Book Corner: Forest of Foes by Matthew Harffy

AD 652. Beobrand has been ordered to lead a group of pilgrims to the holy city of Rome. Chief among them is Wilfrid, a novice of the church with some surprisingly important connections. Taking only Cynan and some of his best men, Beobrand hopes to make the journey through Frankia quickly and return to Northumbria without delay, though the road is long and perilous.

But where Beobrand treads, menace is never far behind. The lands of the Merovingian kings are rife with intrigue. The queen of Frankia is unpopular and her ambitious schemes, though benevolent, have made her powerful enemies. Soon Wilfrid, and Beobrand, are caught up in sinister plots against the royal house.

After interrupting a brutal ambush in a forest, Beobrand and his trusted gesithas find their lives on the line. Dark forces will stop at nothing to seize control of the Frankish throne, and Beobrand is thrown into a deadly race for survival through foreign lands where he cannot be sure who is friend and who is foe.

The only certainty is that if he is to save his men, thwart the plots, and unmask his enemies, blood will flow.

He’s done it again!

Magnificent adventure!

Forest of Foes by Matthew Harffy is the author’s 12th book and the 9th instalment of his magnificent Bernicia Chronicles. Beobrand is once again journeying over the Narrow Sea into Frankia. This time he is on his way to Rome, escorting a novice monk on his pilgrimage. Unfortunately, as with all Beobrand’s adventures, things don’t quite go to plan…

Beobrand and his loyal gesiths first save the wife of Clovis II, Queen Balthild, from an ambush in the woods and is then drawn into the world of the Frankish court and the conspiracies and controversies that surround it.

“What is he saying?” Beobrand asked Halinard in a quiet voice. The woman’s eyes flicked to him as he spoke, her expression questioning, no doubt surprised by his use of the Anglisc tongue. Beobrand marvelled at her apparent lack of fear.

“He says he will kill her, if let him go we do not,” said Halinard, his words clumsy yet clear.

“I hardly need you to tell me that,” replied Beobrand.

“I tell you what he says,” said Halinard, shaking his head. “He says nothing interesting.”

Brocard spoke to the man in the same calming tone he had used before. The brigand shouted more loudly, his voice cracking with his anger and fear. Behind him the maidservant looked ready to swoon.

Beobrand stepped closer to Brocard, beckoning for Halinard to follow him.

“Ask him his name,” he said in a low voice. Halinard translated. Brocard looked askance at Beobrand, then, with a shrug, he spoke to the brigand.

“Omer,” replied the brigand, narrowing his eyes as though he expected a trick.

Beobrand nodded.

“Offer him a horse,” Beobrand said. Halinard whispered his words in Frankish.

Brocard hesitated. One of his men, the one with the great bleeding wound on his face, growled something. Brocard held up his hand for patience and offered Omer a steed.

Omer replied and Beobrand understood enough to know that he wanted two mounts, one for him and one for his hostage.

“No,” Beobrand said in Frankish. He held up a single finger. “One horse.”

Omer shook his head and began to shout. Beobrand could not make out all the words, but it was clear Omer was not happy with the answer. Beobrand watched the knife blade waver at the woman’s lovely throat. Omer must know that if he killed her, he would surely follow the woman to the afterlife in moments. And yet men under such pressure do not always act reasonably and Beobrand became increasingly worried that the brigand might yet cut her throat by accident.

“Tell him he can have two horses,” he said. Halinard translated for him. Omer again looked as though he suspected he was being lured into a trap. He spoke quickly, urgently, but Beobrand could barely make sense of any of it. He was pleased though, to see that some of the tension had left Omer’s shoulders. The knife had lowered slightly from the lady’s neck. Brocard spoke up in anger at Beobrand’s offer. But before Beobrand could respond, the lady being held hostage moved with the speed of a striking serpent and Omer’s speech came to a sudden, choked halt. For a couple of heart beats he stood there, unmoving and silent, mouth opening and closing without sound. Then his hand fell, the knife tumbling from lifeless fingers.

Matthew Harffy has written yet another cracking Beobrand adventure. Changing the location to France has opened up a world of opportunities, which includes integrating the remarkable story of Balthild, the slave girl who became queen of the Franks as the wife of Clovis II. It also see Beobrand facing new challenges, including that of language. Matthew Harffy could have made life so much easier for himself by having Beobrand pick up the language of the Franks easily, but it makes for a better story, and a more credible one, that he struggles like the rest of us. No one is perfect.

As has come to be expected from Matthew Harffy’s writing, the character development is paramount and it is interesting to see how Cynan continues to grow into the role of war leader and confidant. There is tragedy along the way and, as with any great story, a few surprises that will leave the reader reeling. But it all makes for a fabulous story.

Do not expect your emotions to escape unscathed.

Forest of Foes by Matthew Harffy is an adventure not to be missed!

About the author:

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

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

Pre-order link

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3U5eD43

Follow Matthew Harffy

Twitter: @MatthewHarffy

Instagram: @beobrand

Website: matthewharffy.com

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Twitter: @AriesFiction

Facebook: Aries Fiction

Website: http://www.headofzeus.com

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My Books:

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

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

Alternate Endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my take what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.

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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 FRHistS

Book Corner: The Pedlar’s Promise by Steven A. McKay

Medieval England, December

A pedlar has been sent to Wakefield with an unexpected and apparently quite valuable Christmas gift for John Little and his friend Will Scaflock. Unfortunately, the pedlar likes his ale a little too much and somehow gets lost and ends up in the wrong town. With no other work to do, or any strange mysteries to solve for a change, the pair of bored former outlaws decide to ride out and track down their gift. Of course, things don’t quite go as smoothly as hoped and they experience a series of hair-raising adventures on the snowy roads and villages of Yorkshire before their quest finally ends with a surprise…

Will our heroes ever find their quarry? What is the mysterious gift their friend Robert Stafford has sent to them from Brandesburton? And who the hell thought it was a good idea to go riding around northern England in the depths of winter searching for a drunk old pedlar?
Pour yourself a warm glass of wassail and settle in beside the fire to find out!

The Pedlar’s Promise continues the series of short winter stories including Friar Tuck and the Christmas Devil, Faces of Darkness, The House in the Marsh, and Sworn To God, and brings some much-needed cheer to the gloomy winter months.

It must be nearly Christmas because there’s a new novella out featuring Little John, Will Scarlet and Friar Tuck.

Steven A. McKay is becoming a master of the mystery thriller. The Pedlar’s Promise is yet another intriguing adventure involving the former outlaws Little John and Will Scarlet takes the reader on an entertaining, muddy journey through Yorkshire.

