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Profile for Simon Binning > Reviews

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Reviews Written by
Simon Binning (Bath, UK)

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Praetorian: The Price of Treason
Praetorian: The Price of Treason
Price: £2.49

3.0 out of 5 stars Fun, but not as involving as the author's other work, 16 April 2016
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I am a fan of Simon Turney; his Marius' Mules, Ottoman and Tales of Empire series' have all been hugely entertaining. This series, however, is not working so well for me. It has a lot going for it: a setting that is a bit different to most Roman-set fiction, lots of political manoeuvrings and a great dog as one of the main characters! The first book set up the era and the main character's place in it and this volume follows on from it directly. Rufinus, a member of the Praetorian Guard is out for revenge, if he can overcome his drug addiction, and is sent on a dangerous mission by a man who may - or may not - be a traitor. The author writes with his usual assured style, but ultimately it falls down for me by stretching credibility too far, too often. In fiction, 'heroes' always have their superhuman moments, but there are too many occasions in this book where events are barely believable. This means that all suspense disappears, as all the main characters seem to be able to escape any situation. By the end, I had lost any real involvement in their lives, and that, for me, is a major disappointment. I will read the next volume when it appears, but with less anticipation than new episodes in the author's other works.


The Spy of Venice: A William Shakespeare novel (William Shakespeare Thriller 1)
The Spy of Venice: A William Shakespeare novel (William Shakespeare Thriller 1)
Price: £3.49

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Didn't work for me at all, 12 April 2016
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This is the first book in a long time I haven't manage to finish. The idea is a good one - fill in the missing gap in Shakespeare's young life. But the story is all over the place; I'm not sure if the author is sure what style he wants to write in; at times he apes Shakespeare himself, at others it is almost a pastiche of Dumas. It is full of people who are obviously meant to be inspiration for his own future characters. Most of the events stretch credibility well beyond breaking point, and it gave me no sense of the time or the places in which it was set.


Two For The Lions: (Falco 10)
Two For The Lions: (Falco 10)
Price: £4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Another interesting Falco adventure, 9 April 2016
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This volume of the Falco series has him gaining work on Vespasian's census with the chance of earning some serious money, hopefully enabling him to achieve the social elevation he so desperately wants. However, a dead lion, and a feud between two lanistae lead him into dangerous waters yet again. Alongside the various issues in both his own family, and that of Helena Justina, this book takes him from Rome to North Africa. As usual, Falco deals with all his problems with a sense of humour, ably supported by Helena. The only part that doesn't work well for me - following on from the last book - is the role of Anacrites. His change of role, and some of the things he gets up to in this volume seem so totally out of character, that I found it jarring. I know that as Chief Spy, he probably has a murky background, but it seemed a bit too far-fetched.


Napoleon: The End of Glory
Napoleon: The End of Glory
Price: £13.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent study of Napoleon's fall, 8 April 2016
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This book examines the period between the retreat from Moscow to Napoleon's first abdication. It is, as the author points out, a somewhat neglected area, and he puts that right in this work. He gives a very good account of the events between 1812 and 1814, and using many personal writings and memoirs, he asks if Napoleon could have come to a negotiated peace with the allies.
The answer from the allied point of view seems to have been 'yes'. Although they were hardly of one mind on the future, they were all aware of the cost of fighting all the way to Paris. Tsar Alexander was looking for glory, but was temperamental and was a poor military commander, Metternich was a highly skilled statesman, looking to ensure Austria - still a French ally at the beginning of the period - came out on the winning side. Prussia was in many ways a junior partner; devastated by the previous period of war, she was finally free to switch sides, and brought a significant military contribution to the allied side - not least in the fascinating character of Blucher. Britain meanwhile was slowly advancing through Spain, and although she had, as yet, no troops elsewhere in Europe, it was her subsidies which kept the other allies going. All were open to the idea of peace.
Napoleon, however, was not. What comes across strongly is that whilst he may have been one of the great military figures of history - although his powers were diminishing by this point - he was simply unable to play the diplomatic game. He interpreted any offer of peace or negotiation as weakness. Time and time again, there were opportunities for him to retain his throne, but he misread every situation, always believing that one more victory would solve everything.
This book is a valuable addition to the studies of the period. I have read two or three biographies of Napoleon, but I actually got a much clearer impression of his character from this book than from any of them.


Eric: Discworld: The Unseen University Collection (Discworld series Book 9)
Eric: Discworld: The Unseen University Collection (Discworld series Book 9)
Price: £4.49

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointingly short and unimaginative, 4 April 2016
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I have now read a number of the Discworld novels in order - I think this is the ninth - but this is going to be my last. In the beginning, I liked the world that Terry Pratchett has created; it was interesting and different, inhabited by some great characters and full of imagination. As I have progressed through the series, however, my interest has waned. The originality has disappeared; all the stories are simply slightly humorous retellings of other stories, myths and history. The recurring characters do not develop, but have the same weaknesses every time we meet them. The author does have a great writing style; his use of language is at times very good, but this is not enough to keep me reading after this - very short - book.


The Sword Brothers (Crusader Chronicles Book 1)
The Sword Brothers (Crusader Chronicles Book 1)
Price: £3.72

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent story in an unusual setting, 4 April 2016
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Having read, and thoroughly enjoyed, the author's Parthian Chronicles, I thought I would give this series a try. Although I do read a lot of historical fiction, this period is not one that often attracts me, but the setting is so unusual that I was intrigued. Set in the early thirteenth century in the Baltic region, the work is set against the background of the Church attempting to carry Catholic Christianity into the area. The story follows young Conrad Wolff; his family is destroyed by injustice, and he is given the chance of a new life by the Sword Brothers - the Baltic equivalent of the Templars or the Hospitallers.
The book, although long, is well paced; for once the main character is not transformed from nothing to all-conquering hero in 20 pages. This is the first in a five or six volume series, and it tells the story of Conrad's time as a novice and how he is trained, and learns his new trade. All this is set against a believable historical background - some factual, some fictional. The main characters on all sides develop well, with good back-stories, and most of them are very mixed personalities - this is no black and white tale. After all, to the inhabitants, the Catholic Christians are simply another band of invaders to be expelled.
The author does a good job of describing the region and it's inhabitants. There are a myriad of tribes and sub-tribes, and initially the large cast of characters can seem a bit overwhelming, but the author is careful to bring them all to life, and you soon work out who is who.
The only criticism I have - unfortunately not for the first time with the author - is that he really does need to find a good editor and proof-reader. There are simply too many errors to be ignored. However, this does not take away from an intriguing story, well told and well paced.


SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome
SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome
Price: £3.79

26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History at it's best - thought-provoking, challenging and engaging, 3 April 2016
Firstly, as many have pointed out, this is not a blow-by-blow account of Roman history in chronological order. There are, after all, hundreds, if not thousands of such books (and websites and apps). The author has set herself a very clear brief, outlined at the beginning, and meets it with great skill. I will confess that the history of Rome is an interest of mine, so the names and events discussed were generally familiar to me to some degree, but I still think anyone new to the subject will get a lot from this book.
What the author does, is try to get into the minds of those who lived through the times examined. To try and ask questions about why Rome rose to prominence, how its inhabitants saw themselves and their ancestors, and to dispel a lot of the myths that we tend to think of as fact. She is very clear about what we definitively know (nothing like as much as we think) and where we can take educated guesses.
The book has left me with many more questions than answers; but that is no criticism. It has challenged some of my assumptions and perceptions, and given me new avenues to explore (there is a very thorough bibliography). Too many history books today present themselves as definitive; in reality history is all about perspective. I want a book to challenge me; this one does that perfectly, and has left me with lots more inspiration for future reading.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 21, 2016 3:42 PM BST


Three Hands In The Fountain: (Falco 9)
Three Hands In The Fountain: (Falco 9)
Price: £4.99

3.0 out of 5 stars A bit of a dip in this excellent series..., 29 Mar. 2016
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I am a real fan of this series, but this episode didn't really work for me. As always, there are one or two over-arcing storylines about the lives of the main characters, and these continue to keep your interest. But the actual main plot of this one was a bit weak. The discovery of body-parts in the city's water courses leads to an investigation into a possible long-time serial killer. The problems of the main protagonists seem to overshadow this story for too much of the book, and the occasional appearances of one or two old adversaries adds nothing to the tale, indeed to me seemed oddly out of place. However, I shall continue the series, and hope the next episode is as good as previous ones.


The Imperial Japanese Army: The Invincible Years 1941-42 (General Military)
The Imperial Japanese Army: The Invincible Years 1941-42 (General Military)
Price: £6.49

3.0 out of 5 stars Straightforward telling of Japanese expansion, but lacking analysis, 28 Mar. 2016
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This is a straightforward telling of Japan's expansion through South East Asia in 1941 & 1942. But I struggled throughout the book to find it's purpose. The author hangs the story from the life and careers of two generals - Yamashita and Tojo - but it obviously covers many others, and they come and go throughout the work. As a blow by blow account, it is a worthy work, giving a lot of detail about the various units used in invading the various countries and islands. I think in the end, it is the title that misleads. Although China is mentioned, this is far better seen as a work about how the European Empires lost their possessions in the Far East. Most of the territories conquered had belonged to either Britain, France or the Netherlands (and America in the case of the Philipines). These bits of empire fell like a pack of cards - they were mostly impossible to hold, militarily - and Japan gained a false overconfidence from their capture.
In the end, the book is unsatisfying. It contains much detailed information, some interesting passages about the culture within the Japanese Army (and the mutual hostility between it and the Navy), and is useful as a chronology of the Japanese expansion. But there is very little analysis or interpretation, which would have taken it to another level.


A Dying Light In Corduba: (Falco 8)
A Dying Light In Corduba: (Falco 8)
Price: £4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A solid entry in this enjoyable series, 13 Mar. 2016
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I am a real fan of this series. By now, the main characters have developed really well, and you find yourself really caring about what happens to them. In this episode, Falco is sent off to Hispania to look into a possible olive oil cartel, after a murder and assault in Rome. As usual, there are lots of strands; various competing palace officials, senatorial families, as well as connections closer to home. To complicate matters, a very pregnant Helena Justina insists on tagging along. So far, I think that I have enjoyed the volumes where Falco stays close to Rome more than those where he goes far from home, but obviously the travel allows the author more scope for invention. This sojourn to Hispania is great fun.


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