Saturday, 7 January 2017

REVIEW: The Maharajah's General by Paul Fraser Collard

The Maharajah's General (Jack Lark, #2)The Maharajah's General by Paul Fraser Collard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Paul Fraser Collard's brilliant lovable rogue, Jack Lark, returns in this sequel to The Scarlet Thief. This time Lark finds himself in India, just before the terrible events of the Mutiny. Collard paints a colourful picture of the life of the British military in the middle of the nineteenth century. It is a strange life where the colonial British live in denial of the fact that they are surrounded by millions of Indians who do not relish being lorded over by these pasty, supercilious Europeans. The officers of the station where Jack is posted are as out of place in the dusty swelter of the Indian climate as Jack the impostor is out of place in the Officers' Mess.

The story is fast and furious, with the same kind of blood-splattering action that you would expect if you have read of Jack's previous adventures in the Crimea. Collard doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the horrors of war, and the set-piece battles are brutal and intense.

But it is not all blood, guts and the stench of gun powder. The tale is filled with twists and memorable, larger than life characters, from a villainous political officer, an exotic princess, the eponymous noble and honourable Maharajah, a spiteful and jealous lieutenant, and a lovely English rose, who blooms in the sultry Indian heat and captures more than one heart.

The Maharajah's General is a ripping yarn, and a satisfyingly energetic romp through a fictional Indian kingdom where Jack Lark once again shows he may not have been born into the officer class, but he can lead men with panache and vigour and he will not stand by and watch wrongdoing, whoever the culprit.

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REVIEW: The Flame of Resistance by Martin Lake

The Flame of Resistance (The Lost King, #1)The Flame of Resistance by Martin Lake
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this, the first book in the Lost King series, Martin Lake explores the aftermath of the cataclysmic events of 1066. Lake has chosen to tell the tale from the perspective of Edgar Atheling, a character I barely knew existed and one that certainly deserves to have his story told.

The book is fast-paced and on more than one occasion I found myself wondering how Edgar was going to escape from some of the sticky situations in which he finds himself. In The Flame of Resistance, Martin Lake spins a ripping yarn of loyal huscarls, evil earls, proud kings, intrigue and pitched battles for the kingdom of England, bringing the late eleventh century to vivid life.


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Sunday, 11 December 2016

What Prue Batten learnt whilst writing Guillaume

The latest author in the "What I Learnt..." series is Prue Batten. Prue has written fantasy novels in the past, but in recent years has become a successful historical novelist, first with her Gisborne Saga trilogy, and now with her spin-off series, the Triptych Chronicle. I reviewed the first of that series, Tobias, earlier in the year. The latest of her novels is Guillaume, which is set in twelfth century Lyon. I was lucky enough to get a sneak peak of it and here is what I thought:
"With her customary elegant use of language, Prue Batten plunges us effortlessly into the mercantile houses, twisted alleys and secret shadowy tunnels of medieval Europe. Guillaume is a riveting tale of twelfth century trade, treachery and intrigue."

So read on, and find out a little of what Prue learnt while writing this great novel.

What Prue Batten learnt whilst writing Guillaume


1. The secrets of Lyon.



I had no idea! In the twelfth century it was a sophisticated town built on its strong Roman foundations, foundations that contained labrynthine tunnels snaking upward from the Saône to the centre of the town. The very placement of these tunnels (called traboules) gave any users quick access to and from the river. For merchants, an added bonus – goods could be carted from barge to warehouse without being seen, giving wily traders an edge in the marketplace. Once I discovered the traboules in my reading, the next step was to secure information of their condition and usage in the twelfth century. There’s barely a time in Lyon’s history where the traboules haven’t been used. Even to WWII. (But that’s another story.)

For me, I had a location for murder and mayhem in the twelfth century.

2. Did the Reformation really happen in the 16th Century? Or was it much earlier? Perhaps in the 12th Century?



Called the Waldensian movement later in history, it began with the wealthy merchant, Pierre Vaudès. Vaudès became a reformist thinker and gave up his wealth in favour of following a simple path based on the Gospels. He had parts of the Bible translated to the Lengua Romana, so that the common man might understand that God’s love was not dependent on money, images and plenary indulgences. His preachers, of which there were many, became known as Sandalati because of their simple footwear. But more particularly they were known as The Poor Men of Lyon. The Church declared the Sandalati heretics, and the preachers and followers were forced into hiding in fear of their lives, eventually leaving France for the hidden valleys of Piedmont and giving the world a simple reformist philosophy long before Martin Luther.

