Book Corner: Warrior of Woden by Matthew Harffy

AD 642. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the fifth instalment in the Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell.

Oswald has reigned over Northumbria for eight years and Beobrand has led the king to ever greater victories. Rewarded for his fealty and prowess in battle, Beobrand is now a wealthy warlord, with a sizable warband. Tales of Beobrand’s fearsome black-shielded warriors and the great treasure he has amassed are told throughout the halls of the land.

Many are the kings who bow to Oswald. And yet there are those who look upon his realm with a covetous eye. And there is one ruler who will never kneel before him.

When Penda of Mercia, the great killer of kings, invades Northumbria, Beobrand is once more called upon to stand in an epic battle where the blood of many will be shed in defence of the kingdom.

But in this climactic clash between the pagan Penda and the Christian Oswald there is much more at stake than sovereignty. This is a battle for the very souls of the people of Albion.

I have had the good fortune of reading each book in Matthew Harffy’s series as soon as it has been released (and often before) and have been amazed and  impressed with each one. And Warrior of Woden is no exception. This has to be Matthew Harffy’s best book yet!

The Bernicia Chronicles are set in seventh century Northumbria and follow the exploits of Beobrand, a warlord from Kent who has made his home in Northumbria. In the series so far, we have watched him grow from a young fighter to one of the most feared warriors in Britain. He is loyal to his family, his followers and his king, he has loved, lost, fought and killed. Beobrand as a character is all-too human, however, every loss affects him and helps him develop not only as a leader in his world, but as a character in the book.

Beobrand slapped the shoulder of the stocky man to his right.

“Acennan, take command of the men.” Acennan did not speak, but nodded his understanding.

“Cynan, with me,” Beobrand said, his tone a sharp bark of command.

Trusting that the younger warrior would obey, Beobrand left his position in the Northumbrian shieldwall and rushed along the lines, elbowing and pushing men aside with his bulk.

“See that cross is held aloft,” Beobrand hissed. “Whatever happens, do not let that rood fall. And Cynan,” he gripped Cynan’s shoulder tightly, halting his onward rush, “the king has not fallen. Do you hear me?”

Cynan stared wide-eyed at him for a moment before nodding. Beobrand left the Waelisc warrior to his task and pushed forward towards the king. His stomach roiled but he took some comfort when, from the corner of his eye, he noted that the carved wood cross rose once more into the sky, casting its long shadow over the icy ground and the fyrd-men gathered there. He knew he could rely on Cynan. The erstwhile thrall had proven his worth many times over since he had joined Beobrand’s warband three years before.

The shieldwall was closing ranks, regaining some order at the bellowed commands of Derian, Oswald’s battle-leader. Beobrand thanked the gods for the man. The bearded thegn knew his work. There was no warrior more doughty; none more steadfast. The shieldwall would not be allowed to break while Derian yet breathed.

Two men were half-dragging Oswald back from the front of the line.

“I must stand,” Oswald protested, his voice muffled by the ornate faceplate of his grimhelm. “I will not retreat from this rabble. In God’s name, I must fight. Unhand me! I command it.”

The warriors, who had been pulling the king backward, paused, unsure of themselves. They relaxed their grip on Oswald. His legs buckled and he almost fell to the cold earth. Beobrand leapt forward and caught him. Around them, men shuffled back to make room for their king.

 

After years of warfare, Beobrand has seen almost everything, but the world still has a few surprises for him and in Warrior of Woden, he sees some of the worst humanity can do. Matthew Harffy does a remarkable job of seamlessly fitting Beobrand into the timeline of actual events, whilst giving him a story that is entirely his own, so that the reader cannot discern where history ends and fiction begins. Each character has their own distinguished style, in language, fighting and his relationship with Beobrand. Beobrand’s enemies are as individual as his friends; each relationship is well thought through and unique. You find yourself thinking ‘I knew Beobrand would react like that’.

As the chief protagonist, Beobrand is a hero we can all relate too. He is a strong, confident leader in battle, trusted by his men to not throw their lives away needlessly. He leads his men to victory but worries that he it’s not a good father and knows he could be a better boyfriend. Some things have never changed down the centuries! He has his foibles, which is want makes him believable and likeable as a hero.

Warrior of Woden is that it immerses the reader in the era. The language the author uses invokes the time period without being archaic, leaving the reader with a deep sense that they have been transported to the seventh century. You can almost hear the clash of swords, shields and axes, smell that tang of blood in your nose. The fighting is vicious and brutal, but the relationships between Beobrand and his men, and Beobrand and his family, create a dual story of men at war and men at home.

This book has that ‘je ne sais quoi’ which makes it impossible to put down. From the first page, the action is non-stop, the intrigue and action keep you hooked to the very end. To put it simply, The Bernicia Chronicles get better and better with every instalment – and I am desperate to read the next.

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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.

Books in the series: Serpent Sword; The Cross and The Curse; Blood and Blade; Killer of Kings and the short story, Kin of Cain.

Warrior of Woden, Book 5 in the Bernicia Chronicles, is  available from 1st April 2018, on Amazon.

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My Book:

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018. It can also be ordered 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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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Mary, Tudor Princess by Tony Riches

From the author of the international best-selling Tudor Trilogy, the true story of the Tudor dynasty continues with the daughter of King Henry VII, sister to King Henry VIII. Mary Tudor watches her elder brother become King of England and wonders what the future holds for her. Born into great privilege, Mary has beauty and intelligence beyond her years and is the most marriageable princess in Europe. Henry plans to use her marriage to build a powerful alliance against his enemies. Will she dare risk his anger by marrying for love? Meticulously researched and based on actual events, this ‘sequel’ follows Mary’s story from book three of the Tudor Trilogy and is set during the reign of King Henry VIII.

Mary Tudor Princess by Tony Riches is the latest novel from author of the Tudor Trilogy. Telling the story of Henry VIII’s little sister, it traces Mary’s life from the death of her father in 1509 to her own death in 1533. Mary was a fascinating lady, who married the ageing King of France out of duty to her brother, but extracted a promise from Henry VIII to be able to choose her second husband. As a consequence, widowed and still in France, she married her brother’s best friend, Charles Brandon, who had been sent to escort her back to England, only to face the wrath of her brother.

Princess Mary has always been my favourite Tudor. She did the impossible and married for love, and survived her brother’s anger. Being the king’s little sister must have counted for something! I fell in love with Mary’s story after watching the film, The Slipper and the Rose as a teenager and Tony Riches has done a wonderful job of bringing this Tudor princess to life once again.

Although I don’t do much Tudor research at the minute, the story does overlap with several ladies I have looked into, and it was fascinating to see how the author included Katherine Willoughby and her mother, Maria de Salinas, in the story; Katherine would eventually marry Charles Brandon herself. Bessie Blount also gets a mention! It is fascinating to see how so many Tudor characters interacted with Mary, and to read of her friendship with Katherine of Aragon, the two women being affectionate with each other but always aware of their respective stations.

Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon

Mary dismissed her muttering French servants and sated her frustration at them by tearing down the black cloths covering the long windows. Shafts of bright winter sun lit up motes of dust drifting like tiny, glittering starts in the still air. Tears of relief ran down Mary’s face as she looked out at the River Seine and the spires of Notre-Dame Cathedral. She was leaving Cluny Palace forever.

John Palsgrave returned with the news that the waiting was finally over. Charles Brandon had sailed from Dover on the same ship and was meeting with Francis to negotiate her return to England.

Mary’s mind raced with questions. ‘Why must he negotiate?’ Of course I will return. Francis has no wish to hold me here. Is it the return of my dowry?’ She recalled Wolsey’s scheming before she’d left for France. He’d foreseen Louis’ death and already planned for her return, wording the marriage contract to Henry’s advantage.

