Customer Review

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Anglish man abroad, 12 Aug 2012
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This review is from: Saxon: The Book of Dreams (Paperback)
I really enjoyed Severin's Viking trilogy a few years ago, so when I saw this the first in a series seemingly about Saxons I jumped in. Only to find it really isn't about the saxons at all. Well it's about one of them, who within the first few pages finds himself in Charlemagne's Frankia! Bothered? No not really because it was a cracking little book!

What I like about Severin is he writes with a warmth and wit, and he is a writer first rather than a historian 'having a bash' so it's a seamless and relaxed read with no jarring, wincing or groaning.

Severin also knows how to steer a clear path around cliche. The story moves smoothley but quickly with constant scene changing so there was no 11.30pm waking up with a jolt to find the book still in front of me and the bedside light still on or reading the same paragraph 20 times. I love the way Severin portrays people and dialogue, it feels real and engages me. He tells a 'romp' rather than an all action war book. So readers buying what they think is a Saxon 'ala Uthred' type story may be disapointed but I wasn't.

Vague non spoiling plot synopsis for those who want one.

Sigwulf, a young Saxon finds himself despatched to the court of Charlemagne with his slave Osric. There he befriends that hero of french poetry Hroudland (Roland), becomes the lover of a princess and interprator of royal dreams. He has enemies too and is stalked by a would be assassin. What follows is adventures on the royal hunt, on the road and in Saracen held Hispania and the encountering of a rich cast of characters.

In summary, exciting, witty, and occasionally moving. Count me in for book 2.
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Showing 1-10 of 15 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 13 Aug 2012 14:08:32 BDT
Last edited by the author on 13 Aug 2012 14:09:52 BDT
JPS says:
Hello,

You are perfectly correct to mention something that I did not mention explicitely: that this book is simply NOT about Saxons, but about Charlemagne and Roland. As the title of your review also makes clear (although, just like me, you also call him a Saxon in your review), Sigwulf was an Angle (and so was Offa), NOT a Saxon.

Anyway, enough quibbling from my side: thank you for your review which I did find "helpful" and voted for, although, since I have already bought and reviewed this book, I am not sure whether the Amazon system will count the positive vote I gave it. It is always preferable for Amazon customers to have more than one review per book (or, to be more accurate, that's how I feel about it since I happy to buy LOTS of books from Amazon websites), and I was wondering how long it would take for a second review to come up.

Cheers
JPS

PS: it seems that my vote did count, after all...

In reply to an earlier post on 13 Aug 2012 19:26:10 BDT
Hi JPS
most kind of you. I have to confess though my calling Sigwulf an Angle was just to fit in a corny review title! I feel a bit sorry for the Angle's and the Jutes who get largely ignored by those people seeking their white genetic past. 'Saxon' now seeming to be a catch all for all the northern tribes who popped over the water when the Roman's called an end to their Brittanic holiday

I also feel sorry for Severin who does not get the Amazon recognition he deserves, compared to Sidebottem, Cornwall et al, even though I think he is the better writer. But people seem to like a bit more battle and bloodshed in their historical tales. Shame because I always have that warm kind of 'stays with me' feeling after reading his novels.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Aug 2012 05:59:52 BDT
Last edited by the author on 14 Aug 2012 08:45:59 BDT
JPS says:
Not "kind" at all, Dear "Book Troll", simply deserved (-).

With regards to Severin's recognition, or relative lack of it compared to the others that you mention, I am not sure I fully agree, although I might see where you are coming from.

Cornwell nowadays is, to me, the best of the lot, although some of his books are worse than others. Some of his worst, in my view, were precisely among those that made his fame - his Sharpe series with all of its "Rule Britannia" undertones. Sidebottom greatly benefits and uses enormously his aura and reputation as an Oxbridge Don: you do "learn by reading" - and can hardly do otherwise if you want to finish his books - thanks to the generosity and patronizing of the Great Don!

Severin does not seem to use either type of trick. He also does not mess around with dates and facts in his books half as much as Conn Inggulden does, neither does he "overdo" the blood and gore bits, as some others tend to.

This is perhaps, in the eyes of many readers, one of his main problems in "marketing" terms: lack of an "identifiable brand": whatever Severin does, Vikings, or blood, battle or gore, others have done just before or will do just after - and more of it! Think how many Viking series we have seen up to now! Other authors, such as Cornwell and Sidebottom, already have build their own "brand names" - think of Uthred and Ballista. Severin, with his Sigwulf, has yet to build up his, although he may be onto something here...

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Aug 2012 19:43:43 BDT
Mmm don't know, I have fallen a bit out of love with Cornwall. I have still to read his latest Uhtred. My main problem is they are a bit formulaic. Swap the swords for muskets, well rifles, and you essentially have a Sharpe novel. Great research, fine writing but pretty much the same story again and again. Dare to say this on amazon and be prepared to be clobbered with a raft of unhelpful hits.
Sidebottom and his latin dropping used to drive me mad, as someone who is not at all academic and know's very little latin, the constant flicking to the notes section used drive me wild. I just don't bother now and find it doesn't matter. But I love his ability to create real and individual personalities. Characterisisation being something a lot of the historical writers struggle with including Cornwall, Iggulden, and especially Fabbri.
But as to the lack of interest in Severin on Amazon the fact we are still the only two reviewers of this book, despite this being his third series says it all. If you wanted to be the first reviewer of any of the other authors we have discussed you would have to get an advanced copy, read it in one sitting and have 'Parm' shot!

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Aug 2012 09:35:47 BDT
Last edited by the author on 17 Aug 2012 10:45:33 BDT
JPS says:
I see what you mean, and agree with most of it. I am somewhat partial to Cornwell, although I did get fed up with his Shape series. After a while, I couldn't bear Sharpe winning the war single handed at the sound of "Rule Britannia"! A bit too much of a caricature for me... I believe his best was his Arthur trilogy, a long time ago. I particularly liked his take on Lancelot (:). In many respects, the character of Uthred is somewhat similar to that of Derfel. His books on the Hundred Years War were also good, although perhaps less so. I will admit, however, that I am rather biased with regards to Cornwell.

Quite true about getting clobbered by the fans when you "dare" to dislike a book that they raise to high heaven, and not only for Cornwell. It also applies to a raft of other authors, although I still believe that if I find a book to be poor, then my review should reflect it and explain why this the case, and to hell with the "unhelpful" hits...

Sibettom also used to get on my nerves with his latin (and greek!) quotes. In my view, and despite knowing (a bit of) both, these quotes add nothing to the story. It also makes the Don look rather bad, almost pathetic at times, because it gives the impression that he feels the need to impress his audience. This might be totally unfair, however, because it is quite possible that he loves his topic so much that he wants to share it, quotes, lectures and all, with his readers. Quite a few historians tend to be like that. However, most readers do not give a rat's behind about this, and some can even take exception to it...

As for wanting to be the first reviewer, I would probably start with your last item. Then I would start writting glowing reviews on all books I come across with a minimum of four stars, and without necessarily reading them: that's how some do it, as you probably know. Glad to see that you are not one of them...

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Aug 2012 22:57:41 BDT
I meant first reviewer of a particular book rather than No 1 rated reviewer. I think you have to be pretty much clinically insane just to get in the top 100, a very sad bunch, and as you say the actualk reviews are worthless to me because they never score below 4 or write in less than glowing terms for fear of negative hits.

Completely agree re Cornwall's Arthurian series. It was magical and by some margin his best work. It felt like he had his heart and soul in it rather than just doing his 9-5 job. I do wish publishing houses would give their writers a bit more time between books, as once they get into the 'a book a year' production line quality, characterisation and originality tend to drop off. The saddest thing is when authors just turn into a parody of themselves because they are essentially re-hashing every story line they have ever done. Wilbur Smith and Jack Higgins especially.

I agree Sidebottem can stray into the contrived too. Still on the plus side the big old Scottish Viking has another Oathsworn adventure out soon. Now there is a man who can do characterisation!

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Aug 2012 06:19:20 BDT
JPS says:
I know you meant first reviewer of a particular book, although being consistently first reviewer of a number of historical novels will, in time, bring you into the top 100, regardless of the contents of your reviews.
As for Cornwell's Arthurian trilogy, I'll post reviews on them, one day, just for the fun, and because they are so much worth it.
Completely agree about the "a book a year production line". Combine this with series, where the author drags on the story to fill up enough pages for yet another book or, on the contrary, cuts of his story after some 300-350 pages so that you need to buy episode 2 to learn what happened. Agree on Wilbur Smith and Jack Higging: precisely why I have stoped reading them. I can't wait for Crowbone.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Aug 2012 23:08:17 BDT
I don't know it is a very weird and desperate world up in the top 100. A couple of years ago when I had still had my Amazon innocence I did make a push for the high ranks and found myself reading only new books, rushing them to get an early review out and buying books I didn't really want to read because they were new. Then as my rating climbed I found out about trolls. Then I realised I was so obsessed with reviews and rankings I wasn't even enjoying reading anymore and thankfully recovered my wits!

I never stooped so low as to rate a book higher than I thought it deserved however, or submitted a review of a book I hadn't read, or even more annoying in a way, a book I hadn't finished!
Now I just read what I fancy, including loads of old stuff picked up cheap from the dealers! My rating is dropping all the time but I am loving reading again. Sorry I have somehow ended up writing a cautionary tale/ confession ?? I do somehow feel cleaner for it though!

Yes indeed roll on Crowbone. I have loved all the Oathsworn books! Have you read Gates of Fire? (perhaps my all time favourite historical novel)

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Aug 2012 09:12:39 BDT
Last edited by the author on 23 Aug 2012 09:26:22 BDT
JPS says:
We seem to have very similar views here. I really started posting reviews less than 3 three years ago. Initially, it was because I found there was so many "rubbish-reviews" getting all delirious on books that the reviewer had obviously not read and on subjects where she/he knew very little, if anything at all. I thought that maybe I could do a bit betterthan that and even that it might be helpful. (yes: it's called arrogance!). At the time, I could not care less about the top 100. I still do not. If I somehow get there, fine. If not, never mind, but I'll loose no sleep over it. Every now and then, when I read a particularly useless five stars review from a "Top something" reviewer eager to please and collect masses of positive votes (and it works!), I can't help wondering "why him and not me?" That's when I have a look at his/her reviews and look at the reviews posted by the top 100. Glowing reviews everywhere, and on anything "new" that comes out. I once even read a review on a tooth brush! Said toothbrush was, of course, "smashing and wonderful" and worth five stars, although the reviewer did not go as far to mention that is was "fast-paced and full of gory action scenes..." So, I guess I know how you feel. Another one I came across a few days ago was an author posting five star reviews on his own books and using his own name (how stupid can you get?)

As for stooping low: same here. NEVER. But then this is about how high you value your personal integrity and whether you are ready to trade or compromize it for something else. Anyway, climbing up in the charts has NEVER been an objective. If anything for me, it is a by-product and no more. The main objective was always to help customers make informed choices, starting with books and topics on which they may know little to begin with. I am a great fan of historical novels and have been for more than 40 years, but then that is because I am very much a "history buff", and this is probably an understatement, if ever there was one. However, I also happen to have liked science fiction and heroïc fantasy for about just as long, provided it is not utter commercial drivel, of course...

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Aug 2012 22:15:44 BDT
Ahh Science fiction too eh? I pretty much read nothing else all through the 80's before coming back to my roots of fantasy. I have always enjoyed the historical stuff from childhood, reading Rosemary Sutcliffe and then of course CS Forester.

To be honest the whole 'rated reviewer' system turns me off now just because of the desperate antics that go on. I don't know if the dreaded 'Chippingdale' is still plying his trade or Good old Parm who can read about 10 books a day. I also don't know if you have acquired your own personal troll yet either, who finds your reviews so unhelpful that they give you an 'unhelpful' click within an hour of any new review. I think mine has now moved on to more high profile competition. To be honest I think Amazon should look at the system again because this battle to be a top reviewer is now affecting the book rating. A real case of the tail wagging the dog.

And yes the covert plugging is another pet hate of mine. A series of 5 star reviews submitted by people who have never bothered reviewing a book before, but are so moved by the wonders of something dreadful like 'The Blacksone key' they have to put fingers to keyboard!!!

Ah well, tis honest reviewers like yourself JPS that keeps a bit of integrity to increasingly dodgy world Amazon!
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