This gave me an interlacing plotline…

3. That it is entirely possible to include the loveliest poetry and music in a novel.

I love the inclusion of relevant poetry and music from the times in which a novel is set. Dorothy Dunnett was iconic with her usage of the device. One of my characters is a minstrel, a poet and an aesthete. He allows me to make use of other word-forms and thus it was that I was able to use the beautiful ninth century poem, Pangur Bàn about a white cat and a monk. I sourced the online translation by Robin Flowers and when Guillaume, Tobias and Adam stay at the small priory of Pommiers en Forez, they are cared for by Brother Hugo, who has a white cat.



I also read about the most emotive piece of music this year, Carmina qui Quondam. As it dates from the eleventh century, I felt it would most definitely appeal to a minstrel of Tobias’ standing. And I included other song lyrics from the times as well.

These were indulgences in the writing of Guillaume, but like the colour in stained glass, I hope they add to the novel’s depth.

4. I learned a new word – one that resonated and one that I just had to use in my novel.

This year, I purchased a wonderful book called Landmarks, by Robert Macfarlane. Essentially a list of colloquial words to describe landscape, for me it was like discovering precious gems. One word stood out – ‘endragoned’ – first coined by Gerard Manley Hopkins to describe a roiling sea. Could I use this word? Why not if I acknowledged its provenance? Thus:

‘They entered the hall – a wave of sound rolling toward them like an endragoned sea crashing upon rocks. Nothing but men’s voices, a grumbling roar that made one search for the soft ameliorating face of any woman at all…’

Macfarlane’s book is a true treasure and I don’t think this will be the last time I use it.

But I learned many other things during this year of writing. Research fills one’s mind with such things as one creates the framework for historical novels. All providing layers and dimension for one’s story.

Thank you, Matthew, for allowing me to reveal four special ones.



Connect with Prue Batten:

http://www.pruebatten.com
Facebook
Pinterest

Thursday, 1 December 2016

BLOOD AND BLADE - It's OUT NOW!

After what seems like a very long time, BLOOD AND BLADE, book three of the Bernicia Chronicles, is now available in e-book, paperback and audio book formats.



Thank you to everyone who has pre-ordered it. If you haven't already bought it, what are you waiting for? And after you've read it, don't forget to leave a review - it really helps to make a book a success.

Thanks!

BUY BLOOD AND BLADE from all good online stores:

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Sunday, 13 November 2016

What Elaine Moxon Learnt when writing the Wolf Spear Saga

This month's guest in the "What I Learnt..." series is Elaine Moxon. Elaine writes early medieval historical fiction as ‘E S Moxon’. Her debut ‘Wulfsuna’ is the first in her ‘Wolf Spear Saga’ series of Saxon adventures and was published in 2015. She is currently writing the second Wolf Spear Saga, set once again in the Dark Ages of 5th Century Britain. Elaine is a member of the Historical Novel Society and a contributing author on the blog of ‘English Historical Fiction Authors’. You can find out more about book two from Elaine’s website and on her blog, Writers’ Grove, where she talks about writing and research.


What Elaine Moxon Learnt when writing the Wolf Spear Saga


I’ve always had a love of history. It has been an integral part of family life for me from a young age. Both sides of my family are keen amateur genealogists and I remember visiting a wealth of ancient sites along the west coast of southern Britain and Wales during family holidays. If there was a stone circle or a castle, we were there! One of my great-grandfathers was a member of the Ancient Order of Druids and hearing about him as a child filled me with wonder. This early fascination remained with me and found its way into my Wolf Spear Saga series in the form of seers and wood sages.



As a teenager, I was intrigued by the Saxons and Vikings, whose beliefs were the stuff of fantasy novels. I think I felt close to these people of the past as I had a Saxon maiden name and often dreamed about who my ancestors were. Moxon is a Norse matrilineal surname stemming from ‘son of Meg’ with roots in northern Britain, particularly Lancashire. This Germanic and Norse presence remains today not only in surnames, but in place names and of course our language; their legacy left behind in everyday words such as ‘thank you’, ‘bread’ and ‘field’. Being an island, Britain has always been subject to waves of migration and invasion. My heritage provided another link for me with these distant travellers, as the granddaughter of Italian immigrants, fleeing famine and fascism in rural Italy. And so, migration too is a main theme in ‘Wulfsuna’.

