Monthly Archives: June 2015

Toby Clements: Broken Faith (Review) + Q&A


Image: Toby Clements Author

Toby Clements lives in London: “It is Clements’s ability to excite both tender emotions and a capacity for bloodthirstiness that has allowed him to achieve what Shakespeare couldn’t manage, and spin a consistently enthralling story out of the Wars of the Roses.”

Broken Faith

(The second book in the Kingmaker series)
A novel by Toby Clements

Buy a Signed copy

Broken Faith

‘An enthralling adventure story, honest and powerful. The Wars of the Roses are imagined here with energy, with ferocity, with hunger to engage the reader.’ Hilary Mantel England: October, 1463. The great slaughter of the battle of Towton is two years past, but England is still not at peace. The Northern Parts of the land remain in the hands of the Lancastrian king, while in the south, the princes of the house of York prepare for war. Uneasy alliances are forged and just as quickly broken: a friend one day might be your enemy the next, and through this land, pursued by the Church and the Law, a young man, Thomas, and a young woman, Katherine, must make their way, bearing proof of a secret both sides would kill to learn. Bent on revenge for a past outrage, Thomas and Katherine must turn their backs on their friends and journey to the mighty castle of Bamburgh, there to join a weakened king as he marshals his army to take up arms in one of the most savage civil wars in history: the Wars of the Roses.


Book two, that terrible, fateful demand on the author, especially on an author who has produced something as exceptional as Winter Pilgrims. Can the author recreate that magic, meet it, and hopefully surpass it?

The beauty of Winter Pilgrims was always in the simplicity, in avoiding the major players as much as possible, or staying on the fringes, but still allowing the horror of the war of the roses to playout in the imagination of the reader.

Broken Faith has to go further, it is by the nature of history forced closer to the major events and players of the period, Its the only way to get our key characters into places like Bamburgh Castle at the right time.

Thomas and Katherine are slowly drawn back together in this book, the shifting perspectives both driving the plot and drawing the reader in. The shifting male and female perspectives so well written, with a keen eye on the differing perspectives and motives. The simplicity remains because this despite its harrowing backdrop and blood drenched landscape is to all intents and purposes a love story, the gradual realisation and coming together of Katherine, who works through her grief to eventually find Thomas again, and Thomas who finally comes back to himself and hunts across the country to track down the woman he needed, and then realised he loved, very hard for a man who had dedicated himself to god.

Behind this love story is also a story of revenge, revenge against the Rivers, the machinations of this family once against at the center of the woes for the King, and also the previous king. Both father and son create the perfect protagonists for Katherine and Thomas, out of their social strata, but also tied by a shared history of desired revenge.

Once again the author provides a monster read, at 464 pages and yet the book glides along effortlessly, its a simple excellent love story, bursting with action, intrigue and history. a real contender for book of the year.

I highly recommend this and cannot wait to see what Toby writes next.




HI Toby, thank you for taking time to answer a few questions:


1) Given that so many authors have said book two is harder than book one to write, what was your experience like?


Hello Robin, and thanks for the interest. Book 2 was much less fun to write than book 1 as you suggest, because there was a deadline, and an editor, and writing it suddenly seemed much more like a job. Book 1 took ages to write, and felt, in retrospect, like a labour of love, something that I thought about privately, like a slightly suspect hobby, but book 2 was very written quickly, to order, and it felt like giving blood, or having it taken, without the moral satisfaction. Having said that, without the editor and the deadline, I would absolutely not have finished it yet, and it would already be a good 1200 pages long. It would have been unbelievably good though!


2) Book one Winter Pilgrims was a truly fantastic book. I hope it was the success it deserved. One of the key elements that made it so great for me was the use and viewpoint of the normal person, away from the key figures in history. Was it a conscious decision to gravitate towards those key figures in book two, or circumstance?


Thanks for that. It did all right, and it was pretty well received, not least because of the slight shift away from those key figures. But you have to start with them. You have to start with the nobs – the Earls of Warwick and so on – since theirs is the only history that is written, and that is what you are taught when you are kid. Can you name 10 people who weren’t dukes etc who lived before 1500?  It is tricky. But I was always interested in The Other, and after reading The Face of Battle, by John Keegan, a brilliant description of a common soldier’s experience in three battles: Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme, which I would press on anyone, I began to find more interest in the lower–status individual generally: not just him – the soldier – but his wife and children, his house, his clothes and so on.  Another reason I drifted away from the nobs, is that they’ve been done to death in fiction, really, and all I’d be bringing that was fresh would have been my voice (about which I was less than sure) and something that would have been self-consciously invented to be different from all the many great novelists to have ploughed this furrow before.


