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SJATurney "Roma Victrix" (Yorkshire, UK)

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Hunter's Rage: Book 3 of The Civil War Chronicles
Hunter's Rage: Book 3 of The Civil War Chronicles
by Michael Arnold
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.39

5.0 out of 5 stars Strong, clever and enthralling, 14 Mar. 2013
mahr

Hunter's Rage is the third book in Mike Arnold's Civil War Chronicles, following Traitor's Blood and Devil's Charge, a series following the adventures (and misadventures) of one Captain Stryker - a Royalist officer.

I find that any writer, no matter how good their first offerings (and Arnold's have been excellent), hits their easy and comfortable stride. It often happens with the third book in a series, and Arnold is no different here.

Traitor's Blood was a fairly straightforward plot, was hard-hitting, action packed, enthralling and powerful, dragging the reader along at breakneck pace. Devil's Charge followed up with a tale that was considerably more complex with interweaving threads. It was no less entertaining than the first and thrilled me to the end, though it felt less immediate and breakneck than the first, perhaps due to its complexity. Don't be put off by that, though, as both books are excellent and I'm picking apart nuances simply to make a point that concerns neither of them.

The fact is that Hunter's Rage appears to be the moment when Arnold has hit that stride. It combines all the good points of everything he's written so far to create a smooth and superb book. It carries with it the punch and immediacy of the first book as well as the complexity and depth of the second, and sacrifices nothing to do it. In fact, the characterisation (one of Arnold's strengths in my opinion) has actually improved and the author manages to make the protagonists and antagonists truly sympathetic and believable. He has also introduced new characters that are not just interesting but also memorable. Added to that, he has drawn one of the best characters (Simeon) from book 2. This third book is a very easy read and hooks from the start.

If one had to define the books of the series, and it's often easy to do, with a theme, I would say that while the first book is about Treachery and Honour, the second about Unjust Punishment and Retribution, this third centres around revenge and religious persecution, from the thoroughly unpleasant witch hunter and his oily sidekick to the mad hermit Gardner, via puritans and practical atheists.

Particularly interesting for me is the setting of the novel, which is entirely in the southwest (Devon and Cornwall). I am largely unfamiliar with the land, and while I have a passing knowledge of chunks of Civil War history from Edgehill, Marston Moor and other famous engagements, I know absolutely nothing about this corner of the war, so it was truly interesting for me.

Another thing that perhaps adds to its punch is the fact that, not only is it set in a fairly small area, with a limited cast of major characters to keep in mind, but it also takes place over a surprisingly short period, which makes it very easy to keep track of.

In addition, Arnold is not afraid, apparently, of passing over the opportunity to reuse characters unnecessarily, just because they already have a place in the saga, or of having horrible things happen to major characters.

Oh, and it also gives us another glance into Stryker's past, which is welcome.

The series goes from strength to strength, and the fourth book, Assassin's Reign, is released in July, so you have plenty of time to read all three first, and I urge you to do it.

Highly recommended.


The Shifu Cloth (The Chronicles of Eirie Book 4)
The Shifu Cloth (The Chronicles of Eirie Book 4)
Price: £2.34

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Han but not Solo, 6 Feb. 2013
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An alternative title for the blog that I was toying with was: I'll have a Shifu Cloth with Fried Rice and Special Ribs.

A few years ago I first became acquainted with the writing of Prue Batten, as she happened to be a member of the same peer review site as me. I got to read a sample of her fledgling work there and became a fan.

Prue's portfolio has somewhat exploded since then, with four books in her Chronicles of Eirie fantasy series now available as well as a work of medieval historical fiction.

I read the first book (The Stumpwork Robe) and the second (The Last Stitch) in close order but, due to lack of time and other commitments I somehow missed A Thousand Glass Flowers. Recently, having had book four brought to my attention, I delved back into the world of Eirie and I'm thoroughly glad I did. The series follows the fortunes of an extended family that share mortal and faerie blood but the bonus for me is that although they create a definite series, the books work quite well as standalones, with only a little loss and a few gaps to bridge, and not having read the third in no way damaged my comprehension or enjoyment of the fourth.

