Book Corner: Bear of Britain by Steven A. McKay

AD 432. BRITAIN. The winter snows are melting at last, but spring will bring more than just rebirth this year. The Saxons are coming, and that means war.
Bellicus, Duro and Cai have travelled south to join the warlord, Arthur, and his growing army of Britons. New friendships have been made and exciting adventures await the warrior-druid and his companions, but the threat of Hengist and his invaders casts a dark cloud over all. For years, the Saxons have been content to remain mostly confined to the eastern parts of the country, but now they are marching west, and Hengist has amassed the biggest army seen on these shores since the Romans left over twenty years ago.
Arthur – dubbed the Bear of Britain by his advisor, Merlin – has never truly felt he’d earned such a grand title, but now he will have a chance to prove himself. The addition of a new, crack unit to his ranks will, he hopes, be enough to sweep the Saxon threat from Britain once and for all, and herald a generation of peace and prosperity for his people. But nothing in war is straightforward and even their own countrymen can turn violently against them at any moment, as Bellicus discovers to his cost…

The post-Roman landscape of Britain is brought vividly to life in this exciting fourth novel in the Warrior Druid of Britain Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Simon Scarrow, Bernard Cornwell and Conn Iggulden.

At last! Bellicus is back.

And what a thoroughly enjoyable novel it is.

I have developed a soft spot for this druid of the ancient Britons and his adventures. And this time he joins Arthur, the Bear of Britain to fight against Hengist and Horsa. The Bear of Britain truly indulges my love of all things Arthurian, with all the leading characters of the legend, Lancelot, Sir Kay and Merlin himself, joining the story. And what a story. Steven A. McKay has surpassed himself this time (and that is hard to do!). This was a fabulous adventure which I devoured in no time.

The Bear of Britain is a beautifully crafted adventure that sees Bellicus and his friend, the former Roman Centurion, Duro, join Arthur for an offensive against the Saxon brothers, Hengist and Horsa. Both Bellicus and Arthur are tasked with uniting the various British factions to form one coherent fighting force. And it is not that easy when each king thinks he himself should have the authority over Arthur, a man who is not tied to one land, but who has been raised since childhood to be the most formidable warlord and leader of men. Arthur must assert his own authority before he can lead his disparate forces against the Saxon invaders.

The Bear of Britain is a fabulous combination of battles, intrigue and political in-fighting and not everything will go Arthur’s way. However, he is blessed with the guidance of the Merlin and Bellicus, two druids who know how to influence the minds of kings and men. It is a fascinating study, not only of 6th century warfare, but also of what it takes to forge an army and lead it against such a formidable foe.

“I’ll actually be glad once the fighting starts,”the centurion said vehemently. “Since it’ll warm me up a little!”

A rider charged towards the camp from the east, heading towards Arthur’s tent and Bellicus led the way there himself. “That’ll be one of the scouts,”he said. “Bringing word of the Saxons’intended target perhaps.”

“Morning, big man,”a voice called, and they turned to see their young compatriot, and rowdy champion of the Votadini tribe, Eburus, warming himself by a fire. He’d travelled south with them after forming an unlikely friendship with both during the previous year’s battles against the Picts. “What’s happening? Are we moving out?”

“Soon, I’d guess,”Bellicus replied. “We’re just going to see Arthur now. Have our men ready to move, will you?”

Eburus grinned. Like Lancelot he was loud and brash and confident in his own abilities as a warrior. “They’re all ready to go, don’t worry, druid. Some of us have been up for hours you know.”

“Aye, not many can sleep once you start talking, Eburus. You’re a giant pain in the arse, lad.”Duro’s face was serious, but his eyes twinkled and, as he and Bellicus passed the guards and entered Arthur’s tent they chuckled at the foul insult Eburus called after them.

“Ah, you’re awake. Good.”Arthur nodded to them politely although he seemed pensive as he directed them to sit on a couple of stools by the table in the middle of the tent.

Lancelot was there, looking as fresh and clean-cut as he had before the previous night’s raid and Bellicus thought he could even smell lavender from the man, as though he’d washed in scented water recently. Also present were two local chieftains and, of course, the Merlin.

Nemias was his real name, but he was now more widely known as Merlin, the title given to the chief druid of all Britain.

Cai headed straight for the white-bearded old High Druid and allowed his muzzle to be stroked and a kiss to be planted on his head before padding back and flopping onto the floor at Bellicus’s feet.

“I was just saying,” Arthur told the newcomers, “That our scout reports the Saxons are moving south . He believes they’re heading for Waithe . Which means they won’t have as far to travel as I’d hoped. We should get moving now if you’re all ready?” He looked around at the gathered lords who all nodded agreement. “Let’s not waste any more time then. I’ll lead with Lancelot and my personal guard. King Caradoc, these are your lands, you ride with me, if you would ? Bellicus, you bring up the rear with your men, all right?”

Steven A. McKay has been teasing his readers with little glimpses of Arthur throughout the Warrior Druid of Britain series, but in this book the legendary hero gets more of a leading role – though the focus remains firmly on Bellicus’ story. It is wonderful the way the author skillfully weaves Arthur’s story into that of Bellicus, creating a new legend, all of its own. The character of Bellicus has developed wonderfully through the books, so that an avid reader can almost read his mind. He has a wonderful sense of right and wrong, and of destiny, that means the reader knows how Bellicus forms his decisions and ideas. HIs faithful companion, Duro, has his own demons to face in this episode of the story and it is refreshing to see him branch out on his own a little.

The Bear of Britain is a wonderful addition to Bellicus’ story and adds a new dimension to the druid’s life. The fact that he crosses paths with the legendary characters of Arthur and Lancelot adds a spice that the reader can really relish. One can only hope that their paths will continue to cross in later books.

And I do hope that the observant reader notices Steven A. McKay’s subtle nod to the great Bernard Cornwell and his The Last Kingdom series – it certainly made me smile and nod knowingly (but I will say no more and leave that for you to spot).

The Bear of Britain is a wonderful, enjoyable adventure and an excellent sequel to the preceding instalments of the Warrior Druid of Britain series (The Druid, Song of the Centurion and The northern Throne). The depth of research and thought that have gone into these books is astounding. Steven A. McKay has recreated post-Roman Britain in astonishing and vivid detail, no matter what part of Britain his characters find themselves in, both in the landscape and the people who occupied it.

The Bear of Britain is available in ebook and paperback from Amazon. I highly recommend you get yourself a copy – after reading the first 3 books, that is!

From Steven A. McKay:

I was born in Scotland in 1977 and always enjoyed studying history – well, the interesting bits, not so much what they taught us in school. I decided to write my Forest Lord series after seeing a house called “Sherwood” when I was out at work one day. I’d been thinking about maybe writing a novel but couldn’t come up with a subject or a hero so, to see that house, well…It felt like a message from the gods and my rebooted Robin Hood was born.