3) There were some fantastic images you shared as part of the research for book one, do you have anything you would like to share for book two?


Hmmm! I have neglected that part of it, really but look, here is a picture of Bamburgh castle in the snow, form the north. Book 2 takes Thomas and Katherine there in 1464, not necessarily the best time to visit.


And I like this, from a longer project to show an infantryman’s clobber throughout the ages:


This is what a very well to do Yorkist man-at-arms might have had with him during the battle of Bosworth – only a few years after the setting for my story. There is something quite touching about it, I think, since we can all imagine ourselves slipping into that gear. Though Jaysus, look at the poll axe!

And because I was researching a quieter moment in the wars, I have been to a hundred re-enactment events, and taken some of my own photos, but none so good as these. I should say that I have no copyright, so if anyone wants me (you to take them down) then I am sure we could do that instantly?

Below are three ladies. Life for the reasonably well off could be quite nice, as this moment shows. There are some lovely details here – look at the way the sleeve of the lady on the left is joined to the body of her dress. It is nothing you could use in a novel, but just knowing it helps you to imagine what it might be like to be Katherine.



And this is a bloke – from the continent somewhere – with a weapon – not sure if it would actually have a name – in what I can imagine pretty typical condition for someone not expecting to have to use it. This is a debate re-enactors often have: should they look after their gear as if it were special to them, or as if it were everyday? And if you were a soldier, would you try to get the best weapon you could, and keep it really sharp, or would that weapon just become something you had to carry around with you, a hassle? If that makes sense?


Finally, a child. I don’t know what he or she is up to, but they don’t get much of a look in, do they, usually? So here’s one.


4) Was it always your intention to write a love story, or was this how the series evolved? 


I have to admit I gravitated toward a more repressed love story, given their – and particularly her – background and upbringing, but my editor was probably right to force me to get them to make hay while the sun shone, which I did. It was tricky, because I had been so graphically matter of fact about the violence, so I felt it would have been dishonest if they then shut the door on us while they got on with it, but trying to describe a medieval sex scene without the use of the word codpiece proved very tricky.


5) Are Katherine and Thomas based on any real people, or just an amalgamation of parts?


They are just made up. I have a theory about writers’ heroes and heroines. A really great storyteller can come up with a hero that is his ideal person, who may be the absolute opposite of him, whereas most writers create heroes who are just slightly exaggerated versions of themselves, so Thomas is the sort of man who when push comes to shove can do most things, as I sort of imagine I’d be able to, but he is also the sort of man who hasn’t a clue what to do on a Sunday. Katherine would always have a plan, hopefully better than visiting Homebase.


6) So what’s next?


Book 3 – the last in the trilogy, and a real corker, I promise, takes us up to the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. That was the battle in the Wars of the Roses that got me hooked, and so I am really looking forward to that one. Everything will come together in a massive, massive dust up, and secrets will be spilled and revelations… revealed.


7) Who are you reading at the moment for fun?

I have been shortlisted for the Historical Writers Association Debut Crown, along with some really stiff opposition, so I have been reading them. It is both inspiring and alarming at the same time, so I am not sure you’d call it fun. But I have also been reading The Last English Poachers, by Bob & Brian Tovey, about a couple of unrepentant villains who shoot deer on the Berkley estates. Oddly, I think I went to school – primary – with Charles Berkley, now Lord Berkley – who was a very nice bloke, who bowled left arm spin, whom I bullied, about which I feel regret, though it is probably misplaced  – so the book has an extra resonance. But it is a great read: really salty, and full of pungent, If not entirely credible, detail.


8) All time fav book / Series?


Hmmm. I have to admit it is the Courtney novels, by Wilbur Smith. I am not sure they would stand re-reading, but they were dynamite when I read them first and in my book 3 there is a little jink in the plot that is in direct homage to the great man himself. I am sick with envy that Giles Kristian is colluding with him, I have to say. Or Perhaps the Patrick O’Brian novels. I have not finished them, and got fed up with the endless exposition that took up increasingly large chunks of each book, and one day I’d love to be given the job of editing them. Robert Hardy reads the abridged audiobook, and that is a real pleasure on long – solo – car journeys.


9) If you could write any one/ or any period regardless of potential sales, what would it be?


I have a slight plan up my sleeve, and I want to keep it there for superstitious reasons, but if it comes off, and out, it will involve two of my current yearnings in life: sailing and carpentry. I can see that does not answer your question at all, and sounds only 50 % promising at most, but if I talk about it, I will jinx it (and the man who gave me the idea will sue).


