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

The Queen’s Mary – In The Shadows of Power by Sarah Gristwood

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Once again I venture into what is a mostly unknown time and subject to me, but that is what I love about English history; there’s just so much of it that I doubt I’ll ever be bored by it.  This is a story about the Scottish Queen Mary but it is told through the eyes of one of her ladies in waiting, Mary Seton.  The fate and fortunes of those of noble birth is always fascinating and in the case of this particular Queen, fatal.  The author kept me on my toes throughout the story as the various intrigues of the Queen; a woman who appears to be out of her depth; especially so when the men she marries turn out to be at cross purposes with the Scottish nobility.  It is also a tale that is filled with the intricacies of court life; of the lives of those who were born and raised to serve the Queen’s Majesty. In Mary Seton, the last of the four Mary’s to still serve the Queen, we find a woman in constant turmoil as to her loyalties and a desire to be free of the demands of her position. The narrative flows at a nice pace as we follow the Queen and her Marys down the path to the inevitable clash with Elizabeth Tudor, Queen of England.  4 stars

The Scathing – King’s Bane III by C.R. May

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The Engeln have now settled on the isle of Britannia and are intent on staying, and will fight to maintain and expand their territory and culture.  The people of Powys are not too happy with this and are intent on driving the invaders out as they expand their own reach.  A clash is inevitable and the author is on top of his game in this tale of that confrontation.  Great characters, wonderful verbal byplay, thrilling action and an insightful look into Dark Age Britain make this book hard to put down. A good tale needs to be able to surprise the reader on occasion and The Scathing certainly fulfills that requirement.  In fact, it is the surprise element that has me looking forward to the continuation of this series.  4.7 stars and The Hoover Book Review’s prestigious “You Just Blew Me Away” award.  🙂

 

A Land Divided by K.M. Ashman

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A compelling tale of the Welsh struggle to unify in the wake of William’s takeover of England.  Gruffydd ap Cynan having been defeated and in exile in Ireland, raises an army and returns to Wales; joins forces with another Welsh King, Rhys ap Tewdwr, and undertakes the simple task of defeating three newly allied Kings to reclaim their lands and thrones – newly allied and in cahoots with William the Bastard.  The story goes back and forth between the battling armies and the two Queens(of Gruffydd and Tewdwr) who are facing their own battles to survive, not only physical hardships, but the mental anguish of not knowing the fate of their husbands.

As in any well told tale, there are ample plot surprises, well developed characters, efficiently researched history and the ability to take the reader into the very land and actions described.  The ending is especially intriguing and the best part of that scenario is that it paves the way for a sequel; which I ordered within moments of finishing A Land Divided.  It took a while for me to get around to reading this book/author, but I’m glad I finally did.  4.3 stars

Blood Enemy (The Long War for England – book 2) by Martin Lake

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An uneasy peace exists between Alfred and the Danish warlord, Guthrum, but there are other Danes with designs on Wessex.  In the continuation of Alfred’s quest to rule England; all of it, the author has wrought a tale of tested loyalties, difficult loves and the emotional stability of a warrior caught in a frenzied blood lust.  The twins, Ulf and Inga are now part of Alfred’s retinue and this story finds them learning who and what they are.  As in the other works by Martin Lake, I was drawn into the mindsets of the protagonists, in this case English and Dane, as each group struggles to maintain and increase their hold on English soil.  The history between Saxons and Danes is long and bloody, making any semblance of peace, compromise or acceptance virtually non-existent especially since the divisions are multiplied by religious fervor – reminds me of today actually.  The author superbly brings those challenges to the fore and has produced another delightful page turning journey into the making of England.  4.3 stars

Half Sick of Shadows by Richard Abbott

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First, a confession; my only exposure to the famous ballad, The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson, is the musical adaptation by Loreena McKennitt.  Perhaps I once had to read it for a class in school, but since my reading preference has always been prose, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that I have simply forgotten.  Anyroad, this adaptation takes the Arthurian legend and adds the author’s own personal touch; an adaptation that, while remaining true to the original’s basic story line, is reminiscent of the science fiction episodes I used to watch on Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone.  The progression of The Lady through the various stages of her existence, and the descriptions of the eras in which she awakes are masterfully told by the author.  The inner turmoil of The Lady, as she struggles with the Mirror to gain access to the people she comes in contact with, drives the tale as the Mirror cautions her time and again about the dangers involved.  The conclusion of the tale, though a heart rending scene, is also one of hope as The Lady finally finds out who she is.  Kudos to the author for a most interesting slant on this well known ballad.  4.7 stars

Killer of Kings by Matthew Harffy

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Beobrand, mighty warrior, lord of his own hall, leader of his own war band but still tormented by events in the past.  Sent by King Oswald on a seemingly innocent mission finds himself embroiled in war and conflict.  He also finds that the main tormentor, the man he has pledged to kill, is among the foes arrayed against him.  In this latest installment of The Bernicia Chronicles, the author has taken this rash, headstrong, Dark Age warrior, and as he has done throughout this series has turned up the angst, turned up the rash/reckless responses, and turned up the brooding melancholy. A short quote, “It seemed it was his wyrd to become that which he most despised.”

The author also exhibits his same flair for bringing the reader into the scene he is describing, whether it is Reaghan placating/pleading her goddess or Beobrand in the midst of sword-song.  Killer of Kings is a multi-layered, page turner; an excellent addition to what has become one of my favorite series.  4.6 stars

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Blurb:

AD 636. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the fourth instalment in The Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell.

Beobrand has land, men and riches. He should be content. And yet he cannot find peace until his enemies are food for the ravens. But before Beobrand can embark on his bloodfeud, King Oswald orders him southward, to escort holy men bearing sacred relics.

When Penda of Mercia marches a warhost into the southern kingdoms, Beobrand and his men are thrown into the midst of the conflict. Beobrand soon finds himself fighting for his life and his honour.

In the chaos that grips the south, dark secrets are exposed, bringing into question much that Beobrand had believed true. Can he unearth the answers and exact the vengeance he craves? Or will the blood-price prove too high, even for a warrior of his battle-fame and skill? 

Author info: 

Matthew grew up in Northumberland where the rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline had a huge impact on him He now lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

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