Monthly Archives: August 2016

Douglas Jackson: Saviour of Rome (Review)

Douglas Jackson's picture

Douglas Jackson

Scotland (1956 – )

aka James Douglas

Douglas Jackson is the author of the successful historical novels Caligula and Claudius and my next book Hero of Rome, the first of a new trilogy, will be published in July 2010. I was born in Jedburgh on the border between England and Scotland in the summer of 1956. It’s a place full of history and haunted by the ghosts of Border reivers and the victims of centuries of bloody border warfare. I left school three weeks before my 16th birthday with six O levels and no idea what I was going to do with the rest of my life. Luckily, a friend worked in the local employment office and got me a place on a youth work scheme. It turned out to be restoring a Roman marching camp in the Cheviot Hills and I had a wonderful summer turning turf and dreaming of Romans. Later I joined my local paper and for the next 36 years worked in local and national newspapers in Scotland, including the Daily Record and the Scotsman. I left the Scotsman after nine years as assistant editor in the summer of 2009 to become a full-time writer.

Saviour of Rome

Buy from Amazon UK

AD 72. Titus Flavius Vespasianus, known as Vespasian, is Emperor of Rome, but his grip on power grows increasingly fragile as economic disaster threatens. The enormous riches from his Judaean campaigns are all but spent, legions go unpaid, and the yields from Rome’s vital Spanish goldfields have fallen dramatically since the civil war.
Gaius Valerius Verrens is recently married and building a new home when the summons arrives from the Emperor. Vespasian needs a man with the combined skills of a lawyer and a soldier to investigate what is happening in remote, mountainous Asturica Augusta where the authorities claim a bandit called The Ghost is ravaging the gold convoys.
But when Valerius arrives in Asturica he faces a much more complex situation. Stalked from the shadows he cannot tell ally from enemy, the exploited native tribes are a growing threat, and the tortured landscape itself seems capable of swallowing him up. Gradually he finds himself drawn into a much wider conspiracy, one that could plunge the Empire into a new conflict and that will place him on a deadly collision course with his old friend and most dangerous adversary, the former gladiator Serpentius.

sav

Review

Saviour of Rome, book seven in the Gaius Valerius Verrens series. I have read and reviewed each and every book as the series has progressed, and i have always complimented Douglas Jackson on his ability to find a new and exciting twist and turn to the plot, to the style and flow of the writing and to the fact that he has made each book an improvement on the last, this writer is no one trick pony. Which is where my quote “A writer at the top of his game, his books are the complete package, filled with intrigue, action and adventure” came from. A quote i was gob smacked to see on the back cover of this latest book.

Saviour of Rome is different from the previous books in the series, Verrens  has reached a stable point in his life, he could if he wanted sit back and start to enjoy life, if any man had earned some respite it is he, the Hero of Rome. But his Emperor calls and he answers.

Serpentius has vanished from Verrens life, in the aftermath of the fall of Jerusalem ( See Scourge of Rome ) and the confusion that followed Verrens as he had to leave his badly wounded friend behind, the chaos of war separated them. Does this new mission offer the possibility of a reunion? could it pit them on opposing sides?

Emperor Vespasian needs gold to prop up his bankrupt empire and the Gold Mines of Spain seem to suddenly be running dry, the local government attributes this to bandits led by a man named the Ghost or the Snake, Could the snake be Serpentius? this is all after all happening right in his home neighborhood.

In what is a departure for Douglas Jackson, Verrens embarks upon a purely fictional adventure rather than part of historical fact, it is an imagining of what could have happened giving the author free licence to explore the landscape. The historical situation was ripe for it and the author uses the historical situation of the time to create a thrilling adventure for our hero. Everything else in the tale is as ever; impeccably researched as would be expected from such a great writer.

Going under cover and with a plot that twists and winds to keep the reader guessing, in the same vein as the wonderful Nick Brown, Douglas Jackson has Verrens investigate the root of the crime, digging through layers of misdirection and deceit, viewing the horror inflicted on the locals who are forced to work the mines (again historical detail taken from the considerable research carried out by the author, and provides such a powerful view of something as mundane as mining, yet in this book as exciting as an action movie)

As always Douglas Jackson uses his twin foil main characters to expose the good and the bad of the Roman world, from the gutters of the poor all the way to the corridors of power. As a friend and intimate of Titus, son of Vespasian we walk those corridors of power, we see the machinations of the powerful in the form of the enmity of Domitian and his desire for revenge, to the provincial houses of the Spanish locals in their mountain villages . But most of all in this book we see the impact of years of stress and the toll that death takes upon a man, both Verrens and Serpentius are tired, their adventures and injuries slowing them, but their experience always carrying them through, all the ghosts of the past wearing on the soul and the tiredness it creates comes across on the page, i think this effect is something very hard to achieve successfully, but Douglas Jackson has managed it, i could feel the pain and exhaustion in the characters.

