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SJATurney "Roma Victrix" (Yorkshire, UK)

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Fortress of Spears (Empire)
Fortress of Spears (Empire)
by Anthony Riches
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.27

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crescendo that leaves you wanting more, 24 April 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I've waited until I finished the third book in this series before posting a review of any of them, and for a particular reason. Most of the historical series I've read consist of a new separate story with each book, often defined by a narrator's pause or some such device. Most series are different stories with different themes that build a series.

Wile clearly part of a series, Tony's first three Empire books are different. To me they follow on so closely and seamlessly that the series so far could easily be seen as one huge story spread over three books with appropriate pauses between releases. The stories are readable independently, for sure, but the best will be got from them by reading them one after the other. Quite simply, you can't read one book of this series without wanting to go on with the story. In order to get the best from the story, you need to read them all, and for the best possible results, I would suggest back-to-back.

A second thing that I would say that concerns each of Tony's works is what I consider his greatest strength as an author: The gritty military reality of his tale-telling. I have spent some time in my life, in a civilian situation but alongside men of military units, and there is something so authentic about Tony's characterisation that it felt truly familiar and real. You will find it hard to disbelieve anything about Tony's depiction of the legions, auxiliary troopers, the cavalry, their structure, style, attitude and actions. While no one can confirm exactly how soldiers then spoke and acted, it's hard to believe they were any different from the modern military and Tony has made these ancient soldiers understandable and relevant to the modern reader.

I feel that it is better for me to review the series as a whole, which I have given an appropriate 5 stars of 5, and then add a short section on the individual novel. I find it almost impossible to put down Tony's books and eagerly await the Leopard Sword to see what new direction the series might take.

Book Three

Fortress of spears builds the first three Empire books to a suitably powerful conclusion and ties off a number of important story threads while keeping enough open to allow for great sequel potential. Essentially, it completes the first arc of a story that clearly goes on. This book is much the Return of the Jedi of this trio; a most entertaining and engaging book.

Where the first novel concentrated on life in an auxiliary unit and the second on the Hamian archers of the middle east, this third one has the cavalry at its heart, giving another fresh dimension for the reader. The third book shows the most character growth and complexity, indicating that the series is just going to keep getting better. The best thing about it though, beyond the always-excellent characterisation of the military, was the introduction of two new villains who were loathesome and impressive to an astounding extent.

Well done to Anthony Riches. I now have the newly-released Leopard Sword and cannot wait to see what next awaits Aquila in his new role.


Arrows of Fury: II (Empire)
Arrows of Fury: II (Empire)
by Anthony Riches
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.07

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent follow up, 24 April 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I've waited until I finished the third book in this series before posting a review of any of them, and for a particular reason. Most of the historical series I've read consist of a new separate story with each book, often defined by a narrator's pause or some such device. Most series are different stories with different themes that build a series.

Wile clearly part of a series, Tony's first three Empire books are different. To me they follow on so closely and seamlessly that the series so far could easily be seen as one huge story spread over three books with appropriate pauses between releases. The stories are readable independently, for sure, but the best will be got from them by reading them one after the other. Quite simply, you can't read one book of this series without wanting to go on with the story. In order to get the best from the story, you need to read them all, and for the best possible results, I would suggest back-to-back.

A second thing that I would say that concerns each of Tony's works is what I consider his greatest strength as an author: The gritty military reality of his tale-telling. I have spent some time in my life, in a civilian situation but alongside men of military units, and there is something so authentic about Tony's characterisation that it felt truly familiar and real. You will find it hard to disbelieve anything about Tony's depiction of the legions, auxiliary troopers, the cavalry, their structure, style, attitude and actions. While no one can confirm exactly how soldiers then spoke and acted, it's hard to believe they were any different from the modern military and Tony has made these ancient soldiers understandable and relevant to the modern reader.

