Book Corner: Half Sick of Shadows by Richard Abbott

Today over at The Review, you can read my thoughts on Richard Abbott’s fantastic new historical fantasy novel, Half Sick of Shadows, a fabulous re-imagining of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s The Lady of Sahlott.

And there’s a fabulous giveaway! With one signed paperback copy going to a winner in the UK, or and ebook to anywhere else in the world.

Here’s a taster:

There is one great advantage to being a book reviewer; every now and then you get to read a gem of a book, one that you may never have discovered had you relied on Amazon’s reading recommendations. Half Sick of Shadows is one such treasure. This novel, inspired by Alfred Lord Tennyson’s epic poem The Lady of Shalott, is unique and engrossing from the very first page.

When trying to think of a single word that could be used to describe this novel, the only one that seemed to fit was ‘mesmerising‘.

The reader is instantly drawn into the world of the Lady, who can watch the lives and interactions of the people in the world only through the guide of a mirror. She can see the world, but is apart from it, safe in her own keep…..

 

To read the full review of this fantastic novel – and to enter the prize draw and be in with a chance in this fantastic giveaway, simply visit The Review and leave a comment.

Good luck!

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Looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, Sharon’s book, Heroines of the Medieval World, will be published by Amberley later this year and is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

 

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2017

Book Corner: Killer of Kings by Matthew Harffy

AD 636. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the fourth instalment in The Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell.

Beobrand has land, men and riches. He should be content. And yet he cannot find peace until his enemies are food for the ravens. But before Beobrand can embark on his bloodfeud, King Oswald orders him southward, to escort holy men bearing sacred relics.

When Penda of Mercia marches a warhost into the southern kingdoms, Beobrand and his men are thrown into the midst of the conflict. Beobrand soon finds himself fighting for his life and his honour.

In the chaos that grips the south, dark secrets are exposed, bringing into question much that Beobrand had believed true. Can he unearth the answers and exact the vengeance he craves? Or will the blood-price prove too high, even for a warrior of his battle-fame and skill?

This series just gets better and better!

Killer of Kings by Matthew Harffy is the 4th instalment in the Bernicia Chronicles, telling the story of Beobrand Half-Hand, a young Northumbrian thegn skilled in war. And, as readers have come to expect of the author, the novel has a strong, engaging story, that sees the hero travelling the length and breadth of Saxon England, fueled by duty to his king and a desire for revenge against the man who violated his wife and has, as yet, escaped retribution. Set in East Anglia, Kent, Mercia and Northumbria (Bernicia), we see Beobrand facing enemies, both old and new.

Matthew Harffy is a great story-teller. The Bernicia Chronicles are a must-read for anyone with a love of Anglo-Saxon England. The story is fast-paced and impossible to put down. Keeping you on the edge of your seat from the opening chapter, a desperation to know what happens next will keep you reading into the early hours.

Beobrand is developing into a wonderful character; a hero always questioning himself and other people’s perceptions of him. He has a growing sense of responsibility towards his duties, his men and their families, who rely on him for protection and patronage. In Killer of Kings we see Beobrand’s past and present collide; the mysteries of his childhood are revealed, tying up some loose ends, while at the same time helping to set his course in the present and, maybe, the future.

One last look at the other woman and then Edmonda grasped his hand. Beobrand pulled her up behind him with ease.

“God bless you all,” she said, sobbing.

“Hold on to me, girl,” said Beobrand. “Tight, mind, or you’ll fall when we start to ride.”

She did not reply, but her slim arms encircled his waist.

Swinging Sceadugenga’s head around, he turned to the mounted Waelisc warrior in the white cloak.

“You say you know me,” said Beobrand. “And yet, I know you not. What is your name, Waelisc?”

The man offered him a broad smile.

“I am Gwalchmei ap Gwyar. And you have now stolen two things of mine.”

The name meant nothing to Beobrand.

“What two things? What riddle is this?” How he would love to ride the man off his horse and smash that smile from his face.

“Well, now there is that girl. But she is nothing. That however,” he said, indicating Sceadugenga, “is another matter.”

What was the man speaking of? He made no sense.

“What do you mean?” Beobrand asked, his words as sharp and cold as shards of iron.

“That fine stallion you are riding,” said Gwalchmei, “is my horse.”

The storyline follows two interesting opposing paths. With one strand being Beobrand’s mission and his return face the demons of his past. While the other follows those left behind; Rheagan, the freed slave who is his current love interest, and those left to protect and maintain Beobrand’s manor of Ubbanford … who find themselves with their own enemy to face. The contrast between the struggles of those who left to fight, and of those left at home, is stark. It serves to offer a new insight into the intertwined fates of the warriors and their families, the worries of each for the other and their interdependency.

