Book Corner: Athena’s Champion by David Hair and Cath Mayo

The first in a thrilling new historical fantasy series; Odysseus must embrace his secret heritage and outwit the vengeful gods who would control or destroy him…

Prince Odysseus of Ithaca is about to have his world torn apart. He’s travelled to the oracle at Pytho to be anointed as heir to his island kingdom; but instead the Pythia reveals a terrible secret, one that tears down every pillar of his life, and marks him out for death.

Outcast by his family, hunted by the vengeful gods, Odysseus is offered sanctuary by Athena, goddess of wisdom, and thrust into the secret war between the Olympians for domination and survival. Only his wits, and his skill as a warrior, can keep him ahead of their power games – and alive.

When one of Athena’s schemes goes drastically wrong, and the young Helen of Sparta is kidnapped, Odysseus must journey past the gates of Hades to save her. Falling in love with a Trojan princess, a bewitching woman who poses a deadly threat to both his homeland and Athena, won’t make his task any easier…

Drawing from classic Greek mythology, Athena’s Champion, first in the epic Olympus Trilogy, is perfect for fans of Madeline Miller and David Gemmell.

It is a distinct pleasure to have been able to review Athena’s Champion by David Hair and Cath Mayo as part of the blog tour celebrating the release of this wonderful novel.

I have to admit, I have a soft spot for the Greek legends. I try to read everything associated with the Greek myths, and the Trojan Wars in particular. David Gemmell and Glyn Iliffe have been my go-to authors for a long time. However, with Athena’s Champion there is an excellent new series to get my teeth into. Written as a collaboration between David Hair and Cath Mayo, Athena’s Champion is the first in their Olympus Trilogy, a series which promises to bring the Greek myths to vivid life.

Athena’s Champion follows the adventures of Odysseus before he finds fame on the battlefields of Troy. It portrays the Greek hero as he learns his trade as a leader and a warrior, and as an instrument of the Gods. Several of the characters – Gods and heroes – who shape the Trojan Wars are introduced to us as the story weaves its way through ancient Greece and the depths of Hades itself.

An outcast from his home on Ithaca, Odysseus has to find his own place in the world while serving the ambitions and plans of his goddess, Athena. He is helped and guided by an immortal named Bria, who serves Athena and inhabits the bodies of mortals.

After a while, my brains clears a little, though I’m left with a thunderous headache, and I’m able to observe her more closely. She’s clad in a short brown tunic, man’s garb, her bony legs deeply tanned and her hair hacked short. The smell of stale perspiration and smoke clings to her, the dust on her face is being sweated off in shiny streaks, and a copper bracelet of strange design has been pushed up her forearm until it’s tight to her skin, the only unusual thing about her.

‘Was that … beast … Was it Molebus?’ I ask, curious to see how she responds, despite my pain and exhaustion.

She gives me an interested look. ‘Mmm,’ she says. ‘The Pythia’s going to be pissed off.’

‘Is he…? Did he…?’

‘He’s in a hole,’ she drawls, her manner more thirty than thirteen.

She killed a man… if that’s what he was! From her manner, I doubt it’s the first time.

‘How did I get here?’ I ask.

‘I dragged you,’ the girl says. ‘Lucky you’re a short-arse, otherwise I’d not have managed.’

I look down at my leg, wrapped tightly in a bloodied swathe of my own cloak, and shudder as I remember seeing my thigh bone amidst the torn meat and pumping blood. I grope at the bandages, my chest constricting in fear.

‘Don’t touch!’ the girl snaps. ‘Athena stopped the blood and closed the wound. That saved your life, but there’s still much healing to be done. You interfere with it, you’ll mess it up.’

Athena … Molebus … The Pythia … There has to be a rational explanation for all of this. But right now I can’t fond one – all I’m doing is making my head throb even worse than it was before. ‘I suppose I’m in your hands,’ I manage to murmur. ‘Thank you.’

‘You’re welcome, O Prince of Ithaca.’

‘You know who I am?’

She snickers. ‘Yes – we had that conversation some hours ago, during one of your semi-lucid moments – though not lucid enough for you to remember, clearly.’

‘If you say so.’

Odysseus is not the confident trickster we know for the traditional Trojan stories. He is learning his trade, though his quick intelligence and obvious courage. The enemies are not always obvious and not always tangible – Odysseus has to fight with his conscience as well as his physical opponents. The way he faces his trials head-on, and takes responsibility for  his mistakes makes him a sympathetic hero and one who draws the reader to his side from the very first pages.

Ancient Greece and the realms of the gods and Hades are wonderfully recreated in all their majestic and terrifying glory. Hades, in particular, is a marvelous, wondrous world in which the reader can get lost as easily as the souls trapped within.

The book is written by co-authors David Hair and Cath Mayo and it is a testimony to their writing skills that the story is seamless – it is impossible to tell which parts were written by which author. In fact, if I hadn’t known there were two writers, I would never have guessed. They have managed to recreate ancient Greece, combining the mystical and magical with the history and legends to produce a story that is at once in the greatest tradition of Homer whilst offering a refreshing and unique vision of these timeless stories.

I can highly recommend this fascinating, engaging novel to anyone who loves the greatest traditions of the Greek myths.

 

 

To Buy the Book:

Athena’s Champion can be bought from: Amazon (UK); Kobo (UK); Google Books (UK); Apple Books (UK)

Athena's Champion blog tour banner (2)

About the authors:

David Hair is an award-winning New Zealand YA and Adult fantasy writer, and the author of sixteen novels. He’s joined his considerable skill and expertise with Cath Mayo to create the Olympus Series, an adult historical fantasy drawing on ancient Greek Mythology, following the adventures of Odysseus as he navigates the dangerous world of the Greek Gods. @DHairauthor

Cath Mayo is a New Zealand YA, Children and Adult fiction author. Her two published YA historical novels are both set in Ancient Greece and her first novel received a Storylines Notable Book Award for Young Adult Fiction in 2014. She’s joined her considerable skill and expertise with David Hair to create the Olympus Series, an adult historical fantasy drawing on ancient Greek Mythology, following the adventures of Odysseus as he navigates the dangerous world of the Greek Gods. @cathmayoauthor

 

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Coming November 2018

Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing and Book Depository. It is scheduled for release in the US on 1 March 2019 and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

 

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Telling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, in the US from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be released in paperback in the UK from 15 March 2019 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

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

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Druid by Steven A. McKay

Northern Britain, AD430

A land in turmoil. A village ablaze. A king’s daughter abducted.

In the aftermath of a surprise attack Dun Buic lies in smoking ruins and many innocent villagers are dead. As the survivors try to make sense of the night’s events the giant warrior-druid, Bellicus, is tasked with hunting down the raiders and thwarting their dark purpose.

With years of training in the old ways, two war-dogs at his side, and unsurpassed skill with a longsword, Bellicus’s quest will take him on a perilous journey through lands still struggling to cope with the departure of the Roman legions.

Meanwhile, amongst her brutal captors the little princess Catia finds an unlikely ally, but even he may not be able to avert the terrible fate King Hengist has in store for her.

This, the first volume in a stunning new series from the bestselling author of Wolf’s Head, explores the rich folklore and culture of post-Roman Britain, where blood-sacrifice, superstition and warfare were as much a part of everyday life as love, laughter and song.