Many thanks… and best of luck with this next book, it really is another brilliant read.



1. Winter Pilgrims (2014)
2. Broken Faith (2015)
The Asti Spumante Code: A Parody (2005)
The No.2 Global Detective (2006)

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David Gilman: Defiant unto Death (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 Black Prince has launched a devastating raid deep into France, laying waste to everything in his path. In response, the French have mustered an army that outnumbers the English forces 10 to 1 and are determined to drive their hated foe from the land after years of bloody conquest. 

Sir Thomas Blackstone, the British archer knighted on the field of Crecy, has used the intervening years to forge his own war band and has hacked out his own fiefdom in central France. He knows the English are outnumbered, outmaneuvered, and exhausted…. 

But that will not stop him from fighting his way to one of history’s greatest military victories.


Defiant Unto Death is the second novel in David Gilman’s Master of War series, a a series following the life of Thomas Blackstone an English archer and knight, set in the early years of the Hundred Years War. 

Defiant Unto Death unlike Book one (which was still an excellent novel), feels to me a much more complete novel,  from pitched battles like the bloody Poitiers (one of the 3 great English victories) to the aim / thrust of this book the bloody and twisty vendetta between the savage priest and Thomas Blackstone. This novel can be dark, there are blood and guts a plenty, and it encompasses everyone in Blackstone’s life (no one is safe), yet the author writes his scenes so powerfully it literally drags the reader from being sickened to heart broken to utter relief and from page to page as fast as reading allows. Its that’s level of writing skill that helps this book stand apart from the crowd. 

The setting of the 100 years war gives the author so much fodder for action and adventure, and with the jaw dropping back drops both scenic and historic, Gilman plays them like a maestro.

As with book one this will be a book up for discussion in the 2015 Top 10 come year end.

(and roll on book 3 Gate of the Dead)


Danger Zone
1. The Devil’s Breath (2007)
2. Ice Claw (2008)
3. Blood Sun (2009)
Master of War
1. The Blooding (2013)
2. Defiant Unto Death (2015)
3. Gate of the Dead (2016)
Monkey and Me (2014)


Filed under David Gilman

Manda Scott : Into the Fire (Q&A and Review) + Competition

Author Website

Manda grew up near Glasgow where she studied veterinary surgery before going on to teach at the universities of Cambridge and Dublin.

She began her career as a writer with a series of crime novels set in Scotland, the first of which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. The dark, edgy thriller which followed, No Good Deed, was nominated for an Edgar Award and hailed as one of the most remarkable thrillers of the year in 2001.

In addition to the bestselling Boudica series, which was translated into over twenty languages, Manda is the author of an acclaimed series of Roman novels featuring the emperor’s spy Sebastos Pantera.

Having spent the last two decades bringing historical figures back to life, reimagined and rebooted for the twenty-first century, in the tradition of Kate Mosse and Rosemary Sutcliff, her next book returns in part to her thriller roots. Into the Fire– coming June 2015 – thrillingly links arson attacks in modern-day France with the story of Joan of Arc during the Hundred Years War.


There is a secret, hidden within a body, burning within the flames, that will change it all.

A man’s charred corpse is found in the latest of a string of arson attacks in the French city of Orléans. His is the first death. An extremist group claim responsibility but their whereabouts cannot be found. Police inspector Capitaine Ines Picault and her team must track them down before more people die. Their only clue? The name of a woman who has been dead for over 500 years: Joan of Arc.

She is one of the great enigmas of history – a young woman who came from nowhere to lead the armies of France to victory against England. And who died the same fiery death as the man whose body has just been discovered.

As more fires rage in Orleans and the death toll mounts, Picault must look to the past and the secrets which lie buried there to unravel the mysteries of the present. As the clock counts down, she must challenge some fundamental truths to save those closest to her…

Into the Fire is a breath-taking collision of past and present, a brilliant race-against-time thriller combined with an immaculately woven historical narrative. In it, bestselling author Manda Scott demonstrates why she is one of the most exciting, innovative and highly accomplished storytellers of our age.



(Competition will close at midnight on 20th, and a winner chosen at random, by my 4 year old granddaughter (as random as it gets))


Manda, thank you for agreeing to do this interview, first let me say congratulations on a wonderful book, Into the fire is a stunning read.

1)   What led you to write a book about Jeanne d’Arc?

