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4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Imperial Fire
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 April 2014
This is volume 2 of the adventures of Vallon, the Frankish mercenary captain from Aquitaine, Hero the doctor and Wayland, the Saxon huntsman. It starts in 1081, some 8-9 years after Hawk Quest, the first volume of the series. At the outset, it is fair to mention that this volume can be read separately from the first instalment although, and almost as usual with series, it might to preferable to read to read Hawk Quest first.

If you do this, however, you might be a bit disappointed, or at least I was since I preferred the first volume to this one. “Imperial Fire” is not a “bad” book, although it took me over a week to finish it which is never a very good sign for me. This is because I found the book to be somewhat uneven, and perhaps even a bit of a mixed bag.

The first part, which takes place in Byzantium during the first very troubled months of the reign of Emperor Alexis I Comnene, is one of the best ones. The first twenty pages or so, which see Vallon becoming a hero during the disastrous Byzantine defeat at Dyrrachium against the Normans, is certainly gripping, and a largely successful attempt from the author to drag and immerse the reader into the action.

Except that even there, there are some problems and some elements which are rather unrealistic. One of these is Vallon’s attendance at the Emperor’s war council where, of course, he comes up with wise advice which will not be followed. To have a mere mercenary squadron leader, and a Frank to boot (where the enemy are the Italo-Normans of Robert Guiscard and Bohemond which included a number of Frankish knights as well as Lombards) attending such a meeting stretches credulity to the limit. In addition, the events at the war council, at least as reported by Anna Comnena (the daughter of the Emperor Alexis) in her Alexiad did not quite happen as described by the author. While the battle itself is rather well told, having Bohemond offering Vallon a job just in the middle of the fighting is another rather unrealistic feature. Finally, the unit commanded by Vallon is presented as light cavalry but it includes a mixture of Franks, Slavs, Patzinaks and Turks, something that is rather odd since the mercenary units serving the Byzantine tended to be recruited and formed on ethnic lines. These (and a few other similar details), however, are merely quibbles that will only (slightly) bother readers that like their historical fiction as accurate as possible.

Unfortunately, there are other features in this book which I found more problematic. The whole new Quest with which Vallon, a detachment of his men and his chosen companions (or, more accurately, the companions that are chosen for him) is also difficult to believe. With the Empire facing defeat and invasion by the Normans in the Balkans, after having lost most of Asia Minor (modern Turkey, more or less), and the Emperor and his clan quite literally fighting for survival, the reader is asked to believe that the Emperor would deprive himself of some of his already insufficient troops on what another reviewer has quite rightly termed a “suicide mission”. The biggest problem here is not so much the mission itself – to go right to China and bring back a powder called “the fire drug” (gun powder) and possibly swap it against a sample of Greek Fire, although this is also quite implausible. This is because it is hard to believe that the Byzantines, for whom the recipe of Greek Fire was such a State Secret, would casually give some away to an embassy that is to travel to the confines of the known world. Added to this, the travel to and back from China is to take about a couple of years, at least, with this taking place when the Empire is on the brink of collapse.

Having mentioned the problems I had with the plot, there were also some good and even brilliant pieces, such as those taking places in China. Also rather good was the crossing of the Caucasus, and the various dangers that the embassy was exposed to. I was however somewhat disappointed with the depiction of the Central Asian cities on the Great Silk Road, which I found somewhat bland. Maybe I was expecting too much to begin with.

I also had a bit of a problem with some of the characters, and some of the plot features that the author saw fit to introduce. The romance with the gypsy girl, if it can be called that, is another somewhat implausible feature. Since this happened when the story happens to slow down and become almost boring, I could not help wondering if this was some kind of ploy that the author had introduced to try to keep the reader interested. I also had a similar thought as one of the main characters (and a few others) wonders of with this gypsy girl on his own little quest after the pseudo-source of Christianity. Neither of these features really worked for me and I could not help thinking that the book would have been crisper and the action less slow if these bits (which add up to close to a hundred pages) had been shaved off.

Another character which I found a bit problematic was Lucas and his “big” secret that he does not dare to share with Vallon. As soon as the reader understand what this secret is (and it is not very hard to guess well before being told!), you know that there will be an “explanation” between the two. However, it drags on, and on, and on for so long that when it finally happened, I perceived it as a non-event. A third plot feature that did not work very well for me was the rivalry with the Viking band which gangs up with the embassy. Here again, the reader can easily guess that this will end up badly but the reckoning was delayed for so long that it lost most of its interest and appeal when it finally (at last!) happened.

I have two final notes of disappointment. As mentioned by other reviewers, the book finishes in a rather abrupt way. While it is clear that this is a trilogy, I am always a bit annoyed when an author cannot be bothered to finish his episode with a plausible end and leaves everything “just hanging.” The note of disappointment is that I would have liked to have more about hawk training, as in the first volume, and since this is the author’s speciality and was one of the main originalities of the first book. There is only a little bit of it and, for obvious reasons if you read the book, there might not be any on the third volume.

As a result, this one did not work as well as Hawk Quest had for me. Because it is still mostly good, I believe it is worth a good three stars, but not more than that.
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on 10 April 2017
Good read looking forward for his next book.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 February 2014
It is 1081 and there is no limit to the ambition of the Emperor of Byzantium. He has set his sights on the `fire drug' of the East, a fabulous powder that explodes when lit, rumoured to exist on the other side of the world in China. Vallon, a Frankish knight in the Emperor's service, is promoted to General and given orders to lead a small force on a mission to China, bearing gifts and promises to be exchanged in return for this miraculous weapon. The mission, though, will take years and Vallon expects few of his men to survive the hazards of the journey. He himself has no illusions concerning the chances of returning safely to his wife. With him, though, are old friends from an earlier adventure who for one reason or another have travelled to Vallon's home - Hero the scholar and Wayland the falconer. With them will also travel Vallon's adopted son Aitken, his door warrior Wulfstan and Lucas, a young overzealous and uncontrollable spirit who has his own reasons for making this long and onerous trip.

Hawk Quest was one of the most ambitious and outstanding works of historical fiction published in 2012. Ten years in the making, it was (and is) everything you'd want from a historical saga, not to mention a hard act to follow. In Imperial Fire, Robert Lyndon picks up the lives of Vallon, Hero and Wayland several years after their previous mission from England to retrieve rare white falcons from the far north and carry them eastwards to Byzantium as ransom. Hawk Quest is a stand alone novel as is Imperial Fire and so you do not need to have read one to enjoy the other. However, by having read Hawk Quest first, you would know enough about Vallon, Hero and Wayland to love them, worry for them and understand the great sacrifice they are making by embarking on a second adventure, this time to a place so distant it is barely even a myth.

This novel introduces new characters into the mix and there's nothing quite like a perilous journey into the unknown to bring out the best or worst in people. One youth, Lucas, is a fascinating addition to the group. His emotions are all over the place, as are his intentions, and this realism is typical of the strong characterisation in these novels. He is a puzzle to his companions on the journey, as are others, and this adds great depth and curiosity to the novel.

Vallon, Hero and Wayland are not the same men that they were in Hawk Quest. All that they achieved before, including wives, matters less to them than this quest and that in itself is mysterious. They are each after something or there is something in store for each of them that they need to do. As a result, Imperial Fire is full of side adventures, stories and distractions. There are sections when we veer off course from the journey, leaving Vallon and his men for a while, while we follow one of the others on their own more personal missions. These were, for me, the highlight of Imperial Fire and were the most memorable sections of the novel, most especially when Wayland trains an eaglet in the mountains of Tibet.

The journey itself is deadly (and hugely exciting time after time) and there are dangers throughout, Vikings and pirates, hostile tribes and bandits, and, particularly frighteningly, threats from within. There are also temptations, not all of them to do with treasure, and there are women along this journey who influence events and steer the men in other directions. As in Hawk Quest, the female characters are strong and provide welcome colour and feeling.

Unlike Hawk Quest, there is much here that is bleak. Vallon has an air of gloom and menace surrounding him and he is not alone. There are moments in the novel that are truly gutwrenching - there is no guarantee of survival for anyone in Imperial Fire and I was shocked and upset at times by the power of the story, especially towards the end. This mood did make Imperial Fear a disturbing read at times but it is also a consuming read, evoking brilliantly the details and spirit of the times, becoming even more riveting as we are taken to unknown places. China is wonderfully created and does indeed show how far our adventurers have come. It is an incredible journey for everyone with some of our earlier ideas about the main characters turned on their head. Imperial Fire is an extremely absorbing and rewarding read and, no mean feat in itself, a worthy successor to Hawk Quest. What a fine writer Robert Lyndon is. I'm very grateful for the review copy.
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on 7 November 2014
thoroughly enjoyable book
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 4 February 2014
Imperial Fire takes up the tale of Vallon, Hero and Wayland, this time a mission (some might say suicide mission) to China to gain the “fire drug” of the east, a fabulous powder that explodes when lit, Vallon is ordered to lead his small force to China following the rumours to gain this amazing substance.
Having read Hawk quest gives you an intimate knowledge and compassion for the main characters, which means you have more of a stake in the fate of the characters, but it isn’t by any means imperative to have read it to read Imperial Fire.
As in any new book we get to meet new characters (every mission needs its star trek like men with the red jackets… fodder for the writer to …bump off) As usual they have they flair and depth that the author brings to all his characters, even bit part players seem to be fully formed before they leave the play.
The Journey facing our heroes is huge, they will face almost every danger imaginable, pirates, Vikings, hostile tribesmen, bandits and robbers and the ever present threat or betrayal and for men such as these the most dangerous foe of all…women of power and influence.
Once again the authors attention to details is second to none, Hawk Quest being one of the most complete and accomplished tales in recent years in this genre, Imperial Fire was always going to be an uphill battle to meet expectations. Happily for me they are met fully, although I have to say that Imperial Fire is a darker tale, and the writers style that really involves the reader and makes them part of the tale means that the journey is not always pleasant (understatement) .
It is however hugely entertaining, brilliantly absorbing and wonderfully told, painting vivid images of the past, the horrors and the highs.

Very highly recommended
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VINE VOICEon 11 March 2014
Very similar in its way to Lyndon's previous novel 'Falcon Quest' and no worse for that, this is another fascinating tale of a long journey in difficult terrain, this time across central Asia in 1089. If you haven't read the first book it might be an idea to do so as some of the characters roll into this one, but it isn't strictly necessary. One adventure follows another and you keep looking forward to the next with a sort of 'Boys Own' excitement [if you're of a certain age!]. Well written, exciting, with characters you can engage with. I was a bit indifferent to Vallon, the supposed main character, my favourite by far being Wayland, the charismatic drifter [and his dog!].
I was sorry when it came to the end. Talking of which [the ending] - I can't say I was totally happy. NO SPOILERS!! Lyndon disposes of a number of characters for some reason - one I can think of in a highly acceptable [if regrettable] manner but one I saw no reason for whatsoever and the one in the last page totally unnecessary. It's fairly obvious, I think, where the next book is likely to be set and there are sufficient indicators, I think, that some characters may return but how and in what context, I shall have to wait and see. I look forward to it very much. Highly recommended!!
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VINE VOICEon 3 April 2015
Having read and loved the authors debut title Hawk Quest last year, I really couldn’t wait to see what he’d hit back with, especially since you could see all the time he not only lavished on the titles creation but on research for it. Whilst many see book one as the beginning of something wonderful for any author, for me, it’s the second title that is the one that shows whether they’re a one hit wonder or have the ability to create writing to deadlines. Here, we not only get to return to his world but get to enjoy again the chance to spend time with the principle hero Vallon.

So what do you get in this title?

As with the original, the authors writing is something that is not only stunning but a sheer joy to sit back and savour. The prose is crisp, the overall arc gripping and when added to a whole set of characters that not only bring the world to life but give it a flesh that helps keep it in the readers mind all round generates a tale that is pure magic to read.

Back this up with a cracking set of dialogue and all round you’re in for a treat.
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on 27 January 2015
Not as good as the first book, Hawk Quest, but that was as close to perfection as a novel can get, and deserved six stars out of five.
Vallon returns, and rides to the east - in fact, to China. This is a fantastic story, and one of those books that I didn't want to end.
Buy it, but be sure to read Hawk Quest first.
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on 5 December 2014
Robert Lyndon' s previous book "Hawk Quest" is possibly the best book I have read so I was really looking forward to the follow up. As with the previous book "Imperial Fire" is full of great detail and epic adventure. The characters are back together and face an even greater journey to an unknown world on an imperial mission. Not as good as the first book but that is only because it is similar in
many ways and the storyline wasn't as good. Still enjoyed it and look forward to the next episode.
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on 21 April 2014
Loved Hawkquest & am finding this sequel just as entertaining. 1am, & I'm still reading it; wake at 6 or 7am & have to read more! Will hate to finish it! Just love the combination of historical research & rich imagination; takes me beyond this world & into realms unknown!
No need to detail storyline/ plot...all here from other subscribers; just hoping to give an impression of how I enjoyed the book. Many thanks Robert Lyndon!
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