Book Corner: The Last Berserker by Angus Donald

The greatest warriors are forged in the flames

Two pagan fighters

771AD, Northern Europe. Bjarki Bloodhand and Tor Hildarsdottir are journeying south into Saxony. Their destination is the Irminsul, the One Tree that links the Nine Worlds of the Middle-Realm. In this most holy place, they hope to learn how to summon their animal spirits so they can enter the ranks of the legendary berserkir: the elite frenzied fighters of the North.

One Christian king

Karolus, newly crowned King of the Franks, has a thorn in his side: the warlike Saxon tribes on his northern borders who shun the teachings of the Church, blasphemously continuing to worship their pagan gods.

An epic battle for the soul of the North

The West’s greatest warlord vows to stamp out his neighbours’ superstitions and bring the light of the True Faith to the Northmen – at the point of a sword. It will fall to Bjarki, Tor and the men and women of Saxony to resist him in a struggle for the fate of all Europe.

I have read Angus Donald’s books since the first of his Robin Hood series, Outlaw, came out many moons ago. And I absolutely adored his series set around the 1688 Glorious Revolution with unlikely hero Holcroft Blood. But there is always a risk when an author starts a new series; will it live up to previous stories?

Well, with The Last Berserker there is no need to worry. From the first few lines you are reassured that Angus Donald starts as he means to go on; with an action-filled storyline that will take the reader on a breathtaking journey through the turbulent years of the 8th century. It is quite the adventure!

The story derives from the many tales of the berserkers, men who went wild in battle, killing dozens at a time. Angus Donald has created a world in which the berserkers were not just mad men, but legendary fighters who honed their skills through belief, training and discipline. They were heroes who used their unique talents to lead men into battle and deliver victory after victory. Set in the time when the great Charlemagne was waging his campaign of conquest against the German tribes, The Last Berserker tells the story of Bjarki Bloodhand, who joins the fight to defend his homelands.

‘How about you, son? You look like a strapping fellow. Care to try your strength? Bjarki realised the tall blond man was speaking to him.

He shook his head.

‘No need to be afraid. I’ll tell Black Svein to go easy on you.’

‘I’m not afraid,’ Bjarki said.

‘Then come inside the hazel square and prove it.’

Bjarki shook his head. He smiled.

The straw-haired man turned away. ‘There must be one or two here today who are not snivelling cowards,’ he said, his back turned to Bjarki.

Bjarki stopped smiling. He felt suddenly cold. He took a step forward.

‘He’s not a coward,’ said a voice at his elbow, a cool hand there, too, restraining him. ‘He just doesn’t want to fight your friend today. And calling him one won’t change his mind.’

The straw-haired man turned back and looked at Bjarki – and Tor, who was now standing beside him.

‘You his girl then?’ he said. Then to Bjarki: ‘Aren’t you a one – getting your little girlie to speak for you. I see now why you won’t fight.’

‘He won’t fight your friend,’ said Tor, ‘but I will. You said you had quarterstaffs? Yes? All right then, I accept your challenge.’

The straw-haired man was nonplussed. This scrawny young woman, with arms like kindling sticks, was about half of the weight of Black Svein – and a head shorter than him too. It was a ridiculous match.

‘You can’t fight him,’ he said.

‘Oh yes? Why is that? Is he afraid of me?’

That started a howl of laughter from the crowd, which had thickened considerably by now. The straw-haired man flushed pink with irritation.

‘You cannot fight him, girlie. It would not be a fair contest.’

‘What if I go really easy on him?’ said Tor. ‘I promise I won’t hurt him all that much – hardly at all. I’ll be as gentle as a lamb with the poor idiot.’

Angus Donald weaves together, myth, legend and history to recreate a world where the berserker not only flourished, but was revered as a great warrior.

As an author, Donald is very adept at creating unique, interesting protagonists. Holcroft Blood was an autistic officer who had a knack for uncovering spies and a skill in artillery that was unrivalled. Robin Hood was a vicious killer, not the cuddly Robin Hood from legend. And with Bjarki Bloodhand, we have another individual who is not, at first sight, your typical hero. He is a rather dull, awkward boy; quite unassuming in fact. He comes across as naive, a little too trusting and not overly ambitious. He is, however, loyal to ahis friends, a good fighter and as brave as they come. He doesn’t shirk from a fight, but doesn’t necessarily seek it out. And he is incredibly likeable.

Bjarki’s sidekick, for want of a better word, is Tor, a slip of a girl with an attitude that belies her size. A born fighter, she is always looking to prove herself. Tor is a fascinating character who has secrets of her own to hide and ‘issues’ to work through. The two make an unlikely pairing but a firm friendship that helps them through their many trials.

Angus Donald wonderfully recreates the world of 8th century central Europe, from the landscape and the natural borders that separate the various nations, to the contrasting religious beliefs – both Christian and pagan – that lie at the centre of the conflict. A natural storyteller when it comes to warfare, Donald vividly evokes the song of battle, with seax, sword, axe and shield. The frenetic energy of the battle scenes leave the reader breathless and eager for more. The intricacies of the story, with its various twists and turns, some rather surprising, keep the reader on the edge of their seat throughout.

The Last Berserker is a truly enthralling story, not easy to put down – and a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. It is one book that is not to be missed!

The Last Berserker by Angus Donald is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon.

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About the Author:

Angus Donald is the author of the bestselling Outlaw Chronicles, a series of ten novels set in the 12th/13th centuries and featuring a gangster-ish Robin Hood. Angus has also published the Holcroft Blood trilogy about a mildly autistic 17th-century English artillery officer, son of notorious Crown Jewels thief Colonel Thomas Blood. Before becoming an author, Angus worked as a fruit-picker in Greece, a waiter in New York City and as an anthropologist studying magic and witchcraft in Indonesia. For fifteen years he was a journalist working in Hong Kong, India, Afghanistan and London. He now writes full time from a medieval farmhouse in Kent.

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My books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Book Corner: His Castilian Hawk by Anna Belfrage

For bastard-born Robert FitzStephan, being given Eleanor d’Outremer in marriage is an honour. For Eleanor, this forced wedding is anything but a fairy tale.

Robert FitzStephan has served Edward Longshanks loyally since the age of twelve. Now he is riding with his king to once and for all bring Wales under English control.

Eleanor d’Outremer—Noor to family—lost her Castilian mother as a child and is left entirely alone when her father and brother are killed. When ordered to wed the unknown Robert FitzStephan, she has no choice but to comply.

Two strangers in a marriage bed is not easy. Things are further complicated by Noor’s blood-ties to the Welsh princes and by covetous Edith who has warmed Robert’s bed for years.

Robert’s new wife may be young and innocent, but he is soon to discover that not only is she spirited and proud, she is also brave. Because when Wales lies gasping and Edward I exacts terrible justice on the last prince and his children, Noor is determined to save at least one member of the House of Aberffraw from the English king.

Will years of ingrained service have Robert standing with his king or will he follow his heart and protect his wife, his beautiful and fierce Castilian hawk?

His Castilian Hawk is the first book in what promises to be a very exciting new series, The Castilian Saga, from Anna Belfrage. Set in the time of Edward I and the conquest of Wales, it follows the exploits of an experienced knight, Robert FitzStephan and his young bride, Eleanor of Outremer. With the marriage off to a shaky start, Robert and Eleanor take a little while to warm to each other, their relationship complicated by Robert’s rather possessive former lover. The love triangle makes for a rather entertaining and engaging story, with many twists and turns.

Set in the time of Edward I’s conquest of Wales, His Castilian Hawk is one of those books that grabs your attention from the first page. Ann Belfrage is a rather accomplished student of people and puts her knowledge to good use in recreating the personalities of not only her fictional characters, Eleanor and Robert, but also of her historical characters, such as King Edward I and Queen Eleanor of Castile.

Anna Belfrage has quickly become one of my favourite authors and with His Castilian Hawk it is not difficult to see why. The flowing narrative and engaging storyline means this is one book that is impossible to put down. Who needs sleep when you are desperate to know what happens next? His Castilian Hawk is a wonderfully diverting novel for these long winter nights!

Over the bridge, through the gate – a strong, sturdy gatehouse, Robert concluded, the heavy doors set on huge hinges affixed to the stonework – and they were in the bailey. At the top of the stairs leading to the hall stood a group of women, all but one in veil and wimple. The youngest was standing a few feet in front of the others, one hand resting on the head of a magnificent hound. A huge beast, it looked like a cross between one of King Edward’s precious greyhounds and a wolf, its brindled coat shifting from the lightest of greys to a sooty black. No wimple, but her hair was not to be seen, a veil covering all but the tip of a heavy braid and a few tendrils that had come undone. Dark hair.

She walked slowly down the stairs, the hound at her side. From the hall erupted a sturdy tonsured man, his robes flapping round his legs as he hurried after her.

“My lady,” Robert said once she’d come to a halt before him.

“My lord.” She bowed her head in greeting. No one had called him a lord before. It almost made him grin. Lord Robert of Orton, master of all he presently surveyed, including the young woman in front of him. What would his dear sire have to say about that, he wondered, teeth grinding together for an instant.

