Monday, 23 May 2016

The Myth Making Merchants of Ancient Greece. Blog post by Rob Bayliss

Can you imagine the world when it was truly an Eden? A world that is young and fresh, full of wonder and mystery? You are an explorer; you have left your city state and taken ship out into the world to find new sources of trade. You are educated to a certain level with a rudimentary notion of empirical fact finding. Who knows what you will find and what peoples you will meet? But first let’s name you; you are Lysandros of Athens. You don’t know it yet but your people will help shape the base culture of a whole hemisphere.  With a cargo of olive oil and wine you and your uncle set sail seeking new markets.

You make your first landing at Crete. Crete has long standing links to Athens and you know full well the legend of the Minotaur – the monster with a bull’s head that haunted a labyrinth in Knossos and required a regular sacrifice human flesh and blood from Athens. That was until the Athenian Theseus slew the beast.
Henry Herz files

 You leave your uncle to strike deals with the locals and wander the streets and land of Crete. This is an ancient place, here and there are old walls with brilliant painted frescos, showing men vaulting bulls which sport evil looking horns. These people seem obsessed with bulls. Maybe in these hills a Minotaur still lives?  You hurry back to your uncle and his ship.

Setting sail west across the Mediterranean you land at Malta. Again you watch as your uncle negotiates his trade. He has to compete with another wily merchant, Amilcare of Phoenicia who seems able to undercut him every time. You are angered by the attitude of Amilcare but your uncle sends you away lest you and your friends come to blows with the Phoenician’s heavies. Away from the tense negotiations you view a wonder. One of the locals has the skull of a cyclops on display. What a fearsome monster it must have been; twice the size of a human skull with a single eye socket set in the centre. It had two fangs pointing down with thick molars to grind bones.  The local says he found the skull in a nearby cave and offers to take you and your friends there.  With tales of cyclops running through your imagination you respectfully decline.

Back on board ship and your uncle is in a fearsome mood.  There was little profit to be had in Malta; the Phoenicians seem to have wrapped up the market to their advantage. They have a rapidly growing base just over the sea at Carthage. Your uncle advises you that the Phoenicians, those people living on the coastal strip of the Levant, are not to be trusted when it comes to financial dealings and they seem to have corned markets everywhere. With little to show for the voyage you head back home. Over winter he will decide on next year’s destination. You suggest carrying on west through the Pillars of Hercules and then striking north for a rain sodden island that is famed for its tin. But fearing Phoenician taxes your uncle has an alternative idea to head east.

East! Spices and silk from there can make a man rich beyond his wildest dreams! Was not the Golden Fleece from there too? There are tales that the world stretches on and on, eastward. With the spring you sail east following the fabled course of Jason and the Argonauts. Sailing the narrow straits between Europe and Asia, imaginations are wild that the hazardous clashing rocks of the Symplegades may lay ahead. Your uncle is more wary of being accosted by ships sent from Persia. The Persian king is as a god, it’s said, his empire vast and terrible yet full of wonders. After the last year your uncle has had his fill of paying taxes to foreigners. 

Across the Black Sea your uncle makes a lucrative trade of wine and olive oil for spices, silk and tar. Of a fleece of gold hanging in a tree as per the legend however there is no sign. However the seller of the silk is full of fascinating stories. There are vast steppes, seas of grass as far as the eye can see peopled by tribes of Centaurs and beyond the steppes the skies are full of savage griffins which guard hoards of gold, the trader says he has seen the abandoned nests of these fabled beasts…

Golden Voyage of Sinbad

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

If we look at the world of Lysandros through modern eyes we can begin to make sense of it and its strange inhabitants. The Minoan civilisation was once predominant in the region and the figure of a bull featured heavily in their religion and culture. Greek cities (Athens included) paid tribute to the Minoans, quite possibly young men and women were sent as sacrifice. It has been postulated that perhaps the priest performing the sacrifice wore the head of a bull, hence we have the myth of the minotaur. Theseus slaying the Minotaur may represent Athens breaking free of Minoan dominance.
What of the cyclops? On Malta and other Mediterranean islands can be found fossils of prehistoric dwarf elephants. These elephants were descendants of mammoths stranded on these islands as the ice sheets retreated. Being large mammals trapped on islands with limited resources they evolved into dwarf species, but stranded as they were in an ecological and evolutionary cul-de-sac they became extinct soon after the last ice age. With their large trunk cavity and small tusks it’s easy to see where the cyclops myth originated.