These novellas follow on from Steven’s The Forest Lord series, telling the story of Robin Hood. They provide a little insight into the adventures of Robin’s leading men – Little John, Tuck and Will – after their lives as outlaws come to an end. The three remain firm friends, reminisce about their time with Robin, and get into some interesting scrapes. The Pedlar’s Promise is one such mini-adventure, when Will and John go in search of an errant pedlar in the depths of winter.

Suddenly the door burst open, snow whirling into the room as a dark, hooded figure forced his way through the icy gale and into the ale house. Muttering, the newcomer shut out the gale, making sure the latch was firmly in place before stamping towards Alexander Gilbert, the purple-nosed owner of the alehouse, and demanding a drink.

Once furnished with an ale the stocky figure turned towards the hearth and grinned, seeing the two men framed by the flickering orange flames.

“Tuck!” John cried, and Will Scaflock laughed, gesturing for the friar to come and join them at their small circular table.

“God’s blood,” Tuck growled as he planted his hefty behind on the stool next to Little John. “It’s freezing out there.”

“Maybe,” the bailiff conceded. “But that just makes it all the more enjoyable to drink an ale or three in here, beside the fire and in the company of good friends, eh, Will?”

Scaflock hoisted his mug aloft, smiling, but Tuck just rolled his eyes and pulled the collar of his brown cassock tighter around his neck.

“Cheer up.” John laughed. “You’re just hungry.”

“How d’you know that?” Tuck demanded, wiping foam from his upper lip and eyeing the bailiff suspiciously.

“You’re always hungry,” John replied sardonically, gesturing for Alexander to bring them some of his fabled broth. That was always a favourite on a night such as this, even if the amount of actual meat and other ingredients in it varied depending on the year’s harvest. Providing ale and warm food was a sure way to cheer Friar Tuck, and the bailiff knew it.

The innkeeper soon bustled over, placing a bowl and some bread in front of Tuck, who happily accepted. “Thank you, Alexander,” he said, lifting the bread and dipping it into the thick, steaming liquid. “Did you get the gift I sent you from Brandesburton?” he asked, turning his attention back to his friends.

“What gift?” John asked with a frown.

As I say with every one of Steven A. McKay’s novellas, this book was too short. It’s not that the story was rushed or shallow. It’s just that, the story ends way too soon. I really do think Steven should write a full-length mystery with Will Scarlet and Little John. These novellas are tantalising but they always leave me wanting much, much more. (Are you listening Steven?)

Having said that, The Pedlar’s Promise is a perfect little read that you can get through in one or two sittings. The story is fast-flowing and draws the reader in from the very beginning, as I have come to expect from Steven A. McKay. His characters are consistent in their actions and it is like reading about the adventures of old friends. Where the previous two novellas, The House in the Marsh and Faces of Darkness were quite dark and broody, and had me hiding under the covers at various points, The Pedlar’s Promise has a different tone and can be quite light-hearted in places. And has a brilliant twist at the end!

I don’t want to tell you too much and ruin the experience, but The Pedlar’s Promise by Steven A. McKay is well worth a read!

I cannot recommend it highly enough!

To Buy the Book:

The Pedlar’s Promise is now available from Amazon.

From Steven A. McKay:

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

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

In 2021 the Xbox/Playstation/PC game HOOD: Outlaws and Legends was released, featuring my writing. I did the character backstories and the lore for the maps and collectables and it was such a fantastic experience!

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

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

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My Books:

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

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

Alternate Endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my take what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.

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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 FRHistS

Book Corner: Dark Waters Rising by Cassandra Clark

A storm is coming . . . Can nun sleuth Hildegard solve the murder of a lay sister before the rising flood waters trap her with a cunning killer?

Autumn, 1394. All is not well at Swyne Priory. Dissension has arisen amongst the nuns. The new novices whisper in corners, spreading malicious rumours and sharing dark secrets.

The Prioress gives Hildegard an order: search out the cause of this unrest, and put a stop to it. But before Hildegard can investigate, she’s forced to deal with a new problem: the arrival of a mysterious stranger in the middle of the night, claiming his life is in danger.

Hildegard isn’t sure whether to believe him, but when a body is discovered near the priory, she’s soon plunged into a dark and dangerous puzzle where nothing is as it seems. All she knows for certain is that a storm is coming, threatening to cut the priory off from the outside world and trap them with a killer . . .

Dark Waters Rising is the twelfth and final novel of Cassandra Clark’s fabulous series charting the adventure of her nun-turned-sleuth Hildegard of Meaux. Deep in the wilds of Yorkshire, amidst a storm that threatens to drown everything and everyone, Hildegard is thrown into yet another mystery when a court musician appears at the gates of her abbey, just as one of the abbey’s servants is viciously murdered. Coincidence?

Dark Waters Rising is set in the turbulent reign of King Richard II, when the king’s own relatives are always looking to their own advantage – to the detriment of the king and those who support him. It is a thrilling murder mystery, tinged with court intrigue, despite the distance between Yorkshire and London. The political connotations are never far from the minds of Hildegard and her colleagues. Hildegard has to consider the motives of the major players on the national stage, and of those closer to home if she is to uncover the murderer and keep her fellow nuns safe.

Cassandra Clark is the consummate story teller and draws the reader in from the very first pages, taking them on a journey of deceit and discovery as the tale unravels and the villains – and friends – are unmasked.

Hildegard took charge. ‘He’s going to wake the entire priory. Keep the beam in place.’

Speaking through the peephole she demanded, ‘Who’s there?’

From the lane a voice gasped something and Hildegard had to ask again. ‘Who is it? Declare yourself.’

‘I beg you – please, sister, for the love of God, let me in – I beg you, let me inside or I’m a dead man!

‘Your name, sir?’

‘Master Leonin, King’s musician, and I beg entry to your convent. Sister, I mean you no harm – I am alone. One man only. Help me!’

‘Are you armed?’

A pause followed.

Hildegard repeated the question. Eventually a hesitant voice replied, ‘Only with my one knife, for eating and practical purposes while travelling.’

‘That could mean anything, ‘ whispered Blanche the porteress.

Hildegard whispered back. ‘Fear not. I have my own knife, equally practical.’

She gave a glance towards several nuns who, roused from their beds, had crowded into the lodge. She noticed one or two looking as formidable as ever and decided to take a risk.

Peering back through the peephole she could just about discern a hooded figure move into view. Behind him was the short bridge over the moat and beyond that only the dense black of the thicket at the edge of the woods. Apart from this one fellow battering at the door there was no sign of anyone else, no band of cut-throats, nothing but the swish of rain and the gurgling in the gutters as it spewed down through the waste pipes.