I’d always had an interest in her reputation as a woman warrior having written about Boudica, it at least made sense to take a look at Joan of Arc but I always got stuck on the notion that she was a peasant girl who turned up out of nowhere, got on a warhorse and led the troops into battle. Either she was a cipher, a flag-carrier and nothing more or she had to be trained. If she was the former, I wasn’t interested. If she was the latter, I couldn’t see how it was possible.  Then I read an article that pointed me in the direction of who she could have been and the more I read about it, the more sense it made until in the end, it seemed to me she couldn’t have been anyone else.  The question of why she had to spin her own lies in the beginning also makes so much more sense once everything falls into place.

2)    How would you describe the style of this book? I couldn’t pigeon hole it as Time slip, more a complimentary storyline, and what led to writing the book in this style?

Before anything else, this is a thriller that’s what I wrote first when I started writing and what I love most whatever the sub genre, I want both me as a writer and by extension, the readers, to have that perfect mix of anticipation and uncertainty that makes  thriller work to have a dynamic narrative drive that sweeps the characters along, always with a strong thread, but without losing the poetry of language that makes reading so special. 

Because this starts with the contemporary thread, I think it feels more like a contemporary thriller but it’s grounded in the unearthing of historical facts and the debunking of the mythology that’s been around for the past 600 years, so I needed the historical threads to make sense of that.

3)     Who are the writers that have influenced you most; from making you want to be a writer, through to writing style?

There have been so many in my youth, Alan Garner was one of my heroes (and still is), but so was James Fennimore Cooper The Last of the Mohicans was the first book I bought with my own money.  Moving on, I loved Mary Renault and desperately wanted to be able to write as beautifully: when I started the Boudica series, it was The Fire from Heaven that I kept on the table beside me to read through whenever I needed to remember how to balance a sentence.

More recently, I’ve loved Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, which seems to me to be a perfectly scripted multi-threaded dual time line novel, while his book REAMDE is an outstanding thriller. I love Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and The Ocean at the End of the Lane for their sheer creativity while for beauty of prose, of course, Hilary Mantel has re-set the baselines, while Rob Low and Andrew Taylor both  provide a template of how really, really good writing can exist within the historical genre.  And then there’s Robert Wilton’s spy series, which leaves me wishing I could write half as well

I could go on for hours. There are so very many brilliant writers around just now, it’s hard to know where to start, and impossible to stop
4)     Where did the inspiration strike for the book? and was it any harder to writer than your other books?

The first spark was the newspaper article I read back in 2003. I remember emailing my then-editor and saying ‘I’m going to write Joan of Arc next, don’t let anyone else near it!’ But I was in the midst of the Boudica series and then the ROME spy thrillers came next so it wasn’t until 2012 that I had the time and the head-space really to engage with the question of who she was and how she came to do what she did or even fully to research what she did, which was pretty remarkable stuff for anyone, and so much more so for a girl in her late teens or early twenties.  

When it became obvious that it needed to be a dual time line book, it took me a while to sort the two separate plot threads both have to be coherent in and of themselves, but they have to feel absolutely intertwined, so that each answers questions raised by the other and that’s a whole new level of complexity, so it was definitely different to any of the recent books in terms of the structure and the writing.

5)  Was it hard to move away from the simply brilliant Rome series, especially into a much under explored period of history?

It was certainly different! I loved writing the ROME series and I’d been in the first century AD since the turn of the millennium. If I’d been in a university, it was the equivalent of an undergraduate degree passing on through post grad to post-doc.  But I thrive on change and I hate it when I think I’ve reach the point in any learning curve where it begins to flatten out, so it was very good indeed to start again at the bottom and feel the steepness of the slope.  There’s a particular feeling when getting to grips with something new, where each day is a big leap forward that I love.  I’m not overly keen on the Christian era, so I prefer writing in the first century or the twentieth/twenty first, but this was slap bang in the middle and actually, the more I read, the more I realized that it wasn’t as alien as I’d imagined. I came to love it and could easily have written more.

6)     Am I correct in that No Good Deed (another splendid tale) is being dusted off for re-release? and if so is this a resurgence of the thriller genre for you?

No Good Deed (thank you – glad you liked it) is out in e-book format, but as far as I know, there’s no move to print it – but I’ll get back to you on that if I hear anything new.  Buy e-Book

7)     You have managed to write some amazingly intelligent and entertaining books in multiple genres, have you set your sights on any other genres in the future?

Kind man, thank you!  Definitely my aim in the long run is to be able to do what Robert Harris does write what interests me and know that I have a solid following of people who will trust that I can take almost any topic and make it compelling.  Given that I am at heart a political animal and that what concerns me most at the moment is climate change and the impact of that on our survival, I have some very clear ideas of things I’d like to write that address that. We don’t have any mythology, any heroes, which show us how we can get from where we are now to where we need to be in way that isn’t dystopic. I want to write that but it may be that I have to write it as a TV or film script rather than as a book, at least in the first instance which would be fine.  I’m also part way through a book that, for me, has a similar kind of feel to Neil Gaiman or Alan Garner that kind of magical realism that takes the essence of our history and our mythology and makes it relevant for now.  So that’s on the cards too. I just need to live long enough to write all the ideas. 

8)  Given you are one of the key drivers of the HWA (Historical Writers Association) you must read many books for cover quotes. But who and what do you read for pure pleasure?
I’ve made a lot of friends while I’ve been Chair of the HWA and I’d read books by say, Ben Kane, Tony Riches, Imogen Robertson, Andrew Taylor, Liz Fremantle… whether I had to or not.  In between, I read endless non fiction and I recently binged on a week of Joe Abercrombie followed by Anthony Ryan (whose work is just glorious) and then Sebastien de Castell (PARM: so glad you read and liked this, it was one of my Fav books last year), which was wonderful.  I read anything and everything by Neil Gaiman – I think he’s one of the truly gifted writers of our generation. And I recently read at thriller called ‘Tuesday Falling’ by S Williams which I loved.  I can read a book in an evening, but the really good ones are the ones where I’m still up at 3am reading ‘just one more chapter’.

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

Only four.  Heck


I’d invite Mary Renault’s version of Alexander of Macedon

Tecumseh a native American leader (so I could warn him not to deal with the whites)

Calgacus (so I could ask him the truth about the battle of Mons Graupius)

Dorothy Dunnet’s Thorfinn, her version of MacBeth. 

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

Yep, I’d shy away from this too I write the books. It’s someone else’s job to sell them.


But if I’ve got my soap box, this is the pitch:

Forget what you thought you knew: when it comes to Joan of Arc, the whole bloody myth is a lie we’ve been sold for 600 years.  She was never a mystic peasant, she was so much more than that but the far right in France wants to keep her as their virginal god-bothering Republican saviour-of-France and it doesn’t take much to imagine a circumstance in which they’ll kill to keep the truth a secret.  (The left, of course, sees her as a gender-bending warrior-feminist.  She is truly all things to all people)

But the truth wants to be free. And we can free it, you and I.  Just read this, and don’t ever let anyone spin you lies ever again



Into the Fire by Manda Scott is one of those rare books that comes along only occasionally, politely  sits you down and proceeds to submerge you in the authors imagination. It’s a stunning piece of story telling, almost two books in one, intertwined around one central figure Jeanne d’Arc. The key story set as a contemporary political crime thriller follows the trials both personal and emotional and Police inspector Capitaine Ines Picault battle to solve the mystery of the arson attacks and murders in Orleans. The second part of the tale follows the History/ the myth busting exploits uncovering the story behind Jeanne d’Arc. But as with life, in this tale the modern always needing the historic to make it all make sense, and the present tense of both periods making both feel in the now.

It doesn’t need me to tell any reader of Manda’s work that the writing is exemplary, as if each word has been chosen and sculpted before being added to the page, only the right ones being allowed to survive the final cut for the final draft of the book. The result being a book that pulls you back and forth in time, blending seamlessly. Creating an utterly plausible account for both tales and investing you totally in all characters.

The scope of the research is amazing, the book taking you from hacking and the dark net to 15th century France and knights on horseback storming castles and dying in the blood and muck of battle. The battles are utterly uncompromising and at the same time never gratuitous, but always showing the fight for what it was; death covered in blood, shit and muck, only for the victor can the tales be polished to remove that grime of war and add that tint of rose to the vision of honour and battles won.

Manda’s demanding attention to historical accuracy shines through in this book, but this book is so much more than that, the detail makes it feel real, but its the imagination that drags the reader in and wraps you in the plot.

This is on the shortlist for book of the year, its that good.


Kellen Stewart
1. Hen’s Teeth (1996)
2. Night Mares (1998)
3. Stronger Than Death (1999)
1. Dreaming the Eagle (2002)
2. Dreaming the Bull (2004)
3. Dreaming the Hound (2004)
4. Dreaming the Serpent Spear (2006)
No Good Deed (2001)
Absolution (2005)
The Crystal Skull (2008)
aka 2012: The Crystal Skull
Into The Fire (2015)
Scottish Girls About Town: And Sixteen Other Scottish Women Authors (2003) (with Leila Aboulela, Katie Agnew,Abigail Bosanko, Jenny Colgan, Carol Anne Davis, Isla Dewar, Muriel Gray, Julia Hamilton, Morag Joss, Tania Kindersley, Helen Lamb, Miller Lau, Shari Low, Lennox Morrison, Sian Preese, Carmen Reid, Sara Sheridan andAline Templeton)
Non fiction
2012: Everything You Need To Know About The Apocalypse (2011)
MC Scott
1. The Emperor’s Spy (2010)
aka The Fire of Rome
2. The Coming of the King (2011)
3. The Eagle Of The Twelfth (2012)
4. The Art of War (2013)
Grave Gold / Dream Walker / Pantera II (2011)
The Last Roman in Britan (2011)
Raven Feeder (2011)

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The Baselard — Writing about fighting and craftsmanship and character

time to learn something new…..

With Pen and Sword

Pink hat...

This evocative illustration, from a manuscript of 1380 or so, probably done at a workshop in Northern Italy (which is much on my mind at the moment anyway, and more below) is, as you no doubt guessed, the 14th c. chivalric imagination of the seizure of Jesus by the authorities of Jerusalem in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Notable moments (for Chivalric lay piety, at least) include Peter resisting, having thrown one of the Romans (or possibly Pharisees) to the ground, and the fact that all the soldiers are imagined as knights.

One day I’ll write that blog, about imagination and history and how we imagine the past, but for now, let’s just examine daggers.  The man on the extreme left in a snazzy pink hat, has an ivory hilted dagger that occupies the space between a rondel and a baselard.  The man on the extreme right has a…

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Michael Arnold: Marston Moor (review)


Authors web site

Michael lives in Hampshire with his wife and two children. 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.

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The Sixth in The Civil War Chronicles featuring Major Stryker – ‘the Sharpe of the Civil War’ FIVE ARMIES FORTY-SIX THOUSAND MEN ONE CROWN THE BIGGEST BATTLE OF THE AGE 2 July 1644. Five armies converge outside York. It will be a battle for honour, glory, and the fate of three kingdoms. And it will pit two great leaders – Oliver Cromwell and Prince Rupert – directly against one another for the first time. It is a day that will change the course of history. Into the cannon fire and musket smoke marches Major Innocent Stryker, battle-scarred hero of the Royalist cause. He must not only lead his men through the bloody horror and outwit his Parliamentary enemies, but uncover foul treachery on his own side. He will need every shred of experience and determination to survive. Marston Moor will be the decisive turning point in the British Civil Wars. This is the thrilling and shocking story of that battle


Marston Moor:

This is not a tale for the faint hearted, this is war, and of all types it’s the worst, Civil War at its peak rages across England, the Scots have joined parliament and the combined armies march south laying siege to York, drawing Prince Rupert north in a lightning series of battles to clear a path through Lancashire and secure his rear and also a resupply point at Liverpool. The Royal master of horse is at his best and runs rampant and is soon on his way to York to relieve the siege… the result of this brilliant march is the ill-fated  (for him) battle of Marston Moor.

This book pulls no punches, it starts as it means to go on with a realistically dark and brutal retelling of the sacking of Bolton, where our man Innocent Stryker encounters “The Vulture” for the first time. The sacking of Bolton is a very dark passage in this book, but it sets up the introduction of key characters and their motivations in the story, why Stryker is where he is and what drives him. The grim aspect of war is needed and as ever with Michael Arnolds writing it is uncompromising yet eloquently written, there are no rose tinted glasses anywhere near this book. War is hell and Civil War in 1644 England was mud, excrement, alcohol, blood and prayers. It needed hard men on both sides.

The parallels I always find myself seeing with this particular period of history is in a comparison between elements of the Parliamentarian War machine and ISIS (or similar) , it’s the religious fervour, the unwavering belief that all should bend to their view of god, the destruction of all that has gone before, the fact that a Man like William Dowsing titled “Commissioner for the destruction of monuments of idolatry and superstition” existed furthers that view. Parliament was a nest of religious zealots, but it also was the footprint for the recognition of men of trade over mean of nobility. Likewise the side of the King isn’t all about privilege and nobility.  The author has a fantastic way of walking the middle ground with Innocent Stryker, whom despite being one of the Kings men you can also feel him waver at times to some of the ideals of Parliament, especially when some entitled twerp goes off and loses a battle whilst seeking individual glory.

The Vast majority of this book is one battle, it is the battle of Marston Moor, it charts the rise of Oliver Cromwell’s star and the beginning of the end for the cause of the king, many may not like that so much of a book is committed to a single battle, but its not all cut and slash. It’s the ebb and flow of the fight, it’s the tactics and politics of the different wings of the opposing armies sand the men who commanded them, it’s the foot against the mounted, the pikes and the lance, the musket and the man, Swords and armour.  Amongst all of this Stryker has a charge to protect a secret to ponder and all the while hounded by the Vulture and his men, hell bent on killing Stryker and anyone who gets in their way.

