King of Ithaca is the first book in this series about the Greek warrior and hero Odysseus. The story begins with Laertes still the King but there is a revolt brewing that threatens to remove Laertes and his line as the royal family. Odysseus is consulting the oracle on Mt. Parnassus about his future. It is this journey where he meets the other main protagonist of the book, Eperitus, an exiled prince looking to find glory under a new lord. The Odysseus in this story is not portrayed in the Homeric mode but is rather more human than mythic. His crafty like nature is not some spur of the moment inspiration, instead Odysseus wrestles with each problem to find solutions. There is doubt and anguish involved in the process. This very human quality is found in all of the characters involved including the three main women in the story, Helen, Penelope and the most formidable of them, Clytaemnestra.
In juxtaposition to the human equation we find a taste of the Olympians mainly in the portrayal of Athena. She has promised to lend her aid to Odysseus in his quest to reclaim the throne of Ithaca but you know Olympians, they can be a bit fickle at times and Odysseus knows this.
There are many scenes of action, battles with human foes and one with a monster in the mythic tradition, and a sort of humorous scene of the hero Ajax entering the hall of Tyndareus in Sparta. He reminded me somewhat of Angus Donald’s Little John but on steroids. There are also a few well placed quirks in the story line that make one pause for a second to negotiate an unexpected turn in the road. It is a very enjoyable account of my favorite Greek hero, Odysseus and look forward to continuing his story in the sequel. This book rates a strong 4 stars.
Given the fact that I have read many of Simon Turney’s books I would have thought by now that it would be nigh unto impossible for him to surprise me. I am used to the plot twists that he infuses into his novels, indeed I sort of expect them. However, in Ironroot, the second of three books set in a pseudo Roman world, he managed to do just that.
The protagonist Varro, a Captain in the Imperial Army, is wounded during a skirmish and is subsequently told that he is dying because the weapon used on him was laced with Ironroot, a poison with no antidote. When it becomes apparent that he was specifically targeted, a conspiracy to cover up a senior officer’s treasonous activities unfolds. Thus begins a race against time as he and an enterprising member of an engineers cohort seek out the truth and possible revenge. What follows is an exciting tale of action, loyalty and a steadfast belief that they were chosen for this mission by a local tribal deity.
Now the author could have gone in many different ways with this including a formulaic one but this is where all the surprises in the plot come to the fore. The climatic scenes are wonderfully portrayed demonstrating Mr. Turney’s vivid imagination and abundant sense of irony. I would love to be more specific but that would be unfair to the author and to prospective readers…after all, they deserve to be as surprised in their reading of this novel as I was.
Once more into the fray as Edgar continues his struggle to reclaim his throne from William the Bastard(or Conqueror depending on your point of view). What is most intriguing to me at least in this series is the historical fact that we know that William wins in the end, yet the author provides us with the hope, forlorn though it may be, that maybe Edgar can be successful. He is certainly determined enough as there are numerous occasions for him to just throw in the towel and submit to William or to just head elsewhere such as Constantinople.
In this volume, the author has Edgar confronting not only his failures but also the internal process of what kind of King would he be. Edgar grows much in this part of the story as he grapples with the lessons he learns about kingship and the power derived from that position and also the limits to that power.
One of the aspects of writing that I feel the author does well is character introduction and development as there is a host of great characters that fill up these pages. Edgar has a core of followers that include outlaws, nobles, reluctant thugs, Counts and Kings. He also has a host of enemies, so many in fact that I liken Edgar to some half dead warrior surrounded by a flock of carrion crows and vultures just waiting for the chance to finish him off. That he survives to continue the quest is a testament to his character and to his friends. He is certainly the most likable tragic figure I’ve come across in a long time. I highly recommend this series and hope that Martin Lake doesn’t wait too long to give us book 4. I rate this at 4.8…well done Martin.
In Lions of the Grail I found myself transported to a time and place I am not too familiar with, the history of Northern Ireland and the invasion of it by The Bruce Brothers. It seems that most everyone in that region wanted to rule Ireland except maybe the Irish who were too busy clan fighting to resist the English under King John or the upstart Scottish King Robert the Bruce. It is in this chaotic period that we meet our protagonist Syr Richard Savage, formerly of Ulster but who joined The Knights Templar as a personal quest to find meaning in life. Unfortunately for Savage, the Templars are declared heretics and are condemned by The Pope so after being betrayed by a former Templar now turned Knight Hospitaller, he has been incarcerated for 5 years awaiting his fate. Fortunately for Savage, King John(the son of Longshanks) has a pressing need for a former Ulsterman to spy out what is happening in Ireland regarding the Scots and the rumors of invasion.
The author has given us a tale with an intriguing cast of characters from the effeminate King John, the duplicitous Templar turned Hospitaller, The Bruce brothers Robert and Edward, a host of Scots, Irish, and Norman descendants, loyal mercenaries and witchcraft accused mother and daughter. The story runs the gamut of human emotions, love, hatred, loyalty, loss and redemption, to name a few. It also has The Grail and how it came to be in possession of Robert the Bruce and how he uses it to gain allies. Given the many Grail stories and tales that are out there I found that the author gives a credible rendition though perhaps not as good a one as in the Monty Python movie. 🙂
All in all, Lions of the Grail is a fast paced, intriguing story full of twists and turns, full of villainous treachery, full of valor and courage. A thoroughly enjoyable story. I rate it at 4.5 stars.
I must confess that while reading this I couldn’t help but wonder what one thing about the book really grabbed my attention; something to focus a review on. As I continued, I gradually realized that it was the whole understated approach in this narrative that was the one thing. Now that may sound strange but I found the author’s style to be subtle yes, but also descriptive and educational. Let me set up the story a little, the narrator is Cogidubnus a priest and King of the Regenses and who was elevated to Great King of Britain by Claudius. The point in the story where I saw through the subliminal like message of the text was Cogidubnus telling his audience of his first visit to Rome. The awe inspiring splendor of Rome as seen through the eyes of a wattle and thatch hut existence woke me up to the descriptive talents of the author.
The protagonist sees himself as a priest first even after Claudius elevates him. He always strives for a peaceful solution as this best pleases the gods, but there are times and events during his long reign that are far from peaceful. He not only has to deal with the likes of Caratacos and Boudicca but with mostly uncaring, stubborn Roman officials. There are exceptions to the avarice driven as Cogidubnus makes a lifelong friend in Vespasian and has a decent rapport with Claudius. I really enjoyed how Vespasian was introduced into the story, cleverly done.
The ebb and flow of the tale meanders back and forth from events in the early and middle parts of Cogidubnus reign as Great King to the present day governorship of Agricola, the death of Vespasian and Titus the new Emperor. It is an interesting time period and that brings me to another strong point of the narrative and that is; as you read this story you learn stuff. I suppose that is to be expected given that the author is a historian and scholar, he probably can’t help himself. 🙂 The depth of detail speaks of meticulous research and knowledge of the subject matter and is subtle in delivery. Not like my college history professor who would pace from one end of the room to the other showering us with his wisdom when he would stop and exclaim, ‘Oh this is important, write this down word for word.’
This is an enjoyable read. I rate it 4 stars.