What was the golden fleece? In Georgia, instead of panning for gold from streams, the locals used to submerge fleeces stretched across wooden frames to catch tiny particles of alluvial gold and then hang them in trees to dry. The gold would then be combed out.To Greeks and others around the Mediterranean, whose warriors preferred fighting on foot, the skill of eastern steppe horse warriors must have seemed as if man and horse were one and the same, and so maybe this is how the legend of centaurs came to be.

But what of griffins, these noble beasts with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle, that guard hoards of gold? In 1922 in the Gobi desert in Inner Mongolia a remarkable discovery was found by an expedition searching for fossilised human remains. Instead of hominid fossils incredibly intact nests of Cretaceous dinosaurs were found under the desert sand. These were the remains of Protoceratops, an ancestor of the famous Triceratops. The dinosaur had a large beak, like a bird, yet thick ground dwelling leg bones and nests full of eggs. The area of Mongolia where these fossils can be found were long mined for gold. Every so often ,through digging or by exposure by weathering, these fossils would surface. Using what references they had you can see how the idea of a griffin came about in the minds of these ancient miners.

The Greeks of course are one of the great fountain heads of western civilisation. From them we got the ideas of theatre, science, the arts and democracy. All good but we may also have inadvertently picked up their prejudices too. As the Greeks set up trading colonies around the Mediterranean and Black Seas they found themselves in fierce competition with the Phoenicians. They always seemed to be a step ahead of the Greeks. The name Phoenician comes from the Greek word Phoinikes which is the famous purple dye extracted from the Murex sea snail, the trade in which the Phoenicians enjoyed a complete monopoly. A colony of Phoenicia would of course become Carthage and would be a rival to the future Mediterranean superpower of Rome. However, a rival commercial power of Semitic people based on the Levant? One wonders if the rotten seeds of Antisemitism were sown all those centuries ago?
Rob Bayliss is a reviewer at The Review and is currently writing his own fantasy series. Information on his writing projects can be found at Flint & Steel, Fire & Shadow.

Persian Fire by Tom Holland
Greece and Rome at War by Peter Connolly
The First Fossil Hunters by Adrienne Mayor

Friday, 20 May 2016

The Virgin of the Wind Rose and the Genius of Glen Craney by Linda Root

The author is offering an e-book copy to one lucky reader. To be in with a chance of winning this amazing book, leave a comment below, or on our Facebook page. The prize draw will be held on Friday 3rd June 2016. Good luck!

 When I was a student, I wondered how a young  Mozart could have understood music well enough to write a symphony. I asked the same question about Paul Klee and the visual arts, and T. S. Eliot and poetry.  I knew the answer when it came to Coleridge.  Occasionally I encounter a contemporary historical novelist who provokes me to ask almost the identical question: How can the person whose book I am reading have acquired in a single lifespan the knowledge required to have written it?  Glen Craney is of that ilk.

