The Blood of Princes (The Craft of Kings #2) by Derek Birks

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A savage tale of love, treason and betrayal.
A bloody struggle for power at the heart of the royal court.

In April 1483, the sudden death of King Edward IV brings his 12 year old son to the throne.
Restless young lord and ex-mercenary John Elder is newly-appointed to the service of Edward, Prince of Wales, and charged with the boy’s safety. His first task, escorting the new king to London for his coronation, seems a simple one but the accession of a boy king raises concerns among the leading noblemen of the land.
As old jealousies and feuds are rekindled, the new king’s uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, seizes control and plunges the kingdom into crisis. But is Gloucester young Edward’s enemy, or saviour?
While John, outlawed and trapped, must wait to see how events unfold, other members of the battle-scarred Elder family are drawn, one by one, into his conspiracy. Soon they are mired so deep in the murky underbelly of London society, that there seems no hope of escape from the tangle of intrigue and murder.
In the end, all lives will hang upon the outcome of a daring incursion into the Tower of London itself.

REVIEW

I’m of the opinion that if you Google the phrase “adrenaline rush”, you should be directed to a page describing Derek Birks’ fictional 15th century family, The Elders. Throughout the tales in both the Rebels and Brothers series, and in the Craft of Kings, the reader is treated to intense emotional upheaval, traumatizing losses, hopeless situations; and yet the Elders persevere in the face of all the changes and challenges. I may have stated in my review of one of the prior books, that Eleanor Elder is at the top of a long list of my favorite fictional characters…after reading The Blood of Princes, I now have to add Lady Margaret Elder (Meg).

It’s tough enough being proclaimed an ‘outlaw’. Now, John Elder faces impossible tasks,.. keeping his family intact, rescuing Tower imprisoned Princes of the Realm, and by the way, staying alive. Book 2 is a certified roller-coaster ride through the transition from Edward IV to his son; but wait, there’re more contestants to the throne, more loyalties tested, more oaths sworn or forsaken, and a whole lot more danger to life and limb. The author has once again delivered the entire package, so dear reader, fasten your seat belts. The adrenaline is about to start coursing through your veins.  5 stars

 

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The Reaper’s Kiss (The Ripper Legacies Book 3) by Robert Southworth

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London 1891
Sir Simeon Harkness has joined his son in the pursuit of the infamous killer. With his resources, it is not long before the scent of new lines of investigation are detected. The Ripper can feel the oppressive breath of his pursuers upon his skin. He must hide his tracks and remove those that once called him master. The hunt is on but the Ripper will not go quietly to the gallows.

REVIEW 

True confession time. I know very little about the real Jack the Ripper, only that it has remained a mystery to this day. Therefore, based on that scant amount of knowledge, I can, without a doubt, or fear of recrimination, state that the version of The Ripper portrayed in Mr. Southworth’s series is real enough for me.😎  The Reaper’s Kiss, the finale of the three, is a page turner filled with wonderfully descriptive scenarios, as the search for the evasive Cronus cult leads to many places, and to many treacheries. Surprises? Oh my, yes, there are many of those. The kind of surprises that makes one put the book down for a moment to regain ones composure. Camaraderie, lost friends, brutal action, plain old nasty villains, long hid emotions; yes my fellow readers, The Reaper’s Kiss is an excellent ending to a well done series. 5 stars

 

 

 

The Alchemist of Lost Souls (Bianca Goddard Mysteries, #4) by Mary Lawrence

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A dangerous element discovered by Bianca Goddard’s father falls into the wrong hands . . . leading to a chain of multiple murders.

Spring 1544 Now that she is with child, Bianca is more determined than ever to distance herself from her unstable father. Desperate to win back the favor of King Henry VIII, disgraced alchemist Albern Goddard plans to reveal a powerful new element he’s discovered–one with deadly potential. But when the substance is stolen, he is panicked and expects his daughter to help.

Soon after, a woman’s body is found behind the Dim Dragon Inn, an eerie green vapor rising from her breathless mouth. To her grave concern, Bianca has reason to suspect her own mother may be involved in the theft and the murder. As her husband John is conscripted into King Henry’s army to subdue Scottish resistance, Bianca must navigate a twisted and treacherous path among alchemists, apothecaries, chandlers, and scoundrels–to find out who among them is willing to kill to possess the element known as lapis mortem, the stone of death . . .