She whispered to Blanche, ‘Go on. Open it slowly.’ She gave a last hurried glance outside before stepping back as the bar slid out, the door flew open, and the stranger fell inside.

He was clawing for breath and gasping, ‘I thank you with all my heart, dear sisters! Thank you, thank you!’

His hood fell back and they saw he had black hair plastered to his skull and a clean-shaven face washed by rain. Kneeling in the puddle he brought in he seemed incapable of rising to his feet. With hands clasped he lifted his face to them, eyes stark with something liker terror. He was no more than a boy, a very handsome, exotic-looking boy, wearing filthy but expensive velvet and worn-out embroidered Spanish-leather boots.

‘My blessed saviours – my dear angels of mercy,’ he whispered in a strange accent, then he astonished them all by leaning forward to kiss the flagstones in front of them.

‘Can you stand on your feet, young fellow?’ Hildegard demanded. ‘Come, get up. You’re safe from whatever threatens you outside our precinct.’

‘A moment.’ He was gasping for air. With what seemed like fear, head bent over his clasped hands as a prayer issued from his lips, he broke off with a sob then took another gulping breath before slowly subsiding to the floor in a dead faint.

In Dark Waters Rising Cassandra Clark evokes an atmosphere of desolation and isolation within a storm-swept Yorkshire of the 14th century. Her knowledge of the landscape and its people adds to the authenticity of the story and the history. All is intricately woven into the story to draw the reader into the world of late 14th century England – and the intrigues that abounded.

The reign of Richard II is woefully underrepresented in fiction and non-fiction alike, so it is refreshing to see an entire series of stories set in the period. It s even more refreshing to see them sympathetic to Richard II, rather than championing the Lancastrian cause of Henry of Bolingbroke, the future King Henry IV.

I like Hildegard. She is a no-nonsense, practical nun who just gets on with things. You can imagine that she is the one everyone goes to for advice. The sensible one. Cassandra Clark manages to include a wide range of diverse and individual characters, both in the religious houses and those around them, creating a rich tapestry of personalities for this medieval tale.

If you haven’t met Hildegard of Meaux, yet, I suggest you acquaint yourself with this amazing series.

Beautifully written and expertly told, the story and plot reveals itself gradually, building to the inevitable climax, and the ending of a fabulous series of stories.

Hildegard of Meaux will be sorely missed!

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To Buy the Book:

Dark Waters Rising by Cassandra Clark is now available from Amazon.

About the author:

Cassandra Clark is an award-winning scriptwriter for theatre, radio and television, and the author of nine previous novels in the Hildegard of Meaux medieval mystery series. Running wild near the ruins of the Abbey of Meaux in the East Riding as a child became her inspiration for the series while the discovery in a dusty archive of the Chronicle of Meaux written in 1395 is the secret source for her research.

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My Books:

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

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword Books, Amazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

Alternate Endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my take what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.

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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.

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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly, FRHistS

Book Corner: Her Castilian Heart by Anna Belfrage

Blood is not always thicker than water…

At times a common bloodline is something of a curse—or so Robert FitzStephan discovers when he realises his half-brother, Eustace de Lamont, wants to kill him.  

A murderous and greedy brother isn’t Robert’s only challenge.  He and his wife, Noor, also have to handle their infected relationship with a mightily displeased Queen Eleanor—all because of their mysterious little foundling whom they refuse to abandon or allow the queen to lock away.

Eustace is persistent. When Robert’s life hangs in the balance, it falls to Noor to do whatever it takes to rip them free from the toothy jaws of fate. Noor may be a woman, but weak she is not, and in her chest beats a heart as brave and ferocious as that of a lioness. But will her courage be enough to see them safe?

Her Castilian Heart by Anna Belfrage is yet another fast-paced adventure that is impossible to put down. I read it in 3 days!

Her Castilian Heart is the third in the series, set in the reign of Edward I, which follows Robert FitzStephan, an illegitimate son of a lord who has risen on his own merit to become a knight and landowner. He is married to the incomparable Noor, a relative of the queen, Eleanor of Castile. After being exiled to Spain for a short period, Noor and Robert are back in England, facing the anger and suspicions of the queen, and the jealousy of Robert’s brother.

As ever, Anna Belfrage has woven a tale of love, betrayal and intrigue that will leave the reader absorbed from beginning to end. Set with the backdrop of border skirmishes with Wales and the queen’s failing health, Noor and Robert are once again forced to negotiate the English court and its rivalries, intrigues and jealousies.

At present, she did not look much like a mother or wife: her hair had escaped its braid and the confines of the veil, long dark locks floating round her face. There was a smudge of something on her nose – ointment, he’s hazard, given the fragrance – and her brown skirts were covered with straw. He reached over and stroked her cheek with his maimed hand. She leaned into his touch, half closing her eyes.

‘Why is he here?’ she asked, moving close enough that she could stand on her toes and kiss his cheek.

‘Why?’ To drag me along to Wales.’

‘Now?’ She frowned. ‘This time of the year?’

‘I’ve campaigned during the winter before.’ He tapped her nose. ‘I’ll survive.’

She paled, and he regretted his choice of words.

‘It is a scouting expedition.’ he said. ‘We will keep to the shadows.’ He did not quite believe that. The moment Rhys of Maredudd had decided to raise the banners of rebellion yet again instead of disappearing into a hole somewhere, he’d effectively unleashed the vindictive rage of the English king. There’d be little scouting, more killing, as they encircled the rebel.

She snorted. ‘Mortimer is about as adept at staying in the shadows as I am at swimming.’

As his wife did not know how to swim, that was not an accolade. But it made him smile. He shook his head at her. ‘Roger is quite skilled at melting into the background when it suits him.’

‘Hmph! Then he can go himself.’

‘The king requires I accompany him.’ And as the king’s knight, Robert could not deny him.

‘The king is here? In England?’

He heard the quaver in her voice. Once the king and queen were back, there would be no putting off the audience with the queen, and they both feared Queen Eleanor’s reaction to the fact that they’d returned without that jewel she so desired. Or abandoning their foster son in foreign lands as instructed, but hopefully she’d never find that out. Upon returning home, Robert had sent an extensive account of their time abroad to the king, and despite being home for a year, he’d not heard from his liege until now, and then only indirectly via Roger Mortimer.

‘He remains in Gascony.’

Anna Belfrage’s storytelling is second-to-none and her research impeccable. She transports the reader to the court of Edward I, to the Europe of the 13th century. Meticulously recreating the sights, sounds and smells of the era, Anna rebuilds a lost world and immerses the reader entirely within its confines.

Her characters are full of life and vigour, having an energy of their own. They are not untouched by events, and grow and mature through their experiences. Neither Noor nor Robert forget the past and this informs their future. Anna Belfrage has created a hero and heroine that the reader can relate to, and empathise with.

