Book Corner: Land of Fire by Derek Birks

Late Spring, 455 AD.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A trader,” ventured Inga.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Buy the Book

Land of Fire is now available on Kindle from Amazon.

About the Author:

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

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

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

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

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

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My Books:

Coming 31 May 2021:

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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 

Guest Post: Inspiration to Write Essex – Tudor Rebel by Tony Riches

Today it is a pleasure to welcome author Tony Riches back to the blog, talking about the inspiration behind his latest book, Essex – Tudor Rebel. Essex is the second book of Tony’s fabulous Tudor Trilogy, looking into some of the most fascinating characters of the Tudor dynasty. The first in the series, Drake – Tudor Corsair was absolutely fabulous!

Inspiration to Write Essex – Tudor Rebel 

by Tony Riches

Lamphey Palace

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, is one of the most intriguing men of the Elizabethan period. He becomes a ‘favourite’ at court, so close to the queen many wonder if they are lovers. The truth is far more complex, as each has what the other yearns for. Robert Devereux longs for recognition, wealth and influence. His flamboyant naïveté amuses the ageing Queen Elizabeth, like the son she never had, and his vitality makes her feel young. 

I decided to explore Robert Devereux’s story when writing the first book of my Elizabethan series, Drake – Tudor Corsair. Drake is appalled when Essex commandeers a warship from the waiting fleet to sail in the ‘English Armada’ and attack Lisbon. 

Memorial including Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex

To make things worse, Drake knew Queen Elizabeth had forbidden Essex to join the expedition – and he had no experience of naval command or fighting at sea. With typical bravado, Essex leapt from his ship into deep water, causing many of his followers to drown in their attempt to do the same. He then led the forty-mile march to Lisbon, without waiting for supplies, and many soldiers died from hunger, heat exhaustion and thirst. The whole enterprise proved a costly disaster, and set the tone for Robert’s later adventures. 

I wanted to understand why he was so driven to take such risks, when he knew his vengeful queen would be furious. I had access to all his surviving letters, which reveal an intriguing, deeply flawed character, always at the heart of events, the perfect subject for an historical novel. 

Devereux Tower

I particularly wanted to keep his story as factually accurate and authentic as possible, so immersed myself in the dangerous world of Elizabethan London. During my research I was amazed to find Robert Devereux lived at Lamphey Palace, twenty minutes from my home in Pembrokeshire. I also visited the Devereux Tower and Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London, (where he lies close to Lady jane Grey and Anne Boleyn). 

I hope readers will be able to tell that this book is one I’ve really enjoyed researching and writing, and that I’ve been able to find some of Robert Devereux’s redeeming qualities. 

To buy the book:

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09246T7ZT 

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09246T7ZT 

Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B09246T7ZT 

Amazon AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B09246T7ZT 

About the Author:

Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling Tudor historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the lives of the early Tudors. As well as his new Elizabethan series, Tony’s historical fiction novels include the Tudor trilogy and the Brandon trilogy, about Charles Brandon and his wives

For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website tonyriches.com and his blog, The Writing Desk and find him on  Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.

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My books

Coming 31st May:

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 and Tony Riches

Book Corner: The Damask Rose by Carol McGrath

1266. Eleanor of Castile, adored wife of the Crown Prince of England, is still only a princess when she is held hostage in the brutal Baron’s Rebellion, and her baby daughter dies. Scarred by privation, a bitter Eleanor swears revenge on those who would harm her family – and vows never to let herself be vulnerable again.

As she rises to become Queen, Eleanor keeps Olwen – a trusted herbalist, who tried to save her daughter – by her side. But it is dangerous to be friendless in a royal household, and as the court sets out on crusade, Olwen and Eleanor discover that the true battle for Europe may not be a matter of swords and lances, but one fanned by whispers and spies . . .

The Damask Rose is the second book in historian and novelist Carol McGrath’s She-Wolves trilogy, giving a refreshing new appraisal of the lives of Eleanor of Provence, Eleanor of Castile and – still to come – Isabella of France. The first in the series, The Silken Rose, followed the story of Eleanor of Provence through the early years of the reign of her husband, Henry III and his struggle with Simon de Montfort. The Damask Rose continues the story through Eleanor’s daughter-in-law, Eleanor of Castile. Though each book can definitely be read as a standalone, the two novels certainly complement each other.

Carol McGrath has a wonderful, engaging writing style that draws the reader in. The Damask Rose is a pleasure to read from start to finish and really gets into the mind of Eleanor of Castile, giving a new interpretation of the queen, her experiences, her emotions and motivations.

It shows the woman behind the crown and follows the life of Eleanor from the young Castilian princess, newly arrived in England to the height of her powers as queen and landowner.

And it is a thoroughly entertaining story.

In this fantastic novel, Carol McGrath explores every aspect of Eleanor’s life and explains how the Barons’ War and Simon de Montfort’s rebellion left a lasting impression on her, so much so that she never wanted to be so vulnerable and helpless ever again.

Eleanor scanned the courtyard where her frightened people had begun to gather in family groups. A priest hurried through them clutching a large cross, his habit flapping in a sudden breeze. He crossed himself and shouted in a voice as clear as reliquary crystal, ‘You, Gilbert of Gloucester, mark this, you are excommunicate by order of our Father, the Pope. You’ll burn Hell’s fire and you’ll deserve your fate.’

Earl Gilbert turned his head away from him. Pushing Eleanor forward again, he said, ‘UP you go, my lady.’ In a heartbeat, he had hoisted her onto his horse as if she were light as a feather, and jumped up behind her. He said into her pained ear, ‘Tell them they are to obey Hugh Bigod when he enters the castle this evening. He’ll arrange an escort for your ladies and household.’

‘We have no choice,’ she called down as she managed to wriggle an arm free from Gilbert’s grip. She pointed at the crumpled scroll still lying on the earth, and shouted to her shocked steward, ‘Take it. Read it to my people. Tell them the king has been forced to sign it.’

Master Thomas ran forward and scooped up the King’s letter. He picked her veil up from the ground and handed it up to her.

