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Mr. T. Hodkinson
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Dayraven: Beowulf~Hygelac's Raid
Dayraven: Beowulf~Hygelac's Raid
Price: 1.53

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great read, 25 Mar 2014
I really enjoyed reading this tale set in northern europe's semi-mythic past. Not just because I love the era and those ancient tales but because the writing is also fast-paced and full of action. This is a retelling of an event that probably happened from a historical sense in the early 6th century and has since gone on to be recounted in fiction from the earliest surviving Old English Saga, "Beowulf", to Michael Crichton's "Eaters of the Dead", and this deserves a space alongside those. In my opinion there just isn't enough modern historical fiction set in this era so please keep writing.


Outlaw (Outlaw Chronicles)
Outlaw (Outlaw Chronicles)
by Angus Donald
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.79

4.0 out of 5 stars A great version of a legendary character. Highly enjoyable read, 12 Aug 2012
I have to admit I have avoided reading this book for a long time through a misguided combination of jealousy and the desire to avoid disappointment. The jealousy spring from my own desire to write a novel that portrayed Robin Hood in a realistic light that was true to the spirit of the original medieval ballads about him. In those works Robin is about as far from Kevin Costner's version of the character as you can get. There is plenty of robbing-not necessarily just from the rich-and very little giving to the poor. Murder and mutilation is a fact of life (as it was at the time) and unlucky people who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time-rather than in some way "deserving" their fate-often end up with their throats cut by our the band of "merry men", in one episode regardless of the fact the victim is a child. In many ways Robin acts like a modern day gangster and that is exactly what comes across in Angus Donald's book.
He does much more though and manages the almost impossible. Alongside the original ballads pretty much all the various (and at times contradicting) traditions that have grow up around Robin since are incorporated into one compelling, action packed and plausible narrative. So there is a Mariann and a Tuck, as well as a Guy, Robin operates both in Yorkshire and Nottingham and the "purist's" problem of a medieval sheriff somehow acting like a baron is elegantly dealt with. The author creates an authentic picture of Twelfth Century England in which all these elements play and keeps the reader enthralled there as the action (and there is plenty of it) unfolds. The violence is frequent and unflinchingly brutal, but the tale is told from the perspective of Alan a Dale, following his development from thieving boy to accomplished Trouvère, which allows elements of medieval culture to be incorporated beyond the swordplay and fighting. As a bit of a language nerd, I particularly enjoyed the way the author demonstrates the medieval origins behind some of the idioms we use today such as "fast and loose" and "being caught red handed".
In many ways this is the quintessential novel for fans of the medieval period. Like a modern Ivanhoe, all the elements you would want to see are here: Outlaws, castles, knights, a Jewish character, damsels in distress, dungeons, sieges, battles, witches and Templars, its all here but woven together in a way that avoids cliche.
The marketing for the book draws parallels with The Godfather, and this is particularly apt but it is more than just a tale of gangsters in chain mail: At times it slides deep into the territory of that other classic of 1970s cinema, The Wicker Man. As these are two of my favourite films, suffice to say that I was far from disappointed by the book.
Suffice to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and my regret now is that I avoided it for so long. The good news is that I now have a whole series of these books to look forward to.


The Bleeding Land (Bleeding Land Trilogy 1)
The Bleeding Land (Bleeding Land Trilogy 1)
by Giles Kristian
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 11.69

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A cracking read, 25 May 2012
If war is Hell, then civil war must be Hell's nastier, more vindictive sister*. This is the message I took from Giles Kristian's historical novel "The Bleeding Land".
I've been waiting a long time for some quality historical fiction set during the English Civil War. A few years back I posted a question on Bernard Cornwell's forum asking if he would ever tackle the subject. He said he had no plans to but finally a writer of equal quality has come along to take up this banner.
Giles Kristian plunges the reader straight into the opening volleys of the battle of Edgehill. Mun (Edmund) and Tom Rivers- the book's protagonist brothers-are on opposite sides. The cavalry begin their charge and the reader is hooked immediately as the action withdraws back through time to relate how the characters got into that situation. I remained engrossed as the narrative made its way inexorably back to Edgehill and the carnage that followed.
The book primarily relates the story of the Rivers family, members of the English gentry, and the effect the war has on their relationships, both internally and with their associated circle of relations and neighbours. Don't worry though: This is no turgid soap opera and there is an abundance of action and fast moving excitement. There are several levels of conflict: The war itself between King and Parliament, and then there is the internal strife within the Rivers family which leaves the brothers on opposing sides. The author does not shy away from the cliché of "a family torn apart by civil war", but that is where convention ends. It is very human feelings of revenge and family loyalty that ultimately lead to Tom ending up a rebel while Mun and his father join the King's army. In many respects this is what makes the book so engaging. It's a human story rather than an exploration of 16th century politics. Men join the fight for very personal reasons that happen to align with the macrocosm conflict rather than blindly falling into line with arguments from a conflict now long past.
I may have read it wrong but it seems that the author deliberately does not "pick sides". There are bastards in both armies, as there are men of integrity. Bravery and foolishness appear in equal measure, and that-along with the way the politics of the time play a background role-make it hard for the reader (well this one anyway) to discern any possible bias. If anything this brings across the true tragedy of a land ripped apart by a civil conflict.
The sights, sounds and especially the smells of 17th century England and London are vividly described and the reader is drawn into the time setting and kept there. Giles Kristian has obviously done his research well and there is plenty of technical detail to delight the history nerd and military buff, particularly in the area of weapons and armour. Something I personally applaud is his inclusion of historical facts that may make some readers uncomfortable, because (while true) they don't fit with conventional portrayals of the past that are actually based on modern perceptions. For example, some folk may wonder why an Irishman is fighting for the King of England and I imagine that it will not just be the characters in the book who might be surprized by the King's Scottish accent.
A host of memorable characters bring the story to life and their portrayal ensures the reader is gripped because he or she cares about them while being dreadfully aware that they are in the middle of a very dangerous situation and not all of them can survive it. As an added bonus, fans of Giles Kristian's Raven novels will be delighted to spot a couple of familiar faces (presumably descendants) lurking in some scenes.
Tension is maintained throughout the narrative by the constant anticipation of the inevitable, relentlessly approaching battlefield meeting that must eventually occur between the two brothers. Blood proves thicker than water on a couple of occasions but the reader is always wondering just how long that can last, particularly as the bodies mount and the experience of war hardens the brothers' hearts.
There is a plenty of violent, bloody action. This land is not so much bleeding as drenched in the gore, bone shards, splattered brains and entrails of the slaughtered.
I mentioned Bernard Cornwell at the start of this and it was not completely by accident. It's probably Cornwell's style of work that this book evokes for me most, but Giles Kristian adds several layers of depth to create a much richer experience. To give an example of what I mean, when all the boys-own adventures for the male characters are over, Kristian goes on to portray the consequences for the women who were left behind.
All in all, a cracking read. "The Bleeding Land" is an excellent, gripping book and I am looking forward very much to the next book in the series.

*I'm referring to the Old Norse belief that Hell was a woman who ruled the underworld where the unworthy dead went, not being sexist


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