Her Castilian Heart by Anna Belfrage will leave the reader breathless!

Anna Belfrage is a wonderful storyteller. She draws you into the book from the very first page, takes hold of your emotions, twists them around, puts them through the ringer and then – maybe – gives them back to you, battered, bruised and in tears. And you’ll want to go back for more! What an incredible experience!

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To buy the book:

Her Castilian Heart is available now from: http://myBook.to/HEART

About the author:

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. No luck there, so instead she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests; history and writing. These days, Anna combines an exciting day-job with a large family and her writing endeavours. Plus she always finds the time to try out new recipes, chase down obscure rose bushes and initiate a home renovation scheme or two.

Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga , set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy.

Anna has also published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients. Her September 2020 release, His Castilian Hawk is a story of loyalty and love set against the complications of Edward I’s invasion of Wales in the late 13th century.

Her most recent release, The Whirlpools of Time , is a time travel romance set against the backdrop of brewing rebellion in the Scottish highlands.

All of Anna’s books have been awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion, she has several Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choices, and one of her books won the HNS Indie Award in 2015. She is also the proud recipient of several Reader’s Favorite medals as well as having won various Gold, Silver and Bronze Coffee Pot Book Club awards.

Find out more about Anna, her books and enjoy her eclectic historical blog on her website, www.annabelfrage.com 

Social Media Links:

Website: www.annabelfrage.com; Amazon Author Page: http://Author.to/ABG; Twitter: https://twitter.com/abelfrageauthor; Book Bub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/anna-belfrage; Instagram: https://instagram.com/annabelfrageauthor; Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/annabelfrageauthor; Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6449528.Anna_Belfrage

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My Books:

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

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

Alternate Endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my take what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.

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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.

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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly, FRHistS

Book Corner: Wrath of the Picts by Steven A McKay

Princess Catia has gone missing and once again it falls to the legendary druid, Bellicus, to find her. Was the child taken by force, or did she go willingly with the Pictish warrior-woman, Aife?

Their trail leads far north to the windswept fortress of Dunnottar, so the druid must journey there with his companions, Duro, Eburus, and the fearsome wardog, Cai. Leaving Dun Breatann in the hands of Queen Narina and her enigmatic new husband, Ysfael, the friends ride out, but things are never as straightforward as they seem…
Violence and death follow Bellicus as he seeks to discover the fate of the princess. In doing so, he also finds himself on the trail of the swordsman, Lancelot, who disappeared months before when his warband was slaughtered by Saxons. Will the druid be in time to save them both? Or will their enemies, old and new,earn the bloody vengeance and glory they so desperately desire?
Ambition, lust, grief, and the power of the old gods combine in Wrath of the Picts as the druid and his companions are thrust towards a shocking finale that will leave Dun Breatann in turmoil and Northern Britain ravaged again by war.

Bellicus is back!

Wrath of the Picts is book no. 5 in Steven A. McKay’s magnificent series, Warrior Druid of Britain. Having spent some time campaigning with Arthur against the Saxons, Bellicus is called back north after Princess Catia goes missing, supposedly kidnapped by the warrior princess, Aife. But all is not as it seems…

Steven A. McKay once again draws his reader into a story chock full of adventure, treachery and a good few battles as Bellicus tries to make sense of events. It also a story of trust, friendship and loyalty that sees Bellicus and his good friends, Duro and Eburus, risking their lives in order to save the princess and discover the truth behind the uneasy atmosphere of his fortress home, Dun Breatann.

This is a story not to be missed.

“Where are all the Damnonii warriors?” Duro asked in a low voice. It was evening and Bellicus had joined them at last in the great hall. The cooking fires kept the chill of approaching autumn at bay and the homely orange glow would have made for a much more pleasant atmosphere if they weren’t surrounded by Ysfael’s men.

“Some of them are guarding the walls – you just haven’t seen them yet,” Bellicus replied, happily digging into the thick stew a serving girl had placed before him: beef, carrot, cabbage, onion and parsley had all gone into it and the druid couldn’t remember ever tasting, or smelling, much better. “The rest went out to deal with some Dalriadan raiders a few days ago. I expect they’ll return soon enough.”

Duro shook his head almost imperceptibly, glancing around as if spies were eavesdropping although, in truth, the Votadini warriors eating and carousing around them were making more than enough noise to mask what the centurion was saying. None of Ysfael’s men were paying them much attention other than to throw them the occasional curious glance. “It’s not right,” Duro opined. “Narina shouldn’t have let Gavo take her men off, leaving her alone with these … outsiders.”

Bellicus shrugged. He agreed completely, but Narina was her own woman and did things her way. She clearly trusted Ysfael.

Just then the door opened and Bellicus smiled, jerking his head for Duro to look over his shoulder for he was sitting with his back to the entrance. “What were you saying about Gavo?”

The centurion glanced back, mouth open as he chewed a piece of meat, and broke into a smile as he saw the Damnonii guard captain coming towards them. A bear of a man, Gavo had long hair and a grizzled beard which were both turning from brown to grey now that he was in his fortieth year. He wore reed checked trousers, a loose fitting blue tunic, and a bronze torc around his neck which marked his high rank, although it was obvious from his bearing he was a man used to command.

“Are you still here?” Gavo said, taking a seat beside Eburus and eyeing him with clear surprise. “I thought you’d have joined your kinsmen at the other benches.”
The Votadini shrugged, and said in his heavily accented tones, “These are my friends. I’m used to their company now. Ysfael will no doubt order me to join his ranks again soon enough, but until then I’lll sit with who I choose.”

“See?” Duro hissed. “Even he doesn’t trust the Votadini, and he’s one of them!”

The Warrior Druid of Britain series is set in the time after the Romans have left and the Saxon tribes are beginning to settle in England, causing conflict with the native Britons. The great warlord, Arthur, is attempting to hold them back. In the north, in Scotland, Bellicus is druid to the Damnoni tribe, but has been spending time fighting alongside Arthur. With Catia’s disappearance, he has been called home to lead the search for the lost princess. Set in the twilight of the Roman Empire and before the creation of the kingdoms of England and Scotland, Steve A. McKay has recreated the time that is often called the Dark Ages. His vivid imagination and impeccable research brings the period to life for the reader. The ancient landscapes, authentic weapons and tactics, all the way down to the textiles, halls and food, help to draw the reader into the story and allow them to suspend belief and travel back to a simpler, but more vicious time.