John Palsgrave nodded. ‘There is a considerable sum of money at stake, Your Grace, as well as the question of the jewels from the late king.’

‘They were gifts!’ She heard the outrage and frustration in her voice. Her confinement and aching tooth made her short-tempered. She saw her secretary’s troubled look. ‘I’m sorry. Does Duke Francis,’ she corrected herself, ‘does King Francis want them returned?’

This book has so many strengths. It is a fabulous, enjoyable story that will keep you riveted to the page until the very end. The historical research is impeccable, transporting the reader back to the Tudor era and immersing them in the period, the fashions, the language and lifestyle. You are back in the Tudor court where the king’s will and whims are paramount. It is fascinating to watch how this Tudor princess negotiated her way through the politics, the plots and the fact her brother’s word was law.

Tony Riches is a wonderful author, who breathes life into long dead historical characters, depicting their stories, their lives, in a way that stays true to the era from which they have come. With Mary Tudor Princess not only does he give us a glimpse into the Tudor court, but into the personalities who inhabited it, always staying true to the known history. The story does not shy away from the politics of the time, from Henry VIII’s dealings with France, Scotland and the Holy Roman Empire, to his desire for a son and the Reformation that would result.

Mary Tudor Princess rebuilds Mary’s world, showing us the contrast in her private and  public life, showing the balance of duties to family and state. Her life was not all sweetness and roses, and the author deals with the deaths of family members, love and betrayal in a sympathetic and empathetic manner. The book gives the impression that you are a fly on the wall, watching Mary’s life as it unfolds, her dreams and passions tempered by her duty and station.

This is a wonderful novel for anyone who wants to get a sense of the personality of Mary, her husband, Charles Brandon, and the Tudor court itself. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It was  a pleasure and an  privilege to read.

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About the author:

Tony Riches is a full-time author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the fifteenth century, with a particular interest in the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his website tonyriches.com and his popular blog, The Writing Desk and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.

You can find all of Tony’s books, including Mary Tudor Princess, on Amazon in the UK and US.

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My Book:

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018. It can also be ordered 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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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Edward IV by David Santiuste

Indisputably the most effective general of the Wars of the Roses, Edward IV died in his bed, undefeated in battle. Yet Edward has not achieved the martial reputation of other warrior kings such as Henry V – perhaps because he fought battles against his own people in a civil war. It has also been suggested that he lacked the personal discipline expected of a truly great commander. But, as David Santiuste shows in this perceptive and highly readable new study, Edward was a formidable military leader whose strengths and subtlety have not been fully recognized. This reassessment of Edward’s military role, and of the Wars of the Roses in which he played such a vital part, gives a fascinating insight into Edward the man and into the politics and the fighting. Based on contemporary sources and the latest scholarly research, Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses brings to life an extraordinary period of English history.

I was very happy to be asked to review Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses by historian David Santiuste. I had dipped in and out of it for my research of various characters of the period, but never had the time to sit down and read it from cover to cover. To read it with a view to review was a prime opportunity. Now, I don’t review books that I didn’t enjoy, so I do only give positive reviews.. However, if a book gets reviewed by me, it means it’s good. And Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses was brilliant. It is a fabulous, in-depth analysis of one of England’s most underrated kings.

Dealing predominantly with the first  part of Edward’s life and reign the book concentrates on his political and military skills. It analyses his personal qualities and skills as a leader and politician, while also looking at the bigger stage of the conflict that became known as the Wars of the Roses. This is not an ‘I love Edward IV’ book, but rather a balanced portrayal of the strengths and weaknesses of the charismatic king, and of the people around him.

