Monthly Archives: September 2016

James Bennett: Chasing Embers (Review) Blog Tour


James Bennett
James Bennett is a debut fantasy author currently living in Wales. Born in England and raised in South Africa and Cornwall, his travels have furnished him with an abiding love of different cultures, history and mythology. He’s had several short stories published internationally and draws inspiration from long walks, deep forests and old stones. Also the odd bottle of wine.

Chasing Embers by James Bennett, a contemporary fantasy novel perfect for fans of Ben Aaronovitch

Behind every myth there is a spark of truth . . .
There’s nothing special about Ben Garston. He’s just a guy with an attitude in a beaten-up leather jacket, drowning his sorrows about his ex in a local bar.
Or so he’d have you believe.

What Ben Garston can’t let you know is that he’s also known as Red Ben. He can’t let you know that the world of myth and legend isn’t as make-believe as you think, and it’s his job to keep that a secret. And there’s no way he can let you know what’s really hiding beneath his skin . . .

But not even Ben knows what kind of hell is about to break loose. Because a centuries-old rivalry has just resurfaced, and the delicate balance between his world and ours is about to be shattered.

Something is hiding in the heart of the city – and it’s about to be unleashed.


A debut book is always a challenge to review, how much leeway do you give the fact its a first? The more time that goes by the less leeway is the answer, because debuts get better and better… Does this cut the mustard? yes… no… almost. This begins a series and its a series with loads of promise, so you need to read book one. But it has significant world setting/ building, and character development, i think as the authors writing develops across this series he will bleed this information out in the plot rather than some of the (as it felt) heavy drops of detail. I also think that there is a habit of getting just a bit carried away with some of the descriptive…. simple can some times be better than..”“‘The sword Fulk drew from the scabbard on his back was a guillotine on the barman’s words. The youth scuttled backwards, bottles and cocktail sticks crashing to the floor, panic greasing his heels.” .. i leave it to you to decide where he got carried away… and there are many examples…


It is well worth reading, the characters are well rounded and engaging, the plot draws you in, the bad guys are….well sufficiently bad…and the plot has plenty of depth, without the need to confuse the reader.  Its a series with a significant enough amount of promise that i want the next book in the series (and im so busy with reading schedules that im happy to drop anything that doesn’t engage). I have a feeling that book 2 may see some progression in the descriptive (its a common debut book occurrence).

I give it a high 3/5 … James Bennett is a name to watch for the future.



Ben Garston
1. Chasing Embers (2016)
2. Raising Fire (2017)
Anthologies edited
African Monsters (2015)
Winter Tales (2016)

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James Benmore: Dodger of the Revolution (review)

James Benmore

Image result for james benmore
James Benmore studied literature at the Open University and has since completed an MSt in Creative Writing at Oxford University. He won the AM Heath prize in 2010 for best work of fiction by a writer graduating from Kellogg College. His short stories have been published in various anthologies. He lives in London

book cover of Dodger of the Revolution

Dodger of the Revolution  (2016)
(The third book in the Dodger series)

Buy the Book

The Artful Dodger faces his most dangerous adventure yet as he leaves Dickensian London and finds himself manning the barricades in defence of liberty, fraternity and larceny in the 1848 Paris uprising.

For Dodger, life as a criminal kingpin is losing its allure. Leading a gang of petty thieves from the Seven Dials is not as easy as Fagin made it look and after a year in charge Jack Dawkins has been reduced to a shadow of the man who used to be the envy of every pickpocket in London. Opium-addicted and heavy-fingered, Dodger is fast becoming a laughing stock on his own patch until a chance encounter leads him to Paris and a job like nothing he’s had before.

In a city alive with rebellion, Dodger must avoid assassins, jilted lovers and revolutionaries, and rediscover his touch if he is to lift his most precious treasure yet.

The third in the James Benmore’s acclaimed series continuing the story of the Artful Dodger, this book confirms Jack Dawkins as one of the great fiction characters.


Dodger is back…. i always enjoy his return. Book 3 in the series, a series which has always been an unexpected delight. This time our slippery “Ne’er-do-well” is not the power house of charming crime we have seen in the past. His life has caught up to him in the form of Opium. An addict heading for an early grave if not for some help, which arrives in the form of personal loss and some desperate French citizens.

The need from these desperate continentals takes Dodger to France and away from his addiction, into the mouth of revolution. James Benmore takes not one but two classics on in this book, as he combines into the tales of Dodger… the descendants of another well known family … see if you pick up the book and whom.

As always with this series this is a fast ride, many great characters written in such a fast engaging style. The light-hearted tone that carried us through the last two books is still there but wrapped around a much more serious plot of addiction and revolution. James Benmore nails the right tone with this book, and as ever sets up a breathless final escapade that has you clinging to the edge of the page until the end.

a series not to be missed



1. Dodger (2013)
2. Dodger of the Dials (2014)
3. Dodger of the Revolution (2016)

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Filed under Historical Fiction, James Benmore

Justin Hill : Viking Fire (Review)



Justin Hill

(1971 – )

The first of Justin Hill’s Conquest Trilogy, chronically the momentous events that surround the Battle of Hastings, in 1066, will be published in Spring 2011.

Justin is an English novelist whose work has twice been nominated for the Man Booker Prize. He was born in Freeport, Grand Bahama Island in 1971 and was brought up in York. He was educated at St Peter’s School, York, and was a member of St Cuthbert’s Society, Durham University. He worked for seven years as a volunteer with VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) in rural China and Africa, before returning home to Yorkshire in 1999. His internationally acclaimed first novel, The Drink and Dream Teahouse, won the 2003 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and a 2002 Betty Trask Award, and banned by the government in China. It was also picked by the Washington Post as one of the Top Novels of 2001.

Author Web site

Viking Fire  (2016)
(The second book in the Conquest Trilogy series)


Buy from Amazon

In 1035, a young fifteen year old Viking is dragged wounded from the battle. Left for dead, for the next twenty years his adventures lead him over mountains, down the length of Russia and ultimately to Constantinople and the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Drawn into political intrigue he will be the lover of Empresses, the murderer of an emperor; he will hold the balance of power in the Byzantine Empire in his hands, and then give it all up for a Russian princess and the chance to return home and lead his own people, where he must fight the demons of his past, his family and his countrymen in a long and bitter war for revenge and power.

Told in his own voice, this is the astonishing true story of the most famous warrior in all Christendom: Harald Hardrada, the last Viking.


Its been 5 years since Shieldwall, the immensely impressive first book in the Conquest Trilogy. I personally have been waiting for this book with bated breath (and i may have nagged him a few times), Justin Hill is a hugely talented writer, so when my advance copy landed i dived right in.

This book follows the life of Harald Hardrada, aka King Haraldr Sigurðarson given the epithet Hardrada (harðráði, roughly translated as “stern counsel” or “hard ruler”. Justin Hill takes his life story from the boy in his fathers house, the hero worship of his brother (King Olaf, later St Olaf), through his battles and growth to manhood, his battle with enemies and elements, his journey across the known world to the wonders of Miklagard (Constantinople) the heart of the Byzantine Empire. The main part of the book concentrates on Haralds rise in the center of the worlds power and his gaining of wealth, wealth enough to return home to lay his claim to the title King of Norway, and aspired to do the same with Denmark. He brought home some of the civilization of Greeks to the nordic world, a sense of permanence to their history. Ultimately we know the ending, a step to far, a kingdom beyond reach, England.