Steven A. McKay’s great skill is in the characters he creates. He makes the reader care about their stories and about their fate. Bellicus is a tall, likeable druid with an intelligent mind and a great aptitude for fighting and tactics. He has his weaknesses though, and a soft spot for the princess Catia and her mother, Narina. This gives the character a vulnerability that in turn leaves the reader wondering if he can see the big picture, and if he will succeed in his mission. Alongside his great friend, Duro, the heroes are tasked with saving the day, but not without great personal cost. And I love that Lancelot gets to play a part in Wrath of the Picts, away from teh Arthurian legend and forging his own path.

Wrath of the Picts draws thew reader in from the first page and keeps you hooked until the very last. Steven A McKay is such a skillful storyteller that you cannot wait for the book to finish – and yet, dread getting to the end. Whether it is the first book in the series, or the fifth, the stories are always fresh, new and engaging.

And Wrath of the Picts is just a fabulous adventure!

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To buy the book:

Wrath of the Picts by Steven A. McKay is now available from Amazon

About the Author:

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

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

In 2021 the Xbox/Playstation/PC game HOOD: Outlaws and Legends was released, featuring my writing. I did the character backstories and the lore for the maps and collectables and it was such a fantastic experience!

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

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

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My Books:

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

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

Alternate Endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my take what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.

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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.

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS

Long Live the King….

What would have happened if King John had not died in October 1216…?

Would England have been lost?

Find out in ‘Long Live the King…

I have finally done it!

I’ve written a fictional short story, and it’s out this week.

Alternate Endings is a compilation of short stories published by the Historical Writers Forum. I wasn’t sure about trying my hand at fiction, but there are so many What ifs in history that it was hard to resist. Having spent the last two years writing Nicholaa de la Haye’s biography – which will be published in May 2023, I thought it would be quite fun to take one event in Nicholaa’s life and see what might change if that event didn’t happen.

Nicholaa’s greatest benefactor and – dare I say? – friend was King John. He had been an ally since at least the early 1190s, but his death on the night of 18/19 October 1216 was a godsend for England. John’s reign had been plagued by unrest, civil war and the paranoia of the king himself. He had murdered his nephew, Arthur, starved Matilda de Braose to death in a dungeon and stolen the lands of those he was meant to protect. His reputation for underhand dealing, seducing the daughters of nobles and reneging on Magna Carta has seen him go down in history as Bad King John. He is a strong candidate for England’s worst ever king.

It has often been said that John’s death saved England.

I have to admit, I have a soft spot for King John. Not because he was such a warm, cuddly human being – he really wasn’t! But because his reign was full of so much drama. It was a time of transition, when England was losing its continental positions, when the barons were flexing their muscles and when the relationship between king and baron was in flux.

It is a fascinating period of history. So, when I was asked if I wanted to write a short story, I immediately thought of King John, of Nicholaa de la Haye and the upheaval that was Magna Carta and the First Barons’ War. Nicholaa’s involvement culminated in her defending Lincoln Castle through a prolonged siege that ended with the Second Battle of Lincoln. And I wondered… Would events have played out as they did if John had lived?

So… what would have happened if he had survived his illness in October 1216.

Well, you will have to wait and see…

But here’s a teaser….

Newark Castle

28 October 1216

John opened his eyes to a black, empty void.

   Is this it? Is this Hell?

   Has death finally claimed me?

He had been hovering on the brink for so long now. For exactly how long, he did not know. He could barely remember anything beyond the excruciating pain in his gut and head. Lying there in the dark, John took a mental inventory of his body. His head felt clearer than it had in days. The feeling that it was held in a vice had gone, replaced by a dull ache. The stabbing pains in his abdomen had also receded and now there was just a gentle throbbing.

  This could be death…

A groan slipped from between his lips. There was movement, the striking of flint and suddenly a flash of light. The candle’s flame illuminated the features of William Marshal. The Marshal leaned in to examine him, then turned to a lad curled up on bedding in the far corner, just lifting his head, looking groggy from sleep.

‘Godfrey, fetch the doctor. The king is awake.’ Marshal ordered.

‘He’s awake? He’s alive?’ asked a voice from the dark. It was heavily accented. Italian. Cardinal Guala, the papal legate.

‘Aye, your grace, he’s awake. At last!’ Marshal replied.

‘Praise be!’ exclaimed Guala, approaching the bed.

John tried to speak, but barely a croak came out. His mouth was so dry. Marshal signalled Guala to aid the king from the far side of the bed and between them, they lifted John and adjusted his pillows so that he was sitting up. He felt as useless as a new-born baby, he had not the strength to resist, even if he wanted to. Marshal turned to the table beside the bed and poured out a cup of water from the pewter jug. He held the cup to John’s lips, so that he could take a long, thirst-quenching draught. Nothing had ever tasted so wonderful!

John sank back into the pillows, exhausted, as the door opened and his physician entered, striding over to the bed.

I don’t want to give anything away, but the biggest challenge was to consider whether John’s survival would be a blessing or curse for England. And at least William Marshal and Nicholaa de la Haye are there to steady the boat – what could possibly go wrong?

About the book:

We all know the past is the past, but what if you could change history?

We asked eight historical authors to set aside the facts and rewrite the history they love. The results couldn’t be more tantalizing.

  • What if Julius Caesar never conquered Gaul?
  • What if Arthur Tudor lived and his little brother never became King Henry VIII?
  • What if Abigail Adams persuaded the Continental Congress in 1776 to give women the right to vote and to own property?

Dive in to our collection of eight short stories as we explore the alternate endings of events set in ancient Rome, Britain, the United States, and France.

An anthology of the Historical Writers Forum.

Alternate Endings is now available worldwide from Amazon.

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My Books:

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

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS.

Book Corner: Diamond Hunter by Paul Fraser Collard

South Africa, 1871. Jack Lark no longer walks alone. With the worldly Anna Baker by his side, he travels to the Cape Colony diamond fields determined to seek their fortune – and an adventurous new life together.

The journey north soon turns violent as tensions erupt between other hopeful diggers and a gang of Boer men. Everyone has their eye on the same elusive prize – and some will stop at nothing to get it.

For Jack and Anna, unearthing a diamond is only half the battle. Getting out of the mines alive will prove far more difficult – and dangerous. And when the worst happens, Jack finds himself tested as no enemy, no man and no war has ever before.

Diamond Hunter by Paul Fraser Collard is the 11th book in the fabulous Jack Lark series. Jack Lark has made a career of being an imposter, finding his home and employment in the various wars of the 19th century. But what do you do when the guns fall silent? In the last book, Commander, Jack had followed the many adventurers of his era and joined an expedition to explore the River Nile. In Diamond Hunter he stays in Africa, but turns his hand to entirely different profession, though one that can be just as brutal and cut-throat as war.

