of the Trossachs and is married to wife Alison. They have three children who never fail to make him terribly proud.

He enjoys watching rugby, and finds life at its most relaxing by the river with a fly fishing rod in my hand, although he seldom disturbs many fish.

Click to visit Author Web site

Book Description


For countless generations the sword had been kept hidden, ready for a time of need. But not hidden well enough, because on one warm July night in 1937 it vanished — its disappearance swallowed up in the storm clouds of war that would soon engulf the world.

1941 — twelve SS generals gather at a castle in East Prussia to re-enact an ancient rite and call on the spirits of Europe’s mightiest warriors to aid them in the coming battle in the East. At the heart of the ritual is a pentagram formed by five swords. One of them is Excalibur, the mythical weapon pulled from a stone by King Arthur.

2010 — Art recovery expert Jamie Saintclair laughs when he reads the codex to a German war veteran’s will, the strange ritual it describes and the mention of a sword named Excalibur. But collector Adam Steele is convinced — and if Jamie can find the legendary sword, he will pay a small fortune for it. The hunt for Excalibur takes Jamie from Germany to eastern Poland and a deadly encounter in Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair. The castle has been destroyed down to the last stone and the only clue to the sword’s fate is the strange tale of a wartime partisan unit murdered by its own commander.

With a team of international assassins on his trail and the distinction between friend and enemy a blur, Jamie finally makes it back to a Britain under siege, where the last piece of the puzzle falls into place and he discovers that the line between obsession and madness is gossamer thin.


At first glance you could be forgiven for lumping this book in with many of the other conspiracy thrillers that are out there on the market. The cover is a bit stock standard (sorry Doug). But James Douglas (AKA Douglas Jackson), has far to good a pedigree for something as mundane as a fanciful treasure hunt, there will always be greater levels, there will always be fantastic multi faceted characters. Characters that you find yourself bonding with on an emotional level, when chips are down and lives are imperilled or lost.

Jaime Saintclair is a wonderfully real character, he doesn’t do anything over the top, he isn’t a one man walking A Team, he isn’t a hidden Einstein. He is a man who knows his art, and has the benefit of a good eduction, and a habit of landing himself in the brown stuff.

But it isn’t just the characters who make this story. If it was just those characters and a splendid mix of action, adventure, ancient relics with the fabled sword of Arthur then it would still only be pulling slightly ahead of the huge pack of books of this ilk. But what makes this book is what the sword is wanted for, what it was used for, and what is intended for this country.  Its this part of the plot that takes this book to a different level. It is at times disturbing, scary and in the current world climate, so potentially real its scary. (although my money would be on the USA rather than the UK… we don’t have that level of polarisation within the nation). Its the potential for a new holocaust that left me feeling uncomfortable, disturbed and at the same time hooked, to see how it could be avoided. The ending of the book had a poetic quality to it, combing quite a few ideas of what the legend of Arthur may truly have been, and unlike many thriller left me as a reader feeling that the author and hit the perfect note after such a complex, disturbing plot (well done Doug).

Not only is Douglas Jackson the current master of the Roman Historical fiction, he is now (in the guise of James Douglas) taking the Historical Thriller market by storm and clearly heading for the top of that Genre too.

I’m ridiculously intrigued to see where Jamie Saintclair goes next, and what mystery he will unravel.

Highly Recommended



Filed under Action/ Adventure Thrillers, Historical Fiction, Thrillers

SJA Turney Priests Tale Review


Author Bio (in his own words)

I live with my wife, my crazed lunatic son and very vocal baby 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 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 painting and decorating sales. I have lived in four counties and travelled as widely as time and budget allowed and find myself, on the cusp of my fortieth year, 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 a third in the fantasy series and the fourth Marius’ Mules now complete.

I maintain another website detailing the Roman sites I visit and photograph here, and write a blog you can find here. Find me on twitter as @sjaturney. I am an almost terminally chatty person. That’s just a due warning if you feel like contacting me (on the left hand menu.) I am always happy to speak to people and have just put together an FAQ gathered together from things I have been asked previously.

