Monthly Archives: June 2016

Toby Clements, KingMaker: Divided Souls (Review)


Toby Clements was inspired to write the Kingmaker series having first become obsessed by the Wars of the Roses after a school trip to Tewkesbury Abbey, on the steps of which the Lancastrian claim to the English throne was extinguished in a welter of blood in 1471.

Since then he has read everything he can get his hands on and spent long weekends at re-enactment fairs. He has learned to use the longbow and how to fight with the poll axe, how to start a fire with a flint and steel and a shred of baked linen. He has even helped tan a piece of leather (a disgusting experience involving lots of urine and dog faeces). Little by little he became less interested in the dealings of the high and mighty, however colourful and amazing they might have been, and more fascinated by the common folk of the 15th Century: how they lived, loved, fought and died. How tough they were, how resourceful, resilient and clever. As much as anything this book is a hymn to them.

He lives in London with his wife and three children.

Divided Souls (2016)
(The third book in the Kingmaker series)


Divided Souls (Kingmaker 3)

Lent, 1469. The recent wars between the House of York and the House of Lancaster seem over. The Yorkist King Edward sits on his throne in Westminster while the Lancastrian claimants are in exile or under lock and key in the Tower. But within the family of York, there is discord.

The Earl of Warwick conspires against his king, and while to one another’s faces they are all smiles, their household men speak in lies and whispers. No man comes to court unarmed. Thomas and Katherine have returned to Marton Hall, the only home they know.

But what lies buried in the past cannot remain so for long, and soon they are forced to take up arms once more in one of the most savage wars in history. The War of the Roses….


This is the 3rd book in this excellent series from Toby Clements, a series that has always surprised me from page one. I will admit to being fairly easy when it comes to a decent Historical Fiction book, give me a decent battle, with a good build up and great characters i can enjoy and i’m a happy reader. Conn Iggulden has done this period recently and just completed his series with Ravenspur, as ever he has dramatic prose and sweeping scenery and all the major players, the knights and lords and kings and queens. Toby on the other hand brings the same story down to a more earthly level, to the common man (and woman) caught up in events beyond his/her control, buffeted by the winds of power that change with the fickle moods of royalty and betrayal.

Thomas and Katherine as always find themselves buffeted by the fickle winds of fate, the great and the powerful searching for a way to oust the King. The Earl of Warwick returning to England to stir the pot and exact revenge for implied insults. More than in the previous two books Thomas and Katherine are dragged close to the flame of power, and we mix with the gentry, not just the common people. But the book never loses that common touch that is prevalent across the series, Thomas and Katherine always provide that intimately common touch, the villages, the farmers, the charcoal burners, the smiths etc…while they survive and navigate the corridors of power.

Old memories resurface, old enemies come back to haunt them, and old friends are a boon and a curse as they can be used against them.

Once again Toby Clements knocks it out of the park, even for a middle book the story, the characters and the writing is first class, there are no holes or weaknesses in the plot of this book that just powers along, holding the reader remorselessly in its grip

Highly recommended


1. Winter Pilgrims (2014)
2. Broken Faith (2015)
3. Divided Souls (2016)
The Asti Spumante Code (2005)
The No.2 Global Detective (2006)

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The Torneo del Cigno Bianco 2016

With Pen and Sword

Torneo 2

The truth is that I cannot do justice to the excellence of this event, but I’ll try.  For me, it is one of the most pure experiences of a Medieval deed of arms that I have; it’s good enough to make me load armour and clothes onto airplanes and fly to Italy from Canada, for example.  By the way, that’s Ser Gregario Mele and Ser Rudolpho Ordalafi fighting with lanzia or spear on foot.  Greg Mele runs the Chicago Swordplay Guild and was my teacher in the gentle art of punching a six foot spear into your opponent’s throat through his mail; Greg, along with half a dozen other experts, is responsible for the virtual red9scovery of the Medieval fighting arts in the ;last twenty years.  This blog is not about Armizare, but if you’d like to learn more, you can look on the International Armizare Society website here.

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Vado a Roma

With Pen and Sword

via WP for Windows app.

This week, I’m walking to Rome. I’m with my friends Jon Press of England and Alessio Porto of Verona Italy and so far we’ve covered almost 150 kilometers, although I freely confess we took a. train for 12 kilometers and we got a ride for almost 30. Laugh if you like; we did 38 kilometers the first day, in Medieval clothes and more importantly, Medieval shoes. If you don’/t know, medieval shoes have no support and no heel; they are very comfortable for walking on medieval surfaces, like a nice hard packed dirt road, but they are not quite so much fun for walking on asphalt. In tract, today’s last 5 kilometers walking through a suburb of Rome with no sidewalks and it happening to be garbage collection day was… less than a perfect medieval experience. Hmm. Or perhaps in some ways, a very pure…

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Ezekiel Boone The Hatching (Review)

 Ezekiel Boone
Ezekiel Boone's picture
lives in the United States with his family and has an entirely healthy respect for spiders everywhere.