As Saxon invaders and the new Christian religion seek to mould the country for their own ends one man will change the course of Britain’s history forever. . .

. . . THE DRUID.

“Steven A. McKay’s archetypal villains and heroes step vividly onto the page from a mist-veiled past of legend to battle for the life of a princess and the fate of Britain.
Dark age adventure at its gripping best.” – MATTHEW HARFFY, author of The Bernicia Chronicles

 

I have to say that the first thing that attracted me to this book was the awesome cover – it is one of the best and most original that I have seen in a long time. It offers the promise of an amazing story and does not disappoint.

Steven A. McKay is an excellent storyteller, who brings the legends of the past to life, with a new and unique perspective. His Robin Hood series was one of the best I’ve read, moving the events into Barnsdale Forest, he gave a refreshing revamp to the age-old tales and made them his own. He has now gone further back in time, to the dawn of the Anglo-Saxon occupation of Britain, when the departure of the Roman legions was still within living memory and the Britons were trying to resist the incursions of the Angles Saxons and Jutes, who had established bridgeheads on the Saxon shore – the east and south coasts of Britain.

The author sets the scene wonderfully for the events that will take the reader on a breathtaking journey from Scotland to the most sacred site in England, following the druid Bellicus as he hunts the Saxon raiders who had kidnapped a young princess, Catia. A vision of the landscape is beautifully woven into the reader’s mind, with the challenges the moutainous terrain, and the security offered to the northern tribes by Hadrian’s wall all making their own impact on the story. The distances walked or ridden lend credence to  the length of the journey undertaken by the Saxons in their journey back to their master, and by Bellicus in his dogged pursuit of the little princess’s kidnappers.

Yet here they were, with a settlement ravaged by fire and Alt Clota’s princess abducted by Saxon raiders.

“Sometimes I wish the Romans had never left,” Coroticus growled, then nodded his thanks as Nectovelius’s wife placed a steaming bowl of broth on the table before him, closely followed by three more for the other men.

Bellicus understood his king’s feelings at that moment but he couldn’t share them. The Romans might have put a stop to the raids by the people that surrounded Alt Clota, but they’d also tried to destroy the native way of life, including their religion.

The druids had been almost wiped out in the lands south of the Antonine Wall although the “civilising” influence of the Roman overlords had not penetrated much further north. The harsh land there offered sanctuary to those druids who managed to evade their persecutors and Bellicus had learned at the feet of some of them.

No, the giant druid was glad the Romans had gone. Now that they’d finally returned to their own lands the old ways were making a resurgence in Britain and the gods were once again enjoying the reverence they deserved. News had even reached Bellicus of a warlord in the south who aimed to unite the native peoples against the invading Saxon hordes. His closest advisor was a druid steeped in the old traditions, highest of their brotherhood and known as the Merlin.

“What are we going to do?” Gavo’s blunt question broke Bellicus’s reverie.

“We must go after them,” Coroticus responded, his tone making it clear there would be no argument.

Bellicus was always one to speak his mind though, even if kings didn’t like what they heard.

“Aye, certainly we must follow them and rescue the princess,” he agreed. “But you, my lord king, must remain here in Alt Clota.”

He held up a hand, forestalling the expected outburst.

….

As anyone who has read Steven A. MacKay’s work before has come to expect, the large-as-life characters make this story. Bellicus is a truly tenacious and singular druid, he exudes the mystery and magic of his people, confident in his knowledge of the old ways, and in his fighting abilities, the man is not just a giant in height, but also in his power and personality. He instills fear, trust and dedication in those he comes into contact with, and his own dedication to duty is an inspiration to those he comes into contact with.

Bellicus is human, however, and proves susceptible to the odd misdirection, but manages to overcome such setbacks with admirable courage and tenacity. He is a hero it is easy to like, and to whom the reader can easily relate. The supporting characters in the tale demonstrate clearly the conflict which England is about to be torn by, the Britons fighting for survival against the invading German tribes. The lines are drawn, but not always clear.

There are some wonderfully surprising elements to the story, and some cameo appearances that will bring a smile to the reader’s face. The adventure is fun and edge-of-the-seat stuff, from the pursuit to the frequent clashes of arms, the reader barely gets a moment to take a breath before the next part of the action unfolds.

The Druid tells a story as stunning as the cover art suggests and, as the first of a new series, promises drama and excitement for many books to come.

About the author:

Steven A. McKay was born in Scotland in 1977. His first book, “Wolf’s Head”, came out in 2013 and was an Amazon UK top 20 bestseller. “Blood of the Wolf” is the fourth and final book in the Forest Lord series which has over 100,000 sales so far.

Steven’s next book, “The Druid” is the first in a brand new series set in post-Roman Britain and will be published on November 1st 2018.

He plays guitar and sings in a heavy metal band when they can find the time to meet up (which isn’t often these days to be honest).

Check out his website at https://stevenamckay.com/ and sign up for the email list – in return we’ll send you a FREE short story which is not available anywhere else, as well as offering chances to win signed books and other goodies!

The Druid goes on sale on 1st November 2018 and can be found on Steven A. McKay’s Amazon page.

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Coming in November!

Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing and Book Depository. It is scheduled for release in the US on 1 March 2019 and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.


Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Telling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, in the US from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be released in paperback in the UK from 15 March 2019 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

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

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

 

Book Corner: Blood’s Revolution by Angus Donald

Newly returned from years of secret work in Paris, Lieutenant Holcroft Blood, a brilliant but unusual gunnery officer in His Majesty’s Ordnance, must now face King James II’s enemies on the gore-drenched battlefields of the British Isles.

But after the victory at Sedgemoor – and its cruel aftermath, the Bloody Assizes, in which the Duke of Monmouth’s rebellion was ruthlessly crushed – many powerful men have grown tired of Catholic James’s brutal, autocratic rule and seek to invite William, the Protestant Prince of Orange, to seize the thrones of the Three Kingdoms.

While revolution brews in the gentlemen’s clubs of London, Holcroft discovers that a sinister French agent, known only by his code name Narrey, has followed him across the Channel and intends to murder him. Worse, Holcroft must decide whether to join the conspirators, including his old friend Jack Churchill, now Lord Marlborough, and support Dutch William’s invasion – or remain loyal to his unpopular king.

Holcroft Blood is my hero!

What a fabulous character Angus Donald has created in this fabulous new series set during the Stuart era. Holcroft is not your typical swashbuckling hero, he is a young man who struggles with personal connections and the nuances of human traits. He is more comfortable with mathematics and his cannons, but he has a remarkable knack for sniffing out trouble and unravelling conspiracies. In Blood’s Game, the first book in this new series, Holcroft was a young boy thrown into the heart of the court as a page to the Duke of Buckingham. Now he is an officer in the Royal Ordnance of the Stuart army and in Blood’s Revolution, his loyalty to his king is tested as the country and society turn against the Catholic king James II (VII in Scotland).

Blood’s Revolution is set some 15 years after the conclusion of the first book, Blood’s Game, which means it can easily be read as a standalone – though for anyone who hasn’t read Blood’s Game I can heartily recommend it!

