Category Archives: Historical Fiction

All Historical Fiction Reviews

James Wilde: Bear King (Review)

book cover of The Bear King

 

For all the darkness in the land, there is hope. And it rests with one man. Lucanus – the one they call the Wolf – is a warrior. He wears the ancient crown of the great war leader Pendragon, and he wields a sword bestowed upon him by the druids. And he is the guardian of a secret entrusted to him and to protect that secret will demand untold bravery and sacrifice beyond measure – but to lose it would mean the end of everything worth fighting for.

Before Camelot. Before Excalibur. Before all you know of King Arthur. Here is the beginning of that legend….

Review

I grew up reading the legends of Robin Hood, King Arthur etc… and Arthur was always the head of a band of knights, and as a kid you didn’t question it, it wasn’t until much later that the glaring issues of arms and armour, ethos etc presented themselves… so it was fantastic to have an author like Cornwell challenge all that with his Warlord Chronicles to bring Arthur back into the muck and grime of the dark ages, Now both Giles Kristian and James Wilde have taken that further with examining the myth and coming at the tales from a new perspective, so for me there are now 3 must read Arthurian tales, Bernard Cornwell (Warlord Chronicles), Giles Kristian (Lancelot / Camelot) & now James Wilde (Dark Age).

Bear King completes the Dark Age saga, where we started pre Arthur, the story arc comes to its climax with the introduction of Arthur and not how i would ever have envisaged it. James Wilde mixes myth and story telling into the historical backdrop of the Roman Withdrawal of Britain, the power vacuum and the strife this causes he brings in old enemies, old friends are reunited, and new fantastic characters ( Niall of the Nine hostages being my favorite), the backdrop is the quest for the Cauldron of the Dagda / Holy Grail .. and the pending war with rivals to the crown.. the only man who can pull together the people, to stave off the impending darkness is Lucanas whom everyone believes is dead, but legend says will return in the hour of need, the true Pendragon…

I was riveted to this book, James Wilde weaves this final book in the series with such skill and attention that i struggled to put the book down at night. His characters are as always perfectly drawn, fallible yet heroic, his friends dedicated, funny, sardonic and better men than they know, there is betrayal, heroism, vast action and terrible fear …. true light can only been seen after terrible darkness and its through this darkness that James takes the reader…. this is simply and excellent tale, one of the best re-imagining of the iconic Arthur myth out there, and for me James Wilds best book to date.

Highly recommended

Parm

Series

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 (2012)
   5. The Immortals (2015)
   6. The Bloody Crown (2016)
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Dark Age
   1. Pendragon (2017)
   2. Dark Age (2018)
   3. The Bear King (2019)
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Robert Fabbri : Alexander’s Legacy: To the Strongest

book cover of To The Strongest

Let the battles begin…

‘I foresee great struggles at my funeral games.’

Babylon, 323 BC: Alexander the Great is dead, leaving behind him the largest, and most fearsome, empire the world has ever seen. As his final breaths fade in a room of seven bodyguards, Alexander refuses to name a successor. But without a natural heir, who will take the reins?

As the news of the king’s sudden and unexpected death ripples across the land, leaving all in disbelief, the ruthless battle for the throne begins. What follows is a devious, tangled web of scheming and plotting, with alliances quickly made and easily broken, each rival with their own agenda.

But who will emerge victorious: the half-chosen; the one-eyed; the wildcat; the general; the bastard; the regent? In the end, only one man, or indeed woman, will be left standing..

 

Review

I’ve been a fan of Robert fabbri and his writing since Tribune of Rome came out in 2011, and to hear that he was tackling one of my favorite historical characters (Alexander) was a real buzz, even more so when i learned that the series would begin at the end, the end of Alexanders life. The turmoil his passing unleashed across his empire was huge and changed the face of the ancient world, there was and is so much scope and so many hugely interesting characters.

Fabbri keeps in the main to real historical personages in this book, only interspersing the occasional fictional character, he brings those historical notables to life, and i have to say from the start Eumenes is my stand out favorite… who doesn’t love an underdog and a devious Greek one, Fabbri really brings that out in his writing, but he is just one of the many stunning characters in the book as we watch the great men and women of the time vie for power and control of the great empire Alexander carved. Many times its mentioned that Alexander didn’t name a successor because he wanted this division and strife and he wanted no one to eclipse his achievements…. if that really was his intention then Robert Fabbri captures it brilliantly.

