Book Corner: The Last of the Romans by Derek Birks

Northern Italy.

Dux Ambrosius Aurelianus has served the Roman Empire with distinction.

His bucellarii, a small band of irregular soldiers, have helped to bring a fragile peace to the beleaguered empire in the west. But, with the empire now at peace, his master, Flavius Aetius, decides to chain up his dogs of war.

Ambrosius and his men are left to idle away their days in a rural backwater, but Ambrosius’ boredom is brutally swept aside when old rivals seize the opportunity to destroy him.

Pursued as a traitor by the imperial guard, Ambrosius takes his loyal band, along with other dissident soldiers and a Saxon girl, Inga, into the mountains.

Since nowhere is safe, Ambrosius travels north, across the crumbling ruins of the empire, to his estranged family in Gaul. But there too, he finds nothing but conflict, for his home town is now besieged by a small army of rebellious Franks.

Freedom and peace seem a world away. 

Whatever course the soldier takes, Ambrosius and his bucellarii will need to muster all their strength and skill to survive.

At the twilight of the empire, they may be the Last of the Romans…

I have to admit that I loved Derek Birks‘ books on the Wars of the Roses, but was a little dubious about this excursion into the late Roman era. I enjoy reading some Roman novelists, such as SJA Turney and Gordon Doherty, but I do prefer the medieval and I was concerned that I might not enjoy The Last of the Romans as much as other Roman stories or, indeed, Derek’s Wars of the Roses series. I needn’t have worried.

The Last of the Romans opens as the Roman Empire is falling apart and follows one man, Ambrosius Aurelianus, and his small band of soldiers as they try to escape the clutches of vengeful assassins. We follow the small cohort of soldiers as the escape northern Italy across France, with the constant threat of attack nagging their every step. The reader is drawn into their desperate fight to survive and escape, the bucellarii’s loyalty to their dux tested to the limit.

Ambrosius Aurelianus has always been a personal favourite of mine – he has links to my ‘local’ – Conisbrough Castle – and is a contender for the legendary King Arthur. The Last of the Romans tells the story of Ambrosius’ career in the Roman army, before his arrival in Britain. The book draws a portrait of the man as a great warrior and leader, driven by a need to survive and protect those who follow him and trust him.

For the past three years Rome’s supreme military commander, the Magister Utriusque Militiae, Flavius Aetius, had sent Ambrosius wherever trouble erupted across the failing empire. Wherever an army was too many, or an assassin too few, he and his band of disparate bucellarii were despatched – and death went along for the ride. They slew every zealot, every ambitious politician, every fool and murderer, across the empire from the west coast of Galicia to eastern Thrace. In truth, Ambrosius and his comrades did little else but send men to an early grave.

Since he was recruited in Gallia, he reflected that his own fortunes had become inextricably harnessed to those of Magister Aetius. He could not resist a grim smile of admiration for the man who, against all the odds, still held the fate of the western empire in his firm grip. Without him, Ambrosius would still be a renegade bandit living among the Franks in north-western Gallia. Instead he was the commander of an elite band of mounted warmongers and carried the rank of dux. He was both feared and despised by his enemies – and very likely by some of the imperial guard as well.

Thus, Ambrosius slept alone; yet, there she lay… half-covered by the coarse blanket. So, yes, he was getting soft. But then, after the sudden demise of the Hun king, Attila, everything had changed. Peace had come to Rome – albeit a fragile peace brokered by exhausted combatants, but a peace all the same. And, in the wake of peace, it seemed that the wolf must remain caged. So, Ambrosius found himself marooned in this shabby caupona on the shores of a lake far from the imperial court. While he preferred to remain at the inn, most of his bucellarii made frequent visits to nearby Verona where they were no doubt even now exhausting whatever coin they had left.

“Even you need to stop killing eventually,” Aetius had told him. “Believe me, you need a rest from it; I know that better than anyone: killing eats into your soul…”

The Last of the Romans is a departure from Derek Birks’ usual era, the Wars of the Roses. And as a consequence, he has moved away from a period of history that is constantly discussed and analysed, to one where the sources are few and far between. He has had to reconstruct a world that has not existed for 1,500 years. the landscape and architecture of late-Roman era France is described in fabulous detail, transporting the reader to the time and place where Roman law was breaking down, and native leaders were battling – against each other and the Roman regional commanders – to fill the void.

As you would expect from Derek Birks, the action is never-ending. The story moves at a fantastic pace, leaving the reader little time to catch their breath. The battles are meticulously choreographed, while appearing totally chaotic; the battle to survive only rivaled by the relentless pursuit of their enemies. The Last of the Romans brings the fall of the Roman Empire into vivid, colourful perspective.