‘See the King’s order is obeyed,’ she said in a grudging tone as she took possession of her veil. Gilbert thrust her sword into an empty scabbard hanging from his saddle, and slowly walked his horse forward onto the drawbridge.

She could not let this seizure of her royal person go without another protest. ‘Gilbert of Gloucester, I shall have my revenge on you,’ she barked. ‘No one treats a future queen in such a manner.’ She knew she was making a formidable enemy but she didn’t care. Her temper could be foul but she did not care about this either.

‘Lady Eleanor, when you behave as a queen should, with suitable decorum, I shall treat you as a queen,’ he quipped. ‘Until then you are no better than a harridan.’

‘Arrogant bastard,’ she said under her breath as they rode into the trees, followed by the trotting horse ridden by the squire with the ridiculous name and carrying young Simon, the Devil’s son.

That evening, she peered from her heavily guarded tent, incandescent, watching as Hgh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, rode to take possession of Windsor Castle. Her child and ladies would be loaded like cattle into wagons the next day to begin the journey to Canterbury. Her close friend and lady-in-waiting, Joanna de Valence, married to King Henry’s own half-brother William of Pembroke, was pregnant and she, herself, had missed her courses twice.

Statues of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, Lincoln Cathedral ©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

The leading characters of the story are a wonderful, rich collection of historical personages, from Edward and Eleanor themselves to the distasteful Gilbert de Clare, and the various lords, barons and ladies who made up their court, including my very own John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey. The fictional foil to the story is a young woman, Olwen, who helps the queen with her vast knowledge of herbs and their medicinal properties. Olwen is the perfect observer to Eleanor’s life, able to watch and listen whilst escaping notice – for the most part.

Carol McGrath weaves together the known story of Eleanor’s life, through the great events that shaped it, with the fictional creation of Eleanor’s world and emotions, allowing the reader to be a fly on the wall, watching events unfold and marvelling at the sights, smells and emotions of this long lost world.

And it will play on your own emotions.

In The Damask Rose, Carol McGrath not only tells Eleanor of Castile’s story, but also looks deep into the queen’s heart, offering a scenario that would explain Eleanor’s apparent lack of maternal instinct, her need to remain at Edward’s side no matter how far he travelled, and the inter-family relationships that shaped her life. It is a window into the life of a medieval princess and queen that is hard to forget.

Carol McGrath’s portrayal of the Spanish queen is the best depiction of Eleanor of Castile that I have ever read. Beautifully written, it is so touching that it had me in tears in several places – always the sign of a good book.

To buy The Damask Rose: tinyurl.com/dk2att32

About the Author:

Carol McGrath is the author of the acclaimed She-Wolves Trilogy, which began with the hugely successful The Silken Rose and continues with the brand new The Damask Rose. Born in Northern Ireland, she fell in love with historical fiction at a young age, when exploring local castles, such as Carrickfergus, and nearby archaeological digs – and discovering some ancient bones herself. While completing a degree in history, she became fascinated by the strong women who were silenced in record, and was inspired to start exploring their lives. Her first novel, The Handfasted Wife, was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards, and Mistress Cromwell was widely praised as a timely feminist retelling of Tudor court life. Her novels are known for their intricacy, depth of research and powerful stories.

For more news, exclusive content and competitions, sign up to Carol’s newsletter at: http://www.carolcmcgrath.co.uk

Follow her on Facebook: /CarolMcGrathAuthor1

And Twitter: @CarolMcGrath

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My books

Coming 31st May:

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 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 

Guest Post: Female Crusaders by Carol McGrath

It is a pleasure to welcome to History…the Interesting Bits, author Carol McGrath. Carol’s latest novel, The Damask Rose, is out this month and tells the story of Eleanor of Castile and her devoted husband, King Edward I. Eleanor of Castile led an adventurous life, to say the least, even accompanying her husband on Crusade to the Holy Land.

Carol McGrath tells us more…

Female Crusaders

Eleanor of Castile (1241-1290) is placed at the centre of my new publication The Damask Rose. She was married to Edward I at only twelve years old when he was fifteen and was his father Henry III’s heir. It is always thought that, throughout her life, Eleanor was devoted to Edward and him to her. They certainly supported each other throughout her life, almost always together. They even journeyed on Crusade together. She was not the first royal spouse to Crusade. Eleanor of Aquitaine and Marguerite of France had crusaded before her.

Sugar Storage Jar

In 1270 they set off on Crusade but they never reached Jerusalem. Acre was the royal couple’s home for more than a year. Edward was an able and courageous leader but the Crusade was militarily unsuccessful. They established their crusading court in Acre after the death of the original Crusade leader, the saintly Louis IX, at Carthage, and Edward became the eighth Crusade’s figure head. A legend says that Eleanor was so dutiful and committed to Edward, her only love, she saved his life in June 1272 when an assassin struck Edward down with a poisoned dagger. Edward apparently wrestled the knife from his assailant and killed him but not before he took injury to his arm.

The story relates that Eleanor sucked out the poison. This is not entirely true. Bartolemo Fiadoni known as the Ptolemy of Lucca is responsible for the popular tradition that Eleanor ‘showed great faithfulness; for with her tongue she licked his open wounds all the day, and sucked out the humour, and thus by her virtue drew out all the poisonous material.’ It is a story from the period’s High Romantic Tradition thus expressing Eleanor’s heroism. Read The Damask Rose to discover what most likely really did happen and how Edward survived the attack.

The story illustrates how the Crusades claimed both ecclesiastical and chivalric ideas linking Church and Court, how at the time, the Crusades became romanticised. Courtly literature was linked to women in Historical Romances, many of which were associated with crusading and the Holy Grail. In fact, many ordinary women went on Crusade as well as queens and noble women. These ordinary women were almost always described in sources in relation to men as daughters, wives, mothers, aunts, sisters and even more distant kin. However, sometimes we find widows or women, well past child bearing age and referred to as ‘in old age’, on Crusade.