There are only a handful of books i think that could possibly beat this for book of the year, and they have not come into my hands yet…. if you have not read this series then please do so, start at book one and enjoy the ride.

(Parm)

 

Rufus
1. Caligula (2008)
2. Claudius (2009)
 Gaius Valerius Verrens
1. Hero of Rome (2010)
2. Defender of Rome (2011)
3. Avenger of Rome (2012)
4. Sword of Rome (2013 )
5. Enemy of Rome (2014)
6. Scourge of Rome (2015)
7. Saviour of Rome (2016)

 

Glen Savage mystery
War Games (2014)
Jamie Saintclaire
1. The Doomsday Testament (2011)
2. Isis Covenant
3. Excalibur Codex
4. Samurai Inheritance

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James Wilde : The Bloody Crown (Review)

James Wilde

James Wilde is a Man of Mercia. Raised in a world of books, James studied economic history at university before travelling the world in search of adventure. He was unable to forget a childhood encounter in the pages of a comic with the great English warrior, Hereward. Wilde returned to the haunted fenlands of Eastern England, Hereward’s ancestral home, where he became convinced that this legendary hero should be the subject of his first novel. Wilde now indulges his love of history and the high life in the home his family have owned for several generations, in the heart of a Mercian forest.

Author Website

bloody Crown

Hereward: The Bloody Crown: (Hereward 6)

1081. And so the bloody battle for the crown of the Holy Roman Empire begins.
Within the city of Constantinople itself, three venal factions will go to any lengths – will, it seems, kill any who might stand in their way – to seize the throne.
And outside the city’s walls, twin powers threaten a siege that will crush the once-mighty empire forever.
To the west, the voracious forces of the most feared Norman warlord are gathering. While in the east, the Turkish hordes are massing – theirs is a lust for slaughter.
And in the midst of this maelstrom of brutality and betrayal, Hereward and his English spear-brothers prepare to make what could be their final stand . . .

Review

James Wilde is back with Hereward and The Bloody Crown, this book has to be his most twisty, plot bending best. What starts out with more of the usual (and fantastic) Hereward and his spear brothers neck deep in the poo, soon transforms into a Machiavellian game of smoke and mirrors. With multiple parties vying for  control of the great city of Constantinople and what remained of its empire, Hereward and his friends and cohorts must navigate the turbulent waters of intrigue and deceit, brain becomes more important than brawn for this leader of men, and with what is currently the last in this series, what would the conclusion be? Who would live and who would die? The last book in a series can often be a death fest.

Right from the start (book 1 in 2011) James Wilde’s writing has hooked me, the style and pace he brings from his Mark Chadbourn work  coupled with his copious historical research has created a truly spell binding series, of which this book is the pinnacle.  Historically we know who wins the battle of succession, how we get there is masterfully done, with characters so well drawn and so alive that the reader is literally part of the tale, the locations sounds and smells brought to life on the page to complete your submersion into Constantinople in 1081 and the mayhem that ensues.

To add a cherry on top of this great book  finding a quote from a previous review on the rear of the dust jacket was the icing on the cake. Closing an excellent read and seeing that words i had written myself for a prior book in the series still rang true was immensely gratifying and always a little humbling, something i say a huge thank you to James Wilde for, i write the reviews because i love the books i review… That any one pays attention is still a surprise.

This book and this series is a must read for fans of reading… not just history.. but any genre.

(Parm)

Hereward
1. Hereward (2011)
aka The Time of the Wolf
2. The Devil’s Army (2012)
aka The Winter Warrior
3. End of Days (2013)
4. Wolves of New Rome (2014)
5. The Immortals (2015)
6. The Bloody Crown (2016)

Written as Mark Chadbourn
Series
Age of Misrule
1. World’s End (1999)
2. Darkest Hour (2000)
3. Always Forever (2001)
The Age of Misrule Omnibus (omnibus) (2006)
Dark Age
1. The Devil in Green (2002)
2. The Queen of Sinister (2004)
3. The Hounds of Avalon (2005)
Kingdom of the Serpent
1. Jack of Ravens (2006)
2. The Burning Man (2008)
3. Destroyer of Worlds (2009)
Swords of Albion
1. The Silver Skull (2009)
aka The Sword of Albion
2. The Scar-Crow Men (2011)
3. The Devil’s Looking-Glass (2012)
Novels
Underground (1993)
Nocturne (1994)
The Eternal (1996)
Testimony (1996)
Scissorman (1997)
The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke (2002)
Lord of Silence (2009)

