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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 July 2014
This is a rich book and a rather massive one to read on a topic – The Sword Brothers – which is quite original for a historical novel. It has a lot going for it, despite a few defects. Since these defects are in fact few and less important that the book’s many qualities, I will start with these before explaining why I very much liked this book.

One possible defect is that this book – some 720 pages - is rather long. This is itself should not be a defect except for the fact that it is not fast paced. Accordingly, at least some readers might be either overwhelmed and get a bit bored of reading about similar events (multiple battles, cruel winter) that almost become stereotypes.

A second limitation is about form and style. The latter is not very lively and slow going and, as another reviewer mentioned, the book could have done with some better editing. The author also tends to systematically get involved in detailed descriptions of numbers for each and every contingent fighting on each side and for each battle or siege. Given that there are many of these, this tends to get a bit repetitive, although it does show something that is historically correct. In most encounters, the Crusaders and Sword Brothers tended to be outnumbered, sometimes very heavily and in the cases where they were not, this was largely because of their Livs allies.

Another potential problem is that the author, while having obviously done his research work (with more on this further on in the review) has also taken a few liberties and has somewhat “simplified” the historical background. One of these is to depict the Sword Brothers are being mostly somewhat “nice”, in particular towards the natives. They seem to have been rather fanatical, harsh and cruel, with the character of Henke depicted in the book being probably more representative of the typical brother rather than the “nice” Rudolf or even Conrad, the main hero. Another simplification has been to do away with the German and Danish politics that plagued bishop Albert, with the later coveting the northern part of Estonia and the civil wars between Guelf and Guibelins, with the popes’ interferences, seriously hampering the bishop’s recruiting efforts.

There are however also many strongpoints to this book. One is that the author has followed the main events and campaigns closely, using historical characters as much as possible, such as Grand Master Volquin and Master Berthold for the Sword Brothers or Sir Helmold and bishop Theodoric, or Prince Vetseke (whose story has been somewhat simplified) and King Caupo, who really did become Christian and was the loyal ally of the bishop of Riga. The author mostly follows the historical sequence of events, even if he does insert some invented episodes. Even with these, he does paint what seems to be a rather accurate picture of the type of warfare, except that he tends to tone it down quite a bit because neither the Crusaders nor the Sword Brothers were particularly “nice to the natives”, to put mildly.

A related point is the emphasis put on what allowed the Germans to win and conquer, despite being outnumbered: stone castles, siege machines that destroyed the wooden fortresses of the Livs and Estonians, powerful crossbows and heavy mailed cavalry. Also shown is that despite these advantages, they did not have it all their way, far from it, and they did discover that winter campaigns could be fruitful, provided they were well planned and prepared. Otherwise, as shown in the book, “General Winter” could kill off more of the Crusaders and Brothers than any enemy would manage.

Also well shown, although considerably toned down and limited to an opposition between the Sword Brothers and the bishop’s archdeacon and de facto Governor of Riga, is the rivalry and competition for the local resources. Contrary to what is shown in the book, however, in the “real story”, it seems that it was the Sword brothers who tried to expand and take control of the land, including land belonging to the Bishop of Riga, rather than resources being deliberately withheld from them by Riga. However, the taxes that they raised on the shipping along the Dvina is historical and did create a “major row” with the bishop who seems to have had far less control over them than what is suggested in the book.

Some of the most interesting pieces in the book are the mixed origins of the Sword Brothers and the intensive and tough military training that they put their novices through, similar to that of the other Military Orders. Unlike these Orders, however, they could not afford to be too choosy in their recruits and, as shows with Conrad and his friends, many of those who became sergeants or even knights came from very modest backgrounds. Also shown through the mercenaries that served the Order and the German settlers who colonised the land, what are nowadays Latvia and Estonia were a Middle Ages equivalent of the “Far West”, that is a place where it was possible to make a new beginning. The other motivation for those coming over to fight the pagans, and which is particularly well shown in the book, was penitence and repentance for the atrocities that German knights and Lords had committed in northern Germany during the civil wars between the various candidates for the imperial crown.

A final element is that the hero, and his friends and fellow Sword Brothers, are not depicted as “super heroes”. Their achievements, however remarkable, are believable. Conrad does not always triumph, far from it, and even when he does, the price to pay if often high

It is largely because of this that I found this book valuable. Despite a few drawbacks, I had the impression that the author was describing the day-to-day life of these monk-warriors and that he did it rather well even if, at times, he might have made his characters more “sympathetic” than they really were. Four stars.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 12 January 2014
I like the way Peter Darman writes and gets you involved with the situation. I could not put the book down. It was absolutely enthralling and a brilliant action packed into read. Well done and I cannot wait for the second book.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 12 November 2013
After reading Peter Darman's The Partian Chronicles I was very happy to find this first instalment in a new series by the same author and it doesn't disappoint.