What makes this book impossible to put down are the characters, the heroic Aurelius Ambrosius, loyal Marcellus and Inga, the freed slave whose bravery earns her a special place in the heart of the bucellarii. There is love, loss, confusion, courage and hatred. Through Ambrosius Aurelianus and his small band of men, we see the individual struggle to survive amidst the greater catastrophe and upheaval that always accompanies the end of a civilisation.

The Last of the Romans is a gripping adventure. Exciting, enthralling and fast-paced it is an amazing novel for the author’s first excursion into the era. It works perfectly as a standalone novel, but I truly hope Derek Birks decides to continue the story – I am desperate to know where Ambrosius and his bucellarii go next!

The Last of the Romans is now available on Kindle from Amazon and will be released in paperback shortly.

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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.

He has recently embarked upon a new Post-Roman series and the first book is out now: The Last of the Romans

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.

His books are available on Amazon in the UK and US.
You can find Derek at;
Amazon
Blog
Facebook
Twitter 

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My books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from 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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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly


Book Corner: Storm of steel by Matthew Harffy

Today I am delighted to be a part of the book tour for Matthew Harffy‘s latest addition to his Bernicia Chronicles, Storm of Steel, with a review of this fabulous new novel.

AD 643. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the sixth instalment in the Bernicia Chronicles.

Heading south to lands he once considered his home, Beobrand is plunged into a dark world of piracy and slavery when an old friend enlists his help to recover a kidnapped girl. Embarking onto the wind-tossed seas, Beobrand pursues his quarry with single-minded tenacity.

But the Whale Road is never calm and his journey is beset with storms, betrayal and violence.

As the winds of his wyrd blow him ever further from what he knows, will Beobrand find victory on his quest or has his luck finally abandoned him?

I have had the distinct pleasure of following the adventures of Beobrand and his band of warriors from the very first to book to this one, the sixth in the series. In a feat that few authors ever manage to achieve, each book has been better than the last and, indeed, when I read the last one, Warrior of Woden, I sincerely doubted that Matthew Harffy could top it. But top it he has! And in spectacular style.

In Storm of Steel Beobrand has gone off in a new direction, on a  personal mission, rather than one dictated by kings, and by sea rather than land. This has given scope for a fabulous new adventure and gives a new edge to the battles, both on land and sea – and against the elements. It also means new experiences, as Beobrand journeys along the south coast and into Frankia. The locations are stunning, Matthew Harffy’s descriptions of dramatic coastlines, stormy weather and the different brands of people he encounters, from lowly peasants, to pirates and warlords, all serve to transport the reader back to the 7th century, recreating the Anglo-Saxon world in the mind of the reader.

‘Go Cynan,’ Beobrand whispered.

Cynan stepped away from the sailors and scrambled over the side of the ship, back into Háligsteorra. Beobrand followed him and quickly joined Bassus and the others where they stood before a pile of bloody corpses.

The pirates clambered off the ship even more quickly than they had boarded. Their leader was last, and he shuffled towards the wale still clutching Dalston to him, with the sharp seax blade digging into the skin beneath the monk’s chin.

When he reached the side, he stepped over, steadied by the welcoming hands of his men. He lifted Dalston bodily and carried him over with him.

‘Take the treasure the boy carries,’ shouted Beobrand. Send the boy back.’

The dull thuds of axe blows signalled the ropes that had held the ships together being cut. Using their oars, the pirates shoved the two ships apart. the gap between the vessels widened quickly, soon it would be too far even for an unarmoured man to jump.

‘Send the boy back!’ yelled Beobrand again, but as he said the words, he tasted the bitterness of defeat and deceit in his throat.

Storm of Steel is Beobrand’s 6th adventure; the stunning imagery and constant action leads the reader into Beobrand’s world in magnificent style. The action, as ever, is constant and leads the reader on a roller-coaster of a ride from the first page to the last, never quite certain that Beobrand will win through, nor even that he will survive the encounter with one of the greatest warlords of Frankia and rescue the kidnapped girl…. I’m not telling….

Matthew Harffy is an author whose writing goes from strength to strength with each book. I feel I’m repeating myself when I say ‘this is the best one yet’, but it truly is. I defy anyone to be able to put it down without wanting to read through to the end in one sitting. I certainly read late into the night, but the lack of sleep was well worth the experience of another adventure with the now-famous Beobrand and his band of warriors.