In the opening pages of Diamond Hunter, we find Jack Lark content, with a woman who is his equal in every way, and with enough money to help him on to his next adventure. However, his constant search of adventure is still bubbling beneath the surface and he is now in southern Africa, ready to stake everything in the search for fortune, or at least a diamond big enough to see him comfortable, for now.

However, for Jack Lark, nothing is ever easy. The journey is always fraught with danger and trouble does seem to find him out! And I do wonder what Jack ever did for Paul Fraser Collard to give him such a hard time? Poor bloke. He really goes through it this time.

‘Shit.’ Jack gently moved Anna’s arm away, pushing himself to his feet with a groan as the action set off the pain in his spine, the persistent backache so much worse after hours of walking and periods riding in the jarring wagon. but it was not enough to stop him straightening up, then offering a hand to Anna to help her up too. It never occurred to him to leave her behind.

‘They’ve been drinking.’ She brushed down the seat of her trousers.

‘Probably. Ready?’ He gave her a moment to prepare.

She sucked down a deep breath. ‘Ready.’

Jack did not wait for more. The voices were getting louder. Whoever had been angered was making one hell of a fuss.

It took them no more than a dozen paces to round the wagon and see what was going on. The four Boers were squared up, facing three of the Cape colonists. The fourth was lying on his back, blood smothering his face like a mask.

‘What the hell is happening?’ Jack shouted as he came closer. It was not his fight, but it was his future that would be thrown into jeopardy if something happened to force JW to turn around. He would not allow that to happen.

‘Keep out of it.’ One of the colonists turned to snap at him.

It did not deter him, and he came closer, Anna just behind him. He could see Clarke and Goodfellow lurking on the far side of the wagon, watching what was going on while making sure they kept a safe distance from the fracas. JW and Fred were standing by as if readying themselves to pick up the pieces of whatever occurred, while JW’s wife was sitting at a campfire a good dozen yards away, her face set in a cherubic smile as she stared at the flames, seemingly blithely unaware of what was going on.

As Jack approached, the colonist who had been knocked to the ground slowly got to his feet, his hand lifting to smear the blood from his face.

Paul Fraser Collard is a fabulous storyteller. He transports not only his characters, but also his readers, to the most exotic and dangerous parts of the world of the nineteenth century. In Diamond Hunter he recrates the gritty, muddy and miserable landscape of the South African diamond fields. Honestly, you can practically taste the dust in your mouth!

Jack Lark is one of the best character developments in modern literature. In Diamond Hunter, he is finally comfortable in his own skin. Though that doesn’t mean his problems are over. He accepts who and what he is, but for Jack Lark, that will always mean facing trouble head on – it is one of his most endearing qualities! Jack is more affected by people and events than he likes to believe. He can’t help but help, which always leads him into trouble.

Diamond Hunter is gritty, harsh and sometimes hard to read. It also enjoyable, engrossing and absolutely fabulous. Diamond Hunter is a book you will not want to put down. A totally immersive and absorbing adventure, it leaves the reader as physically and emotionally drained as it does Jack Lark. I think it may be the best adventure yet.

To Buy the book:

Diamond Hunter by Paul Fraser Collard is now available from Amazon.

About the author:

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

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My Books:

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

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS.

Book Corner: Lord of the Eyrie by Katerina Dunne

Love, War, and the Price of Loyalty

Transylvania, Kingdom of Hungary, 1440:

Finally home after five years away, warrior-nobleman Sándor Szilágyi is met by a dying father, a resentful younger brother, his child-bride all grown up and the family estate raided by the Ottomans. As he struggles to adjust to life as a landlord, Sándor’s authority is challenged by two strong-minded and fearless women: Margit, his faithful and righteous wife, determined to keep him on the straight and narrow; and Anna, his sister-in-law, a scheming temptress bent on ruining him in order to take his land.

After committing a mortal sin and desperate to win back the woman he loves, Sándor seeks absolution by accepting his overlord’s summons to fight the Ottomans. But his obsession with war will lead him down a perilous path.

Loyalties are tested, danger lurks around every corner, and Sándor’s struggle to balance his duty to protect his land and family from his relatives’ greedy hands, as well as his duty to defend his country on the battlefield, will come at a terrible cost.

Lord of the Eyrie by Katerina Dunne is a fabulous adventure set in medieval Hungary. It has all the ingredients for an exciting novel; love, betrayal, war and family disharmony. And it all combines to create a memorable story that will have the reader on the edge of their seat throughout.

I have to admit, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book set in Hungary before, so this was a refreshing change for me. Of course, it is still set in medieval times, so the weaponry, tactics and societal laws were still very familiar. I wasn’t familiar with Hungary’s role in medieval Europe, nor in her battles against the outside forces eager to trespass into the country’s vast landscape. Reading Lord of the Eyrie was as much an adventure for me as the story was for the characters involved. And it was a wonderful adventure.

Katerina Dunne has woven a beautiful story, built on remarkable characters and a lead protagonist for whom honour and duty is second nature. The story is fast-paced and entirely unpredictable, with many twists and turns that leave the reader shouting at the book when a character is being naive, or crying when tragedy strikes.

Margit’s keys and gilded prayer book jingled as she hurried back from church along the colonnaded portico of the great hall. The morning mass always felt too long to her, and she was looking forward to breaking her fast. But that would have to wait. Lajos Kendi stood at the entrance to the keep. His flushed and sweaty face, dishevelled eyebrows and raspy breath indicated that something was amiss.

He took his hat off and bowed to her. “I’ve bad news, my lady. I must speak with your husband, but I can’t find him anywhere. Was he in church with you? Is he still in the chapel?”

“No. I have not seen him.” Margit pondered. “Perhaps he is in the armoury building, practising with the soldiers. Let us go and look for him.”

She sent her maid to the house to supervise the preparation of the breakfast table and followed Kendi to the exercise hall. Their arrival did not alert the soldiers and knights for the thick layer of hay on the floor muffled their footsteps.

In the middle of the hall, Sándor, venturing to teach his brother how to defend himself with a sword and shield against multiple attackers, was engaging in a fight against not one, but three opponents.

He was wearing only his joined hose and a shirt, unlaced at the front and with the sleeves rolled up. Despite his height, he moved with the nimbleness of a lynx, shouting instructions at his training partners and showing off his combat skills and physical strength.

Margit’s jaw dropped. Her pulse quickened, and her breath became short and shallow. How could she forget that women were not allowed in the training hall? As it was a warm day, her husband was not the only one who had stripped down to his undergarments. Although the men did not seem troubled by her presence, she flushed and dropped her gaze to the floor.

“My lord!” Lajos called out.

Sándor stopped, and so did the soldiers. He tossed down the wooden sword and shield and approached Kendi and Margit. “Whats’ the matter?”