I feel that it is better for me to review the series as a whole, which I have given an appropriate 5 stars of 5, and then add a short section on the individual novel. I find it almost impossible to put down Tony's books and eagerly await the Leopard Sword to see what new direction the series might take.

Book Two

Arrows of fury follows up perfectly from Wounds of honour, and takes the action to a new level, concentrating more this time on the war that was the impetus and background of the first book, the Tribal leader who has become the great antagonist of the Empire series and the campaigns of great leaders (and occasionally of chinless idiots.)

Alongside this great military campaign, we experience the machinations of wicked and stupid men and best of all heroics from the most unexpected quarters. The Hamian unit that are the reason for the book's name simply blew me away and made me reassess the importance of missile troops in the Roman military. I have come to love Qadir as a character. Arrows of fury doesn't just follow on from Wounds of Honour, but builds on it, introducing wonderful new characters and elements.


Wounds of Honour: 1 (Empire)
Wounds of Honour: 1 (Empire)
by Anthony Riches
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An opening stormer, 24 April 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I've waited until I finished the third book in this series before posting a review of any of them, and for a particular reason. Most of the historical series I've read consist of a new separate story with each book, often defined by a narrator's pause or some such device. Most series are different stories with different themes that build a series.

Wile clearly part of a series, Tony's first three Empire books are different. To me they follow on so closely and seamlessly that the series so far could easily be seen as one huge story spread over three books with appropriate pauses between releases. The stories are readable independently, for sure, but the best will be got from them by reading them one after the other. Quite simply, you can't read one book of this series without wanting to go on with the story. In order to get the best from the story, you need to read them all, and for the best possible results, I would suggest back-to-back.

A second thing that I would say that concerns each of Tony's works is what I consider his greatest strength as an author: The gritty military reality of his tale-telling. I have spent some time in my life, in a civilian situation but alongside men of military units, and there is something so authentic about Tony's characterisation that it felt truly familiar and real. You will find it hard to disbelieve anything about Tony's depiction of the legions, auxiliary troopers, the cavalry, their structure, style, attitude and actions. While no one can confirm exactly how soldiers then spoke and acted, it's hard to believe they were any different from the modern military and Tony has made these ancient soldiers understandable and relevant to the modern reader.

I feel that it is better for me to review the series as a whole, which I have given an appropriate 5 stars of 5, and then add a short section on the individual novel. I find it almost impossible to put down Tony's books and eagerly await the Leopard Sword to see what new direction the series might take.

Book One

Wounds of honour is a wonderful beginning, introducing a number of characters that you will love and that will go through the series with you.

From the protagonist, a fugitive from Imperial justice who will continue to take your breath away in exciting and violent ways as each new talent of his becomes apparent, to the grim centurions who have served long on the frontier, to the oily son of a Roman aristocrat seeking the hero's downfall, the story takes place against a background of violent war and tribal pride, beleaguered forts and inter-unit rivalries, and centres around a 'training of mistfits' theme that is both exciting and humourous at times. The book has a solid and exciting concusion while clearly not finishing the whole story. Wounds of Honour introduces the reader to life on Hadrian's Wall in an era of troubles, to the auxiliary units that serve there and, in particular, to the First Tungrian cohort, who will become central to the series.


King's Man (Outlaw Chronicles Book 3)
King's Man (Outlaw Chronicles Book 3)
Price: 4.49

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best yet for Robin and Alan, 20 April 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
After Outlaw and Holy Warrior, I simply couldn't wait for the ordinary trade paperback of King's Man. I bought the outsized ROI edition and then also the kindle version. And I don't regret it.

Outlaw was an astounding debut for me. It challenged my perceptions of Robin Hood, created a whole new epic around him and kept me rivetted, It also showed Angus' not inconsiderable knowledge and in-depth research into an era that is very complex and vast.

Holy Warrior took the tale in a different direction and, while a more mature story , was darker and more troubling, though no less a great read. It made me fear for the future of the series, given my changing views of the principal characters, in much the same way as (as a sad Star Wars fan) 'Empire' is dark and troubling. In those dark and troubling tales real change and growth and character are brought out.

Then: King's Man. Quite simply it is a breathtaking book. While the previous two novels were very much separate stories in a series, this has bound the whole group together, drawing on a great wealth of detail from both previous works and using them to weave a spellbinding story based around Richard I's detaining in Germany after the crusade.

Obviously, that is not all there is to the book, but it is the main post around which the hall of King's Man is constructed. The story includes dangerous journeys through foreign lands, ordeals of holy inquisition, troubles with Templars, an unusual and excellent view of medieval London, sieges, warfare, assassination and so much more.

I was astounded to see the return of some favourite characters that I had not thought to see again, and the introduction of some new classics (Rix - wow what a character). An extra note worth making is that Alan has grown so much by the 3rd book that he's no longer the impressionable child of the earlier works, but has really come into his own, showing a real taent for character growth.

I could go on about character, description, plot and more, but only at the risk of rendering the review to long to be readable. So I will finish with this:

King's Man is the best of Angus' novels to date and one of the best novels I have read, period. It is beautifully written, with care to detail and surprises and twists that knocked me aside. The story is a true arc and no tiny detail is left unused and ignored. I fear now for the upcoming 'Warlord', for I find it hard to see how Angus can improve on this.

Whether in Hardback, Outsize pb, upcoming trade Paperback, or e-version, read this book. If you have read the first two, grab your reading list and push this to the top. If you have not, read all three back-to-back. I cannot recommend it any higher than that.

Brave, Angus. Bravo.


Stonehenge: A Novel of 2000 BC
Stonehenge: A Novel of 2000 BC
by Bernard Cornwell
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.51

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not up to par, 25 Mar 2012
I'll start by saying that I'm not a Cornwell-a-holic. I haven't read every series he's written. I did, however, read the Sharpe series as far as Waterloo and loved and enoyed every minute. To some extent, Sharpe set the standard for Historical Fiction for me, a fact that amazingly was not diminished by the production of the TV series which, while it lost something from the books, was still extremely entertaining.

I bought the Arthur novels and Stonehenge at the same time on a book buying binge, expecting the energy and life of Sharpe in an ancient setting. I read Stonehenge, though from about a fifth of the way through it became obvious it was going to be a painful and difficult labour. It took far longer than any other book I read. The characters were only half-drawn with the undelivered promise of depth. The plot was fine, but could have been told in less than half the time, rather than a long, drawn-out story that, to be honest, put me to sleep more than once.

I write this review now only because I was perusing my bookshelves today, trying to decide what to read and in what order, when I found my dusty and unread copies of the Arthurian books and decided to open the cover and read a few pages. I was hooked and they have now been added to my 'To Be Read' list. Sad that Stonehenge put me off reading Cornwell for nearly a decade, but take that as the brunt of the review.


Devils with Wings: Silk Drop: The Green Devils' Invasion of Crete
Devils with Wings: Silk Drop: The Green Devils' Invasion of Crete
by Harvey Black
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.52

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A step up and an evocative, action filled piece, 25 Mar 2012
If you've read my review of the first of Harvey's books (Devils With Wings) you'll know that I gave it four stars, with a few reservations - mainly the editing - holding back an otherwise deserved fifth.

This sequel gets the fifth in spades.

There are still a few typos and editing issues, admittedly (and with we self-published authors it's a sad fact of life) but there are far fewer than in the first book and, while with DWW it actually distracted me a little from the plot, with Silk Drop, that was not the case. I tore through the book at the fastest speed allowed by my two small, demanding kids.

The readability is partially due to (as intimated above) the reduced distraction of editing problems, but is more due to the plot. The first book confused me a little in places (WW2 fiction is not my normal genre) and I had to reread sections. With Silk Drop, Harvey's writing has really come into its own, including his planning and plot writing.

There are so many scenes that I could really picture in my mind's eye as I read (I won't voice any spoilers here, but I will simply say that Corinth and the last 7-8 chapters particularly stand out for me.) It feels as though Harvey has been to all the places he is describing and knows them intimately - I have visited Crete myself and it feels perfect and natural to me.

Moreover, the characters have settled in from the first book. A lot of the character portrayal in the first book was devoted to setting the scene for the unit and their relationships. Harvey has avoided falling into the trap of revisiting old ground, and had largely assumed the reader's knowledge of these relationships, allowing him instead to show them growing.

There are a few shocks and surprises in Silk Drop but I would say, having now read the first two of his books, that Harvey's strength lies in his description and scene-setting. I cannot wait to see what he does with the icy wastes of Russia in Frozen Sun, which is due out in a few months.

Simply, this is a complete step up from Devils with Wings and a deserved winner for me.


The Climax Of Rome
The Climax Of Rome
by Michael Grant
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fresh perspective, 22 Mar 2012
This review is from: The Climax Of Rome (Paperback)
I am, I have to admit, one of those folk (and there are many of use) who tend to see Rome's golden age as that from the accession of Augustus to the dead of Marcus Aurelius. After that, Rome declined, yes?

Only, that's as blinkered and generalised a view as saying the 5th to 10th centuries were a Dark Age. I read this book a number of years ago, from cover to cover as though it were a novel. I have recently had cause to revisit it for research and am struck again by its quality.

Grant has, in this book, blown my preconceptions about later Rome completely out of the water. He sees the period not as a decline, but a set of subtle changes, and not just that, but changes for the better. His examination of the era is detailed and his arguments and conclusions persuasive. It opened my eyes to a world of later Rome that I had not even considered was there. By extension, this book led me to visiting Istanbul, which drew me into Byzantine history. Essentially, my knowledge of, and love of, Rome expanded tenfold on reading Grant.

Read it and see what you think, but be prepared to have longstanding views challenged.


Defender of Rome (Gaius Valerius Verrens 2)
Defender of Rome (Gaius Valerius Verrens 2)
by Douglas Jackson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 5.20

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb follow up., 16 Mar 2012
Two years after Valerius' defence of Colonia against Boudicca in "Hero of Rome", the eponymous characters is in Rome. Changed by the events he lived through he is a darker, slightly hollow man. Struggling to find a path, he finds himself landed with a new task by the unstable emperor Nero: to root out and bring to 'justice' a rabble rouser, a leader of the sect of Christians in Rome.

Plagued by a frail and ill sister, a splintered family relationship, the uncertain moods of the emperor and the machinations of those who wield power under Nero, including the prefect of the Praetorians, Valerius' investigation, aided by gladiator friends, unearths a number of secrets, some of which cut deep. The story builds to a massive crescendo, set to a backdrop of another great event of the era.

Defender is, in short, a great book and a worthy successor to the excellent Hero of Rome. There are three things that particularly impressed me:

1. Valerius' character. In Hero, we were introduced to a man who was still young and relatively full of promise, even optimistic and loving. Defender sees him changed. Doug has done an excellent job of painting the character of a man who has suffered the things Valerius did in Britannia. It feels like a natural progression and is therefore perfectly done.

2. The portrayal of Nero. That emperor has had a lot of treatment by a lot of authors before now, and yet this did not feel old or samey for some reason. There is about the character an oily wickedness, mixed with a childish excitement that really brings him to life. You will truly hate this emperor.

3. The way the Christians are portrayed. Until now the best such portrayal in Roman fiction I had seen was Simon Scarrow's Eagle in the Sand. This now rivals it, for sure. This period of the church is so vague as nothing was truly codified until Constantine I, and it is all too easy to imagine the early church as very similar to the later Catholic one, but with a more Judao-Roman feel. Doug's treatment is more like an offshoot of Judaism, which, of course, it was. It is sensitively handled and well done, without being preachy or particularly pro or anti. It is objective, given that the lead character is a pagan.

All in all, I would recommend that anyone who's read Hero of Rome dive in and read Defender. If you haven't, just read both!


Holy Warrior (Outlaw Chronicles)
Holy Warrior (Outlaw Chronicles)
by Angus Donald
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A storming continuation, 12 Mar 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The second novel in Angus' superb Outlaw series takes a slightly different direction from the first. While Outlaw drew on the traditional legends of Robin Hood and used them to create a new tale in a very realistic environment, the feel was clearly still a Robin in Sherwood one, for all its grit and realism. Holy Warrior is entirely different, and this to me is the making of the book. It would have been easy enough for the author to revisit the old territory for a sequel, but I think such would only have diminished the impact of the first. Taking the story in a new direction has kept the series fresh and made Holy Warrior as much a great book in its own right as a great sequel.

When the first book ended, given the situation (which I shall not reveal for fear of spoilers), I did wonder how Angus was going to be able to produce a sequel. This tale, still told from the point of view of Alan Dale, with Robin as an objective character rather than the lead, surprised me in a number of ways.

Firstly, the characters have changed subtly due to their experiences. The Alan we see in Holy Warrior is a different man to the boy in Outlaw, more confident, stronger, a little more embittered and thoughtful. Robin also had changed, burdened by so many more cares and difficulties than once beset him. The introduction of a number of strong new characters also injects fresh life into the tale.

Secondly, the story is set to the background of the Third Crusade. This event is one of the few parts of medieval history I'm fairly familiar with and I wondered just how it was going to surprise and entertain me, given my foreknowledge. The answer is: perfectly. The story is not hinged upon the crusade, though the holy war is clearly a large part. It is more a story of struggle, revenge, personal growth and change, orienting specifically mostly around Robin, Alan, their Jewish friends and a new vicious enemy who I shall not name yet. Amazingly to me, there is one event in the 3rd crusade that I consider the most amazing and fascinating and in an unexpected move, this event almost goes unnoticed due to the absence of the narrator. Such wonderful 'curve-balls' are what kept me guessing.

Thirdly, as a historian living near York, I was impressed with Angus' handling of late 12th century York and the events that took place there. These events I know well and yet they were made to fit seamlessly into the tale without a hiccup, as though they had always been linked.

Essentially, while there is so much more I could say, I will simply say bravo, Angus, and I look forward to reading King's Man, which sits watching me expectantly from the bookcase.


Outlaw (Outlaw Chronicles)
Outlaw (Outlaw Chronicles)
by Angus Donald
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars Robin as you've never seen him before, 11 Mar 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I am long overdue in reviewing this book, spurred on by the arrival in the post today of the third in the series (King's Man).

I generally avoid anything connected with Robin Hood in order to avoid inevitable disappointment. I have the same problem with King Arthur. Every time I read a book or watch a movie about Arthur I am thoroughly disappointed, often bored, and usually aggravated by the clear problems with any hint of accuracy. Ditto: Robin Hood. I tolerate the Errol Flynn and Disney animated movies because they are wonderful escapism. The modern Robin Hoods that try to hint at a reality set my teeth on edge with their awfulness.

I happened across Angus' first novel at the time I was busy touting my first and, against all my prejudices, gave it a read.

It is quite simply excellent, and broke my rules. Robin is far from the character you will see in Errol Flynn, Patrick Bergin, Kevin Costner et al. He is a villain, pure and simple. A mafia Don of his time. He is the Kray brothers. He is turf war gangster. The difference sold the whole idea, the series and the author to me.

I will say at this point that Robin is not the principal character of the book. It actually revolves more around the famous minstrel of the epics, Alan Dale, from whose perspective it is told. Alan is a character who grows all the time as you read and with whom you will sympathise.

The settings and actions in the book are wonderful and realistic and this is the closest, I feel, that any attempt at the telling of Robin Hood will ever reach to the truth behind the myth. Buy Outlaw. Read Outlaw. Love Outlaw. Review Outlaw.


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