Book Corner: Land of Fire by Derek Birks

Late Spring, 455 AD.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A trader,” ventured Inga.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Buy the Book

Land of Fire is now available on Kindle from Amazon.

About the Author:

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

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

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

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

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

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My Books:

Coming 31 May 2021:

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

Interview my Character: Eleanor Elder

Today it is my stop on the Historical Writers’ Character Blog Hop, where we interview historical characters, both real and fictional. Watch out for Nicholaa de la Haye coming later in the tour!

And there’s a giveaway! the author has kindly offered a paperback copy of Echoes of Treason to a UK winner, or an ebook to a winner elsewhere in the world. To enter, simply leave a comment below or on the Facebook page. The draw will be made on 12 June. Good luck! Sorry, competition is now closesd!

I would like to welcome Lady Eleanor Elder to History…the Interesting Bits. Lady Eleanor is one of the principal characters in Derek Birks’ wonderful series of books, The Craft of Kings, the latest instalment of which, Echoes of Treason was released in May. Ever since I first read Feud, about 5 years ago, Lady Eleanor has become something of a heroine of mine. She has overcome many challenges and trials over Derek Birks’ 7 books and – so far – is still standing, if a little battered. She is a fighter, not out of choice, but out of necessity and an impressive survival instinct. She is a lady I am in awe of and so I was quite nervous to finally meet her!

  • Welcome Lady Eleanor, could you please tell our readers a little about yourself?

About myself? The hard ones first, eh? Well, I was born and not long after, my mother died. So she died before I knew her and later, when I was a lass growing up in the dale, those who did know her, never stopped telling me how like her I was. It didn’t sound like a compliment though… but by then I’d grown wild. I must have been about thirteen or so. I was wild and angry with everyone – except my only true friend, Becky Standlake.

  • What would you like to have been in your life, if you have not been caught up in the wars between Lancaster and York? Would you have made a good nun?

A nun? I see you try to provoke me with your questions!

(Sorry, Lady Eleanor, but my tongue was very firmly in my cheek!)

Well, of course, I was destined for marriage – or so my father kept saying – only no man would have me! By the time I was fifteen, my father had given up on me, I think… but by then I’d discovered what boys were really for and I fell in love with Will Coster, my brother Ned’s closest companion. Will was a commoner, but I didn’t care – still, we kept it to ourselves – even kept it from Ned. Then… we all descended into hell. All the rules changed when I was taken by force to a nunnery, aye, a nunnery! I tried to resist but in the end, I just had to bide my time. So, would I be a nun? Well, I’ve tried it and let’s just say, it did not go well…

  • What is your favourite thing to do?

When I was younger, I loved to roam the dales with Becky. There was a pool, fed by the hillside becks and ice cold even in summer. We’d swim naked in that pool and lie, shameless, on the large rocks to dry off in the sun. When war came, I lost that innocence; and it never, ever came back. At first I wanted nothing more than to fight for those I loved, but one by one, those I loved were stripped away… Now, what do I prize above all? I just want some peace…

  • You have become quite a role model for women, always fighting your corner, what is the advice you would give to any woman, in any era, who finds herself in a situation where she feels powerless?

Aye, a woman in the world of men can often feel weak and powerless. The crown, the law, the church, all their rules are made by men. What can a woman do against such odds? Well, she must learn to fight, but it’s not always about a sharp blade – by the Virgin, it’s taken me all my life to understand that! There are many other weapons a woman has, for what are men but boys full-grown? It’s not those full-grown boys that make you weak; it’s your own fear. You must have spirit for it’s what lies in your heart that matters. Spirit is everything…

  • Would you prefer to live in a castle or on a farm, city or country?

I don’t care where I am – though I can’t say I care much for the stench of the town. All that matters to me is who I’m with.

  • If you could live in any historical period, when would it be?

Eleanor Elder always lives in the present…

  • Echoes of Treason opened with you living in exile in Spain, what did you miss most about England while in exile?

My son, my nephew and the rest of my kin… that’s all I missed – though a little more coin would have helped…

  • Who is your favourite king, Richard III or Edward IV?

