Blood Eye by Giles Kristian – A Review

I was seven years old when the Kirk Douglas-Tony Curtis movie “The Vikings” came out.  Like their later collaboration in “Spartacus”, the movie was flawed historically but that didn’t matter to a seven year old.  I was enthralled with the film and the lore of the Vikings.  In this first book in a series Giles Kristian has awakened that feeling of being enthralled albeit on a much more real and visceral scale.  The setting is Britain’s east coast, Wessex and Mercia and the main character is a young man who has no memory of his early life.  The village he resides in is visited by a group of Sword-Norse and because of his permanently blood-shot eye is saved from death…the Jarl Sigurd recognizes the hand of Odin in the boy.  The action throughout this tale is filled with intrigue, treachery, greed  and the fierceness one would expect from a Norse wolfpack.  The Sword-Norse relish in their warrior ethic, their self reliance, and their devotion to the old gods.  The English with their settled ways and their White Christ religion are not only ripe targets but at times also partners and uneasy allies.

One of the more poignant moments as the English confront Sigurd and his band after a bout of treachery in the Englishman’s hall is the stark reality of what religion can do.  I quote the English lord’s part of the conversation:

but hatred of your kind is planted in us at our mother’s tit.  Our churchmen nurture that hatred and it grows strong…for my own part I wonder at the inconsistency of a god of peace who commands us to kill other men, even unbelievers…we  might wonder how much is God’s will and how much of it is our own

Indeed I was captured throughout the book by the author’s descriptiveness whether it was a scene of bloody, gory battle or the beauty of the English countryside.  For example:

We tramped through meadows where white lady’s-smock grew so thick that it looked like a mantle of fresh snow and crossed fields where knapweed and marsh bedstraw were losing their heads to grazing sheep.

I can say for a certainty that I will be reading the other books in this series.  Giles Kristian has awakened my interest keenly and I am grateful for that.

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Legionary by Gordon Doherty – a review

Legionary by Gordon Doherty – A Review

                The Roman world in 376 AD is not one in which I have spent a lot of time.  In my let’s say ignorance, I have paid most of my attention to the era from Marius to around the time of Vespasian.  The Eastern Roman Empire was largely unexplored territory for me.  I have since seen the error of my ways thanks in part to Gordon Doherty’s Legionary.  This is a story that brings that period to life with all of its glory and its encroaching demise.  There is a plot, a very involved one, to supplant the current Emperor Valens.  A prominent Senator, Tarquitius, and the Christian Bishop, Evagrius have conspired together and separately with each seeing himself as the next Emperor.  The tools of this power struggle are Rome’s enemies from across the Danubius River, firstly the Goths and secondly the Huns.  The Border Legions of the empire are called upon to save Constantinople from the ravages of these fierce adversaries only to find that they too have been the victim of the nefarious goings on.

The main protagonist, a likeable and resourceful youth, Pavo is thrust into the maelstrom as a new recruit in the Border Legion, the XI Claudia.  The constant fear of attack by other recruits with whom he has had dealings with in the past and the normal brutality of life as a legionary brings out a resiliency and determination to survive.  His one big drawback is his uncanny ability to spear himself in his own foot, a tendency guaranteed to make his life even tougher.  This in depth character portrayal is typical of the author’s treatment of the main characters in Legionary.  Gallus the Centurion of the XI Claudia, Spurious an enemy turned friend from the streets of Constantinople are just two more examples of the author giving us a glimpse of what makes these characters tick.

The action sequences are excitingly written, from the whirring lassos of the horseback Huns to the sounds and fury of a battle at sea.  Mr. Doherty makes good use of the technology available at that time.  The gladius and pila have been replaced by spatha and plumbata as the main weapons of a Roman legion but the effectiveness has not changed.  Carnage is the watch word when opposite forces clash; whether it is Hun versus Goth or Goth versus Roman or Hun versus Roman and Goth.  It was a confusing time for all concerned except for perhaps The Huns who only had one thing in mind, annihilation of both the Goths and Romans.

The story ends, or rather it doesn’t  as the way is paved for more intrigue and mayhem.  Pavo and the other survivors are not finished yet and that my friends is a good thing because it means more for us to read.

review of Outlaw by Angus Donald

Throw away, disregard or put in your back pocket any of your preconceived ideas of Robin Hood.  Angus Donald’s Robert Odo is not the Errol Flynn/Richard Greene/Kevin Costner versions of Robin Hood (I don’t include Russell Crowe only because I haven’t seen his portrayal).  No, this Robin Hood is more along the lines of Don Corleone as he metes out justice and hands out favors to those in need among the villagers in Sherwood Forest.

The Outlaw is told from the perspective of an elderly Alan Dale who as a boy was rescued from certain death at the hands of the evil sheriff of Nottingham Sir Ralph Murdac and became one of Robin’s most trusted aides.  The rest of his well-known followers are here as well from the hulking irreverent epithet uttering John Little to the monk-warrior Tuck.

Donald’s Robin Hood is a complicated man, at once a lover of music and of The Countess of Locksley Marie-Anne but also a ruthless, cunning leader of his own private army.  He is also of a pagan bent with little regard for God and the church.  This leads to some very tense relationships; particularly with his brother Hugh and with Tuck.  This proves to be a very important aspect of the book and leads to some rather unpleasant results

The characters are more real than the altruistic ones we are used to reading about or seeing on the screen.   I enjoyed the way the author constructed his characters.  They make you feel as if you are in Sherwood whether the scene is an idyllic feast or one of the confrontations with Murdac.  Happily the sequel, Holy Warrior is already written and I am looking forward to following Robin and his loyal band of followers.