Whether it is setting the scene in a king’s hall, a simple cottage or on a battlefield, Matthew Harffy transports the reader so that the sights, sounds and smells are so vivid it’s hard to believe they’re not real. His attention to detail serves to  paint the picture in the reader’s mind’s eye. The horrors of the battlefield are described with care and attention, with individual fights contrasting with the greater battle and individual, heroic deaths contrasting with the devastation once the battle has ended, leaving the reader exhilarated and bereft at the same time. It is not all about battles, however; even though he is a warrior, past experience has made Beobrand all-too-aware of the political consequences of war and the machinations of kings.

The Bernicia Chronicles are set in the Seventh Century, telling the story of a time even before King Alfred, when Anglo-Saxon England was made up of a number of disparate kingdoms, with kings fighting for supremacy over each other. With his exceptional knowledge of the time, Matthew Harrfy transports the reader back to this period, using his research to vividly recreate the people, buildings and landscape of the time.

Matthew Harffy has a knack of developing characters who are at once vivid, flawed, heroic and human. Each book sees Beobrand grow and mature, and carrying more scars from his experiences. The strong story lines and interesting personalities make Matthew Harffy one of the best authors of Dark Ages historical fiction of today. He is one of those authors I do not hesitate to recommend – and often. His books are fabulous, enjoyable, entertaining and true to the history of the period. The author’s descriptive skills and lively dialogue will draw you in and keep you captivated to the very end – and beyond.

 

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About the author: Matthew Harffy grew up in Northumberland where the rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline had a huge impact on him He now lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

Killer of Kings, Book 4 in the Bernicia Chronicles, is now available from Amazon, Kobo, ibooks and Google Play.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Mansfield Parsonage by Kyra C Kramer

Fans of Jane Austen will recognise the players and the setting – Mansfield Park has been telling the story of Fanny Price and her happily ever after for more than 200 years. But behind the scenes of Mansfield Park, there’s another story to be told.

Mary Crawford’s story.

When her widowed uncle made her home untenable, Mary made the best of things by going to live with her elder sister, Mrs Grant, in a parson’s house the country. Mansfield Parsonage was more than Mary had expected and better than she could have hoped. Gregarious and personable, Mary also embraced the inhabitants of the nearby Mansfield Park, watching the ladies set their caps for her dashing brother, Henry Crawford, and developing an attachment to Edmund Bertram and a profound affection for his cousin, Fanny Price.

Mansfield Parsonage retells the story of Mansfield Park from the perspective of Mary Crawford’s hopes and aspirations and shows how Fanny Price’s happily-ever-after came at Mary’s expense.

When I was told about the book Mansfield Parsonage: A Mansfield Park Regency Novel by Kyra C Kramer, I remember thinking ‘how brave’. Kyra Kramer has rewritten Jane Austen’s novel, Mansfield Park, but from the point of view of a different character; that of Mary Crawford as oppose to the original heroine, Fanny Price. The idea was an interesting one, but could it work?

Having opened the book with some trepidation – after all, Jane Austen is a difficult act to follow – I soon found myself drawn into this alternate view of Mansfield Park. I quickly discovered that Mansfield Parsonage: A Mansfield Park Regency Novel is an absolute delight to read. Written in the spirit of Jane Austen, Kyra Kramer; has managed to emulate the language, storyline and even the subtle nuances of the great novelist.

If you haven’t read Mansfield Park, do not worry; Kyra Kramer has cleverly blended the original novel into her new adaptation, including the politics of the time, such as war with Napoleon, the Whig and Tory parties of British politics and the slave trade. The father of Mary’s love interest, Edmund, is a slave owner in the West Indies and it is interesting to see how Mary Crawford, an opponent to slavery, reconciles her own interests in Edmund against her abhorrence of slavery.

Looking at the story from Mary Crawford’s point of view makes an interesting turnaround and provides a new and exciting story for avid Jane Austen fans. This is not a rewrite of Mansfield Park, but rather and alternative look at the same story. Mary Crawford is viewed much more sympathetically than in the original book. She comes across as  a generous, forthright girl, unaware of Fanny Price’s designs on her own love interest, Edmund, or her consequent animosity towards Miss Crawford. Indeed, Mary acts as Fanny’s champion on several occasions, much to Miss Price’s ingratitude and chagrin.

“Your cousin is very generous and tolerant of discourtesy; I am thoroughly ashamed of myself for monopolising her horse,” Mary said, as she and Edmund walked through the park toward the Grant’s home.