The writing is descriptive and detailed yet skips the dull parts such as seasons where nothing of note happens rather than giving you a chapter that isn't required, keeping you closely in touch with battle action.

If you like reading the likes of Simon Scarrow, Conn Iggulden, SJA Turney you will (I hope) like this book as well, and for the price it's selling at it's well worth a punt if you're unsure.

The only problem is now waiting for the next instalment!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 28 May 2014
Very well told story and plenty of action, the only reason I gave 4 rather than 5 starts was the lack of maps. The knights are forever going off to encounter unruly pagans but as I do not know the geography of the area that well would have like something graphic to refer to
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on 22 March 2015
With Darman you get detail. And I like that. His previous series - the Parthian Chronicles - was covered from start to finish with how the battles panned out, who had what, what they did with what they had, the strategies used by the various Warlords with their various types of fighting men, along with the logistical and engineering challenges they faced to try and achieve their objectives. This is not going to be everyone's cup of tea of course, but similar details are used in a whole new theatre with the Sword Brothers, and it is again, quite fascinating.

Mix this up with a good few likeable characters, some definitely not likeable (and one or two somewhere in the middle) and the recipe is there again for another great series. There are surprises that I really didn't see coming which is always a good thing in a book, though be warned, not all of these are happy surprises...

I am part way through the second book and am already as into it as the first, but I could do without the constant references to Hans' insatiable hunger despite these being varied and sometimes humorous - "... Can't go on campaign without any food", " I just hope you've left some for the women's and children..." Etc!

I've only given this four stars though because again, there are numerous grammatical errors, word issues and typos which presumably crept in during the kindle build. That said, don't let this minor detail put you off, it's an enthralling read and I heartily recommend it.

Note to Mr Darman, I really enjoy your style and am looking forward to more of Pacorus' hidden memoirs being unearthed, but while I might be a little pedantic, the mistakes are an irritation so please hire a better proof reader!
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on 17 January 2015
Hard to opinionate
The period in history and the locations featured in the story are original, as are the main characters from the Sword Brothers, whom I haven't come accross in historical fiction before. The author describes the landscape extremely well during all four seasons of the year. I was most impressed by the descriptions of the logistics involved for every campaign; supplies, engineering, resources etc. Most of the main characters featured in the book are likeable and well described although some depth regarding certain characters is lacking. What spoilt the enjoyment of the book were numerous grammatical and spelling errors and also the repetitiveness of the battles. Most of the battles described in the book, excluding the final one, follow a very similar pattern. One would think that the enemy manages to learn from mistakes in the previous battle where for example, hundreds of warriors are wiped out due to the crusader crossbowmen. I wasn't aware that this weapon was so deadly in medevil warfare, the author makes the crossbowmen more deadly than the English bowmen during the 100 years war with France. I still enjoyed the book and look forward to reading the next part in which I hope the story is less predictable than in "Sword Brothers part 1"
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 7 January 2014
Firstly, what a refreshing change from the usual Romans or Greeks. Well done on telling a compelling story from an area that historical fiction seldom visits.

Unfortunately, I get the feeling that this may have been rushed to print. It seems in need of an edit. For example, I can list at least 5 instances of the anecdote about Hans eating a lot, staying thin but being surprisingly strong. Considering the quality of the "joke", one appearance would have been sufficient.

Another area where a thorough edit would have help are in the descriptions of the weapons and shield emblems. This is not too dissimilar to the descriptions of what everyone was wearing the the Parthian Chronicles. A mention of the major tribes emblems would have sufficed.

Because it is an area of history that is not explored, I would highly recommend this book. Unfortunately, due to the excess descriptions and anecdotes, I can only give it 3 stars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 27 August 2014
Great set of books, lengthy and detailed. Very Interesting perspective on a Crusade based in Eastern Europe. Very good characters, plenty of action and accompanying politics. Great to see an Author willing to write an epic in each book. Up there with Ghengis Khan series by IC and Templar Knight series by Jan Guillou. Third volume out by end of 2014 apparently.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 26 November 2013
The Historical fiction heavyweights - Iggulden, Cornwell, Scarrow etc ought to be setting another place at the table for Peter Darman as he is fast becoming one of the elite.

Really enjoyed the 'Parthian' series and his new venture 'The Sword Brothers' has got off to a cracking start - a real page turner. I like my Historical fiction books to be based on fact, some twists and turns, in depth characters and of course plenty of action. This book meets all the criteria

look forward to the sequel
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 28 May 2014
once started it couldn't be put down. now looking forward to the next in the series
we have a new hero
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