REVIEW

I’ve read a few novels that take place during the reign of Henry VIII, and have watched the Tudor series on Netflix.  The Alchemist of Lost Souls (and the earlier books in the Bianca Goddard series) is a definite departure from the Royal Court and the mercurial antics of Henry. The author paints a vivid picture of life in the least desirable haunts of London and the precarious and often violent existence of the folk who live there. Colorful characters abound in this fascinating mystery, and what is especially nice is their usage of the language of the times, the idioms, the curses, the names etc,etc. I was captured from page one, the ongoing mystery with many twists and turns, surprises, and a peculiar denizen of the Thames, The Rat Man. The main character, Bianca, daughter of an alchemist, finds herself enmeshed in solving a series of crimes that have implications involving friends and family, all the while experiencing her first pregnancy, with her husband away with Henry’s army. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this wonderfully descriptive, and creative tale. The only problem is that this is book four of the series, and now I have to go back and read the first three.  Oh wait, that’s not a problem, that’s three future treats for me to devour. 🙂  5 stars

 

 

The Beaufort Bride: The Life of Margaret Beaufort (Beaufort Chronicles #1) by Judith Arnopp

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As King Henry VI slips into insanity and the realm of England teeters on the brink of civil war, a child is married to the mad king’s brother. Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, takes his child bride into Wales where she discovers a land of strife and strangers.
At Caldicot Castle and Lamphey Palace Margaret must put aside childhood, acquire the dignity of a Countess and, despite her tender years, produce Richmond with a son and heir.
While Edmund battles to restore the king’s peace, Margaret quietly supports his quest; but it is a quest fraught with danger.
As the friction between York and Lancaster intensifies 14-year-old Margaret, now widowed, turns for protection to her brother-in-law, Jasper Tudor. At his stronghold in Pembroke, two months after her husband’s death, Margaret gives birth to a son whom she names Henry, after her cousin the king.
Margaret is small of stature but her tiny frame conceals a fierce and loyal heart and a determination that will not falter until her son’s destiny as the king of England is secured.
The Beaufort Bride traces Margaret’s early years from her nursery days at Bletsoe Castle to the birth of her only son in 1457 at Pembroke Castle. Her story continues in Book Two: The Beaufort Woman.

REVIEW

Growing up in America, my education did not include learning too much about British kings, the exception being George III, and perhaps Alfred. The Tudors were not common fare for our  history books notwithstanding Henry VIII and his six wives, a failing that I have remedied the last few years through historical-fiction novels (and the subsequent research those tales inspire.) The story of Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, is poignantly told in The Beaufort Bride. She lived in an age when girls of the noble classes were often deprived of any control over their lives, subjected to an unknown future with a husband they may have never met. The author does a superb job rendering that fear, that uncertainty, that determination to survive in the character of a 13 year old girl, a pawn in the game of courtly politics. In an easy flowing narrative, we follow the life of Margaret as she comes to grips with her lot in life and the circumstances that place her and her child in the dangerous world of royal succession. I was captivated by this seemingly powerless, and fragile child as she struggled and succeeded to make the best of her situation, and the despair she felt when that situation was shattered.

I enjoy the heck out of books that keep me turning the pages long after the time I’ve allotted for reading, and this is one of those. Looking forward to continuing Margaret’s story. 4 stars

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Uther’s Destiny by Tim Walker

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Late fifth century Britannia recoils in shock at the murder of charismatic High King, Ambrosius Aurelianus, and looks to his brother and successor, Uther, to continue his work in leading the resistance to barbarian invaders. Uther’s destiny as a warrior king seems set until his world is turned on its head when his burning desire to possess the beautiful Ygerne leads to conflict. Could the fate of his kingdom hang in the balance as a consequence?

Court healer and schemer, Merlyn, sees an opportunity in Uther’s lustful obsession to fulfil the prophetic visions that guide him. He is encouraged on his mission by druids who align their desire for a return to ancient ways with his urge to protect the one destined to save the Britons from invaders and lead them to a time of peace and prosperity. Merlyn must use his wisdom and guile to thwart the machinations of an enemy intent on foiling his plans.

Meanwhile, Saxon chiefs Octa and Ælla have their own plans for seizing the island of Britannia and forging a new colony of Germanic tribes. Can Uther rise above his family problems and raise an army to oppose them?

Book three in A Light in the Dark Ages series, Uther’s Destiny is an historical fiction novel set in the Fifth Century – a time of myths and legends that builds to the greatest legend of all – King Arthur and his knights.

This book is preceded in the series by Abandoned (book one) and Ambrosius: Last of the Romans (book two).

REVIEW

Most of the Arthurian tales I read when I was younger, such as The Crystal Cave series by Mary Stewart (which I thought was magnificent), or saw via movies or TV (Richard Harris’ Camelot), dwelt on the mythical for the most part. Uther’s Destiny while it is certainly comprised of those mythical bits, it is also a stark look at post-Roman Britain; the vacuum left with the departure of the legions, and the very real danger of being overrun by the Angles/Saxons/Jutes etc who rushed in to fill that vacuum.  The author’s portrayal of Uther; a complicated man firmly rooted in the 5th century, a king weighed down with the prospect of losing Britain to the invaders, but also a king with the smarts and tenacity to succeed. Indeed, the characters in this tale from Merlyn, to the proud knights, the scheming Morganna, and the treacherous Pascent all do their part to make this an enjoyable read. Also woven into the plot is the inevitable clash of the old religion with Christianity and Uther’s juggling of the two as needed. So, dear reader, immerse yourself in The Dark Ages, and prepare for the enlightenment to come in the person of Artorious.  4 stars

The Raven and the Cross by C.R. May

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The North: 937AD – Three years have passed since the English king Athelstan bribed treacherous jarls to take Erik’s half-brother as king in Norway.

Forced from his kingdom, Erik Bloodaxe returns to the Viking ways of his youth. Warlords are driven from Danish lands, Saxony burns, and Dublin falls to a brutal assault before the prow beasts of Erik’s fleet turn south to stalk the seas off Al-Andalus.

As Erik’s reputation as a battle winner spreads his sons grow to manhood, and together they carve a new kingdom to rule from the islands which gird Britain’s north-west.

But Bloodaxe is not alone in suffering the Imperial ambitions of the southern English, and when a half-remembered figure leads a Northumbrian deputation to the king’s Orkney fastness, events are set in motion which will lure Erik south to face his greatest test.

The Raven and the Cross continues the turbulent story of Erik Haraldsson, a legendary king of the Viking Age.

REVIEW

An exciting sequel to Bloodaxe, Eric is a little older now. A bit more mature, a bit more pragmatic, without dulling the warrior within. The author portrays this formidable son of Harald Fairhair at the height of his battle prowess, and his abilities as a leader, who inspires not just loyalty from his people, but also love as well.  The underlying thread in book 2 is the fulfillment of a prophecy Erik had received as a young man. It was prophesied that Eric would be a king five times. He and his retinue do a fair bit of traveling in this tale, gaining wealth and prestige, as well as getting closer to achieving that prophetic number. Page turning drama, characters who give life to an era shrouded in mystery, and the coming clash of the old religion(s) versus the Cross of Christ, all this and more awaits you my dear readers. 4 stars

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The Brotherhood of the Black Flag: A Novel of the Golden Age of Piracy by Ian Nathaniel Cohen

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Michael McNamara has one last chance to fight for king and country.
His once-promising career in tatters, McNamara leaves the newly-United Kingdom behind in search of a new life. With no other skills but the sword, he joins forces with a pirate turned pirate hunter determined to rid the Caribbean of the Brotherhood of the Black Flag once and for all.

Eager for the adventure and a worthy cause to fight for, McNamara pits himself against treacherous seas and battle-hardened buccaneers…and uncovers an international conspiracy that threatens thousands of lives.

The Golden Age of Piracy is about to end…but not without one final reckoning.

REVIEW

A swashbuckling tale with an intriguing plot awaits you my fellow readers. An interesting array of well drawn characters fill the pages from the main protagonists to the bit players giving the story an authenticity that held my interest from page one.  The action, both on land and especially at sea, is well conceived. The author has done his homework on the workings of 18th century ships, and the nuances involved in a well fought sword duel. The plot, the redemption of a notorious pirate and his bid to rid the seas of those who still rain death and destruction flying the Black Flag, is well played, and full of twists and turns which leads to a very exciting conclusion. Yes, a swashbuckling delight indeed. 4 Stars

Lord of the Sea Castle (The Invader Series Book 2) by Ruadh Butler

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It is 1170 – a tumultuous time for the people of Wales, England and Ireland. Raymond de Carew is in love, but the woman he desires is an earl’s daughter and so far above his station that he has no hope of ever winning her.  However, Raymond’s lord has a mission for him: one that if it succeeds will put an Irish king back on his throne and prove Raymond worthy – for in Norman society, a man can rise as high as his skill with a sword can take him.  With only a hundred men at his side, Raymond must cross the ocean to Ireland ahead of his mercenary lord’s invasion. There he will face the full might of the Viking city of Waterford… and either his deeds will become legend or he will be trampled into dust. The second volume in the thrilling Invader series.

REVIEW

Raymond de Carew has a lot thrown at him in this rousing tale of love, loyalty, loss, and lots of nasty Gaels. It is a well crafted, complex story line, complete with a host of nationalities all competing for wealth and power – English, Welsh, Irish-Gael, Norse-Gael, and Norman. The author has succeeded in presenting these varied peoples in the wonderfully drawn characters that populate this tale. Raymond is a perfect example of this – a true leader of men, yet the complexities of his duty to Strongbow and the results of the many events he is involved in, cannot help but forge doubts and frustration.

An action filled tale from start to finish, with the final quarter of the book being absolute page turning anticipation as Raymond’s foothold on Irish soil is faced with certain destruction by some of those nasty Gaels.  Yes, my fellow readers, twists and turns abound in this highly entertaining novel, and it will continue in the next volume of this series. There is much yet to be decided.  🙂     4 Stars

The Sugar Merchant by James Hutson-Wiley

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When Thomas’s family is annihilated in a raid, his life changes forever. Wandering for days, starving and hopeless, he is rescued by a monk and is taken to live at the abbey of Eynsham. There he receives a curious education, training to be a scholar, a merchant and a spy. His mission: to develop commerce in Muslim lands and dispatch vital information to the Holy See.
His perilous adventures during the 11th century’s commercial revolution will take him far from his cloistered life to the great trading cities of Almeria, Amalfi, Alexandria and Cairo.

But the world in which he lives is chaotic. Struggling with love and loss, faith and fortune, can Thomas carry out his secret mission before conflict overtakes him?

Spanning the tumultuous medieval worlds of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, The Sugar Merchant is a tale of clashing cultures, massive economic change and one man’s determination to fulfill his destiny.

The 11th century world through which Thomas Woodward travels is changing; marked by the emergence of a disruptive commercial revolution. In the Mediterranean, the great Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam meet, often in cooperation and peace but, at times, in bloody conflict. It is an era of migration, globalism and multiculturalism leading to a robust interchange of technology, ideas and the basic tools of international trade. But, the interests of the Christian west are on a collision course with those of the Muslim world. War is coming. The Church is rallying the nobles of Europe to embark on an ‘armed pilgrimage’ to reclaim the Holy Land. Now, Thomas and his Muslim and Jewish partners’ lucrative sugar trade is in jeopardy. Thomas’s own secret and dangerous mission, directed from Rome, will become filled with even greater peril.

REVIEW

An intriguing tale of the 11th century, one that takes in bits of history that are not usual fare for this reviewer. The world of commerce, the world of mingling religions, the world of manuscript preservation – all of these story lines blended into the adventures of one remarkable protagonist, Thomas Woodward. The author gives a finely detailed look at not only the intricacies of world trade, but also the climatic clashes of the three “peoples of the book”, and the magnitude of the changes wrought by that clash.  While the main focus is on the trading enterprise, the huge demand for the new sensation, sugar being the ingredient that brings success to Thomas and his partners, it is also a cloak and dagger (or in Thomas’ case, a staff) espionage tale that adds a nice element of entertainment to the narrative. An excellent weaving of history and story telling, the reader is drawn into the inner turmoil Thomas experiences as his business success threatens his mortal soul. I recommend The Sugar Merchant – a delightful, yet thought provoking tale.  4 stars

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The Druid by Steven A. McKay

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Northern Britain, AD430

A land in turmoil. A village ablaze. A king’s daughter abducted.

In the aftermath of a surprise attack Dun Buic lies in smoking ruins and many innocent villagers are dead. As the survivors try to make sense of the night’s events the giant warrior-druid, Bellicus, is tasked with hunting down the raiders and thwarting their dark purpose.

With years of training in the old ways, two war-dogs at his side, and unsurpassed skill with a longsword, Bellicus’s quest will take him on a perilous journey through lands still struggling to cope with the departure of the Roman legions.

Meanwhile, amongst her brutal captors the little princess Catia finds an unlikely ally, but even he may not be able to avert the terrible fate King Hengist has in store for her.

This, the first volume in a stunning new series from the bestselling author of Wolf’s Head, explores the rich folklore and culture of post-Roman Britain, where blood-sacrifice, superstition and warfare were as much a part of everyday life as love, laughter and song.

As Saxon invaders and the new Christian religion seek to mould the country for their own ends one man will change the course of Britain’s history forever. . .

. . . THE DRUID.

REVIEW

When an author embarks on a new journey, a new set of stories and characters, it is a somewhat risky proposition. Can the author carry over the same creativity, the same character development, the same blend of historical authenticity and believable fiction. In The Druid, Mr. McKay has successfully ticked all of those boxes. It is at once a thrilling adventure, a romp through a volatile period of Britain’s history, but it is also a character driven tale. Bellicus is a complex man; a warrior, a healer, a teacher, a bard, a spiritual leader in an age where his kind are on the decline. The task awaiting him tests all of his abilities and his emotions as events unfold. One of the features I enjoyed was the inclusion of Merlin (or, more correctly The Merlin), and Arthur as important bit characters. Stripped of the more mythical renderings, they are more down to earth, so to speak.

So, my dear readers, if you were wondering if The Druid would be a continuation of the excellence in McKay’s Forest Lord series, wonder no more. 5 stars