Opening with Monmouth’s rebellion and the Battle of Sedgemoor, the early action sets the pace for the rest of the book, barely leaving the reader any opportunity to breathe, as Holcroft attempts to unravel the plots against the King and expose the plotters – and the French masterspy backing them. And at the same time, Holcroft has his own personal life to deal with; changing friendships, marriage and an errant brother all serve to upset the young man’s well-ordered life.

Matthew was standing now, red-faced, shaking with anger. ‘I will speak no more to you about Father Palmer nor about any other matter. I would rather hang!’

Holcroft lowered his head, he looked at his big hands, ignoring the threat of the angry boy standing over him and listening only to his words. He was not naturally skilled at this – the passion and poetry that resided in other men’s hearts had always been  something of a mystery to him. Yet he knew of his shortcomings and had trained himself, as far as it was possible, to listen to what men said and to test their words for truth or falsehood. To his ear, this was the voice of truth. The outrage was not false, so far as he could tell. This boy believed the Jesuit priest was innocent.

Holcroft looked up.

‘Sit down, and calm yourself. Or I will see that you do hang. I have one more question for you before I go. Sit down, be quiet and listen to me.’ Holcroft waited. Eventually, Matthews subsided and sat back down on the bed.

‘Tell me, John, why did you attempt to steal the keg of gunpowder from the magazine? Tell me truly and I will leave you here in peace, and do all I can for you with Lord Dartmouth at the court martial, as I have sworn on my honour to do.’

The fiction is seeded with real historical characters, ranging from Holcroft’s friend John Churchill – the future Duke of Marlborough – to the doomed Duke of Monmouth himself. Holcroft’s story itself is woven within the historical narrative, so that it is hard to tell where the facts end and fiction takes over; always a sign of a good book – and an opportunity for research that is hard to ignore. And the author’s note at the end also helps to distinguish between the fact and the fiction.

Angus Donald is a superb storyteller, drawing the reader in to the wonderfully wicked world he has recreated for Holcroft Blood to navigate his way through. It is hard to find a negative. The story is clever, imaginative and addictive. The characters are fascinating, full of life and vigour. The locations, especially 17th century London, are painstakingly recreated and brought to bustling life, the smells, sounds and atmosphere of a London, that is almost-recognisable to the 21st century reader, enhancing the story further.

It is going to be hard for the author to top this story with the next book in the series, but I cannot wait to find out what happens to Holcroft next…..

And at least I now know what to get my dad for Christmas – he’s gonna love this!

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Blood’s Revolution is available from Amazon in the UK from 18 October 2018.

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About the Author:

Angus Donald was educated at Marlborough College and Edinburgh University. He has worked as a fruit-picker in Greece, a waiter in New York and as an anthropologist studying magic and witchcraft in Indonesia. For many years he was a journalist in Hong Kong, India, Afghanistan and London. He is married to Mary, with whom he has two children, and he now writes full time from a medieval farmhouse in Kent.

He is the author of the bestselling Outlaw Chronicles, a series of eight books set in the 12th/13th centuries and featuring a gangster-ish Robin Hood and his loyal lieutenant Sir Alan Dale. His new Holcroft Blood series stars a mildly autistic artillery officer who was the son of notorious 17th-century Crown Jewel thief Colonel Thomas Blood. The series begins with Blood’s Game and continues with Blood’s Revolution (to be published in October 2018) and Blood’s Campaign (out October 2019). The author has also written an epic Asian fantasy novel Gates of Stone (out February 2019) under the pseudonym Angus Macallan. He is always happy to chat to readers on Facebook, Twitter and via his website http://www.angusdonaldbooks.com

 

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Coming in November!

Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing and Book Depository. It is scheduled for release in the US on 1 March 2019 and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Telling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, in the US from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be released in paperback in the UK from 15 March 2019 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

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

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Mercia, the Rise and Fall of a Kingdom by Annie Whitehead

Many people know about Wessex, the ‘Last Kingdom’ of the Anglo-Saxons to fall to the Northmen, but another kingdom, Mercia, once enjoyed supremacy over not only Wessex, but all of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. At its zenith Mercia controlled what is now Birmingham and London ‒ and the political, commercial paramountcy of the two today finds echoes in the past.

Those interested in the period will surely have heard of Penda, Offa, and Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians ‒ but remarkably there is no single book that tells their story in its entirety, the story of the great kingdom of the midlands.

Historically, the records are in two halves, pre- and post-Viking, in the way they have been preserved. Pre-Viking, virtually all the source material was written by the victims, or perceived victims, of Mercian aggression and expansion. Post-Viking, the surviving documents tend to hail from places which were not sacked or burned by the Northmen, particularly from Wessex, the traditional enemy of Mercia. The inclusion of those records here allows for the exploration of Mercia post-924.

Mercia ceased to be a kingdom when Alfred the Great came to power, but its history did not end there. Examining the roles of the great ealdormen in the anti-monastic reaction of the tenth century, through the treachery of Eadric Streona in the eleventh, and the last, brave young earls who made a stand against William the Conqueror, this book shows the important role the Mercians played in the forging of the English nation.

 

I have been waiting eagerly for Annie Whitehead’s Mercia: the Rise and Fall of  a Kingdom ever since I knew she was writing it. Luckily, I got an advanced copy from the publisher – but it was well worth the wait! In her introduction Annie Whitehead promises:

This is the story of the Mercians, the kings, the queens, saints, sinners, earls and warrior women who governed the kingdom and shaped its history.

 

And she does not disappoint!

Mercia: the Rise and Fall of  a Kingdom covers the story of the English midlands kingdom from its pagan origins, in the 7th century, to its absorption into the kingdom of England; a process started in the reign of King Alfred but not completed until after the Norman Conquest. Annie Whitehead traced the fortunes of Mercia from Penda, a king we know little enough about – and that from his enemies. As the author tells us, the problems with knowing anything about early Mercian history spring from the fact Mercia was a pagan land; they therefore had no monastic tradition of writing everything down. In which case, their history is taken from such as the Venerable Bede, who lived in the land of Mercia’s enemies, Northumbria.

As a result, Annie Whitehead’s first task was to assess the bias of her sources, all of whom had their own hostile vision of Mercia. She uses sources from varied fields, including charter and archaeological evidence, in order to reconstruct early Mercian society and tell the story of the land itself, and its relations to its neighbours, such as Northumbria, Wessex and East Anglia. Using primary sources wherever possible, Mercia: the Rise and Fall of  a Kingdom brings the people of this ancient kingdom to vivid life. The author also uses alliterative analysis, to suggest familial links between such rulers as Coenred and Ceolred, for example. Although this is not an exact science, it does help to give the reader some perspective on the personal and familial relationships between the major players in the region.

Throughout the book, Annie Whitehead retells the story from the available sources, taking great care to avoid filling in the gaps with invention and clearly offering theories and analysis to explain the direction in which the narrative proceeded. She provides an ongoing assessment of sources, discussing their validity, honesty and integrity; clearly stating where charters are thought to be spurious or of dubious provenance.

The story portrayed is one of conflict, from within and without the region, marriage alliances, murder and betrayal and the shifting political tensions of the various kingdoms within England. The history, inevitably, draws on the history of Wessex, Northumbria, Kent and Wales. However, Annie Whitehead constantly retains the focus firmly on Mercia, while clearly demonstrating the shifting political alliances and the internal and external forces which decided the direction in which Mercian – and English history as a whole – would eventual be drawn.