Toilets in Acre

Individual female crusaders mentioned in sources were predominantly well to do. Even so, others exist such as the woman who followed a goose on Crusade because she believed it was filled with the Holy Spirit. Women generally were accompanied male relatives but some, like the goose lady, travelled without a guardian. A passenger list surviving from the Saint Viktor, a Crusade ship of 1250 records forty two of the 342 common people travelling to the Holy Land were women. Twenty-two of these women had no male chaperone. Securing a suitable male escort was apparently a huge problem. Large groups of widows might travel together as pilgrims. Pilgrims were not supposed to carry arms and even if women had travelled with pilgrim guards, they were still vulnerable. Women Crusaders were utterly courageous and determined. For example, in her mid-sixties, Ermeongarde, Countess of Brittany, who had taken the veil in Dijon in 1130, visited her half-brother, King Fulke of Jerusalem, and passed some years in the nunnery of St Anne in the Holy City. She safely return to Brittany in 1135 to tell her tale.

 The Dining Hall, Hospitaller Palace, Acre

Piety was the main reason for taking the cross. Women sometimes took the cross in public ceremonies alongside men. Jerusalem was naturally the goal. The two fold nature of armed pilgrimage to rescue the Holy Land by force and to pray at shrines gave women a ‘canonical loophole’ to participate. Also, Crusading affected women’s lives whether they stayed in Europe, took the cross or lived abroad in settler territories. Although women are recorded as present since the First Crusade, it was only during the thirteenth century that they were granted legal status as crucesignatae. Spiritual rewards such as the remittance of sins were indeed as attractive to women as men.

Women fulfilled practical functions during siege warfare on Crusade often undertaking jobs such as clearing rubble and filling ditches. They are recorded as bringing refreshments to the first Crusaders at the Battle of Dorylaeum. They are known to have transported materials to weave the panels in a siege engine in 1099 at the Siege of Jerusalem. This I found fascinating. They washed clothing and picked lice out of body linen. By the fourth Crusade, women were entitled to a share of the booty. They ground corn and maintained markets. They tended to the wounded and the sick.

A Parisian woman called Hosenda tended Louis IX when he was ill from dysentery in 1250. It was dangerous too. If a woman was captured her captivity held a sexual slur which devalued them regarding ransom. A woman was valued at a third the price of a man. Power in the settlements was, however, often transferred through widows and heiresses. Aristocratic marriages were extremely important to Crusader settler society. They cemented political alliances between Latins from the West, the Levant, Greeks, Armenians and Syrians. Some women even became feudal lords thus contributing to the defence of the Holy Land and women who stayed behind acted as regents and organised financing the Crusaders.

The Hospitaller Palace Acre

As for Eleanor of Castile, nothing quite so amazing. She was a child bearer during her Crusade experience, pregnant for most of the campaign. It is thought she suffered a still birth early on; her daughter, Joan of Acre, was born on Crusade; her son Alfonso was born on the long journey home. It is unlikely Eleanor actually saw much of Acre where prostitution was rife, a city called ‘a sinful city and one filled with all uncleanness’ by Oliver of Poderborn. It is likely that after the excitement of their arrival, Acre soon palled on her accompanying noble women and their ladies. At least, Eleanor, a true blue-stocking, could find escape in her beautiful books and the lovely gardens of the Citadel of the Knights Hospitaller, a substantial building complex of five thousand square miles, three times that of the Tower of London, her home for the duration. To discover more do read my new novel The Damask Rose.

Many thanks to Carol McGrath for her wonderful insight and research into female crusaders.

To buy The Damask Rose: tinyurl.com/dk2att32

Look out for my review of The Damask Rose, which will go live in a few days…

Catch up on Carol’s blog tour so far – and follow the last few stops with the bloggers.

About the author:

Carol McGrath is the author of the acclaimed She-Wolves Trilogy, which began with the hugely successful The Silken Rose and continues with the brand new The Damask Rose. Born in Northern Ireland, she fell in love with historical fiction at a young age, when exploring local castles, such as Carrickfergus, and nearby archaeological digs – and discovering some ancient bones herself. While completing a degree in history, she became fascinated by the strong women who were silenced in record, and was inspired to start exploring their lives. Her first novel, The Handfasted Wife, was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards, and Mistress Cromwell was widely praised as a timely feminist retelling of Tudor court life. Her novels are known for their intricacy, depth of research and powerful stories.

For more news, exclusive content and competitions, sign up to Carol’s newsletter at: http://www.carolcmcgrath.co.uk

Follow her on Facebook: /CarolMcGrathAuthor1

And Twitter: @CarolMcGrath

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My books

Coming 31st May:

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 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 Colour of Evil by Toni Mount

Every Londoner has money worries. Talented artist and some-time sleuth, Seb Foxley, is no exception.

When fellow craftsmen with debts to pay are found dead in the most horrid circumstances, fears escalate. Only Seb can solve the puzzles that baffle the authorities.

Seb’s wayward elder brother, Jude, returns unannounced from Italy with a child-bride upon his arm. Shock turns to dismay when life becomes more complicated and troubles multiply.

From counterfeit coins to deadly darkness in London’s worst corners; mysterious thefts to attacks of murderous intent, Seb finds himself embroiled at every turn. With a royal commission to fulfil and heartache to resolve, can our hero win through against the odds?

Share Seb Foxley’s latest adventures in the filthy streets of medieval London, join in the Midsummer festivities and meet his fellow citizens, both the respectable and the villainous.

The Colour of Evil by Toni Mount is the 9th book in Toni’s marvellous Sebastian Foxley Medieval Mystery series. If you haven’t read any of these books yet, you are really missing a treat!

Toni Mount has a unique, engaging writing style. Her beautiful prose and clever use of language instantly transports you back to 15th century England. The story revolves around a series of murders linked to counterfeit coins, into which Seb Foxley is brought as a consultant by the local bailiff.