When I began reading Glen Craney’s novels, I started with The Spider and the Stone. I said to myself, ‘Aha! Craney is a Scottish medievalist. But, after reviewing The Yanks are Starving, I recast Mister Craney as a 21st Century John Dos Passos--a modern writer with a journalistic flair and a 20th Century social conscience.  The next book in my To-Be-Read stack was The Virgin of the Wind Rose, and I am baffled.  If I were not a committed skeptic, I would suspect him of channeling.
 Of the Glen Craney books I have read thus far,  I found the first chapters of 'Wind Rose' to be the most challenging.  In today’s socio-political climate, I have over-dosed on blind followers of charismatic leaders with hidden agendas. By page 38, I had endured quite enough of co-protagonist Jaqueline Quartermane.  I was amazed that a writer  I consider an enlightened humanist could create her. In my past life, I had many acquaintances with federal officers, a fact which made me skeptical. Surely the Human Resources Team at Quantico had the wherewithal to filter out the nut cases.  Then, I remembered Wind Rose is a novel, not a Yucca Valley Town Council Meeting. Irrationality in fiction is excusable.  Thus, my high expectations when it comes to Mister Craney kept the pages turning. He would not have made a True Believer like Agent Quartermane --a religious zealot with an unyielding belief in a fundamentalist dogma despite mountains of evidence to the contrary--unless he had a reason.  Read on,  read on, the Muses commanded.  
By that point, Craney had introduced a deliciously mischievous male co-protagonist named Elymas to counterbalance Quartermane inane naivete. Since the character Elymas, also known as Moses Rosen, aka Boz, seemed to have the stamina to deal with  Quartermane without closing the book on her, what right had I to write her off so casually?  
When I read further, I discovered Jaq Quartermane was not the only character in the book being manipulated by a charismatic leader.  The otherwise canny character Jamaal is equally enthralled by his idol Yahya's words, “Your home is not of this world. The Awaited One asked me to bless you with these Leaves of Paradise from Yemen. He wants you to have a taste of what is soon to come.'  Just as Quartermane has a handler and a mentor, Jammal has the mysterious Yahya calling the shots for the Awaited One, The Mahdi.  Both he and Quartermane anticipated the End Days as coming soon, but from opposite sides of the Apocalypse.  Drugs are only one means of capturing the fertile minds of characters in Craney's book. Symbolism, mind-control, and an emotional appeal to God and Country are present in both the Christian and the Muslim leadership. Jaq's mentor, the televangelist, utilizes them all, but so does his Muslim counterpart.
The parallel plot:   Enter the 15th Century
Not not all of the Mind Benders in the novel live in the 21st Century. The Virgin of the Wind Rose is a novel with parallel plots. I should have anticipated as much from its curious subtitle: A Christopher Columbus Mystery Thriller. The companion plot to the one which begins with the murder of Agent Quartermain's fiance is a tale set in the late 15th century. While their misadventures are different than those of Jaqueline Quartermane and her mystery man, they deal with the same universal issues of truth,  faith, betrayal and manipulation. The suggestion that the three somewhat inept aspiring Portuguese mariners were going to have something to do with the discovery of America was enough of a tease to keep me reading,  although I had survived several of their misadventures without a sign of Christopher Columbus or the Pinta, the Nina, or the Santa Maria.  I was unable to close the book until I knew who had murdered Ms. Quartermane’s fiancé Paul Merion, but I was equally curious to sort the Christopher Columbus angle.  When a fourth aspiring mariner joins the group--a Genoese named Cristobal Columbo, who meets the others while they are incarcerated, it is tempting to consider that portion of the puzzle solved, but when the most astute of the original trio, Zarco, is framed for a crime he did not commit so soon after Cristobal appears, something does not feel right.  When Zarco is executed, Cristobal is assigned to Isabella's court, where his sexual prowess equals his potential as an explorer.
The composition of Henry, the Navigator's supporters, includes a large contingent of Jewish intellectuals at a time when Portugal's near neighbor Spain was in the clutches of warrior queen Isabella and her henchman Torquemada.  But with Prince Henry's death, that all changes.
Fifteenth Century protagonist Pero, and his erstwhile companions  Dias and Zarco are being indoctrinated in cosmology, learning about navigational aids such as the compass and the wind rose, and dealing with the flatness of the earth, our less than intrepid modern heroine Jaq is being set up.  With Boz's unsolicited help, she is learning to appraise her part in the unfolding drama differently.  Too many dead bodies are showing up to make this a simple mystery involving the murder of her fiance.  She begins to question her own background, even her ethnicity. No one seems to be who she thought they were, herself included.
Without dropping spoilers onto the page, there are some aspects of Craney’s novel worthy of mention to would-be readers.  Some reviewers have compared it to the works of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.  They do share a common attribute. Their story lines convey the message that to understand what is happening in the present, one needs a healthy grasp of what has happened in the past. This is not a novel where the reader can skip over the 15th-century plotline to get to the meat of the modern murder mystery.  I tried it and it didn’t work.  While the plots seem to progress independent of one another,  that is an illusion.  
As to the similarities between Dan Brown and Craney, while both authors are extraordinary wordsmiths, I find Craney the more sophisticated storyteller. Both are excellent tour guides through a different landscape. Thanks to the introduction of a word puzzle in the early pages, and the significance of both plots to the specter of The End Times, Craney made me work harder.  Those who enjoy a challenge will favor this book over Brown's.  One caveat: Do not belabor over the diagrams and the word puzzle. They will solve themselves in time. 

 A noteworthy feature of Virgin of the Wind Rose is its somewhat tongue-in-cheek treatment of social issues, both in the 15th century and the present.  The author’s wide-range of experience and good-natured cynicism is never far beneath the storyline.  The political commentary is there, but Craney avoids hitting his reader over the head with it as if it were a blunt instrument.  As for a touch of the Supernatural, it is certainly present but brilliantly framed. It is not a device used at the end to shore up weaknesses in the plot, but an integral part of a story. Furthermore, in the best tradition of Alan Quartermaine and Lara Croft and yes, Dan Brown’s alter ego Robert Langdon, there is a code. In this case, it is the aforementioned word puzzle needing to be solved. It all meshes neatly in the end.
One trick I often use when I review a book is to refrain from writing the review too soon.  Best to let it age a bit, like Jameson’s and portered cheese. When I am ready to write the review, I try to do my first draft from memory, and I rarely read reviews written by colleagues.  Then I open the book at a random page of dialogue to see how long it takes me to identify the speaker, with one exception:  In books with parallel plots such as this one, or in reviewing time-slips, I try to spot the chronology first.  In my first test of Wind Rose, in a few seconds, I found my speaker threatening to cut another with a sword—and I knew I was probably not in the 20the century in Washington D.C. Each character has a distinctive voice.  Even when Craney speaks and sees through the eyes of the character Pero, who we discover is a linguist, he spares his reader the assault of 20th-century anachronisms.  In an area of the world famous for its antiquities, random narrative passages do not always place the setting in the proper timeline. There are just as many dark, dank corridors, secret rooms and labyrinths in Pero's adventures as there are in Ms. Quartermain's. The politicos in each era speak differently, but their motives are the same.Yet, Craney frames the segments of a complex plot in such a way that the reader is not confused.
The three young men in the expanding 15th-Century sea-faring world bring a touch of pathos to the tale missing in the contemporary narrative.  Agent Quartermain is a bit too naive and pedantic to be likable by anyone but Elymas/Boz and even he can only take so much of her.  The earlier plot is populated with colorful characters, with vignette performances from Queen Isabella and Henry the Navigator. By the same token, the present day cast has a disturbingly contemporary flavor given the current political climate. Treachery, betrayal, exploitation, and the forging of alliances based on a thirst for power and motivated by unbridled greed abound.  As for Craney's treatment of the mysterious event often referred to as The End of Days, an exchange between Boz (aka Elymas) and a minor character from Jaq Quartermane's past frames it for the reader.  When Boz promises the adventure he embarked upon with Jaq Quartermane is not over yet – her family doctor responds “Never has been over. Never will be.'  And thus, the reader is left knowing the Apocalyptic End Time will have to wait for another day and another book, and perhaps another code or word puzzle.  As for the resolution of the parallel plot, the subtitle characterizing the novel as ‘a Christopher Columbus mystery' suggests more to come on that stage as well. Readers who love a heady historical mystery full of both the archeological and the apocryphal will be waiting for the next book.

Linda Fetterly Root, May 6, 2016


Glen Craney is a screenwriter, novelist, journalist, and lawyer. He holds degrees from Hanover College, Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis, and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

As a member of the Washington, D.C. press corps, he covered national politics and the Iran-contra scandal for Congressional Quarterly magazine. His feature screenplay, Whisper the Wind, about the Navajo codetalkers of World War II, was awarded the Nicholl Fellowship prize by the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences for best new screenwriting.

His debut historical novel, The Fire and the Light, received several honors, including being named Best New Fiction by the National Indie Excellence Awards and a Finalist/Honorable Mention Winner by Foreword Reviews for its Book of the Year in Historical Fiction. In 2014, he was named a double BOTYA finalist by Foreword Reviews for The Spider and the Stone and The Yanks Are Starving. He is also a two-time recipient of the indieBRAG Medallion.
The Virgin of the Wind Rose is available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

The Reaper’s Breath (The Ripper Legacies Book 1) by R Southworth

Review by Emma Powell

*** The author of this book has kindly offered a paperback copy of the book to one lucky reader. To be in with a chance to win, just leave a comment below or on our Facebook Page. The winner will be drawn on Friday the 20th May ***

"The Ripper hunts within the streets of London but now, he has become the prey ... "

This is what caught my attention; one line that grabbed me immediately and instinct told me this was going to be a gripping read.  Different but gripping ... I wasn’t wrong.  The thought of such a real-life deranged killer getting a taste of his own medicine - one who avoided capture, grotesquely taking lives like he (or she?!) did whilst remaining a mystery to this day - makes this a must-read.

The book starts off with an in-depth background story on our protagonist, William Harkness.  Or should I say, Captain William Harkness.  To begin with, the reader may wonder what on earth this story - one of a nineteenth century soldier’s lot, his family, his army life, his loves and hates - has to do with the Ripper.  To be honest, I was intrigued by William’s story and forgot completely about the original premise but this is laying the foundation of the man and feeds effortlessly into how Captain William Harkness came to be the hunter of the Ripper.

The author’s talent shows very early on in the book.  Not only is the language kept precise, his ability to transfer you from the dusty, harsh war environment of nineteenth century Afghanistan to the squalour of London’s alleys is quite astounding.  Not forgetting the plushness of the life William could have, of what is still there in the background and is cleverly woven into the story; comfort and an easier life maybe there for William but it is not an option.  And the first couple of chapters of the life he made for himself lay testament to that (yes, I had fallen in love with William by this stage!).

Captain William Harkness is by no means an angel.  He has a strained relationship with his father, struggles with memories of losing his mother as a young boy and his love interest is not straightforward.  He is a man of morals and conscience but is also a trained killer from his military days and can fight as dirty as he needs to.  The author creates a real, thick atmosphere of fear and danger when William has to defend his corner; William doesn’t always savour triumph either.

William’s supporting characters have such depth to them you will occasionally be in for a shock. We have a wolf in sheep’s clothing, one who is scarily tough but genuine and we have loyalty as well as disloyalty.  The author uses these characters to their full potential and often takes the reader completely by surprise; events happen that I can guarantee you will NOT see coming and you will be left disappointed, thrilled, relieved, sad, happy and aghast.  But never bored. You won’t have time to be bored as there is always that ‘what happens next’ and you’ll be reading non-stop.

It is a read that is very typical of being a page-turner; the plot is kept tight, any digression is relevant to the the storyline and events that are happening at the time. And then along comes Charles Coldridge.  An antagonist typical of what I always find dangerous; an upstanding member of the community (or rather the appearance of one) who can deftly cover his dealings with the underworld and thus deflect too much attention.  For a while anyway.  His façade may be shallow but he is not to be under-estimated; he is a real danger to William, both in William’s task and personal life.  I believe there will be more of Charles in Book 2.  Just writing about him now makes me shudder - I’ll just leave him there so you can sample him for yourself.

Thankfully, the author has also written a Historical Note which I think is a necessity when one is writing fiction around real events/people and helps give insight to the story a reader has just enjoyed.

As mentioned above, there will be a Book 2 as Reaper’s Breath is actually Book 1 of The Ripper Legacies, the new series by Robert Southworth.  If the real Ripper mystery has fascinated you or not, this book holds its own as stand-alone thriller.  However, you will find this story is a completely different and masterfully fresh take on not just the Ripper, but the fear, angst and distrust that played amongst those determined to catch him, as well as the normal populous that had to live with this evil amongst them.

Robert Southworth and his other books, including the Spartacus series, can be found via the following:


Emma Powell is a book reviewer and occasional blogger and has been with The Review since the beginning in 2014.  Her blog, as Louise Wyatt, can be found at Reviews, Historical Snippets & Other Stuff!

Monday, 9 May 2016

The Adventures of Charlie Smithers by C W Lovatt - Reviewed by Rob Bayliss

The author of this book has kindly offered a copy of the book to one lucky reader. To be in with a chance to win, just leave a comment below or on our Facebook page. The winner will be drawn on Monday the 16th May

Back in the 70’s whenever I was at my grandparent’s house I was always drawn to my granddad’s book collection. There could be found proper old hard backs, beautifully bound with that distinctive old book smell. There were old science books (probably even then incredibly dated but with amazing black & white photographs) a whole set of fascinating books on the Gallipoli campaign with pictures of old dreadnoughts, and another certain book which is the cause of this reminiscence. I can’t remember its title but I remember it had a picture of Gordon of Khartoum on the cover and it was full of tales of heroic derring do, written during the height of Empire. It was proper Boys Own stuff and was probably intended to inspire young folk to go out into the world and ensure the sun never set on  Britannia’s empire: the days when great swathes of the world were coloured pink in atlases.
But set the sun did, and even at the young age that I was it was clear that the book, with its fine line drawings and subjective narrative, was describing an altogether foreign country of the past. If this was standard reading matter once upon a time, it explains why Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the Ripping Yarns TV series very often parodied this old colonial mind-set.

When the author, Mr Lovatt, asked me to review The Adventures of Charlie Smithers I wondered whether I would enjoy it. True I had enjoyed his Seven Years War based novel, Josiah Stubb, but a book of derring do? I need not have worried. Within a few pages, a broad smile began to stretch across my face. 
We are first introduced to the titular hero as the servant of the bumbling Lord Brampton. Charlie has served (or should say that be suffered) in the company of Lord Brampton through the Crimean War and now on safari in Africa on a fruitless attempt at claiming trophies for the gun room at Brampton Manor. In an effort to save his master from an enraged charging rhino he leads the beast away and only escapes himself by leaping off a cliff to a river below. Alas it is the dry season and upon landing in the shallow river breaks both his ankles.
Around him a new threat appears in the river as crocodiles advance upon the hapless Smithers. To his pleasant surprise he finds himself rescued by Musa, a chief of the Masai. Musa speaks some English and wishes to use Smithers as a symbol of divine blessing… and thereby acquire more cattle. At the Masai village the local shaman has other ideas, perceiving Smithers as the embodiment of evil. It soon becomes apparent that there is a power play afoot in the village between the Chief and the Shaman. Fearing that Charlie will be killed before his ankles are healed Musa sends him away in the company of two trusted warriors an old female slave and one of his wives, Loiyan, who has healing skills. On the journey Charlie makes sure that he retrieves his Lordship’s prized elephant gun from where he had dropped it fending off crocodiles.
Charlie instantly takes a shine to the graceful Loiyan and as his party make their escape a relationship between the two blossoms into love. They are pursued by hunters sent by the shaman and the two bodyguards begin to tire of their charges and begin to become a threat. Charlie and Loiyan escape by boat on a vast lake. Charlie suspects that a river may lead from this vast body of water to the north and may lead to Cairo. But what does a return to England really offer him? He has all he’d ever want on the shores of Lake Ukerewe - what will become known as Lake Victoria - yet fate is not done with Charlie Smithers…