When writing the first saga, I learnt that rising sea levels were killing livelihoods for fifth century Germanic tribes, who began to search for new land. Many took up service for the Romans as mercenaries or ‘Foederati’. They were conveniently placed to hop over to Britain when numbers needed bolstering. The wall at Vindolanda often required additional troops to hold the Picts at bay and in the south-east, shore forts ensured Germanic savages not allied with Rome didn’t make it through the defences. Of course, these southern fortifications placed uneasy decisions upon those stationed there, who had perhaps married into the British population; they were fighting kinfolk from their homeland and I imagine this did not sit well with many of them.



All of this was conscious knowledge I had grown up with, read and researched prior to writing and publishing ‘Wulfsuna’. One major thing I did learn, however, occurred after publication. My heroine, Morwyneth, is a young Seer whose new-found powers of foresight result in her expulsion from her home. She is then found by the Wulfsuna tribe, who toss her in the back of their last wagon, fearful she is a river-witch or ‘Nix’ sent by their enemies. As the Wolf Sons travel across country, Mowyneth goes with them, receiving further visions of the future along the way. The mode of transport was a logical decision I made early in the story. The Wulfsuna knew they would not be returning to Germania and had brought wheels and axles with them so they could butcher the ship’s wood into wagons.

Researching for a blog post, quite by chance I came upon a very ancient cult involving a wagon goddess. This goddess or priestess travelled across country in a wagon, visiting towns and villages foretelling the success of the harvest for the forthcoming year. Bad fortunes resulted in ritual sacrifices of beast or man, or in some cases the kings themselves! At the end of her tour, the priestess would be ritualistically cleansed by her accompanying priests or slaves, who themselves became sacrificial victims, for they had seen the goddess unclothed. Thousands of years old, this cult is prevalent in not one, but several cultures worldwide. We can find elements of wagon travel, sacrifice and ritual cleansing in the Norse ‘Vanir’, the Celtic Nicneven or Cailleach and of course Sulis, the revered water goddess at the springs in Bath. Nerthus, another Celtic deity, lived in a wagon and is mentioned by Tacitus and the Indian texts of the ‘Rigveda’ allude to a sun chariot ridden by the sun’s bride.

I had unwittingly tapped into an ancient archetype. Morwyneth was a wagon goddess! I learned that even if we don’t consciously draw on our own experiences, segments of our lives (and perhaps things in the past we’ve read or viewed) and ancient archetypes seep through into our work as we write. Hidden layers from our subconscious or primeval memories linger beneath the surface; treasure we or our readers, may or may not uncover. But what fun to know they are there, waiting to be found! It certainly gives me food for thought as I put pen to paper, or fingers to keys, wondering if my subconscious is secretly plotting out aspects of my novel as I write.

Connect with Elaine Moxon:


Writers' Grove blog
Website
Buy Wulfsuna from SilverWood Books

Saturday, 22 October 2016

What Kelly Evans learnt researching The Northern Queen

This month in the "What I Learnt..." series I am pleased to welcome to my humble blog author, Kelly Evans.

Born in Canada of Scottish extraction, Kelly graduated in History and English from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. After graduating Kelly moved to the UK where she continued her studies in history, focusing on Medieval England and the Icelandic Sagas (with a smattering of Old Norse and Old English).

Her first novel, The Northern Queen, was released in 2015 and she is currently working on the second book in her Anglo-Saxon series, set in the years prior to the Norman invasion.

What Kelly Evans Learnt when researching The Northern Queen



Eadric Streona was truly a horrible person.

The BBC survey named him the worst Briton of the Eleventh Century, and with good reason. What a fantastic person to have as a character!

He was a rising star and trusted advisor in the court of Aethelred and was responsible to the death of my main character’s father and two brothers. It was a dangerous time for England: the country’s borders were weakly protected and England was a tempting prize for Danish invaders. After an invasion of the Danes in 1009, Aethelred was prepared to retaliate with force but was persuaded by Eadric to pay nearly 50,000 pounds of gold to make them go away, a hugely unpopular move: most wanted to see their king fight back, not give in and bribe the invaders.

After the Danish invader Sweyn Forkbeard died, his son Canute took over. Rather than side with his king, Eadric declared his loyalty to the invader Canute, shocking his fellow countrymen. At a battle where he fought for Canute against Aethelred’s son Edmund, Eadric cut the head off of a soldier who looked like Edmund, held it in the air and told the English that their leader was dead, an act which further sealed his reputation as worst Briton of the time. Eadric wasn’t done however.

