a review of Holy Warrior by Angus Donald

Robin Hood, Robin Hood
Riding through the glen.
Robin Hood, Robin Hood
With his band of men.
Feared by the bad, loved by the good.
Robin Hood, Robin Hood, Robin Hood.

(lyrics  written by American composer Carl Sigman.)

Oh that catchy tune from the old Robin Hood TV show starring Richard Greene.  That was the Robin Hood I grew up with.  That is not the Robin Hood of this magnificent series by Angus Donald.  In this, the second book, Holy Warrior, we find Robin and his merry men as part of King Richard’s retinue on Crusade to free Jerusalem from the Saracens.  This despite Robins total disdain for the Christian Church but as a man of honor he is bound to his word.

Once again the tale is told in the voice of Alan Dale, personal musician or trouvere to Robin as well as one of his most trusted advisers.  Alan is an old man as he recounts his adventures with Robin.  I really enjoy the way the author has Alan not only reminiscent but also has him paint his life as a respected Lord of a manor.  This also affords Alan a chance to bare his soul about some of the horror he has witnessed or even helped commit.

The first part of the book revolves largely around Robin and Alan stuck in a siege by Christians against Jews in York.  The climatic finish to this chapter is just one more grim reminder of the dangers of dogmatic religious  hatred.  The author does not shy away from the portrayal of the brutality and malice born of the  fear and ignorance of the peasantry and also of the greedy, glory seeking nobility and church.  Twas indeed a brutal time to be on the wrong side of bias.

Assassins, intrigues, you name it, the author has it going full blazes throughout the story.  The characters of Robin and Alan reveal more and more of their true selves during the course of this second installment.  It will be of great interest and pleasure to discover how these two survive not only the perils of the age but also the perils of their differences.

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Marius Mules V – Hades Gate

Once again I found myself enthralled by a book by S.J.A. Turney.  That shouldn’t be so easy as this series takes place in one of my favorite periods of ancient history and involves some of the more colorful/powerful men in Rome’s history and as such I expect a lot from writers who tackle those subject matters.  I have yet to be disappointed by Mr. Turney’s efforts.  At the end of MM IV the main character in the series, Marcus Falerius Fronto had a seemingly irreparable falling out with Caesar which means he will be spending this campaigning season in Rome and Puteoli instead of Britain and Gaul.  Trouble and more finds him anyway in many guises, from the maddened Pompey to a revenge seeking German, no place is safe for Fronto or his family and friends.

Meanwhile, Caesar has his own difficulties in Britain and then with the threat of a somewhat united Gaul rising up against him.  With his officer corps somewhat depleted, Caesar finds it necessary to bring in experienced men from other legions.  Thus the author introduces, who because of the HBO series, Rome, are probably known to most of us already;  Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus have important roles to play as senior centurions in the 14th Legion.  There are differences between the Rome versions and the two crafted by the author one of them being the fact that they are both centurions and Pullo is the more senior of the two.  I think that it is interesting to note that Pullo and Vorenus , I believe, are the only two legionaries mentioned by name in Caesar’s War Commentaries so it is only fitting that they play their part in Marius Mules, although I do conjure up the faces of Kevin McKidd and Ray Stevenson when reading their parts in the book.

The dual plots are handled in such a way that it seems each scene ends in a cliff hanging scenario which only spurs the reader to keep going in spite of the lateness of the hour.  With each volume in this series the main characters keep progressing in their development, those that survive anyway as the author has a knack for surprises when it comes to not only the intrigue of the story lines but with who gets rubbed out.  Not that that is a bad thing, war and other nefarious characters are always ready to claim a victim or two, though I have found myself shouting at the ceiling, ‘oh my God, he killed so and so.’

Like a devious-devising Kronos, S.J.A. Turney weaves a tale of intrigue and action in Marius Mules V – Hades Gate.  Like the previous volumes in this series Hades Gate is historical fiction at it’s best.  Great time of history, wonderful characters and the raw power of a Roman Legion shield wall have me looking longingly forward to Marius Mules VI…they just keep getting better.