My current Warrior Druid of Britain series was similarly inspired, although this time it was the 80’s TV show “Knightmare”, and their version of Merlin that got my ideas flowing. Of course, the bearded old wizard had been done to death in fiction, so I decided to make my hero a giant young warrior-druid living in post-Roman Britain and he’s been a great character to write.

I was once in a heavy metal band although I tend to just play guitar in my study these days. I’m sure the neighbours absolutely love me.

Check out my website at stevenamckay.com and sign up for the email list – in return I’ll send you a FREE short story, as well as offering chances to win signed books, free audiobooks and other quite good things!

*

My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

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. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

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

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 in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

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.

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.

*

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

*

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Inspiration for Hauntings by Samantha Wilcoxson

Inspiration for Among the Lost

By Samantha Wilcoxson

My family and I took a trip to Traverse City, Michigan last autumn. While this trip had nothing to do with anything I was writing, my youngest son would be quick to tell you that I always find some sort of historic site to visit anywhere we go. In Traverse City, that place ended up being the former Northern Michigan Asylum, now reinvented as The Village at Grand Traverse Commons.

The Northern Michigan Asylum was built in 1883-1885, including Building 50, the main structure which is almost a quarter of a mile long. More buildings were added over the years to serve patients that were sent from around the state of Michigan. Men, women, and children were segregated in addition to patients being separated according to condition. ‘Beauty is therapy’ was a famous slogan, referring to founding Medical Superintendent Dr James Munson’s belief that the gorgeous natural surroundings of the area would help the patients heal.

Traverse City is gorgeous with the beautiful blue waters of the bay in the summer and an extraordinary kaleidoscope of trees in the autumn. Certainly, some did find healing in the natural surroundings. The buildings of the asylum were carefully crafted with high ceilings, transom windows, and rounded corners to create a bright, safe atmosphere. The grounds include a grove of trees where no two are alike. The variety was collected by Dr James Munson during his travels. One can envision what the place was like when it was new and filled with hopeful nurses and their charges.

However, as we toured the abandoned, dilapidated structures, it was just as easy to imagine that darker things had taken place as well. Old lead paint is peeling from the walls, and the lack of electricity forced us to light our way with flashlights. Shattered windows and graffiti brought to mind broken souls and nefarious deeds that might have taken place within those walls.

I had not planned on writing anything about the asylum, but when the suggestion of an anthology of historical ghost stories was put forward, I knew just where mine would take place. The mysterious steam tunnels and creamy stone structures topped by red spires suddenly seemed the perfect setting for a young nurse to encounter strange happenings. A ghost may not be the worst being she discovers.

Hauntings

FEAR IS AS OLD AS TIME ITSELF
Chilling Tales that will take you through a labyrinth of historical horror.
You will encounter a tormented Roman general.
A Norse woman who must confront her terrifying destiny.
Meet a troubled Saxon brother, searching for his twin’s murderer.
A young nurse tries to solve the mysteries of an asylum for the insane.Down the passages of time, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn wander through a haunted garden and elsewhere,
a lost slave girl is the soul survivor of a mass slaughter.

These are just a few of the eerie tales which ensure that Hauntings is not for the faint-hearted.

Hauntings is an anthology of stories that span 2,000 years of history. Featuring short stories by S.J.A. Turney, D. Apple, Judith Arnopp, K.S. Barton, Lynn Bryant, Paula Lofting, Stephanie Churchill, Samantha Wilcoxson, Jennifer C. Wilson and Kate Jewell, and with a foreword by yours truly!

now available as an ebook from Amazon in the UK and the US and will be available in paperback shortly.

Hauntings Launch Party!

And we’re having a launch party over Zoom.

Meet the authors and hear the stories behind the stories. It’s free. Come and join us!

It’s on Saturday 23 October at 7pm (UK time) – 2 pm if you’re in New York! Book here!

My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

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. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

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

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 in paperback and hardback 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.

*

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Launch: Hauntings, An Anthology

FEAR IS AS OLD AS TIME ITSELF
Chilling Tales that will take you through a labyrinth of historical horror.
You will encounter a tormented Roman general.
A Norse woman who must confront her terrifying destiny.
Meet a troubled Saxon brother, searching for his twin’s murderer.
A young nurse tries to solve the mysteries of an asylum for the insane.

Down the passages of time, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn wander through a haunted garden and elsewhere,
a lost slave girl is the soul survivor of a mass slaughter.

These are just a few of the eerie tales which ensure that Hauntings is not for the faint-hearted.

Hauntings, an Anthology

Since time immemorial, people have sat around the hearth, in the dark of night with storms raging outside, telling each other ghost stories. Even the fairy tales told to children over the centuries have bordered on horror stories, with a wicked stepmother here, an evil witch there and the candy-selling man who turned out to be a child-catcher; all just waiting to scare and horrify the unsuspecting. Many were moralising tales, told to scare children into being good. But the effects linger. As children become teenagers, they tell scarier stories, staying up late into the night on sleepovers and camping expeditions. The aim has always been to frighten and entertain with ever greater levels of horror, often shining torches into their faces at odd angles to create special effects.

The enduring need to push our fear to the limits has been with us since childhood.

Such camp-fire tales belie the fact that horror and ghost stories have a place deep in the culture of society. They have always been a way to explain the unexplainable.

We have all had that moment, that sense of being watched. But when we turn around, there is no one there…

Or seen that movement out of the corner of our eye…

The room suddenly turning cold for no reason…

The most famous incident of this kind gave birth to not only the vampire but also what is probably the most famous horror story of all time. And it started, as it always does, with a gathering of friends, in their late teens and early 20s, trying to shock and scare each other as a storm raged outside.

Europe had just emerged from its own horror story. Over twenty-five years of warfare had ignited with the French Revolution in 1789 and ended on the battlefield of Waterloo in June 1815, raging across Europe, from the Iberian Peninsula to frozen Russia and even venturing into Africa. A generation had grown up with the shadow of war looming over them. This man-made tragedy had been exacerbated by volcanic eruptions, famine and epidemics; the volcanic ash would cause 3 years of darkness, crop failure and cholera outbreaks. It was a time ripe for dark and desperate literary endeavours.

In the aftermath of Waterloo, a young couple, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, her lover Percy Bysshe Shelley, travelled to Lake Geneva in May 1816, ostensibly looking for rest and relaxation. Their party included their four-month-old baby and Mary’s stepsister, Claire Clairmont. At the time, Claire was pregnant with a child by Lord Byron, the ground-breaking poet whose personal affairs and love life had proved too scandalous for England. Most recently he had divorced his wife, abandoning his young daughter, Ada Lovelace, and, so rumour had it, pursued an affair with his own half-sister. Plagued by gossip and debt, he had left England for Europe. Claire, it seems, had decided to surprise her lover by following him.