The eponymous hero of the story, Seb Foxley, is a wonderful, intelligent character, who is, perhaps, a little too straitlaced and naive for his own good. His brother is a little too worldly-wise and entitled, but much less self-aware than is good for a grown man – I wanted to punch him on a number of occasions (and I’m not a violent person). The Colour of Evil places these brothers at the heart of the story, highlighting their conflicts and rivalries as London is in the grip of a series of gruesome murders.

As the mystery deepens, the reader is absorbed into the sights, smells and story of London; the excitement, fear and mystery is palpable. The Colour of Evil is an absorbing thriller.

Over ale, Thaddeus told me of the man – the thief we had taken in possession of his ill-gotten gains.

‘His name is Philip Hartnell, a most respectable citizen and a cutler by craft. He said he was walking along Bladder Street, passed the house with its window wide to the pleasant evening air when he saw the candlesticks by the open casement. At a glance, he was quite certain they were the same ones he had bought his wife as a wedding gift ten years since. His wife has much fondness for the sticks, so he took them, thinking to please her.’

‘Had they been stolen away from him previously, then? Is that the way of it?’ I sipped my ale. Thaddeus did likewise afore continuing.

‘That was my first thought. I tell you, Seb, it took a deal of cajoling and probing to get the truth out of Philip Hartnell. The candlesticks weren’t stolen from him but he apparently gave his goodwife to think they had been taken. The truth is that Hartnell has fallen into debt. He took the candlesticks to a goldsmith and sold them to pay off a sizeable loan. When his wife found them gone, she was much upset – more so than Hartnell ever expected. Thus, he told her they had been stolen, rather than admit his actions and the fact that he was over the ears in debt to a moneylender.’

‘An unfortunate situation but how does that excuse his actions of yestereve?’

‘It doesn’t. Besides, the candlesticks he stole from the house in Bladder Street were never his. Similar in shape but not the same ones.’

‘He has no right to them, even had they been the same. He sold them and has had the profit from the sale. Hartnell is a thief and we caught hm. He deserves just punishment, does he not? I do not see any reason for your difficulties in this matter, Thaddeus.’

‘He had never had any dealings with the law before, Seb. He’s a respected member of the Cutlers’ Company and a churchwarden. He loves his wife and family, works hard and earns a good living.’

‘Not good enough, so it would seem, else why would he be in debt?’

‘A foolish mistake, he said though he withheld further details. I had the feeling another woman was involved. In every other respect, Hartnell is a decent citizen. I think he deserves a second chance.’

‘What of the house in Bladder Street? The folk he robbed? Not to mention all the neighbourhood having to rally to the hue-and-cry.’

‘The candlesticks were returned – dented, it’s true but Hartnell says he will pay for their repair. The householder is agreeable. Besides…’

Thaddeus drained his ale.

‘Besides?’

‘Philip Hartnell is not alone, Seb. He is the fourth… no, the fifth respectable citizen that has come to my notice, by one means or another, who has found himself in debt and unable to repay. There’s something going on in London, concerning underhanded financial dealings, and I don’t like the smell of it.

‘Watch your purse, my friend. Every one of them is of middling status like you. Outwardly decent and honest yet they find themselves in dire need, monetarily. I wouldn’t want that to happen to you.’

‘Fear not, I owe no man so much as a ha’penny. So you will let Hartnell go?’

‘Aye, I think so. Both Newgate and the Counter are overfull of vile inmates. Hartnell is not of their kind. They’d make a hearty supper of him on his first day inside.’

The Colour of Evil by Toni Mount paints a wonderful, full-colour image of London in the time of Edward IV. The streets, taverns, work places and dark alleys are brought to vivid, vibrant life by Toni Mount’s beautiful prose and fantastic imagination. The author’s research is impeccable, her knowledge of 15th century medieval England allowing the reader to sit back and be transported back in time. Toni Mount clearly demonstrates how the guilds, the law and money, works and how it was all an integral part of life in medieval London. She recreates the world of 500 years ago to give the reader not only a great story, but the experience of being amongst the people and places of the time.

The characters are wonderfully individuals, each with their own strengths and flaws – though some have mostly flaws and very few strengths. I always think the sign of a good book is when you find yourself frustrated with the actions of a favourite character – or wanting to punch one who seems thoughtless or heartless; or when you find yourself egging a character on – or wanting to shout ‘no, don’t go down there’. The Colour of Evil certainly takes you through all these emotions and more.

The Colour of Evil by Toni Mount is a beautifully crafted mystery that brings the dark, dangerous streets of medieval London to life. Toni Mount is a magician with words, weaving a captivating story in wonderful prose. The Colour of Evil is, to put it simply, a pleasure to read.

If you haven’t read a Seb Foxley book before, don’t worry, each book works as a standalone. Though I have to warn you – after reading one, you will want to read the rest!

To buy the Book: http://getbook.at/colour_of_evilhttp://mybook.to/Colour_Evil

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About the Author

Toni Mount earned her Master’s Degree by completing original research into a unique 15th-century medical manuscript. She is the author of several successful non-fiction books including the number one bestseller, Everyday Life in Medieval England, which reflects her detailed knowledge in the lives of ordinary people in the Middle Ages. Toni’s enthusiastic understanding of the period allows her to create accurate, atmospheric settings and realistic characters for her Sebastian Foxley medieval murder mysteries. Toni’s first career was as a scientist and this brings an extra dimension to her novels. It also led to her new biography of Sir Isaac Newton. She writes regularly for both The Richard III Society and The Tudor Society and is a major contributor of online courses to MedievalCourses.com. As well as writing, Toni teaches history to adults, coordinates a creative writing group and is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association.

You can find Toni at: Her website; Seb Foxley’s website; Seb Foxley’s Facebook page; Toni’s ‘Medieval England’ Facebook page; Toni Mount’s Facebook page; Toni Mount online courses.

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My books

Coming 31st May:

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 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 

Guest Post: The Root of all Evil by Toni Mount

Today it is a pleasure to welcome author and historian Toni Mount to the blog, as part of Toni’s blog tour for her fabulous new novel, The Colour of Evil, which is released on 25th March.