“If there is any creature alive who could be less offended than my cousin, I would be surprised; I am sure Miss Price does not begrudge you a loan of the mare,” Edmund assured her.

“Nevertheless, her difficulty to offend does not give me license for offence. I must be more careful to end my lesson with alacrity. It does not do to become habituated to getting one’s own way simply because someone else is too sweet natured to think ill of you for it. That is how one becomes Russian.”

Edmund laughed. “Is my cousin Poland, then?”

“I hope not. To be a battleground between Napoleon and Czar Alexander is no place for a nice young lady like Miss Price.”

“Miss Price is stronger than she appears, and more resolute than one would suspect with such a yielding temper. If she is to be Poland then she would be Poniatowski; earning admiration and respect regardless of her subjugation to France,” Edmund argues.

“That is easy for the french to say,” Miss Crawford gave Edmund a pointed look.

Mansfield Parsonage: A Mansfield Park Regency Novel is full of wonderful, vivid characters, their stories told in the best tradition of Jane Austen herself. The relationship between Mary Crawford, her brother Henry and sister Mrs Grant, is wonderfully told and their interactions are a delight to read. The central story, of Mary and Edmund’s relationship, is beautifully re-told; the little allusions to Fanny’s jealousy providing a new insight into the original heroine.

Mansfield Parsonage: A Mansfield Park Regency Novel provides us with an excellent opportunity to look at a beloved and familiar story from the viewpoint of an alternative protagonist, while not taking away from any of the major events and personalities of the original story and characters. You really feel that the author put herself into the head of Jane Austen when writing. On every page she has emulated the words and actions of the original characters with stunning accuracy.

Fans of Jane Austen can surely find nothing but pleasure in reading this wonderful novel.

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Kyra Kramer is a medical anthropologist. historian and devoted bibliophile who lives just outside Cardiff, Wales, with her husband and three young daughters. She has a deep – nearly obsessive – love for Regency Period romances in general and Jane Austen’s work in particular. Ms Kramer has authored several history books, including The Jezebel Effect and academic essays, but  Mansfield Parsonage: A Mansfield Park Regency Novel is her first foray into fiction.

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 My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

 

Book Corner: Sharon talks to Matthew Harffy

AD 636. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the fourth instalment in The Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell.

Beobrand has land, men and riches. He should be content. And yet he cannot find peace until his enemies are food for the ravens. But before Beobrand can embark on his bloodfeud, King Oswald orders him southward, to escort holy men bearing sacred relics.

When Penda of Mercia marches a warhost into the southern kingdoms, Beobrand and his men are thrown into the midst of the conflict. Beobrand soon finds himself fighting for his life and his honour.

In the chaos that grips the south, dark secrets are exposed, bringing into question much that Beobrand had believed true. Can he unearth the answers and exact the vengeance he craves? Or will the blood-price prove too high, even for a warrior of his battle-fame and skill?

It is my pleasure, today, to welcome Matthew Harffy back to the blog, opening his Blog Tour for the release of the latest instalment in the Bernicia Chronicles series, Killer of Kings.

Hi Matthew, thank you so much for agreeing to another interview. The last time we chatted you had just released your second novel in the Bernicia Chronicles, The Cross and the Curse, and now you’re about to release the fourth in the series, Killer of Kings.  What an amazing achievement. Congratulations!

Thank you! And thank you for having me on your blog again, it’s great to be back!

It’s great  to have you back, Matthew. I love the Bernicia Chronicles, such wonderful stories. And so, I was wondering;

Are you still enjoying the writing process? Do you still get that buzz when you type ‘The End’?

I get a real buzz out of typing “the end”, but I think that’s more due to relief than enjoyment! I do still enjoy writing, but the more readers I have, the more I question whether what I’m writing is any good! That’s not a bad problem to have, but it does mean that the writing process is slightly more stressful than it was before anybody was reading my stuff.

How have you changed your writing routine since publishing your first novel?

When I wrote my first novel, THE SERPENT SWORD, I did most of it in small windows of opportunity whilst my daughters were in clubs, such as dancing or Tae Kwon Do. I still write in small windows of opportunity that come along, but I also have set aside one whole day for writing each week. That makes it easier to make progress more quickly than before.

How many more stories of Beobrand can we expect to enjoy?

Well, I am writing book 5 at the moment, entitled Warrior of Woden. After that, I have at least one more novel contracted with Aria. After book 6, who knows what I’ll write?

Do you have a story outline for the whole series of books, or do you just go where the story leads you?