Mary had fallen in love with Percy in 1814; the couple had run away together, despite Percy already being married, and travelled around Europe for the next 2 years. After Byron left England, a distraught Claire convinced Mary and Percy to travel to Geneva with her. A few days later, Byron—clearly unaware that Claire would be there—arrived in town. Mary, whose own love life not without controversy, sympathized with the scandalous poet.

With Percy and Lord Byron soon forming an intense friendship, the small party abandoned their various travel plans and rented properties close to each other along Lake Geneva. They would gather together in the long, dark, cold evening at the Villa Diodati, the stately mansion Byron had rented for his stay along with John Polidori, his doctor. They read poetry, argued, and talked late into the night. After three nights of the party being trapped inside by the raging storm, tensions were running high. Byron was annoyed by Claire’s obsessive attentions, Mary likewise had to fend off the unwanted attentions of the equally obsessive Doctor Polidori.

They spent their evenings reading horror stories and ghostly poems to each other until one night, they were given a challenge. Byron proposed they each write a ghost story that was better than the ones they had just read. Inspired by a tale of Byron’s, Polidori produced his novella “The Vampyre,” which would be published in 1819. It is the first work of fiction to include a blood-sucking hero—which may have been modelled on Byron himself. Mary took a little longer to settle on the subject of her story but after a long, sleepless night she produced her offering, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. Considering what happens when men play gods, and perhaps with the upheaval of the last three decades in her mind, she would later call the story her “hideous progeny”.

Frankenstein would be Mary Shelley’s enduring legacy and the inspiration for so many hopeful writers.

Fast forward a little over 200 hundred years. The year was 2020, the world was in the midst of a pandemic of horrifying proportions. Travel to the neighbouring town was frowned upon, you were allowed out for exercise once a day, families were forced apart, the schools closed and writers the world over were sat in their studies, or at their kitchen tables, tapping away on keyboards, alone, solitary…

Well, not quite…

We now have the internet, so when you are alone, you are still not totally alone. Once again, with the storm raging outside, a group of writers have come together, not in a luxury Swiss mansion, but via the miracle that is the internet. Despite the miles and oceans apart, and across the continents, these ten historical fiction authors were given a challenge: to write a ghost story, to regale each other with terrifying stories of ghosts and ghoulies. Through history and legend, from the legions of Rome to a spooky hotel, from Tudor England to an asylum for the insane, those who have suffered injustice may finally be laid to rest, those who have sought loved ones across the centuries may finally be reunited and those who have borne nightmares for past deeds may finally find peace.

A year after the idea first formed, those stories are set to be unleashed on the world.

Dare you read them?

Hauntings, an Anthology is dedicated to the memory of Sharon Penman, an amazing historical fiction writer, author of The Sunne in Splendour, who inspired so many of us to become writers ourselves.

Hauntings, an Anthology is an anthology of stories that span 2,000 years of history. Featuring short stories by S.J.A. Turney, D. Apple, Judith Arnopp, K.S. Barton, Lynn Bryant, Paula Lofting, Stephanie Churchill, Samantha Wilcoxson, Jennifer C. Wilson and Kate Jewell, and with a foreword by yours truly!

Hauntings, an Anthology is now available as an ebook from Amazon in the UK and the US and will be available in paperback shortly.

Hauntings Launch Party

And we’re having a launch party over Zoom.

Meet the authors and hear the stories behind the stories. It’s free. Come and join us!

It’s on Saturday 23 October at 7pm (UK time) – 2 pm if you’re in New York! Book here!

*

My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

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. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

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

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 in paperback and hardback 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.

*

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: For Lord and Land by Matthew Harffy

Greed and ambition threaten to tear the north apart.

War rages between the two kingdoms of Northumbria. Kin is pitted against kin and friend becomes foe as ambitious kings vie for supremacy.

When Beobrand travels south into East Angeln to rescue a friend, he unwittingly tilts the balance of power in the north, setting in motion events that will lead to a climactic confrontation between Oswiu of Bernicia and Oswine of Deira.

While the lord of Ubbanford is entangled in the clash of kings, his most trusted warrior, Cynan, finds himself on his own quest, called to the aid of someone he thought never to see again. Riding into the mountainous region of Rheged, Cynan faces implacable enemies who would do anything to further their own ends.

Forced to confront their pasts, and with death and betrayal at every turn, both Beobrand and Cynan have their loyalties tested to breaking point.

Who will survive the battle for a united Northumbria, and who will pay the ultimate price for lord and land?

Beobrand is back!

For Lord and Land is book no. 8 of Matthew Harffy’s excellent Bernicia Chronicles. I have read each of these books as soon as they have come out, and I have never been disappointed. And For Lord and Land is no exception! This was another one of those books that makes you read late into the night, saying ‘just one more chapter’.

A slight change in style from the last book, with two stories running side by side for most of the book, For Lord and Land is a fabulous, engaging, entertaining, engrossing (and all the other ‘en’s) read. Matthew Harffy has surpassed himself yet again, combining a fast paced narrative with an intricately-woven storyline that, inevitably, leaves the reader wanting more as the last page is turned.

Matthew Harffy skilfully recreates the world of 7th century Northumbria, bringing the landscape, the politics and the people to life in the reader’s mind. he really is a master storyteller. He fits his stories into the known history, which is, as ever, thoroughly researched. The mixing of historical and fictional characters melds together to bring the 7th century to life.

With practised ease, Beobrand wriggled into his byrnie and quickly tightened his sword belt about his waist to take some of the armour’s familiar weight from his shoulders. Placing the helm on his head, he looked back at his men. They were grim-faced and sombre now, ready for what they must do. Only Cuthbert was smiling, though Beobrand noticed that the colour had drained from his face as his excitement changed to the uncertainty of growing anticipation.

“Get your shield,” murmured Beobrand. Cuthbert started, then rushed to retrieve his newly painted linden board and the bright-bladed spear that, like its owner, was untested in combat.

“You think there will be a fight, lord?” Cuthbert asked breathlessly.

Beobrand sighed and scanned the mass of black-shielded warriors in the belly of the ship. They had all bee ready for battle for some time. Were they merely cautious or had they travelled with him for so long that they had foreseen how this day would end? He knew not, but there were no finer warriors in all of Albion. As ever, the sight of them filled him with pride.

The ship cut through the waves, flinging spray into the faces of the men as they all turned towards the approaching sand.

“Come, my gesithas!” bellowed Beobrand, pulling Naegling from its scabbard so that the fine patterend blade caught the lowering sun. “It seems there is killing to be done today after all!”

As you may have come to expect from Matthew Harffy, the battle scenes are beautifully choreographed, highlighting the actions of the individuals, especially of Beobrand and his men, whilst never losing sight of the big picture. The instances of combat are ferocious and deadly, with the reader waiting with bated breath to see who would survive, and who would die. It is heart in the mouth time every time, with Harffy drawing out the tension until the reader finds it almost unbearable.