The Hatching (2016)

book cover of The Hatching

Deep in the jungle of Peru, a black, skittering mass devours an American tourist party whole. FBI agent Mike Rich investigates a fatal plane crash in Minneapolis and makes a gruesome discovery. Unusual seismic patterns register in an Indian earthquake lab, confounding the scientists there.

The Chinese government ‘accidentally’ drops a nuclear bomb in an isolated region of its own country. And all of these events are connected. As panic begins to sweep the globe, a mysterious package from South America arrives at Melanie Guyer’s Washington laboratory. The unusual egg inside begins to crack. Something is spreading….

The world is on the brink of an apocalyptic disaster. A virulent ancient species, long dormant, is now very much awake. But this is only the beginning of our end….

 Horror…. another genre i don’t normally venture into, although i’m not sure i would class this as horror. but there isn’t a genre called creepy crawler thrillers.
So once again i’m stretching the boundaries of my reading horizons, but why this one? I’m not really sure, the cover was eye catching, and i’m a sucker for a good cover.
Then there has been an excellent social media campaign from Gollancz and the author, building that desire to read, the anticipation.
The book its self, is an excellently written, highly engaging thriller, with all the ingredients of an apocalyptic type thriller. A steady build and delivery, introduction of key characters, by an ever brooding “who is going to die next”. There is a worry that certain characters may as the series (trilogy?) progresses, survive anything, which would be a shame, i think an anyone is fair game approach would be best (fingers crossed) and adds a higher level of reality.
The book and the series has major motion picture written all over it (them), sweeping panoramic scenes, major landmarks and billions or spiders, high tension and gore galore.
I have spent every day whilst reading the book and since, slapping at imaginary spiders,  not one of the little blighters has been humanely removed from the house and i itch just thinking about the book. …. i loved it, i love that a book can cause such a reaction.
highly recommended
The Hatching (2016)
Skitter (2017)


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TOUCHSTONE TUESDAY: The Walls of Constantinople


There are touchstones you find, like my sea shell. There are those you make, like the sling shot. Those you buy, like the shepherd’s crook.

And then there are those that are used to attack you.

Welcome again, to Touchstone Tuesdays, my weekly blog of objects to be found in my writing hut. Things I have acquired over the years, during my wanderings. This week: a piece of the Theodosian walls.

Here am I -Atop the Theodosian Walls Here am I -Atop the Theodosian Walls

These are the great defences that protected the fabled city of Constantinople on the landward side for close to 1000 years. They were only breached once: on May 29th 1453 when Mehmet ‘Fathi’, Sultan of the Ottomans, took the Christian city by storm after an epic seven week siege of relentless gunnery and daily assault. It became a Muslim city then and, eventually the fabulous place we know today as Istanbul.

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Me rambling about Making Arrows

Archery, me and making Arrows

This isn’t not about telling anyone how to make anything, or decide anything,  its not about doing it the right way or the wrong way…. its just the ramblings of having fun and doing something:

I have been involved in archery for about a year now, with the first 6 weeks being the beginners course, essentially the basic forms for holding and shooting a bow and the safety protocols whilst shooting. Its here where you find out if you really do have the bug. (i do)

One of the earliest decisions i made was that i would not want to shoot the competition re curve bow

all those gadgets, i would spend all my time tweaking and aligning, and …. well all that metal and plastic just doesn’t float my boat compared to:


That is pacific yew longbow, made by Ravenbeak in Canada , that is a beautiful bow. (i own one of these gorgeous things….. but that’s only more recently… don’t spend on a bow at the start) .

I had wanted to get into archery for years, but always found a way to do something else, lacked time etc… until my friend Chris


That’s (both) my friends Chris, the one with the bow is the kind chap who gave me that final nudge, sending me a Kaya Bow and some arrows he had made. (The other Chris is the one who inspires me to push and do more and know more about what i do)

It was Chris (Bowman) and his arrow making that then also inspired me to not just shoot arrows but to make them. There was just something inspiring in the thought that you can learn so much about what and how you shoot by learning to make the projectiles.

I had used the original arrows sent to me by Chris as a template, learning from the methods he had used by deconstructing any arrow i broke (and this wasn’t often… these things can take a pounding, because they are made with a Tonkin bamboo cane rather than a softer lighter wood.

I made a few odd arrows before i learnt that really you need a matched set, same materials, fletching (feathers), piles (the pointy bit) and Nock (bit that goes on the string) , the matched set gives you some added consistency when shooting, i then discovered that i should also be checking the weight. I was amazed to discover that some arrows made with all the same bits could vary by 3-4 grams which might not sound much but does make a difference, so selecting matched canes before you make the arrows is also important, checking the weights of each element to make sure there is a consistency.

