Strategos: Rise of the Golden Heart by Gordon Doherty



I have read three of Mr. Doherty’s books and liked them a lot.  Given that his track record is superb I expected nothing less than that same excellence from Strategos: Rise of the Golden Heart.  If I was previously enthralled with his work, and not just a little jealous, I am even more so now.

It has been twelve years since the end of book 1 and Apion is now a Strategos and his reputation as The Haga grows after every battle or skirmish with his Seljuk enemies.  His development as a strong, decisive leader of men is countered somewhat by the soul sickening events of his past.  We find him not only having to cope with his turmoil on an emotional level but physically as well given that his most obdurate foe, once his best friend, has sworn vengeance and death to The Haga.  Mr. Doherty plays this sub-plot beautifully and adds some unforeseen results…(no spoilers  J ).

Once again, the author has put together a story line with abundant twists, turns and surprises.  One in particular had my mind screaming OMG or was it WTF when, no wait, no spoilers here boys and girls, suffice to know that the author has not lost his touch for mystery and intrigue.  Neither has the author neglected to do his homework.  The battles are first rate, the geography is well described and the everyday events of 11th century Byzantium are evidence of the research.

Relentless action, political intrigue, betrayal, bitter foes and steadfast friends – the list goes on and on and I’m pretty sure will carry over to book 3.  Well done Mr. Doherty.   I rate this book at 4.8.

Tyrant by Cameron Christian

The book Tyrant by Cameron Christian transported me back to my first love in ancient history, The Greeks.  This story takes place during the time of Alexander toward the end of his flaming career.  The main character is Kineas, an Athenian who once fought under Alexander but who is now an exile from Athens and has become the leader of a mercenary band of warriors.  Kineas is an interesting fellow, an Athenian noble brought up as a gentleman able to hold his own in symposium settings as well as the gymnastic.  As the story progresses we watch the author allow his protagonist to grow as circumstances compel him to be more than he imagined.

Kineas has been hired by a tyrant, The Archon of Olbia to come and train his troops ostensibly to defend against the depredations of the horse warriors of the Steppes, The Sakje.  Merely bandits in the eyes of Olbia, The Sakje are in reality a highly organized and civilized society.  The main plot is concerned with the alliance formed between the Sakje and the Tyrant of Olbia as they are facing an invasion from one of Alexander’s generals looking to garner some glory for himself.

The gamut of human emotion and experience are all explored by the author, from greed and avarice to the almost carefree spirit of warriors before a big battle.  The ancillary characters are well done and provide Kineas with a well-rounded group of friends, followers and foes.  Kineas also has a mystical element to his character as he is haunted by powerful dreams that shape his outlook and actions.

The action is bloody when necessary, the horsemanship is superb, the story is well told.  My only real complaint is that it seems to take a while to get to the climactic battle scene with The Macedonians but when it happens, it is intense and satisfying.  I look forward to the sequel.  I rate this book at 4.1.

The Lost King – Resistance by Martin Lake

Once again I found myself immersed in a time period I am not familiar with other than the fact that the year 1066 was one of those we memorized in history class. The Normans under William the Bastard have defeated the English at The Battle of Hastings. That’s the starting point for this very enjoyable and well written book. The author is to be commended for his meticulous detail, his characters and the obvious passion he has for this period. The story follows Edgar Aetheling as he seeks his rightful place as King of England. His journeys take him from William’s court in Normandy to King Malcolm III of Scotland as he attempts to solidify his position. This is heady stuff for a youth not yet 20 and the author brings out all of the doubts, emotions and occasional flashes of brilliance that Edgar has to deal with. The story ends, or rather it doesn’t, with the coming battle with William and his Normans. I look forward to pursuing that in the sequel.
Hoover Book Reviews rates this at 4.4.

Wolf’s Head by Steven McKay


I really enjoy ‘discovering’ new authors and thanks to the Twitterverse I keep ‘discovering’ them.  One note –  by new I don’t necessarily mean brand new, but rather, new to me although in the case of Steven McKay both cases apply as Wolf’s Head is his debut novel.  The author chose to write about Robin Hood, a subject that has been written about by many, most notably Angus Donald but this shouldn’t deter you from checking out this version of the forest outlaw.  The author has set his story in a different time period than the usual one that pits King Richard against Prince John.  This tale of Robin and his band of outlaws takes place in the 14th century during the Lancastrian rebellion against King Edward.

The cast of characters will be familiar to most, John Little, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet are all accounted for as well as a host of others.  The story is about how Robin became an outlaw and how he gains the admiration and respect of the gang.    The action is non-stop for the most part and kept me turning pages as the author punctuates the scenes with enough twists and turns to make the outcome of each encounter doubtful.  The author also paints the landscape and villages in such a way as to make you feel like you are there, the mind’s eye taking in the descriptions and making them real to the reader.