Besides the gripping action and engaging storylines, the character development has always set Matthew Harffy apart from many authors. Beobrand, the eponymous hero, has been through an awful lot in 8 books. The reader doesn’t forget that – and neither does the author – and Beobrand’s scars, both mentally and physically, serve to create a deeper personality, and a more in-depth story with every book. And it is not just Beobrand. Harffy gives depth and vitality to every character in the book, no matter whether they are in there for a chapter, for the whole book, or for the last 6 books.

For Lord and Land goes a step further than the usual book in the Bernicia Chronicles with a dual storyline in which Beobrand shares the stage with Cynan. Cynan has grown immensely in the last couple of books, becoming a character demanding attention in his own right, and probably developing a fan-base of his own. And no wonder! He has become one of Beobrand’s most trusted warriors, despite being a former slave. He is devoted to Beobrand but has a mind and responsibilities of his own and in For Lord and Land he comes into his own. His storyline draws from the past to remind the reader of how far both he and Beobrand have come, and of how far trust can be stretched – and how easily it can be broken. But I’ve already said too much….

You will have to read the book to know more. All I can say is that For Lord and Land is well worth the read – and the late nights!

About the Author:

Matthew Harffy lived in Northumberland as a child and the area had a great impact on him. The rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline made it easy to imagine the past. Decades later, a documentary about Northumbria’s Golden Age sowed the kernel of an idea for a series of historical fiction novels. The first of them is the action-packed tale of vengeance and coming of age, THE SERPENT SWORD.

Matthew has worked in the IT industry, where he spent all day writing and editing, just not the words that most interested him. Prior to that he worked in Spain as an English teacher and translator. Matthew lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

For all the latest news and exclusive competitions, join Matthew online:
http://www.matthewharffy.com
twitter.com/@MatthewHarffy
http://www.facebook.com/MatthewHarffyAuthor

Retail links

Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/3e45G97

Follow Aries

Twitter: @AriesFiction; Facebook: Aries Fiction; Website: http://www.headofzeus.com

*

My Books

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 is now available 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.

*

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Serpent King by Tim Hodkinson

The fight for vengeance has no victors…

AD 936

The great warrior, Einar Unnsson, wants revenge. His mother’s assassin has stolen her severed head and Einar is hungry for his blood. Only one thing holds him back. He is a newly sworn in Wolf Coat, and must accompany them on their latest quest.

The Wolf Coats are a band of fearsome bloodthirsty warriors, who roam the seas, killing any enemies who get in their way. Now they’re determined to destroy their biggest enemy, King Eirik, as he attempts to take the throne of Norway.

Yet, for Einar, the urge to return to Iceland is growing every day. Only there, in his homeland, can he avenge his mother and salve his grief. But what Einar doesn’t know is that this is where an old enemy lurks, and his thirst for vengeance equals Einar’s…

I have followed Einar’s adventures since the very first book, Odin’s Game, two years ago; and each book gets better and better. The Serpent King is the fourth and latest book in the Whale Road Chronicles and, most definitely, the best story in the series so far. We follow the adventures of Einar and his friends, the Wolf Coats, from Norway to Orkney, with a few stops in between, on a dual mission of rescue and revenge.

The Serpent King is set in the mid-10th century, when Aethelstan, grandson of Alfred the Great, is attempting to unite England and extend his borders north into Scotland. He has made allies with the Norwegian Christian, Hakon, formerly king of York and now questing to dethrone his brother, King Eirik Bloody Axe of Norway. Einar and the band of Wolf Coats are drawn into the political in-fighting and rivalries, despite their attempts to stay aloof from the machinations of the ambitious rulers around them. Einar has his own quest, for revenge against his father for the murder of his mother. The hatred between father and son is visceral and the backbone behind this series of books. Einar and his father, Thorfinn, Jarl of Orkney, are on a collision course to a day of reckoning.

The Serpent King is a fast-paced, wonderfully visual adventure, set in a time when a man could make or break his fortune simply by the decision of who to back in the constant power struggle between England, Norway and Ireland. Tim Hodkinson weaves a tale that will have you hooked from the beginning, its many twists and turns leaving you mesmerised and reading ‘just one more chapter’ until the early hours.

As Einar watched, another man came out the door. He too was swathed in a heavy cloak. The metal of a helmet visor was visible under the cloak’s hood and he bore a spear in his right hand.

‘Thor blast Halfdan with Mjolnir,’ the second warrior said. ‘I don’t see him taking his turn to stand guard on the palisade on a filthy night like this.’

‘Well I don’t want to be the one missing if he shows up to check the guard tonight,’ the first man said. ‘Which he’s bound to do. Get a move on.’

A crash of thunder rocked the sky. As if in response the already lashing rain got even heavier. It hissed down all around into the already sodden muddy ground.

‘Look at this storm.’ Thorleif said, ducking his head as the rain pounded down on him. ‘No one will attack us on a night like this!’

Einar, watching from the shadows, could not help but smile.

The two warriors began splashing their way through the mud towards him. Einar tried to make himself as flat as possible against the wall. Wrapped up in their cloaks and hurrying through the rain, there was every chance they would not see him and go right past him without realising he was there.

What then, though? When they arrived at the gate they would find Surt and Wulfhelm have the time and luck to silence them first?

Then Einar heard the sound of another pair of sloshing footsteps approaching, this time from the direction he had come.

Tim Hodkinson is fabulous at building the tension in a story and keeping it going to the very end of the book. There are so many twists and turns that the reader is kept on their toes. Just when you think Einar and his companions are going to come out on top, another spanner is thrown in the works! So to speak. The tension is palpable – to the very end.

The characters, both the heroes and their enemies, are wonderfully colourful and have developed over the past two years. Einar and his companions have become a fighting team that relies on each other, not just in battle, but in the friendships and trust that has developed through their adventures. Where they were once a disparate group of individuals, they are now a coherent fighting team, able to rely on each others’ skills and judgements to get them through the various battle and plots they are faced with.

The Serpent King is full of clashes – of swords, personalities and even the gods. The battle scenes are wonderfully frenetic, with the reader feeling every sword thrust or the impact of axe on shield. If you have a love of Viking adventures, the clash of cultures and political machinations that accompanied the changing alliances as England, Norway, Ireland and Scotland were developing their identities during the 10th century, this is definitely a series for you to sink your teeth into.

This is a fabulous adventure, from the first page to the last, and not to be missed!

You can follow Einar’s adventures through The Serpent King blog tour, over the next 9 days:

About the author

Tim Hodkinson was born in 1971 in Northern Ireland. He studied Medieval English and Old Norse Literature at University with a subsidiary in Medieval European History. He has been writing all his life and has a strong interest in the historical, the mystical and the mysterious. After spending several happy years living in New Hampshire, USA, he has now returned to life in Northern Ireland with his wife Trudy and three lovely daughters in a village called Moira.