I love the way that Michael Arnold weaves his characters through the battle and the history of the time, interspersing them in legitimate and utterly believable ways into the action, always where its hottest but never making anyone a super human. This book more than any before has surprises, and the author is not afraid to put any character in harm’s way, you never quite know who will make it to the end of the chapter.

This is a highly enjoyable series, one that grows in maturity with every book, and leaves you fulfilled but wanting move every time. Michael is also one of a select group of authors who writes a battle so well you can smell the battlefield and hear the crash of the cannon and muskets. (he brings the whole period to life around the reader)

I highly recommend both the book and the series.


Civil War Chronicles
1. Traitor’s Blood (2010)
2. Devil’s Charge (2011)
3. Hunter’s Rage (2012)
4. Assassin’s Reign (2013)
5. Warlord’s Gold (2014)
6. Marston Moor (2015)
Stryker and the Angels of Death (2013)

Highwayman: Ironside (2013)
Non fiction
The Sacrifice of Singapore: Churchill’s Biggest Blunder(2011)
Hollow Heroes (2015)


Filed under Historical Fiction, Michael Arnold

Roger Hobbs : Vanishing Games (Review)

Roger Hobbs discovered his passion for writing when he was very young. He completed his first novel (a dreadful science fiction book) at just 13 years old. His first play was produced when he was 19. He had his first publication in The New York Times at 20. He signed his first movie deal at 21, graduated Reed College at 22, and signed a book deal with Alfred A. Knopf at 23. By 24 he was an international bestseller, and by 25 he had been nominated for nearly every major award in crime fiction.

​He wrote Ghostman, his debut novel, during his senior year of college and sent off the manuscript on the day he graduated. Ghostman has since been published in more than twenty-five countries around the world and climbed numerous bestseller lists. In 2013 Roger became the youngest person ever to win a CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger. In 2014 he won the Strand Critics award and was nominated for the prestigious Edgar, Barry, and Anthony awards. Booklist called Ghostman “a triumph on every level.”

book cover of </p>
<p>Vanishing Games </p>

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Vanishing Games

      It’s just before dawn on the South China Sea when three experienced pirates open fire on a small smuggling yacht. Their target: a bag of uncut sapphires worth millions. But when one of the pirates stumbles across an enormous treasure that wasn’t on the manifest, everything goes sideways. Within minutes, two of the pirates are dead. The last man standing is a coldblooded psychopath who claims the treasure, and the sapphires, as his own. Given the chance, he’ll disappear completely.

     But the Jugmarker, a mysterious woman named Angela, won’t let that happen. She calls in a favor from her one-time protege. A man with no name. No address. No fingerprints. A man who can make anything disappear. A man sometimes known as Jack– but better known as Ghostman.

     With only hours left to retrieve the treasure, Jack and Angela must race through the glimmering neon slums of Macau to unravel a conspiracy bigger than they’ve ever seen, and more dangerous than they’ve ever imagined. With this much on the line, can Jack still hope to make it all vanish?


I didn’t read this book, i devoured it. I began to read it about 9am and by lunchtime it was gone, i just could not put it down, and i could not slow down, it has a plot line like a rip-tide; it catches you unaware, grabs you before you know it and yanks you along on a hectic danger fueled ride. This really is a stunningly successful follow-up to the impressive debut Ghostman.

Once again we follow our man with no name, only this time we get to see some of his past, a glimpse of the man he was, how he became the Ghostman, and the lady who taught him everything he knows. Set against the stunning and evocative backdrop of HongKong and Macau, Roger Hobbs takes the reader on a tour of the sordid underbelly of the islands, the grime behind the lights of the Las Vegas of the east, and it really is an adventure not to be missed.

Considering many books released at the moment, this is a smaller read at only 304 pages. But it is hover 304 action filled pages, with no room to draw breath, and one that keeps you on the edge of your seat until the end. As some on who reads This type of action between historical fiction reads, i always looking for something action packed, fun , full of pace and great characters and also something with an edge, something that sets it apart. Roger Hobbs has hit the nail on the head two books running now… bring on book 3.

Highly recommend this


The Ghostman (2013)
Vanishing Games (2015)

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Nick Brown: Emperor’s Silver (review)

Nick Brown

Nick was born in Norwich in 1974. A keen reader from a young age, he graduated from Enid Blyton to Douglas Hill and JRR Tolkien, and from there to Ian Fleming, Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton. After three years studying in Brighton, he travelled to Nepal where he worked at an orphanage and trekked to Mount Everest. After qualifying as a history teacher in 2000, he worked for five years in England before taking up a post at an international school in Warsaw.

Nick had completed a few screenplays and a futuristic thriller before being inspired to try historical fiction after reading C.J. Sansom’s Dissolution: “Researching the Roman army and life in the third century was a fascinating but time-consuming project and the book went through many drafts before arriving at its final form. I had always intended Cassius to be a somewhat atypical protagonist and when I came across the research about the Roman ‘secret service’, I knew I’d found an ideal vocation  for my reluctant hero.”

Recently, most of Nick’s spare time has been spent on the fourth Agent of Rome novel, but if he’s not writing he might be found at the cinema, in a pub or playing football.

Author Web site

book cover of 

The Emperor\'s Silver

Still recovering from his previous assignment in Arabia, imperial agent Cassius Corbulo has been spending most of his time and money on women and wine. Unfortunately for him, word of his achievements has reached the emperor Aurelian’s deputy and he is sent north, tasked with smashing a counterfeiting gang. Cassius tracks the criminals to the city of Berytus, where his investigations are hampered by civil unrest and uncooperative officials, not to mention the personal problems of his servant Simo and bodyguard Indavara. Despite this – and intense pressure from his superiors – the young officer eventually closes in on the gang. But his enemies will do anything to protect their profits, and Cassius and Indavara soon find themselves fighting not only for the emperor, but for their very survival.

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For me this is one of the stand out series in Roman fiction, something different, not built around battles, it follows the exploits of Cassius an officer of the “Grain Men” or the Frumentarii. In this tale we follow our due of Cassius and Indavara on what should be a more quiet and sedate posting to uncover a counterfeiting ring, something more cerebral and more suited to Cassius talents than Indavara’s (the ex gladiator who has saved them from more than a few life threatening escapades). Only things never go quite how our young scholarly soldier hopes, and more often that not he has to rely on Indavara’s prowess and size to get them out of trouble.

Never a simple tale Nick Brown manages to twist and turn the plot, keeping you guessing as to if, how and when he might catch the leaders of the counterfeiting ringleaders. The author throughout the book manages to keep the reader not only on the edge of their seat, but wanting to flick that next page, page after page after page, meaning that you may lose sleep (please note health warning here) you may well be tired at work (watch that heavy machinery) and you will finish it before you know whats happening, and like me when you read the last paragraph you will  probably have the odd expletive. The book keeps you guessing and hanging to the end, and leaves a hook in you for the next book. But deeper than the crime story and the adventure is the relationship building of our main characters, Simo (the man-servant / slave) included. The close proximity of the three, often undercover, leads to a blending of personality types, a shared learning and as the books have progressed character growth. Cassius has learned to view others views and feelings, Simo has pushed forward with his beliefs but learned to moderate his pushing of the faith, and Indavara is learning who and what he is, and how he truly feels about things (given he has no memory prior to the arena)…. I feel we will soon learn more about Indavara and his past, and i am very excited by the prospect.

I find myself as always struggling to find the right niche for this author, it’s not just Roman fiction, it’s not just historical crime, it’s not just adventure and action, it seamlessly combines all elements into a perfectly rounded and highly entertaining book.

i cant wait for the next book



Other titles


Agent of Rome series

Agent of Rome
1. The Siege (2011)
2. The Imperial Banner (2012)
3. The Far Shore (2013)
4. The Black Stone (2014)
5. The Emperor’s Silver (2015)
The Flames of Cyzicus (2015)

Death This Day (2012)
The Eleventh Hour (2013)

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Writing about History: The Siege of Belgrade Part II

One of my fav series , so great to have a look behind the curtain

With Pen and Sword

Hunyadi Janos Hunyadi Janos

Last Friday, I finally completed the seven part epic that Tom Swan and the Siege of Belgrade has become.  In the end, the full story is roughly as long as the Red Knight, or almost 200K words, or roughly as long as Alexander, God of War.  Part 6 will be out June 17, and Part 7 will be out in July or August at the latest and includes, among other things, the longest combat scene I think I’ve ever written.

I suspect that Tom Swan and the Siege of Belgrade is some of my best historical writing.  It was very difficult, and involved complex reconstruction, timeline creation, investigation of period sources, and lots of staring off into space, smoking the occasional cigar, and staring at maps.  And Google Earth.  I think I have stared at the ground around Belgrade for more hours than I’ve looked at…

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