I won’t go into too much detail as to how the plot unfolds, suffice to say that the story is exciting and invites the reader to sit back and enjoy the journey through the forests and villages of northern England.  I look forward to the sequel and beyond from Mr. McKay with great anticipation as he has whetted my appetite for more.

Hoover Book Reviews rates this book at 4.5.

Fields of Blood by Ben Kane


Tackling an epic time of history, one in which the outcome will determine the future of Western Europe and beyond, is a heady task to say the least and Ben Kane has met the challenge.  Think about the enormity of the consequences of this decade’s long conflict between Carthage and Rome.  If Carthage wins then our world today would be different in some fashion…hmmm, sounds like a good idea for an alternative history story; but I digress.

Cannae – 50,000 Roman soldiers, 8000 Carthaginians – that is indeed a lot of blood.  This second book in the series takes off where Hannibal Enemy of Rome ends.  Rome is reeling from Hannibal’s successes in crossing The Alps and defeating every legion it comes up against, leading to the twin disasters of Lake Trasimene and Cannae.  The main characters, Hanno and Quintus have grown much during this time, are now war hardened, blooded infantrymen.  The author does a superb job in his development of his characters, both major and minor, good guys and not so good guys.  You can still feel the emotion and struggles of Hanno regarding his slave past, his love for Aurelia and the intense friction between he and his brothers.  Quintus in the meantime has rebelled against his father and has secretly become an infantryman rather than suffer the indignity of being sent home.

The story goes back and forth between Hanno, Quintus and Aurelia so we get good views and descriptions of the daily lives of a Carthaginian phalanx, a Roman maniple and the struggles of those left behind to keep the family out of the clutches of unscrupulous loan sharks.  The author is in top form as he brings us into the lives of these perplexed individuals as they contend with the fact that their countries are bitter foes and yet they have emotional bonds with each other that transcend the hostilities.

The two major battles of this book, Lake Trasimene and Cannae are dramatically retold and one cannot help but wonder at Hannibal’s military genius and the confounding inability of the Romans to counter that genius.  The end of this episode finds Hanno exultant and Quintus wondering how he is still alive.  This well crafted story is a must for any who love stories that bring you the agonies and ecstasies, the highs and lows of human emotions in a war torn country.  Well done Mr. Kane, looking forward to the next installment.  I rate this book at 4.8.

Roman Sunset by Elizabeth May

I ventured into a time and place I have not spent much time in…the post-Roman world of Britain.  A time in which the Roman Legions left Britain in order to protect the Empire against Alaric’s depredations.  With the mighty army gone for good, there was very little to stand in the way of marauders shattering the peace of the countryside as Scots, Picts, Angles etc looked for easy pickings.

The author has put together an intriguing story of how the remnants of the legions and the survivors of the vicious  sackings of the villages and towns strive to start a new existence.  That is the main plot but there are plenty of sub-plots to keep one turning the pages, such as captured and enslaved villagers and their various plights, the joining of disparate forces to contend with warlike tribes, etc etc.

As well crafted as the story is, I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of “vocal authenticity”, that is the lack of rough language and mannerisms one would expect from ex-legionaries, tribal warriors and the like.  Language is a very powerful tool and I found the paucity of gruffness even to be a tad unbelievable.  Without the coarseness, the story suffers from character depth and development.

I will read the sequel for as I said, the story is a good one.  I give this book a rating of 3.6.

A note on Hoover Book Reviews new rating policy:

In order to have a little more leeway in rating a book we at Hoover Book Reviews are adopting the following policy.  The system will still be based on 1-5 stars but with tenth of a point intervals, so a book that we in the past have rated 5 stars can now be more accurately fixed at say 4.5 or 4.2…etc etc.  Of course this will only be reflected in the review itself as I cannot change Amazon’s restrictive, whole numbers only method.


Adding to the to be read pile 🙂

S.J.A. Turney's Books & More


I have been somewhat remiss in apparently not blogging about book one of the Gisborne saga by the talented and lovely Prue Batten when I reviewed it elsewhere some time back. I will not rehash that review here, since this is in essence a review of book 2 but, given the lack of earlier review, I will summarize that book one was a work of Medieval Romance mixed with hints of suspense that I found enchanting in its depth and feeling. If you feel the need (and I hope you do) my review is on goodreads and you can find it here.

Gisborne was not my usual blood and guts, historical military or thriller fare, but being a lover of Prue’s earlier Faerie fantasy works, I read it with some relish, only to find that while having nothing that would normally commend itself to my taste, I couldn’t leave…

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Legionary 2 Viper of the North by Gordon Doherty


The decision to read Legionary 2 at this particular time was made despite the fact that I am currently in the process of reading many different series including Mr. Doherty’s Strategos, Angus Donald’s Outlaw, Giles Kristian’s Raven, Robert Fabbri’s Vespasian, Ben Kane’s Hannibal and SJA Turney’s Marius Mules & Ottoman Cycle.  So as you can see there was a lot of excellent material to choose from.  Having decided to go with either Legionary 2 or Strategos 2 next, I sent a tweet to Gordon Doherty asking him as to which I should choose.  He re-tweeted asking if I preferred to be in the baking sun or a wintry blizzard.  Well given the 95 degree temperatures and 100% humidity we have endured the last week, the wintry blizzard won out.

The Goths are uniting under a mysterious shade from the past, The Viper, who has only the destruction of The Roman Empire on his mind.  This part of The Empire is not well manned by The Legions and would seem to be ripe targets for the Gothic Invasion.  That is the main storyline and one that is riveting in its telling and imaginative in its scope.  However, as good as that story is, it is the detailed characterizations making up this story that really sells the goods.  The main characters are each imbued with the secrets that make them tick, make them do the things they do, make them live and breathe despite their doubts and nightmares.  Pavo and his search for truth, Avitus for atonement, Gallus for peace, these and many other torments and desires are hidden deep in each one’s mind and draw the reader in to experience the turmoil.

Throughout the telling of this tale there are many likable rogues most especially in the XI Claudia, the core if you will of that depleted Border Legion would fit in well with Vespasian’s 2nd Legion  with Macro and Cato or with Fronto’s 10th Legion with Caesar in Marius Mules.  Of course any tale worth telling has to have the not so likable and this tale has plenty to go around and not all of them are Gothic but even a couple of them find redemption of some sort.

Along with the chaos and mayhem of battle, the author also gives us some very nice twists and turns along the way not the least of which is the identity of The Viper.  That revelation is certainly a stunner and really adds to the drama.   It is a well written and researched episode and I look forward to the next one in the series.

I rate this at 4.5

A note on Hoover Book Reviews new rating policy:

In order to have a little more leeway in rating a book we at Hoover Book Reviews are adopting the following policy.  The system will still be based on 1-5 stars but with tenth of a point intervals, so a book that we in the past have rated 5 stars can now be more accurately fixed at say 4.5 or 4.2…etc etc.  Of course this will only be reflected in the review itself as I cannot change Amazon’s restrictive, whole numbers only method.

Interregnum by S.J.A.Turney


Having read the author’s more recent works, the Marius Mules series and the first in the Ottoman Cycle series, I was curious as to how his earlier works would compare.  Interregnum is the first of a fantasy-history trilogy set in a fictitious time period reminiscent of the Late Roman Empire/early medieval eras.  The story revolves around the crumbling of an empire and the attempt 20 years after the death of the last Emperor to restore it.  Naturally there are rivals and factions and that is what feeds the main plot in this tale.

The characters are complex, the action is scintillating, the sub-plots are full of surprises.   While reading this book I came to the realization of why I like Mr. Turney’s later efforts in Marius Mules 1-5 and A Thief’s Tale.  He has a way of evoking strong emotions from his readers, some even from a stoical, unemotional and cynical  soul like myself.  Internal turmoil redeemed in the end.  That’s the stuff I like in a book and this one fit the bill.  Suffice to say I will be reading the rest of this well written trilogy.

I give this a 4.5.

A note on Hoover Book Reviews new rating policy:

In order to have a little more leeway in rating a book we at Hoover Book Reviews are adopting the following policy.  The system will still be based on 1-5 stars but with tenth of a point intervals, so a book that we in the past have rated 5 stars can now be more accurately fixed at say 4.5 or 4.2…etc etc.  Of course this will only be reflected in the review itself as I cannot change Amazon’s restrictive, whole numbers only method.

It’s reigning assassins

Will be adding this series to the TBR list.

S.J.A. Turney's Books & More


Book 4 in the Civil War saga is released today.

The fourth book in a series is, I sometimes find, a stumbling block for an author. The debut can be strong, the second where they find their feet, and the third where they really shine. Often, though, the fourth is where they over-reach, run out of ideas or become formulaic.

I am delighted to say that none of this holds for Michael Arnold’s new opus.

Continuing a trend of increasing quality, Assassin’s Reign is indeed better even than the excellent Hunter’s Rage, which was itself a triumph.

In this fourth book we find the current dour and acerbic Captain Stryker once more called to carry out the clandestine whims of Prince Rupert, though this time his mission will take him far from the companionship of his company and friends, not only deadly danger, but also into a situation that threatens…

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