Hand of Fire by Judith Starkston

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Once in a while I receive requests to preview an author’s newest work.  In this case the author, Judith Starkston, asked me to read her novel Hand of Fire, a story about the Homeric figure of Briseis.  Well once she told me it was a Trojan War era tale I accepted without hesitation as this period of history has long been a favorite of mine.  Indeed, it was as a youngster reading the exploits of Heinrich Schliemann and his search for Troy that set me upon the path of being an ancient history aficionado.  I have read quite a few historical fictions of the epic struggle , David Gemmell, Glyn Illiffe, Dan Simmons to name a few but this is the first one I have read where the main character is female.   Briseis is probably known to most everyone who has read The Iliad or seen the historically flawed movie, Troy, as the cause of strife between Achilles and Agamemnon.   What the author does in Hand of Fire is to give her a captivating back story , an in depth tale of a young priestess of the goddess Kamrusepa, the Hittite goddess of healing and fertility, coming of age in a time of war and a young woman coming to grips with who the she is.

The author does an excellent job in setting up the eventual meeting of Achilles and Briseis and in the ongoing byplay between them as they slowly come to grips with their emotions and their entwined fates.

 

 

Bio

Judith StarkstonAuthor PhotoI write historical fiction and mysteries set in Troy and the Hittite Empire, as well as the occasional contemporary short story. I also review here on my website, as well as Historical Novels Review, the New York Journal of Books and the Poisoned Fiction Review.

Socrates, the dog

I trained as a classicist (B.A. University of California, Santa Cruz, M.A. Cornell University) and taught high school English, Latin and humanities. As part of the research for my novels, I traveled extensively in Turkey. My husband and I have two grown children and live in Phoenix, AZ, along with our golden retriever Socrates.

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Successio by Alison Morton

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In this the third volume in the Roma-Nova series the author has done her best work to date giving the reader a taut thriller from start to finish.  Carina and Conrad are driven to the edge and beyond as a piece of Conrad’s history in the form of a daughter he did not know about shows up in full time revenge mode.  Revenge not only directed at the father who she feels abandoned her but also against anyone who he is close to including Carina, the Imperatrix and their children.  Nicola, the prodigal daughter from Hades, is an example of how the bad guy/girl should be written in any good novel.  Her perseverance, resourcefulness and the downright ruthlessness of her character are what good stories are made of.  By the same token, those same qualities are imbued once again in the heroine making her once again occasionally act outside the purview of law and order to safeguard her family. This is definitely a page turner of the highest order and while I really enjoyed the first two books, this one captivated me even more.  5 stars and a hearty recommendation.

The Boleyn Effect by Deborah C. Foulkes

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Over the last couple of years I have become acquainted with many authors via social media and though I have not met any of them yet I do think of them as friends. In addition to this most of them write historical fiction; more specifically Roman and medieval hist-fic which are my preferred genres.  In the case of this book I departed from those genres and decided, for a couple reasons, to read a modern day romance; a genre I had no interest in whatsoever.  My reasons were thus, this story does have in it an element of the love story between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn(which I have recently taken an interest in because of binge watching The Tudors and by another book, A Love Most Dangerous by Martin Lake).  The other reason is because the author, Deborah C. Foulkes, is one of those social media friends with whom I have had and enjoyed many conversations.  So with some trepidation I read The Boleyn Effect not knowing what to expect.  What I got is a tale both interesting and entertaining.  The main plot involves a dare/game put forth by the close friend of the protagonist Leigh Ann Boorman in which she has to seduce a particular man to the point where he, Harry, falls in love with her in the manner that Anne Boleyn captured the heart of King Henry VIII.  Harry, a Dean at a local college is married to Katherine but has a penchant for cheating on his wife so the prospect of winning the dare/game is more than feasible.  What Leigh Ann does not expect is that she falls in love with Harry and this is the second main plot of the tale.  Without indulging in spoilers the story then becomes an emotional roller coaster both for Leigh and Harry and in the end it even becomes somewhat dangerous due to the twists, turns and surprises that the author injects into the tale.  I was fully captivated by the ongoing events and was prepared to rate this book with 4 stars but then after reading the last few chapters I had to change my mind(but like a good mystery I will not reveal my new rating yet.)  First I must say a word about the explicit sexual content in the book.  At first I was puzzled as to why these explicit scenes needed to be written in the manner in which they were.  I even asked the author that question to which she answered that while she originally hadn’t planned to write them that way, she decided that in keeping with the parallel with Henry and Anne and the nature of his court that it was appropriate to include such explicitness.  I thought about that for a while and though I agree with that premise, I also came to realize that since the grisly detailed violence of a Roman legion or heavily armored Templars fits in well in their respective genres why shouldn’t uninhibited sex be appropriate for a story such as this one, therefore I had no issue with the content.

I heartily recommend this tale and have rated it 5 stars.

Knight of the Cross by Steven McKay

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Another first for me as I have never reviewed a short story and found it a bit more difficult to do than for a full length novel.  This story is a bit of a departure from the author’s two excellent novels about Robin Hood as the subject is The Knights Hospitaller and has an element of fantasy as well though it does feature Sir Richard-at-Lee who does appear in Wolf’s Head and The Wolf and the Raven.  It takes place on the island of Rhodes and concerns the mysterious disappearance of many people on the island including some of the Hospitaller personnel.  It seems that an ancient evil has arisen, the god Dagon and he requires sacrifices of the most heinous kind.  Sir Richard is charged with the task of searching out what is causing the disappearances.  I found the story to be very entertaining and the action/plot twists to be exciting and well written.  The scenes involving the rites of the evil Dagon to be as grisly as one would hope and the fears of those involved in the rooting out of this cult to be very real and thus makes for an excellent tale.  5 stars.

Medicus by Ruth Downie

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Once again I find myself late to the party as I have only just now started reading about Gaius Petreius Ruso, a Roman Legion Doctor and the protagonist in this delightful tale.  The author has produced a character that is seemingly a competent, if not a good physician, who finds himself drawn into the search for the killer(s) of two prostitutes.  However, unlike some other fictional sleuths of ancient Rome, Lindsey Davis’ Falco or Steven Saylors’ Gordianus for example, Ruso is not so keen on being a detective.  He is too concerned about other things like his financial problems, or his somewhat regrettable purchase of an injured slave woman but as the story goes on he cannot help but becoming involved in an unofficial investigation.  The characters in the book are well written, the day to day existence in an occupied/pacified town in Britain is done nicely with both the seriousness of the situation and with the humor she injects into the narrative.  Being a would be author myself,I particularly love the difficulties Ruso has in trying to write a concise first aid book for the army…brought many a smile to my face.

As to rating the book, as I read the first half I was leaning to a 4 star rating but the second half of the book made me change my mind and so I have given it 5 stars and I already have the second book in the series loaded in my Kindle.  🙂

Paradise by Jason K Lewis

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What we have here is a teaser of sorts about an over-populated, environmentally doomed planet and the method chosen to alleviate those problems.  Paradise is a planet which is reached and colonized through a portal in space and is offered to the populous via a lottery.  This Ray Bradbury like tale takes the reader on the journey of John, his wife Sarah and daughter Jemima as they make their way through the queue and into the entrance to the portal and their thoughts and concerns about the new life awaiting them on Paradise.  However, things aren’t all they seem as we meet a corporation official who has had enough of the deception.  Just exactly what the nature of that deception is is not revealed…this is the teaser part…as the author is planning the sequel, Bird of Paradise to, in his words, ‘Well it would appear that I have to know what happens next.’  I for one want to know as well.  4 stars to this gripping teaser of a tale.

A Traitor’s Fate by Derek Birks

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This is the second book in the series and one that I really was looking forward to reading as the first book really got my attention.  The author does a masterful job in creating a story filled with wonderful characters and great story lines.  This period of English history is one that I find fascinating and to come across well written fiction that deals with this period is a big plus.  The author has done a superb job in creating a page turning, drama filled tale[one that kept me up later than I would like at times 🙂 ].  He has also left me wanting more…I cannot wait to read book 3.  I give it 5 stars and a hearty recommendation.