Kendi glanced about to make sure that no one was listening. He spoke in a whisper. “We’ve a problem at the mine.”

Lord of the Eyrie is set in medieval Hungary, a land which Katerina Dunne recreates in astonishing detail. The landscape, the settlements, castles and people help to draw the reader into the story. Hungary is a land rich in resources but beset by enemies, both within and without, and the hero, Sándor, must navigate not only national politics, international enemies but also his own family tensions. It is a wonderful, rich and absorbing story.

Lord of the Eyrie is a thoroughly entertaining read, one that will keep you gripped to the very end. You will find yourself invested in the characters, in tears at times and hesitant to read on when disaster strikes. But you cannot let go!

Lord of the Eyrie will take you through the full range of emotions.

The family drama, the battle scenes and the intricately woven plotlines all serve to keep the reader wanting more. It was an absolute pleasure to read.

I do hope there is a book 2!

To buy the book:

Lord of the Eyrie by Katerina Dunne is now available on Amazon.

About the author:

Katerina Dunne is the pen-name of Katerina Vavoulidou. Originally from Athens, Greece, Katerina has been living in Ireland since 1999. She has a degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Athens, an MA in Film Studies from University College Dublin and an MPhil in Medieval History from Trinity College Dublin. While she used to write short stories for family and friends in her teenage years, she only took up writing seriously in 2016-17, when she started work on her first novel.

Katerina’s day job is in financial services, but in her free time she enjoys reading historical fiction and watching historically-themed movies and TV series. She is passionate about history, especially medieval history, and her main area of interest is 13th to 15th century Hungary. Although the main characters of her stories are fictional, Katerina uses real events and personalities as part of her narrative in order to bring to life the fascinating history of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary, a location and time period not so well-known to English-speaking readers.

For any comments or further information, you can contact Katerina by email: katerinadunnewriter@gmail.com

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My Books:

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

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Guest Post: First Impressions and their Consequences by Anna Belfrage

It is always a pleasure to welcome my good friend and fellow author, Anna Belfrage, to History…the Interesting Bits. Anna’s fabulous new Castilian Saga is a pleasure to read – and I will be posting a review of the latest instalment, Her Castilian Heart, shortly. But, for now, Anna is here to tell us about how she met the hero and the story that developed…

First impressions and their consequences.

The first time I met Robert FitzStephan, he had his arms full of apple blossom.

“Sorry,” he said, squeezing by me on the narrow stairs, “I have a wife to make amends to.” And off he went, leaving me in the damp gloom with a flaring torch the only source of light. I suppose this is when I should clarify that this was not an IRL (in real life) meeting: no, all of this happened in my roomy brain, an ever-expanding universe in which my characters pop up out of nowhere, demanding I tell their stories.

Robert FitzStepahn left an impression of light eyes and a HUGE nose and. . .

“Not that huge,” he protests, setting a finger to the rather impressive protuberance.

“No, it isn’t,” his wife, Noor says (apparently, the apple blossom did the trick) She gives me a severe look. “And one should not make fun of people because of their looks.”

“I wasn’t,” I try. After all, Robert is tall and broad and strong and. . .

Noor gives me another glare. “He’s mine!”

Of course. I don’t want a medieval man—I don’t live in that era, no matter that I write about it.

A Courting Man, Codex Manesse

Now, aside from being tall and all that, Robert is a self-made man, a man whose years of loyal service to his king, Edward I, were rewarded when the king gave him Noor—Eleanor d’Outremer—in marriage. With Noor came a fortified manor and some lands—and an indirect blood-tie to Queen Eleanor. Not that being related to the queen is necessarily a boon.

Initially, the Robert and Noor marriage had its bumps—as described in His Castilian Hawk. Like when Robert realised Noor was related to the princes of Gwynedd and that the orphan she’d taken in was the unknown son of the rebellious Dafydd ap Gruffyd, former prince whose head now adorned London Bridge. Should the king find out about the child, he’d lock the toddler up with the child’s unfortunate brothers in Bristol Castle and potentially sever Robert’s head for harbouring him. Our hero was somewhat torn between his loyalties to his liege and those to his wife. . .

“Never,” Robert says. “I am the king’s man, but my wife comes first.”  

Aww. . . Such a nice quality in a man!

Noor’s decision to take in the orphan was to have consequences, especially once Queen Eleanor began suspecting who the child was. Which was how Robert and Noor found themselves unofficially exiled to Aragon and Castile—arriving just in time for Robert to participate in the battle of Col de Panissars, where the king of Aragon defeated the French who’d attempted to invade his country under the of a crusade. Their sojourn on the Iberian Peninsula was fraught with adventure and danger, as described in The Castilian Pomegranate.

In Her Castilian Heart, Robert and Noor are safely back in England. Well, safely may not be the right word, what with Robert’s half-brother wanting to murder him, but still. Plus, the queen remains suspicious of their foundling, and God alone knows what an irate queen may do. This time, the events are woven round King Edward’s attempts to broker peace between the pope, the king of France and the king of Aragon—that failed French effort to invade Aragon, a.k.a. the Aragonese Crusade, has caused quite a political mess.

King Edward’s reasons for involving himself are to some extent personal: one of his daughters is contracted to marry King Alfonso of Aragon, but the pope has threatened him with brimstone and sulphur if he allows his daughter to do so without the pope’s explicit permission. Which isn’t forthcoming, as the pope is seriously ticked off about the fact that Aragon has taken Sicily back from Charles d’Anjou. The pope has a much better relationship with the Angevin than with the king of Aragon—maybe because he excommunicated Alfonso’s father for having supported the Sicilians when they rebelled against years of Angevin oppression (and then consolidated Sicily as part of his kingdom)

Philippe of France wants restitution for the loss of the crown of Aragon—which is rather odd, seeing as Aragon wasn’t his to begin with, but the young French king has not lived down the humiliation of losing to Aragon. Young Alfonso wants peace—but not at the expense of relinquishing Sicily, and no way is he going to compensate the French for invading his kingdom! In fact, they should compensate him!

King Edward I

King Edward is faced with quite the balancing act: how is he to placate the pope, somehow knock some sense into the young hot-headed kings and deliver a treaty that will hold? And on top of all this, King Edward has an ailing wife and the rebellious Welsh to handle! Not that he involves himself in the actual fighting win Wales—he leaves the rekindled Welsh uprising to Robert to handle together with Roger Mortimer.

Her Castilian Heart was originally supposed to be the final book in this series, but as Robert has as yet not shared the reason for having to placate his wife with apple blossom, I still have more stories to tell about Robert, Noor, their foundling Lionel—and the brave and rebellious Welsh. King Edward may think he has the Welsh dragon tamed, but he is wrong—oh, so wrong!