The Root of all Evil – Money to spend in Medieval London

Portrait of Sebastian Foxley by Dmitry Yakovsky @ Madeglobal Publishing

The theme in my latest novel in the The Colour of … series is money, whether earning it, owing it, forging it or even murdering because of it. Our hero, Seb Foxley, has to solve the mysteries, however he can. So I thought an article about medieval money might interest readers.

Silver penny of Henry II – note the cross-shape on the reverse so it could be cut accurately into halfpennies or farthings

From Anglo-Saxon times, England’s currency system was based on the penny which contained one pennyworth of silver. These were minted from high quality ‘sterling’ silver, so called because the earliest coins were known as steorlings or little stars; perhaps a star was part of the original design. By the time of William the Conqueror [1066-86] a pounds worth of starlings was accepted as well-respected money across Europe. However, not all Kings of England took care to keep constant the value of silver in a penny. Henry I’s reign was a particularly bad time for the coinage and in 1124 the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded that ‘pennies were so adulterated, a pound at market could not purchase twelve pence worth of anything’. Since 12 pence = 1 shilling and 20 shillings = £1, this meant a penny wasn’t worth one-twentieth of its original value back in 1066. The reign of King Stephen [1135-54] didn’t help as it was a period of almost constant civil war. In fact, things became worse because different factions set up their own mints and coins became mere tokens, often spendable only within the jurisdiction of a particular faction. Somebody had to sort out the mess.

Fortunately for the reputation of England’s monetary system, Henry Plantagenet became King Henry II in 1154 and from 1158 he issued an entirely new set of currency, asserting royal control over just thirty designated mints and restored not only the silver content of the pennies but confidence in English money. And this was a good time to do so because trade across Europe was changing from the barter system, when a dozen eggs could pay for a pair of shoes to be mended, or a day’s work might be repaid with a sack of flour, to the purchase of goods and services using money.

It was easier also to gather taxes and customs duties for the king in coin, rather than in kind, and Henry demanded efficiency in their collection. In fact, the system worked so well in England that when Henry’s son, Richard the Lionheart, was held to ransom in 1192 for the incredible sum of £100,000 [about $17.5 million today], most of it was gathered in England and paid in English pennies, despite Richard’s realm including much of France at the time.

Westminster Hall where the Trial of the Pyx were first held

Having put the monetary system in good order, the ‘Trial of the Pyx’ was invented to keep it that way and safeguard the value of new-minted coins. It is thought that this institution began in the twelfth century but in 1282 Edward I made it official and records have been kept ever since. Conducted like a public legal trial, twelve ‘discreet and lawful’ citizens of London and twelve members of the Goldsmiths’ Company sat as a jury to judge the legitimacy of the newly minted coins. Coin samples were taken from every minting and set aside for assay in secure chests called pyx – hence the name of the trial. It’s the same word used for the box in which consecrated bread is kept at Holy Communion, showing the significance of this procedure. For centuries they were stored in the Pyx Chamber in Westminster Abbey, along with other important items belonging to both state and church.

Early trials were held first in Westminster Hall and later in the Exchequer at Westminster, taking place annually. The jury was summoned by and the trial presided over by the King’s [or Queen’s] Remembrancer of the Royal Courts of Justice. The size, weight, silver purity and content of the coins were all examined and verified, the jury passing its verdict on the results. The trial was held at the beginning of the year on the previous year’s samples, allowing two months for the proceedings and a third month for the assayers’ testing and reports before the Remembrancer announced the result of the trial.1

The medieval monetary system of England was complicated, to say the least. As I write this, it’s fifty years since the decimalisation of our coinage in Britain [15th Feb 1971] and our own pre-decimalisation coinage was still based upon the medieval system: 12 pennies [12d] = 1 shilling; 20 shillings [20s] = £1 and, therefore 240 pennies = £1. It made accounting tricky and you had to know your 12 times table. But until 1489, there was no coin of the value of £1 and there were no shilling coins until 1504.

Richard III groat (1483-85)

In some ways, to the average carpenter, shoemaker and housewife, this didn’t matter very much because with a skilled man’s wages counted in pennies, the chance of him requiring, handling – or even seeing – a coin of denomination larger than a groat was slim indeed. A groat was a silver coin worth 4 pennies, the word ‘groat’ being a corruption of the French word gros, meaning large because, in 1279, when Edward I first issued it, it was the biggest coin in circulation. 3 groats = 1 shilling but even then a groat was engraved with a design to divide it exactly into four quarters so it could be reduced to 2 half-groats [worth 2d each] or even 4 equal pennyworths of silver. The round 1 penny coins [1d] were similarly engraved so they could be cut into 2 halfpennies and again into 4 farthings [originally ‘fourthings’]. England still used farthings as proper, circular coins, not cut-downs, into the 1950s. These were the coins of everyday use in medieval times.

But there were people who dealt in larger sums than pennies. A medieval merchant’s cargo of wine imported from Bordeaux was going to cost more than a few pence, as would the hire of the ship and the customs duties to be paid. Counting out hundreds of tiny coins, some of them wedge-shaped from being cut down, was a time-consuming business and time – as ever – was money. So it made sense to have some higher value coins in use for such transactions. Pounds and shillings, maybe? No. Nothing so simple as that. The account ledgers might show business conducted in pounds, shillings and pence but the coins changing hands bore little resemblence to what was noted down. A common amount used in both theoretical and practical accounting was the mark.

Edward IV gold angel, worth 6s 8d or half a mark
note the image of the Archangel Michael slaying the devil

The mark had been around since Anglo-Saxon times and had varied in value but, by the fifteenth century, a mark was worth 13s 4d. This may seem an arbitrary amount but is 160 pennies = two-thirds of £1. The half-mark [6s 8d, one-third of £1 or 80 pence] was an actual coin so that three half-marks equalled £1 in total comprised of just three coins that were so much easier to count and handle. There were even quarter-marks worth 3s 4d. This explains the frequent appearance of these values in medieval accounts ledgers. The half-mark was minted in gold and at various times was known as the noble, the rose-noble and the angel – this last after the image of St Michael the Archangel on the reverse. There was also a short-lived gold ryal [or royal] from 1465 worth 10 shillings.

