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on 30 May 2014
Wow what can I say. I am so glad I received the Gollancz newsletter reccomending this book with its beautiful cover boldly at the top of the page, because otherwise there is a good chance I would have never found it amongst this era of brilliant Fantasy books being written left, right & centre. Ive lost count of how many trilogies & chronicles I am in the middle of at the moment, I clearly have a serious addiction when it comes to greatly written fantasy...

Like this...

This is a tome of a book but it does not disappoint in anyway. I found the book brilliantly complex, it is a real book to dig into & not to stop until you literally reach the depths of Hell. Mr Alder has clearly done plenty of research & put in an immense amount of thought to combine the politics & battles of the '100 years war' with this amazing fantasy concept of 'Heaven' guarded by its powerful but rather fussy & demanding angels & 'Hell' in the depths below, overrun with evil devils & demons. If this isn't an awesome enough so far for you to actually read this book, throw in a very likable & intelligent young boy the 'antichrist' who is wanted dead by Satan, a usurping King Edward who has a war on his hands & cannot gain support of his angels he desperately desires & seems to be left with no choice but to have his father truly killed & hope the angels see him as the king or seek help from the depths of hell who in return want to be released from the darkness. Whilst the newly crowned French king is also lacking support of the French angels.

Like I said it is very complex & if I was to say anything negative about the book it would be the names which can easily get confusing particularly Mortimer & Montagu and Osbert & Orsino, although I expect this is to try & be as accurate as possible with the characters. Also there were sections where names were not used in conversation for a period of time, a lot of this was for a surprise effect, although it mainly worked I would often flick back to see if I had missed something. It would be an absolute waste to steam through this book, take it at a good pace, I read it over 2 weeks & you will certainly be rewarded, its 731 pages of gripping action.

The characters are really well personalised, I particularly like Montagu, who is a loyal King Arthur type knight with a holy sword, who has pledged his loyalty to serving his King. There are some great elements of magic mixed in too, I particularly enjoyed the use of a dead angels blood & feathers.

Overall just a fantastic & mesmerising read - Cannot wait for the sequel.
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on 1 June 2014
A bold and innovative idea – let’s take the 14th century and write it as if their superstitions were real. Angels, Devils, Demons, Heaven and Hell? Yes, it all exists in this new book by one of the rising stars of British fantasy. Although it’s closer to historical fiction in its way; there’s a great amount that fans of Bernard Cornwell would relish here. It’s got a good dose of Pullman-esque cosmology and a wry leavening of humour, something that’s not always present in fantasy today. There’s even a hint of TH White; Alder’s characters are very modern in their speech and behaviour but he’s made an excellent job of examining the attitudes of mediaeval nobility and (almost) making them sympathetic. Hidebound by religion and social standards, they cannot help but act the way that they do. We may loathe the way they treat people but we can understand them more after reading about them here.

As well as the conceit (which will probably have some fundamentalist Christians frothing at the mouth) that God is a usurper, Lucifer is the hero, demons are the good guys and Satan is God’s jailer, Alder has started us off on a tour of the mid-fourteenth century with some very engaging characters to keep us company. There’s a boy who could be the AntiChrist (which has a very different meaning in Alder’s universe), a brave if emotionally tortured earl, a pardoner who’s the mediaeval answer to Del Boy and Arthur Daley, a slimy Florentine banker and his compassionately and sympathetically drawn man at arms. We also get to look inside the royal houses of England, France and Navarre as they jockey for position and the favour of both angels and devils. And if you know your 14th century history, you should be able to anticipate some of the events that are yet to come. Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror might serve as a travelling companion as you make your way through Alder’s book.

Alder very sensibly does not endow his angels or devils with deal-breaking powers; they’re formidable (indeed, this book’s equivalent of dragons, I think) but everything is balanced so that they don’t overpower the narrative; it’s a story of human beings first and foremost, the good, the bad and the ugly. Many of those human beings really existed in history and Alder cleaves pretty closely to the record whilst at the same time allowing his narrative to fill in some of the gaps - and adopts a playful attitude to bending history when it suits the story.

Indeed, playful is a good word to use here; Alder’s clearly having immense fun, tackling a huge event in European history and doing so with wit and aplomb. That he’s done so whilst covering some very important themes and retaining the humanity of his characters is all the more laudable. The book’s a colossal 750 pages, the first of a series which, when complete will be a mighty achievement indeed. I hope he can maintain the momentum and the tone of this book in future volumes.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 30 May 2014
Mark Alder: Son of the Morning: (Review)

Imagine taking the 100 years’ war and setting it in a different world, a parallel world. Some might say…its been done: Game of Thrones? Ok that’s a concept I concede. But game of thrones is a fantasy setting. Son of the Morning takes and uses the real history, it encompasses the main players of the Day, the likes of Edwards (Black Prince), Joan of Arc, John the blind, Henry V and so many many more. Throw in the odd revolting peasant, a spot of black death and you have a fairly miserable period in history. What Mark does to this is a touch of writing genius, he throws into the mix religion…But that’s a central part of Medieval Europe I hear you cry! But so much more so if the Angels and Devils that were so much a part of the lives of these superstitious people were real .

Churches and relics were imbued with angels, the more powerful the angle for example the more gilded and beautiful the church. The problems in a mortal world though come to the fore when both sides have “God on their side” who in fact does, the Hosts of Angels start to become unresponsive and the great and powerful men of Europe start wonder if God has abandoned them and if they need to look to darker powers for aid.

Now comes the real genius behind the story: All is not what it seems, God may not be the good all-knowing being we are led to believe, Lucifer is not the devil incarnate. The whole hierarchy as we understand it between Heaven and Hell is based on lies. ‘God’ created nothing but the barren wastes of Hell. When God in his jealousy saw the Paradise that Lucifer had created in his rage he imprisoned Lucifer in Hell and bound mankind up in a system of arbitrary rules and sins that demanded worship of him alone. These sins are so wide reaching that only a tiny minority can ever hope to avoid the fires of Hell.

Woven into this extremely rich tapestry of imagination and history, are battles worthy of any great swords and sandals novel and the dark imagination worthy of Dante. But Mark doesn’t just stick at the high level, the writing goes down to the detail of the clothing, the sounds, the sights and the smells of the time, this is no tale of polished knights, this is medieval and grimy. It is also riddled with wry sardonic humour, and outright laugh out loud moments.

This book should appeal to those who love great writing, fans of Historical fiction, fantasy, supernatural tales… it should appeal to anyone who loves books, because this is writing at its best.

(Parm)

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come along to my blog parmenionbooks wordpress for more reviews
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on 7 October 2015
I will begin by saying I was certainly entertained by this book, and haven't ruled out following up on the series when it continues--for this isn't a standalone, as I thought when I first bought it. It's got a fun plot, some pretty entertaining characters, some good descriptions. And I am all for fantasy reinterpretations of my favourite period of history. Who doesn't like the Hundred Years' War? With magic thrown in, the premise is (in my opinion) pretty solid. And (speaking here as an academic historian) I was quite interested to see the politics of this period redone through a supernatural lens. This book is a story of society and politics, and there's some creativity with how the different factions of angels, demons, and devils attach themselves to the different earthly powers in play. Moreover, exploring the ramifications of having real-world, physical consequences of certain religious practices--build nicer churches to persuade the angels to literally show up and fight for your side--is quite evocative (in an appropriately over-the-top kind of way).

But... this book is not subtle. It has a message (class conflict, egalitarianism vs. aristocracy) and it will beat you over the head with it. Characters' thoughts flow along these lines in very precise, formal terms, as if A) this is all that ever gets thought of and B) everyone could discuss social theory at the drop of a hat. This hurts the world-building and atmosphere of the story much more than I would like. It simply feels artificial and, above all, modern. The society portrayed here is different than ours, and it is based on ideas superficially related to those of the time period it's trying to portray; but it is simply being viewed through our own standards and that prevents real immersion. I'm just not 100% convinced that it's anything more than a collection of stereotypes made into a world. Furthermore, it takes as fact certain legends associated later with these people and events (that the queen of Navarre was lame, that Edward III imprisoned his mother Isabella, and so on). This is not nitpicking about 'historical accuracy': I don't necessarily care about that in itself because a story is a story--but I'm left with a nagging suspicion that these were more the result of very casual research rather than deliberate choice, precisely because of the generic nature of the world building.

Strangely, this didn't stop me from caring about a few (though by no means all) of the characters. The cast is mostly well-chosen: that, and the supernatural aspects of the world, make this book fun as a light read. But I don't fully believe in it: it goes through some motions without being completely realized as a 'living', organic setting or narrative. I think you have to be pretty invested in the theme of social structure it's trying to explore--and I wasn't--to make the story work as it's meant to. Otherwise, if it comes your way, you can get a day or two of fun out of it.
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on 31 July 2016
This is an interesting alternative history, with the conceit being that forces of good and evil actually intervene in the physical world, in a Biblical blood and thunder sense, and that there are not two, but three major powers - God (a usurper!), Satan (lord of hell, and a servant of God) and Lucifer (an overthrown Creator, and lord of light). Besides the Hundred Years War story threads, the plot also concerns an Antichrist attempting to bring about a revolution, and a quest to confirm whether Edward III's father is dead or alive (and therefore whether Edward is a legitimate king).

Most of the characters are well drawn (Osbert and Montagu tend to steal the scenes they're in), and unless you're a history fanatic, you're unlikely to take issue with the liberties Alder takes. The writing also manages to change gear successfully between political conspiring (earthly and otherwise), miraculous and religious imagery, and full-blooded scenes of violence.

The language is pitched at about the right level, not faux-Chaucer, but not incongruously modern either (apart perhaps from some of Osbert's comments, but the comic relief these provide are worth the stretch).

Towards the end things started to feel a bit chaotic, with Alder perhaps trying to payoff some elements of the story that hadn't been adequately set-up (e.g the three banners that impact the Battle of Crecy), and there doesn't quite appear to be a satisfactory explanation of how a superstitious medieval Europe so rapidly reconciles itself to the presence of hordes of devils in its midst, or indeed in the service of Christian kings.

Nonetheless, the momentum of the story is enough to skip across any gaps in the narrative's logic or credibility, and I'm genuinely interested to see what Alder has in store for the next book.
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on 21 April 2016
This is a splendid story. Hard going at first, the medieval people appear very alien to us, portrayed in a realistic way. You soon get into it though, the story starts to fly as you get to know the characters. Angels, Demons and the whole host of heaven are real, it's a great concept, brilliantly realised.
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on 18 July 2014
This is a big beast of a book, the first instalment of what will hopefully be a long-running series. Set in the 100 Years War between England and France, angels, devils and demons all walk the earth alongside princes, peasants and priests. Not only is this a philosophically adept historical novel that spins history as we know it on its head, whilst maintaining a complete narrative plausibility throughout, but it's a rollicking, thrill-packed ride, jammed with battles, betrayals, political and theological intrigues. Comparisons between this and Bernard Cornwell and George R R Martin stand up. In fact, I'd go further: this is the kind of novel I can imagine them both taking away with them on holiday to read.
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on 26 April 2014
*Couple of minor spoilers in review. Sorry*
Mark Alder's lengthy opener in what looks like a trilogy is really rather good. It's unique, wryly humorous in its prose, affably accurate in its historical timeline, prosaically fluent, and a darn good story to boot.
The story opens in 1330 with an explanation of the hierarchy of heaven and hell: that God is named Itheketer and rules Heaven with his angels, that Jesus is named Lucifer and rules Free Hell where fallen angels are named demons. Satan is God's lieutenant and he and his devils constantly batter at the walls of Free Hell to prevent Lucifer establishing a Kingdom on Earth where a grievously wounded God cannot venture unless the Antichrist removes a sword from his bowels. All pure fantasy which is then overlaid on fourteenth century England, France and Spain during the a fraction of the period of the misnamed Hundred Years War. From 1337 until Crecy in 1346, the action sweeps from battlefields to monasteries, from fairytale-esque castles and towers to rough and ready slums. Characters are parodies of historical personages, events are lit up by fantastical beings. Devils are corrupted, foul things with a glum sense of humour; angels are epically ethereal, vacuous, vapid and egotistical creatures of light. It is a world where "dealing with divine powers is the province of kings; dealing with diabolic powers that of the damned."
Amongst them stride Edward III of England, a King without angels as his father lies on a briar altar containing the Evertere holy banner; Philip VI of France, a diplomatic King who prefers to avoid direct battle despite his archangels and Oriflamme banner; Isabella of France, Edward's mother and a sorceress; and the young demi-feline Charles II of Navarre. A step below this are a cast of dozens, headed by the utterly English William Montagu, Dowzabel the Antichrist, Orsino, Edwin the priest, Osbert the Pardoner, and the banker Bardi. Then there is the arch-devil Hugh Despenser, recently returned from Hell to wreak revenge on the English.
What makes this novel intellectually fun is the sardonic humour that fills the novel. Quips from Edward and Montagu make light of worldly politics, the humour of desperation seeps in every sentence from Osbert, a man who "had started life with many advantages, but had thrown them away to finish where he was now, among the flies, the offal and the stink of the marketplace...chief among his talents, was that he was a nimble man who could run quickly for one of such belly."
The humour is intelligent and pointed. It is at times both modern, courtly, and others acerbic, sardonic and downright giggle-worthy.
"Unfortunately, killing bankers - however attractive and pleasurable that may be in the short term - tends to diminish one's chances of credit at a time of future need."
"'Excellent Holland, excellent,' shouted the old knight. `Much more like it. I think you've broken my ribs. Nice work.'"
"God is a banker. I like that Bardi. It would take an Italian to come up with such a heresy."
"'Where will you be?'
`Coordinating from up here.'
`What coordinating?'
`It's a sort of cowering.'"
There are light touches of philosophy:
"Equality is against God's plan. A poor man is not equal to a king, as a rat is not equal to a lion."
"'We are all the same rank dead, priest.' said Orsino. `That,' declared Edwin, `shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the Nature of Heaven.'"
At times, the author shows a neat turn of descriptive prose:
"Glutinous light, light that floated in blobs and pools like those shimmering stars that halo the vision on rising too quickly, filled the chapel. It was a light of storms, of the war between the sun and the dark clouds, of an effusion of gold breaking from the gloom of a rainsoaked hill."
The novel brings together many strands through the oft-used literary fantasy medium of a quest. Whether it be Montagu enthralled by Isabella, Edward III loping round France seeking battle, Dowzabel trying to find Edward II, Bardi trying to get his debts paid, or Osbert just trying to stay ahead of the games and out of magic circles, the characters move through human and magical means inexorably towards the Battle of Crecy. Of course, most will know how this history ends, but the pleasure here is not in the destination but in the sometimes ludicrous, often deft, telling of the narration what with its forays into Hell, its magic and fantasy, its angels and demons. Belief must be suspended, an appreciative sensor of humour is vital to understanding what the author has created.
It is a novel that demands to be read, rather than glossed through; requires consideration and attention to see the multiple layers that build up the form of the story. To look at its back jacket you might think it is just another piece of historical fiction but it is not. It is a well-told novel of high fantasy; it is neither George R Martin nor Philippa Gregory, but something that takes echoes of those authors and adds a huge dose of individuality. A lengthy novel, but well worth the time. I look forward to the next one.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 June 2014
The fear of God and damnation fuelled medieval life. Its fire was fed by the estates of Church and King, the poor predated on by both. But while kings might call on angels for support against the holy forces of their enemy, and while rich and poor alike might entreat saints (or indulgences) to intercede in the daily struggle of a hard life and its inevitable end, it might not hurt to hedge one's bets - to pester demons and devils for their support. If God won't listen, maybe Lucifer will. In these times, angels, demons and devils were not fantasy, they were a part of the shadows and lights that watched the daily lives and thoughts of every soul.

It is into this medieval world that we are immersed in Son of the Morning - we are dipped into a century where the statues of saints chatter in churches while capricious angels play in the coloured light of Europe's most royal chapels. Where demons and devils wait for the gates of hell to open just enough, and where the richest in the land consort with monsters. And where the poor are trodden into the mud of the battlefield or discarded in the sewage on the streets. But what if there are demons that will listen just to them? What if a saviour should emerge - not from heaven but a son of Lucifer?

Son of the Morning takes place in the few years leading up to and including one of the key events of the entire medieval period - the Battle of Crecy in 1346. But it wasn't just knights and longbowmen who fought alongside the Kings and princes of England and France that day, and in all the other days of the Hundred Years War. The skies were black with imps, the ships were blown by angel breath, knights were enthused and torn apart by dragon banners and demons inflamed the poor to rise up and take land and life from their overlords.

Angels will only talk to kings but none will talk to Edward III. His finances have been emptied by war and he looks for a solution to both problems in the service of his best friend and knight William Montagu, the Earl of Salisbury. Montagu is an honourable man, in aristocratic terms, until he falls from grace in a manner to rival that of God's fallen angels. His mission, to discover the true fate of the King's father, the unlucky Edward II, adapts as he realises the extent of his damnation.

But this is not medieval theology as we would recognise it. God and Lucifer are not in their familiar forms. The only thing that God created was the hell to imprison his rival, Lucifer. God keeps the devotion of humankind with rules. In the Harrowing of Hell, Christ found just two souls sufficiently free of sin to rescue. One side effect of God's law is the division of society with the nobility secure in its superiority over the poor and those who trade. When the Queen of Navarre finds her son Charles consorting with cats all that bothers her is that they should be aristocratic Persian cats. If he eats mice, they must be beautiful white mice, caged within a jewel box. Morality has been corrupted by snobbery. Montagu has the best lines when it comes to stating his self-importance but as time continues he changes and by the end of the novel it's doubtful that he would recognise or acknowledge himself.

Son of Morning overflows with rich characters. There are far too many to mention and are best discovered for yourself but some are outstanding, especially Osbert the pardoner - there is nothing he wouldn't say or sell to save his skin - and the demon cardinal who has his own use for human skin. I think my favourite though, apart from Montagu, is Charles of Navarre, truly a monstrous child in every sense of the word, yet with charisma overflowing.

The novel is a long one at well over 700 pages and it's not a book to read quickly. There is a huge amount going on and many characters to follow, many missions to pursue. It immerses the reader absolutely in this medieval world. Reading it is an absorbing experience. It interprets the psychology and sentiment of the age and brings it alive on the page. It is bawdy and it is very funny in places. At others, it is tragic. Angels might be capricious and vainglorious but the death of an angel is a terrible thing. The suffering of the poor, the corruption of the church, the cruelty of kings and princes, the small pleasures that were to be found, and the certainty that humans are no more significant than the little imps who nestle against their masters for comfort, all remind us that the Hundred Years War was a battle for much more than the soil of France or England.

Son of the Morning, written beautifully and powerfully and fantastically from the very first page, finishes perfectly, ending the story for some and hinting at a host of new characters - human, divine and unholy - to come. This is the first in a trilogy. The next cannot come quickly enough, especially with the hints of what lies ins store, including that most diabolic of pestilences, the Black Death. Without doubt, this is one of the most imaginative and vivid novels I have read in years and I will remember for a long time the pleasure it has given me.
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on 14 November 2015
I love this book. Excellent characters, brilliantly portrayed and a fascinating premise.
You will not be disappointed.
(Kind of Miles Cameron esq, lots of heresy....)
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