As ever with Justin’s books i learnt loads while being educated, i mean… did you know Harald founded Olso? i didn’t. The whole story felt like a thrilling education, sitting on the shoulder of a giant, while he grew to manhood and created a legend. The style of the tale totally draws the reader in, you are part of the tale, you ride and grow with Harald as an intimate member of his band. you experience every emotion, every hurt, every reversal of fortune and ecstatic victory. You can experience what a force of nature the man must have been. Most of all you can feel the research and passion of the writer in every well crafted phrase and character.

I’m a big fan of the big well planned pitched battle in a historical fiction book, but much more i love a well crafted tale that brings to life something poignant and that’s what this book is. The defeat at Stamford Bridge is written in such an emotive way and is inevitable, but the book as whole has you so invested that you have a longing, a desire that Justin has changed history, that at the end Harald will charge the English line and defeat them, that the fateful death will not arrive. How this amazing mans story has not been a bigger part of the education in this country i don’t know, he plays a major part in 1066 and a turning point in the nations history. I hope that this 950th anniversary and this book help show more people just how much.

Written in such an emotive, gritty engaging style, this book will captivate many a reader. For me it now sits as the current best read of 2016. How long it will remain in yet another year of excellent books…..well its going up against Giles Kristian in a few weeks that’s going to be a test, but what a battle of the vikings that will be, either way… This is a stunning book, a stunning read, it has displaced some amazing books for the title or best book 2016 so far, and unlike 99% of the books i read, i will be reading this book again, this is going on the best books ever shelf. I loved it, its a book that stays with you long after you finish it.


Conquest Trilogy
1. Shieldwall (2011)
2. Viking Fire (2016)
The Drink and Dream Teahouse (2001)
Passing Under Heaven (2004)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2015) (with Wang Du Lu)
Things Too Far Away (2013)

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Giles Kristian & Lancelot !!


A number one bestseller with Wilbur Smith’s Golden Lion, acclaimed for his rip-roaring Viking trilogies ‘The Raven Saga’ and ‘The Rise of Sigurd’, which come to a triumphant conclusion in December with Wings of the Storm, GILES KRISTIAN is, for his next historical adventure, plunging into the rich waters of what many feel is our greatest island ‘history’: the Arthurian legend.

Through Bill Hamilton at A. M. Heath, Transworld’s Simon Taylor has acquired UK and Commonwealth rights in Lancelot: The Betrayal plus a second novel. Scheduled for early 2018, Lancelot will offer readers a rather different telling of the story of the most celebrated of King Arthur’s knights. ‘This is such an exciting prospect’, said Taylor, ‘the dream pairing of a superb storyteller, renowned for his visceral, thrumming writing, with a tale that’s ready to be reimagined for our times. It’s a warrior’s tale, full of battles and bloodshed, of course, but it’s also a story of friendship, of betrayal – and let’s not forget there’s a great love story in there too. What’s more it’s a story imbued with the magic and superstition that was such an integral part of the enchanted landscape of post-Roman Britain.’

Transworld Publisher Bill Scott-Kerr added: ‘In Giles’ hands, this epic tale is going to be brought roaring to life for a new generation of reader. Here’s a historical novel that’s going to appeal across genders and genres.’


Personally i cannot wait the last interpretations of this legend that really worked for me were

Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell
1. The Winter King (1995)
2. Enemy of God (1996)
3. Excalibur (1997)


David Gemmell

1. Ghost King (1988)
2. Last Sword of Power (1988)

Giles is one of the few stand out authors i feel can tackle such an epic tale and pull it off… not just that, given his books have either been my book of the year of been in the top 5 since 2009, i feel we have an epic new series coming. So watch his Author web site for more detail


1. Blood Eye (2009)
2. Sons of Thunder (2010)
3. Odin’s Wolves (2011)
Bleeding Land
1. The Bleeding Land (2012)
2. Brothers’ Fury (2013)
Rise of Sigurd
1. God of Vengeance (2014)
2. Winter’s Fire (2016)
3. Wings of the Storm (2016)
Golden Lion (2015) (with Wilbur Smith)
The Terror (2014)

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Filed under Giles Kristian, Historical Fiction

Trek, or writing about living in the Wild

With Pen and Sword


Every summer since I was thirty years old, I’ve gone with a group of friends (like minded nutters) into the wilderness of the Adirondacks in kit.  Until. 2010, it was always 18th century kit; the period of the American Revolution.  Since 2013, it has always been Medieval kit; the period just exactly four hundred years earlier (1375 to 1400 ish).

Living int he past, and traveling, and camping is a world chock full of compromise.  North America isn’t remotely like Europe in some important ways, and while we can, if we work at it, imagine scenarios in which a handful of hardy companions take boats to travel for seven days, most of those scenarios would play out on pilgrimage son the Rhine, or trips on the Danube, and would often be in much larger boats.  We trekkers use Kevlar boats and we often use other modernities, too; a gravity bag…

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Michael Hughes: Countenance Divine (Review)


About the author

Michael Hughes was born and raised in Keady, Northern Ireland, and now lives in London. He read English at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, trained in theatre at the Jacques Lecoq School in Paris, and has worked for many years as an actor, under the professional name Michael Colgan. He studied creative writing at Royal Holloway, and at London Metropolitan University, where he has also taught. The Countenance Divine is his first novel.

book cover of 

The Countenance Divine

In 1999 a programmer is trying to fix the millennium bug, but can’t shake the sense he’s been chosen for something.

In 1888 five women are brutally murdered in the East End by a troubled young man in thrall to a mysterious master.

In 1777 an apprentice engraver called William Blake has a defining spiritual experience; thirteen years later this vision returns.

And in 1666 poet and revolutionary John Milton completes the epic for which he will be remembered centuries later.

But where does the feeling come from that the world is about to end?


For a debut novel The Countenance Divine by Michael Hughes is a seriously ambitious project, add to it a span of multiple centuries and multiple voices and the potential to lose the reader is huge…..

The story takes the reader from

1666 the Plague when The Great Fire of London ravage the city,  the renowned (but at the time impoverished) John Milton is trying to complete his poem ‘Paradise Lost’ .

1777, William Blake author of ‘Jerusalem’ becomes inspired by Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ and now adds visions to the poem.

1888 and Jack the Ripper describes some of his brutal murders.

1999 Chris a computer programmer works to head off the disaster that is the millennium bug.

each and every period of history twists its own tale with its own voice and own feeling of time and place, the writer does a great job of pulling you into the specifics of the time period. That is his skill in this book. I have to admit that the book was hard work, its never going to be what you call a page turner, the pace is slow and measured, and my own personal inability engage with the voices slowed it further. But it has loads to recommend it as a read, its one of those that if you persevere you will be rewarded because its a cleverly woven novel from a writer with buckets of talent, certainly a name for the future and sometimes thats what you need to look for with a debut, the skill of the writer and the potential for the future…. this book is going to appeal to many… but i love my action, so this missed a little for me….. (but wow what a cover).

worth a try, i think many will really rate this book.


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Song of War (Review)

Kate Quinn

Kate Quinn is a native of southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Classical Voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga, and two books in the Italian Renaissance detailing the early years of the infamous Borgia clan. All have been translated into multiple languages.

Christian Cameron

Image result for christian cameron

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

After the longest undergraduate degree on record (1980-87), he joined the United States Navy, where he served as an intelligence officer and as a backseater in S-3 Vikings in the First Gulf War, in Somalia, and elsewhere. After a dozen years of service, he became a full time writer in 2000. He lives in Toronto (that’s Ontario, in Canada) with his wife Sarah and their daughter Beatrice, currently age seven. He attends the University of Toronto when the gods move him and may eventually have a Masters in Classics, but right now he’s a full time historical novelist, and it is the best job in the world.