Henry VII was not only determined to refill his empty coffers, by fair means or otherwise – his tax-gatherering methods were notorious – he wanted to be certain the actual coins were worth their face value, so one of the first things he did after becoming king was overhaul the coinage. Firstly, in 1489, he invented the £1 coin, called it a sovereign and had it minted in gold with his own image on the the obverse – a declaration that the Tudor king had arrived, if ever there was one.

The 10 shilling ryal and the 6s 8d angel were both reminted as silver coins, their previously gold counterparts having often been hoarded or melted down into cups, plates and jewellery. Pennies, half-groats [2d] and groats were all redesigned and their silver content assured, as well as the new silver shillings by 1504.

Henry VII gold sovereign worth £1

Readers may think that the writing of cheques cannot predate the banking system – the Bank of England was first set up in 1694, although Italian bankers go back centuries before that. Surprisingly, the first ‘cheques’ were invented by ordinary citizens and had nothing to do with banks. Rather, it had to do with keeping heavy valuables safe. In medieval times, people kept their assets in solid form, as gold plate, silver gilt candlesticks, fine goblets, jewellery and even expensive textiles and books. The crown jewels were frequently used as collateral to borrow money by kings in need of ready cash. A wary citizen would want his bulky treasures stored safely where thieves couldn’t help themselves and even the Royal Treasury at Westminster was looted on one occasion in the fourteenth century – the thieves were apprehended in the end but not all the swag was recovered. However, few folk had the facilities for storing their treasures. Important documents were sometimes locked in a chest at the parish church to which only the priest and the churchwarden had keys. But there wasn’t room for stacks of gold plate or suchlike. In London, the Goldsmiths’ Company kept their precious resources in their vaults underneath Goldsmiths’ Hall and were willing to rent out space to others to store their assets. This kept everything secure but what happened when, say, a wealthy merchant wished to use his set of gold plate to purchase a house from a rich widow? Instead of going to the goldsmiths, demanding his plates and then carrying the heavy weight across the city, risking robbery along the way, and handing them to the widow who would probably then have to arrange the plates’ return to the goldsmiths’ for safe-keeping, the cheque was invented. The cheque was simply a written document to inform the goldsmiths that the wealthy merchant’s gold plate stored in their vaults had now been transferred to the property of the rich widow. No physical effort, inconvenience or risks of loss were involved.

A cheque dated 16th February 1659
No medieval cheques are known to survive but would have looked similar, probably with a red wax seal, as here

In fact, bank notes, invented much later, were simply ready-written cheques made out for specific sums and, in theory at least, like the earlier cheques, could be used to redeem the valuables themselves. Today, Bank of England notes still say in very small print ‘I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of five pounds’, or whatever the value, signed on behalf of the Government and Company of the Bank of England by the bank’s Chief Cashier. I wonder what they’d do if I did present my fiver and demand the equivalent in silver or gold? Laugh themselves silly, probably.

Footnote:

1 For more information on the history and the conduct of the Trial of the Pyx in the 21st century see https://www.assayofficelondon.co.uk/about-us/trial-of-the-pyx

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Huge thanks to Toni for a fantastic article and good luck with the new book. To look back on the rest of the blog tour:

About ‘The Colour of Evil’:

Every Londoner has money worries. Seb Foxley, talented artist and some-time sleuth, is no exception but when fellow indebted craftsmen are found dead in the most horrible circumstances, fears escalate. Only Seb can solve the puzzles that baffle the authorities and help Bailiff Thaddeus Turner to track down and apprehend the villains.

When Seb’s wayward, elder brother, Jude, returns, unannounced, from Italy with a child-bride upon his arm, shock turns to dismay as life becomes more complicated and troubles multiply.

From counterfeit coins to deadly darkness in the worst corners of London, from mysterious thefts to attacks of murderous intent – Seb finds himself embroiled at every turn. With a royal commission to fulfil and heartache to resolve, can our hero win through against the odds?

Share Seb Foxley’s latest adventures in the filthy streets of medieval London, join in the Midsummer festivities and meet his fellow citizens, both the respectable and the villainous.

The Colour of Evil comes out on 25th March.

To buy the Book: http://getbook.at/colour_of_evilhttp://mybook.to/Colour_Evil

About the Author

Toni Mount earned her Master’s Degree by completing original research into a unique 15th-century medical manuscript. She is the author of several successful non-fiction books including the number one bestseller, Everyday Life in Medieval England, which reflects her detailed knowledge in the lives of ordinary people in the Middle Ages. Toni’s enthusiastic understanding of the period allows her to create accurate, atmospheric settings and realistic characters for her Sebastian Foxley medieval murder mysteries. Toni’s first career was as a scientist and this brings an extra dimension to her novels. It also led to her new biography of Sir Isaac Newton. She writes regularly for both The Richard III Society and The Tudor Society and is a major contributor of online courses to MedievalCourses.com. As well as writing, Toni teaches history to adults, coordinates a creative writing group and is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association.

http://www.tonimount.com (my website) http://www.sebastianfoxley.com (Seb’s own website) http://www.facebook.com/sebfoxley (Seb’s Facebook page) http://www.facebook.com/medievalengland (my ‘Medieval England’ Facebook page) http://www.facebook.com/toni.mount.10 (my general Facebook page) http://www.medievalcourses.com (seven of my history courses ‘online’ for download)

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My books

Coming 31st May:

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 will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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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: Masters of Rome by Gordon Doherty and Simon Turney

Their rivalry will change the world forever.

As competition for the imperial throne intensifies, Constantine and Maxentius realise their childhood friendship cannot last. Each man struggles to control their respective quadrant of empire, battered by currents of politics, religion and personal tragedy, threatened by barbarian forces and enemies within.