After 6 months + i had whittled down my best arrows (the ones Chris made for me) to only 7, and these were my competition arrows, so i asked if he would be kind enough to make me some more, i still was some way off his skill level.

He made me this lovely set, with field points, goose feather fletching, they looked amazing.


There was an undefined… something felt off, and i could not figure it out

I had just made the switch from my first bow a Samick flat bow

Bow Samick Verna

Its a lovely forgiving and simple bow to start with, no gadgets , but the arrow shelf makes t easier for the beginner.

But at the same time as my new arrows i moved to my ravenbeak Longbow, with the longbow there is no shelf, the arrow rests on the hand


This is not as simple as it sounds to make the switch to, the arrow can wander away from the bow, and the extra glove is needed to save getting your hand sliced by the fletchings.

So after 2 weeks of not being able to hit a barn door  with my new arrows and new bow. (yet i was improving using my own or my original competition arrows) i started deconstructing the arrows, with a conversation with Chris, and going back over his updates on the build of them and also comparing the feel and weight against my competition arrows. Why were they shooting so differently.

It was the photo below that clinched it, Chris has slightly front weighted the arrows, which is fairly normal for longbow use, the weight is supposed to provide a greater consistency in shooting, but for me the only thing that was consistent was the missing.

As you can see with great skill and care Chris has inserted a nail into the bamboo and then attached the field target points.


So i needed a test, with great care i removed the pile from one of these new arrows and took off the end of the arrow with the nail, after carefully locating where the arrow ended (lots of small cuts part way until i found its end.)

Then I re-sanded the end of the cane to fit it to a new pile and took the single arrow to the next practice. 3 out of 4 shots in the gold with the new changed “center balanced” arrow. That was good shooting even for me.

The next job was to “adjust” the remaining arrows, (after speaking with Chris, i felt a bit bad that i was chopping around with his hard work), but in true Chris style, he was more than pleased for me, i had made a jump forward, i had self realised something in what and how i shoot. Now i just needed to put that into practice with a “neat” set of arrows myself from scratch.

With making my own competition set (or what i hope would be good enough to be a competition set) i wanted to do it all. I have never made fletchings from scratch, everytime i tried to split the feathers i had made a mess of it. But i felt that with all the careful book work/ repair i had done with a scalpel my dexterity would be up to it if i took care. 10 arrows was my target, so 30 feathers (goose).

First i had to steam them to open them up.

2016-05-18 18.10.14

Then Yahoooo… i managed to split every single one of them without incident.

2016-05-20 13.46.41

Then chop them into 4 inch parabolics, the picture on the right is the amount of wastage.

2016-05-20 13.55.442016-05-20 14.13.202016-05-27 14.53.07

then finally sanding the spines so they are nice and flat and smooth to glue onto the shaft

Ok….. at this point…. 10 points for whom ever can spot where i screwed up??

So after spotting it and fixing things

2016-05-27 15.00.552016-05-27 16.28.20

(for anyone who didn’t spot it, i cut the fletchings the wrong way, so the spines were facing the wrong direction)

So next

10 shafts chosen for similar diameter and weight, sanded and 11/32 Flo red knocks applied with araldite glue

2016-05-20 17.59.45

Then apply the Pile (again with araldite)

next, get the arrow in the fletching jig, align the nock for the cock feather if you are using one (if all feathers will be the same , then dont worry)

2016-05-27 17.28.10

let each feather dry before moving on to the next, and then when all are applied and dry, wind some silk or linen thread around the base of the fletchings, i find a dag of glue smoothed over the end of the thread and then painting it in clear nail varnish holds it in place well.

2016-05-27 17.29.18

then if like me you decide they look ugly as hell, then you get snotty with yourself and strip the fletching off and do it with something else…

2016-06-05 16.25.18

These im happy with, they look really good…..and everytime i stick it in the grass i may find them a bit faster.

Finally shoot it….. and hope its as good as this!

2016-05-27 19.50.46



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James Barclay : Heart of Granite (Review) 18 Aug 2016

Author Bio

Heart of Granite  (2016)
(The first book in the Blood and Fire series)

Buy the Book


Blood and Fire has a simple premise of nomadic fantasy nations warring over diminishing resources; it has a strong twist with a main character who uncovers a series of game-changing government lies; it combines politics, war and romance into a gripping story. This is also a bold proposal: our hero may have uncovered the truth, but that doesn’t mean he can prove it. If he wants to save his team he may have to abandon them. If he wants to win the girl he’ll have to persuade her not to turn her back on him. If he wants to prove the lies, he may have to risk a descent into madness. And all against the backdrop of a vicious daily war for survival.


When i start writing any review i like to pull together a list of all that authors bibliography and occasionally i look and go wow. This is one of those…. 1999!! ive been reading James Barclay’s books for 17 years, a writer recommended to me by the great David Gemmell.