It is difficult to piece together the circumstances of Æthelbald’s exile. It doesn’t appear that Ceolred was a strong enough king to stave off contenders, particularly ones of the calibre Æthelbald would prove to be. Perhaps, then, he had been in exile since the time of Æthelred, yet he did not emerge until after Ceolred’s death. Were there other contenders to the throne? Had he been chased out of Mercia because the kings there were strong, or because he was, and thus he was  a threat? Dynastic disputes would become a feature of Mercian politics, particularly in the next century.

There is, in fact, a hint that the takeover was not so peaceful, provided by a reference in one source to a Ceolwald reigning between Ceolred and Æthelbald. This man, briefly mentioned in Chapter Three, could, if he existed at all, have been the brother of Ceolred. If so, and if he became king, he did not reign for long, for Æthelbald became king in the same year in which Coelred died. Perhaps there was a coup? If only we knew; but as we have seen, particularly when it comes to Mercian history, absence of evidence is most assuredly not evidence of absence, and we can only speculate when we come across these tantalising nuggets of information.

Æthelflæd, Lady of Mercia

Annie Whitehead provides a thorough and in-depth analysis of Mercia, its history and its people. Where there is uncertainty or conflicting evidence , she carefully sets out the opposing theories, providing her own thoughts and analysis, while making it clear what alternative reasoning there is available. The text is supplemented by some wonderful illustrations, colourful photographs of locations and buildings closely associated with Mercia’s history, from the well-known statue of Æthelflæd, daughter of Alfred the Great and Lady of Mercia, to Repton in Derbyshire, burial site of a number of Mercian kings.

On a personal level, it is fascinating to read another author’s interpretation of subjects I have researched myself. Annie Whitehead dedicates (and rightfully so) an entire chapter to the Lady Æthelflæd and her husband Æthelred. And it is good to know that her version of Æthelflæd does not contradict the lady I found when researching Heroines of the Medieval World. The same also happened with her depiction of Lady Godiva. Godiva appears in my next book, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest; she was the wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, and grandmother of the last Anglo-Saxon Earl of Mercia, Edwin, who was killed in 1071 after fighting against the Normans.

Mercia: the Rise and Fall of  a Kingdom  is written in an engaging and conversational manner, leaving the reader both entertained and informed. It is impossible to read this book without being made aware of the depth of research that has gone into producing such an authoritative depiction of Mercia. the

Rich in detail, this is a must-have book for anyone interested in the English midlands, and Anglo-Saxon history. Annie Whitehead delves into all the corners of Mercia, her history and conflicts and relates the story of not just the land, but of the generations of people who occupied it.

About the author:

Annie Whitehead graduated in history having specialised in the ‘Dark Ages’ and is a member of the Royal Historical Society. She’s written three books about early medieval Mercia, the ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the Midlands. The first, To Be a Queen, tells the story of Alfred the Great’s daughter, and was long-listed for the Historical Novelist Society’s Indie Book of the Year 2016, and was an IAN (Independent Author Network) Finalist in 2017, while the second, Alvar the Kingmaker, is the story of Aelfhere, Earl of Mercia in the 10th century. The third, Cometh the Hour, is the first of two volumes set in seventh-century Mercia. She was a contributor to the anthology 1066 Turned Upside Down, a collection of alternative short stories. She writes magazine articles and has had pieces printed in diverse publications, including Cumbria Magazine and This England. She has twice been a prize winner in the Mail on Sunday Novel Writing Competition, and won First Prize in the 2012 New Writer Magazine’s Prose and Poetry Competition. She was a finalist in the 2015 Tom Howard Prize for nonfiction, and is also a contributor and editor for the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, as well as blogging for her own site – Casting Light upon the Shadow. In 2017 she won the inaugural HWA/Dorothy Dunnett Society Short Story Prize. Her first full-length nonfiction book, Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom, is published by Amberley and available from Amazon UK.

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My books

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is now available in Hardback from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository.

Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UKAmazon USAmberley Publishing 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.

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The King’s Witch by Tracy Borman

As she helps to nurse the dying Queen Elizabeth, Frances Gorges longs for the fields and ancient woods of her parents’ Hampshire estate, where she has learned to use the flowers and herbs to become a much-loved healer.

Frances is happy to stay in her beloved countryside when the new King arrives from Scotland, bringing change, fear and suspicion. His court may be shockingly decadent, but James’s religion is Puritan, intolerant of all the old ways; he has already put to death many men for treason and women for witchcraft.

So when her ambitious uncle forcibly brings Frances to court, she is trapped in a claustrophobic world of intrigue and betrayal – and a ready target for the twisted scheming of Lord Cecil, the King’s first minister. Surrounded by mortal dangers, Frances finds happiness only with the precocious young Princess Elizabeth, and Tom Wintour, the one courtier she can trust.

Or can she?

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Tracy Borman’s first novel, The King’s Witch through NetGalley.

I have often read and enjoyed Tracy Borman’s non-fiction works. Indeed, her book on Matilda of Flanders, queen of William the Conqueror, was very helpful in my research for my own books, Heroines of the Medieval World and Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest. However, there is a great difference in writing non-fiction and fiction and not every author can make the jump. As a result I was unsure what tot expect from The King’s Witch  but discovered that Tracy Borman has managed to create a masterpiece of literary fiction at the first attempt.

Set in the court of James VI and I shortly after his arrival in England, The King’s Witch weaves a wonderful tale of love, intrigue, betrayal and suspense, set against the backdrop of the king’s obsession with eradicating witchcraft within his realm and the persecution of catholics. The officers of the old regime of Elizabeth I are trying to curry favour with the new king by taking on his obsessions and making them their own, so that those out of favour are hunted on every side.

As curator of the Historic Royal Palaces, Tracy Borman uses the wealth of inside  knowledge and information she has acquired to vividly recreate the world of early Stuart Britain in vibrant detail. She breathes life into her characters, both historical and invented, so that it is impossible to tell where the fact ends and the fiction begins. Her expertise is demonstrated not only in court etiquette, dress and manners, but also in the seedier side of Stuart Britain, in the treatment and punishment of prisoners, the oppression of catholic families and priests. The extent of research the author pursued in the writing of the book is demonstrated in the knowledge of herbs and their healing qualities, and how a girl may gain and use the knowledge to help others, if not always successfully.

There was silence for a few moments, then Helena bade her daughter sit with her again, and clasped both of Frances’s hands in her own.

‘My daughter.’ She pronounced the word as ‘dotter’, a rare hint of her native tongue. ‘You are my precious jewel. If only I could keep you as safe as these trifles -‘ she gestured to the coffers surrounding them, each secured with a brightly polished lock, the keys to which were only entrusted to her highest-ranking attendant.

Frances looked up into her mother’s dark brown eyes. She had long since seen her fiftieth year, but with her pale skin, high cheekbones, and small rosebud mouth, she was still beautiful.

‘Lady Mother?’