About Her Castilian Heart:

Blood is not always thicker than water…

At times a common bloodline is something of a curse—or so Robert FitzStephan discovers when he realises his half-brother, Eustace de Lamont, wants to kill him.  

A murderous and greedy brother isn’t Robert’s only challenge.  He and his wife, Noor, also have to handle their infected relationship with a mightily displeased Queen Eleanor—all because of their mysterious little foundling whom they refuse to abandon or allow the queen to lock away.

Eustace is persistent. When Robert’s life hangs in the balance, it falls to Noor to do whatever it takes to rip them free from the toothy jaws of fate. Noor may be a woman, but weak she is not, and in her chest beats a heart as brave and ferocious as that of a lioness. But will her courage be enough to see them safe?

To buy the book:

Her Castilian Heart is available now from: http://myBook.to/HEART

About the author:

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. No luck there, so instead she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests; history and writing. These days, Anna combines an exciting day-job with a large family and her writing endeavours. Plus she always finds the time to try out new recipes, chase down obscure rose bushes and initiate a home renovation scheme or two.

Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga , set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy.

Anna has also published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients. Her September 2020 release, His Castilian Hawk is a story of loyalty and love set against the complications of Edward I’s invasion of Wales in the late 13th century.

Her most recent release, The Whirlpools of Time , is a time travel romance set against the backdrop of brewing rebellion in the Scottish highlands.

All of Anna’s books have been awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion, she has several Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choices, and one of her books won the HNS Indie Award in 2015. She is also the proud recipient of several Reader’s Favorite medals as well as having won various Gold, Silver and Bronze Coffee Pot Book Club awards.

Find out more about Anna, her books and enjoy her eclectic historical blog on her website, www.annabelfrage.com 

Social Media Links:

Website: www.annabelfrage.com; Twitter: https://twitter.com/abelfrageauthor; Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/annabelfrageauthor; Instagram: https://instagram.com/annabelfrageauthor; Book Bub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/anna-belfrage; Amazon Author Page: http://Author.to/ABG; Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6449528.Anna_Belfrage

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My Books:

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

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Guest Post: The Dark Earth by Gordon Doherty

Today it is a pleasure to welcome author Gordon Doherty to History … the Interesting Bits. Gordon’s latest novel The Dark Earth is the 6th book in his Empires of Bronze series. And it is a scorcher! literally! Look out for my review in the coming weeks. But in the meantime, here’s Gordon to tell us about the meaning behind the title.

The Dark Earth

Hattusa

The Dark Earth’? Cool book title… but what does it actually mean?

As a book title, ‘The Dark Earth‘ sounds probably quite ominous and mysterious. But there’s more to it than that.

The book tells the story of the catastrophic change that occurred in the era known as the Bronze Age Collapse – a period of a few decades beginning around 1230 BC, when the mighty empires of the near east world were blasted into oblivion or battered into a pale shadow of their former selves.

The tale is told from the point of view of the Hittite Empire, arguably *the* superpower of the age, having only recently seen off the mighty Pharaoh Ramesses II of Egypt at the epic Battle of Kadesh.

Yet come 1170 BC, the Hittites were gone, their Anatolian heartlands a deserted, windswept, drought-ravaged wasteland, their great cities lying in tumbled heaps, their power but a memory. This was a time of earthquakes, invaders, famine, death and destruction… a veritable end of days.

And that is where the relevance of the title arises: Hittite tradition (interpreted from the tablets excavated from their ruined cities) speaks of an afterlife realm known as – you guessed it – ‘The Dark Earth‘.

This is no paradise-like Elysium or Valhalla. No, this is a sinister and unsettling place, somewhere deep underground where “Bloodless shades wander, not recognising one another. They eat mud and drink muddy water”. It is described as having “Seven ringed walls round the palace of the Goddess of death, and seven gatekeepers at each barrier.”

The Hittites were pantheistic, worshipping mountains, trees, rivers, everything around them. They used to believe that pits, holes and shafts, graves, springs, caves or wells were potential routes into this land of the dead.

Hattusa today

This was perhaps by reinforced by the lore of the Goddess Ishtar’s descent into the underworld. Within the ruins of Hattusa, the massive Hittite capital, there is even a stone-lined stairwell that descends into the hillside upon which the city is built, and this is thought to have been known as ‘The Gateway to the Dark Earth.’

So there you go. The novel tells the story of the death of a mighty empire. But there is so much more to it than that. Every ending is a new beginning, after all…

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To buy The Dark Earth:

Links: · Amazon: http://getbook.at/eob6 · Apple: https://books.apple.com/us/book/empires-of-bronze-the-dark-earth-empires-of-bronze-6/id1620805899 · Google: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=N1ZuEAAAQBAJ · Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/empires-of-bronze-the-dark-earth-empires-of-bronze-6 · SW: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1142101 · BandN: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/empires-of-bronze-gordon-doherty/1141388565?ean=2940165840036

About the Book

Hattusa

The time will come, as all times must, when the world will shake, and fall to dust…

1237 BC: It is an age of panic. The great empires are in disarray – ravaged by endless drought, shaken by ferocious earthquakes and starved of precious tin. Some say the Gods have abandoned mankind.

When Tudha ascends the Hittite throne, the burden of stabilising the realm falls upon his shoulders. Despite his valiant endeavours, things continue to disintegrate; allies become foes, lethal plots arise, and enemy battle horns echo across Hittite lands.

Hattusa

Yet this is nothing compared to the colossal, insidious shadow emerging from the west. Crawling unseen towards Tudha’s collapsing Hittite world comes a force unlike any ever witnessed; an immeasurable swarm of outlanders, driven by the cruel whip of nature, spreading fire and destruction: the Sea Peoples.

Every age must end. The measure of a man is how he chooses to face it.

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About the author:

Gordon is a Scottish writer, addicted to reading and writing historical fiction. His novels have been Amazon smash-hits, and have gone on to be translated and published in Russia, Italy and Greece.

Gordon Doherty

Gordon’s love of history was first kindled by visits to the misty Roman ruins of Britain and the sun-baked antiquities of Turkey and Greece. His expeditions since have taken him all over the world and back and forth through time (metaphorically, at least), allowing him to write tales of the later Roman Empire, Byzantium, Classical Greece and even the distant Bronze Age.

For exciting news, extracts and exclusive content from Gordon:

Visit http://www.gordondoherty.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter @GordonDoherty

Follow his author page on http://www.facebook.com/gordon.doherty

Subscribe to his YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/c/GordonDohertyAuthor

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My Books

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

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Gordon Doherty