James Barclay has always produced some truly spendid, fast paced and action packed fantasy tales, so when i heard about Heart of Granite i was quite excited….. then i saw that it was SCIFI!!! I HATE SCIFI!!

But its James Barclay… the man who cannot write a bad story….. and i have always liked the man…. so i had to read it.

Its turns out that its a Stunning blend of fantasy and SCIFI that managed to WOW an old SCIFI hater like me, utterly gripping, totally original and the start of what will be a truly splendid series.

Fortunately i have a get out of jail free and can still say i hate SCIFI….. Gollancz class it as Military Fantasy…. i like that label.

In this book James Barclay creates a future world, one riven by war, fought by warriors who fly Drakes (dragons) and a variety of other creatures. Its the scope of his imagination that as always is breathtaking. He as usual effortlessly blends the information drops into the plot, so never do you feel you are being fed data about his world, it all emerges and appears before the reader.

The plot as ever with his books is effortlessly complex and deep, but reads and blends into such a fast paced narrative that that complexity is never felt, never bogged down in detail.  This isn’t just about the battle, its about the lives of the warriors and the battles they must personally face.

This is right up there leading the field as my stand out fantasy read this year, and that’s saying something because Mark Lawrence’s latest book is simply splendid.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough


Chronicles of the Raven
1. Dawnthief (1999)
2. Noonshade (2000)
3. Nightchild (2001)
Legends of the Raven
1. Elfsorrow (2002)
2. Shadowheart (2003)
3. Demonstorm (2004)
4. Ravensoul (2008)
Ascendants of Estorea
1. The Cry of the Newborn (2005)
2. Shout for the Dead (2007)
1. Once Walked With Gods (2010)
2. Rise of the TaiGethan (2012)
3. Beyond the Mists of Katura (2013)
Blood and Fire
1. Heart of Granite (2016)
Vault of Deeds (2008)
Light Stealer (2003)
Graphic Novels
Flinch (2009) (with Chris Bolton, Chris Bones, Terry Dowling, Ray Fawkes, Michael Katchan, Anton McKay, Justin Randall, Christian Read, Shaun Tan, Tom Taylor, Mel Tregonning and Colin Wilson)

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Bear Grylls: Burning Angels (Review)

Bear Grylls

Bear Grylls's picture
(Edward Michael Bear Grylls)
UK (1974)

Bear Grylls, real name Edward Michael Grylls, is a British adventurer, television presenter and writer currently best known for his television series Born Survivor (Man vs. Wild in the U.S.). He has been called the “Most Extreme Human” to have ever lived

Burning Angels  (2016)
(The second book in the Ghost Flight series)

book cover of Burning Angels

A prehistoric corpse entombed within an Arctic glacier, crying tears of blood. A jungle island overrun by rabid primates – escapees from a research laboratory’s hot zone.

A massive seaplane hidden beneath a mountain, packed with a Nazi cargo of mind-blowing evil. A penniless orphan kidnapped from an African slum, holding the key to the world’s survival.

Four terrifying journeys. One impossible path. Only one man to attempt it. Will Jaeger. The Hunter.



Last year saw the release of book one in this series Ghost Flight (2015) , as you will see by reading my review it was by and large an excellent book, fast compelling, action packed and with great characters.


Yes it had issues with the ending and a penchant forgoing overboard with the survival stuff (to be expected you may thing, but … well it still messes up the flow of a thriller). … So was there any improvement for Burning Angels?

Yes….and …No

The survival stuff takes much more of a back seat, instead the author has worked harder on character development, plot pace and action. The tension as a result gets cranked up, the depth of plot really pays off, and i’m a huge sucker for a WW2 link.

But unfortunately the author once again falls foul of the crash landing, the ending like the first book arrived like a reaper flying into a brick wall. I was really brought up short and can only think that the author was tied to a word count and wasn’t allowed beyond it for publication. Its the only reason i can think for the anticlimactic end to what had up until then been quite carefully delivered and built tension….. it was very much… ah you defeated me… ok, ending summary… bye.

I’m not sure if that spells the end for Will Jaeger? i do hope not, i think the author has the right skills to produce a high level thriller and all the way to the end, given the word count, and this is a great character and group to do it with.

This again 3/5… but closer to 4.



Mission: Survival
1. Gold of the Gods (2008)
2. Way of the Wolf (2009)
3. Sands of the Scorpion (2009)
4. Tracks of the Tiger (2010)
5. Claws of the Crocodile (2013)
6. Strike of the Shark (2013)
7. Rage of the Rhino (2014)
8. Lair of the Leopard (2015)


Ghost Flight
1. Ghost Flight(2015)
2. Burning Angels (2016)


Beck Granger Adventure
Mission Typhoon (2016)

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