‘Frances, you must know that the court – the kingdom – is greatly changed,’ Helena began, her voice low. ‘King James has no patience with the traditions upheld by the late queen. Already the court is beset with scandal and vice. It will bring shame upon the kingdom.’ A scornful look crossed her face.  ‘Yet neither does he respect our former mistress’s moderation in matters of religion, but insists upon the strict observance of the Protestant faith. He seems determined to bend his subjects to his will.

Helena looked down at her hands for a moment, and when she raised her eyes to Frances again they were clouded with anxiety.

‘He has declared a war on witches, Frances. He says that they are a canker in our midst, and that God has appointed him to destroy them all. He will not leave a stone unturned in his search for the “whores of Satan”, as he calls them. Already Cecil is drafting a new Act against witchcraft. Any practice that is deemed to be sorcery will be punishable by death.’ She paused, eyeing Frances closely. ‘Even the arts of healing are under suspicion. There is to be no mercy.’

Frances looked doubtful. ‘Surely the king does not mean to hunt down the wise women and cunning folk? His officials would have to scour every village in the kingdom, and to what purpose? Their skills have always been used for good, not evil.’

 

The heroine of the story, Frances Gorges, as lady-in-waiting to King James’ pampered daughter, Elizabeth, has to navigate the Stuart court, despite being suspected as a witch by the king’s chief adviser, Robert Cecil. A skilled healer, Frances’ kind and trusting nature is tested to the extremes. While her skill with herbs and healing leads her into a dark place, her love for one of the men of the court leads her into the heart of a dangerous conspiracy and she doesn’t know who to trust. As the story unfolds, the reader is taken on a journey into the heart of a plot could change the course of history….

Tracy Borman has succeeded wonderfully in attaining that often difficult balance with historical fiction, of keeping to the historical fact while weaving an enchanting story which will keep the reader gripped to the very last page. Her obvious expertise in the era means that she is able to get into the heads of the characters she is depicting, thus relating their thoughts feelings and motivations with an uncanny accuracy which serves to transport the reader back in time, to the court and country of James VI and I. The author accurately depicts the sense of unease and apprehension at the change in regime from Elizabethan to Jacobean, demonstrating the distrust and unfamiliarity that accompanies the Scottish king to his new court; and conflict between those who find favour with the new king and those who hanker after the times and tolerance of the old queen, Elizabeth I.

Tracy Borman’s heroine, Frances Gorges, must traverse this difficult terrain of shifting allegiances and changing favourites, searching for a way to survive the plots and machinations of those who would see her fall. The King’s Witch is an exquisitely crafted novel, recreating the essence of Stuart Britain in wonderful detail.

The King’s Witch is available from Amazon.

About the author

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Tracy Borman is joint Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces and Chief Executive of the Heritage Education Trust. She studied and taught history at the University of Hull and was awarded a PhD in 1997.

Tracy is the author of a number of highly acclaimed books, including Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant, Matilda: Wife of the Conqueror, First Queen of England, Elizabeth’s Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen and Witches: A Tale of Sorcery, Scandal and Seduction. Tracy is also a regular broadcaster and public speaker, giving talks on her books across the UK and abroad. She lives in Surrey with her daughter.

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My books

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of women, famous, infamous and unknown, who shaped the course of medieval history. It is available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is now available in Hardback from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository.

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, 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. Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UKAmazon USAmberley Publishing 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.

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: A Missed Murder by Michael Jecks

When Jack Blackjack disobeys the orders of his spymaster, he enters dangerous waters in this lively Tudor mystery.

London, 1555. Queen Mary is newly married to Philip II of Spain – and not everyone is happy about the alliance. The kingdom is divided between those loyal to Catholic Mary and those who support her half-sister, Lady Elizabeth.

Former cutpurse turned paid assassin Jack Blackjack has more immediate matters to worry about. Having been ordered to kill a man, he determines to save him instead. But Jack defies his spymaster at his peril … and even the best-laid plans can sometimes go awry. When it appears that Jack has killed the wrong man, he reluctantly finds himself drawn into affairs of state, making new enemies wherever he turns. Can he survive long enough to put matters right?

I have long been a fan of Michael Jecks. I have been an avid reader of his books ever since The Last Templar, the first of his Knights Templar Mysteries series came out many, many moons ago! Michael Jecks has a knack of transporting the reader back in time and subjecting them to a jolly good murder mystery, unhampered by any modern-day crime solving techniques. I also thoroughly enjoyed his Vintener Trilogy, set during the Hundred Years’ War. However, the Bloody Mary Mysteries,following the adventures of Jack Blackjack, are a new departure for him, in a way.

Michael Jecks has moved away from the 14th century into the heart of Tudor London and the reign of Mary I. However, the intrigue and suspense is still present – in abundance. With this series Michael Jecks proves that he is the consummate story-teller in whatever era he writes. His expertise at writing mysteries shines through on every page, keeping the reader guessing to the very last page.

The author has recreated Tudor London’s sordid underworld in fine detail, taking the reader through the backstreets and wharves, to the brothels of Southwark and the alehouses of the city, leaving the reader with a lasting (and not always pleasant) impression of the sights, sounds and smells of an overcrowded and tense London, uneasy at the marriage of their queen to a Spaniard and eager for the impending birth of a prince and Tudor heir.

‘Mistress,’ i said, and bowed elaborately. ‘I am your most devoted servant. I saw you enter, and …’

‘I must speak with Jack Blackjack, Master. Do you know where I might find him?’

The man from the bar sniggered and walked away as I smiled lecherously. ‘I am he. You were looking for me? What is your name, pretty maiden?’

She looked doubtful. ‘I was told to look for a man who had a square face, brown eyes and a little scar on his left cheek.’

i smiled at her. My face has always been my fortune. Women look at me and see a bold yeoman they want to coddle. God would never have given such looks to a black-hearted devil, they think.

Turning my head, I indicated my scar. I always think it gives me a devil-may-care appearance, a proof that I am a bold, adventurous type – although I won it from falling while fleeing a furious miller who wanted to exact vengeance for my deflowering of his daughter. Deflowering, indeed! That little hussy had been more practised than half the women in Piers’s brothel.

‘Who told you to seek me?’ I asked.

‘Master Blount.’

Jack Blackjack is not your traditional, gung-ho, hero. He is worldly-wise, in many ways, though sometimes a little too trusting. He is cautious where heroes may just jump in and he has landed himself a job as a paid assassin, despite his dislike of the sight of blood. However, as a character he has a charm all of his own. He is a likable fellow, who seems to have a tendency to get himself into trouble without even trying. His adventurous take you on a journey through the seedier parts of Tudor London, introducing some of the most colourful characters you are ever likely to meet, including Mal the Loaf (so-called because of the bread knife he carries) and Ramon, a Spanish soldier with a sharp rapier and a desire to use it!)

Before you know it, the reader is drawn into Jack’s adventures, willing him to unravel the mysteries surrounding the death of a Spaniard, the disappearance of several purses of money and the confusion caused by a change orders sent by his employer, Master Blount.

Written in the first person, the writing style of A Missed Murder takes a little getting used to, but creates a more personal relationship between the reader and the book’s hero. Thoroughly researched, the author has managed to reanimate Tudor London, down to the finest detail. As I have come to expect from Michael Jecks, A Missed Murder is well written and thoroughly absorbing, taking the reader on an adventure through Tudor London which will not easily be forgotten.