The Adventures of Charlie Smithers is written as a first person narrative in a humorous and highly entertaining style:

“Missed by God!” Lord Brampton roared, affronted.
“Oh hell!” quoth I, to no one but myself.
The rhinoceros had increased speed at an alarming rate. In fact, the way he was eating up the distance between us was quite impressive.
Here we bloody go again.
Now a word of warning: Charlie Smithers is a man of his time and his description of his adventures sound decidedly un-pc to our modern ears but please don’t let that put you off a thoroughly enjoyable read, which has some rip roaring adventure, laugh out load moments of comedic genius, as well as heart rending pathos. Smithers inadvertently discovers the source of the Nile but history of course records John Speke as having that accomplishment. I wonder if Mr Lovatt once read that Gordon of Khartoum book… because I very much suspect he’s watched Ripping Yarns!

Let this Speke fellow have the plaudits. Let him have the knighthood, too, if that’s what it came to. What worth had they beside memories like mine?

This is only the beginning for Charlie Smithers, I wonder where in the world Lord Brampton will lead our hero next?

The Adventures of Charlie Smithers is available at Amazon


Author Biography

C. W. Lovatt lives in Manitoba in Canada; the author of the best selling Charlie Smithers Collection, and the critically acclaimed "Josiah Stubb," he began his writing career in the short story field. Some of these have been included in his latest release, "And Then It Rained," an eclectic collection of novellas and award winning tales. For more news on his writing projects see his Story River blog Page

Rob Bayliss is a reviewer at The Review and is currently writing his own fantasy series. Information on his writing projects can be found at Flint & Steel, Fire & Shadow. 

Monday, 2 May 2016

Sharon reviews: For King and Country, by Charlene Newcomb

The author has kindly donated an e-copy of the book to one lucky reader. To be in with a chance of winning, simply leave a comment below or on our Facebook page. The draw will be made on 9th May 2016. Good luck!

 England 1193
Civil war threatens as battle-scarred knight Henry de Grey returns from the Crusades. King Richard languishes in captivity, a prisoner of the Holy Roman Emperor. Traitors to the crown pit Henry and his friends against dangerous and unknown enemies.
Loyalties will be tested, families torn apart. Friend or foe? It is hard to tell one from the other.
The king’s brother John and his allies plot to usurp Richard’s throne. With the knights, Sir Stephan and Sir Robin, Henry fights for king and country. But he must keep his feelings for Sir Stephan l’Aigle secret. Sure as arrow or sword, their forbidden love could destroy him.

Ten months ago I did my first review for The Review. The book was the first instalment of Charlene Newcomb's Battle Scar's series, Men of the Cross. Ms Newcomb must have been quite happy with the review, as a few months ago she asked me if I'd review Book 2 in the series. I jumped at the chance; I needed to know what happened next, to Henry, Stephan, Robin, Little John....even King Richard. I needed to get back to the action.

And For King and Country did not disappoint.

Richard the Lionheart

The story begins with Henry and his friends arriving home to Lincolnshire, but their fight doesn't end there. With Richard still in a German prison, they now have to help Queen Eleanor thwart the plans of King Richard's brother, John, to steal the throne. For King and Country is one of those rare books that is impossible to put down. I often found myself reading late into the night, just to get through one more chapter. The action is fast-paced and unpredictable, keeping you on the edge of your seat all the way. The character interaction is, simply, stunning; the author has a way of evoking your emotions and I found myself deeply affected by the trials and traumas - and victories - of the lead characters.

The strength of the story lies in the characters - and in the interaction between them. They have matured since the first book, changed by their experiences and their friendships. They work together well and their camaraderie and dependence and trust in each other shines through on every page.

The knights laughed. Robert stood at the stable door, curiosity in his blue eyes. Yearning, too, to join in the knights' camaraderie. The boy was observant, Stephan thought, but not too bold. He had many of Robin's good traits, which surely made the knight proud. But poor Robin. Stephan didn't envy the secret he kept.
"Bring your father my greetings,"Henry said, "and good luck." "Your fathers, my brother." Stephan chuckled. "Shields raised."
Henry swung astride Soleil. "I imagine Marian has raised her shield, too," he said quietly.
Grimacing, Robin nodded. "She has every right and I cannot blame her. I hurt her."
"Coming back was the right thing," Henry said.
Stephan agreed. "She knows this whether she admits it or not. Give it time."
"That is the one thing I do not have." Releasing a deep breath, Robin cocked his head to the north.....

Boothby Pagnell, Norman manor house

 As the story progresses we see secrets unravel and conspiracies revealed but the friendship, love and trust of the lead characters, of Henry and Stephan, Robin, Little John and Allan a Dale, grows stronger. In this book, Charlene Newcomb has developed even further the dual story of the relationship of Henry and Stephan and of the legend of Robin Hood.

We are taken on a wild ride through the countryside of Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, taking us as far north as York, as far east as Boston, as far west as Tickhill - and then south to the final showdown at Nottingham Castle. Ms Newcomb's research is meticulous; I could almost imagine myself in the heart of Sherwood Forest, looking up at  the keep of Tickhill Castle, or in the caves beneath Nottingham Castle.

Nottingham Castle

The action comes at a fast pace, leaving the reading breathless and yet eager for more. There is tragedy tempered by feel-good moments; there is enough of love to satisfy the incurable romantic and there is sufficient sword-fighting, reckless horse rides, flights of arrows and heart-stopping moments to keep the adrenaline junkie in his element.

Book 2 of the Battle Scars series, For King and Country is a wonderful continuation of the story of Henry and Stephan.

In a nutshell, Char Newcomb has surpassed herself. For King and Country is a masterpiece that leaves you at the edge of your seat as you are taken on a breathtaking gallop through Richard the Lionheart's England. The story is eminently readable as a standalone, it ties up all the loose ends and doesn't leave the reader hanging; however, the story itself makes you wish for more. I can't wait to find out what happens next; what happens to Robin and the band of men he is assembling? What happens to Henry's sister and to Henry and Stephan themselves?  I hope that their journeys are not at an end, and that there is more to come from this wonderful writer.....

Charlene Newcomb is the author of Men of the Cross and For King and Country, two historical adventures set during the reign of King Richard I, the Lionheart, though her writing roots are in a galaxy far, far away. She has published 10 short stories in the Star Wars universe and written one contemporary novel. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society and a contributor and blog editor for English Historical Fiction Authors. Charlene lives, works, and writes in Kansas. She is an academic librarian by trade, a former U.S. Navy veteran, and has three grown children. When not working at the library, she is still surrounded by books and trying to fill her head with all things medieval. She loves to travel, and enjoys quiet places in the mountains or on rocky coasts. But even in Kansas she can let her imagination soar. 

Sharon Bennett Connolly has been a reviewer for The Review since 2015. Fascinated by history for over 30 years she has studied the subject both academically and just for the joy of it - and has even worked as a tour guide at historical sites. She is now having great fun passing that love of the past to her 10-year-old son; visiting abbeys, hunting dragons in medieval castles and searching for fossils at the beach. Sharon writes a blog, History . . . the Interesting Bits, and has just signed a contract with publishers, Amberley, to write a book on Medieval women; Heroines of the Medieval World is due for release in 2017.