… Perhaps surviving portraits do not do Edward justice, although observers were often impressed by his physique as much as his face. When Edward’s coffin was opened in the eighteenth century his skeleton was measured at 6 feet 3½ inches and it was broadly proportioned. Edward had a tremendous presence, of which he was keenly aware. Even later in life, when his looks had faded and he had put on weight, the Italian observer Mancini reports that Edward ‘was wont to show himself to those who wished to watch him, and seized any opportunity occasion offered of revealing his fine stature more protractedly and more evidently to onlookers.’ In 1459 Edward was still untested, but his potential was clear: Yorkist verses from the following year were to describe him as ‘Edward, Earl of March, whose fame the earth shall spread’.

Where this book shines is in the author’s portrayal of the relationship between Edward IV and Richard, Earl of Warwick. David Santiuste makes it clear that the relationship was complex and far from dominated by Warwick. He shows how Edward was able to be his own man and explains clearly how the relationship broke down, with blame on both sides, and how this relationship affected both Edward and his kingship.

Making good use of primary sources and his own vast knowledge of the era, David Santiuste presents his arguments in a clear, concise manner, stating his own opinion and discussing where facts and historians differ in a respectful, engaging style. He handles the significant moments of Edward IV’s career with great empathy and understanding, demonstrating how the king’s life, future and country were changed by his ability to make the most of events – and heavenly phenomena – thrown at him.

The Illustrated Life of Edward IV presents Edward, at the moment the parhelia appear, appealing to God for guidance, just like Paul at Damascus: ‘Lord, what will you have me do?’ Coppini had described Edward as ‘prudent and magnanimous’, but we should remember that Edward was still eighteen years old, The loss of his father and brother must have shaken him to the core. For Edward, then, this was a moment of great personal significance…..

David Santiuste displays an impressive level of understanding of fifteenth century warfare and generalship, and of the political atmosphere of the time. Every page of the book demonstrates the author’s enthusiasm for his subject and for history in general. Easily readable, enjoyable and engaging, the author avoids technical speak and draws the reader in.

This is a must-read for any fan of the Wars of the Roses, or any student of kingship and medieval history. Enjoyable and engaging, it takes the reader to the heart of the civil war which raged across England in the second half of the fifteenth century.

 

About the author:

David Santiuste teaches history at the Centre for Open Learning, University of Edinburgh. His most recent book is The Hammer of the Scots. His other publications include Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses, as well as various articles.

David’s website can be found at davidsantiuste.com, where he writes an occasional blog. You can follow him on Facebook at David Santiuste Historian or on Twitter @dbsantiuste.

Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses is available from Amazon.

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My Book:

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018. It can also be ordered 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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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Mother’s Day Treat

Sunday 11th March 2018 is Mother’s Day in the UK this year

Mum is everyone’s favourite Heroine, in whatever era, and I could not think of a better way to celebrate Mother’s Day than with a giveaway of a hardback copy of Heroines of the Medieval World.

About Heroines of the Medieval World

Heroines come in many different forms, and it is no less true for medieval heroines. They can be found in all areas of medieval life; from the dutiful wife and daughter to religious devotees, warriors and rulers. What makes them different compared to those of today are the limitations placed on them by those who directed their lives – their fathers, husbands, priests and kings. Women have always been an integral part of history, although when reading through the chronicles of the medieval world, you would be forgiven if you did not know it. We find that the vast majority of written references are focussed on men. The chronicles were written by men and, more often than not, written for men. It was men who ruled countries, fought wars, made laws and treaties, dominated religion and guaranteed – or tried to guarantee – the continued survival of their world. It was usually the men, but not all of them, who could read, who were trained to rule and who were expected to fight, to defend their people and their country…

 

If you would like to win a signed copy of Heroines of the Medieval World to give to your mum on Mother’s Day, or someone else’s mum – or even as a gift to yourself, simply leave a comment below or on my Facebook page and I will include you in the prize draw.

The draw will be made on Wednesday 7th March, so you should get the book in time for the day.

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The winner is ….. Janet Carter.

The draw is now closed and I would like to thank everyone for taking part.

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Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

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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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly