Friday, 14 July 2017

GOD OF VENGEANCE by Giles Kristian

   
God of Vengeance by Giles Kristian
  I could have sworn, after I began this book, that I wasn't going to like it. It was written very well, which is what I always expect from this author, as he has only gotten better and better with each book he releases. The scene setting was excellent, also what I expect from this author as this Scandinavian culture is close to his heart - being directly descended from it.

  However, for some reason I could not connect with what was going on. For more than 100 pages I was bored and often tempted to skip pages. I simply could not connect or feign interest in what was going on, despite its rich action sequences.
  Boring is an odd thing to say seeing as the beginning of this book finds you knees deep in a long and elaborate battle scene that must have exhausted the author to even write it. Such was the indepth and intelligent way it was woven. So much going on in a vast master plan.
  I was just starting to think that it was purely a matter of compatibility (which was the case with a series the author once did that was set during the English Civil War) when, yes, it sneaked up on me.     
 Crept up on me from behind it did. Without any real up change in pace, or abrupt turn about face.
 When I thought about it at the time, trying to work out why I was suddenly feeling so differently about the book, I actually worked out what my issue had been. The story had developed too quickly too soon for me in those early stages. Many people won't have this same problem, because that is how it goes. We all read differently. Different brains. Different visualisation. Different approaches to fantasy.
  My early reading of the book had me involved in established relationships and a highly complicated battle scene before I'd even learned who the characters were (under the surface) or had any investment in their lives whatsoever. That's all it was in the end. I did not care who lived or died in the first 100 pages or so. Had no interest, as I had not really been introduced to them. I had been thrown into their shieldwall before we'd even exchanged pleasantries. I felt no comradeship and no loyalty to either side.
  Character relationships, while dealt with a little in the opening pages, were actually shaped post battle, not pre. I was ice cold about what was going on.
  This was too poignant a battle to be caught napping. It was absolutely critical to the plot of the entire book. Of the whole series. So, if you find yourself in the same predicament, keep on. You need to.

  And now my attitude changes towards the thing. I kept on. Knew I needed to. Then, to my great relief, when I did know them...I was in love. With the story, the characters. Truly. What a book. I could hardly believe I'd gone from ice cold to utter infatuation.
  It has been a while since a group of characters has gotten under my skin this much, but it was bound to happen. Vikings combined with journey adventure. Two of my loves. As long as Giles Kristian wrote well and captured the 'road trip' vibe that I like, then I was bound to be on board.
  The characters, thankfully, ended up being rich and colourful. Their story involving and fascinating.   
Their Saga became all I cared about until the very last page.

  Sigurd turned out to be quite the charismatic chap. I am a huge fan. A man who can lead others into war, no doubt. The female character was perfect. Not helpless and emotional. Gack, thank goodness for that. A great Shieldmaiden she was. Thank you Giles Kristian for the girl power.
  Really, every character was very well drawn, but my favourite character would have to be Black Floki...of course.
  I think this might be a common experience for readers as I see that the author might be working on a graphic novel about Black Floki, with the early illustrations by his accomplice looking very promising. I don't imagine Giles would go to such lengths unless he was getting feedback that his readers were feeling the same way about Black Floki as he does.

  God of Vengeance is a great find and it rates highly on cool factor.
  I went ahead and bought the next few books in the series and am excited to read them. 
  5 stars out of 5.


 - MM



Thursday, 27 April 2017

On my Desk: A BEVY OF BEAUTIES


  I've had a good couple of weeks with these books arriving in the mail (purchased online).
In particular, The Risen by David Anthony Durham and Sons of the Blood by Robyn Young were greeted by me with more than a few yip yips of excitement.

  I have made no secret of my admiration for David Anthony Durham's one and only (until The Risen was released) historical fiction book, Pride of Carthage. I even class it as one of my top ten 'Must Read' Historical Fiction books. That list I posted to this blog a couple years back.  It can be found here: Top Ten Must Read Historical Fiction Books.
  It was always a great shame that the author had not written anymore historical fiction, so when I heard he was about to release another one, and it was set in Ancient History, I was elated. Not necessarily for me, but for the historical fiction reading community as a whole. Good quality authors writing in the historical fiction genre are of high value. For their ability to transport the reader whilst also educating them on history.

  Robyn Young is another of those treasures and any new book by her is cause for celebration. I thought so highly of her trilogy set during the Wars of Scottish Independence.
  This was my review of the first in that trilogy, Insurrection.  Can not recommend them enough. To have a new book - and a new trilogy - from this author is wonderful.

  The other two books, well, these authors need no introduction. Giles Kristian and Bernard Cornwell are two well known and respected authors who you can nearly guarantee won't let you down every time they release a new book. They are both very skilled historical fiction authors.
  The Flame Bearer by Bernard Cornwell is number 10 in his Saxon/Viking series. One of my favourite series'. Always thrilled when a new one of those books comes out. I got behind on this series and only got to number 9 in the series a few weeks before this post. That review is here: Warriors of the Storm.
  Winter's Fire is the second book in Giles Kristian's newest Viking series and I am currently reading the first one in this series now, God of Vengeance.

  Of all these new books, it will have to be Robyn Young's book, Sons of the Blood, that I will read first. I'll be picking it up beginning of May and reading it at the same time as some friends. Can't wait.

- MM


Tuesday, 25 April 2017

WORLD ON FIRE by Christian Kachel


   I was so impressed with book one in this series, the author's debut book, and had given it such a glowing review that when it came to reading book two, World on Fire, I had unfairly attached too much baggage to the book. It was one of the reasons that it took me so long to actually read it, when I should have been reading it soon after the release.

   Book one in the Spoils of Olympus series had its flaws. It was, after all and as mentioned, a debut, and you have to forgive debuts their training wheels....if the book shows enough promise despite them. And I thought it had ample promise. Enough ample promise that I took it personally that here was a American male author writing very well in the historical fiction sub genre of Ancient History, and what is it that I feel the United States is missing out on these days? American male authors writing very well in the historical fiction sub genre of Ancient History. The United Kingdom has plenty of successful authors in this sub genre, but where are the Americans?
Steven Pressfield did it, doesn't do it anymore, David Anthony Durham did it once over a decade ago and only recently returned to release one on Spartacus, Michael Curtis Ford did it, but where did he go?
   I digress...
   Yes, there was ample promise and in part it was that, and not the flaws, that made me drag my heels before jumping into World on Fire.

   Sometimes, authors put everything they've got into their debut. The first book is often something they have been sitting on for a long time, years even. They write them, rewrite them, leave them, come back to them, rewrite them. Burning the candle at both ends researching, obsessing, worrying.
   If they are lucky, a good solid first book pops out from this maelstrom of literary process and ritual.
Christian Kachel is one of those lucky ones. His first book was an impressive debut, but as for book two, could he do it again? Or ideally, do it better?
   Book two is no longer a debut. By book two you are an author, no longer a novice. Time to be taken more seriously.
   I was nervous. For the book. For him.
   I need not have been.
   He did just fine.

  World on Fire was a more polished and readable offering from cover to cover than its predecessor. Both in storyline and in writing quality. That isn't to say that By The Sword was poor writing. It was well written, but it did fall down sometimes and it did need some fat sliced away from long protracted scenes and flashbacks. World on Fire is more professional in many ways. I really enjoyed where his head was at in this book and I was practically glowing with relief as I read it.
  I think the author learned a lot about his writing after getting that debut out of the way and out of his system. He is really starting to shine as an historical fiction author and I am eager to see what is to come down the track with book three in the works.

   I think Christian Kachel can stand proud, shoulder to shoulder with any of his historical fiction peers - whatever the country, whoever the publisher – that currently write in periods of Ancient history.
   The book is wonderfully readable. In saying that, the love story and emotion driven elements were not written as well, but once I hit those scenes and got over that hump, the book continued to be a terrific way to while away my reading hours. His peers can make these same mistakes with love story and relationship elements. He's not alone in that. Some authors write from a different part of their mind when dealing with love and emotion and many readers can sense the shift. But, when he digs into the theatre of war and the espionage, he does it as good, if not better, than so many of those peers.
   You can tell a lot from an author by his or her ability to create a battlefield in the mind's eye of the reader. It is not easy, with all that goes on, to weave it all into a nearly tangible experience.

   I am not sure if this following quote conveys my meaning, because it is pulled out of context. When you are swallowed by a story, sometimes you need the reading fug of crescendo and excitement attached. Ripped from its context the fug is washed away.
   Risking that cleansing, here is a quote as example of how this author conveys his battlefield vision.



          “Antigonus took his usual place on the far right flank alongside his son, Demetrius, and lined his sixty-five elephants in a single rank in front of his entire army. This was an admission of our phalanx's superiority due to the Silver Shields and the old veteran hoped to bolster his phalangites with the presence of the intimidating beasts. He placed light infantry in the gaps between the animals to solidify this front rank. As Eumenes gave the order for the horns to blow, our army lurched forward and the dust cloud expanded to a point where I had to squint my eyes.....    
         …..As the armies neared, I could hear the terrible shrieks of elephants engaging each other in the centre of our formation. Their brutal encounters consisted of violently locking tusks and attempting to gore one another while their mahouts rained down missiles. The front ranks of our cavalry now engaged Antigonus' right flank. The dust had kicked up to such a point that I could not see the front line of our formation and knew we had reached the enemy only by the halt in our advance.”


   On that, I have to wind up my review. All I can say to finish is, that if you like what you read there, then read the book for yourself and let me know what you thought. The author has recapped book one in this second book, so I believe you can read World on Fire without reading By The Sword first, but why would you want to?
   Special shout out to Americans....if you are an American or live in America, I definitely recommend this book to you. Support your American male authors if they write in Ancient History. Good quality ones are a rare flower and should be encouraged to keep writing and keep writing well.
Maybe one day, the more influential publishers will notice and you will start to see more Ancient History historical fiction written by male authors on the shelves of your local book stores and libraries.


                                                                                  *

5 stars out of 5

Note: I received this book from the author for review. The author understood that I value my integrity and would be completely honest. And so I was, as I always am.
- MM

Monday, 10 April 2017

WARRIORS OF THE STORM by Bernard Cornwell



  It has been a long time between drinks for me and, after a couple years since the last time I had read a book in this series, boy, it sure was good to be back drinking from the well of Bernard Cornwell's Uhtred.

   I've missed the big guy, with all his scorching, sardonic quips and his unabashed mocking of just about anybody, he is a big personality to endure, and I endure him with such delight and immense gratitude.
   Rarely does a character, consistently, make me smile and laugh out loud as much as Uhtred Uhtredsson of Bebbanburg. He is a character to be enjoyed and can carry these books and their stories on his back alone. No other character can compete and, thankfully, Bernard Cornwell never lets them. His Uhtred takes centre stage at all times. And most especially so in this book. Number nine in the series.

  These books are stand alone. Cornwell always reiterates important back history so that people who are reading them as a stand alone, or who read the series but need a refresher, can follow along fairly seamlessly. If you do read the series, however, this book has a lot of closing chapters in it. With characters you have known for many, many years, leaving the series for good. I will not tell you who they are, so as not to spoil things, but like or loathe them, it is always a little sad to see characters that we have gotten to know over many years, finally become no more.
We even learned a thing or two about Finan in this book. His storyline was fascinating to follow and it felt like another loose end tied up. But, Uhtred is on to new chapters in his life, including, in maybe only a few more books, the end of his own story and the passing of an era, so it is expected to see some loose ends come together. It makes no sense to weave them to their conclusions in the last two books. That would be rushing it.

  Warriors of the Storm turned out to be one of my favourites of the series. I loved it from start to finish. It could be because the leave taking of a few lingering characters from earlier books left me feeling sentimental. It could be because I did have a break for a couple of years and completely forgot how much I enjoy these books. Or, it could simply be because the book was a bloody good read. I am thinking it is all three, but in saying that, without the first two, I would still regard it highly and recommend to others based on nothing more than it being that good read. The former two matter little when it comes to me thinking of recommending it.

  With battles and strategies, twists and turns (that you may or may not see coming), short journeys, some seafaring, some nostalgia, Christians who were tolerable for a change and Danes like we love them, brutal, blustery and bombastic, this was an entertaining, well paced read, that made me want to read it all over again as soon as I'd finished it.

5 out of 5 stars.

-MM

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Emir of the Slitted Eyes: LION OF CAIRO by Scott Oden


Lion of Cairo by Scott Oden
Now, this is one of those books where I really wish Goodreads had half stars.

For me The Lion of Cairo wasn't quite a 3 star, and yet I am not comfortable with making it a 4 star. Choosing from the two, in the end I decided it deserved 4 more than the 3, because the story itself was really enjoyable and zipped along without a single boring bit.
So, without adieu...Lion of Cairo, you get 4 stars out of 5.

A lot of people wouldn't have the problems with this book that I did. So, don't base your decision to get this book on my review alone.
And those problems were purely in some of the writing. Some of the writing, to me, was really scratchy, whereas, some was perfectly fine and some was really good. It was inconsistent.

  Sadly for me, there was too much scratchy and that's what caused me the star rating drama. If there was a two rating system, I would give this book 3 stars for writing skill and 5 stars for story. My logic? Giving it 4 stars is the average of the two. :-)

Okay, characters. There are a few interesting characters in this book. Assad, the Emir of the Knife, was of great interest until he hooked up with the King of Thieves and the courtesan, then he became a non event for me.  Oden, the author, really didn't hit too hard with this character, this Assassin, and I can't figure out why. I know he has the ability to write in a great Assassin character because while he missed with Assad, he hit perfectly with The Heretic. I am a fan of a good heartless Assassin, so I loved the Heretic character.
The whole 'hate magic' in the salawar blade thing, (Assad's blade) was a miss too and didn't really gel with the story. And there is a necromancer also. Made me wonder whether this is supposed to be Historical Fiction or a Fantasy Fiction.
There are enough good characters in this book to keep you interested I am sure, and you, as a different reader with different tastes, may entirely disagree with my comments on Assad or other.

I wonder how I would have felt about The Lion of Cairo if I had not already been an admirer of Scott Oden's other books. And therefore I came to the book with certain expectations.
 He became one of my authors to watch after I read Men of Bronze and Memnon.  The skill of his writing was there in these books and so the whole way through The Lion of Cairo I was wondering whether it was Oden even writing the book, or whether something has happened in his life to change the way he writes. The first two books compared to this one are like chalk and cheese. Is it supposed to be Young Adult?  No matter whether it is meant to be YA, I really wish Oden wouldn't use the word 'slits' one hundred million times in reference to eyes. Argh. It was repetitive.
I was also wondering throughout this book if the writing problems are because he rushed too fast in writing it. Did he have a deadline to meet? Did he just not get the chance to be critical of his own writing because it was being rushed to print? Oden can do much better than this as far as writing goes. I swear.

Now, I see that I have said more negative than good here and that was not my intention. The story is terrific and I kept wanting to go back to this book to see what would happen next.
It is supposed to be the first in a trilogy I think and I can say without doubt that I will be buying the next one, despite my issues with the writing. The story is just so addictive and I want to be loyal to a good solid author (give him a chance to redeem himself).
Even though I have said some fairly negative things here, I would still recommend this book to a Young Adult reader who will love the adventure, or an adult reader who doesn't take writing so seriously.

- Medieval Mayhem


Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The Long And The Short Of It: KING HEREAFTER by Dorothy Dunnett


King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett
What a complicated review this is to write. It will be a super short one to boot!

I do not want to give this book two stars. The writing quality alone deserves five stars. But what else should I give a book that I have tried twice to read and have never gotten passed about 100 pages?
Something about the story and plot simply isn't engaging enough for me. It is kind of a boring story and when you have so many books you want to (willingly) read in your year, it is hard to keep focus on a book you feel you are reading against your will.

That it is long, is a little to blame. It is a huge commitment to keep reading a book that is boring you when it is around 800 pages of small type. Becomes more like unwanted homework than an enjoyable pastime.

I will not give up on it though. There was so much potential in King Hereafter that I intend on giving it a third reread at some stage. In case the story improves further in.
I own the book, so it is here, if I am ever in the mood.

Half my problem with enjoying the book may have something to do with the fact that I lost some of my lust for reading in 2014 and I am now, (in Feb 2015) only just getting it back.
This is not the time for wearing my brain away to a nub on a stagnating doorstopper.

- Medieval Mayhem

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Positively Beaming: BY THE SWORD by Christian Kachel


By the Sword by Christian Kachel
I have read a lot of historical fiction over a lot of years. There might be times, as I trudge through it all, that I nearly forget why I read historical fiction in the first place. Especially in those stretches of time where I find myself reading so many more uninspiring books than I do fantastic ones.
Historical Fiction has changed noticeably in the last five or six years. And there has been this danger of being bashed dumb by a pulp fiction tsunami containing sloppily written books haemorrhaging weak, passive-verb laden prose.

I have often found myself wondering..where have all the potential Classics of the Ancient History sub genre of Hist Fic gone? The Gates of Fire and Pride of Carthage novels. The I,Claudius and The Warlord Chronicles. Are they still being written and discovered in 2015? Can publishers still find them in more than dribs and drabs? Can they even find an audience for them anymore when they do?
Will there be room for thoughtful and intelligent historical fiction novels? Where the author takes the time to understand creative writing before he or she writes his/her story? 

I have found a few excellent authors who are harnessing word and story craft, but I am also always grimly watching the line to see what is coming down it. To see what the future of the Ancient History sub genre of historical fiction, will look like. 
Little did I expect to discover that future in an Independently Published novel that I nearly did not read nor know existed.
Of all the places to find a budding author of the calibre that I speak of above....I find him in the world of Indie books. I can hardly believe it myself. Not to trash Indie books....I mean that I wouldn't expect to find this book Indie published because I would have thought a Trad publisher would have snapped him up.

If he had not smooth talked me (Me! An expert in Indie and self pub SERE tactics because I get offered so many of them) and sent me his book in the mail, then I would have missed out on being exposed to this promising author's work.  
What a near miss it was.

By the Sword is the first in a series (or was it a trilogy?? I forgot to ask, or forgot it if I was told) called Spoils of Olympus.
It is set in Ancient Greece, 322BC, following the death of Alexander the Great. 

I could bang on and on about everything that happens, but you know that is not my style. I like you - the reader - to find out plots and storylines by reading the book or the book blurb yourself. I will only touch on a few things.
The story heads out with your narrator, Andrikos, at that poignant moment in his life where he is young, impressionable, bored and running blindly into self destruction. Many of us have been there. Good kids at heart in our day, but with too big of a sense of adventure and with too many wild seeds to sow. The right guiding hand, the wrong kind of trouble, and we find ourselves keening for a way out of our own messes. Andrikos' way out, as with many teens throughout history, is to sign up for the Army.

You may think now that you know this book. Without reading it, you have worked it all out. Boy joins army. Goes through Basic. Loses his virginity. Goes to war. There may be a love triumvirate. Commonly two men and a girl. Has his first, second, third, taste of battle. Excels in leadership and combat. Is given his own band of brothers to lead. Comes home a changed man and a local hero..blah..blah..blah..
You'd be wrong. But I don't blame you. I was wrong too. While some of those plot devices are in By The Sword, it is not all this book has to offer. There is a point where the book takes a complete deviation from the normal flow of things and pulls on its second skin.

I look at the back of the book trying to work out what else I should tell you. I see words in the book blurb. Clandestine, intrigue, violence, brotherhood. Yeah, I'll give the author those. That isn't all the smoke and mirrors of your usual hackneyed book blurb. It does have all that going on.
Obviously, being a debut, not everything is going to be perfect. Damn close though. None of the faults are fatal ones. They are easy to circumnavigate in future novels if the author wanted to evolve his style a little.

I do not understand why this book was ever overlooked by agents and publishers (except the Indie one that picked him up). In fact, I think I have an extra forehead wrinkle from all the frowning I have done as I have read it.
There were actually times where I have put it down and said out loud “but how did this happen! This is too good!”
Books like this should not be slipping through the cracks. Good stories, an author with bonafide life experience and solid writing skills.

What more could a lover of historical fiction wont for? 

Oh, I know..she would wont for book two. 

I hope I haven't given the author, Christian Kachel, a big head with all my flowery words. But how can any self respecting devotee of this genre leave negative feedback in their reviews when she/he deems the writing or stories bad in books, or aggrandize books that probably don't deserve it...and then not give a power stroke of positivity in a review for a book with as much going for it as this one.

Of course I had to be forthcoming. Of course.

5 stars out of 5. All day long.

- Medieval Mayhem

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Robin Hood Revisited: THE WOLF AND THE RAVEN by Steven A. McKay



The Wolf and the Raven
Much improved. Much, much improved.
Last year I received this book, and the one before it, for review. I only read one or two Indie books a year now and it was only because this author has really established himself a reputation for professionalism, that I decided to accept the books for review.

The first book I was lukewarm on. It was okay. A lot better than I had thought it would be, but it had its problems, as do most debut books.
In my review of Wolf's Head, I think I mentioned that the bones were there and experience as a writer would probably see the second book (and those that follow it) showing an improved maturity to Steven's writing.

This year I have tackled this second book by Steven A. McKay and I am happy to say that my prediction was right.
The author has cast off the confines of his first story restraints and written a very decent book.
The characters read with more maturity, the writing is getting stronger, the adventure is abundant.

I've said this before, and what the heck, I'll say it again...First books can be a real skeleton in the closet with authors if they span too long a breadth of time. They start them in highschool, University or early in their working lives, then come back to them later on, as a different person wanting to 'finally finish that novel they once wrote'.
They are not the same person as they were when they started the book, and, nine times out of ten, I feel this in debuts. And I felt that in the first book by Steven A. McKay. But those traces are long gone now. Unlike the first book, this book doesn't feel like it is written by two or three different people.

One of Steven's strengths in this book is always keeping that wheel turning. There is no down time for his characters where you find yourselves wanting something to happen. As soon as his characters do something, have adventure, get themselves in strife, they are back on their feet getting stuck into it again.
I like an author who can do this without making the book read in a restless manner.

Flaws. Well, there are a couple, but they are not something that should put you off trying this book. I feel that while the author is really showing maturity now and writing with more skill, it is inconsistent. From time to time some parts do make me cringe a little.
I do not think they will affect your enjoyment of this book, it is just the growing pains of an author who is honing his craft.

3.5 stars out of 5

- MM

















Steven A. McKay's video for this book - sourced You Tube