Late that same summer Eadric switched sides once again, swearing loyalty to Edmund. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s comment on this act is revealing: “No greater folly was ever agreed to than this one.”

In October the final battle occurred and with it another of Eadric’s treacheries. Edmund should have won the Battle of Assandun; his forces were superior to the Danes and he had enlisted fresh fighters, compared to the Danish forces who were fewer in number and battle-weary. But at a pivotal moment, Eadric fled the battlefield, his many supporters along with him. The sides were now numbered in favour of the Danes and the English suffered a crushing defeat.

Eadric ingratiated himself enough with the new king to remain Ealdorman of Mercia but by the following Christmas, 1017, the mood had changed: Canute either suspected Eadric of treason or had already accused him of such and he was executed.

Such a fun character to write!

I really enjoy researching my novels. A lot.



My characters are related to Rollo, whose story is currently being told in the TV show Vikings. 

While researching my characters I traced their family trees for completeness sake, and also to provide additional information for readers on my website. Rollo, played by Clive Standen (and erroneously listed as Ragnar Lothbrok’s brother – they weren’t related), after attacking Paris and Bayeux (and marrying Poppa of Bayeux), was granted land in what we now call Normandy (‘land of the northmen’). His descendants lived (and still do) in most of the royal courts across Europe, including his great-granddaughter Emma of Normandy who was offered to the English king Aethelred in a marriage treaty that would help to protect England’s interests on the Continent. Emma is one of the main characters in my novel, and my main character’s enemy.

How Manipulation was Used by Women

It was incredibly difficult for a woman, even one of high birth, to gain and wield power. Emma of Normandy was the daughter and sister of the Dukes of Normandy but was considered a pawn in the political game between Normandy and England. Arranged marriages of high-ranking noblewomen was commonplace, with little to no consideration for the woman’s opinion. But Emma became a skilled manipulator, gathering wealth and support through bribes, promises of wealth and power, and gifts of money and land, enough to eventually affect the course of events in the country.

My main character, Emma’s ‘nemesis’, Aelfgifu, also from a noble family, was married to the Danish invader’s son Canute in what may or may not have been a love match. It was certainly an astute partnership as the act brought with it support for the Danish king. Despite this she was deemed unsuitable (their marriage ceremony hadn’t been presided over by a Catholic priest, rather they used the ancient practice of hand-fasting) and replaced by Emma, who, after Aethelred’s death, was seen as a perfect match for the new king Canute. Despite Emma’s support and machinations, Aelfgifu gained her own powerbase, to such an extent that she was able to persuade the country to accept her son, Harold, as king after Canute died. Through carefully thought out gifts of land and promises of more, Aelfgifu’s influence meant that she was able to aid her son effectively in his rule.

To prepare for writing The Northern Queen, I had to do extensive amounts of research into the people and period. My previous historical study only just touched on the Anglo Saxon period so I had a lot of work to do to get all of the details just right. More than just right, historical fiction readers are an exacting bunch! I started with a broad picture then narrowed my research considerably. And I loved it, the individuals, the rulers, the politics. The whole time period. And I loved finding a new history book, or a new source of information on the internet. I’m a data addict, and the research scratched that itch for months. All to ensure I told the best, most accurate, story I could.

Another huge advantage to the research is the people I’ve met, others interested in the early medieval period, from all over the world and dedicated to bringing the period to life. And while I’m working on a novel that takes place in a different time period (black death!), I still try to write a historical article on an element of the Anglo Saxon age each month for my website. You never stop learning!

Connect with Kelly Evans

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Friday, 21 October 2016

REVIEW: Oswiu by Edoardo Albert

Oswiu: King of Kings (The Northumbrian Thrones #3)Oswiu: King of Kings by Edoardo Albert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 'Oswiu: King of Kings', Edoardo Albert brings to vivid life the battle for the land and souls of the British people in the seventh century. Albert tells an epic tale of kings and queens, omens and shieldwalls, where the future of a people was decided as much through the guile of its priests as the strength of its warlords.

Edoardo Albert deftly weaves the threads of a memorable cast of characters into the weft and warp of a vibrant tapestry of war, mystery and intrigue. Yet the true strength of 'Oswiu: King of Kings', is in the depiction of the effects of conflict on the men and women of the Dark Ages, as Albert reminds us there is much more to conquest than the ringing clash of swords.

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