To buy the book.

About the author:

Michael Jecks is the author of more than thirty novels in the Knights Templar medieval mystery series. A former Chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association, he lives with his wife, children and dogs in northern Dartmoor.

For more on Michael Jecks, check out writerlywitterings.com, look him up at writerlywitterings on YouTube, check his pictures on Flickr.com/photos/Michael_Jecks, like his page on FaceBook, or check for him on Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and all other social media!

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My books

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of women, famous, infamous and unknown, who shaped the course of medieval history. It is available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is now available in Hardback from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository.

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, 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. Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UKAmazon USAmberley Publishing 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.

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: After the Conquest by Teresa Cole

On his deathbed William the Conqueror divided his property between his three sons, Robert, William and Henry. One of them got England, one got Normandy and one £5,000 of silver. None of them was satisfied with what he received. It took much violence, treachery, sudden death and twenty years before one of them reigned supreme over all the Conqueror’s lands.

Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his ‘Prophecies of Merlin’, depicted them as two dragons and a lion with a mighty roar, but which would end up the winner, and what was the fate of the losers?

After the Conquest tells the story of the turbulent lives of the sons of the Conqueror.

Having read and enjoyed Teresa Cole’s book, The Norman Conquest, I was expecting a great deal from this book, and was not disappointed. After the Conquest takes up the story where the first book left off, giving an overview of the Conquest and the years which followed with the reign of William the Conqueror, before coming into its own with the stories of the Conqueror’s 3 surviving sons; Robert Curthose, William Rufus and Henry I. Taking the story from teh Conquest itself, to the death of Henry I and the succession squabble which followed, Teresa Cole provides and in-depth view of the post-Conquest years in England and Normandy.

Robert II Curthose, Duke of Normandy

After the Conquest provides a complete and detailed study of each of the 3 sons of William and Matilda; their family life and military and political careers. She is thorough and analytical in her approach, using primary sources to support her arguments and theories. The book provides a new and refreshing insight into the story of the struggles between the brothers is told in a balanced, thoughtful style, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each with equal vigour. She dissects the abilities and failings of each brother separately, and compares their successes and failures, providing a complete image of their changing relationships throughout the years.

There is a tendency to see Henry, especially at this time, as the innocent younger brother, tossed about and beset by the whims of hos elders. Clearly, though, there was a strong streak of his father’s ruthlessness in the young man’s make-up, and also a strong conviction as to what was due to people of his class and upbringing.

William II Rufus, King of England

 

Rather than an example of brotherly love, After the Conquest tells the story of one of the most significant examples of sibling rivalry in English royal history, rivalling that of King Richard the Lionheart and King John in its viciousness. However, although this theme runs throughout the book, the author also provides an in-depth study of the regimes of each of the brothers, separately, highlighting the successes and failures of their rule as kings of England and dukes of Normandy. While Henry I, the youngest brother, invariably comes out on top, it is fascinating to read of Henry’s abilities, as the baby of the family, to exploit his brothers’ weaknesses for his own benefit.

Teresa Cole not only analyses the relationship of the brothers, with each other, but also with those around them, including their siblings,  officials, servants and the church. She provides a wonderful overview of the period and the main actors involved the affairs of England and Normandy in the years immediately following the Conquest.

If Henry had thought his support for his brother might have secured his affection, or at least his approval, he was soon disillusioned. Instead, it appeared that Robert grudged him his success, particularly in view of his own perceived failure…

Teresa Cole’s writing style  is a pleasure to read. While authoritative and thorough, the book is an enjoyable, accessible read for all those interested in history in general, and the Norman Conquest in particular. She also provides a brief, comprehensive analysis of each of the primary sources used in her work. My only criticism, however, would be the lack of footnotes hampers the reader’s ability to investigate some of her arguments further.

Henry I, King of England and Duke of Normandy

After spending a year researching the women of the period for my new book, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest, I was worried that, having read so much on the period recently, I would be too jaded with the 11th century to truly enjoy the book. However, in After the Conquest, Teresa Cole has taken a new approach, in focusing on the 3 sons of William the Conqueror, and has produced a thoroughly engaging book, providing a view of the Conquest and its aftermath from a new and intriguing angle. It would be a wonderful complement to anyone’s library of 11th century works.

After the Conquest by Teresa Cole is available from both Amazon and Amberley Publishing.

About the Author

Teresa Cole has been a teacher for thirty years. She has written several law books and a historical biography by Amberley, ‘Henry V: The Life of the Warrior King & the Battle of Agincourt 1415’ (‘Cole understands the importance of drama… a thorough account of Henry’s life’ HISTORY OF WAR MAGAZINE). She lives just outside Bath.

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My books

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of women, famous, infamous and unknown, who shaped the course of medieval history. It is available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is now available in Hardback from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository.

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, 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. Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UKAmazon USAmberley Publishing 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.

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Rebel Killer by Paul Fraser Collard

Paul Fraser Collard’s roguish hero Jack Lark – dubbed ‘Sharpe meets the Talented Mr Ripley’ – returns once more, switching sides to join the ranks of the Confederate Army. This latest adventure will see Jack journey through the Southern states as the American Civil War continues in earnest, and is a must-read for fans of Bernard Cornwell and Simon Scarrow.

‘Enthralling’ The Times on the Jack Lark series

Fighting for the Union gave Jack Lark purpose. But America is tearing itself apart and no one will be left in peace.

Virginia, 1861. With his comrades defeated, Jack turns his back on the battlefield. At heart he’s still a soldier, but this wholly uncivil war has left him wanting something – and someone – more. Lost in the woods with the Confederate army closing in, Jack will stop at nothing to protect Rose and the future they might share.

Then one bullet changes everything and Jack wakes up in a military hospital – alone. Broken but determined, he sets out on an epic journey across the Confederacy disguised in the grey coat of his one-time enemy. He will find the man who destroyed his life. Jack Lark is out for revenge.

 

Paul Fraser Collard has done it again!

The Rebel Killer is a stunning adventure which is impossible to put down. It is one of those books every reader hopes to find, which don’t come along too often; you are desperate to finish it, but want it never to end, and feel bereft as soon as you have read the last word, knowing that you were not quite ready to say goodbye to such a wonderful story.

I have followed Jack Lark’s story from the very beginning, The Scarlet Thief was a refreshingly different and new innovative style. There is no shadow of the inimitable Sharpe from Bernard Cornwell, which many stories of 19th century soldiering are trying to recreate. Though their starts in life may have been similar, their attitude to soldiering are polar opposites. Where Sharpe seeks honour within the ranks of the army, and the regiment is his family, Jack feels no such connection to a particular regiment, nor a particular army, for that matter. And yet, both have that unique quality, they are natural soldiers and leaders, bound by their own personal interpretation of honour to do the decent thing. In battle they are invincible, natural leaders, soldiers follow them without question.

That is where the comparisons end, however. Jack Lark is very much his own man. He has the ability to change his coat and his allegiance wherever and whenever he has to, whilst still holding on to a set of values which make him an admirable leading man. He is no mercenary, rather a soldier fighting for his own reasons and always where the battle is fiercest. He is a lovable rogue in every way.

Jack looked deep into the other man’s eyes. He saw the fear there, yet he felt not even a shred of compassion. The moment the brothers had spotted the pair of fugitives, they had become a  risk to Rose and to the future he might share with her. It was time to end it. He lashed out with the sabre, bludgeoning the steel into the side of Seth’s head and knocking him to the ground. The Confederate fell without a sound.

Jack turned away, searching the undergrowth for Rose. She had not moved during the short, bitter struggle. Now she rose to her feet and stalked forward.

‘Are they dead?’ She asked the question in a voice quite without emotion.

‘One is. One soon will be.’ He gave the cold answer, then began to wipe the worst of the gore from his sword on the jacket of the man he had slain. He could not return it to its scabbard until it was clean, lest it stick to the insides.

Rose came to his side. There was no hint of horror on her face; only sadness. She had seen Jack fight before. She knew what he was. She had accepted him.

She looked down at the second man, the one she had heard called Seth. He was still alive, yet it was clear that he would not last long. Already the flow of blood pulsing from his grotesque wounds was slowing, and his skin was the colour of week-old ash.

‘Give me your revolver.’ She made the demand of Jack in a voice wrapped in iron.

‘No.’ Jack saw what she intended. ‘Shoot him and you’ll draw more of them this way.’

‘You’d leave him to suffer?’

‘He’s as good as dead, love.’ Jack reached out and took a grip of Rose’s shoulder, turning her so that she faced him and no longer looked at the dying man.

‘He’s suffering.’ Rose shook off his hand. ‘His name is Seth and he is suffering.’

Paul Fraser Collard is a wonderful storyteller, he pulls you into the action from the first page and keeps you constantly wanting more, wanting to know what happens next, wanting to know if the bad guys get there’s, wanting to know if it will all be alright in the end. Jack Lark is a wonderful creation, an impostor, a man who can take on whatever guise, whatever uniform the situation requires. But there is one constant, he’s a soldier, a warrior and he will never give up the fight while there is breath – and blood – in his body.

In The Rebel Killer Jack’s character really comes to the fore. His need for introspection, to decipher his own motives and justify his actions offer a new perspective on the story and great insight into the hero. He grows in this book, as a human being and a soldier, realising where his talents lie and using them to the full.  In The Rebel Killer he is driven by thoughts of vengeance and the need to be alone, to not have to be responsible for others. However, that is not – and never has been – his way. He has a natural protective instinct and cannot leave others to fend for themselves, no matter how much easier it would make his life.

These relationships – with friend and enemy alike – are what brings Jack’s story to life. His talent is not just for killing, but for touching the lives of those around him., not that he always realises this.

In the midst of the American Civil War, Paul Fraser Collard has dropped this English chameleon and left him to fight for his vengeance and survival. And as such created a story which views the war from both sides and shows how men fought, not for the political ideals of their leaders, but for their families, their comrades and their own survival. The action is frenetic and vividly, colourfully described. The reader is not merely an observer, but thrust into the heart and heat of battle, fighting for their next breath, alongside Jack Lark. You can feel the heat and dust of battle, hear the cannons roar and the screams of the wounded and dying.

The Rebel Killer is a wonderful story, not to be missed, and probably the best Jack Lark tale yet. I cannot wait for the next instalment and to see where Jack goes next!

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About the author

Paul’s love of military history started at an early age. A childhood spent watching films like Waterloo and Zulu whilst reading Sharpe, Flashman and the occasional Commando comic, gave him a desire to know more of the men who fought in the great wars of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. This fascination led to a desire to write and his series of novels featuring the brutally courageous Victorian rogue and imposter Jack Lark burst into life in 2013. Since then Paul has continued to write, developing the Jack Lark series to great acclaim. To find out more about Paul and his novels visit www.paulfrasercollard.com or find him on twitter @pfcollard.

Paul Fraser Collard‘s Jack Lark series of books are available now from Amazon.

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My books

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of women, famous, infamous and unknown, who shaped the course of medieval history. It is available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is now available in Hardback from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository.

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, 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. Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UKAmberley Publishing 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.

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Legionary: The Blood Road by Gordon Doherty

381 AD: The Gothic War draws to a brutal climax, and the victor’s name will be written in blood…

The great struggle between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Gothic Horde rumbles into its fifth year. It seems that there can be no end to the conflict, for although the Goths are masters of the land, they cannot topple the last of the imperial cities. But heralds bring news that might change it all: Emperor Gratian readies to lead his Western legions into the fray, to turn matters on their head, to crush the horde and save the East!

The men of the XI Claudia legion long for their homeland’s salvation, but Tribunus Pavo knows these hopes drip with danger. For he and his soldiers are Gratian’s quarry as much as any Goth. The road ahead will be fraught with broken oaths, enemy blades… and tides of blood.

Gordon Doherty‘s Legionary: The Blood Road is the 7th book in his acclaimed Legionary series and is a masterpiece of Roman fiction. I don’t often read Roman historical fiction, but whenever I do stray from medieval history into the realms of the legions, I find myself asking ‘why don’t I do this more often?’ Legionary: The Blood Road again made me realise how much I love a good book about Rome!.

Legionary: The Blood Road  is a fast-paced, enjoyable novel of the Roman legions which grips you from the very first page. The action and intrigue never lets up, from the opening lines to the last, taking the reader on a journey through the Eastern Empire of Theodosius and its struggles against the Goths. The battles are so vividly portrayed, they feel real; the tactics of the Roman legions and of the Gothic horde, have obviously been extensively researched. The author transports you back to the events and leaves you feeling that you were a spectator to the actual battles. The suspense is tangible, the end of the book cleverly disguised so that, to the very last pages, you are fearful that the hero may not prevail.

‘For the Claudia,’ panted one voice, thick with emotion.

He turned to the rise, seeing the men of the First Century slacken in relief. Seven legionaries lay still on reddened earth; another dozen groaned and clutched wounds. Pavo betrayed not a chink of emotion, the ‘soldier’s skin’ like a layer of old boot leather around his heart. He quietly stooped to pack a little frost around the stinging gash on the back of his hand. Primus Pilus Sura, his most trusted man in the legions and out, wrenched his spear clear of the shoulder of another Hun corpse, his blonde hair shuddering and his boyish features ruined by a snarl. ‘We weren’t sent here to fight Huns,’ he seethed at the toppling body.

‘Thank Mithras we were here though,’ said Pavo, peeling his helm from his head and scruffing a hand through his short, dark hair. He offered a nod to the onager crew – fifty strides back – who had measured the range and unleashed the rock that had destroyed the ice-bridge. ‘Imagine we were not. These bastards would have poured across, then sent back word to others. The nightmare on the far banks would have spilled over here in its entirety.’

‘Still a bit of a nightmare on this side too, Tribunus,’ said Centurion Libo, throwing his helmet to the ground and scratching behind his ear like a dog, flakes of dry skin spraying from his wild matter hair. His painted, wooden eye remained fixed and staring while the good eye swivelled to look south, he like the many others thinking of the turmoil still ongoing many miles away.

 

And what a hero! Pavo is a fabulous character, who is vividly portrayed. It’s almost like you know him personally. Human, flawed, ruthless; but a beloved leader whose men will follow him, no matter what. He has earned their loyalty by giving them his loyalty and it is this mutual strength and trust which provides the backbone to the story. You find yourself rooting for him through is many trials and tribulations, while at the same time wondering how anyone could get  out of the predicaments in which he finds himself!