Author Web site


Layout 1

Crete, 1492.

After a sojourn of more than a year on the Venetian-controlled island , Skiouros has learned the art of the sword, the languages of his peers and his enemies and everything he believes he needs to know in order to begin his great quest: to seek the death of the one remaining conspirator in the plot responsible for his brother’s death. Circumstances collide, forcing the former thief to set forth on his journey, with the aid of his old friends Parmenio and Nicolo.

Meanwhile, far across the Mediterranean, a small fleet of Turkish galleys is engaged in a last desperate attempt to preserve Islamic influence in the Iberian Peninsula.  While the great naval commander Kemal Reis battles to save a lost people, his subordinate burns to sack, destroy and murder every hint of Christian life in the west.

When the Isabella, complete with the three companions and a young Italian nobleman, cross paths with the violent Ottoman would-be pirate, things turn sour and Skiouros finds himself driven ever further from his goal, bringing him to face some harsh and unsettling personal truths. Skiouros is about to be tested to the limits of his endurance, with his very life at stake.

Priests Tale Review

Reading this book was a very interesting experience.

Firstly because Simon Turney is such an excellent writer. Every book leaves me astounded that he still self publishes. But that self publishing seems to give him a freedom of style and expression as well as release schedule.

What I expected from Priests Tale was a book packed full of vengeance, action and adventure, of Skiouros next trials in seeking the revenge for the death of his brother Lykaion. (in Thiefs Tale)

This to some degree is what I got, the book is indeed packed with action, adventure and a thirst for vengeance. Only the vengeful beast we see isn’t Skiouros, it is Etci Hassan the dark brooding captain of a Turkish ship, a man burning with the flames of Jihad against the Christian nations. This hatred brings him in direct conflict with Skiouros, Captain Parmenio, Nicolo and a wonderful new character Master Cesare Orsini.

The conversational interplay between these characters is so natural so charismatic it draws the reader into the plot, wraps them in the intrigue and comradeship and takes them on a journey through the world of slavery and Tunis.

What I had expected to be a story of all out action, in fact turned out to be a story of comrades, of men finding out who they are deep down, when push came to shove would they run or would they stand, what does a friend truly mean, how much would you give up for them, how much can comradeship and friendship change a persons soul. All these things and more are explored and covered either overtly or covertly within the text.

When you combine this level of skilful writing with the fun and adventure that Simon imbues the story, you end up with a top class book, one that thrills form the first page to the last.

From a personal extra enjoyment I know that Simon has named some of the main characters for some friends (for which I am personally honoured with Captain Parmenio). Its something that will always bring a smile to my face (and at the same time would not influence my view of the book). What did surprise me, in a good way, was how little traits, personality idiosyncrasies had also crept in. (and I don’t just mean Nicolo’s love of the grape). I’m sure some of this is deliberate, but i do wonder if some also crept in subconsciously, Does the author realise how much of himself is in Skiouros? All of this does however give an extra depth to the story.

This is a must buy, because we should support great writing, and because its a fantastic book

Highly recommended


Other titles (Visit Simon’s web site and book store)

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)
The Conquest of GaulThe BelgaeGallia InvictaConspiracy of EaglesHades' Gate
 Tales of the Empire
1. Interregnum (2009)
2. Ironroot (2010)
3. Dark Empress (2011)
InterregnumIronrootDark Empress
 Ottoman Cycle
1. The Thief’s Tale (2013)
The Thief's Tale


Filed under Historical Fiction

Douglas Jackson: Sword of Rome (Review and Q&A) Blog Tour

About the Author

Author Web site

Douglas Jackson Author

Douglas Jackson was born in Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders in the summer of 1956. Educated at Parkside Primary School and Jedburgh Grammar School, he left three weeks before his 16th birthday with six O levels and no idea what he was going to do with the rest of his life.

Fortunately, a friend worked in the local employment office and got him a place on a Youth Opportunities Scheme. It turned out to be restoring a Roman marching camp at Pennymuir in the Cheviot Hills and he had a wonderful summer turning turf and dreaming of Romans.