Christian is a dedicated reenactor and you can follow some of his recreated projects on the Agora. He’s always recruiting, so if you’d like to try the ancient world, the medieval world, or the late 18th century, follow the link to contact us.

SJA Turney

I live with my wife, son and 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 the 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 paint ing and decorating sales. I have lived in four counties and travelled as widely as time and budget allowed and find myself finally 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 the fantasy trilogy complete, six volumes in the Marius’ Mules series, and two books of the Ottoman Cycle quadrilogy now out.

I maintain another website detailing the Roman sites I visit and photograph, and write a blog about books. I am an almost terminally chatty person. That’s just a due warning if you feel like contacting me (see above.) I am always happy to speak to people and have put together an FAQ gathered together from things I have been asked previously.

Libbie Hawker

Libbie Hawker

Libbie was born in Rexburg, Idaho and divided her childhood between Eastern Idaho’s rural environs and the greater Seattle area. She presently lives in Seattle, but has also been a resident of Salt Lake City, Utah; Bellingham, Washington; and Tacoma, Washington. She loves to write about character and place, and is inspired by the bleak natural beauty of the Rocky Mountain region and by the fascinating history of the Puget Sound.

After three years of trying to break into the publishing industry with her various books under two different pen names, Libbie finally turned her back on the mainstream publishing industry and embraced independent publishing. She now writes her self-published fiction full-time, and enjoys the fact that the writing career she always dreamed of having is fully under her own control.

Libbie’s writerly influences are varied, and include Vladimir Nabokov, Hilary Mantel, Annie Dillard, George R. R. Martin, songwriter Neko Case, and mixed-media storyteller Chris Onstad, to name but a few.

She previously wrote under the pen name L.M. Ironside (historical fiction)

Stephanie Thornton

I’m a writer and high school history teacher who has been obsessed with infamous women from history since I was twelve.
My first two novels, The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora and Daughter of the Gods: A Novel of Ancient Egypt focus on two of history’s forgotten women: Theodora of the Byzantine Empire and Pharaoh Hatshepsut.My third novel and fourth books center around the women who stood behind the greatest conquerors the world has ever seen. The Tiger Queens is the story of Genghis Khan’s wifeand daughters, while The Conqueror’s Wife tells of the women who both loved and hated Alexander the Great.I recently joined the H Team to help write a collaborative novel, Song of War: A Novel of Troy (Available October 2016) in which I tell the story of Cassandra, King Priam’s cursed seer of a daughter.I live with my husband and daughter in Alaska, where I’m at work on my next novel about history’s forgotten women.
Vicky Alvear Shecter
Vicky Alvear Shecter is the award-winning author of Young Adult Fiction

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an archaeologist. By the time I entered college, I had forgotten my dreams of digging in the dirt and ended up with a degree possibly even less marketable than archaeology—English. My love for ancient history went underground as I threw myself into a career writing marketing materials for banks, corporations, and tech companies.

I reconnected with my love of the past when I started telling my kids stories about some of Alexander the Great’s most outlandish antics. They started asking for more, so I wrote a kid’s biography on that crazy character and in 2006, Alexander the Great Rocks the World was born. The book was well received and was named a VOYA Honor Book for nonfiction and to the list of “25 Books all Georgia Children Should Read” by the Georgia Center for the Book. In 2010, my biography of Cleopatra—Cleopatra Rules! The Amazing Life of the Original Teen Queen—was released and was similarly well received.

In 2011, I moved into young adult historical fiction with the release of Cleopatra’s Moon(Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic), named one of the best books of 2012 by the Center for Children’s Literature. The novel is a coming of age story of Cleopatra’s real-life daughter, Selene, and offers a glimpse of both Egypt and Rome during the latter’s transition into the age of Empire. The novel earned excellent reviews in Publisher’s Weekly, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and other national outlets, including Atlanticonline and EW online.

My latest young adult novel, Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii (May 2014), tells of the story of two teens in the weeks leading up to the eruption. Publisher’s Weekly said the novel “makes clever use of the historical eruption to give her tragic climax a bitterly ironic twist.” Kirkus said, “the eruption engenders considerable tension as the lovers try to escape.”

In 2013, my midgrade series on mythology—Secrets of the Ancient Gods— was released by Boyds Mills Press. School Library Journal called the first book in the series—Anubis Speaks! A Guide to the Afterworld by the Egyptian God of the Dead“wickedly funny” and “chock full of interesting information.” It was a Cybils Award Finalist for midgrade nonfiction. The second in the series, Hades Speaks! A Guide to the Underworld by the Greek God of the Dead releases October 2014. And Thor Speaks! A Guide to the Norse Realms by the Viking God of Thunder releases in 2015.

For nearly a decade I have served as a docent at the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Antiquities at Emory University where I get to share my passion for ancient history with visiting school kids. Few things make me happier than showing off our Egyptian mummies and breathtaking classical statues.

Russell Whitfield

Author Russell Whitfield

Russell Whitfield was born in Shepherds Bush in 1971. An only child, he was raised in Hounslow, West London, but has since escaped to Ham in Surrey.

Russell has had an (almost) life long fascination with ancient Greece and Rome, sparked by seeing the The Three Hundred Spartans on ITV in the seventies. Educated to A-Level, he did not complete college, preferring instead to seek fame and fortune in a heavy metal band. Sadly, fame and fortune were not forthcoming and a career in telesales beckoned. A series of jobs followed culminating in the heady heights of ‘content editor’ for a large multi-national.

Gladiatrix was Russ’s first novel, published in 2008 by Myrmidon Books. The sequel, Roma Victrix, continues the adventures Lysandra, the Spartan gladiatrix, and a third book, Imperatrix, sees Lysandra stepping out of the arena and onto the field of battle.

Heavy Metal is Russ’s music of choice, though he was also in a goth band and thus has the obligatory Sisters of Mercy and Mission CD’s in his collection.

He is a huge fan of the Swedish band Hysterica and has written a song for their forthcoming album The Art of Metal.


Troy: city of gold, gatekeeper of the east, haven of the god-born and the lucky, a city destined to last a thousand years. But the Fates have other plans—the Fates, and a woman named Helen. In the shadow of Troy’s gates, all must be reborn in the greatest war of the ancient world: slaves and queens, heroes and cowards, seers and kings . . . and these are their stories.

A young princess and an embittered prince join forces to prevent a fatal elopement.

A tormented seeress challenges the gods themselves to save her city from the impending disaster.

A tragedy-haunted king battles private demons and envious rivals as the siege grinds on.

A captured slave girl seizes the reins of her future as two mighty heroes meet in an epic duel.

A grizzled archer and a desperate Amazon risk their lives to avenge their dead.

A trickster conceives the greatest trick of all.

A goddess’ son battles to save the spirit of Troy even as the walls are breached in fire and blood.

Seven authors bring to life the epic tale of the Trojan War: its heroes, its villains, its survivors, its dead. Who will lie forgotten in the embers, and who will rise to shape the bloody dawn of a new age?

Buy the book


I thought initially when i reviewed this book that i would review it based on each authors song, their tone, tenor, base etc.. how their voice echoed the tone of the people and the time. But then as i read it i saw very quickly that this team had blended their voices perfectly into a perfect harmonic whole, a song of Troy, making it difficult to individualize one over the other.