Tim is currently working on a series of viking novels for Ares Fiction, an imprint of Head of Zeus.

Buy links:

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3oNubLI; Kobo: https://bit.ly/3wKzs9Z; Google Play: https://bit.ly/34edsYu; iBooks: https://apple.co/3ukCyzy

Follow Tim:

Twitter: @TimHodkinson

Follow Aries:

Twitter: @AriesFiction; Facebook: @AriesFiction; Website: http://www.headofzeus.com

*

My Books

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.

*

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Last Berserker by Angus Donald

The greatest warriors are forged in the flames

Two pagan fighters

771AD, Northern Europe. Bjarki Bloodhand and Tor Hildarsdottir are journeying south into Saxony. Their destination is the Irminsul, the One Tree that links the Nine Worlds of the Middle-Realm. In this most holy place, they hope to learn how to summon their animal spirits so they can enter the ranks of the legendary berserkir: the elite frenzied fighters of the North.

One Christian king

Karolus, newly crowned King of the Franks, has a thorn in his side: the warlike Saxon tribes on his northern borders who shun the teachings of the Church, blasphemously continuing to worship their pagan gods.

An epic battle for the soul of the North

The West’s greatest warlord vows to stamp out his neighbours’ superstitions and bring the light of the True Faith to the Northmen – at the point of a sword. It will fall to Bjarki, Tor and the men and women of Saxony to resist him in a struggle for the fate of all Europe.

I have read Angus Donald’s books since the first of his Robin Hood series, Outlaw, came out many moons ago. And I absolutely adored his series set around the 1688 Glorious Revolution with unlikely hero Holcroft Blood. But there is always a risk when an author starts a new series; will it live up to previous stories?

Well, with The Last Berserker there is no need to worry. From the first few lines you are reassured that Angus Donald starts as he means to go on; with an action-filled storyline that will take the reader on a breathtaking journey through the turbulent years of the 8th century. It is quite the adventure!

The story derives from the many tales of the berserkers, men who went wild in battle, killing dozens at a time. Angus Donald has created a world in which the berserkers were not just mad men, but legendary fighters who honed their skills through belief, training and discipline. They were heroes who used their unique talents to lead men into battle and deliver victory after victory. Set in the time when the great Charlemagne was waging his campaign of conquest against the German tribes, The Last Berserker tells the story of Bjarki Bloodhand, who joins the fight to defend his homelands.

‘How about you, son? You look like a strapping fellow. Care to try your strength? Bjarki realised the tall blond man was speaking to him.

He shook his head.

‘No need to be afraid. I’ll tell Black Svein to go easy on you.’

‘I’m not afraid,’ Bjarki said.

‘Then come inside the hazel square and prove it.’

Bjarki shook his head. He smiled.

The straw-haired man turned away. ‘There must be one or two here today who are not snivelling cowards,’ he said, his back turned to Bjarki.

Bjarki stopped smiling. He felt suddenly cold. He took a step forward.

‘He’s not a coward,’ said a voice at his elbow, a cool hand there, too, restraining him. ‘He just doesn’t want to fight your friend today. And calling him one won’t change his mind.’

The straw-haired man turned back and looked at Bjarki – and Tor, who was now standing beside him.

‘You his girl then?’ he said. Then to Bjarki: ‘Aren’t you a one – getting your little girlie to speak for you. I see now why you won’t fight.’

‘He won’t fight your friend,’ said Tor, ‘but I will. You said you had quarterstaffs? Yes? All right then, I accept your challenge.’

The straw-haired man was nonplussed. This scrawny young woman, with arms like kindling sticks, was about half of the weight of Black Svein – and a head shorter than him too. It was a ridiculous match.

‘You can’t fight him,’ he said.

‘Oh yes? Why is that? Is he afraid of me?’

That started a howl of laughter from the crowd, which had thickened considerably by now. The straw-haired man flushed pink with irritation.

‘You cannot fight him, girlie. It would not be a fair contest.’

‘What if I go really easy on him?’ said Tor. ‘I promise I won’t hurt him all that much – hardly at all. I’ll be as gentle as a lamb with the poor idiot.’

Angus Donald weaves together, myth, legend and history to recreate a world where the berserker not only flourished, but was revered as a great warrior.

As an author, Donald is very adept at creating unique, interesting protagonists. Holcroft Blood was an autistic officer who had a knack for uncovering spies and a skill in artillery that was unrivalled. Robin Hood was a vicious killer, not the cuddly Robin Hood from legend. And with Bjarki Bloodhand, we have another individual who is not, at first sight, your typical hero. He is a rather dull, awkward boy; quite unassuming in fact. He comes across as naive, a little too trusting and not overly ambitious. He is, however, loyal to ahis friends, a good fighter and as brave as they come. He doesn’t shirk from a fight, but doesn’t necessarily seek it out. And he is incredibly likeable.

Bjarki’s sidekick, for want of a better word, is Tor, a slip of a girl with an attitude that belies her size. A born fighter, she is always looking to prove herself. Tor is a fascinating character who has secrets of her own to hide and ‘issues’ to work through. The two make an unlikely pairing but a firm friendship that helps them through their many trials.

Angus Donald wonderfully recreates the world of 8th century central Europe, from the landscape and the natural borders that separate the various nations, to the contrasting religious beliefs – both Christian and pagan – that lie at the centre of the conflict. A natural storyteller when it comes to warfare, Donald vividly evokes the song of battle, with seax, sword, axe and shield. The frenetic energy of the battle scenes leave the reader breathless and eager for more. The intricacies of the story, with its various twists and turns, some rather surprising, keep the reader on the edge of their seat throughout.

The Last Berserker is a truly enthralling story, not easy to put down – and a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. It is one book that is not to be missed!

The Last Berserker by Angus Donald is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon.

*

About the Author:

Angus Donald is the author of the bestselling Outlaw Chronicles, a series of ten novels set in the 12th/13th centuries and featuring a gangster-ish Robin Hood. Angus has also published the Holcroft Blood trilogy about a mildly autistic 17th-century English artillery officer, son of notorious Crown Jewels thief Colonel Thomas Blood. Before becoming an author, Angus worked as a fruit-picker in Greece, a waiter in New York City and as an anthropologist studying magic and witchcraft in Indonesia. For fifteen years he was a journalist working in Hong Kong, India, Afghanistan and London. He now writes full time from a medieval farmhouse in Kent.

*

My books

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.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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.

*

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Book Corner: A Time for Swords by Matthew Harffy

When the Vikings attack, a novice monk’s life is changed forever in Matthew Harffy’s new historical adventure.

Lindisfarne, AD793.

There had been portents – famine, whirlwinds, lightning from clear skies, serpents seen flying through the air. But when the raiders came, no one was prepared.