Storm of Steel  is a masterpiece of a novel, the visually imagery recreated by the words evoke a world so long in the past that little remains but archaeology, and yet the reader can imagine themselves there, and fighting at the side of Beobrand, Cynan, Bassus and the rest. But there is more to fighting in all of Matthew Harffy’s books. The intricate and engrossing plot weaves its way between the battles – against man and the elements – to tell a story that is at once intriguing and gripping.

Beobrand and the Bernicia Chronicles are a phenomenon!

I cannot recommend the stories of Beobrand, told in the Bernicia Chronicles, highly enough. And Storm of Steel stands out as one of the best books I have read so far, this year.

About the author

Matthew 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.

 Follow Matthew Harffy:    

Twitter: @MatthewHarffy, Facebook: @MatthewHarffyAuthor, Website: http://www.matthewharffy.com/

Buy links:

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2INuSlg; Kobo: https://bit.ly/2IQsFWo; Google Play: ttps://bit.ly/2GEC8i9; iBooks: https://apple.co/2UQcr6Y

Follow Aria

Website: www.ariafiction.com; Twitter: @aria_fiction; Facebook: @ariafiction; Instagram: @ariafiction

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from 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.

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

 

Book Corner: Louis XIV The Real King of Versailles

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Louis XIV – UK edition

Louis XIV’s story has all the ingredients of a Dumas classic: legendary beginnings, beguiling women, court intrigue, a mysterious prisoner in an iron mask, lavish court entertainments, the scandal of a mistress who was immersed in the dark arts, and a central character who is handsome and romantic, but with a frighteningly dark side to his character.

Louis believed himself to be semidivine. His self-identification as the Sun King, which was reflected in iconography of the sun god, Apollo, influenced every aspect of Louis’s life: his political philosophy, his wars, and his relationships with courtiers and subjects.

As a military strategist, Louis’s capacity was debatable, but he was an astute politician who led his country to the heights of sophistication and power – and then had the misfortune to live long enough to see it all crumble away. As the sun began to set upon this most glorious of reigns, it brought a gathering darkness filled with the anguish of dead heirs, threatened borders, and a populace that was dangerously dependent upon – but greatly distanced from – its king.

Ever since reading The Three Musketeers as a teenager, the reigns of Louis XIII and Louis XIV have been my guilty pleasure. The sumptuous and decadent courts of these two French kings contrast sharply with murderous intrigues and international politics. So when I heard Josephine Wilkinson was writing a new biography, I was eager to read it – the only problem was waiting patiently for her to finish it…

And now it is finally here!

Louis XIV: The Real King of Versailles  was well worth the wait.

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Louis XIV – US edition

It is clear to anyone who reads this marvelous biography that the author is fascinated by her subject. Her story of Louis’ life and career is analysed in every detail, from his relationships with his family, lovers and ministers, to his love for his people and deep sense of duty. Written in an easily accessible, conversational style, the book is a pleasure to read and devour.

The research is impeccable, giving the reader the impression of being a fly on the wall, watching Louis develop and grow through every period of his life. This is no whitewash of Louis’ life and career; Josephine Wilkinson doesn’t shy away from criticising the king of France when he deserves it. She delves into every aspect of Louis’ life; his family, mistresses and a work ethic that will put most people to shame. An astute politician, adept strategist, the author demonstrates that Louis saw himself as a servant of the nation.

On the eve of his coronation, Louis attended vespers at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims. After the service, he presented a silver-gilt chef reliquaire of Saint Rémi to the cathedral. This was a reliquary in the shape of a human head, designed to hold the skull and facial bones of the saint. Louis had it engraved with his own image on one side and a Latin inscription commemorating the event of his coronation on the other. The king then made his confession before retiring for the night.

The quiet of the archiepiscopal palace was disturbed at six in the morning, when the bishops of Beauvais and Châlons, resplendent in the full robes of their office, proceeded towards the closed doors of the king’s chamber. The precentor rapped lightly with his silver staff, upon which a voice from within asked, ‘What do you desire?’ This was the grand chamberlain, who received the answer, ‘The king.’ The grand chamberlain replied, ‘The king is sleeping.’ This ritual was repeated twice more, after which the bishop of Châlons said, ‘We desire Louis, the fourteenth of that name, son of King Louis the Thirteenth, whom God has given to be our king.’

The doors now opened to admit the bishops, who stood at the foot of the richly adorned bed in which Louis lay. Louis, who pretended to be asleep, opened his eyes and crossed himself with holy water, which had been offered by the bishop of Châlons. After the bishop said a short prayer over him, Louis rose from the bed…

 

If you are a fan of the BBC tv series, Versailles, you will love this book. It tells the real history of the show, giving you a wonderful insight into the lives of, not only, Louis himself, but also of Philippe, Liselotte and Colbert. The glamour of Versailles contrasts with the various intrigues and rumours which surround the court, the Affair of the Poisons, the downfall of Fouquet and the wonderful D’Artagnan all get their stories told in an entertaining and engaging manner.

Louis’s foreign and domestic policies, his relationships with his fellow monarchs, his nobility and ministers, are analysed and dissected in this expertly executed and thorough study of the Sun King. The language is wonderful, drawing you back into the world of the seventeenth century.

Josephine Wilkinson ably demonstrates how Louis took control of his life and career, how he  created the court at Versailles to make the monarch the centre of administration, court life, and the sun around which the nobles of France  would orbit. It is clear that the author has a remarkably thorough understanding of the histories of Louis XIII and XIV, and the development of the monarchy in France. She uses this background information admirably to demonstrate how Louis develops his own style of ruling, and the subjugation of the nobility to his rule, thus creating the most glamorous court in Europe; Versailles.

Once in a while you get to read a book that you have been looking forward to for a long, long time, and that lives up to all your expectations. Josephine Wilkinson’s biography is just such a book. This is a wonderful study of Louis as both a man and a king, examining every aspect of his life, the public and the private.

Louis XIV: The Real King of Versailles feels like pure indulgence when you are reading it. It is a sheer pleasure to read and devour. The impeccable research and wonderful writing style may lead you to forget that you are learning as you are reading. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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Louis XIV: The Real King of Versaillesis available in the UK from Amberley Publishing and Amazon. It is also available in the US from Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

About the author:

Josephine Wilkinson is an author and historian. She received a First from the University of Newcastle where she also read for her PhD. She has received British Academy research funding and has been scholar-in-residence at St Deiniol’s Library, Britain’s only residential library founded by the great Victorian statesman, William Gladstone She now lives in York, Richard III’s favourite city. She is the author of The Princes in the Tower, Anne Boleyn, Mary Boleyn, and Richard III (all published by Amberly), and Katherine Howard (John Murray).

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Out Now!

Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest is available from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Telling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from 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.

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Swords of the King by Charlene Newcomb

Today over at The Review, you can read my thoughts on Charlene Newcomb’s fantastic new novel, Swords of the King, the third book in her Battle Scars series telling the story of two knights in the service of King Richard the Lionheart.

And there’s a fabulous giveaway –  an ebook boxset of the entire series to one lucky winner.

Here’s a taster:

Swords of the King  is the third instalment of Charlene Newcomb’s magnificent Battle Scars series which has followed Sir Henry de Grey and Sir Stephan de l’Aigle from the third Crusade to northern France in the service of King Richard the Lionheart of England. In Men of the Cross, we saw Henry and Stephan meet and get to know each other whilst experiencing the horrors of the Third Crusade. In For King and Country they were back in England, trying to thwart the evil machinations of Prince John whilst King Richard was stuck in a German prison. In Swords of the King, the two heroes are back together again, this time fighting in France alongside King Richard, with enemies within and without.

The story revolves around Plantagenet family crises and the machinations of Philip II of France and his attempts to disrupt Richard I’s policies and tactics. While many of characters have their own agenda, they must also work to implement King Richard’s; not an easy task when the French and enemies closer to home are ready to thwart you at every turn…

 

To read the full review of this fantastic novel – and to enter the prize draw and be in with a chance in this fantastic giveaway, simply visit The Review and leave a comment.

Good luck!

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My books

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

Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UKAmberley Publishing and Book Depository.

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

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

 

Book Corner: The Scribe’s Daughter by Stephanie Churchill

Today over at The Review, you can read my thoughts on Stephanie Churchill’s fantastic new debut novel, The Scribe’s Daughter, a fabulous adventure story that will leave you wanting more.

And there’s a fabulous giveaway –  two Kindle copies available to 2 lucky winners.

Here’s a taster:

My first thought after finishing The Scribe’s Daughter was ‘Wow!’ It is hard to believe this is a debut novel. It is so polished and intelligently written, having none of the naivety that can be found in, even, the best debut novels. I found myself picking up the book at any opportunity – every spare five minutes were spent in the world Stephanie Churchill has created. I was often reading late into the night, just to devour that little bit more of the story.
The author draws you into her world, building cities, towns, palaces and swamps from her imagination and setting them down in a medieval atmosphere from which it is impossible for the reader to escape. The language, descriptive expertise, attention to detail and wonderful use of imagery helps to create a world that surrounds and embraces the reader.

 

To read the full review of this fantastic novel – and to enter the prize draw and be in with a chance in this fantastic giveaway, simply visit The Review and leave a comment.

Good luck!

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

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

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly