Wednesday, 7 June 2017

James reviews A Traitor's Fate by Derek Birks

Today James Holdstock reviews A Traitor's Fate by Derek Birks, part of his wonderful Rebels & Brothers series, set during the Wars of the Roses. The author has kindly offered a signed paperback of his latest book, Scars From the Past for a UK winner or a Kindle copy to anywhere else in the world as a giveaway. To be in with a chance of winning this fabulous story, simply leave a comment below of on our Facebook Page. The winner will be drawn on 14th June 2017. Good luck!

Derek Birks lured me in with stunning action sequences, big characters and lavish history and then reached down and grabbed my heart. He taunted me by squeezing it hard but always giving me hope he would care for it. He only released me from emotional elation and terrible turmoil when I had finished reading A Traitor's Fate.

'Ned is my brother in arms - a brotherhood forged in the blood of battle and I'll hold this place until I die or he returns.'

A Traitor's Fate by Derek Birks focuses on the fortunes and will of Ned Elder, his family and retinue in 1464 during the Wars of the Roses. It seems to me that the events are driven by duty, love and revenge. The story that Birks has crafted for Ned and the other characters, dovetails in with real events perfectly (to the date) which adds to the already real sense of immersion in a great period of history.

Convincing a reader they are in a certain period of history when language and culture were so different from today is a tricky task. Many of Birks' characters possess an almost impatient sense of sarcasm that I think exists in real life but often doesn't make it onto pages of books.

'Promise me nothing; a promise disappears quicker than a fools fart.'

It is clear Birks has done his research. None of the real historical events feel forced into the story. It is merely happened across, even the big reveal that creates a huge plot turn. The descriptions not only of the physical landscape but of the feel of it, the environment and the sounds and smells comes naturally and through the characters perspectives.

'He disliked forests at the best of times with their dark shadowy places and cunning branches and roots that sought to ensnare the unwary'

I like action. Often even Cornwell doesn't put enough action in his books for me, but A Traitor's Fate feels almost non stop! But each time it is different enough that it is not predictable. The characters are not superheroes as they can be in some books. You really believe and know that the people are getting hurt and are in danger. There were events that made me physically wince, and after growing up watching action movies in the 80's, that's an incredible feat. 

I can't rave enough that everything in the books is driven by the characters. No hand of God here to pull the author out of a tricky situation. These events are all caused and  resolved by the strong (even if they are weak) characters that have been well crafted. I'd like to say Birks is a genius in how he has put so much into them but it actually feels like he has stumbled upon them, unleashed them and then not been able to control their strong wills. They feel that real. It is even easy to get the measure of minor characters very quickly. 

'...was unused to riding and however they sat her upon the horse, she seemed to find a way to fall off.'

Apart from the general backdrop being a real historical landscape, there are big historical events that are seamlessly woven into the story. I love learning my history this way but to differentiate fact from fiction one needs a detailed authors/historical note, which is of curse provided at the end of the book.

Ned is the main character and I quickly fell in love with his fierce fighting style and optimism, but also his flaws. There are other main characters as well and Birks uses specific dates and even times of day at the beginning of chapters so that he can invest you in many interconnected events. These events are all happening in different places to different people but at the same time. It is masterfully done. It also adds a huge amount to the dramatic irony as you watch characters you have come to love, embark on doomed actions because they haven't got the information they need. 

My only criticism is that, because there is a lot of information I did find it hard to keep track of some characters and relationships when I was first reading the book at the end of particularly draining work days. This may be helped by the addition of a dramatis personae but I understand why sometimes these are left out to try and avoid reveals and spoilers. Also, I read this book (The second in the series) as my first one, so may not know the characters as well as people that have already read the first book (which I am reading now).

What am I going to do next? I'm going to have a rest, and then read the rest of the series!
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 series entitled Rebels & Brothers which follows the fortunes of the fictional Elder family.  The sequel to Feud, A Traitor's Fate, was published in November 2013 and Book 3, Kingdom of Rebels, was released on August 31st 2014.
The final book in the series, The Last Shroud, was published on 31st August 2015.The first book in a new series, Scars From the Past was released in November 2016.
Links: Amazon; Facebook; Twitter; Derek's Blog.
About the Reviewer: 
James Holdstock loves reading Historical Fiction and wants to share his passion for Medieval History with everyone, especially younger readers. He writes a blog about medieval people that are the unsung heroes of Britain and has also started a series of Historical Fiction books for younger readers. The first book, 'To Murder a King, A Squire’s Tale', features many real life medieval figures like William Marshal and King John and is set at the Tower of London. If you know any young people that are into medieval history (or even if they’d like to know more about it), please pass on the links.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Great review. Would love to win this .

  3. These books look excellent and Derek sure seems to know his stuff. I want to win, please?

  4. Wars of the Roses! I would so love to win a copy! :D

  5. I would love to win a copy. Thanks.