I do have a general outline for the whole series, but it isn’t broken down to the level of each book. That means I have an idea of where Beobrand will end up at the end of his life, and I know some of the events that he will be involved in, but I don’t have all the details until I get to the next book in the series. It also means I don’t know exactly how many books there will be in the series, but there are definitely more than six, if people keep buying them.

How meticulously is each book planned before you start writing?

I think it would be stretching things to say that I plan each book meticulously! I read around the subjects and events that are going to be touched upon, and come up with a basic timeline and then break that down into a very rough chapter outline. At that point, I usually just start writing and things begin to fall into place. As the book goes on, I add more and more detail to the synopsis and the plan until, by the time I reached the last quarter, I actually know what it is I’m writing about!

As a Bernard Cornwell fan writing about Northumbria, are you not tempted to introduce a character named Uhtred?

I have thought about it! However, as my books are set hundreds of years before Bernard Cornwell’s, I think it is more likely that Beobrand is one of Uhtred’s ancestors!

I loved the short story, ‘Kin of Cain’, about Beobrand’s brother, Octa; how did you come up with the idea of using the Beowulf story?

Thank you, I really enjoyed writing it too. The seed of the idea actually came from a reader who asked me whether Hrunting in the Bernicia Chronicles was the famous sword from the Beowulf story. The question made me think, and in the end the story told itself.

Will we see more stories about Octa, maybe a prequel to the Bernicia Chronicles?

I haven’t got anything else planned with Octa, but you never know. If I can think of any other good ideas, I’m tempted to write some more novellas, as I really enjoyed being able to write a whole story in such a short space of time.

Who is the best character you have created, which are you most proud of?

I really don’t know. That’s like asking a parent who is your favourite child! I think the most memorable of the characters I have created is probably Hengist. He is truly evil and does horrible things, but I imagined him as someone who had suffered terribly and witnessed so many atrocities of war that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. There is some debate as to whether soldiers suffered from PTSD in the time when warfare was waged with swords and shields, but I think it is likely that certain warriors would have been affected by particularly traumatic events.

How do you come up with the ideas for characters? Are they ever someone you know, or pure imagination?

They’re mostly purely imagination. But where does inspiration and imagination come from, if not from everything we have seen and done in our lives? Therefore I am sure that there are many traits exhibited by my characters which actually come from me or from people I know. I am also sure that some of my characters were inspired by fictional characters in other authors’ books.

What is the most significant thing you have learned that made you a better writer?

To trust myself and to write stories that I would enjoy reading. It is impossible to write novels that everybody will enjoy, but if you as the writer enjoy reading the finished product, you can be sure there will be a lot of people who will agree with you.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to write their first novel?

Don’t overthink it. The only way to write a novel is to actually write it. Behind every published author is an amateur writer who didn’t give up and who finished their novel. Nobody is going to publish an unwritten book.

After Beobrand, do you have other projects in the pipeline?

I have got a couple of ideas that I’ve been mulling over, but nothing that I can talk about yet. If I actually write them, it probably won’t be for a couple of years yet anyway.

Is there any historic era or topic that you would dearly love to write about?

I would love to write a western.

Have you ever thought of writing non-fiction, if so what would you write about?

I have written scientific papers and manuals for computer software, so I have written non-fiction. However, I haven’t considered writing any non-fiction for publication beyond that. Perhaps one day, but I’m not sure it would be about history, as I would be too scared of getting things wrong! It’s bad enough when you do it in a novel!

Thank you so much for answering my questions Matthew – it’s always great to welcome you to the blog. Good luck with Killer of Kings – I wish you every success.

Thank you very much, Sharon, and best of luck with your own book that I know is coming out at the end of the year. Thank you.

About the author: Matthew Harffy grew up in Northumberland where the rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline had a huge impact on him He now lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

Killer of Kings, Book 4 in the Bernicia Chronicles, is now available from Amazon, Kobo, ibooks and Google Play.

Follow Matthew: Website: www.matthewharffy.com; Twitter: @MatthewHarffy; Facebook: MatthewHarffyAuthor

Follow Aria: Website: www.ariafiction.com; Facebook: @ariafiction; Twitter: @aria_fiction; Instagram: @ariafiction; NetGalley: http://bit.ly/2lkKB0e. Sign up to the Aria newsletter: http://bit.ly/2jQxVtV

Follow the rest of the Blog Tour: 6th June; 7th June; 8th June; 9th June; 10th June; 11th June; 12th June.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: Sir Lancelot of Siedlęcin

“Painted tower in Siedlęcin: the unique residence of an ambitious Silesian duke”¹

Ducal tower of Siedlęcin. Photo courtesy of sekulada.com

The 15th International Castellological Conference „Castrum Bene” took place at Książ Castle, in Lower Silesia, Poland, on 16th – 19th May, 2017. This year’s conference brought together, as it always does,  prominent architectural historians and castellologists from across ten European countries. There were scholars from Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany, Croatia, to name but a few.

The annual International Castellological Conference is a great opportunity for the experts to come together, learn from each other and exchange ideas. The participants are always treated to a series of diverse and intellectually challenging papers, some giving interesting fresh perspectives on castle exploration and preservation. The papers show considered approach to the key castellological issues and bring together a wealth of knowledge, talent and experience.

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„Castrum Bene” comes to Siedlęcin. Photo courtesy of Monika Filipińska

This year’s conference focused on castles as symbols of status. In their lectures the Polish experts discussed Henrys, the dukes of Silesia and their residences, castles and elites of the Cracow Land in the Middle Ages, motte-and-bailey castles of Lower Silesia.

18 May saw the participants taking a full-day study tour to the castles on the Piast Castles Trail. They visited, among others, Bolków, Świny and Wleń. In the Great Hall of the ducal tower of Siedlęcin they had an opportunity to listen to the lecture delivered by Dr Przemysław Nocuń, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, on the subject of the tower, its founder and unique wall paintings preserved in it.

Lancelot fighting a duel with Tarquin, the Siedlęcin set, detail. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Ducal tower of Siedlęcin displays one of the most complete and important sets of 14th century domestic wall paintings in Central Europe. The paintings are a rarity both for their mixture of secular, religious and didactic themes, and for their leading subject being the legend of Sir Lancelot of the Lake. Both the tower and paintings reflect its builder’s high ambitions. Preserved monuments and names of the Arthurian characters given to the sons of the Silesian nobility indicate that the Arthurian legends were known at the courts of medieval Poland and Silesia. However, most of the preserved monuments with Arthurian motifs date from the second half of the 14th or from the 15th century, which makes the Siedlęcin set  (created in 1320s -1340s) the earliest surviving example. Among the Piasts (Poland’s first ruling dynasty) Henryk I of Jawor (c. 1292 – 1346) is believed to be the first to commission the Arthurian paintings in one of his residences. Today Duke Henryk’s tower is the only place in the world where the medieval wall paintings depicting Sir Lancelot of the Lake have been preserved in situ. Their true subject matter was not recognised until the 1990s. Major conservation was carried out in 2006, actually saving them, for they were in very poor condition.

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Participants of the The 15th International Castellological Conference „Castrum Bene” at Książ Castle. Photo courtesy of P. Nocuń

The tower house of Siedlęcin is one of the best preserved castles of this type in Central Europe.  It was built as a ducal seat for both residential and defensive purposes (probably as a hunting „lodge”) near the River Bóbr [Bobber] crossing in the hunting territories north-east of Jelenia Góra [Hirschberg]. Initially crenelated, the tower stands 22 meters high (72 feet) with the remains of the moat still visible from the northern and eastern sides. The only siginificant alteration since the 14th  century is the addition of a roof (in the 16th century). Preserved massive tie beams are the oldest surviving wooden ceilings in Poland. Dendrochronolocial research has revealed the trees used for their construction were cut down in 1313 , 1314  and 1315 respectively. Adjacent to the tower is a manor house which dates from 18th century.

Książ Castle, the Lower Silesia, Poland. Photo courtesy of Przemysław Nocuń

The paintings have been preserved on the south wall of the tower’s finest interior space, being that of the former Great Hall on the second floor. The group includes representations of the scenes from the Vulgate Lancelot and depict Sir Lancelot of the Lake and his marvelous exploits with the focus on the beginning and ending of his brilliant career as a knight of the Round Table. There are scenes depicting the court of King Arthur, his queen Guinevere with her ladies, Guinevere’s kidnapping by Meleagant and her rescue by Lancelot. There are also representations of Lancelot and his cousin Lionel setting off for their first knightly adventure. Lancelot asleep under an apple tree and Lionel sleeping on guard, a duel between Lancelot and Tarquin and Lancelot with Arthur’s brother, Sir Kay. The unfinished portion depicts a duel between Lancelot and Sagramour and the healing of Urry de Hongre.

You can learn more about the tower and its marvellous paintings on Ducal Tower of Siedlęcin Official Website

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Footnote: ¹From an article by by Dr P. Nocuń.

Article by Kasia Ogrodnik of Henry The Young King.

Photos courtesy of The Ducal Tower of Siedlęcin Association and sekulada.com.

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©2017 Kasia Ogrodnik-Fujcik & Sharon Bennett Connolly

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Sharon’s book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.