Edward IV was a charmer, I’m told, though I don’t think I ever met him; my brother Ned knew him well, liked him and served him well. England needed Edward, I think, but what a world of blood he brought down upon us. I met Gloucester when he was about 18 – he was full of himself and I can’t say I liked him much, and now he is the cause of my nephew, John’s troubles, so he is my enemy and I don’t ever forgive my enemies…

  • What achievement are you most proud of?

Proud? I take no pride from anything I’ve done. In a time of blood, I’ve survived and to do so, I’ve taken lives. I will do it again if I must… and let God judge me as he wishes.

  • You have lived a rather adventurous life, do you have any regrets?

Right now, no; but, if I live to be old, I expect to be haunted by countless regrets and when I die, I’ve no doubt that I’ll dwell in purgatory for a very, very long time… Because my passions have always ruled me – for good or ill – and, being swift to act, I’ve made many mistakes in my life: I’ve misjudged some folk and caused their ruin. But, most of all, I regret that many of those who dared to love me and tried to help me, died because of their love. Yet, anything I’ve done – however terrible – if it helped to save my loved ones, I don’t regret that for an instant. I would do it all again.

  • What is your greatest fear?

I fear not being able to protect those I love and keep them safe. But I discovered, only in the past few years, that there is one thing in all Christendom that truly terrifies me – but I’m not telling you that!

Lady Eleanor, it has been a pleasure to finally meet you. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I wish you the best of luck for Book 4.

Follow the Blog Hop

Wednesday 5 June Jen Black  interviews courageous, Byrhtnoth, of the Byrhtnoth Chronicles by Christine Hancock.

About the Author

Derek Birks

Derek Birks was born in Hampshire in England but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand where he still has strong family ties. For many years he taught history in a secondary school in Berkshire but took early retirement several years ago to concentrate on his writing. Apart from writing, he spends his time gardening, travelling, walking and taking part in archaeological digs at a Roman villa.

Derek is interested in a wide range of historical themes but his particular favourite is the later Medieval period. He aims to write action-packed fiction which is rooted in accurate history. His debut historical novel, Feud, is set in the period of the Wars of the Roses and is the first of a four-book series entitled Rebels & Brothers which follows the fortunes of the fictional Elder family.
The other books of the series are (in order): A Traitor’s Fate, Kingdom of Rebels and The Last Shroud.

The first 3 book of a brand new series, Scars From the Past, are now available in both kindle and paperback and are on Amazon in the UK and US.
You can find Derek at;
Amazon
Blog
Facebook
Twitter 

And look out for Nicholaa de la Haye dropping by Derek Birks’ blog, Dodging Arrows, for to chat on 22 June.

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: Echoes of Treason by Derek Birks

It is autumn 1483 and Richard III is king of England, but rumours about the fate of his nephews are rife and dissent is beginning to grow. Waiting in Brittany, is the exiled Lancastrian heir to the throne, Henry Tudor, who senses that his moment has come. Henry’s mother, Lady Margaret Stanley, plots to restore her son’s fortunes with a series of revolts against King Richard.
After the disastrous events of the summer, the embattled Elder family is scattered and in hiding. The outlawed head of the family, John, has escaped to Flanders along with a few loyal comrades, his sister, Meg, and his lover, Isabel. But the Elders will not be left to lick their wounds for long, because William Catesby, influential servant of King Richard, has made it his mission to destroy them.
When Lady Stanley tries to draw the Elders into the Tudor rebellion, John must decide whether he can cast aside his long-held Yorkist loyalties. Should he join Henry Tudor under the banner of St. George and the dragon of Wales?
It is the devil’s choice: poverty and a life in exile, or the slim chance of returning home by the fickle path of treason.

The first thing I have to say about Echoes of Treason by Derek Birks is wow! Not just for the story, but for such a stunning book cover!

I have been a fan of Derek Birks’ work since his first book, Feud, introduced us to the Elder family in 2013. The first 4-book series, Rebel and Brothers was a refreshing new take on the Wars of the Roses era, combining national politics and war with the Elder family’s own challenges and enemies.

Echoes of Treason is the 3rd book in Derek Birks’ wonderful new series, The Craft of Kings, set during the reign of King Richard III, and following the younger generation of the Elder family, once again caught up in England’s drama. As with all Derek’s books, Echoes of Treason takes you on a fast-paced journey through medieval history, every page crammed with action and intrigue. This time we journey from Flanders to Brittany and on to England, coming face to face with enemies both old and new.

With her attention on the stall, Meg barely noticed the young woman who suddenly lurched forward and stumbled heavily into Isabel, knocking her to the ground. Torn between helping Isabel up and berating the clumsy woman who had come to rest at the feet of Thomas, Meg hesitated. Her eyes were drawn to the poor woman’s bloodstained kirtle and shift which had been torn open at the front to reveal more than a glimpse of two full, bare breasts.

Before Meg could move, however, a firm hand was clamped upon her mouth and she was lifted off her feet. Cursing her own folly, Meg was borne away, squirming, into one of the many small alleys leading away from the market. Too much time talking and not enough watching those around her! God’s teeth, she was usually so careful! She should have seen her attacker coming, love-besotted fool that she now was!

Her captor slammed her against a wall which ran alongside the alley, his hand still over her mouth. First things first, thought Meg, biting one of his fingers as hard as she could. While he was yelping in pain, she twisted half out of his grasp and reached down to her boot. But he recovered swiftly and they grappled with each other in a whirling flurry of arms until his greater strength enabled him to pin her to the wall once more with his hand around her neck. With his other hand he held a knife at her breast but she simply glared back at him, two sapphire eyes boring into his.

To her surprise, he sought to reassure her. “Don’t be alarmed, girl; you’ve no need to be frightened; I’ll not hurt you.”

But far from being afraid, Meg was just warming to her work. “Put up your blade,” she warned.

he gave a shake of the head until she pressed the point of the knife she had retrieved from her boot against his neck. Now, for the first time, she had his full attention.

“By Christ, little girl!” he cried. “Have a care with that knife!”

Echoes of Treason follows the Elder family into exile, following on from The Blood of Princes and John Elder’s attempts to rescue the Prince in the Tower. From the first pages, in exile in Bruges, to a dramatic return to England’s shores, the action is fast-paced, on land and sea. The author shows his wide breadth of knowledge of the era by incorporating actual events and characters who played leading roles in the history. There is a fabulous interview with Henry Tudor that leaves you smiling for days!

The tension is palpable on every page and builds to a crescendo as the story drives inexorably to the last, desperate fight. The plot, moreover, is as well thought out as the action and drags the Elder family into the intrigues and machinations of those fighting for the crown itself, and their scheming lackeys!

My favourite character in any Derek Birks book is Lady Eleanor Elder. Eleanor has become a bit of a heroine of mine; she is no weak-willed woman and fights with her wits and whatever weapon is to hand, whenever she is backed into a corner. It is a credit to the author that he has let this amazing woman take on a life of her own in the story, despite not being the lead character. She deserves a story of her own (hint, hint!)

I loved this book from the first page to the last. My only complaint is that I found it harder to write my own whilst I was reading it – I found myself drifting off into the Wars of the Roses and wondering how the Elders would get themselves out of the impossible predicament Derek Birks had sent them into. It is only when the last page has been turned that you can breathe a sigh of relief and one of regret, that the book finished too soon!

About the author:

Derek Birks was born in Hampshire in England but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand where he still has strong family ties.
For many years he taught history in a secondary school in Berkshire but took early retirement several years ago to concentrate on his writing.
Apart from writing, he spends his time gardening, travelling, walking and taking part in archaeological digs at a Roman villa.

Derek is interested in a wide range of historical themes but his particular favourite is the later Medieval period. He aims to write action-packed fiction which is rooted in accurate history. His debut historical novel, Feud, is set in the period of the Wars of the Roses and is the first of a four-book series entitled Rebels & Brothers which follows the fortunes of the fictional Elder family.
The other books of the series are (in order): A Traitor’s Fate, Kingdom of Rebels and The Last Shroud.

The first book of a brand new series, Scars From the Past, is now out in both kindle and paperback.
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, 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