Obviously, he couldn’t do that for the rest of his life. He was good at English and had a voracious reading habit, and his dad pointed him towards an advert for a junior reporter with the local paper – and changed his life. The next 30-odd years were spent working in local and national newspapers before he sat down in 2005 to work on a ‘project’. After a year of writing on the train and whistling the theme to the Great Escape he finally reached The End, and the project became a book. That book was The Emperor’s Elephant, which, with a bit of help from, eventually became Caligula and Claudius. which were bought by Transworld for a ‘six figure sum’. When the publishers offered him a second deal to write three more books, he decided with the support of his family to try writing full time. He has now published five historical novels and two thrillers (as James Douglas), with a further five books in the pipeline

Doug now lives in Bridge of Allan, a lovely village on the doorstep of the Trossachs and is married to wife Alison. They have three children who never fail to make him terribly proud.

He enjoys watching rugby, and finds life at its most relaxing by the river with a fly fishing rod in my hand, although he seldom disturbs many fish.

Sword of Rome blog tour

Hi Douglas, Congratulations on the new book and thank you for taking the time to answer some questions:

1) With all the periods of History, why Roman fiction?

I ended up in Rome more or less by mistake. A friend of mine who was on the MLitt course at Glasgow University said ‘You should write a book. I bet it would be really gritty.’ So on the way home, I thought: What can I write about. They say write what you know, but all I knew was work, eat, sleep and spend a bit of time with the family, which didn’t sound the stuff of fictional success. So I thought about it and came up with Write what you love. What I loved turned out to be history. I had a CD set of Simon Schama’s history of Britain in the car and when I stuck it on Timothy West was saying ‘ … and the Roman Emperor Claudius rode in triumph on an elephant to take the surrender of the British tribes’. It was like an epiphany, and The Emperor’s Elephant, which became Caligula and Claudius, was born. I had a third Rufus book in mind, set during the Boudiccan rebellion, so when Transworld asked for a new hero, I decided to stay with idea, but change the character and point of view. That became Hero of Rome, and the rest, as they say, is history.

2) Where did you get the inspiration for Verrens?

In his original incarnation, he was a tribune with a different name who visited Colchester in The Emperor’s Elephant and Rufus got to know him slightly. I created him after coming across a line in Tacitus or Suetonius, about the procurator Catus Decianus being asked to send reinforcements to the Roman colonia because Boudicca was on her way. He managed to scrape up two hundred odds and sods and sent them off to meet 70,000 rampaging Celtic warriors. When I was looking for an idea for a new book that seemed like manna from heaven. Who led them, what was he like and what became of him? Gaius Valerius Verrens was born.

3)    Is this an on running series or do you have an finale in mind?

There will definitely be two more, but my editor at Transworld thinks Valerius is an incredibly strong character and he’s interested in further adventures. Valerius already has links to the future Emperor Titus and the timeframe would allow him to be on hand at the sack of the Temple of Jerusalem and the Siege of Masada, both if which provide huge opportunities for a writer with a character like Valerius at his beck and call. Pliny the Elder also features in one of the books and if I can find a strong enough reason for Valerius to visit him at Misenum in 79AD it could have explosive results. I’d always planned to bring him full circle to Britain in the final book, so I’m fairly certain that he’ll end up on campaign with Agricola and fighting in the battle of Mons Graupius, which probably won’t be the cakewalk Tacitus claims it was.

4) Your first series Rufus (Caligula & Claudius)  will there ever be a book 3?

I toyed with self-publishing The Emperor’s Elephant 3 as an e-book, because quite a few readers would like to know what happens to Rufus and Bersheba. It already exists at around 60,000 words, but as I worked on it, I realised that it isn’t as good as the books I’m writing now. I’d either have to rewrite it entirely, which is impossible time-wise, or publish something which is a step backwards in terms of quality. Reluctantly, I’ve decided to leave it be for the moment. If I’m spared to write the final Valerius novel, which will be set in Britain, I plan a scene/chapter where one of Agricola’s scouts tells the story of his father, the animal trainer, and the Emperor’s elephant, during Boudicca’s revolt. The first line I wrote in the original book was ‘My father was a great man, he tamed the wild beasts and made them do his bidding.’ I’ve always wanted to have the chance to use it.

5)    You also write the fantastic Jamie Saintclair series, when is the next book due and what is it about?

It’s called The Excalibur Codex and it will be published in a couple of weeks. In 1937 a Hitler Youth cycle party breaks into a lonely country house and steals an ancient artefact on the orders of Reinhard Heydrich. Four years later on the eve of Hitler’s invasion of Russia, five swords are brought together to enact a terrible ritual designed to unleash the power of their former owners. One man links both events and when a rich British sword collector comes across the codex of his will and sees the name Excalibur, he hires Jamie Saintclair to track down the sword, with predictably dangerous results.

The Excalibur Codex

6)    What is your fav book written by yourself?

There are actually three candidates, Robin. I think the latest one, Sword of Rome, which deals with the first part of the Year of the Four Emperors, is the best book yet, a real sprawling adventure story with wonderful characters and some of the best battle scenes I’ve written. I’m very proud of Hero of Rome, because I think it took my writing to a new level and it introduced Valerius, who I have come to love like a brother. My son, Gregor, has just read it (it’s been in his room for three years) and loved it. He’s now abandoned the X Box in favour of the follow up. The one I most enjoyed writing is also the most flawed. Claudius was fun because I used multiple points of view to paint both sides of the invasion of Britain and I think it worked really well, Caratacus is as much the hero of the book as Rufus. It’s flawed because I caved in to my editor when he suggested taking out Rufus’s romantic interest because she was too strong a character. I should have said no, and the book is the worse for it.

7) What are your top 5 fav reads?

In no particular order: Flashman and the Great Game (George MacDonald Fraser); A Perfect Spy (John Le Carre); The Polish Officer (Alan Furst); The Arthur Trilogy (Bernard Cornwell); With the Jocks (Peter White) a memoir of a young subaltern’s war from D-Day to Hitler’s death with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, which my granddad and great-granddad served in. It contains one of the most memorable, unimaginable and terrible scenes of warfare I’ve ever come across.

8) Can you give us a hint what’s next for Verrens?

What’s next is Enemy of Rome, in which Valerius is torn between the two sides of the civil war during the second half of The Year of the Four Emperors. His old friend Aulus Vitellius is Emperor, but Vespasian, who saved Valerius in the aftermath of Domitius Corbulo’s death, has launched his Balkan legions at Rome in a bid to take the throne. Valerius is ideally placed for the role of go-between as both men try to negotiate a relatively bloodless end to the fighting. But who can he trust in a war that has pitched brother against brother and father against son? And how is he going to get Corbulo’s daughter Domitia, who’s now trapped in Rome, out of the clutches of Vespasian’s son Domitianus?


 Product Description


‘The story I now commence is rich in vicissitudes, grim with warfare, torn by civil strife, a tale of horror even during times of peace.’ Tacitus, The Histories

AD 68. The Emperor Nero’s erratic and bloody reign is in its death throes when Gaius Valerius Verrens is dispatched to Rome on a mission that will bring it to a close. With Nero dead, the city holds its breath and awaits the arrival his successor, Servius Sulpicius Galba, governor of Hispania. The Empire prays for peace, but it prays in vain. Galba promises stability and prosperity, but his rule begins with a massacre and ends only months later in chaos and carnage. This will become known as the Year of the Four Emperors, a time of civil war which will tear Rome apart and test Valerius’s skills and loyalties to their very limit. Fortunate to survive Galba’s fall, Valerius is sent on a mission by Rome’s new Emperor, Otho, to his old friend Vitellius, commander of the armies of the north. Vitellius’s legions are on the march, and only Valerius can persuade him to halt them before the inevitable confrontation. In an epic adventure that will take him the length and breadth of a divided land, the one-armed Roman fights to stay alive and stave off a bloodbath as he is stalked by the most implacable enemy he has ever faced.

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Over the last few book of the Gaius Valerius Verrens series i have been forced to re-evaluate my views on Roman fiction writers. They fit into different brackets, there are the Roman crime writers, the Roman mystery writers, the Roman Blood and Guts (or sandals as some would class them) writers and there are the Roman Adventures, this last one for me is the cream of the crop, the beating heart of Roman fiction, getting into the hearts and minds of the characters and how they lived, how they died and how they interacted with the world full of conspiracy going on around them.

In book 1 Hero of Rome, Douglas Jackson wrote what i still consider to be the greatest, most evocative and emotional scene in any Roman Fiction book i have read, the temple scene left me stunned, and wondering if he could ever reach those heights again.

In book 3 Avenger of Rome Douglas Jackson took that skill and spread it throughout an entire novel. The back and forth plot lines with Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo coupled with the fast paced action packed plot made book 3 one of the best Roman fiction books written.

Book 4 Sword of Rome, for me had too much to live up to, how on earth could it rise to the heady heights of Avenger?

It tried and it made a damn fine job of it. The book covers the early part of the year of the four emperors, and reading it made for an interesting comparison to Henry Venmore Rowlands The Last Caesar and Sword and Throne: His duology following the trials of Aulus Caecina Severus where Douglas Jackson’s follow Verrens and the opposite side under Otho.

This juxtaposition helped make the book an even greater experience. I was worried that Serpentius was starting to become too good, a caricature of the perfect fictional character, too good to be true, but then Douglas Jackson ended the book with a battle that was pitched just right, that played just perfectly to his ex-gladiators skills and gave the book a dramatic conclusion and set the series up to see the conclusion of the year of the 4 emperors out with our hero’s front and centre and surrounded by intrigue.

If you have never read any of Douglas Jacksons books then although you can read each book as a stand alone, I would still recommend going back to the start of this series

Gaius Valerius Verrens
1. Hero of Rome (2010)
2. Defender of Rome (2011)
3. Avenger of Rome (2012)
4. Sword of Rome (2013)

Hero of RomeDefender of RomeAvenger of RomeSword of Rome

You will be very hard pressed to find a finer series of books set in the Roman period.

Very Highly recommended


Other titles

1. Caligula: The Tyranny of Rome (2008)
2. Claudius (2009)
Caligula: The Tyranny of RomeClaudius
As James Douglas
The Doomsday Testament (2011)
The Excalibur Codex (2013)
The Doomsday TestamentThe Excalibur Codex


Filed under Historical Fiction

David Gilman: Master of War (Review)

About David Gilman
gilman da
David Gilman has had an enormously impressive variety of jobs – from firefighter to professional photographer, from soldier in the Parachute Regiment’s Reconnaissance Platoon to a Marketing Manager for Penguin South Africa.
He is also a hugely successful television screenwriter. For the last six years he has been principal writer on A Touch Of Frost. He has lived and travelled the world gathering inspiration for his exotic children’s adventure series along the way.Now, David is based in Devon, where he lives with his wife.

The Blooding (2013)
(The first book in the Master of War series)
A novel by David Gilman

Buy a Signed copy for £9.99

Master of War

England, 1346: For Thomas Blackstone the choice is easy – dance on the end of a rope for a murder he did not commit, or take up his war bow and join the king’s invasion.
As he fights his way across northern France, Blackstone learns the brutal lessons of war – from the terror and confusion of his first taste of combat, to the savage realities of siege warfare.

Vastly outnumbered, Edward III’s army will finally confront the armoured might of the French nobility on the field of Crécy. It is a battle that will change the history of warfare, a battle that will change the course of Blackstone’s life, a battle that will forge a legend.

THE BLOODING is the first part of the David Gilman’s epic novel MASTER OF WAR, published on 01 August 2013. Readers of Conn Iggulden, Simon Scarrow and Bernard Cornwell will be delighted to discover a new series to follow.


Is Rome becoming the period of the past? More and more books and series seem to be gravitating to medieval periods and warfare. This is no bad thing, a change to different times, different outlooks on the aspects and manner of war. A change in weapons and a change in the pre-eminent

There are as many rich periods and great battles to centre a series around, and so many more nations to look at and explore.

Of all the battles and wars David Gilman has chosen one of the true stand outs; The battle of Crecy, set during the Hundred Years War.

My personal knowledge of the period is not the best, and that’s what I love about more and more authors writing in this period, it’s a chance for me to learn something new. Can I be educated at the same time as entertained?

In Master of War we the reader are introduced to one of the kings archers, Thomas Blackstone, a boy trained from childhood (as were all boys) to master the English longbow. The longbow was at the time THE weapon of destruction, ranks of archers firing bows of over 100lb draw, with a destructive force that could pierce plate armour, thus nullifying the French superior numbers in chivalry.

This book is a brilliant mix or characterisation, intrigue, battles, nationalities, history, enmity, courage, cowardice, fear and bravery. But ultimately for this period it is Chivalry that rules the day, the rules of chivalry that bind nobleman or all nations, as long as you are of noble blood, the peasants are as ever…fodder for the mill of war. This does not lessen the brutality of war, it does not reduce the death count in the field or war, in the destruction of castles and sieges, it just adds a set of rules, rules iron clad and the breaching of such would lead to outrage, ridicule and shunning by all sides.

Thomas soon becomes a man to know, and a man to fear, a bringer of death in a world or death dealers. Life is short and to be lived to the full, love is quick, and comradeship earned, won, lost and grieved over many times in short periods. It’s a harsh life and one that Thomas Blackstone is good at.

I was very impressed an immersed in this book, the only bits that brought me up short were the depiction of the ladies and attitudes towards them. While I know we are in a period where women were chattel for many men, they were also many strong women, women who led through a power behind the throne, and some who were a lot more overt, and I’m not sure that all men were so universally of that opinion. But this was my only nit-pick with the book, a book that I really enjoyed and look forward to more.


Other titles

Danger Zone
1. The Devil’s Breath (2007)
2. Ice Claw (2008)
3. Blood Sun (2009)
The Devil's BreathIce ClawBlood Sun


Filed under Historical Fiction

Noble Smith: Sons of Zeus (Review)



Noble Smith is an award-winning playwright and documentary film executive producer as well as a 16-year veteran of the interactive entertainment industry as a narrative designer. He is the author of The Wisdom of the Shire, a guide to life for fans of J.R.R. Tolkien (translated into 8 languages), praised by Kirkus Reviews as a “must-have” for fans of Middle-earth. He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and children.

Product Description


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In 431 B.C., Ancient Greece experienced its own “Pearl Harbor” – a treacherous sneak attack that would mark the start of the bloody war between the democracy of Athens and the tyranny of Sparta. Caught between these superpowers, the independent city-state of Plataea became the arena where their battle for control of all of Greece would begin.

In Plataea, the young Greek warrior Nikias dreams of glory in the Olympic games as he trains for the pankration – the no-holds-barred ultimate fighting of the era – until an act of violence in defense of his beloved threatens to send him into exile. But before his trial can take place, a traitor opens the city gates to a surprise attack force.

Suddenly trapped inside their own fortress, the Plataeans are fighting for their lives. As Nikias seeks to discover the identity of the man who betrayed the city, he makes a daring escape, gathers an army, and leads this ragtag band into a suicidal battle at the gates of the citadel – a battle that will decide the fates of his family, his friends, and the woman he loves.

In the vein of Bernard Cornwell, Conn Iggulden, and Steven Pressfield, Sons of Zeus marks the beginning of a richly detailed new action-adventure series.

Sons of Zeus Review

It’s always a privilege to be considered as worthy to review a book, and even more so to be specifically asked to do so.

This book was one that had managed to slip past what I thought was a fairly good radar for new books and new authors. So to get the nod as someone who knows / likes good Historical Fiction especially that which is set in Ancient Greece was a bit of an ego boost.

To then, via some back and forth email banter discover that the author is also a total gent, really nice bloke and someone with a real passion for the period was all I needed to whole heartedly say yes please.

Yet somehow it then took me 6 or 7 weeks to crack the book open, this I can only put down to the pressures of one of the busiest years ever for fantastic books. It’s not like the book isn’t visually appealing, the book, a burnt orange colour depicting a Warrior in full panoply backed by a city in flames. The cover shouts that the story is bursting forth from the pages with tales of action, violence and history.

I was determined that this really nice bloke would get his review, so two nights ago I picked up the book. WOW what a journey, two nights of staying up until around 2am to finish the book left me tired, but the book left me exhausted. Both from the pace of the plot and the battles, but also from the emotion of the loss of life and loved ones. The brutality of war and life in ancient Plataean Greece, and the standards to which most of the men and women held themselves for honour, propriety and prowess.

Noble, uses and weaves his tale into the history really well, introducing characters, creating others, breathing life into every one of them. But he also manages to educate the reader on life at the time without making it feel like a history lesson. He works from a neutral standpoint not judging but allowing the reader to judge good from bad. Even hero’s commit evil acts, its just depends on time place and circumstance. War is an evil mistress, and demands a high price.

It takes a really strong book to keep me up late (I have a 2 year old, and a job, sleep is precious) It takes a great story to make me read and read until I fall asleep holding the book, or have to physically force myself to put the book down.

In the shape of Nikias the young warrior, his grandfather Menesarkus the old general, the household slave, the Skythian slave, the blacksmith and inventor Chusor  and many other great character inventions Noble Smith takes a passage from Thucydides “History of the Peloponnesian War” covering an attempt by the Thebans to take over their rivals the Plataeans city and adds meat to the bones to create this wonderful take, the first I hope in a long series.

The publisher blurb makes a comparison to Conwell and Pressfield. I would be more inclined to make a comparison to Christian Cameron, the tale gripped me with the same intensity that his books do.

Very highly recommended, one of my top 5 books for the year.


Coming in June 2014 Spartans at the Gates



Filed under Historical Fiction

A.J. Smith: The Black Guard (Long War Book 1) Review + Q&A

The Author

aj smith

AJ Smith has been writing stories set in the lands of The Long War since he was at university. Defining the world and adding detail became an excellent distraction from his degree (which was in psychology, philosophy and sociology) and has remained equally distracting ever since. Interestingly, the maps came first, and then the world and its characters began to take shape in the writing. Since graduating, Tony has been working with troubled children in a high school in Luton and has had various articles related to counselling and youth work published. Fantasy fiction has always been his own version of therapy and a place where he can make up what happens next rather than waiting for the real world to decide.

Book Description

Buy it on kindle for the bargain 99p

Buy a signed copy £20

Buy Hardback from Amazon £15.99


Black Guard

The city of Ro Canarn burns. The armies of the Red march upon the northern lords. And the children of a dead god are waking from their long slumber… The Duke of Canarn is dead, executed by the King’s decree. The city lies in chaos, its people starving, sickening, and tyrannized by the ongoing presence of the King’s mercenary army. But still hope remains: the Duke’s children, the Lord Bromvy and Lady Bronwyn, have escaped their father’s fate.

Separated by enemy territory, hunted by the warrior clerics of the One God, Bromvy undertakes to win back the city with the help of the secretive outcasts of the Darkwald forest, the Dokkalfar. The Lady Bronwyn makes for the sanctuary of the Grass Sea and the warriors of Ranen with the mass of the King’s forces at her heels. And in the mountainous region of Fjorlan, the High Thain Algenon Teardrop launches his Dragon Fleet against the Red Army. Brother wars against brother in this, the epic first volume of the long war.


2013 seems to be a year for Début fantasy novels for me, and they have all been fantastic books so far (Luke Scull, Stella Gemmell, Nathan Hawke), so how does the Black Guard stand up against those other débuts?

Like The City by Stella Gemmell it took me a little while to get into this book, maybe its the risk of a début author landing such a hefty tome in my lap, at 640 pages its a serious expression of trust from the publisher Head of Zeus, and an announcement that they think they have a real winner on their hands, and for me a big time commitment with so many great books out there.

So how did it shape up? For me, I felt the style was on the epic fantasy scale, Brandon Sanderson, Tolkien style. Where my personal preference is more Gemmellesque. But at the same time the characters are very much to my liking, they are realistic, likeable and natural rather than the average OTT fantasy drone. So has AJ Smith hit his own niche part Gemmell part Sanderson? I’m not 100% sure, I don’t think I read enough fantasy these days to be totally sure, I need more maybe when I see book 2?

The story however is very clever even though it takes a bit of time to get there, but when it does get going it keeps you turning the pages at a rapid pace, so much so that you will hardly realise the size of the book, and when the book ends it leaves you slightly bereft, needing more and knowing while there will be, its not going to be for at least a year.

There are clear signs in the book and writing of a true fantasy geek (not an insult) a man who has spent time becoming passionate with his genre and then building a world in his mind. Its that passion and desire to get his world down on paper I think that slows down the first third of the book, but it really is called for, that description pays off, that world building is key and I feel we will reap more rewards from it as this series continues.
In Summary read this book, you will find a book of subtle writing skill, with deep, careful world building and colourful real characters, written in a style all of his own.
I for one recommend this book and look forward to the next book in the series.


Questions & Answers

1) Why Fantasy?

I’m always thinking “what happens next”. With contemporary stuff (and the real world) there are hundreds of things telling you what should or must happen next. With fantasy, there are admitted tropes and accepted rules, but on the whole you can do what you like. What happens next is entirely dictated by the world laws you’ve created.

2) Was this the first world, or are there some lost hidden gems that have not seen the light of day?

The world is massive. There are nations and empires – some pretty extreme – still to be discovered by men. I’ve got a truck-load of maps from roleplaying games and short stories that explore some weird-arse places to the east of Tor Funweir. Volkast to the north and Jekka to the east are at least as big as the lands of men.

3) Give us some background on your fantasy geekage (yes… go on admit it… it will make you feel better)?

I’m all about geek-chic, baby!

I’ve been roleplaying for years – Shadowrun, World of Darkness, Cthulhu, D&D – being a geek is just embracing a need for escapism. I say to you, my brothers and sisters, freak freely.

4) What led you into writing?

It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. It’s the only thing I do that doesn’t make me feel like a should be doing something else. Weirdly, I only started writing fantasy a couple of years ago – although the world was already in place from roleplaying and my pathological love of drawing maps. Before that I tended toward surreal black comedy. I always wrote short stories and thought that, when I “worked out” how to write a book, I’d write loads. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to write more fantasy and non-fantasy.

5) Who is your fav author (to read)?

Big question. It’s largely mood dependent, but Douglas Adams, Michael Marshall Smith and H.P Lovecraft are probably my favourites.

6) Can you give us a some book two hints?

It’s called The Dark Blood. It was finished straight after The Black Guard and I’m nearly done with the third one – called The Red Prince. I write pretty quickly (much to my editor’s dismay).

As for hints: Rham Jas goes on a killing spree with an old friend. The battle for Ranen continues and we see more of the dark denizens of the world.

7) If you could have written any book in history which would it be?

Pretentious answer: Das Capital by Karl Marx.

Truthful answer: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

In a different life: Anything by Christopher Hitchens.

 8) In your own words sell The Black Guard…..

I have five children who are starving and I’m massively in debt… please give generously (None of this is true).

I want people to become immersed in the world. I hope that it grows and grows from page one, unveiling sections of the world and plot as it goes. It’s the first part of a (probably) four book series and they should all build from this, giving the world more depth and the reader more immersion.

If there’s not a kind of fantasy called “Immersive Fantasy”, I want to invent it.

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Filed under Fantasy