The whole book feels immensely personal as we join individual characters taken from the pages of the Iliad and given life, and not just the template life of the Iliad but complex interacting real characters dealing with the minutia of life as well as the heroic and sickening deeds of battle.

I would suspect that many would be waiting for me to call out and laud Christian Cameron’s (as i’m a known fan), story as my fav in the book, but to be honest everyone created their own immensely real characters that i can only go with my fav character from the tale and that is Odysseus, oddly he is probably the nerd of the bunch and i love the fighting. But he is the brains not the brawn, and he has always felt to me to have so many more levels than the other characters, and i’m always drawn to him because his tale never ends at Troy….  Special mention does also go to Simon Turney though, the end song, this one had to pull all the final threads together, and allowed him to end with the lead into the tale of the Aeneid with its founding of Rome and his great passion, (something he managed with great skill).

For a story that we all know so well, to find that its told in a way that leaves you on the edge of your seat throughout wondering if something might change, if Cassandra might be believed, as the passion and madness of her character race across the page, to… would Aeneas be able to save someone in the destruction of Troy, Or could it be avoided if Hector and Achilles find a way to walk away from a fight…and so much more, this speaks volumes of the ability of all the writers in this group.

What ever it is for you and on what ever level it works for you,  for me the Tale has ended, the songs are done, but this book joins some of the great tales of Troy, and the notes of Troy’s song will continue to echo through eternity when writers of passion and skill enthrall readers in this way.




Filed under Christian Cameron, Historical Fiction, S J A Turney, Uncategorized

SJA Turney: Insurgency (extract)

Author Website


In his own words:

I live with my wife, son and 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 the 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 paint ing and decorating sales. I have lived in four counties and travelled as widely as time and budget allowed and find myself finally 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 the fantasy trilogy complete, six volumes in the Marius’ Mules series, and two books of the Ottoman Cycle quadrilogy now out.

I maintain another website detailing the Roman sites I visit and photograph, and write a blog about books. I am an almost terminally chatty person. That’s just a due warning if you feel like contacting me (see above.) I am always happy to speak to people and have put together an FAQ gathered together from things I have been asked previously.





There is a strange saying among the northern folk:

‘a tripod may stand solid, but a ladder can be climbed.’


The emperor Kiva the Golden moved about his court like a gilded moth, flittering from flame to flame, moving on briskly before his wings were singed. A tall, willowy figure with slim build and slender fingers, a wise, contemplative face and his father’s eyes, Kiva played the role of ruler of the civilised world with aplomb. He was a master of tact and tactics, playing down the argumentative, suppressing the sycophantic, embracing the distant and fending off the o’er-close. Even now, as he was cornered by some brash western lord with rosy cheeks and an even rosier nose, Kiva laughed off some accidental slight, deftly swiping a crystal goblet of wine from a passing tray, slipping it smoothly into the drunken lord’s hand and removing the empty with barely a glance. As the lord realised he had a full glass once more he reached down and took a deep swig. When he looked up, the emperor was gone, swirling in the dance of sociability, quick-stepping with an ambassador from Pelasia.

Quintillian watched from the side-lines.

Not for him the pageantry of the imperial celebrations. He danced with the best of men, but only when his hand held a blade and the end of the dance meant the end of a life. Instead, the younger brother of the emperor, senior marshal of the armies and lord of Vengen, stood on a narrow, balustraded balcony overlooking the grand evening, half hidden in the shadows above the hall. Here in the old days musicians would sit by lamplight playing their hearts out. In these times it was more common for such entertainment to be placed among the guests for better captivation of their melody.

The balcony was dark, and Quintillian smiled as he took a sip of his wine and watched his brother at work. They had always been close, he and Kiva – closer than most brothers. But their father had brought them up like that – to believe that family was all, and that nothing in the world had the right, nor the power, to stand between two brothers who loved each other. Their father, of course, had suffered in his life, losing the friend who had been as close as a brother – Quintillian’s namesake, in fact – during the great interregnum. And he had lost a father – a great father – before he had even found out who he was. And so the emperor Darius had instilled in his sons the need for that bond and for a closeness with no secrets.

No secrets…

Some secrets were kept out of love, though. Hadn’t their father ever considered that?

It had been a hard time, five years ago, when their father had died. Darius had been an active emperor and a good one, long-reigning. After the twenty years of civil war and anarchy, he had put the empire back together, healed the wounds of the land and its people, and initiated a golden age that had lasted longer than anyone could have hoped. When he had finally passed on, in his chambers on the island of Isola, it had been after a full life and with a reign fulfilled. And he had followed all his friends to the grave, knowing that they were all waiting for him in the afterlife, for he was not a man to believe in the divinity of rulers, just like his sons.

Kiva had taken the purple cloak and the obsidian sceptre, the orb of the heavens in his other hand, the very next day. There had, of course, been no dissent over the natural succession of eldest son, though there had been a few voices that had expressed the quiet, careful opinion that the younger brother might have been stronger in the role. Not that they would have pushed for a change, and most certainly Quintillian would have refused. Not that he couldn’t have done the job, not that he would be unwilling to, but his brother was natural heir and that was all there was to it.

And Kiva was good at it. There was simply no denying that.

Five years to the day since the accession and the blessings, that purple cloak almost gleaming in the sun, so well brushed was the velvet. Five years of growth for the empire and of peace within its borders. Five years of strong economies and excellent external relations. It had seemed wholly appropriate to celebrate such a milestone in this manner, with everyone of any rank both within and without the empire all gathered at the palace in Velutio. And among the tanned visages of the imperial lords, governors, officers and administrators, there were different faces – interesting faces. The king of the Gotii beyond the Pula mountains with his retinue, for instance. It was the first time those violent raiders had visited the capital – the first time in the empire’s history when relations between the two people had been good enough. The Gota king sat with his three wives and his close companions not far from the emperor’s seat. He was a tall and broad man with a flat face, strong jaw, flaxen hair and ice blue eyes. His wives were… well, Quintillian had oft heard it said that the Gota prized strength and ability to bear children above simple looks. It had taken Quintillian some time to distinguish the wives from the bodyguards, of whom there were five, including relations of the king himself. They had been denied the right to carry weapons this close to the emperor, but there was no doubt in Quintillian’s mind that each of them could kill in the blink of an eye with just their bare hands. And there was the king’s seer: an old man with hair down to his backside, who wore dirty rags and the pelts of a number of unfortunate small animals, their bones clattering in his hair as he moved. He gave Quintillian the shivers, not least since he seemed to be the only person aware that the younger brother was here, having looked up into the shadows directly at him.

There were other northern chieftains who were in the process of buying into the imperial model in Kiva’s new world, too, though they all looked a little like the Gota king would have, had he tried to assimilate into imperial culture.

There were two kings from the dark-skinned lands south of Pelasia. They were interesting, but required a translator to pass even the slightest time of day, and Quintillian’s brief introduction to them at the start of the celebration had been hard work. Their world was so alien, and most of Quintillian’s hungry questions had been lost on them with no mutual frame of reference. Invites had even been sent to the lords of that peculiar eastern world beyond the steppes from whence silk came, though they had not come. Very likely the messengers never reached those lands. Few did, for the route to the silk lands crossed the most dangerous territories in the world. That had been a shame, though. Quintillian liked the feel of silk and it was said that the sharper a blade was, the more likely the miraculous material was to turn it aside. The idea of a light fabric that could stop a blade was simply too fascinating to him. One day, if they did not come here, he would have to go to them.

And, of course, there were the Pelasians. Three of their highest nobles were present, including a prince of the realm. Young Ashar Parishid though – son of Ashar the great, and God-King of Pelasia – sadly could not be here. A riding accident had left him with a badly broken leg a week earlier, and he had been advised by the best physicians in the world that he would recover fully, but there was simply no way he could leave his chambers for several weeks. It must had been a terrible blow for Ashar, for while he and the emperor – and Quintillian too, for that matter – were as close friends as it was possible for neighbouring rulers to be, Ashar would be particularly missing the opportunity to visit his beloved sister.


The empress.

Jala, unlike her husband, sat upon her comfortable divan at the heart of proceedings, smiling and doling out compliments. Each of her honeyed words was as sought after as a lordship or a chest of gold, and each was prized and tightly-held once received. Her soft skin, the light brown of the deep desert, was more on show than was traditional among imperial ladies. But then Jala was no ordinary imperial lady. She was a princess of Pelasia, sister to the God-King, and now, for five years, wife of the emperor Kiva the Golden. And she was exquisite.

Yes, some secrets had to be kept for the good of all concerned.

For two years now, Kiva had been pushing him to marry – to take a wife from among the many beauties of the imperial court. His brother simply could not understand why Quintillian remained alone. But how could he marry a woman knowing that his heart was already in the care of another. It beat silently, deep in his chest, only for Jala. And it would beat silently for her until the end of his days, for even the hint of such a thing carried the scent of tragedy, and neither Kiva nor Jala deserved such a thing. So Quintillian would remain alone. What need had he of a wife anyway? True soldiers should not take wives, for a warrior took a promising girl and turned her into a hollow widow. It was the way of things. And while there was no true need for an officer of such high command to involve himself directly in combat, there was something in the song of steel and the dance of blades that called to Quintillian. He could no more refuse to fight than he could refuse to breathe… than he could open his heart…

Something was happening now, down in the hall. Quintillian squinted into the thick, cloying atmosphere of oil lamps, braziers and incense.

An argument had broken out between two guests. Ordinarily such things would be unthinkable in the imperial presence, but the variety of uncivilised figures present had made such things almost an inevitability. That was why his favourite marshal, Titus, son of Tythias, had positioned burly, competent imperial guards in strategic positions around the hall, subtly-armed.

Quintillian contemplated descending from the balcony to deal with the problem, but Titus’ men were already moving to contain the trouble, so the younger brother relaxed a little and leaned on the balustrade, watching.

‘Trouble,’ muttered a familiar voice behind him. Quintillian didn’t rise or turn, simply smiling as he continued to lean on the balcony.

‘Titus. How did you know where I was.’

‘I am your brother’s best officer and commander of his guard. I know where everyone is. It’s part of my job.’ Titus Tythianus slipped in next to Quintillian, leaning his scarred forearms on the stone rail, waggling his nine remaining fingers.

‘Yes, it seems there’s a spot of trouble,’ Quintillian noted. ‘Shall we intervene?’

Titus snorted. ‘Not unless they threaten imperial guests. In some of these cultures they murder each other for entertainment. If it gets out of hand my men will deal with it. It’s unseemly anyway for a member of the imperial family to involve himself in a brawl.’

Quintillian chuckled and watched as the two arguing groups moved closer.

‘I recognise the Gota one, but I can’t place the white-haired one,’ Quintillian said almost conversationally.

Below, the crowd was beginning to pull apart, leaving a circle at the centre, where one of the Gotii – a strapping young man… not a woman? No, not one of the wives. A big strong warrior with a face like an abused turnip was stamping his feet like a petulant child, roaring imprecations in a tongue that sounded like someone gargling with broken glass. The crowd was fascinated, though not enough to involve themselves any closer than at the level of interested spectator.

At the far side of the expanding circle, one of the northern lords was sneering and waving a deprecating finger at the Gota warrior. But it was not that lord who was stepping forward. It was a strange pale figure. Both northerners – lord and servant – looked in build and physical makeup to have far more in common with the king of the Gotii than their imperial hosts, yet they wore breeches and tunic in the imperial style, if of an outdated northern cut and in semi-barbaric colours.


It was a recent process, begun by the emperor Darius, but continued by Kiva in the same vein. You took the barbarian tribes who lived around the borders and you brought them to the empire. You introduced them to the benefits of imperial culture, engineering and science, and you dazzled them with what they could have. Then you offered to send them men to help build aqueducts and temples, bridges and mills. You often built their chiefs palaces to house their egos. And all you asked in return was that they pay lip service to the emperor and protect the borders from the less civilised barbarians beyond. As a system it made sense. And it had proven to work too, for already, a decade on, some of those barbarian nobles had brought their lands into the empire entire, becoming lords in their own right and expanding the borders through gentle, subtle assimilation, as the same process then began on the tribes beyond.

But they were decades away from being true imperial subjects, even if that were ever to happen.

Certainly, looking at the behaviour unfolding in the hall below, this particular northern border lord seemed to be far from cultured.

‘The noble is Aldegund, lord of Adrennas,’ Titus said quietly. ‘He’s one of the ones your father first settled. He’s been a lord now for over five years, and two more semi-barbarian border tribes owe him fealty already. He alright, I suppose. A bit brash and still far from courtier material, but he’s loyal and he knows he’s onto a good thing. His ghost I don’t know, but he’s a reedy fellow. Don’t much fancy his chances against the Gota.’

‘Will you have your men stop it?’

Titus shook his head. ‘Aldegund should know better, and his man is about to learn a horrible lesson. But once he’s seen this, he won’t do the same again. The Gotii take insults very personally, and they cleanse their spirit of insult with the blood of the offender. That pale, ghostly fellow is about to die. Unless he’s very lucky. Maybe the Gota warrior’s feeling generous and he’ll just rip off an arm. They are celebrating and having a drink after all.’

The Gota warrior had removed his leather vest and was stretching his arms, moving like a dancer. Quintillian appreciated his form. He was a warrior bred to the art. The white-haired, pale northerner opposite him just sneered and took another drink from his cup.

‘He really doesn’t know what he’s in for,’ Titus snorted.

Quintillian frowned. ‘A gold corona on the pale one.’

Titus’ eyebrow ratcheted upwards. ‘Are you mad?’

‘He’s not afraid.’

‘Maybe that’s because he’s stupid? Aldegund certainly seems to be. And that half-naked warrior is the third bastard son of the Gota king. He’ll have been trained with the best of the Gotii.’

‘There’s something about the white one. I think you’re underestimating him. Is it a wager?’

‘Damn right it’s a wager,’ snorted Titus. ‘And make it five.’

‘Five it is.’

Down below, the crowd was now in a wide circle around the two combatants, Titus’ guardsmen in plain evidence, making sure the duel was contained. The Gota was snarling again in his horrible language. The icy white opponent was examining his nails.

‘Make it ten,’ Quintillian said quietly.


At a command from the king, the two men moved towards one another. On the balcony, Quintillian glanced to the side. Titus looked hungry, like a spectator at the pit fights, and the sight of him leering down at the two men made the prince smile.

The Gota warrior struck the first blow, which had seemed inevitable. Stepping the last pace into the fight, the hairy north-easterner with the naked torso and the leather kirtle delivered a powerful punch to the ghost’s upper left arm at a point that would surely deaden the muscle for some time. Barely had the white-haired northerner had a breath to recover before the second blow took him in the gut, followed by a head-butt that sent him staggering back a pace. The Gota threw his arms out and roared as his father and the other Gotii cheered him on. The crowd thrummed with inappropriate interest.

‘Easiest money I’ll ever make,’ snorted Titus.

‘I’m still not so sure.’

The white man was stepping slowly backwards, regaining his senses as he went, while the Gota played to the crowd, roaring and beating his chest.

‘He’s not really got going yet,’ Titus hissed. ‘I’ve fought Gotii. This is just warming up. I kid you not – he’ll rip off the man’s arm. I’ve seen it done and by smaller Gotii than him!’

‘He’s predictable. The ghost isn’t.’

I predict he’s going to die,’ snorted Titus. ‘He never even raised a fist to block that flurry!’

‘Precisely. He never even tried. He was seeing what the man could do. Testing him.’

‘If he’s very lucky he’ll test him to death.’

The pale figure had stopped now and was pacing forward again. He still didn’t appear prepared for the fight. He was sauntering as though he wandered quiet gardens. The Gota warrior snarled and came on once more, smacking his fists against his hips and then bringing up his hands into a fighting stance. As they closed to three or four paces the Gota leapt, swinging his punch, aiming for the pale man’s other arm to deaden a second muscle and leave him largely helpless.

It all happened in such a blur that the pair on the balcony almost missed it. A moment later, the ghost was standing behind his opponent, and the Gota was dead.

Titus blinked.

As the burly warrior had swung and stepped in to the strike, the white-haired man had simply bent like a stalk of grass in the wind, slipped beneath the lunging arm, and delivered his own blows – three in such quick succession that they were almost invisible to the naked eye. But Quintillian had seen the angle of the moves and could see the results clearly enough to identify the strikes. The numb arm he’d been unable to raise but had instead used it to grab hold of the pronounced hamstring behind his opponent’s knee, wrenching it agonisingly. And even in the blink of an eye that his opponent had begun to collapse, white-hair’s other hand had jabbed twice. The first blow had struck at the point where shoulder meets neck, paralysing the muscle there and thus – along with the hamstring – rendering the Gota’s entire left side useless. But as quick as the thumb had left the flesh, it struck again, a jagged thumbnail tearing a small nick in the neck. It was a minute hole. But it was well placed. The vein beneath was an important one, and the dark blood was jetting from it with impressive strength.

The white man straightened, examined his nails again, and now chewed off the jagged point he’d deliberately left as he strolled around the stricken man and back to his lord.

‘Shit on a fat stick!’ breathed Titus, slapping the balustrade. ‘How the hell did he do that?’

‘Planning,’ Quintillian smiled. ‘He was willing to take a couple of blows to size up his chances.’

‘I’m glad he’s on our side. At least I won’t worry so much about the northern borders any more!’

Quintillian chuckled as Titus slipped the coins grudgingly into his palm. Down below, Lord Aldegund was congratulating his man in a quiet, steady tone – the white man’s name, it transpired, was Halfdan. No one seemed to be paying any attention to the dying Gota at the centre of the circle, who had now collapsed to the floor, entirely useless and paralysed on one side, desperately trying to hold his vein shut with his other arm as he slipped and slid in the growing pool of his own blood. But the pressure was too much and he was already becoming weak. The warrior looked up imploring at his father, the Gota king, but all he found there was contempt as the king turned his face from the bastard son who had so clearly disappointed him.

The Gota champion died unsung and alone on the floor and such was the speed and efficiency of the palace staff and the guard that within a matter of minutes all that remained to mark the passing of these events was a clean damp section of marble.

Quintillian gave an odd half smile as Titus disappeared back to the stairs muttering to himself. The younger brother could see the emperor moving among them now, absolving Aldegund and his man of any blame in what had happened and giving reassurance, then passing on to the Gota king – not commiserating, since clearly the king cared little – but empathising and discussing the qualities of warriors. Kiva may not have the makings of a fighter himself, but he knew what made one, and he was a consummate politician.

Perhaps Titus was right and men like this Halfdan were the future of border defences. It certainly freed up the military from dull garrison life on the edge of empire and made them useful for such things as construction of roads and aqueducts, keeping banditry down and clearing the seas of pirates. The north, then, was protected, and with Pelasia tied to them by marriage the south was settled. To the west: the open ocean. Only the lands to the east were still troublesome, but they would ever be so.

For a moment, Quintillian wondered whether the nomad horse clans of the steppe would be amenable to a similar arrangement as the barbarians in the north. No… they had no concept of home or ownership. They were nomadic. How could a people who never stopped moving guard a border? Besides, trying to get the thousand disparate horse clans to agree on anything together would be like trying to nail fog to a tree. The east would always be a fluid border with the risk of banditry and raids, and the imperial military would need to keep men around that edge of the world for safety.

Lost in thought about the strange eastern land of silk-makers, the ephemeral nature of the horse clans and the solidity of imperial frontiers, Quintillian had no idea he had company until there was a faint rustle behind him. He turned, startled.

Jala stood silhouetted in the faint light of the stairwell, the back-glow making her robe surprisingly gauzy and throwing her shape into sharp relief most inappropriately. Quintillian swallowed down his panic and his desire somewhat noisily and threw a fraternal smile across his face.

‘Dearest sister.’

‘Quintillian, why will you not join the festivities? Must you lurk here in the shadows like some monster in a poor play?’

She reached out and grasped his upper arms in her warm, sensuous fingers, and Quintillian gave an involuntary shudder.

‘I… I don’t like parties. I don’t socialise well.’

‘Nonsense,’ Jala smiled. ‘I have seen you do just that many times.’

‘I’m not in the mood, Jala.’

Her lip stuck out slightly in a barely discernible pout, and Quintillian almost laughed despite himself.

‘Come on, dear Quintillian.’

‘I really cannot. I should be doing many other things. And you should be with your husband down there.’

Without warning, Jala leaned close and planted a kiss upon his lips before leaning back with a strange smile. ‘Your brother is too busy with affairs of state to keep me company, and I tire of all these rough northerners. I need company, Quintillian. Good company.’

Quintillian stared in abject panic.

‘You look like a hare caught in the hunter’s gaze,’ she chuckled. ‘Will you come join me, then?’

Quintillian’s voice seemed to have vanished. It was there somewhere, though, deep inside, and it took a great deal of coaxing to draw it up into his throat where it still wavered and croaked.

‘I’ll be down shortly.’

‘Don’t keep me waiting,’ Jala smiled, and swayed off back into the stairwell.

Quintillian stared at her retreating form and continued to gaze at the empty archway long after she had gone. His mind was churning like a winter sea, his heart hammering out like a cavalry horse at the charge. Had that been innocent? Was he reading something into what just happened that wasn’t truly there?

But Quintillian prided himself on his ability to read people. Had not his instincts just won him ten gold corona? And he had seen Jala’s eyes as she’d lunged forth and kissed him. It had been as deliberate a blow as any he’d ever struck with a sword. It had been no kiss of brother and sister, for all its seeming innocence from the outside. He had seen through her eyes. He had seen into her soul. And there it had been: the reflection of himself. The longing. The desire. Suppressed beneath a veneer of civilisation and correctness. She had wanted him as he wanted her!

The realisation almost floored him.

He turned back to the room, suddenly aware he was trembling and sweating coldly. Down below, he saw Jala emerge once more into the hall, barely noticed amid the rich and the powerful. Kiva spotted her through the crowd and gave her a warm smile, which she returned easily, but he was trapped in conversation by a pair of stocky, swarthy lords and as soon as smiles had been exchanged he was back again, drawn into their talk. Jala took her seat at the room’s centre once more, where she became an island amid a sea of busy socialising.

Quintillian stared at her.

What should he do? What could he do?

A line had been crossed, a barrier broken. And no hand in the world could repair that barrier. No digit could redraw the line. Why were human hearts such fragile things? As fragile as an empire, perhaps? An empire could not ruin a heart, but for certain a heart could shatter an empire if misused.

The panic was gone, but it had left a desolate, hollow uncertainty in its place.

He had to do something, but what?

He made the mistake – or was it a mistake? – of looking down at Jala just as she looked up at him from her divan, and his gaze swept in through her eyes and deep into her heart once more, leaving him in absolutely no doubt now that Jala shared his feelings. Oh, he did not doubt that she loved Kiva. And so did he. And therein lay the worst of the problem, for he could no more hurt his brother than he could strike off his own head.

Fragile. Hearts and empires.

Whatever he did, it would have to take him away from Jala, he realised, for if they remained in the same place, no matter how hard they might fight it, trouble would be inevitable. One man could live with impossible, unrequited love, no matter how painful. But to have that love shared could bring down the whole empire.

No, he had to find a way out somehow.

And soon.


Insurgency is published by Canelo priced £3.99 as an ebook.

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Filed under Fantasy, Historical Fiction, S J A Turney

Bernard Cornwell : The Flame Bearer

Bernard Cornwell was born in London in 1944 – a ‘warbaby’ – whose father was a Canadian airman and mother in Britain’s Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.

He was adopted by a family in Essex who belonged to a religious sect called the Peculiar People (and they were), but escaped to London University and, after a stint as a teacher, he joined BBC Television where he worked for the next 10 years.

He began as a researcher on the Nationwide programme and ended as Head of Current Affairs Television for the BBC in Northern Ireland. It was while working in Belfast that he met Judy, a visiting American, and fell in love. Judy was unable to move to Britain for family reasons so Bernard went to the States where he was refused a Green Card. He decided to earn a living by writing, a job that did not need a permit from the US government – and for some years he had been wanting to write the adventures of a British soldier in the Napoleonic wars – and so the Sharpe series was born. Bernard and Judy married in 1980, are still married, still live in the States and he is still writing Sharpe.

Author Website

The Flame Bearer (2016)
(The tenth book in the Last Kingdom series)


The Flame Bearer (The Last Kingdom Series, Book 10)

The brand new novel in Bernard Cornwell’s number one bestselling series on the making of England and the fate of his great hero, Uhtred of Bebbanburg.

BBC2’s major TV show THE LAST KINGDOM is based on the first two books in the series.

From the day it was stolen from me I had dreamed of recapturing Bebbanburg. The great fort was built on a rock that was almost an island, it was massive, it could only be approached on land by a single narrow track – and it was mine.

Britain is in a state of uneasy peace. Northumbria’s Viking ruler, Sigtryggr, and Mercia’s Saxon Queen Aethelflaed have agreed a truce. And so England’s greatest warrior, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, at last has the chance to take back the home his traitorous uncle stole from him so many years ago – and which his scheming cousin still occupies.

But fate is inexorable and the enemies Uhtred has made and the oaths he has sworn combine to distract him from his dream of recapturing Bebbanburg. New enemies enter into the fight for England’s kingdoms: the redoubtable Constantin of Scotland seizes an opportunity for conquest and leads his armies south. Britain’s precarious peace threatens to turn into a war of annihilation.

But Uhtred is determined that nothing, neither the new enemies nor the old foes who combine against him, will keep him from his birthright. He is the Lord of Bebbanburg, but he will need all the skills he has learned in a lifetime of war to make his dream come true.


In 2013 i decided i wasn’t going to read the next Uhtred book, i would take a break, so when Flame Bearer landed with me i thought i might be time to play catch up, and see if the gap had made the books any fresher

7. The Pagan Lord (2013)
8. The Empty Throne (2014)
9. Warriors of the Storm (2015)
10. The Flame Bearer (2016)

4 book in under 2 weeks was my aim.

I’m happy to say that after the gap Uhtred did seem fresh again, that jaded feeling i also got by the tail end of Sharpe had gone, probably due to the semi superhuman quality of the lead characters who cannot die.

As always these 4 new books had that sharp, fast paced action, that hard nosed action that you expect from our pagan Saxon. The plots of each story twisted around and away from many expected directions keeping me guessing just what it was that Uhtred had divined from the enemies dispositions and actions. The complexity of him as a Saxon with an inner Dane has always led to action that cant be predicted, his morals of not killing Women and children despite the trouble it would cause him, but always divining a way out, his utter irreverence towards Christianity and its corrupt priests and yet his respect for the truly pious ones. Uhtred is so truly complex you cannot predict how Bernard Cornwell will use him.

That said i still had the age old gripe….. either take Bebbanburg or shut up about it, by Flame Bearer if he didn’t take the dammed place i was going to take his seax and finish him.

I shan’t spoil the result of the book or say if i will read any more. but i will say that the while the action is there in Flame Bearer and the twisted machinations, that TBH, Mr Cornwell rubs in your face this time, the book had a more somber edge.

So much hinged on so many wild ass guesses by Uhtred and the result of failure was clearly spelled out for the reader, this caused quite a bit of reflection from the war leader, quite a lot of uncertainty, compared to his usual screw the outcome approach. This i felt took from the all out action but made it a better more emotive book.

This was in addition to the more complex Uhtred that Cornwell seems to have created with his familial relationships, and the alleged bastard son of Edward. It seems i took a break just when the series got really interesting.

Do i recommend…. yes… but only because i came with a fresh eye, it raised my enjoyment levels.



1. Sharpe’s Tiger (1997)
2. Sharpe’s Triumph (1998)
3. Sharpe’s Fortress (1999)
4. Sharpe’s Trafalgar (2000)
5. Sharpe’s Prey (2001)
6. Sharpe’s Rifles (1988)
7. Sharpe’s Havoc (2003)
8. Sharpe’s Eagle (1981)
8. Sharpe’s Christmas (2003)
9. Sharpe’s Gold (1981)
10. Sharpe’s Escape (2004)
11. Sharpe’s Fury (2006)
12. Sharpe’s Battle (1995)
13. Sharpe’s Company (1982)
14. Sharpe’s Sword (1983)
14.5. Sharpe’s Skirmish (1999)
15. Sharpe’s Enemy (1984)
16. Sharpe’s Honour (1985)
17. Sharpe’s Regiment (1986)
18. Sharpe’s Siege (1987)
19. Sharpe’s Revenge (1989)
20. Sharpe’s Waterloo (1990)
21. Sharpe’s Devil (1992)

Crowning Mercy (with Susannah Kells)
1. A Crowning Mercy (1983)
2. The Fallen Angels (1983)
3. Coat of Arms (1986)
aka The Aristocrats
Starbuck Chronicles
1. Rebel (1993)
2. Copperhead (1993)
3. Battle Flag (1995)
4. The Bloody Ground (1996)
The Starbuck Chronicles (omnibus) (2013)

Warlord Chronicles
1. The Winter King (1995)
2. Enemy of God (1996)
3. Excalibur (1997)
The Warlord Trilogy (omnibus) (2001)
aka The King Arthur Trilogy
Grail Quest
1. Harlequin (2000)
aka The Archer’s Tale
2. Vagabond (2002)
3. Heretic (2003)
4. 1356 (2012)
The Grail Quest Trilogy (omnibus) (2013)
The Grail Quest Collection (omnibus) (2015)

Last Kingdom
1. The Last Kingdom (2004)
2. The Pale Horseman (2005)
3. The Lords of the North (2006)
4. Sword Song (2007)
5. The Burning Land (2009)
6. Death of Kings (2011)
7. The Pagan Lord (2013)
8. The Empty Throne (2014)
9. Warriors of the Storm (2015)
10. The Flame Bearer (2016)
The Last Kingdom Series Books 1 and 2 (omnibus) (2015)
The Last Kingdom Series Books 1-8 (omnibus) (2015)

Sharpe Omnibus
Sharpes Fortress / Sharpes Triumph / Sharpes Tiger(2008)
Sharpe’s Tiger / Sharpe’s Triumph / Sharpe’s Fortress / Sharpe’s Trafalgar (2011)
Sharpe’s Trafalgar / Sharpe’s Prey / Sharpe’s Rifles (2011)
Sharpe’s Havoc / Sharpe’s Eagle / Sharpe’s Gold (2011)
Sharpe’s Escape / Sharpe’s Fury / Sharpe’s Battle (2011)
Sharpe’s Company / Sharpe’s Sword / Sharpe’s Enemy(2012)
Sharpe’s Honour / Sharpe’s Regiment / Sharpe’s Siege(2012)
Sharpe’s Revenge / Sharpe’s Waterloo / Sharpe’s Devil(2012)
The Sharpe Collection: Books 12-15 (2014)

Warrior Chronicles Omnibus
The Warrior Chronicles Vols 1-6 (2012)
The Warrior Chronicles Books 1-3 (2013)
The Warrior Chronicles Books 4-6 (2013)
The Saxon Tales Books 1-4 (2014)
The Saxon Tales Collection Books 5-7 (2014)

Redcoat (1987)
Wildtrack (1988)
Sea Lord (1989)
aka Killer’s Wake
Crackdown (1990)
aka Murder Cay
Stormchild (1991)
Scoundrel (1992)
Stonehenge (1999)
Gallows Thief (2001)
Azincourt (2008)
aka Agincourt
The Fort (2010)

Three Great English Victories (2015)
Non fiction
Sharpe’s Story (2006)
Waterloo (2014)


Filed under bernard cornwell, Historical Fiction

Archery: just more random blathering

Since i moved to the Longbow, back in about may/ June this year i have had to combat the changes in shooting style from a Barebow, and then move from indoors to outdoors (indoors ruined me)… but the bow shift was a big surprise in style


The removal of that helpful little shelf on the bow makes for a huge change in how you shoot (over hand) and where you aim when you don’t use a sight changes because you impact how the arrow sits, not a convenient flat immobile shelf, instinctive shooting may be preferable for me, but it takes a lot of work (repetition) to ensure that the hand grip is spot on.


Build a Recurve Bow - Woodworking Projects - American Woodworker <a class="pintag searchlink" data-query="%23recurvebows" data-type="hashtag" href="/search/?q=%23recurvebows&rs=hashtag" rel="nofollow" title="#recurvebows search Pinterest">#recurvebows</a>: #BOW-HAND-PROTECTOR-prevents-longbow-arrow-feathers-cutting-the-top-of-your-hand


The move from that nice flat shelf to the need to position your hand correctly, to provide the support for the arrow but no real defection, is harder than it looks, a kink in the glove, a slight tilt of the wrist and you impact the arrow flight. So this is a new part of form that needs to be looked at and perfected so you do it without thought.

It took me quite some time to get this right, to find the right grip and repeat without worrying about it, that thought process deflects the mind from taking the shot. (so anyone suffering, just practice, practice, practice, it will become natural), grip is doubly important if like me you want to shoot using Instinctive Aiming rather than a sight , a band , a marker or anything else… just the point and shoot method

The problem then became sorting out all the little quirks that the Barebow is more forgiving with. This is where (occasionally) i listened to one of the coaches. With the barebow you can get away with slightly sloppy draws, not going to full draw etc. You do that with the long bow and you go looking in the grass for your arrow (a lot).

So sorting that plus Les (the coach) with his voice always saying to me (feel the pinch between shoulders) , when you feel the pinch you know you have your draw correct and you are at full draw. If i draw and feel that, i usually hit red or Gold… its being brave enough to put the shot down and not take it when you dont feel it, when the draw doesnt feel right that then becomes difficult. There is some inbuilt need to release not put the arrow back down.

There are still a million (or so it seems) little quirks that can throw your shot off, its all stance, and this means its all


Regular shots

I found that it was very easy to turn up once a week and just throw some arrows out and be happy or grumpy based on what happens, but have no real idea of how or if you are improving.

So when the chance came to start taking part in the 252 challenge i thought it might be a good way of keeping score, watching to see if i can improve and push myself.




The 252 award is designed to help you practice your shooting at different distances and recognise your achievements. After 6 sighters, you shoot 3 dozen arrows on a 122cm face at your chosen distance. The round can be shot at 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 80 or 100 yds with the aim of scoring 252 or better (alternative scores apply for other bow types see table below). Once you have achieved the score twice you can claim a badge.

It is an award scheme in use at many archery clubs in the UK and applies to all archers, irrespective of age, ability or bow type (scores differ by bowtype).

The Rules:

  • Six sighters to be followed immediately by three dozen scored arrows.
  • 5-zone scoring (Gold = 9, Red = 7, Blue = 5, Black = 3, White = 1) using a 122cm target face.
  • The three dozen arrows may be shot alone or as the first three dozen of a longer Imperial round ~ e.g. as part of a Western, National etc.
  • Badges must be claimed in sequence ~ you don’t need to start at 20yds but if you start at a longer distance you cannot then claim badges for the shorter distances.
  • Scores need to be achieved twice to qualify for the award.
  • Qualifying scores for a given distance must be shot on different days

To make an award claim 2 signed and witnessed score sheets needs to be submitted to the club secretary and/or records officer. These may be from a longer round so long as the distances involved are clearly recorded. If you are only shooting the 3 dozen for the 252 and it is not part of a longer round, only submit qualifying scores.

The awards are as follows: Please note these are subject to review and may change ~ badge colours in particular

Distance (yards) Badge Colour Recurve Score Compound Score Longbow score Barebow Score
20 White 252 280 164 189
30 Black 252 280 164 189
40 Blue 252 280 164 189
50 Red 252 280 164 189
60 Bronze 252 280 164 189
80 Silver 252 280 126 164
100 Gold 252 280 101 139

So as a longbow archer my target is 164, and i immediately dropped down to 40 yards to work on reducing my misses, and improving my shots. It was a lot harder than i expected. You need to score 4.5 with every arrow (so round up to 5) that means min of blue ring with every shot, and when you miss suddenly you are 5 behind… when the bad shots accumulate you fail, and the more you accumulate the more the pressure can tell. So eventually i decided to shoot and to not add up the score until the end, the first time i did this i hit 173, then the next visit i shot 182 and got my 252 at 40 yards. I removed the mental obstacle of thinking about what i needed and just shot based on form, each arrow on its own.


So now i have moved up to 50 yards… and that 10 yards makes a huge difference, so far my best is 134, i blew 2 good nights with over thinking on the last end of 6 arrows. but this regular shooting and regular line in the sand has really helped me improve. In the league competitions in the space of less than 2 months i improved from 155 to 394. (that’s shooting 2.5 dozen @ 60, 50 & 40 yards with 10 zone scoring).

I hope i can crack the 50 yard 252 before we move indoors or it will have to roll over to spring. But my main message to anyone else going through the pain of switching bows and trying to improve, is shoot often and have a goal, it really helps.

So fingers crossed…. im sure this wont be the last post in my journey to figure out what on earth im doing with pointy sticks…




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