Pavo, however, has made some powerful enemies, and it is his relationship with these enemies – the Emperor Gratian, no less – that leads Pavo into the greatest danger. Gratian doesn’t want Pavo dead – he wants him to suffer. Pavo has to balance his need to stay away from Gratian – and his personal band of assassins – against his duties to protect and defend the empire against the invading horde and an ever-elusive dream of peace. The suspense is almost too much to take and will keep you reading long into the dark hours of the night.

In Legionary: The Blood Road Gordon Doherty expertly transports you back to the great days of the Roman Empire, using his extensive knowledge of the era and incredible story-telling skills to give the reader the impression of being there, in the midst of battle and court politics. The sights, sounds and smells of the eastern empire can be vividly imagined as you get absorbed into the story and atmosphere of Imperial Rome.

I have read a couple of the earlier Legionary books, but have missed a few. However, with Legionary: The Blood Road you could easily read this book if it was your first introduction to author Gordon Doherty. This is a self-contained novel that introduces past events when they need explanation, but tells a complete story in the author’s own, inimitable style.

Gordon Doherty is one of the must-read authors of Roman history, a wonderful story-teller who vividly recreates the era, through the landscape, people and the politics. The battles and intrigues are masterfully recreated to entertain and engage the reader; I cannot recommend it highly enough. Legionary: The Blood Road is a fabulous read!

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You can find out about the rest of the series here (linked pics below)

To buy Legionary: The Blood Road.

About the author: 

Gordon Doherty is a Scottish writer, addicted to reading and writing historical fiction.

His love of history was first kindled by the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall, and travelling around the ancient world has kept the fire burning brightly ever since. The later Roman Empire and Byzantium hold a particular fascination for him. There is something quite special about the metamorphosis from late antiquity into the ‘dark ages’ and the medieval period.

While historical fiction is his passion, he alsoenjoy writing comedy and sci-fi too. Perhaps one day he’ll find a way to combine all three!

Gordon Doherty on social media: websiteFacebook; Twitter.

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My books

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of women, famous, infamous and unknown, who shaped the course of medieval history. It is available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is now available in Hardback from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository.

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Aethelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, 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. Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UKAmberley Publishing 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.

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: La Reine Blanche by Sarah Bryson

Mary Tudor’s childhood was overshadowed by the men in her life: her father, Henry VII, and her brothers Arthur, heir to the Tudor throne, and Henry VIII. These men and the beliefs held about women at the time helped to shape Mary’s life. She was trained to be a dutiful wife and at the age of eighteen Mary married the French king, Louis XII, thirty-four years her senior.

When her husband died three months after the marriage, Mary took charge of her life and shaped her own destiny. As a young widow, Mary blossomed. This was the opportunity to show the world the strong, self-willed, determined woman she always had been. She remarried for love and at great personal risk to herself. She loved and respected Katherine of Aragon and despised Anne Boleyn – again, a dangerous position to take.

Author Sarah Bryson has returned to primary sources, state papers and letters, to unearth the truth about this intelligent and passionate woman. This is the story of Mary Tudor, told through her own words for the first time.

Mary Tudor, Queen of France, is probably my favourite Tudor. She is a woman who understood duty, but also managed to forge her own way in life, while keeping her mercurial brother (Henry VIII) appeased. I have loved reading anything I could find on her since watching the film The Sword and the Rose as a teenager.

Mary Tudor followed her duty and married the husband her brother chose for her – Louis XII of France. However, before leaving England’s shores for her new life as Queen of France, she managed to extract a promise from her brother which would mean she could eventually choose the direction of her life. Henry  promised that if she married the husband he had chosen for her, then she would be allowed to choose her next husband. And Mary knew that she would have a second husband; Louis XII was 53 and Mary was 18. Their marriage lasted less than 3 months.

Not wanting to trust to her brother’s ability to keep to his promise once she was back under his roof, Mary then married the man of her choice before she had even left France. He was Charles Brandon, one of  her brother’s closest friends. The marriage could have caused great scandal, Brandon was far lower in rank than his royal bride. It did cause the couple financial hardship, that lasted the duration of their marriage; Henry exacted a heavy price, in fines, for his sister to follow her heart.

Sarah Bryson tells the story of Mary Tudor with great empathy and a deep understanding of the woman, her personal and private life, her highs and lows. Using Mary’s own letters as the backbone of the book, the author brings the French Queen to vivid life. It is impossible not to read this book and come to a new admiration for this remarkable lively English princess.

Mary Tudor, Queen of France, and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk

Mary would not have been able to challenge men verbally, or publicly speak her mind. To do so would have been to step out of the mould that had been so carefully created for her by the men in her life and the culture of her time. Many men held the belief that to publicly challenge a man meant that a woman was not in fact a true woman, or that the woman was somehow mentally unbalanced. There were even physical and humiliating punishments for women who dared to challenge or speak ill of their husbands. Therefore Mary influenced the men in her life by using what skills and means she had at hand – in her case it was letter writing.

Mary Tudor’s letters are a fascinating and captivating look at how a woman could wield power without publicly challenging the patriarchy. They show how Mary was able to manoeuvre those around her to follow her heart – marrying her second husband for love, rather than being dragged back to the international chess game as a marriage pawn. They are also, on occasion, a way of looking into Mary’s life whereby the layers of princess and queen are stripped back and only the woman remains.

La Reine Blanche by Sarah Bryson provides an intimate assessment of the life of Mary Tudor. The author’s love of her subject shines through on every page. Her extensive knowledge of Mary, Charles Brandon and Henry VIII serves to make this book both entertaining and informative and makes it eminently readable. The reader is engaged from the first page and transported to the life and times of the subject and her family.

La Reine Blanche is well written and engaging. With impeccable research it follows Mary’s story from cradle to grave, giving a deep insight into the woman and the times in which she lived. It analyses the constraints which were placed on a woman – and especially a queen – at that time. It also provides an interesting assessment of Henry VIII, both as a brother and a king. There is a wonderful balance between Mary’s public and private life as the author delves into Mary’s experiences, motivations and clever manipulations of those around her. Sarah Bryson brings Mary to life through her letters, clearly demonstrating how the Tudor princess was aware of her station and the limitations placed on women; but used her own wiles and the art of flattery and persuasion to take as much control of her life as was humanly possible.

In reading Sarah Bryson’s wonderful biography, it is impossible not to fall a little bit in love with this amazing Tudor princess and French Queen.

La Reine Blanche by Sarah Bryson is now available from Amberley Books and Amazon .

About the author: Sarah Bryson is a researcher, writer and educator. Se runs a website dedicated to Tudor history and has written on other websites including ‘On the Tudor Trail’ and ‘Queen Anne Boleyn’. She has been studying primary sources to tell the story of Mary Tudor for a decade and is the author on Mary Boleyn and Charles Brandon.

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Picture courtesy of Wikipedia

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My books

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of women, famous, infamous and unknown, who shaped the course of medieval history. It is available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is now available in Hardback from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository.

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Aethelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, 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. Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UKAmberley Publishing 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.

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly