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3.4 out of 5 stars
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3.4 out of 5 stars
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on 13 February 2015
In books, stories of vampires and demons fighting men have been done over and over again and it's tough for a new writer to find a different slant to put on events. The same can be said of war stories, particularly in film and TV versions, where the focus has switched away from the fighting itself and more towards the human aspect, with some having the war as a background character rather than a focus. What M. F. W. Curran has done with "The Secret War" is combine both to great effect.

The recently promoted Captain William Saxon and his closest friend Lieutenant Kieran Harte are survivors of the Battle of Waterloo. For both of them, the victory comes with a cost. William lost many men under his command and carries the guilt that he was no able to do more. Kieran has been injured and is recuperating in the Belgian town of Gembloux where he has found love and is considering leaving the army to stay behind when his colleagues return home.

Neither of them realise that there are worse battles to come, against an enemy not so easily defeated as the French were. They soon find this out, though, as a mysterious artefact stolen from the body of a dead French soldier proves to have the power to raise a daemon. This daemon ravages the town of Gembloux, killing soldiers and civilians alike, including Kieran's lover. Reluctantly, they return home only to find there are others who are interested in the artefact. Death follows them until they meet a man called Engrin who leads them to Rome and introduces them to a secret part of the Catholic Church that is fighting a battle against these daemons and worse.

The story starts a little slowly, given that we don't actually see any action from the Napoleonic War, although we do get some in flashback a little later on. Instead, we get an introduction to the relationship between the Kieran and William. But before things can get bogged down, they have their first meeting with a daemon and suddenly the story becomes all action and remains that way more or less throughout. It does slow a little when they return home, reflecting the far slower pace of life they lead when not on the front line, but even at this point the action I'd become accustomed to by this stage wasn't far away.

The one danger that this approach can bring is that fighting the same kind of enemy over and over can get a little repetitive sometimes, such as happened in Karen Miller's "Empress". Curran, however, has mixed things up wonderfully. Whilst the main story is about the fight between the Church and the daemons and vampyres, there is enough variation within this to keep it interesting all the way through. As well as the background to help you get to know the characters, Curran introduces us to the Church's army of monks and their training and the political intrigue going on within the Vatican which may cause the war to be lost. Add to this the changing scenery between France, Belgium, England and Italy and even a battle at sea and the mixture of places and circumstances really helps to keep things interesting.

However, the aspect I most enjoyed was the characters themselves. Curran's writing isn't especially visually descriptive, meaning you don't often get a clear picture of characters or places themselves, but he is a great writer of personality. Even when all the monks are in their matching uniforms, you can easily tell them apart by the way they act and their motivation for doing what they do. The relationships between all the characters are vividly described and it's almost impossible not to share the guilt that some of them feel for either past or present actions and the love they feel is tangible at times.

This is also a great help in ensuring you know which side you're supposed to be on. As compared to the personalities of the men, the daemons are mindless killing machines and the vampyres, whilst human like in appearance, are cold and emotionless. There is never any sympathy for the forces of evil as Curran doesn't allow the reader to generate any feeling for them whatsoever. It's one of the clearest lines I've seen drawn between two sides of a war in a book in some time and it's quite subtly done, without having to resort to descriptions of the acts of horror the least likeable side may commit to turn your sympathy against them.

When a writer takes on an old idea, there has to be something new involved to make it stand out, or it has to be very well written to make it worth reading. Here, Curran has achieved the latter with a good use of pace and a great use of the characters' personalities. This is impressive for any writer, but considering this was his debut novel, this makes it even more worthy of note. It is a testament to both his skill as a writer and how much I enjoyed the story that, having a copy of the second part of the story immediately to hand, I did not hesitate for a moment before diving straight in at the end of this first part.

This review may also appear, in whole or in part, under my name at any or all of www.ciao.co.uk, www.thebookbag.co.uk, www.goodreads.com, www.amazon.co.uk and www.dooyoo.co.uk
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on 27 February 2007
Some books just strike the right key. I read this on holiday and I was blown away by it. The plot is pretty simple yet compellingly written: two friends are swept away on a perilous adventure not of their choosing, and battle against the armies of the Damned across land and sea. Its episodic, like the adventure serials of the 1930s and 40s, but without the staged cliff-hangers. There's a great affable spirit to the adventures and the heroes are quite likeable. My only minor criticism is that I felt at times frustrated by the possibilities that could have been explored in the book but the author chose to go in another direction (I won't spoil it for you). But this is a small criticism. Hopefully if there is another book (as I suspect there will be), all those questions will be answered. A cracking read.
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on 15 January 2013
just lost myself in the story, which was well paced and made me stay up reading all night. ejoyed the book.
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on 6 February 2007
I don't know what I expected with The Secret War. You look at the author's blog and he cites writers like Clive Barker as one of his influences. However, this is definitely not a Clive Barker book. Yet while it might lack his originality, The Secret War is honest and undeniably a great page-turner. It moves from one rollicking adventure to the next and as an adventure it is one of the best I've read for a while. The battle scenes are a little gory in places, but the pace of the narrative doesn't let the reader dwell on them.

It might not have any strong female characters, (I agree with the review below)but then does it really need any? And if the other books are as good as this one, then I don't really mind if a series is on the cards!
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on 15 January 2007
What do you get when you cross some of the bloodiest battlefields in our history with a timeless struggle between the powers of light and darkness? You get this, a 'historical fantasy' from a very promising new voice.

We are drawn into the book with some highly atmospheric and realistic scenes from the aftermath of the battle of Waterloo, before the action quickly changes up about 5 gears and takes it's first thrilling turn into the fantastical.

You are never far away from epically described and imaginatively detailed battle scenes, while lead characters William Saxon and Kieran Harte, like Vorenus and Pullo from HBO's Rome, find themselves in the middle of high adventure and history changing events every time they pause for breath.

MFW Curran has created a world - and a secret world, that could endure for a long time and for many volumes. It nods towards the rich history of fantasy writing, from Tolkien to Rowling, without ever once standing around long enough to be accused of being derivative. It's a fresh approach and mix of genres that thrills. The author could scarcely improve on the action, thrills and spills and plot development - with a little more depth next time round he may well stray into 'classic' territory.
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After surviving the horrors of Waterloo, two British soldiers soon face a threat far more deadly than Napoleon's French. And all they have at the end if a small bronze pyramid, and an awful lot of dead. Captain William Saxon just wants to go home, taking his best friend Kieran Harte with him, but fate has other plans, and a trip to Rome is just the beginning.

Full of battles, intrigues and a never-ending war against vampyres and daemons, Curran's tale is unrelenting from start to finish, maintaining a fast pace and plenty of tension. Not that it's perfect. Will is annoyingly petulant at times, and Kieran vague and lacking in development, while the whole interlude at Fairway Hall is unnecessary. Sometimes the dialogue is laboured, like a bad melodrama, not to mention wrong for the period. But in the action sequences Curran comes into his own, and by the end I only wanted more.

Get past the rough patches, stick with it and you'll find this a promising beginning for something better.
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on 18 January 2009
I read a few reviews about this book which tempted me to buy a copy and I also enjoy reading Fantasy. This book seemed just that little bit different and it is. Its an enjoyable read with plenty of action which keeps the story unfolding. The characters are likable and the story keeps you interested enough to the very end, although I felt there wasn't enought depth to the two main characters. I feel that this is mainly because it's setting the story for a projected trilogy and what's to follow. I look forward to reading the next book in the series 'The Hoards of Mhorrer.'
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on 13 December 2009
I read this book in a couple of days. I loved the whole vampire/history tie in. It's well written and an excellent story. I really struggle to understand what's not to enjoy...
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on 28 March 2009
I picked this book up after seeing it in a local bookshop. I read the blurb on the back and I thought that it sounded quite interesting.

When I actually started to read it I quickley became disappointed. The idea behind the story is a good one. A secret Vatican army fighting a "Secret War" against armies of darkness. All the sort of things that now and again I like to read.

The two main characters are wooden at best and I found it very hard to connect with either of them. You can also tell from the style and execution of the writing that it was the author's first book.

All in all I felt very let down by this book. I wouldn't recomend this to anyone as there are many more better reads out there. Try Dracula by Bram Stoker it's much better.
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on 24 July 2009
The story line COULD be very good it has an interesting plot .

BUT

It is a complete mess of ideas from other novels / Authors , not well put together at all , and this fact , for me totally ruined it .

I made myself finish the book and it is such a shame that a great idea has been so poorly executed .
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