Series contributed to
Doctor Who
Wonderland (2003)
Hellboy
The Ice Wolves (2008)
Anthologies containing stories by Mark Chadbourn
The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror Volume Eight(1997)
Scaremongers (1998)
Scaremongers 2 (1998)
Short stories
Six Dead Boys in a Very Dark World (1990)
The King of Rain (1996)
Above, Behind, Beneath, Beside (1997)
Vaudeville (1998)
Wan Light (1999)

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Mark De Jager : Infernal (DEBUT BOOK) Review + Guest Post

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Mark de Jager

de jager

was born and grew up in South Africa and now lives in London and works in the banking sector. He is a much loved and highly respected member of the science fiction and fantasy community, a regular at conventions and is married to author Liz de Jager.

Infernal by Mark De Jager. (Ebury Press, £16.99)

Infernal

Infernal – Ltd Ed

A daring new voice in fantasy, with an anti-hero like no other

Stratus wakes alone, with no memory of his past. All he knows is his name and that he is not human. Possessing immense strength, powerful sorcery and an insatiable hunger, he sets out across a landscape torn apart by a war, as a dark magic drives the world to the brink of destruction.

Disoriented and pursued relentlessly by enemies, he will have to learn what he truly is, or risk bringing the world into ruin…

GUEST POST

‘A kingdom 25 year in the making’.

I spent most of my teenage years and early twenties hiding behind a cardboard screen, a pastime that my mother tolerated with a lot of eyerolling and subtle questions like ‘why don’t go out and meet a nice girl instead?’. There’s no telling how things may have panned out if I’d taken that the hint, but if I had, Infernal would never have seen the light of day.

I discovered fantasy in High School, and it wasn’t long before I stumbled onto the ‘game club’ and the delights of Deathtrap Dungeon and Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf series. But it was an invitation to join a new D&D game that was, quite literally, the game changer for me. The game itself was a disaster; my character died before he could even draw a sword (something which set the pattern for every character of mine since) but I loved the sense of being inside a story.

I was a terrible and unlucky player; all dice hated me and turned every heroic gesture into a crushing defeat, but I loved the idea of it too much to quit. So instead I thought I’d try my hand at being the dungeonmaster, refereeing the game and turning bulletpoint notes into something fun. It was a learning curve, but I was far better at that than being a player.  I knew I had little or no chance of persuading my mother to part with all-too-scarce spare cash that would be ‘wasted’ on a game that the local collective of mums still thought of as a gateway to Satanism et al.

So I started photocopying the stuff I could get my hands on (sorry TSR), then adding my own notes to fill in the blanks. Dungeon maps came first, but then I had to know where the dungeons were, so I drew more maps, maps that had towns and cities on that my players suddenly wanted to visit, forcing me to figure out who lived there and what they did, and that was where my work began.

Fuelled on by the heady combination of a teenage fixation with tragic heroism and repeated watchings of Ladyhawke, Dragonslayer and the Conan movies, I started to flesh out the kingdoms that made up my world, Wunterland. As is common with most gamers, the guys in my group were highly intelligent and quick to pick up on anything that didn’t make sense. With every question and quest, that world grew a little bit more. I had records of trade agreements, climate and agricultural cycles, what monsters ate, where they lived, and what they did when no one was about. It was a fantasy world, but it was anchored to real considerations. Actions had consequences, and nothing existed in a vacuum.

Time and the nagging need to pay my own bills saw Wunterland slowly drift away, my notebooks and atlases lost to damp storage sheds and our move to the UK. But, like Goonies, some things never die.

When I decided to get serious about writing there was no doubt in my mind as to where these stories would be set, and the simple act of writing down the names of the Kingdoms and their principal cities was like opening a door back onto that period. The ingrained habit of questioning the world, and making sure there’s a logic to everything, has proven its worth many times since. In my opinion it’s an essential discipline when it comes to writing in a fantasy world. Most of it doesn’t make it onto the page, nor does it need to, but it provides a foundation and confidence to write from.

It almost makes up for missing all those parties I wasn’t invited to is an added bonus. I did get the girl though.

Many thanks Mark…… 

Review

I have to admit to fan boy begging for a copy of this book, the cover just shouts out to be read. I’m a big fan of a decent cover, and yes you can judge a book by the cover, because if the cover sucks i’m probably never going to read it….

I’m also a sucker for a debut, keeping a look out for the next great read, the person who will hit the genre like a very irate Balrog (fully committing to a geek reference), demanding notice and attention and deserving it.