They came from the North, their dragon-prowed longships gliding out of the dawn mist as they descended on the kingdom’s most sacred site.

It is 8th June AD793, and with the pillage of the monastery on Lindisfarne, the Viking Age has begun.

While his fellow monks flee before the Norse onslaught, one young novice stands his ground. He has been taught to turn the other cheek, but faced with the slaughter of his brothers and the pagan desecration of his church, forgiveness is impossible.

Hunlaf soon learns that there is a time for faith and prayer . . . and there is a time for swords.

It is my pleasure to be a part of Matthew Harffy’s blog tour for the release of the first book in what will be a new series, A Time for Swords.

It is always a worry when one of your favourite authors starts a new series – for author and reader, alike – that you may not like it, that the new hero doesn’t live up to the promise of the last hero – or even that the new hero is too similar to the last and the book appears formulaic.

Well, with Matthew Harffy, you needn’t worry about that. He seems to be able to create distinct characters and storylines at the drop of a hat. To be fair to Matthew, I am sure that it is not that easy – though he does make it look so! With Wolf of Wessex, his first foray away from the heroic Beobrand, Matthew Harffy proved his ability at storytelling did not just lay in one direction, and that he did have so much more in his repertoire.

With A Time for Swords, he has done it again!

Recreating the world of 8th century Northumbria, Matthew Harffy has left the 7th century behind to document the arrival of the Vikings on Britain’s shores, with the raid on Lindisfarne – Holy Island. A Time for Swords takes this raid as its starting point and pursues the likely reactions on the people of Northumbria following this unexpected explosion of violence on the peaceful island monastery. As we have come to expect from Matthew Harffy, the action starts on the very first page and doesn’t let the reader stop for breath until the very last.

My feet pounded the soft earth as I sped back towards the dwellings of the ceorls. A green plover, startled by my passing, burst from the long grass that brushed against my bare legs as I ran. I stumbled in shock and surprise at the bird’s screeching call, so like that of the screams of the people dying in the minster and the huts of the villagers. I rushed on, my lungs burning and the thickening smoke stinging my eyes.

I came up over the low rise from the beach to a scene of chaos. When I had left the minster at dawn, its buildings had rested peacefully, close to the natural harbour and overlooked by the mound of rock at the island’s tip. A few small fishing boats had been canted in the shallows of low tide, and teh morning had been still and quiet. Now the brightening day was filled with noise, fire and smoke.

And death.

In the harbour were three huge ships, sleek and menacing with terrifying carven serpent head prows. Around the ships were congregated several men. The land all around was full of movement. Dozens of armed warriors had poured from the ships and had made their way into the grounds of the minster. Three of the monastery buildings were burning, great pillars of flame and smoke smudging the sky. My heart lurched as I realised one of the fires was the scriptorium. I imagined the gold cover of The Treasure of Life melting, the parchment leaves curling, smouldering and then bursting into flames. Leofstan and I would never unpick the secrets within its pages now. I felt tears prickle my eyes as I thought of so many books being consumed, just like in my nightmare of Alexandria. Countless days of painstaking work and skill gone in an instant. So much knowledge snuffed out and lost. I was a long way off, but as I crested the rise I could feel the heat from the fires on my face.

The lead character, Hunlaf, is a monk who has discovered a skill with the sword, and who wants nothing more than to protect his brethren at the monastery at Werceworthe (Warkworth) from the attack that he knows is coming. The intrepid warrior monk manages to attract a small but fierce group of fighters to his cause, including Runolf, a Viking left behind in the raid on Lindisfarne, who has his own motives for confronting the Norse raiders.

Hunlaf is a likeable character, torn between his love of the church and the draw of the sword and the comradeship of warriors. He is a young, gifted fighter with an eagerness to learn and a desire to protect that means he will find it hard to back down from a fight. Each of the characters surrounding Hunlaf have their own stories and reasons for joining the fight, from the monk, Leofstan, with a warrior past of his own, to Runolf the Norseman fighting his own kind, to a Welshman always in need of proving himself and a young, fiery Irishman, Cormac, seeking vengeance for the fate of his family.

The storyline of A Time for Swords draws the reader in from the outset, taking you on a journey from the ruined Lindisfarne to York and on to the monastery at Warkworth. Matthew Harffy demonstrates his knowledge of the area, the people and the landscape, in Hunlaf’s travels. Harffy skillfully combines impeccable historical research with his wonderful storytelling, to create a novel that has a sense of authenticity about it. While the raid on Lindisfarne is historical fact, the subsequent events that young Hunlaf gets involved in are a creation of the author. However, Matthew Harffy supplements the fictional fighting by using the original landscape, the weapons used, fighting tactics and the very real threat of the Viking raiders, to add a sense of realism,

As you may have come to expect with Matthew Harffy, the fight scenes are where he is in his element. Beautifully choreographed, they are frenetic and vividly described with a passion unique to the author. and there is no guarantee that your favourite character will survive…

In short, A Time for Swords is one of those books which is not to be missed. Entertaining, exciting and totally gripping, the novel reaffirms, once more – if more affirmation is needed – Matthew Harffy’s status as one of the best authors of historical fiction around.

Read it – I promise, you will not be disappointed!

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.

Pre-order links:

Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/39T3MqJ

Follow Matthew:

Twitter: @MatthewHarffy

Website: www.matthewharffy.com

Follow Aries:

Twitter: @AriesFiction

Facebook: Aries Fiction

Website: http://www.headofzeus.com

*

My Books

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.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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.

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.

*

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Betrayal

“Loyalty breaks as easily as a silken thread.”

Misplaced trust, power hunger, emotional blackmail, and greed haunt twelve characters from post-Roman Britain to the present day. And betrayal by family, lover, comrade can be even more devastating.

Read twelve tales by twelve accomplished writers who explore these historical yet timeless challenges.

AD455—Roman leader Ambrosius is caught in a whirlpool of shifting allegiances
AD940—Alyeva and cleric Dunstan navigate the dangers of the Anglo Saxon court
1185—Knight Stephan fights for comradeship, duty, and honour. But what about love?
1330—The powerful Edmund of Kent enters a tangled web of intrigue
1403—Thomas Percy must decide whether to betray his sovereign or his family
1457—Estelle is invited to the King of Cyprus’s court, but deception awaits
1483—Has Elysabeth made the right decision to bring Prince Edward to London?
1484—Margaret Beaufort contemplates the path to treason
1577—Francis Drake contends with disloyalty at sea
1650—Can James Hart, Royalist highwayman, stop a nemesis destroying his friend?
1718—Pirate Annie Bonny, her lover Calico Jack, and a pirate hunter. Who will win?
1849/present—Carina must discover her ancestor’s betrayer in Italy or face ruin.

Betrayal: Historical Stories is a wonderful anthology of 12 short stories exploring the concept of betrayal, either of country, family or lovers. Featuring some of the best authors of the moment, Betrayal: Historical Stories features stories from post-Roman Britain to an alternative reality in modern times, where the Roman Empire never fell but continued under powerful, influential women in Roma Nova.