Robert shook himself free of dark thoughts and dismounted. “I come – “

“I know why you come,” she interrupted. “Our liege has sent me a messenger.” Her voice shook. “He has ordered me to wed you at the soonest – for my own safety.” She looked at the cart, and for an instant her eyes glittered. Her lashes swept down, and he heard her mutter, “Unus, duo, tres,” counting all the way to ten before she opened her eyes again. “Is that…” She cleared her throat. “Are they…”

“Yes, my lady.” John bowed. “We are sorry to bring you such gruesome tidings.”

She nodded, no more. “No mother, now no father, no brother.” She gave a little laugh, a sad sound that caused Robert’s innards to twist. “The king is right: I am without protection, without family.”

“Come, come,” the priest said. “the king has seen to that, my lady.” He gave Robert an ingratiating smile. “Behold your new protector, your husband.”

Anna Belfrage’s love of history and storytelling combines to create a wonderful book, infused with the medieval atmosphere and believable personalities. Her historical research is impeccable and goes to recreate the world of thirteenth century England and Wales; the court, the fighting and the power struggle that saw Edward become master of Wales.

Eleanor d’Outremer, Noor, is a wonderful, spirited heroine. She turns from a young girl into a woman before our eyes, negotiating her way through a world entirely unfamiliar. Discovering love, duty and family secrets along the way, she is a most sympathetic and relatable character. I like her! Robert FitzStephan, on the other hand, gets off to a bad start, with his wife and the reader alike, as his decisions and actions leave a lot to be desired. However, in the end his love and loyalty get the better of his initial insensitivity and he becomes a hero you can admire. Together, they make a remarkable couple.

Anna Belfrage has the ability to bring all your emotions to the fore in His Castilian Hawk – you will be laughing, crying and gritting your teeth as our hero and heroine negotiate their way through married like and Edward’s court. It is a gripping read!

His Castilian Hawk is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon UK.

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About the Author:

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exist, she settled for second best and became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely 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.

Her most recent release, A Torch in His Heart, is a step out of her comfort zone. Having previously published historical fiction & historical romance, with this first book about Jason and Helle Anna offers a dark and titillating contemporary romance, complete with a time-slip angle and hot & steamy scenes.

Her first series, The Graham Saga, is set in 17th century Scotland and Virginia/Maryland. It tells the story of Matthew and Alex, two people who should never have met – not when she was born three hundred years after him. With this heady blend of time-travel, romance, adventure, high drama and historical accuracy, Anna hopes to entertain and captivate, and is more than thrilled when readers tell her just how much they love her books and her characters. There are nine books in the series so far, but Anna is considering adding one or two more…

Her second series is set in the 1320s and features Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The King’s Greatest Enemy is a series where passion and drama play out against a complex political situation, where today’s traitor may be tomorrow’s hero, and the Wheel of Fortune never stops rolling.

If you want to know more about Anna, why not visit her website, https://www.annabelfrage.com

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My books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Book Corner: Sworn to God by Steven A. McKay

Yorkshire, AD 1329
A new religious group moves into an abandoned church just north of the village of Altofts, but when men start dying under strange and suspicious circumstances the local bailiff decides to investigate.

The Disciples of God and their charismatic leader, Lady Alice de Staynton, appear truly holy, but something sinister seems to be going on within the walls of the newly refurbished St Joseph’s. Certainly the bailiff, John Little, has his suspicions about some of the warrior-like male acolytes, but are his fears justified? Infiltrating the group seems to be the best course of action, although the volatile Will Scaflock is none too happy about being nominated for the job by Friar Tuck…
Following on from 2019’s Faces of Darkness, this standalone new story sees three legendary heroes battling invisible ‘Black Lords’ and far more dangerous earthly foes, but can they figure out what’s really going on in St Joseph’s before anyone else dies?
With twists and turns aplenty, and based on real events, historical fiction fans are sure to enjoy this action packed thriller as much as they did the author’s previous bestsellers The DruidLucia and Wolf’s Head.

Oooh goody, Steven A. McKay has a new novella out!

Actually, Sworn to God is more a short novel, than a novella. Not that that would ever be a problem. I seem to remember saying, after reviewing Faces of Darkness, that McKay really should think about doing a full-length detective series based on the exploits of Little John and Friar Tuck. These novellas are a delight to read, but they are not enough! They always leave you wanting more. And Sworn to God, despite its extra length, is no exception.

Sworn to God is a riveting detective story, looking into a mysterious cult in 14th century Yorkshire. Three former members of Robin Hood’s gang – Little John, Friar Tuck and Will Scarlet – are drawn to the mysterious Disciples of God after the suicide of one of the group’s members raises eyebrows. Tuck, Scarlet and Little John know that something is not quite right, but can’t put their finger on what – exactly – is wrong with the strange cult and its charismatic leader, Alice de Staynton, who is revered as Holy Mother by her disciples.

With his Robin Hood and Warrior Druid of Britain books, Steven A. McKay has gained a reputation as a writer of action and adventure in historical fiction. His novel of a slave in Roman Britain, Lucia, is my book of 2020 and demonstrated McKay’s depth as an author, and an incredible ability to get into the heads of his characters and human behaviour in the most trying times. With these novellas, he is also gaining a reputation as a writer of exceptional medieval mysteries. Sworn to God goes through a number of twists and turns that keep the reader entranced to the very end.

John let go of the acolyte, whose face was scarlet from lack of air and embarrassment. Before he could say anything though, Tuck was past him and John hurriedly followed.

A man lay slumped over the candlelit desk in the corner. He had a ring of straggly greying hair beneath a bald pate, looked about forty-five, and was very clearly deceased.

“Damn it!” John shouted. “If there was any hope of helping him, that idiot at the door -“

“Forget it,” Tuck said, patting the bailiff’s arm as if he was soothing a dog with its hackles up. “This fellow’s been dead for a while. Look at the colour of his skin.”

They could hear the Holy Mother ordering Colwin and David to marshal the villagers out of the church and on their way home. She was telling the people to take some food with them, to offset any irritation they might have felt at not being allowed to see the dead man – and exciting event at any time after all, never mind during a Christmas feast within the home of a strange new religious sect.

“Any evidence of violence?” Tuck muttered as he and John examined the corpse and the room about them in the wan, flickering light from the single candle on the desk.

“Doesn’t seem to be. No signs of a struggle, no apparent wounds or injuries on him, no discarded weapons …”

“What’s killed him then?” The friar eyed the dead man curiously. “He looks far too young to have died from old age as he sat here.”

The Holy Mother came into the room and exclaimed in shock at the sight before her. “Brother Morris,” she whispered from behind the hand that sought to mask her grief. “How?”

Little John, Friar Tuck and Will Scarlet are the unassuming heroes of Sworn to God. Drawn to the mystery surrounding the Disciples of God, they have a penchant for solving problems that few others can see. Steven A McKay has developed these wonderful characters through his original Forest Lord series, but now has developed them even further, giving them an inquisitiveness that has given them a new sense of purpose after their years as famous outlaws have come to an end.

For a Scot, Steven A. McKay demonstrates a deep understanding of the Yorkshire landscape and the mindset of Yorkshire people, which he uses to full effect in these wonderful novellas. His passion for the legend of Robin Hood, for medieval history and for storytelling, in particular, shines through on every page. He draws the reader into the story and takes them on a wonderful journey of mystery and discovery. Moreover, Sworn to God is developed from stories of real life religious cults, showing how a charismatic leader can evince the loyalty of their followers, and get people to do things they would never normally do. In this way, Sworn to God is not just a medieval mystery, but also a study of human nature and how these cults can develop, even today. The human need to belong drawing the lost and lonely into the fold.

As an author, Steven A. Mckay seems to be able to go from strength to strength. Sworn to God is a marvellous, entertaining and engaging read. It provides a wonderful diversion in these trying times – escapism at its best. If you have never read a Steven A. McKay novel, you are missing out on an incredible author and storytelling at its best. I cannot recommend Sworn to God highly enough. I loved it!

To buy the book: Amazon

About the author:

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.
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!

My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

Book Corner: The Errant Hours by Kate Innes

A headlong journey through the physical and spiritual dangers of Plantagenet Britain, in all its savage pageantry. Welsh Marches, July 1284 – the uprising in Wales is over, the leader gruesomely executed, the dead are buried. But for Illesa Arrowsmith, the war’s aftermath is just as brutal. When her brother is thrown into the Forester’s prison on false charges, she is left impoverished and alone. All Illesa has left is the secret manuscript entrusted to her – a book so powerful it can save lives, a book so valuable that its discovery could lead to her death. When the bailiff’s daughter finds it, Illesa decides to run, and break her brother out of jail by whatever means. But the powerful Forester tracks them down, and Illesa must put herself and the book at the mercy of an unscrupulous knight who threatens to reveal all their secrets, one by one. Inspired by the seductive art of illuminated manuscripts, The Errant Hours draws from the deep well of medieval legend to weave a story of survival and courage, trickery and love.

Every now and again you come across a book that draws you in and makes you lose entire days to reading. For me, The Errant Hours by Kate Innes was one of those books: I lost the whole of last weekend to reading the final 200 pages because I HAD to get to the end. Of course, I now wish I’d taken a little longer over it, but this was a book I needed to devour. With just short of 400 pages of beautiful prose, a unique storyline and the perfect combination of intrigue, betrayal and love, The Errant Hours is a perfect book for lockdown or those long, dark, winter nights.

A brother-sister relationship most of us can relate to, family secrets and mysteries and a beautiful, valuable book all come together to create The Errant Hours by Kate Innes. Illesa Arrowsmith losing her home to her creditors and helping her reckless brother escape the Forester’s prison is only the start of her adventures; adventures that will lead her to the heart of the court of Edward I and into the political turmoil of the English conquest of Wales. While the national political climate contrasts perfectly with the turmoil in Illesa’s own life as she attempts to uncover her own origins and her feelings for Sir Richard Burnel, the knight who could be both protector and her accuser.

‘Illesa!’

She ignored the angry whisper and went back towards the torchlight. The guard’s head had changed position. She stood still, watching him. A thin stream of saliva came from the corner of his open mouth. His jerkin was unbuttoned. The iron chain was wound around his belt and the end hung down behind the bench.

Illesa slowly undid the buckle and loosened the chain, pulling it, link by link, off the leather belt. Gathering the chain in her hand, she pulled it up. There was a dull clang. The guard grunted and shifted on the bench, but his eyes remained closed. The ring holding the keys was caught between the wall and the bench. Illesa held the chain in her left hand and knelt down. She reached under the bench, her arms stretched around the guard, straining not to touch him. Her fingers brushed against the keys, and she let them rest on her palm. Illesa let the chain slip slowly out of her left hand until she held it, and the keys, in her right hand. She got shakily to her feet and ran to the cell door.

‘Where is the lock?’ she whispered.

‘Here, follow my hand.’Illesa saw the vague whiteness of Kit’s fingers; she put her own on top of them, feeling for the keyhole with her thumb.

‘Got it,’ she said, fumbling with the larger key.

It slid easily into the hole, but as she turned it there was a terrible screeching sound of metal against metal. Something hit the floor with a loud thump and a gasp of pain.

Kit pushed the door, nearly knocking Illesa over as he ran out of the cell.

‘Follow me!’

Kate Innes must have done a remarkable amount of research to produce such a historically accurate work of historical fiction. Although her leading characters are fictional, the supporting characters are very much historical fact, with Edward I, Eleanor of Castile, young Prince Alphonso and John, 6th Earl Warenne all making an appearance. I didn’t know one of the Warennes would be making an appearance in the story – it was such a lovely surprise!

I particularly liked Kate Innes’ portrayal of Earl Warenne as a brutal, brash lord who spares little thought for the niceties – he certainly comes across as that in my research for my own forthcoming book on the Warennes, Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey. In fact, I think Kate Innes was a little more generous with Warenne’s personality than some chroniclers were!

The fictional characters, Illesa, her brother Kit and the knight, Richard Burnel, are the central actors in the story. Their personalities, appearance and relationships are wonderfully ‘fleshed’ out. Illesa is a strong female character, but one that is not out of place in 13th century England. A young woman with determination and capability, she is also all-too-aware of the limitations forced on her by her sex.

A beautifully crafted tome, The Errant Hours by Kate Innes is a unique insight into 13th century England. The narrative flows freely and Illesa’s story will keep the reader entranced from the first page to the last. I cannot recommend it highly enough and have already put book 2, All the Winding World, on my Christmas list.

The Errant Hours by Kate Innes is available from Amazon.

About the author:

Kate Innes was born in London and lived and worked in America and Zimbabwe. She is now based in Shropshire, and it is the history and natural beauty of this area that provides inspiration for both her fiction and poetry.

She originally trained as an archaeologist and a teacher, and then worked as a Museum Education Officer around the Midlands, writing poetry in her spare time. After the arrival of her children, Kate began work on her medieval novel ‘The Errant Hours’ which was published in 2015.

The Historical Novel Society selected ‘The Errant Hours’ as an ‘Editor’s Choice’, and it was added to the reading list of the Medieval Studies Department at Bangor University. It is one of Book Riot’s ‘One Hundred Must Read Medieval Novels’.

Her second novel, ‘All the Winding World’ is a sequel to ‘The Errant Hours’, set ten years later. It is due to be published on the 22 June 2018.

Kate has been writing and performing poetry for many years, usually with a particular focus on animals, art and the natural world. Her poem ‘Flocks of Words’ won first prize in the ‘Imagined Worlds’ Competition held by the Friends of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Her first collection, also called ‘Flocks of Words’, was published in Spring 2017 and many of these poems form part of a performance with the acoustic music group ‘Whalebone’.

Kate runs writing workshops, gives illustrated talks, works collaboratively with communities and undertakes commissions and residencies.

http://www.kateinneswriter.com

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My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

Book Corner: Fugitive by Paul Fraser Collard

Roguish hero Jack Lark – soldier, leader, imposter – crosses borders once more as he pursues a brand-new adventure in Africa.

London, 1868. Jack has traded the battlefield for business, running a thriving club in the backstreets of Whitechapel. But this underworld has rules and when Jack refuses to comply, he finds himself up against the East End’s most formidable criminal – with devastating consequences.

A wanted man, Jack turns to his friend Macgregor, an ex-officer, treasure hunter and his ticket out of England. Together they join the British army on campaign across the tablelands of Abyssinia to the fortress of Magdala, a high-stakes mission to free British prisoners captured by the notorious Emperor Tewodros.

But life on the run can turn dangerous, especially in a land ravaged by war . . .

Stupendous!

That is the first word that came to my mind when I was asked what I thought of Fugitive by Paul Fraser Collard. Fugitive is book no. 9 in the adventures of Victorian rogue, Jack Lark. Over the last few years, the release of the latest of Jack Lark’s adventures has become one of the highlights of my summer. Last year’s holiday reading was The Lost Outlaw, and the year before that it was The Rebel Killer. And after such amazing books in recent years, Fugitive had a lot to live up to.

In many of the previous books, Jack has taken on the persona of others, officers and soldiers all. He has travelled the globe, fighting in hotspots from the Crimea to America, more often than not concealing his own identity. In Fugitive, Jack Lark is finally himself, though whether that it a good thing or not is open to discussion.

Jack Lark is a bit of a rascal, taking opportunities where he finds them and running with it. He has fought on both sides of the American Civil War, had a stint in the French Foreign Legion and is now going in search of a fortune – and adventure – in Africa as the British Empire’s inexorable expansion opens more opportunities for those willing to take the risk. And, of course, as with any Jack Lark adventure, things get complicated and he is followed by the trouble he hoped to leave behind in London…

‘Do you think -‘ Bertie started.

‘Hush now.’ Cooper was quick to interrupt. ‘He’s coming.’

The three men looked down the alley as one. Sure enough, a figure was approaching. The fog wrapped around him like a ghostly shawl, so that he was little more than an apparition, a dark shadow shrouded in mist.

‘Is that him?’ Bertie whispered.

‘That’s the captain all right,’ Cooper answered softly, the words barely audible.

The figure came closer. It did not hurry. It did not swagger or strut. It simply moved with purpose.

‘Have you got the rhino?’ There was no greeting. Just five short words, delivered staccato. Little could be seen of the captain’s face beneath a dark-coloured pork pie hat pulled down low. He was tall, just a shade under six foot, and was wearing a tightly buttoned overcoat.

‘Are you truly the captain?’ Oddly, it was Bertie who spoke for the three. He stared at the man, his eyes as wide as those of a child seeing a bear for the first time.

‘I’m the captain.’ The words were spoken softly, but every man heard them. ‘Now have you got the rhino?’

He lifted his chin as he repeated the question. For the first time, the three gentlemen got a good glimpse of his face. A scar ran down the left-hand side, the lower half disappearing into a heavy beard. But it was not that that drew their attention; it was the hard grey eyes that stared back at them as if the captain could see right down to their very souls.

The confirmation of identity was enough. Charles fished into his overcoat and pulled out a thick wedge of banknotes, which he held out in front of him.

The captain took the bundle swiftly. He did not check it. Instead, he carefully unbuttoned his coat and tucked the notes deep into an inside pocket. It was artfully done, every gesture sharp and controlled, the coat pulled open just long enough to give the three men a glimpse of the stout oak cudgel hooked into the captain’s belt.

‘Follow me.’ The captain turned on his heel and walked back down the alley, setting a rapid pace. He did not bother to see if they followed.

Just as his character is an expert at impersonation, Paul Fraser Collard has become a master at drawing out the drama and raising the tension to the very last pages of the book. His writing draws the reader in from the very first page and forces you to stay up late and get up early, just to get one more chapter in before work!

The research is, as always, impeccable, and the author takes the reader from the seedier areas of nighttime London to the fortress of Magdala, in the heart of Abyssinia, on a journey across seas, through the stifling heat of the desert and into the fortress itself, with danger and action following every step of the way. From fights in the backstreets of London to the pitched battles of the Victorian Imperial army against the poorly armed Abyssinian massed army, the reader is drawn into a world full of excitement, danger … and possibilities.

I love that Jack Lark is not a man who goes looking for trouble – he tends to fall into it. However, once trouble finds him, he doesn’t shirk from the challenge and faces whatever is set before him. The character development of Jack Lark himself, throughout all 9 books, is fascinating, and probably the best I’ve ever read. He grows and learns from each adventure and is more self-aware in Fugitive of his own abilities – and his failings. He finds out exactly who he is, discovering himself just as the reader does; accepting his flaws.

As the books are set half a century after the Peninsular War, Jack Lark’s adventure are often compare to those of Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe; with the comparison extending to the two authors. I am not sure Lark and Sharpe are too much alike, beyond the fact they each have a scar on their faces and are ferocious fighters. Sharpe fights within the British army system, whereas Lark is very much an outsider. However, they bot come from similar backgrounds and I can’t help but think that, had they met, they would have got on like a house on fire – or killed each other.

With that in mind, any fan of Bernard Cornwell would not be disappointed if they picked up a Jack Lark book to try. The wonderfully vivid and lively characters Paul Fraser Collard has created – and the very unlikely hero – are a treat for any lover of action and adventure in their historical fiction

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About the author:

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

To buy the book: Amazon UKAmazon US.

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My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Fortress of Fury by Matthew Harffy

Beobrand is besieged in the action-packed instalment in the Bernicia Chronicles set in AD 647 Anglo-Saxon Britain.

War hangs heavy in the hot summer air as Penda of Mercia and his allies march into the north. Caught unawares, the Bernician forces are besieged within the great fortress of Bebbanburg.

It falls to Beobrand to mount the defence of the stronghold, but even while the battle rages, old and powerful enemies have mobilised against him, seeking vengeance for past events.

As the Mercian forces tighten their grip and unknown killers close in, Beobrand finds himself in a struggle with conflicting oaths and the dreadful pull of a forbidden love that threatens to destroy everything he holds dear.

With the future of Northumbria in jeopardy, will Beobrand be able to withstand the powers that beset him and find a path to victory against all the odds?

In recent years, the Matthew Harffy new book release has become one of the highlights of my year, and 2020 is no exception. Fortress of Fury is the 7th book in his wonderful series, The Bernicia Chronicles. And it is probably the best so far! Beobrand has returned home after his recent journey to France in Storm of Steel, and now must defend the kingdom of Bernicia (now known as Northumbria) – and Bebbanburgh itself – from Welsh and Mercian invaders.

Fast paced, full of suspense and action, it is a non-stop rollercoaster ride of action and emotion for the reader. Matthew Harffy expertly combines the story with the known history and recreates 7th century Northumbria perfectly, giving the reader vivid descriptions of the landscape, the harsh reality of life in a kingdom suffering from invasion and fight scenes to die for – literally!

The fears of the characters are palpable.

Matthew Harffy’s storytelling abilities are second-to-none, he pulls you into the story from the very first, action-packed pages, and keeps you constantly gripped to the very last. And he always leaves you wanting more. Fortress of Fury is no exception! Waiting for book no. 8 is going to really test my patience!

They chased the raiders westward as the sun slid down through a crimson sky towards the desolate hills and moors of western Bernicia. Far beyond the horizon, before the land dipped into the sea that separated Albion from Hibernnia, Beobrand knew there rose great snowcapped mountains. But that land was days’s ride away and they would run their quarry to ground long before they saw the craggy bluffs and peaks of Rheged. He glanced over his shoulder at the score of warriors that rode hard behind him. Given their pace and the freshness of their steeds, they might well catch the men they pursued before sunset. He hoped so. He did not wish to lose them in the night. They had burnt a steading, killing folk whom Beobrand had sword to defend. And they had injured one of Beobrand’s gesithas. These Mercians must pay.

Beobrand squinted into the lowering sun. He could make out no details in the glare. A prickle of unease scratched the nape of his neck. Could they be riding into an ambush? With a twitch of the reins, he slowed his black stallion, Sceadugenga, almost imperceptibly. Beside him, Cynan shot him a glance and guided his mount closer.

“What is it?” asked the Waelisc warrior. He rode his bay mare effortlessly, and as always, when Beobrand watched the man ride, he marvelled at how one who had been so unsuited to horseback at first had gone on to become the nest horseman of his warband, and arguably in the kingdom.

Beobrand was no great rider, but he had the finest of horses. Sceadugenga was no longer young, but the horse was still hale and strong and there was a deep understanding between horse and rider. Beobrand knew it was foolish to care for a beast, but the bond he shared with Sceadugenga was unlike anything he had felt with other animals. The stallion and he had been through much together and it often seemed to him that the animal knew what he was going to command before he even knew himself.

“Something is not right,” Beobrand said, raising his voice over the thunder of the horses’ hooves on the summer-dry ground.

“You think it a trap?” said Cynan

There is not just one aspect of this book you can look at and point to and say ‘that’s what makes this a good book’; it is the combination of history, atmosphere, action, characters and storytelling that makes Fortress of Fury the perfect novel. Matthew Harffy uses the background of real events behind the invasion of Bernicia, and weaves it seamlessly into the lives of his characters. Beobrand, now the most feared and renowned warrior in Bernicia, is tasked with defending the great fortress of Bebbanburgh.

Fortress of Fury feels like it is a seminal book in the series, a turning point for Beobrand, as he matures into a great leader of men, whose own men are now becoming leaders. The decision he takes in this book will decide his future. I have yet to see if I’m right – I will have to wait for book no. 8 – but this feels like a momentous book for its hero. The events of Fortress of Fury will have a major influence on where Beobrand goes next – I can feel it!

I still haven’t worked out if ‘unputdownable’ is a word, but it is the best way to describe Fortress of Fury. I lost two afternoons of work because I couldn’t leave the book at crucial moments in the story, then stayed up til midnight, just so I could finish the last 50 pages.

I have long thought that the books of the Bernicia Chronicles are addictive and Fortress of Fury is no exception.

Simply put, Fortress of Fury by Matthew Harffy is a fabulous feat of storytelling.

It is available from 6 August. Buy link: Amazon UK

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 link: Amazon UK

My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: A Year in the Life of Medieval England by Toni Mount

tmThe medieval era is often associated with dynastic struggles, gruesome wars and the formidable influence of the Church. But what about the everyday experience of the royal subjects and common people? Here, alongside the coronations, diplomatic dealings and key battles, can be found the fabric of medieval life as it was really lived, in its folk songs, recipes and local gossip. With a diverse range of entries – one for each day of the year – historian Toni Mount provides an almanac for lovers of all things medieval.

Toni Mount’s latest book, A Year in the Life of Medieval England, is a veritable treasury of miscellaneous snippets of medieval history. A true gem in every sense, it is one of those books that you pick up and flick through ‘just for 5 minutes’ – only to find that when you close the book again you’ve lost the last 2 hours!

Chock full of fascinating information, told in diary format, the book takes us through the year from 1st January to 31st December. Some days have just one entry – the shortest being in June;

25th – Midday Eclipse

A midday eclipse was recorded on 25th June 1191.

While other entries run to several pages, there is at least one entry for each day, and often 2 or 3. The book gives us insights into medieval court life and the great players on the national stage; offering us glimpses into their Christmas traditions, family life and political machinations. We are treated to abdications, usurpations, coronations, births and weddings; all told in a wonderfully friendly, entertaining style.

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The Peasants’ Revolt

However, where this book shines is in the entries about ordinary people; drawing from wills, letters and chronicles Toni Mount builds up a picture of daily life, of the trials and labours of the man – or woman – next door. We see how the influences of Church and King dictated their lives; how the extremes of weather could lead to feast or famine and how neighbours looked out for each other.

May

10th – A Village dispute

On this day, at Woodbridge in Suffolk, a dispute arose between William the Piper, aged twenty-four years and more, and John Scanlon of the same [place], and they struck each other with their fists … John Bray, chaplain, and others took John Scanlon by the neck … He resisted and William struck John Scanlon while he was being held … forthwith, John Scanlon took a knife out of the sheath of John Bray without [him] knowing it and struck William feloniously with a wound in the chest nine inches deep and one inch in latitude from which wound William died, languishing for nine days following the dispute … Alice, wife of William was with him in his home when he died.

This book is a treasure trove for any fan of medieval England. Each day holds a wonderful snippet of information; either a story or an event, or an explanation of a tradition or saint’s day. The author has managed to cover a wide range of medieval life and events. With stories taken from the towns and fields of rural England, the law courts of London or the royal court itself, it would be impossible to read this book without learning something new – and fascinating.

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Medieval York

Toni Mount has succeeded in building a picture of medieval life through all levels of society. On the same page we can read about a mercer’s will, and woman accused of witchcraft – and the death of the Black Prince. The entries are, at times, touching – such as a letter from Joan of Arc to her English captors – and at other times amusing, such as a poem about table manners for children. And amongst it all we can find recipes for herb fritters and remedies for gout!

Supported by colourful images of medieval life and court pageantry, this book is a wonderful read; from the medieval scholar to the armchair historian, it has something for everyone. Whether you read it chronologically, or head straight for your birthday (yes I did);

On this day in 1141, a strange phenomenon was recorded in London: the tide in the Thames went out and failed to flow in again for an entire twenty-four hours.

A Year in the Life of Medieval England is a wonderful, fascinating read. From the story of Aethelflaed to the Battle of Bosworth; the challenge for any reader will be putting it down!

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Pictures taken from Wikipedia.

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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.

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