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Manda Scott (Shropshire, UK)
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Queen's Gambit
Queen's Gambit
by Elizabeth Fremantle
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Passionate, tender, gritty... everything you could ask for in a Tudor novel, 21 April 2013
This review is from: Queen's Gambit (Hardcover)
My partner has a first in English Lit, my degrees are all in veterinary medicine and I am constantly grateful for the fact that nobody tried to teach me to read. By an large, this means that we have very different tastes in books although inevitably we're overlapping more as the years progress.
Once in a while, a book comes along that I know she's going to love: some of them are entirely not her kind of thing - she spent an entire evening asking me why I'd pressed Tim Griggs' book Redemption Blues on her, and then two days later sat up half the night finishing it. (can I say, 'told you so'?)

Elizabeth Fremantle's book 'Queen's Gambit' fell effortlessly into the double-tick bracket: literary enough to please Faith's love of language, while the characterisation and sense of history are so utterly engaging that I fell into it and had to be dragged unwilling back to the day job and was left with characters not of my own making hovering over the day, clamouring for more attention.

Like Wolf Hall, with which there are obvious comparisons, this book is set in the reign of Henry VIII, although this one deals with the last of his wives, the gutsy, level-headed Katherine Parr who holds her husband's hand as he dies from (I assume) bowel cancer and then is speed-dated by Henry who wants her as his new wife on the strength, so he says, of her willingness to speak the truth to him.

There follows a touching-while-toe-curling portrait of an intelligent, passionate woman in her thirties, forced into matrimony with the aging, ulcerous, overweight, monstrously self-indulgent king. I have yet to read a sympathetic portrait of Henry and while this book does much to make him human - and there is no doubt that the chronic pain from his leg ulcer must have driven him even closer to the edge of madness than he already sailed - but the real punch in this book comes from the knowledge that Katherine Parr is sixth in a line of wives, two of whom have been beheaded, one has died and only those from far more noble families than hers have had the luxury of a divorce. She has her enemies at court, the names made famous in Wolf Hall as Call me and Gardiner. Both hate her and will do anything to bring her down, particularly after she has made such a success of her regency while Henry was away campaigning in France. But more, they hate her because she espouses the new religion and they are trying their hardest to bring Henry back to catholocisim. To lose to them will be fatal and the moments when she seems to fall out of the king's favour - once for daring to quote Erasmus to him in Gardiner's company - are terrifying. The pressure in her household, the grasping after small motes of rumour... this is what happened to 'the concubine' (Anne Boleyn), this is how it happens, the jewels are taken back first.... Her redemption is humiliating, but lightened by the sight of her enemy stepping too far across the line and finding himself banished from court.

Even so, it's an old passion that seems her final downfall and the slide towards the block seems inexorable when Henry falls ill. There's a hint that Katherine, with her knowledge of herbs, and her 'easing' of a previous husband's passage, might have seen the old monster off to save her own skin, but the plot steps back from that. If it did happen, I can't think there are many who would blame her. She fails to gain regency, and is glad of it - free from the politics of court, she can marry her love and find happiness. Or so it might seem. Men, though, do not step well from the pages of this book, and her final love, and her final betrayal seem a heart-breaking end to a life lived so close to the edge, with such striving for integrity.

So... this isn't Wolf Hall, but it bears many of the hallmarks of that book if with easier language and a plot that does not depend quite so much on everyone's knowledge of history to provide the tension. It stands head and shoulders above the general run of Tudor romance/mystery/histories and will be, I'm sure, a run-away best-seller. This is a magnificent endeavour; anyone would have been proud to have written it at any stage of their writing career: as a first novel, it's truly outstanding.


The Scent of Death
The Scent of Death
by Andrew Taylor
Edition: Hardcover

30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Continued excellence from one of our generations most gifted writers, 2 April 2013
This review is from: The Scent of Death (Hardcover)
This has been my Easter reading: a chance to plunge once more into a time and place I know nothing about, in the company of one of the absolute masters of our genre - in fact, one of the masters of fiction, who takes the genre boundaries and bends them to breaking with a style and quiet intelligence that leave me always, wondering why I bother when there's this kind of greatness out there for people to buy.

The American Boy was his breakout and anyone who hasn't read his tale of the young Edgar Allen Poe's boyhood in England should put it top of their reading list. I was struck then by a sense of time and place that took me deeper, more powerfully into an era than anything else I'd ever read. There's a quality to the dialogue that feels so rawly authentic; the language, the pace, the careful courtesies that hide murder and mayhem.. nobody manages this era with this kind of skill.

The Scent of Death has that same powerful evocation. It's set in 1778 in New York, an enclave of the English Crown at the height of the Revolution; a place almost under siege, that depends on ships from England for provisions, while wrestling with the growing distinction between Americans and English. Into this comes Edward Savill, a Clerk from the American Office who nurtures hopes of preferment if he does his job well and whose slow realisation that he has, instead, been sidelined by his wife's cousin, a man who `does not like her more than half' (which is to say, he despises her) , who is his boss.
Because this is a historical thriller, Samuel is present when a body is fished out of the water as his boat comes in and another is found soon after his arrival. His dogged investigation of their deaths leads him deeper into the underlayers of this so-careful society with its so-careful conventions and its hovering-on-poverty existence that runs side by side with the genuinely destitute slaves who live in the ghetto by the water. There are moments of real danger, and a slowly revealed secret that blows everything else out of the water. And right at the end, in sails HMS Lydmouth, which will mean something only to those familiar with Andrew's series of the same name, but it's such a beautiful, understated finale to a beautiful, not-at-all understated book. 5* without question.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 18, 2013 8:35 PM BST


Redemption Blues:  A Haunting Thriller With a Brilliant Twist...
Redemption Blues: A Haunting Thriller With a Brilliant Twist...
Price: £1.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding, 28 Mar. 2013
This is a gem of a book; finely wrought, finely written... Beautifully written, actually, literate and engaging...with some of the most fully fleshed, achingly human characters I've read in a long, long time. The compassion of the relationship between Sam Cobb and his father is a delight, but the slowly growing love between Sam, the policeman, and the nine year old girl who survives the car crash that kills her sister is an utter delight. The slowly rising tension is painful, but never unbearable and the denouement is perfect. If you enjoyed GONE GIRL, you'll love this. Highly recommended.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 7, 2013 8:09 PM GMT


East of the Sun, West of the Moon
East of the Sun, West of the Moon
by Jackie Morris
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.48

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A passionate and inspiring new take on an old fairy tale: liquid gold, 24 Feb. 2013
I bought this book for the quality of the illustrations, for the magic that's in them, and then picked it up to read the first page, and found that, an hour or two later, I was still sitting by the fire and had come to the end, with tears in my eyes.
East of the Sun, West of the Moon is an old fairy tale given new life and relevance and magic by Jackie Morris. She takes the indigenous peasant setting and brings it bang up to date by having her 'journeying girl' be the daughter of an asylum seeker, living in near-poverty, in constant fear of the authorities, and with the memories of the state police back home who assaulted her journalist father. When the great white bear comes from her dreams into her home, and promises that all will be well for her family if she will only go with him, she goes. (she doesn't do it just for them, she goes because it's right). There follows a passionate, inspiring journey of a young girl's coming of age as she goes first to the castle of the Bear and then, when he is banished, she goes out into the world (a mediaeval, fairy world,not a modern industrial one) to rescue him from the Troll Queen. In doing so, she meets the North Wind, who loves her and so at the end, she has a choice to make, for her own heart and power. The twist at the end is as perfect as it is unexpected.

What really stood out for me, was the poetry of the prose; liquid gold, poured across the pages that complements perfectly the magic of the illustrations.

It's the kind of thing you could read to your young kids, leave for the older ones to find for themselves, and read yourself, whatever age you are, and be enthralled... I loved it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 25, 2013 12:12 PM GMT


Cryptonomicon
Cryptonomicon
by Neal Stephenson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.89

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome, awe-inspiring writing: *this* is what historical writing can be, 17 Sept. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Cryptonomicon (Paperback)
One of the fragments of silver lining to emerge from beneath the black cloud of the Kelmarsh washout, was the chance to spend a long, lazy lunch at the hotel with the super-keen members of the HWA who had turned up the night before.
In the course of a conversation, Imogen Robertson recommended, 'Cryptonomicon' and I can't thank her highly enough. It's almost worth the Festival of Hist Lit not having happened to have found this and I can't quite think how it passed me by, but no matter; we're here now...

Cryptonomicon, like Stephenson's other work (I'm devouring REAMDE as we speak) is a vast, experimental, sprawling wonder of a book. This one covers different time frames: one is contemporary, but most of the others are set in WWII (that's world war two for the slow of thinking, not world war eleven as a school teacher recently told his class. I despair) and revolve around the outstanding mathematicians who make code-making and breaking their business at Bletchley Park and elsewhere. Codebreaking is becoming something of a fashionable topic recently, but I can't imagine anyone delving deeper, or more effectively, into the sheer, towering genius of the men on all sides of that conflict who bent their intelligence to the matter of ciphers. It was this that really held me: Cryptonomicon (and REAMDE after it) are vastly, outstandingly intelligent books written by an intelligent man who expects intelligence of his readers. This is the kind of thing Hilary Mantel could write if she didn't have idiot editors telling her to dumb down and make sure the reader knows who is speaking (really, if they didn't work that out in Wolf Hall, they're not going to buy "Bring up the Bodies' and if they did, you're insulting their intelligence. I stopped reading 6 pages in and can't go back). Stephenson never insults intelligence. But he does educate, and it's the startling moments of education, as much as the occasional startlingly gorgeous moments of prose that kept me hooked. I learned more about the evolution of computing - and where it's going soon (Is anybody actually building a Data Haven? Are the world's governments as scared of it as they should be?) - than I have ever done by reading texts, or other fiction.

In the end, of course, it's the people that make it. The central characters are all inter-related, tho' the marital and genealogical links are not always apparent from the beginning. And perhaps because the War was so fundamental, so life changing, the characters who populate the past, from Bobby Shaftoe to Lawrence Waterhouse, are more compelling than America (Amy) Shaftoe and Randy Waterhouse, but that doesn't stop them being better than most writers can manage at their best.

You'll notice I haven't reviewed the plot. I can't. It's too big, but it's about codes and code breaking and code making and love and computers and politics and gold, and friendship, and intelligence and love. And sex. Not enough to make the mummy porn-festers come to read it, but it isn't written for them. You need a brain to read this.


Reamde
Reamde
by Neal Stephenson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.03

5.0 out of 5 stars Brililant - fun, thought-provoking, adrelaline-lade escapism, 17 Sept. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Reamde (Paperback)
I finished this on my birthday, which was both a gift and a desperate sadness. This book ruled my life for the past 2 weeks and I desperately didn't want it to end - which at 1000+ pages, is quite a feat from any author, but just what we expect from the genius that is Neal Stephenson.

REAMDE is a misprint of README, the file that is uploaded on computers across the country by players of the MMORPG (massive multi-player online role playing game -where have you been for the last decade, Mars?) T'Rain which is a successor to World of Warcraft and--

Actually, stop right there. WoW is my minor obsession. OK, it's my addiction. WoW is the crack cocaine of online gaming, but it has its problems, one of which is that in order to to buy weapons, or even to repair the ones you've got, to buy mounts, to buy riding permits that let you ride faster... you need gold. And making gold takes time. Lots of time. Far more time than anyone sane wants to put into it when they could be, say, fighting in the battlegrounds, killing the enemy.

Which is where the Chinese gold farmers come in. They make gold, we buy it from them. Obviously I don't <cough> because that's illegal. And that's the point. The Chinese gold farming industry is worth anything between $1billion and $10 billion per annum - that's BILLION - and Blizzard, who make WoW, have made it illegal. Which is madness.

So in Stephenson's world, T'Rain is not only a bigger, better, more advanced version of WoW, but gold farming is integral to its working - it works *with* the gold farmers and so gets a cut of their profits. Even if it's only 1% that's serious money per annum. (and it won't be only 1%)

So T'Rain is the core of this book. It's creator, the now-billionaire Richard Forthrast (pron Forrest, as in Gump) is the 40 something genius, the 'Sacred Monster' who creates and runs T'Rain. His family is spread out and strange, and significant parts of it live in red-necks-ville Idaho (or Iowa, I could never tell them apart, tho' I"m sure I should) and carry guns. Lots of guns (this is useful, be patient). His kind-of adopted Eritrean niece Zula is gorgeous and bright and when she turns up at a family reunion, he gets her a job modelling lava flow, in spite of her geek bf, who is obviously Bad News. And it's the Geek bf who becomes infected with the REAMDE virus, which locks up the entire contents of his hard drive and encodes it. To decode it, all he has to do is take 1000 gold pieces to a certain place in the T'Rain world, which is about $73, so no sweat.
Except the Russian Mafia needs to see his hard drive.
And there are terrorists in China, which is sad, because he -and Zula - end up in China, in the same block of flats as the terrorists, which is, by coincidence, the same block of flats as the REAMDE scammers...

The tension starts about page 10 and doesn't give up until the very last of the 1000+ pages. It's amazing, the passion, the power, the sheer erudition. I loved every page of it, the unlikely people I came to root for, the guns, the power play. The game. I want to play T'Rain. Actually, I want to write for it. How do I apply?

(didn't like the cougar McGuffin at the end. Didn't need that, tho' I'm sure there was a clever reason it wast here that I haven't noticed). That apart, it's perfect: read it.


Boneland (Weirdstone Trilogy 3)
Boneland (Weirdstone Trilogy 3)
by Alan Garner
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding: A Shaman's dream for the modern world, 10 Sept. 2012
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This is a first review, on first reading of a book I will read again and again for the rest of my life, and each time it will be different; deeper.

At one level, this is the sequel, fifty years on, to The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath. For those of us who came to them young, these books shaped our lives; the tales of two children, who meet the Sleepers beneath the hill, who fly with the Wild Hunt, who battle the Morrigan (I was terrified of the small black pony with the red eyes, as a child) were the benchmark of a childhood's dream.

Alan Garner wrote those when he was twenty one, but he was not the same twenty one as the rest of us. If you've read his book of essays, 'The Voice that Thunders' (and if you haven't, I suggest you do), you'll know that this was a boy who lay abed with childhood illnesses and learned to send himself out 'into the ceiling' where he was safe. in the ceiling, time was malleable and his to shape; he could make a day into a minute, or a minute into twenty years. He went there to survive. And he did, but he 'died' three times: which for those of you who know anything at all about where we came from, is the making of a shaman.

So this boy lived, who had died three times, came from family of makers, who occupied their minds in different ways, his grandfather memorised the London Omnibus timetable, despite being in Cheshire; he sent for the news ones each quarter and memorised them, because he could. Young Alan read (and learned) the Children's Encylopaedia on much the same basis, having taught himself to read with the back page of the Knockout comic in a hospital bed. He learned the archaeology and folklore of the Edge in Cheshire where he lived. He learned history and genealogy and mythology and physiology and anatomy and how to make a stone hand axe. He went on to read Classics at Oxford, the first generation of his family to go to university. Soon after leaving, he wrote Wierdstone, and Moon of Gomrath, and captured a whole generation of children. Later, he wrote The Owl Service, Strandloper, Thursbitch, The Stone Song Quartet: some of the greatest writing in the English language.

All of which is background to a book that is 149 pages of sheer poetry. More than that, it is dreaming. Those of you who want to know about shamanic dreaming, who haven't learned it from the Boudica books and find the few unthreatening pages on my blog insufficient - this, this, is undiluted dreaming. (not dreaming. There's a difference and it lies in the power).

Colin is an adult, and has lost his sister. That part of the book is written in the present day. It touches on the Singularity, and who we might become on its other side. It touches on time and its linearity (or otherwise: remember, this is a man who knows how to expand and contract time, if not obviously how to step outside it - except that he must have learned that in order to write this). It touches on physics, and archaeology and ornithology and folk lore. As several reviewers have noted, it is a Grail Quest, but it gives its own answer, and in any case, it is so, so, so much more than that.

The other half of the book, the part that makes it historical if you need some history in your books, is set in the pre-hominid, pre-ice age half a million years ago in which the Dreamer must dance and sing the dream of a woman into being in order that they can make a child, to dance the beasts into being, to grow the World.

This part is sheer, unadulterated shamanic dreaming. But what's so very special is the way that it links to the present. I leave that for you to find out, but what I am waiting to discover, having read it only once, is whether the dance behind the dream is happening, and the world is changing in the way it treads.


The Outcast Blade: Book 2 of the Assassini
The Outcast Blade: Book 2 of the Assassini
by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Edition: Paperback

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, imaginative, intelligent vampire/history, 26 Jun. 2012
I discovered this author, and this book, while on blog tour for Eagle of the Twelfth. The Outcast Blade was reviewed just above it on the Falcata Times blog... I liked the sound of it, ordered it on the spot (oh, the joys of Amazon) and read it on the way to London for the HWA dinner. Such is the power of internet marketing.

This is the back cover blurb:

As the Byzantine and German emperors plot war against each other, Venice's future rests in the hands of three unwilling people: The newly knighted Sir Tycho. An ex-slave and trained assassin who defeated the Mamluk navy but cannot make the woman he loves love him back. Tortured by secrets, afraid of the daylight, he sees no reason to save a city he hates. The grieving Lady Giulietta. Impossibly rich, deeply spoilt. A virgin, a mother, a widow ...Both emperors want her hand for their sons in marriage. All she wants is to retire from the poisonous world of the Venetian court to mourn her husband in peace. And finally a naked, mud-strewn girl who crawls from a paupers' grave on an island in the Venetian lagoon and begins by killing the men who buried her.

What this doesn't tell you, is that 'The Outcast Blade' is a vampire/werewolf story, and, because this is the second in a series and I hadn't read the first one (tho' will do now), I didn't realise until a good third of the way through. By then, I'd come to know Tycho as a person and got to grips with the 'almost-but-not-quite-realistic' fantasy Venice that is Grimwood's setting.

On the face of it, it's not the most obviously attractive of narratives: ex-slave who finds he's a vampire (or is made into one, I still don't know that yet), falls in love with a girl who hates him, for the very good reason that he let her (werewolf) husband die in some massive battle when there seems a chance he could have saved him. She loved her late husband, ergo she hates Tycho. Which is a pity, because he's probably the only one with the wit, forethought, care and sheer reflexes to keep her alive in the poisonous nest of intrigue (I use the word advisedly) that is the Venetian Court, of which she is likely to become Duchess.

But it works. It's an intriguing story and there are enough plot twists and character developments to keep the reader guessing. There's a nicely done girl-girl love in the middle (blink and you'll miss it: so don't blink) and some touching moments of intimacy amongst all the blood and gore. Tycho's vampire is still very much human, he just doesn't like daylight, goes wild at the scent of blood and can tell a man's history from the taste of a drop.

Vampire lovers will love this - it's as good as The Discovery of Witches and oddly similar. Those who simply like alternative history of the Guy Gavriel Kay variety will welcome a newcomer to the fold. Those who like Joe Abercrombie will find themselves a soul-brother... and that's my one niggle. Abercrombie writes good, solid, soldierly stuff, but his English is appalling and JCG seems to have studied from the. Same text with its. Bizarre sentence. Structure and.

Weird paragraphs breaks.

If it wasn't for that, I'd give this four stars (bearing in mind that five is reserved for the likes of Hilary Mantel and Rob Low.) So it's three, because I was close to throwing the book across the room at times: 1* for the language, 5* for the story. And I'm heading back to Falcata Times for more book ideas.


Shatter
Shatter
by Michael Robotham
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Clever plot, excellent characters and wonderful writing, 6 Jun. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Shatter (Paperback)
I'm in that glorious period when the next book is a Platonic ideal, built up in my imagination, but I haven't actually started the work of writing it yet. I'm plotting, and finding character names, and staring at geography and, in this particular instance, watching boxed sets of 'Spiral', the fantastic French police thriller series that's like Lewis on steroids, laced with a strong Burgundy and a lot more sex. Yes, I am in love with Laure. And yes, my beloved knows this...
In amongst all of this, I'm reading around the subject and in this case, that's a pretty wide scope because the new book will not only be set in a new historical period (fifteenth century France) but will have a contemporary thriller thread - hence the Spiral-watching. Hence also the request to my agent for recommendations of good, solid, well written, sharp, cutting-edge thrillers. 'Who's going to be huge in 2-3 years' time?' I need to see where we're at.

In amongst some others, he recommended 'Shatter' by Michael Robotham - whom he also represents: that's the full disclosure coda at the start. But I'm not into writing reviews for people simply because we share an agent: that way lies disaster and an end to review-integrity. I'm writing this, because, yet again, I was up until after 2am finishing this and woke this morning glad that I did because otherwise I'd have lost half a working day having to finish it (when, instead, I could be watching series 2 of Spiral and calling it work).

This is the book blurb:

*****

A naked woman in red high-heeled shoes is perched on the edge of Clifton Suspension Bridge with her back pressed to the safety fence, weeping into a mobile phone. Clinical psychologist Joseph O'Loughlin is only feet away, desperately trying to talk her down. She whispers, 'you don't understand,' and jumps.

Later, Joe has a visitor - the woman's teenage daughter, a runaway from boarding school. She refuses to believe that her mother would have jumped off the bridge - not only would she not commit suicide, she is terrified of heights.