So: about the world. In her chronicles, Prue has created a whole world that is almost a shadow of Earth. There are fantastic replicas of Medieval western Europe, Renaissance Venice and exotic India which all form the settings of earlier books. The style of her creation is to me reminiscent of Guy Gavriel Kay's world and I find it enthralling. This latest foray opens up a new part of that world to explore: The Han. Clearly influenced heavily by Imperial China and with perhaps Japanese influences, it is a rich setting to become involved in.

About the writing. Prue is a wordsmith par excellence. Her use of unusual and oft archaic terms combine with her skill at sentence structure and description to provide a rich, heady read. I noted once that reading her work is like reading silk and now, five books on, that description holds all the more true. Prue's concentration on character, motivation and feeling shows through and really brings the characters to life.

And finally, about the story: The Shifu Cloth is a story of siblings cruelly torn apart by kidnapping and slavery. Isabella, snatched from her native land, finds herself a slave of the mysterious and insular Han. As she begins to plan her escape and a journey back home, she is drawn into a web of strangeness wher she meets emperors and spirits, warriors and nobles, and her true potential gradually comes to the fore in the face of adversity. At the same time, her distraught family begin to fall apart as the search for Isabella produces no result until a bolt of strange cloth shows up bearing a hidden message and her half-brother Nicolas begins a dangerous journey in search of his lost sibling.

The whole thing is beautifully done. I would recommend you go have a read of the sample and see what you think. Currently most of the series are only available in eformat as the paperbacks are due, I believe, to be re-released soon.

This is highly recommended reading, particularly for those fantasy lovers out there, especially ones who like works in the vein of Guy Gavriel Kay.


Devil's Charge: Book 2 of The Civil War Chronicles
Devil's Charge: Book 2 of The Civil War Chronicles
Price: £4.31

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hack, slash, bang, kabooom!, 20 Jan. 2013
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Devil's charge is a very worthy follow-up on the heels of Arnold's debut 'Traitor's Blood'. It has a slightly different feel to it (as is natural when an author settles into his characters) and yet still feels like a seamless continuation.

A number of characters return to this book in addition to the protagonist, and the cast is augmented by the addition of some stunning new heroes and villains that support or impede Stryker on his missions. Some, indeed, are actually more colourful and impressive than the captain himself - a tough thing to achieve. Note for instance Jonathan Blaze and Simeon Barkworth, who has possibly now taken the lead as my favourite of Arnold's creations.

The first and main difference between this book and the first one for me is the complexity of the plot. The first book was very linear - not that this was a negative in any way, but the plot flowed in a definite single thread. Devil's Charge, however, begins with a number of disparate threads, even to the point of initial confusion, gradually pulling them together and tying them into a neat plot. By some two thirds through the book, the story has resolved into a gem - a diamond even - and from that point onwards it drags the reader at breakneck pace through to the conclusion: the battle for control of the Midlands.

While I was impressed in the first book with the handling of the pitched battle of Kineton and the small scale skirmishes the characters found themselves in - and indeed in this book with the Compton Heath battle - the treatment of the siege of Lichfield in Devil's Charge was one of the best pieces of war writing I have read from any era. It kept me riveted throughout and was innovative, exciting, and even heart-rending in places.

Another yardstick I use to measure books is the regularity with which it raises interesting enough points or questions that send me to textbooks or the internet in order to learn more. Devil's charge did so many times - hunting down a small village chapel, the defences of Lichfield, the history of towns on the Yorkshire coast and so much more. It's a signal that I've become heavily invested in the story.

In short, this is a hell of a book and an improvement on the already excellent first book in the series in terms of both plot and style.

I look forward to parts three and four of the Stryker saga.

And as for the 'Sharpe of the English Civil War' quote? A worthy and impressive accolade, but do not be deceived into thinking Stryker derivative or in some way a carbon copy of Sharpe. He is, be assured, a very different proposition.


The Queen's Vow
The Queen's Vow
by C W Gortner
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rich tapestry, 7 Jan. 2013
This review is from: The Queen's Vow (Paperback)
The Queen's Vow is one of the smoothest, most emotive historical novels I have read in some time. I have not read Gortner's earlier books, though one in particular has caught my eye from time to time as a 'will read'. This one held a particular appeal to me when I discovered that its subject was Isabella of Castile, and so I dived in.

I will state for the record that the book is not my usual fare. While I am a voracious reader of historical fiction, I tend towards the military, action-packed, blood-and-guts tales of Rome, the Civil War or Napoleonic campaigns. I rarely read tales of more court-based life or family sagas. The Queen's Vow is very much a saga of a family in the court circles of Castile and Aragon, seen from the perspective of the young woman who will become one of Spain's most famous historical figures. While there are murders and treachery, wars and sieges and violent unpleasant deaths, they are all seen from the perspective of the recipient of their report rather than seen first hand. This is not meant in any way as a condemnation, just a reporting of the style of the work - the tale, after all, is focused on the great Queen and her struggles in the court.

Where this story wins out for me is its style. The tale is evocative of the great dusty, dry world of medieval central Spain, draws the reader into the mindset of an innocent in such a twisted, dangerous world as the Castilian court, and delivers a flavour of the era so clear that the reader can almost taste and smell the world Isabella experiences.

There are elements in there that brought scenes and flashes of great movies to mind for me. The scenery and lands in the timeless 'El Cid', the loss of girlish innocence in a world of intrigues and plots seen in 'Elizabeth' (a plot with many similar elements), the twisted religious fervour of 'Name of the Rose'. Many others. But if you can picture some of those things it might help give you a flavour of how the Queen's Vow reads.

The tale follows the life of Isabella (most famously remembered in the company of her later husband Ferdinand) from her youth as an exiled royal scion, through all the twists and turns of a royal succession that should be hers, to the final seat of power and consolidation of her throne that comes with an almost unacceptable price. Isabella begins the tale as a quiet, almost demure and submissive girl, but through a series of dangers and difficult situations and over the years of betrayal and fear, her young, naïve, innocence is hardened like diamond into a powerful vision of her future and belief in herself. With her beloved Fernando (Ferdinand of Aragon) by her side she begins to forge a single realm from the fractured states of Spain and a catholic land from a mixed world of Christian, Jew and Moor.

During this era, so many astounding events that have affected the world as a whole took place, and they all have a place in this story: The Reconquista and the fall of Granada - the final expulsion of the Moors from Spain, the patronage of Christopher Columbus and his plan to find a new route to the Indies, the combining of the two great Kingdoms of Aragon and Castile to forge the future nation of Spain, the foundation and growing power of the Holy Inquisition under the dangerous priest Tomas de Torquemada, and the edicts that led to the expulsion of the Jews from the land. A time of momentous change that saw more upheaval in Spain than any other era, and created the Spain that we know today.

The Queen's Vow will transport you to that world and bring it to every sense, not just your eyes. You will hear, see, smell, taste and even feel the dry and dangerous world of Isabella, and perhaps even come to understand the hardships that turned the shy Infanta Isabella into the great Queen of history.

On a last word, as an English reader, I sometimes find it jarring when I read historical works by an American writer, as the idioms and common expressions - not to mention spellings - can make the English reader pause and have to make sure of the intended meaning of the sentence. I expect American readers of English writers have the same issue. One thing that really astounded me about Gortner's prose is that, despite the national differences in language, it read as easily and smoothly as a native English work and I noticed nothing that caught me off guard.

All in all, this is not a work to rush through, as much historical fiction is. You could read it fast, but you would probably not enjoy it as much. Most of the value of this work to me was its flavour and feel, and that is powerfully conveyed if you devote enough time to savouring the book.

I will, for sure, be reading the Last Queen, which, though written earlier, details the next phase of Spain's historical development.


The Doomsday Testament
The Doomsday Testament
by James Douglas
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Interesting Modern/Occult/Wartime thriller, 2 Jan. 2013
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This review is from: The Doomsday Testament (Paperback)
Indiana Jones? Perhaps, to a degree. If you combined it with elements from Kelly's Heroes, Lovejoy, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List and many other things.

In essence, I read few thrillers these days. Once upon a time I read a lot of them, along with whodunnits, but I reached a point where I found that the stories were all blending into one and I could anticipate and predict the story ahead of schedule. I stopped reading them in favour of other genres that were not falling into so much of a repetitive and predictable streak.

And then there was all the fuss with Dan Brown and, while I can take or leave his books, their arrival on the scene did seem to kick off a renaissance for thrillers and made the inclusion of the occult acceptable outside the parameters of horror. My first foray into the newer wave of thrillers was Sanctus last year, which I rated as one of my top 10 books of the year. In fairness, I may have considered it a blip and never opened the Doomsday Testament, had I not had tremendous confidence in the writing, as I know Douglas' other work in the field of Roman fiction under his other name and one of those books also made my top 10. And so I picked up this book with interest and high expectations.

I was not let down. The quality of the writing itself is high, having been honed through half a dozen books of historical fiction. One thing that commends his work, and I would say is a real selling point, is its evident readability. Some books I thoroughly enjoy but require work. Some I have to make myself sit down and concentrate on, even though I'm enjoying them, because they require effort. This book - and all Douglas' work - is literary quicksilver. I sit down to read a chapter and stand back up to discover it's got dark in the meantime and I've read a third of the book. It's just too easy to read and too hard to stop.

The characters in the story are entirely credible and sympathetic. Jamie has that perfect mix of open naïve inability and hidden strengths and skills that make him the perfect protagonist without being irritably perfect. The burgeoning relationship between him and Sarah - more of a partner or supporting role than mere love interest - is one of reciprocation and combination of talents. The secrets of their pasts are nicely woven into the plot.

But the real win for this book is not the writing or the characterisation - or even the settings, which are perfectly visualised and clearly understood by the author - but the plot. You see with a thriller, plot is all-important. A horror novel can get by on shock value, and a historical one through detail and action. But a thriller has to have an intriguing plot that remains out of the reader's reach throughout the story, or twists every time the reader thinks he understands. This is, after all, one of the main reasons I stopped reading thrillers many years ago.

The Doomsday Testament combines every aspect of the thriller into one perfectly engineered plot, but throws in elements of occult, war, archaeology and more. Beginning as a simple story of a young art dealer dealing with his recently-deceased grandfather's effects, it quickly takes the reader into a story of the old man's time in the second world war (a thread that runs concurrently throughout the book almost as a secondary tale in itself), takes on the aspects of an international spy/crime caper, and then dives into an almost Denis Wheatley-esque tale of the occult and its connections with Himmler and Hitler's obsessions with such things. The story roves across England, Germany and even Tibet, back and forth as the events unfold through Jamie's grandfather's journal.
The thing that really grips me is that for the last third of the book (as is the way with a good thriller) I kept thinking to myself "how can this work out? How can it end satisfactorily? What will happen?" And then, when I got to the end, I almost smacked my head against the wall for not seeing what I damn well should have done.

The upshot is that this novel has everything it needs to keep you coming back and you might well find that, like me, you read it in three sittings without pause.

Way to go, James. The sequel - The Isis Covenant - is close to the top of my pile now.


The Day Gaul Died (The Celtic Chronicles Book 1)
The Day Gaul Died (The Celtic Chronicles Book 1)

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A solid debut and a fresh perspective, 3 Dec. 2012
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Pat Mizell has presented the reader with something that - and I really cannot say why - had never occurred to me: One of the greatest campaigns of Roman history but told from the losing side's perspective. As a man who's busy writing a series set during the same wars from the Roman perspective it made a fascinating read.

The tale it told in a fairly complex manner, as a retrospective of an escaped Gaul who was up there with the commanders of the Celtic force during the Gallic wars. However, this retrospective is interspersed with short sections that tell of the travels and path of the protagonist (Vercassivellaunus) after the war (a 'now' section against the 'then' of the main tale.) Add to this the fact that the author has added a sporadic view of what happens among the Roman aggressors, and the result is complex and fascinating, if only from the point of view of comparisons.
The main story begins slowly, at the early stages of the wars, and leaps forward through the months and years, piecing together the story of the great Gaulish rebellion from the Gauls' point of view. As the tale progresses, however, through such great events as Avaricum and Gergovia, the pace picks up and continues to accelerate towards the final battle: Alesia, and is told in a blow-by-blow and day-by-day account .

I find his depiction of Caesar and Vercingetorix to be believable and rounded and having chosen this unknown/fictional other as a central character Pat has told it all from a credible viewpoint.

On the technical side, he has apparently done his research, and I was happy with a distinct lack of errors in the depiction of the Roman army, while concentrating on the Gauls and using what is known of their culture while filling in the gaps in the knowledge with reasonable fictional decisions. There are also very few grammatical/copy errors, which is unusual in a self-published work.

All in all, I think that fans of ancient history will like this book and will appreciate its fresh perspective. I would not recommend it as a starting point for a non-reader of the genre, as they would not get the best out of it without at least a tiny familiarity with the time. But if you've not read Roman/Celtic fiction, go away and read, say Ben Kane or Conn Iggulden for late Republican Rome and M C Scott's Boudicca series for the Celts, and then come back to it.
A good, solid debut novel.


Kingdom: Book Two of the Saladin Trilogy: 2/3
Kingdom: Book Two of the Saladin Trilogy: 2/3
by Jack Hight
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

4.0 out of 5 stars Birth of a legend, 8 Nov. 2012
I just finished a back-to-back read of the first two books in Jack Hight's Saladin series - Eagle and Kingdom, so this is very much a review of both.

The story follows the youth and growth of the young Yusuf, from his childhood when he is considered weak and unworthy through to becoming the legendar character that is Salah Ad Din, scourge of the crusaders.

The first thing that struck me about these books (and I would say is still the outstanding review factor after book 2 ends) is the fresh perspective Hight has written from. The crusading era is not uncommon for writers of Historical Fiction, and Hight's offering might easily have become run of the mill, despite his obvious knowledge and talent, had he not done something different to stand out. Eagle and Kingdom are both written largely from the Arabic Saracen perspective, though seen often through the eyes of a westerner (John of Tatewic), which gives it relevance to a western reader. The main characters are generally Saracen, and that people are portrayed, unusually in this milieu, as an honourable, ethical, family-oriented, pious, friendly and likeable people. That fact alone could have driven me through the series.

Couple that with High's clear knowledge of the era of the Second Crusade and the world in which the future Saladin grew up, and also his understanding and presentation of Islam and the Islamic peoples of the time, and it creates a story that is not only fresh and interesting, but also informative and revealing. I'm no expert on the time, but I do have a grounding in the early crusades from schooling and private reading and, while the author makes a couple of small tweaks or takes a tiny liberty with direct fact for the sake of story (which all such authors do and without which Historical Fiction would simply be non-fiction) everything seems to fall perfectly into place with geography and timelines.

The story follows a general arc of personal growth, mirrored in the growth of Saracen power in the Middle East.

The first book follows how young Yusuf, in the shadow of his brutal brother, comes across John, a Christian knight, after a battle at Damascus following which he is taken prisoner. Yusuf buys John as a slave and a bond slowly begins to form between the two, granting John more freedom and hope than a man in his position should ever wish for, but teaching young Yusuf everything he needs to become the man he is destined to be. The interplay between the two characters of totally different cultures and the interplay as they learn from each other is lovely and makes the book an easy read.

The second book moves more into the world of politics and intrigue, and takes us to Egypt and into a world of internecine warfare. In the meantime, John is having troubles of his own in Jerusalem. The interplay between the characters is still there when it can be, but by necessity the series has grown and moved on in the second book and there is more of a focus on the activities of the two friends (Yusuf and John) as individuals than there was in the first book. This is, of course, wholly appropriate for the plot arc, as is the warfare that is becoming more and more prevalent and central as the story progresses.

I look forward the the conclusion of the trilogy and what it means for the friendship between John and Saladin.


Eagle: Book One of the Saladin Trilogy: 1/3
Eagle: Book One of the Saladin Trilogy: 1/3
by Jack Hight
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Birth of a legend, 8 Nov. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I just finished a back-to-back read of the first two books in Jack Hight's Saladin series - Eagle and Kingdom, so this is very much a review of both.

The story follows the youth and growth of the young Yusuf, from his childhood when he is considered weak and unworthy through to becoming the legendar character that is Salah Ad Din, scourge of the crusaders.

The first thing that struck me about these books (and I would say is still the outstanding review factor after book 2 ends) is the fresh perspective Hight has written from. The crusading era is not uncommon for writers of Historical Fiction, and Hight's offering might easily have become run of the mill, despite his obvious knowledge and talent, had he not done something different to stand out. Eagle and Kingdom are both written largely from the Arabic Saracen perspective, though seen often through the eyes of a westerner (John of Tatewic), which gives it relevance to a western reader. The main characters are generally Saracen, and that people are portrayed, unusually in this milieu, as an honourable, ethical, family-oriented, pious, friendly and likeable people. That fact alone could have driven me through the series.

Couple that with High's clear knowledge of the era of the Second Crusade and the world in which the future Saladin grew up, and also his understanding and presentation of Islam and the Islamic peoples of the time, and it creates a story that is not only fresh and interesting, but also informative and revealing. I'm no expert on the time, but I do have a grounding in the early crusades from schooling and private reading and, while the author makes a couple of small tweaks or takes a tiny liberty with direct fact for the sake of story (which all such authors do and without which Historical Fiction would simply be non-fiction) everything seems to fall perfectly into place with geography and timelines.

The story follows a general arc of personal growth, mirrored in the growth of Saracen power in the Middle East.

The first book follows how young Yusuf, in the shadow of his brutal brother, comes across John, a Christian knight, after a battle at Damascus following which he is taken prisoner. Yusuf buys John as a slave and a bond slowly begins to form between the two, granting John more freedom and hope than a man in his position should ever wish for, but teaching young Yusuf everything he needs to become the man he is destined to be. The interplay between the two characters of totally different cultures and the interplay as they learn from each other is lovely and makes the book an easy read.

The second book moves more into the world of politics and intrigue, and takes us to Egypt and into a world of internecine warfare. In the meantime, John is having troubles of his own in Jerusalem. The interplay between the characters is still there when it can be, but by necessity the series has grown and moved on in the second book and there is more of a focus on the activities of the two friends (Yusuf and John) as individuals than there was in the first book. This is, of course, wholly appropriate for the plot arc, as is the warfare that is becoming more and more prevalent and central as the story progresses.

I look forward the the conclusion of the trilogy and what it means for the friendship between John and Saladin.


The Wolf's Gold:  Empire V
The Wolf's Gold: Empire V
by Anthony Riches
Edition: Hardcover

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riches soars to new heights, 25 Oct. 2012
I've been a fan of Tony Riches since Corvus first put in an appearance in Wounds of Honour, and I'm always pleased to pick up an 'Empire' book.

I've done reviews of the others so far, and I would reference them in this review. The first three in the series I always considered very much a single story arc over three books. Moreover, they were staunchly and solidly novels of the Roman military.

Cue Tony's curveball: The Leopard Sword. The fourth book in the series was something of a departure in style, concentrating more on an ingenious plotline of intrigues and banditry than on the military campaigns we'd come to expect. Having read reviews and spoken to people since, I'm not sure how well-received the change was. I personally thought it was a triumph and a real growth in character, style and plot crafting.

Well The Wolf's Gold should be an all-pleaser as far as I can see. In one way, it's very much a return to a military-oriented plotline, with stretches of good solid campaigning in there, which should please the die-hard 'Military Riches' fans, and yet also involves a depth, ingenuity and intricacy of plot that has been born - in my opinion - from the style of Leopard Sword.

The plot to this masterpiece moves us once more. The first three books had us in Northern Britannia, and the fourth shifted the action to the forests of Germany, while in this one, the poor beleaguered Tungrian cohorts are sent to Dacia (modern Romania) into the Carpathian mountains to provide defence for the gold mines that are essential for imperial revenue. It is here that they will meet a number of interesting and often dubious characters and fall foul of plots and tricks that will once again have them fighting for their lives and have centurion Corvus creating crazy plans that have little chance of success.

As always with Tony's writing, he sacrifices just the tiniest modicum of uptight concern for anachronistic idiom (something more authors could do with trying) in favour of something that feels realistic and appropriate to the reader and creates a flow of text that's never interrupted.

And that's a big part of this book. From the very start it races away and takes the reader with it. The flow is just too easy to read and hard to put down. As usual there is a humour among the soldiers that borders on the tasteless at times, and feels thoroughly authenic (and also happens to make me laugh out loud) combined with a brutal combative narrative that pulls no punches and coats the reader with gore, all overlaid with a few saddening scenes and thoughts.

From the might of Sarmatian hordes and their perfidious nobles to the treachery of self-serving mine owners, the untrustworthiness of border troops, the mindless buffoonery of the upper class legionary Tribunes, the madness of battles on ice, and the heart-pounding stealthy infiltrations of installations by a few good men, Wolf's Gold should win on many levels and certainly does with me.

Moreover, this novel sees a significant advance in the overall arc of Corvus' history, his murdered family and the imperial intrigues that accompany it.

As a last aside, Tony is one of few writers of Roman fiction who rarely feels the need to name-drop, his characters almost always fictional and self-created, which I find refreshing and even when he does so, it is fascinating. In this case we are introduced to not one, but two, future attempted usurpers of Imperial power.

All in all, Wolf's Gold is a storming read, and Riches' best yet. I cannot wait to see what is going to follow in book 6 following the events of this.


Tom Swan and the Head of St George Part Two: Venice
Tom Swan and the Head of St George Part Two: Venice
Price: £0.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Swan battles on, 14 Oct. 2012
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I was hit by the freshness and difference of the first Tom Swan installment after the general available array of somewhat serious, dark historical fiction. I had wondered whether a second installment might not live up to the first as it would lose something of that 'new' feeling. I was wrong.

After a brief mental dragging through my memory to do a quick 'Last week on Tom Swan..." I launched straight into it and started thoroughly enjoying it straight away. What the second part loses in novelty, it gains in immediacy. There is no need to introduce the characters or their world, so you are dropped straight into the story and the action.

In part two, at last, the relevance of the title is made clear and it has given me a strong indication of where the series is going. This short story is filled with duels and bribes, moneylenders and organised criminals, princes and liars, sea-battles and subterfuge. It has it all. Moreover, the settings really hit me as the book is set in Rome, Venice, Athens and Constantinople, all places I have been and love, and can picture the scene perfectly.

The new characters introduced in this are excellent, and the book ends on a traditional serialised cliffhanger. I cannot wait to read the next installment, hopefully this week. I hope that Cameron's experiment with this serial has proved successful for him, as I'd hate to think there will be no more Tom Swan books after part 3.


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