So how did this stack up? it was very different, which as an opener can be good or bad. The Protagonist Stratus neither a hero or a villain wakes at the beginning of the book unable to move. The book follows his first person account / voyage of discovery to who and what he is. Strength sorcery and a very irate mental passenger all make for a dangerous force crossing the landscape of this world, and the first person allows for a clever use of descriptive to info drop the nuances of the world and its geopolitical framework.

There is a rich darkness to this book, being given free passage to a persons thoughts is a voyeuristic ride, one that is slightly disturbing, because  Startus clearly isn’t human (any fantasy reader will guess very quickly what he is, but i’m not really sure that will win any prizes). This is also clearly the start of a longer journey, as we learn about the magic of the world, the beings that inhabit it and its history, all of which both draw you in and and ask more questions, for me the sign of great writing.

I will admit to a few times being frustrated with the first person nature of the book when Stratus asks himself the same thing yet again, but like anything different it needs time to bed in, when i first read Julian Stockwin it took me time to get used to the Sea shanty nuance of the language. I did get used to those subtleties in Infernal and by the later part of the book it was hard to put down, and the hooks were well embedded by the end, leaving me wanting more more more. As ever D H H Literary Agency have found a winning combination of author, clever writing and something unique in style, bring on the next great debut (please).

Highly recommended

(Parm)

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David Gilman: The Last Horseman (Review)

David Gilman
UK

David Gilman
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.

Author Website

last horseman

Pre-Order a signed Limited edition

Dublin, 1899. On a foul night in a troubled city, lawyer Joseph Radcliffe watches the execution of a young Irish rebel. Radcliffe, together with his black American comrade Benjamin Pierce, has made a living defending the toughest cases in Dublin, but is haunted by the spectre of his defeats, the loss of his wife and child and his difficult relationship with his surviving son, Edward. While Ireland smoulders with rebellion, war breaks out in South Africa and when, after an argument with his father, Edward runs away to join the Irish forces fighting there, Radcliffe, accompanied by Pierce, sets out to find him and bring him home.

South Africa, 1900. Both Radcliffe and Pierce have known war. Former cavalrymen in the US army, they have seen enough killing to last them a lifetime. But eight hundred miles north of Cape Town, amid the trackless veld, they experience the bloody brutality of a conflict that the British generals are shocked to discover they are losing. Under fire from Boer snipers and artillery, distrusted by the British forces, the two old soldiers will find their survival skills tested to the hilt as they search for the missing boy in this epic tale of heroism and treachery, love and loyalty.

Review

As a rule i tend to avoid books that touch on the troubles in Ireland, too close to home, and a bit modern. But this book was always much more than that, it may start in Ireland and the Irish element but its the Boer War that is the core of this book, and the Boer war is something that interests me. A war that is on the cusp on the changes from cavalry warfare to something more mechanised, smokeless gunpoweder, magazine fed rifles and SLR rifles, providing a war where the death toll starts to go to sickening levels. One misconception that has long been in my head as a British invention (the concentration camp), turns out to be a Spanish / American contribution to the modern world (proving you can always learn something new), the american version from the civil war being labeled POW camps, but were in effect the same thing, Spain having the first true “Reconcentrado” (concentration camp) to control the Cuban people. Its these and the more powerful guns and rifles, coupled with the “Kommando” tactics of the Boer that start to change the face of modern warfare and provide a powerful backdrop for the author.

Into this maelstrom a young boy is cast, running from his home and past, trying to find his place in the world and understand himself, followed closely by his father Joseph Radcliffe and comrade Benjamin Pierce. Its this relationship that brings the world alive. Both ex-military men from the american wars, both men forged by the fire of battle and the horror of war, men closer than brothers and yet to others who would see them, a white man with his black servant? friend? the label would depend on where they are for the presumption of the role. Introducing the dynamic to this period in South Africa you have the Boer who see them as little more than beasts of burden, chattel to be used. The British, who should be so much more enlightened, can only see a black as a local and again a tool to be used, not a person. While the story progresses with action, and daring on the part of our two heroes, we also see a damning view of how recently we were all so unenlightened, even after so long running an empire spanning many nations, races and colours, the British class system still in place but starting to chow some cracks, and the corruption and rigidity that ran the empire.

David Gilmans writing is as always powerful and sympathetic to the subject, feeling the comradeship of the men, the horror of the death doled out in war, and yet the respect and enmity even hate that can been created for an enemy. This being a war against a militia rather than an organised (traditional) army the feelings expressed by soldiers on both sides can be very polarised. all of this captured in such a timeless tale of father and son coming to terms with each other, family history, father protecting son etc..

This is a book i highly recommend, for the stand alone story, for the sympathetic way its told, and for the simply excellent writing that drags you from rain soaked Ireland to the dusty plains of South Africa, making you experience every step and emotion along the way.

(Parm)

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

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