Joe wants to believe her, but what would drive a woman to such a desperate act? Whose voice? What evil?

******

If I had blurb this unexciting, I'd sack my editor and find a new one, but that apart, it does give the gist of the book: Someone is talking women to their deaths - their fates become more elaborate and nastier as the plot unfolds - and our hero is Professor Joe O'Loughlin, a forensic psychiatrist who has Parkinson's disease as his added interest. Dragged unwilling into the case, he has to find out who's doing this and why before his own family falls apart under the pressure.

I have to say that none of this sounds overly promising: every single police procedural these days seems to have a psycho-acadamic at loggerheads with the police and there are only so many variations on human wounded-ness you can manage: drink, drugs, depression, divorce... before they all seem to blend into one another.

But this one stands head and shoulders above the rest. As with all good books, it's the characterisation that does it: fully rounded people who keep stepping out of their stereotypes (the lesbian DI is wonderfully good), but added to that is Robotham's exceptional sense of place - in this case, the area around the Avon Gorge, Bristol and Bath. For someone who lives in Australia, he has a good handle on the south west. And he's intelligent: a former journalist who can clearly do exceptional research but then integrate it into the story so that it feels integral, not tacked on to prove how much time he spent on Google before he started writing. His language is sharp, fast and funny - genuinely funny. When so many other lad-cop writers seem to have a deeply irritating nasal chortle as their writing voice, Robotham's is dryly ironic, but sharply, beautifully, interestingly observant.

And then there's his bad guy. He's followed Val McDermid's lead in this and we have occasional short deviations from the first person present tense narrative of Joe O'Loughlin into the head of the perpetrator. They're in italics, which helps, because while they're not nearly as disturbing as McDermid's monster in 'The Mermaids Singing', they are none the less deeply affecting. In part this is because the inevitable threat to our hero is made a great deal more immediate when we can see the plot unfolding, but in main, it's because the bad guy's past history as a torturer - sorry, interrogator - sent to the unmentionable, forgettable, forgotten prisons of recent wars to drag information from unwilling victims is so utterly plausible, so inevitably damaging and so completely covered up by the authorities when their hens come home to roost, that it left my left-wing, progressive anti-war brain exploding. Which of course is exactly what it's supposed to do. I confess to having skipped some of them in the rush to the end, but I will go back and read them in depth later, promise...

So that's it: good, strong, plausible plot; original, interesting characters (O'Loughlin's family life is beautifully drawn); fantastic sense of place and writing that flows with effortless ease. Five stars and thoroughly recommended.


Into the Valley of Death (Harry Ryder 1)
Into the Valley of Death (Harry Ryder 1)
by A L Berridge
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, gripping, moving read - one of the best of 2012, 4 Jun. 2012
Like some of the previous reviewers, I wouldn't have chosen the Crimea as my idea of a favourite evening's read: I'm not keen on the British Army at the point when everyone dressed in red so they'd make a good target on the battlefield and the officers were clearly idiots: it's just too imperially depressing.
But I am so, immensely glad that I trusted in AL Berridge's outstanding writing style and picked this one up. Her grasp of the history is unparalleled: I have no idea if anyone else has stitched together the data and drawn the same conclusion, but it seemed not only plausible, but obvious: I won't drop a spoiler, but there's a twist in this tale that makes sense of the events in a way that the sheer incompetence of the officers (Lord Lucan is called Lord Look-On by his troops for obvious reasons) simply doesn't explain. In Berridge's hand, the catastrophic and suicidal 'charge of the Light Brigade' becomes an act of necessary heroism by men who had been fatally deluded.
So, the history is accurate, I'm sure and testament to an eye watering amount of research, and the battle scenes are electric, with an immediacy that many strive for and most fail to achieve, but it's the character of Harry Ryder and the small group of men he gathers around him that had me sitting up until 2am to finish this. His progress down and up the ranks, his humanity, his love of the men and the horses (you can be in the cavalry and not love your horse, even when it's been shot out from under you and you're pinned beneath it on the field) his loathing of the officer class and his ability to talk himself out of trouble - or not - is the bright, shining jewel that runs through this book. Chevalier de Roland was a great creation. Harry Ryder is magnificent and you miss him at your loss.
Bottom line: If you like Sharpe, you'll love these. Personally, I hate Sharpe, but I loved this anyway. One of the oustanding books of 2012.


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