There is something in this book for everyone. There are kings and queens, knights, pirates and cavalier highwaymen. There are stories of love, loyalty and friendship combined with implacable enemies, broken promises, family secrets and – above all – betrayal!

The remarkable diversity of the stories make this anthology a gripping read. You never know what story you are going to come across next, whether its the exploits of Sir Francis Drake, the heartbreaking story of 13-year-old Edward V’s journey to London, from his proclamation as king to his deposition and imprisonment in the Tower of London. Each story is written by a different author; their voices are as distinct as their characters.

In a book of short stories, it is impossible to pick an extract that shows the full range of writing on offer. However, it is possible to choose and extract that highlights the high standard of writing throughout the book. So here’s an excerpt from Honour of Thieves by Cryssa Bazos:

A panicked rider appeared from around the bend, twisted in the saddle, his attention fixed behind him as though the hounds of hell snapped at his feet. When he finally turned to face the road ahead, he saw James barring his way and screamed. the rider yanked hard on teh reins, and his horse skidded to a bone’jarring halt. He fought to keep himself from launching over his horse’s head.

James levelled his pistol at him. ‘Stand and deliver!’

A bead of sweat trickled down the man’s brow. ‘Ah, Master Highwayman. Do you not remember me? I passed this way before. You afforded me a free pas through Moot Hill.’ When he received no acknowledgement, he pressed on, his voice cracking, ‘I’m the pauper you took pity on. Do you not recall?’

James studied the man. Same battered hat and frayed cloak, a nearly broken horse better suited for the pasture than the road. True, he had last taken the man for a beggar, as he was meant to, but since then he had learned the truth. ‘A thrice of days ago; I haven’t forgotten. I allowed you the freedom of the highway.’

‘Blessed be the day.’ The man beamed and wiped his forehead with his sleeve. ‘Naturally, there’s no profit accosting me.’ His smile faded when he realised that the pistol was still trained on him. ‘I’m not even a Parliamentarian – I’m a good Royalist still mourning his fallen king … like yourself.’

James lifted a brow, satisfied to see the man squirm. Lying sod. Many travellers had passed this way over the last year pretending to share the highwayman’s abhorrence for their Parliamentarian usurpers in order to save their purse. James had seen through their ruses, but this one had somehow rooked him. That set his teeth on edge. ‘You pled your case well, claiming to be a half-starved hare.’ He swept his gaze to the man’s new leather boots. Clearly, the man’s subterfuge did not extend to the discomfort of ill-fitting shoes. ‘I took pity on you – instead of taking, I gave you a goodly sum to keep you well and a few coins besides to drink my health.’

‘God save you -‘

‘Did you have that drink?’ James asked.

‘Of course! I sang your praises at a public house that night.’

‘Are you certain?’

Silence.

I have read some of the authors before. Derek Birks, Tony Riches, Annie Whitehead, Cryssa Bazos and Anna Belfrage are among my favourite authors and I have reviewed their books before. These short stories allowed me to revisit some of their best characters, from Ambrosius Aurelianus to Captain James Hart, Sir Stephan de l’Aigle and Kit and Adam de Guirande of Anna Belfrage’s The King’s Greatest Enemy series.

Reading Betrayal: Historical Stories was a combination of spending a few hours with old friends and meeting new ones. Elizabeth St John, Judith Arnopp and Alison Morton were authors I was familiar with, but had not read before. I am now going to rectify that and go through their back catalogue to catch up. Alison’s Roma Nova short story provided an intriguing alternative to the modern day, showing us how the world might be, had a Roman Empire survived and flourished into the modern world, under the auspices of 12 ruling families.

The stories are beautifully written, enjoyable diversions. It is impossible to choose a favourite! Betrayal: Historical Stories showcases some of the best writing in historical fiction today. It is a pure pleasure to read.

What a fabulous way to discover new authors and new adventures!

The Betrayal: Historical Stories anthology is available for free from Amazon UK and Amazon US.

*

My Books

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 & SwordAmazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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.

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.

*

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

Birthday Giveaway

Competition Closed

Competition is now closed and the draw has been made. The winner is… Lisa Graham. Thank you so much to everyone for taking part – there were over 300 entries! And thank you for the many wonderful birthday wishes. Apparently a ‘big’ birthday doesn’t feel as overwhelming when you have so many wonderful friends. THANK YOU!!!!

It’s my birthday!

Today is my birthday, and its one of those big ones with a ‘0’ on the end. I’m not going to say exactly, but here’s a few clues:

I’m not 40 or 60;

My son keeps telling me that I’m now a part of history;

and he keeps making sly remarks about half centuries.

So, you work it out…

Anyway, seeing as its such a big birthday, I thought it would be nice to celebrate with a giveaway, seeing as I haven’t done one in a while.

The Giveaway!

The giveaway is a signed and dedicated – for you or someone you love – hardback copy of one of my books. And its your choice of book You can choose from my first book, Heroines of the Medieval World. my second book Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest or the latest, Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century Europe.

It’s easy to enter!

The competition is open to everyone, wherever you are in the world. To win a signed and dedicated copy of one of my books, 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 Monday 12 October.

Good luck!

*

My Books

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 & SwordAmazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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.

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.

*

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: All the Ælfgifus by Annie Whitehead

Today it is a pleasure to welcome Annie Whitehead to History … the Interesting Bits as a stop on her Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England Blog Tour.

Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England examines the lives of individual women in a way that has often been done for the Anglo-Saxon men but not for their wives, sisters, mothers and daughters. It tells their stories: those who ruled and schemed, the peace-weavers and the warrior women, the saints and the sinners. It explores, and restores, their reputations.

Over to you Annie….

All the Ælfgifus

I was recently interviewed on BBC Radio Northampton where we chatted about a lady known as Ælfgifu of Northampton. During the pre-recording chat, it became clear that there was some confusion over the name. I told the presenter that I wasn’t the least surprised, as there are no fewer than eight ladies with that name featured in my new book. I thought I’d take this opportunity to introduce them. (The name, incidentally, translates as Elf-gift, which I think is rather beautiful.)

Ælfgifu, daughter of Edward the Elder

Edward the Elder

We don’t know a great deal about her but I do feel rather sorry for her. She and her sister, Eadgyth, were, apparently, both sent to Germany so that the future emperor, Otto, could choose one of them as his bride. He married Eadgyth – it was, apparently, ‘love at first sight’ – and Ælfgifu married another prince. What Ælfgifu felt about being rejected by Otto, we can only surmise. Of course, Otto might not have been every young girl’s dream, in which case Ælfgifu might have considered that she’d had a lucky escape. It must have rankled though, being declared less attractive than her sister.

Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury

King Edmund was the son of Edward the Elder and a half-brother of the Ælfgifu mentioned above. He became king at around the age of eighteen and his first wife, Ælfgifu, bore him two sons, both future kings. Her identity is debateable and her background unknown. She wasn’t married for long. Her son Eadwig (I’ll come back to him) was probably born around 940, and his younger brother Edgar around 943. King Edmund himself died in 946 – the victim of a brawl, or perhaps a political assassination – having married again, so his first marriage must have ended not long after Edgar’s birth. Ælfgifu is known as Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury, and it would be easy to assume that she retired to Shaftesbury Abbey in the manner of a number of previous queens, but the short-lived nature of her marriage and the young age of her children suggest another scenario. It is plausible that she died in childbirth, either in labour with Edgar or with a subsequent pregnancy in which both mother and child died. If she did indeed die in childbirth then she cannot have been a nun at Shaftesbury, but merely a benefactor.

Ælfgifu the Harlot

Mortimer portrait of Dunstan scolding 
Ælfgifu the Harlot

In 955 Edmund’s brother, who’d succeeded him, died and was in turn succeeded by Edmund’s son, Eadwig (see, I told you I’d come back to him). Life at court got rather interesting when Eadwig, still only a teenager, married a young woman named Ælfgifu. Many of you will know the story of how he was found in bed on his coronation day with his wife, and her mother. Depending on which version one reads, the mother was banished and/or hamstrung in punishment, or she threatened the abbot who found them, and who was himself subsequently banished, that she would have his eyes put out if he ever returned. The young couple’s marriage was annulled two years later, on the grounds that they were too closely related. However, Ælfgifu is presumed to be the same woman who left a will, in which she’s identified as being descended from the brother of Alfred the Great. This being so, she was descended from the branch of the royal family that had risen up in rebellion. Ælfgifu’s marrying the king might have been seen as an attempt to strengthen those claims. It’s not a theory which I whole-heartedly embrace but it does seem that there was a lot of political manoeuvring at court and I suspect Ælfgifu was an innocent caught up in the turmoil. She was certainly welcomed back to court by Eadwig’s brother when he became king.

Ælfgifu of York – Possibly

Aethelred the Unready

That brother of Eadwig’s had a son, known to history as Æthelred the Unready. His first wife’s identity is a bit of a mystery. The chronicler John of Worcester said that she was called Ælfgifu, and that she was the daughter of an ealdorman called Æthelberht. But there is no evidence of this woman’s father; no ealdorman named Æthelberht is recorded elsewhere. Roger of Wendover said that she was a ‘woman of low birth’, while Ailred of Rievaulx, writing in the mid-twelfth century, said that she was the daughter of a man named Thored, but he didn’t name her. It is possible that Æthelred was married first to a woman named Ælfgifu and then to the daughter of Thored, but it is generally accepted that this was one woman and, combining the two versions, that she was Ælfgifu, daughter of Thored.

We don’t hear much from her as she didn’t witness any charters and is otherwise unnamed in the sources. What she did do, though, is have at least nine children, (one of whom was also called Ælfgifu, whose husband was murdered by her sister’s husband, which must have made for awkward family Christmases)! She must have lived until the eleventh century, for her youngest son, Edgar, did not appear on charter witness lists until 1001. We do not know exactly how old the royal children would typically have been when they first appeared on the witness lists, but we do know that they were sometimes still babes in arms. It is not known what happened to Ælfgifu and it is possible that she died at around the same time, for King Æthelred got married again in 1002…

…To a woman named Emma, but who was given the English name of Ælfgifu. As if this wasn’t confusing enough! And after Æthelred the Unready died, Emma married again. Her husband was King Cnut, who already had a wife/concubine:

Ælfgifu of Northampton

Emma – Ælfgifu of Northampton’s rival

This Ælfgifu came from a powerful Mercian family. Her father was ealdorman of Northumbria, her uncle founded Burton Abbey and her grandmother founded Wolverhampton. Ælfgifu’s father was murdered and her brothers were blinded and generally Æthelred the Unready mistrusted the family, as well he might. For at some point, possibly around 1013, Ælfgifu married Cnut, the son of the invader, Swein Forkbeard. She had two sons by Cnut, and they were given Danish names – Swein and Harold – as if recognised as potential heirs, but when Cnut became king, he married Emma and also had a son with her, who was named Harthacnut.

Emma, with her credentials as an English queen, was no doubt important to Cnut, but so too was Ælfgifu of Northampton, and Cnut had a task for her to perform. Cnut had an empire to rule, and Harthacnut was sent to Denmark while in 1030, Ælfgifu and her son Swein were sent to Norway, there to rule for Cnut. The regency in Norway may have been hugely symbolic, and it is telling that the period was remembered in Scandinavian history as ‘Ælfgifu’s time’, but for various reasons it wasn’t hugely successful. Swein died in 1035, but so too did Cnut.

Now a (rather unseemly at times) battle began as Emma and Ælfgifu fought for their sons to succeed. You can read all about these fraught years in my new book but the upshot was that Ælfgifu was successful in the short term and Harold ‘Harefoot’ became king. Sadly though he died in 1040. We don’t know what happened to Ælfgifu after this, but there is a French twelfth-century story which speaks of a woman named Alveva and it’s possible that she lived out her years as an exile in southern France.

By 1066, another Harold was on the throne. He had a wife/concubine who’s known to history as Edith Swanneck, and one of her children was a daughter named Ælfgifu.

Ælfgifu the Unlucky

But the last Ælfgifu I want to talk about is one I’ve nicknamed ‘unlucky’. You’ll recall that Ælfgifu of Northampton’s brothers were blinded. They weren’t the only ones and in 993 a man named Ælfgar suffered the same fate. His wife was another woman named Ælfgifu. When Ælfgifu of Northampton’s father was killed and her brothers blinded, another man was named as being deprived of all his property. With a little bit of detective work I was able to say with some degree of certainty that this man was the second husband of our last Ælfgifu, which means that her first husband was blinded and the second was deprived of all his property. Given that it’s clear the name Ælfgifu seems to have been given only to noblewomen, I think this one must have expected a slightly more comfortable and uneventful life!

Follow the Blog Tour!

Annie’s book, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England, was published by Pen & Sword Books in June 2020. It can be purchased from Pen & Sword and online.

About the Author:

Annie is an author and historian and an elected member of the Royal Historical Society and has won awards and prizes for her fiction and nonfiction.

Published works include Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom (Amberley Books) and novels and stories set in Anglo-Saxon England, including To Be A Queen, the story of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, longlisted for HNS Book of the Year 2016. She was the inaugural winner of the Dorothy Dunnett/HWA Short Story Competition in 2017. You can connect with Annie through her Website, on Facebook, Twitter and on her Blog and Amazon Author Page.

All images are in the public domain.

*

My Books

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 & SwordAmazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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.

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.

*

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly