Book Corner: Land of Fire by Derek Birks

Late Spring, 455 AD.

After a brutal winter struggle against the High King Vortigern, outcast imperial officer Ambrosius Aurelianus has led his weary followers to south-west Britannia in search of his mother’s kinfolk. But Vortigern, thirsting for revenge is already forging a dangerous alliance against him.

Taking refuge in a ruined Roman fort near the decaying town of Vindocladia, Ambrosius finds an ally in Lurotriga, the widowed queen of the Durotriges. Though still sworn to his Saxon lady Inga, he is soon beguiled by the British noblewoman.

Between Inga and her new rival there can be no compromise and their enmity threatens to cause a rift between the Britons and Saxons of Ambrosius’ company.

If Vortigern attacks before the fort is repaired Ambrosius fears the outcome. He must find allies fast but, in a land of squabbling rival tribes the Roman encounters more enemies than friends. A treaty with neighbouring Dumnonia offers Ambrosius some hope, but commits him to defend the south coast against Scotti raiders. Ambrosius’ forces are stretched perilously thin putting the lives of Lurotriga and others at risk.

As Ambrosius prepares to pursue Vortigern for a final reckoning, his quest to discover his mother’s kin suddenly delivers a startling revelation, but will it help him to defeat the High King?

Heavily outnumbered in the thick forests and steep valleys of Vortigern’s homeland, Ambrosius must rely upon the fighting spirit of his small force of bucellarii and raw recruits. But sometimes courage alone is not enough.

Many of my readers will already know that Derek Birks is one of my favourite authors. Ever since reading his debut novel, Feud, set during the Wars of the Roses, I have devoured every one of his books. And Land of Fire was no exception. The 3rd book in Derek Birks’ The Last of the Romans series is a fabulous, action-filled adventure set in post-Roman Britain. The series follows the experiences of Ambrosius Aurelianus, his lover, Inga, and his small band of armed warriors, trying to make a new life for themselves inn this abandoned outpost of the Roman Empire.

As I have come to expect from this author, the action is relentless, with Ambrosius and his band fighting for their lives from the very first page. The plot is cleverly laid out, with a number of twists and turns that the reader cannot see coming. Ambrosius has to face the might of Vortigern, the High King who is eager for revenge. Life is even more complicated by Ambrosius’ attraction to two women…

The various plot threads make for an explosive combination that will leave the reader on the edge of their seats.

Below he surveyed once more the gravel hard where fishermen had drawn their small boats high up above the tideline. Close by, a rickety wooden jetty thrust a stubby finger out into the estuary channel and Ambrosius smiled to see children playing on the foreshore. But his grin of satisfaction froze half-formed, as a vessel emerged from the mist.

“What’s that?” asked Inga, clutching his arm.

After a tense moment he chuckled with relief, for it was just a single ship and not a Scoti vessel either. If anything, it looked Roman in origin.

“A trader,” ventured Inga.

“Could be,” he said, but something about the ship irked him and by the time Inga’s grip tightened upon his arm he had worked out why. The vessel was a navis lusoria, made for short, coastal journeys and river navigation; and its arrival here irked him far more than any Scoti incursion.

“That’s … your ship,” cried Inga. “Our ship!”

The previous year Ambrosius had brought them, against all odds, to the shore of Britannia in just such a navis lusoria. Their ship was a supply craft built to patrol the Rhinus River but it was very like the one he saw below. This one could, of course have been any vessel… except that it certainly looked like the ship stolen from him at the onset of winter by his embittered half-sister.

open-mouthed in shock, he stared as it lowered its sail and glided out of the mist into the harbour and there at its prow, like some carved image, stood Florina.

“No,” he moaned, as if conjuring up a long dead spirit – except she looked far from dead. “How can she be here?”

“Because Frigg has delivered her into our hands,” breathed Inga, the fire of revenge already beginning to sparkle in her eyes.