If i had to have one nagging annoyance at the book it was the way it was structured, changes of time and location were not defined in the book, eg Eumenes could be talking about Cassandra and what his intentions were and on the next line he was talking to her, even though that may be a day or week later in another town, it just happened on the next line…. that was somewhat confusing for a while and threw off the pace of the book for me.

But the story is stunning, the politics of the time is just mind boggling but told in a pacy engaging way, the battles and the warriors brought to life in vivid detail, i love it when the writer can transport you to the dust , the muck, the blood sweat and horror of a battle and also the stress and frustration of the politics… as usual Robert fabbri does not disappoint in this.

Im really looking forward to the next in this series, this is one of the great periods of history, told with true style.

Highly reccomended

(Parm)

Series
Vespasian
   1. Tribune of Rome (2011)
   2. Rome’s Executioner (2012)
   3. False God of Rome (2013)
   4. Rome’s Fallen Eagle (2013)
   5. Masters of Rome (2014)
   6. Rome’s Lost Son (2015)
   7. Furies of Rome (2016)
   8. Rome’s Sacred Flame (2018)
   9. Emperor of Rome (2019)
   The Succession (2018)
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Crossroads Brotherhood
   1. The Crossroads Brotherhood (2011)
   2. The Racing Factions (2013)
   3. The Dreams of Morpheus (2014)
   4. The Alexandrian Embassy (2015)
   5. The Imperial Triumph (2017)
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Alexander’s Legacy
   1. To The Strongest (2020)
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Novels
   Arminius (2017)
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Filed under Historical Fiction, Robert Fabbri, Uncategorized

Angus Donald : Bloods Campaign (Review)

Blood’s Campaign (2019)
(The third book in the Holcroft Blood series)

book cover of Blood\'s Campaign

In the theatre of war there can only be one victor….

August 25, 1689

The English Army is besieging Carrickfergus in Ireland. Brilliant but unusual gunner Holcroft Blood of the Royal Train of Artillery is ready to unleash his cannons on the rebellious forces of deposed Catholic monarch James II. But this is more than war for Captain Blood; a lust for private vengeance burns within him.

French intelligence agent Henri d’Erloncourt has come across the seas to foment rebellion against William of Orange, the newly installed Dutch ruler of England, Scotland and Ireland. But Henri’s true mission is not to aid the suffering of the Irish but to serve the interests of his master, Louis le Grand.

Michael ‘Galloping’ Hogan, brigand, boozer and despoiler of Protestant farms, strives to defend his native land – and make a little profit on the side. But when he takes the Frenchman’s gold, he suspects deep in his freedom-loving heart that he has merely swapped one foreign overlord for another.

July 1, 1690

On the banks of the River Boyne, on a fateful, scorching hot day, two armies clash in bloody battle – Protestant against Catholic – in an epic struggle for mastery of Ireland. And, when the slaughter is over and the smoke finally clears, for these three men, nothing will ever be the same again….

(Review)

Ive been a fan of Angus Donald since i got my hands on a little paperback 10 years ago called “Outlaw”, it was the beginning of something totally new, a total rewrite of the Robin Hood Legend, a robin hood meets the godfather, and when it ended after 8 amazing tales i really wondered if he could top it as a series, and for me he did, the beginning of the Holcroft Blood series “Bloods Game” was something truly different because while it followed the norm of taking a hero from childhood to adulthood, it did so with a boy that was different, Angus introduced us to Holcroft Blood a boy who lived with Autism, something they would not have known back then, but surely existed, it took a boy on the ride through dangerous politics and Machiavellian plots, where those around him could consider him to be too simple to understand due to his lack of social skills, but under that quiet exterior lurked a highly intelligent, boy then young man.

Bloods Campaign finds Holcroft a grown man, with his beloved Artillery regiment, an officer and a gentleman of some skill, as always he is front on centre in the action and mired in a personal battle with his nemesis Henri d’Erloncourt a french officer and spy, and the battle for Ireland.

Angus Donald writes in a style that is very character driven and has a talent for introducing lots of well rounded and fun side characters, like Enoch the aged artillery man, and in this book Hogan an Irishman, a brigand and an all round chancer, but one with his own moral code and skills, I love a good side character, and loved the addition of Hogan, a man who could star easily in his own book. We travel the length and breadth of Ireland galloping over bogs and rivers, there are sieges and battles, there are sneak attacks, betrayals, spies, bravery, stupidity in action and so much more. I tore through this book in a single day, so far this is easily my favorite book that Angus Donald has written, a total adventure from first page to last, with some beautiful scenes and scenery. My Favorite is the meeting near the end between Holcroft and the man who is alleged to have cuckolded him, so well written and so beautifully showing the growth of Holcroft from the start of the book to the end.

I highly recommend this book, and all of Angus Donalds books

(Parm)

 

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Steven A McKay: Warrior Druid of Britain (Review)

book cover of The Druid

(The Druid)

Northern Britain, AD430

A land in turmoil. A village ablaze. A king’s daughter abducted.

In the aftermath of a surprise attack Dun Buic lies in smoking ruins and many innocent villagers are dead. As the survivors try to make sense of the night’s events the giant warrior-druid, Bellicus, is tasked with hunting down the raiders and thwarting their dark purpose.

With years of training in the old ways, two war-dogs at his side, and unsurpassed skill with a longsword, Bellicus’s quest will take him on a perilous journey through lands still struggling to cope with the departure of the Roman legions.

Meanwhile, amongst her brutal captors the little princess Catia finds an unlikely ally, but even he may not be able to avert the terrible fate King Hengist has in store for her.

This, the first volume in a stunning new series from the bestselling author of Wolf’s Head, explores the rich folklore and culture of post-Roman Britain, where blood-sacrifice, superstition, and warfare were as much a part of everyday life as love, laughter and song.

As Saxon invaders and the new Christian religion seek to mold the country for their own ends one man will change the course of Britain’s history forever….

….the Druid.

book cover of Song of the Centurion

Song of the Centurion

Autumn, AD 430. After the Princess Catia’s disappearance, and Bellicus’s adventures trailing her Saxon abductors south to the fabled Hanging Stones, the giant warrior-druid is finally returning home.
Battle-scarred, and mourning the loss of a loved one, Bellicus has learned from bitter experience that the gods rarely make things easy. Even if he can evade Horsa’s vengeful pursuit and get back to the North safely, his troubles may be far from over…
In a land beset by the rivalries of petty warlords, Dun Breatann has stood solid and secure for untold generations. Trouble brews though as King Coroticus has cracked under the pressure of his daughter’s abduction and, as well as starting a war with the neighbouring kings, he has become jealous, suspicious, and often blind drunk. When the king’s rage finally boils over during a winter feast, Bellicus finds himself with two choices – accept exile, or complete another seemingly impossible undertaking.
So much for the returning hero…
Accompanied by his massive war-dog, Cai, and the ever-loyal former centurion, Duro – who has his own painful issues to contend with – Bellicus must somehow survive a journey east into enemy-held lands. There, he will need to use his gods-given talents to the full if they are to survive the winter frosts and carry out the mad king’s orders without being captured or killed by the men of Dalriada.

 

Review:

I read both of these books back to back (i’m a little late with The Druid), and so thought it best to review together. Its an interesting experience reviewing more than one book in a series because you can see more of the story growth, the character development and get a better feel for the story arc. Also with these books i was interested to see what Steven McKay could do that was away from his Robin Hood series.

Bellicus the druid is a clever and interesting character, and i like the way that the author avoids or explains away the tricks that would be considered supernatural, things that are all about knowledge and training and superstition. The first book a hunt for a little girl (a princess), to recover her from the bad guys (The Saxons), and bring her home… but for me the books (both of them) really come alive when Duro joins the plot, a retired Centurion, a man who thought that his fighting days were gone, who had retained his skills but not the body that allowed him to use them, i laughed along with his exploits as he was forced to shed the weight he gained as a baker in his retirement, and enjoyed the fact that he showed how after the Romans left there were still remnants there, not just the houses falling down that you get in some books, but real people, with real knowledge and skill. The two main characters Duro and Bel bounce off each other perfectly and allows the author to give a fuller picture of the worlds they both live in… a Druid seen from a personal level and also from an external one. As usual he throws in friendships, love and betrayal… and weaves a clever story. Im still undecided if i like the introduction of Merlin and Arthur… but im interested to see where he goes with that in book 3… as always with Steven Mckay, the books draw me back and keep me hooked which is recommendation enough i think and i’m always interested in what he will write next, his skill as a writer grows with each book…

(Parm)

 

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Paul Fraser Collard: The Lost Outlaw (2019) (The eighth book in the Jack Lark series) Review.

book cover of The Lost Outlaw

In the midst of civil war, America stands divided. Jack Lark has faced both armies first hand, but will no longer fight for a cause that isn’t his.

1863, Louisiana. Jack may have left the battlefield behind, but his gun is never far from reach, especially on the long and lonely road to nowhere. Soon, his skill lands him a job, and a new purpose.

Navy Colt in hand, Jack embarks on the dangerous task of escorting a valuable wagon train of cotton down through Texas to Mexico. Working for another man, let alone a man like the volatile Brannigan, isn’t going to be easy. With the cargo under constant attack, and the Deep South’s most infamous outlaws hot on their trail, Jack knows he is living on borrowed time.

And, as they cross the border, Jack soon discovers that the usual rules of war don’t apply. He will have to fight to survive, and this time the battle might prove one he could lose.

Review

Im an admitted big fan of this series, Jack Lark the “New Sharpe”, is a review line i have used before, only Jack has long outgrown Sharpe. He is deeper, darker and more introspective, the stories stepping into more modern and bloody warfare, with death and destruction on a whole new scale. Plot wise this isn’t’ the darkest of the Jack lark tales, but from a personal level for Jack it feel darker, a man at war with himself, lost and alone, isolating himself, essentially a man depressed, lost , with a death wish, a man with nothing to live for and no where to go.

This Jack, beaten down and lost, wandering aimlessly across the USA soon finds himself in fates path again, desperation and loneliness pushing him into a job he has little choice but to take, he finds himself in the company of hard remorseless men, men with their own agendas, and little morality. Swept along by a new found desire/ need for company and for meaning Jack is employed as a wagon guard taking goods to Mexico. It’s a hard life but feels an honest one, except for the plans of his new boss Brannigan, and Jacks desire for the lady who pulled him into that world.

As with all of Paul Collards stories, he writes you right into the forefront of the story, its happening to you, you become Jack Lark, you feel and experience all the emotions and the blood sweat and tears that Jack does. This is the key i think to why people are drawn to the Jack Lark books.

With such a rich setting it was great to see the author take us on a little tour of the Alamo, and i felt also in the tale he gave us our own Alamo and also a touch of Butch and Sundance. The skirmishes are desperate, they are dirty, they are bloody and they have no rules, this story will take Jack deeper into the mire of human depravity for violence, but could it also show him who he is and what his mission is? for a man as lost as he is “Sometimes the only way through hell is to keep going” (Winston Churchill), can Jack survive the journey?

As i have with every book in this series, i highly recommend this one, i devoured it in a single sitting.

(Parm)

Series
Jack Lark
0.5. Rogue (2014)
1. The Scarlet Thief (2013)
2. The Maharajah’s General (2013)
3. The Devil’s Assassin (2015)
4. The Lone Warrior (2015)
5. The Last Legionnaire (2016)
aka The Forgotten Son
6. The True Soldier (2017)
7. The Rebel Killer (2018)
8. The Lost Outlaw (2019)
Recruit (2015)
Redcoat (2015)
The Jack Lark Library (omnibus) (2017)
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Simon Turney: Commodus (The second book in the Damned Emperors series)

Commodus  (2019)
(The second book in the Damned Emperors series)

Rome is enjoying a period of stability and prosperity. The Empire’s borders are growing, and there are two sons in the imperial succession for the first time in Rome’s history. But all is not as it appears. Cracks are beginning to show. Two decades of war have taken their toll, and there are whispers of a sickness in the East. The Empire stands on the brink of true disaster, an age of gold giving way to one of iron and rust, a time of reason and strength sliding into hunger and pain.

The decline may yet be halted, though. One man tries to hold the fracturing empire together. To Rome, he is their emperor, their Hercules, their Commodus.

But Commodus is breaking up himself, and when the darkness grips, only one woman can hold him together. To Rome she was nothing. The plaything of the emperor. To Commodus, she was everything. She was Marcia.

book cover of Commodus

Review

I think this is book 40 for Simon, not a bad tally for 10 years work…. and to date not a single bad book. This latest book “Commodus” shows just how far he has developed in his craft as an author.

Set once again against the turbulent backdrop of Imperial Rome Simon Turney opts to tell the story from a unique perspective, a young free woman with unfettered access to the imperial family and the emperor to be, giving the reader a very individual and personal insight into how the young life and psyche of an emperor was formed and the damage that emotional and physical trauma can do to a person.

What Simon Turney has produced is a very personal story woven from so many perspectives, the love of family, the tragedy of life in ancient Rome, the perspectives of Slave through to emperor, the emotion and loss that can hit any family no matter their station or their wealth, yet always slanted through the perspective of a young girl and then young woman.  As with Caligula where once we may have perceived this emperor as “mad” or “despotic” or what ever your own view from the history books, these accounts bring a human element to them and would take a very hard hearted person to not sympathize with Caligula or Commodus, and that is a real testament to the writing ability of the author, to weave us into the story emotionally as well as physically. I’ve always known Simon had the ability to be one of the best in the genre, these latest two books prove that and more.

Highly recommended

(Parm)

 

Series
Damned Emperors
1. Caligula (2018)
2. Commodus (2019)
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Series (as SJA Turney)
Marius’ Mules
1. The Conquest of Gaul (2009)
aka The Invasion of Gaul
2. The Belgae (2010)
3. Gallia Invicta (2011)
4. Conspiracy of Eagles (2012)
5. Hades’ Gate (2013)
6. Caesar’s Vow (2014)
7. The Great Revolt (2014)
8. Sons of Taranis (2015)
9. Pax Gallica (2016)
10. Fields of Mars (2017)
11. Tides of War (2018)
Prelude to War (2014)
Marius’ Mules Books 1-3 (omnibus) (2017)
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Tales of the Empire
1. Interregnum (2009)
2. Ironroot (2010)
3. Dark Empress (2011)
4. Insurgency (2016)
5. Invasion (2017)
6. Jade Empire (2017)
Emperor’s Bane (2016)
Tales of the Empire Books 1-6 (omnibus) (2018)
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Ottoman Cycle
1. The Thief’s Tale (2013)
2. The Priest’s Tale (2013)
3. The Assassin’s Tale (2014)
4. The Pasha’s Tale (2015)
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Praetorian
1. The Great Game (2015)
2. The Price of Treason (2015)
3. Eagles of Dacia (2017)
4. Lions of Rome (2019)
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Roman Adventure
1. Crocodile Legion (2016)
2. Pirate Legion (2017)
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Knights Templar
1. Daughter of War (2018)
2. The Last Emir (2018)
3. City of God (2019)
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Novels
A Year of Ravens (2015) (with Ruth Downie, Stephanie Dray, E Knight, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear Shecter and Russell Whitfield)
A Song of War (2016) (with Christian Cameron, Libbie Hawker, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear Shecter, Stephanie Thornton and Russell Whitfield)
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Omnibus
Forged in Fire (2017) (with Prue Batten and Gordon Doherty)
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Collections
Tales of Ancient Rome (2011)
Deva Tales (2017)
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Novellas
Bear and the Wolf (2017) (with Ruth Downie)
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Filed under Historical Fiction, S J A Turney

Matthew Harffy: Storm of Steel (review)

Storm of Steel  (2019)
(The sixth book in the Bernicia Chronicles series)

 

book cover of Storm of Steel

AD 643. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the sixth instalment in the Bernicia Chronicles. Heading south to lands he once considered his home, Beobrand is plunged into a dark world of piracy and slavery when an old friend enlists his help to recover a kidnapped girl. Embarking onto the wind-tossed seas, Beobrand pursues his quarry with single-minded tenacity. But the Whale Road is never calm and his journey is beset with storms, betrayal and violence. As the winds of his wyrd blow him ever further from what he knows, will Beobrand find victory on his quest or has his luck finally abandoned him?

Review

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this author grow as a writer, i remember reading The Serpent Sword very early on and while the writing had some rough edges, i could see the huge potential behind the writing and also the Characters. Very early on i made the comparison to Cornwells Uhtred series, only Harffys Beobrand was much grittier, more real, he had all the sharp edges and lack of finesse that Uhtred should have had for a warrior of his period. That comparison has stuck with me throughout the series so far and this latest book does nothing to change that.

Storm of Steel takes Beobrand to the sea and on a new and potentially impossible mission, but Beobrand lives by the luck of the gods and helps to create the chaos that they love. The story was once again hugely engaging and exciting, the story given an edge of the seat feeling as the men battle nature, the gods and their enemies, over coming betrayal and intrigue and when it matters overcoming the enemy shieldwall.. Matts books never lack for blood and barely suppressed danger and violence, a violence that without warning explodes into direct action, much to the detriment of Beobrands enemies.

I only had one quibble with the book…. you may also find it in the surf, the same as Beobrand did, but it didn’t stop this being another cracking book in a truly excellent series.

(Parm)

 

Series
Bernicia Chronicles
1. The Serpent Sword (2015)
2. The Cross and the Curse (2016)
3. Blood and Blade (2016)
4. Killer of Kings (2017)
5. Warrior of Woden (2018)
6. Storm of Steel (2019)
Kin of Cain (2017)
The Bernicia Chronicles Boxset 1-3 (omnibus) (2018)
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