With their positions becoming at once stronger and more troubled, the strained threads of their friendship begin to unravel. Unfortunate words and misunderstandings finally sever their ties, leaving them as bitter opponents in the greatest game of all, with the throne of Rome the prize.

It is a matter that can only be settled by outright war…

Oh boy! What a story!

Last year I read a wonderful book by two of my favourite authors, Simon Turney and Gordon Doherty. Sons of Rome was a fabulous adventure looking at the early years of two future rival for the Roman imperial title, Maxentius and Constantine. Told from two viewpoints, each author had his own character: Turney was Maxentius and Doherty was Constantine. In Masters of Rome, they have continued the story and increased the pace, getting to the heart of the struggles and threats the two leading protagonists face.

Masters of Rome is a fascinating tale of the Roman Empire and the struggle between its various rulers and the factions they engendered. The politics are high drama, the manipulations of friends and advisers demonstrate the dangers of great power and politics; you cannot trust anyone! Friendships are stretched to the limits, though Maxentius and Constantine are reluctant to break that tenuous link, the inevitability of it, as both try to realise their ambitions, is a driving force in the book.

And then there are Maxentius and Constantine themselves. As a reader, you feel that you must pick a side. I thought I would be on Team Constantine, but then Maxentius did something notable and I wavered. The conflict in the pages causes a reciprocal conflict in the reader. The truth is, both emperors did things they should be proud of, and both made big mistakes. At the heart of this books is the truth about all men; they have their strengths and weaknesses. Each has noble traits, and each has his flaws. Ultimately, they are both likable characters, which is what makes their story so fascinating.

As a reader you are torn, between the two, just as Rome was.

The tension is relentless.

The drama is palpable.

Constantine

Land of the Seven Mountains, East of the Rhenus, 1st December 308 AD

The greatest affront happened at the imperial river city of Carnuntum. That day, in those marbled halls, the Lords of the Tetrarchy assumed they could strip me of my station. I had rebuffed their attempts and let them know in no uncertain terms that I was Constantine and I would remain Augustus of the west, heir to my father’s realm. A mere month had passed since that grand congress and my stubborn refusal. I must admit it had fired my pride to assert myself so and witness them gasping in ire. Yet what might those curs think were they to see me now: crouched in the musty ferns of a Germanian hillside nook like an outlaw, my bear pelt and black leather cuirass blending into the earthy hillside like my dirt-streaked face in the half-light of this sullen winter’s day?

A few shafts of watery sunlight penetrated the sea of freezing mist around me, illuminating the semi-frozen hillside: strewn with a frosty carpet of leaves, dotted with dark green spruce and skeletal brown larch. The valley floor below – the once clear path through these roughs – was carpeted with bracken. The cold gnawed on my skin and stung my nostrils, but not so much as to mask that ubiquitous musty stink of the Germanian woods. Hardy ravens cawed somewhere in the skies above the sea of mist, as if to remind me just how far I was from home, yet all down here was still and silent … eerily silent. Then the sudden, hollow drumming of an unseen woodpecker nearby sent an invisible lance of ice through my breast. With a puff of breath I cursed the winged menace, as if it were scouting for the enemy who had drawn me out here.

The Bructeri – one of the many tribes in the Frankish confederation – were on the move. Coming this way to cross the Rhenus and pour once more into Gaul… my realm. I only had myself to blame, for early last year I had put two of their many kings to death in Treverorum’s arena. Yes, it was in the name of vengeance that the tribes had mobilised. But now, of all times? Marching to war in the grip of winter? I seethed. And you wonder why we Romans call you barbarians!

I could not ignore the tribal threat, yet equally I could ill afford to be here. For back across the river and all over imperial lands, the hearsay and consequences of Carnuntum were already spreading like a plague. A chatter rose within my mind, each voice urgent and shrill, like hooks being dragged through my head, all demanding attention…

Masters of Rome is a tense, thrilling story charting the lives of two unique individuals, Maxentius and Constantine, both seeking to become the Roman Empire’s sole emperor. The triumph of this book – and indeed the series – is that each lead character has a unique voice, due to the fact each has his own writer. Simon Turney and Gordon Doherty work well together to give each emperor their own voice, viewpoint and story. It is a fascinating concept that could have gone very wrong, if not for the individual strength of the two authors. With Turney and Doherty, it works beautifully.

The research is impeccable and the depth of that research helps to recreate not only the buildings of Rome, but also the atmosphere of the Roman Empire, and the personalities of all those who touched the lives of Constantine and Maxentius, as well as the two protagonists themselves. Both Doherty’s and Turney’s unrivaled understanding of the Roman war machine helped to make Masters of Rome a riveting read.

If you have never read a novel about Rome, this series would be a good place to start. It draws you in, envelops you and involves you so deeply in the drama that you find yourself shouting at the book! Masters of Rome is a fabulous, absorbing read that you never want to end – but at the same time can’t read quick enough! The drama, the politics and the personalities all serve to make Masters of Rome a masterpiece of fiction.

It is, quite simply, a must-read.

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Pre-order link for Masters of Rome: Amazon: https://amzn.to/2ZpfUJC

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

Blog Tour Hashtag: #MastersofRome

About the Authors

Simon Turney is from Yorkshire and, having spent much of his childhood visiting historic sites, he fell in love with the Roman heritage of the region. His fascination with the ancient world snowballed from there with great interest in Rome, Egypt, Greece and Byzantium. His works include the Marius’ Mules and Praetorian series, as well as the Tales of the Empire series for Canelo and The Damned Emperor series for Orion. http://www.simonturney.com @SJATurney.

Follow Simon

Twitter: @SJATurney; Instagram: @simonturney_aka_sjaturney; Website: http://simonturney.com/

Gordon Doherty is a Scottish author, addicted to reading and writing historical fiction. Inspired by visits to the misty Roman ruins of Britain and the sun-baked antiquities of Turkey and Greece, Gordon has written tales of the later Roman Empire, Byzantium, Classical Greece and the Bronze Age. His works include the Legionary, Strategos and Empires of Bronze series, and the Assassin’s Creed tie-in novel Odyssey. http://www.gordondoherty.co.uk @GordonDoherty.

Follow Gordon

Twitter: @GordonDoherty Instagram: @gordon.doherty Website: https://www.gordondoherty.co.uk/

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My books

Coming 31st May:

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: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword Books.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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: All Manner of Things by Wendy J. Dunn

Winter, 1539: María de Salinas is dying. Too ill to travel, she writes a letter to her daughter Katherine, the young duchess of Suffolk. A letter telling of her life: a life intertwined with her friend and cousin Catalina of Aragon, the youngest child of Isabel of Castile. It is a letter to help her daughter understand the choices she has made in her life, beginning from the time she keeps her vow to Catalina to share her life of exile in England.

Friendship.

Betrayal.

Hatred.

Forgiveness.

Love wins out in the end.

All Manner of Things by Wendy J. Dunn is the second book in the Falling Pomegranate Seeds series, although it works perfectly well as a standalone. In fact, if you didn’t know it was part of a series, nothing in the pages would tell you. You do not feel as if you are missing part of the story, or need to read the first book in the series, The Duty of Daughters, to grasp what is going on. Which makes it eminently readable for everyone.

And what a fabulous book it is!

All Manner of Things follows the story of Infanta Catalina (Katherine of Aragon) from her journey to the English court to marry Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, to the Field of the Cloth of Gold of 1520, when Henry VIII met Francis I in a spectacular display of pageantry and might. The event also marked the introduction of Anne Boleyn to English affairs; Anne was still in the service of Queen Claude of France but returned to England soon afterwards.

The story tells of the pitifully short marriage of Catalina and Arthur, the lonely years following Arthur’s death, when Catalina was a hostage, in all but name, of the English king, Henry VII, and the early years of her marriage to King Henry VIII. Historically, it documents how the relationship between Henry and Catalina changed over time, how a promising marriage and love was soured by Henry’s frequent infidelities, Catalina’s miscarriages and the many lost infants that turned a loving relationship sour.

All Manner of Things by Wendy J. Dunn is told through the eyes of Maria de Salinas, Catalina’s closest friend and companion, though no fan of Henry VIII, which puts an interesting slant on the story and shows Henry in two lights: how he is adored by his wife, and how his wife’s friend sees him. It is an interesting dichotomy that works wonderfully in the novel and demonstrates the author’s deep understanding of the Tudor court and the personalities involved.

The overriding theme of this book is friendship and love; the sisterly love and friendship between Catalina (Katherine of Aragon) and her childhood friend and almost-constant companion, Maria de Salinas.

When Maria returned to the bedchamber, Catalina was awake and at her writing desk. She lifted her head, put aside her quill and smiled at her. “You have been gone for a while.”

“I have been talking to our companions.”

“Mm…” Catalina picked up her quill again, her attention returned to the parchment in front of her.

“Catalina – could you please listen to e for a moment?”

Catalina twisted around. “What is it?”

“I think it would be wiser if we are not alone so much. The other women are your companions too. They are unhappy. I do not believe it is simply due to this long journey.”

Catalina pursed her mouth. “Do you know what troubles them?”

“They are jealous.” Maria sighed.

“Jealous?” A frown so alike her mother’s knotted between Catalina’s thinned eyebrows.

Maria sighed again. “Of me. They are jealous of me.”

Catalina looked taken aback. “But you and I have always been together.”

Maria shrugged. “I think it would be wise to remember the queen’s advice not to have obvious favourites. Once we are in England, your companions will form your inner court within your court.”

“But I think of you as my sister,” Catalina said. “Even mother kept those she trusted close to her, your mother for one.”

“Si, and like my mother for your mother, I vow to serve you to the day of our death. But the other girls begin to worry me. They are scared too about the sea voyage and, like us, they are leaving behind everything they love for England. Pray, for my sake, let us eat with them and spend more time getting to know them. I think if you befriend them, really befriend them, they won’t be so jealous and cause mischief. I do not like their black looks.”

Having researched Maria’s story myself, Maria’s life at court, marriage and constant support for her friend and queen, it is obvious that Wendy J. Dunn has done her homework. In All Manner of Things, Wendy J. Dunn captures wonderfully not only the friendship between Catalina (Katherine of Aragon’s name in her native Castilian) and Maria, but also the complications that arise from life at the Tudor court, and a friendship with a queen.

Wendy J. Dunn expertly recreates the Tudor court, the glamour of the royal family and the drama associated with all aspects of their lives – and of the lives of those who serve them. The reader is drawn into the relationships, the intrigues and the underlying falsehoods that accompany any court, expertly contrasting the ‘show’ with the friendships and relationships behind the scenes, of the queen with her ladies. The glamour of court life itself reveals the contradictions, and the changing relationships as the characters grow and are affected by the challenges they face and the secrets they have to keep.

Wendy J. Dunn wonderfully combines the history and fiction to create a gripping drama, where you will find it hard to know where fact ends and fiction begins. The storytelling is first class!

Falling Pomegranate Seeds: All Manner of Things by Wendy J. Dunn is available from Amazon.

About the Author:

Wendy J. Dunn is an Australian author, playwright and poet who has been obsessed by Anne Boleyn and Tudor History since she was ten-years-old. She is the author of two Tudor novels: Dear Heart, How Like You This?, the winner of the 2003 Glyph Fiction Award and 2004 runner up in the Eric Hoffer Award for Commercial Fiction, and The Light in the Labyrinth, her first young adult novel.

While she continues to have a very close and spooky relationship with Sir Thomas Wyatt, the elder, serendipity of life now leaves her no longer wondering if she has been channeling Anne Boleyn and Sir Tom for years in her writing, but considering the possibility of ancestral memory. Her family tree reveals the intriguing fact that her ancestors – possibly over three generations – had purchased land from both the Boleyn and Wyatt families to build up their own holdings. It seems very likely Wendy’s ancestors knew the Wyatts and Boleyns personally.

Wendy tutors at Swinburne University in their Master of Arts (Writing) program.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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