A Wounded Realm – The Blood of Kings 2 by K.M. Ashman

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An engaging sequel to A Land Divided, it continues the Welsh struggle to maintain or regain land and power from the English under King Henry 1st.  Replete with wonderful characters and interest grabbing plots and scenarios, the author has once again shown his creative abilities conjuring up some great fiction interspersed with his knowledge of the historical record. A fascinating look at a period of upheaval and change following the events of 1066.  Looking forward to book 3, Rebellion’s Forge. 4 stars.

 

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A Shape on the Air by Julia Ibbotson

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An intriguing mystery awaits you, dear reader.  Time slipping to the 5th century, parallel lives, a Dark Age village in Britain.  The story drew me in as Viv, and her friends unravel the secrets of her strange experiences.  Well written, characters you can believe, twists and surprises, and a lovely descriptive touch make this two era tale an excellent choice whether you like mysteries, or a bit of post-Roman British historical fiction.  I highly recommend this.. 4 stars.

King of Kings – Warrior of Rome 2 by Harry Sidebottom

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Ballista the bada$$; barbarian bred, but Roman raised, now in disfavor with Valerian, has a new assignment – persecuting the dangerous religious cult, Christianity.  Not a happy situation for him or his familia given that he is a warrior and a battle hardened commander.  An administrative job, given to him under suspicious circumstances, has him requesting and then conniving to be replaced.  Book two of Warrior of Rome adds to the intrigues of the imperial court and sets Ballista on a collision course with the narrow minded, noses in the air Roman patrician class, and which eventually culminates in a surprising and shocking turn of events (that I will not divulge – spoilers, you know).  As in the first book, Fire in the East, the author shines in his portrayal of the Roman court, and the events that lead to the inevitable clash with Shapur, King of Kings.  4.7 stars

Raven’s Feast – Hakon’s Saga Book 2 by Eric Schumacher

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Imagine that you’re a young King, a Christian one, in a time and place where the old gods still hold sway over your subjects and your allies…allies and subjects that you desperately need to not only strengthen your hold but to even survive.  Hakon faces many challenges to his rule and to his chosen religion and during the course of this tale, seems to do all the wrong things to meet those challenges.  An entertaining story of a man facing an increasingly impossible situation…a tale of courage and steadfastness … a tale of intrigue and danger… a tale of unwavering belief.  Immerse yourself in a time and place of great deeds and even greater changes.  4.3 stars

Fire in the East – Warrior of Rome 1 by Harry Sidebottom

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I fell in love with the Warrior of Rome series many years ago in the era known as the PBR – or Pre-Book Reviewing era.  However, for some inexplicable reason, I only read the first four books.  Therefore, in order to rectify that situation, I decided to reread them in preparation for reading the rest of the series and thus, reviewing them as I go a long.  I call that a win-win scenario as I get to read them again and you, my peeps and fellow travelers, get to read my penetrating, yet humble reviews.  In the first installment, Fire in the East, we meet Marcus Clodius Ballista, son of a Germanic chieftain but raised as a Roman, and who rises through the ranks of the Roman army to become the Dux Ripae of a force given the seeming impossible task of defending the city of Arete on the banks of the Euphrates.  Their opponent is the Persian King of Kings, Shapur and his far numerically superior  force.  To many in the Roman establishment Ballista is seen as a warrior leader of immense experience and ability.  Others, however, view him as nothing but a barbarian bastard far beneath their social standing.  The tale is at once intriguing, exciting; full of surprises as it progresses through Ballista’s arrival, the preparation for the coming battle and siege and finally the battle of wills between this barbarian commander and the staggering, fanatic Persian host driven by the power of the King of Kings and bent on the total destruction of Arete.  It is also a tale populated with wonderful characters, Ballista, his retinue – Maximus, Calgacus and Demetrius to name but a few.  The historic research done is more than evident as you walk the streets of Arete; as you take in the defensive towers and the well placed artillery; the stone throwers and ballistas.  A tension filled atmosphere permeates the pages as Ballista recognizes the near hopeless situation he has been thrust into; not only from Shapur but from assassins and secret agents out to see he doesn’t succeed.  A highly entertaining read – glad I decided to give it another go.  5 stars

Strategos – The Complete Trilogy by Gordon Doherty

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Below are my reviews for the three books in this series – SPOILER ALERT – I loved all of them.

Strategos 1 – Born in the Borderlands

Apion is a lost soul, doomed to a life of servitude and mockery.  Losing his family to a band of mysterious raiders and horribly wounded himself he is rescued from his slavery by an unlikely source, a Seljuk farmer.  Unlikely because he is a Christian and tensions are high between the proponents of Islam and the proponents of Christ in the borderlands of the Byzantine Empire.  This is a story of how Apion overcomes his physical limitations and rises up through the ranks of the borderland garrison in the face of the invasion by Tugrul – The Falcon – and the Seljuk horde bent on the destruction of anything Byzantine.

The author, Gordon Doherty, has crafted a marvelous telling of the period when The East meets The West in the throes of Constantinople’s decline.  You can feel the heat, hear the cicadas and experience the ironies of the many conflicted emotions in this saga of redemption, reward and revenge.    As with any good book, the main protagonist needs an enemy, someone to focus his attention, someone to keep him going no matter the pain and the author does not disappoint.  Not only does Apion have to deal with Seljuk warriors but also with elements within the garrison, a couple of real nasty specimens who just so happen  work for The Emperor.

I really enjoyed this journey.   It brings home the fact that we too live in a time of turmoil, that East vs. West is continuing to create uncertainty and fear. It is also a wonderful story in itself but also leaves you wanting more so strap on your scimitar and head to Anatolia for this excellent tale but leave room for the sequel.

Strategos 2 –  Rise of the Golden Heart

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.

Strategos 3 – Island in the Storm

First off let me say that I have a major beef with Mr. Doherty and I am sure that all of you who read the words of this humble scribe will agree once you finish Island in the Storm.  This series has been among the best I’ve read and now it is over and that my friends is the cause of my discontent.  However, the sheer brilliance in this third volume does tend to soften the blow.  This is storytelling at it’s finest, the drama, the emotion, the horrors of war, the loss of friends; in all these and more the author is at the top of his game.  Throughout the book we are part of the struggle not only between Byzantium-Diogenes Romanus and the Seljuk Turk Alp Arslan but also to the powers seeking to supplant Romanus and too, Alp Arslan.  The plots and twists are the ever present backdrop to the building climatic battle at Manzikert on August 26, 1071.  As a describer of battle scenes Mr. Doherty has always brought the sights, sounds and smells to the readers senses but in this battle, one that covers so much time and space and has so many ebbs and flows coupled with the ferocity and emotional trauma, the author delivers a coup de grace.  As expected Apion, The Haga, has a destiny to fulfill and is faced with making choices that will determine not only his future but the future of much more.  The characters be they likable(Sha, Blastares, et. al.) or be they repulsive(Psellos, John Doukas, et. al.) are done beautifully and imbue the story with the realities of the time and situation.  In short, this series may be over but it is certainly going out on a very high note.  5 stars

 

Swordland by Edward Ruadh Butler

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A gripping tale featuring Norman, Welsh, Irish, Ostmen and Flemish combatants and their duplicitous maneuvers to stake a claim or a kingdom in Ireland.  The main protagonist is Robert FitzStephen, a Norman warrior who falls upon hard times but is offered the chance to regain his honor leading the army of the deposed Irish King Diarmait Mac Murchada.  The author had my attention from page one.  Well researched and written in a manner that stays as true as possible to the known historical record, although, as is true of any good tale, some facts can be rearranged to make the fiction more compelling.  The battles are ferocious without being overly gory; the tension brought on by the many competing groups and goals permeate the story lines.  An admirable and enjoyable read of yet, to me anyway, another time and place of British history.  4 stars