Land of Fire is superbly written and full of action. The characters are wonderful, colorful and unique individuals, including the magnificent war-dog, Ferox, who steals every scene he is in. Derek Birks is renowned for putting strong women into his stories. In his Rebels & Brothers and Craft of Kings series, it was Eleanor Elder who stole the show, using all her strength to fight for her family. In The Last of the Romans series, we have Inga and a number of other women who fight for themselves, their friends and loved ones. That is not to say that these women are therefore unrealistic, Derek Birks achieves the perfect balance in making the women into warriors, while also remembering the vulnerability of their sex and the male-dominated world in which they lived.

Ambrosius Aurelianus is a sympathetic hero, burdened with the weight of leadership, he also has a vulnerability about him, in his ability to command and fight. He is well aware of his own mortality and the mortality of those who fight alongside him. This makes him the perfect hero – you want him to succeed and, as with every Derek Birks book, are nervous that he might not. That is because Derek Birks has a unique outlook as an author. He is not afraid to kill off a key character, if it furthers the story. As a reader, that gives his book an edge – you are on the edge of your seat because you know that even the hero might not survive the battle. It makes the tension palpable – right to the very end of the book!

Well written, and with meticulous research, the book expertly depicts the lawlessness and factional warfare of the post-Roman period., where warlords are fighting to fill the vacuum left by the Roman withdrawal. Derek Birks’ knowledge of Roman Britain’s history serves to rebuild the long-lost world, and to draw the reader in, so that they can imagine the sights, sounds and -even – the smells of fifth century Britannia.

Land of Fire has depth and scope. The action is ferocious. The tension constant. It is, quite simply, impossible to put down. I read it in two days and enjoyed every moment of this fabulous novel. I cannot recommend it highly enough – it is a great way to lose a weekend!

To Buy the Book

Land of Fire is now available on Kindle from Amazon.

About the Author:

Derek was born in Hampshire in England but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand, where he still has strong family ties. On his return to England, he read history at Reading University and for many years he taught history in a secondary school. Whilst he enjoyed his teaching career and it paid the bills, he found a creative outlet in theatrical activities, stage-managing many plays and outdoor Shakespeare performances. Derek always wanted to write and began, aged 17, writing stories, songs and poetry – in fact virtually anything. Inevitably, work and family life took precedence for a long period of time but in 2010 Derek took early retirement to indulge his passion for history and concentrate on his writing. He is interested in a wide range of historical themes but his particular favourite is the late medieval period.

Derek writes action-packed fiction which is rooted in accurate history. He also produces podcasts on the Wars of the Roses for those interested in the real historical background to his books. Check them out on his website at: https://www.derekbirks.com/history-podcasts/

His historical fiction works include:
Rebels & Brothers – a 4-book series set during the fifteenth century, which follows a fictional family, the Elders, through their struggle to survive the Wars of the Roses up to 1471. The Craft of Kings – a sequel series which finds the Elder family ten years later in 1481. The latest book in this series is book 3, Echoes of Treason, which is set during the short and turbulent reign of Richard III. The final book in the series, Crown of Fear, will be published later in 2020. He has recently embarked upon a new Post-Roman series and the first book, The Last of the Romans, is out now. A sequel, Britannia: World’s End, was released in in 2020.

Apart from his writing, he enjoys travelling – sometimes, but not always, to carry out research for his books. He also spends his time walking, swimming and taking part in archaeological digs. He was a regular presence at the Harrogate History Festival, is an active member of the Historical Novel Society and you will also find him each summer signing books – and selling them – at the Chalke Valley History Festival outside Salisbury in Wiltshire.

Derek welcomes feedback from readers.
Feel free to get in touch with him via his website: http://www.derekbirks.com or follow him on twitter: https://twitter.com/Feud_writer
or facebook: https://www.facebook.com/derek.birks.14

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My Books:

Coming 31 May 2021:

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

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©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

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