Sign of the White Foal by Chris Thorndycroft

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A generation after Hengest and Horsa carved out a kingdom in the east, a hero of the Britons rises in the west…

North Wales, 480 A.D. The sons of Cunedag have ruled Venedotia for fifty years but the chief of them – the Pendraig – is now dying. His sons Cadwallon and Owain must fight to retain their birthright from their envious cousins. As civil war consumes Venedotia, Arthur – a young warrior and bastard son of the Pendraig – is sent on a perilous quest that will determine the fate of the kingdom.

The Morgens; nine priestesses of the Mother Goddess have found the cauldron of rebirth – a symbol of otherworldly power – and have allied themselves with the enemy. Arthur and six companions are dispatched to the mysterious island of Ynys Mon to steal the cauldron and break the power of the Morgens. Along the way they run into the formidable Guenhuifar whose family have been stewards of Ynys Mon for generations. They need her help. The trouble is, Guenhuifar despises Arthur’s family and all they stand for…

Based on the earliest Arthurian legends, Sign of the White Foal is a rip-roaring adventure of Celtic myth and real history set in the ruins of post-Roman Britain.

REVIEW

You know what I love about Arthurian fiction? This – no matter what version of Arthur is being told – no matter the situation, or the time and place, a believable tale can be spun. In this intriguing tale, Arthur is the foster son of the Pendraig, the High King in Cmry, and has trained as a warrior, but as the story evolves it becomes evident that he is also a natural leader of men. In Sign of the White Foal the author has taken one of the oldest Arthurian texts and given us an exciting look at the harsh existence in post-Roman Briton. The seeming constant petty rivalries, the increasing threat from Gaelic invaders, and the conflict to claim the title of Pendraig. The story flows easily back and forth from Cadwallon’s battle to keep his crown, and the special mission undertaken by Arthur and his companions. The characters are real, their strengths, weaknesses, doubts and fears are all on display as the two story-lines gradually meld together. An enjoyable look at the beginnings of what promises to be a must read Arthurian series. 4 Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

 

 

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About the Author

Chris Thorndycroft is a British writer of historical fiction, horror and fantasy. His early short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies such as Dark Moon Digest and American Nightmare. His first novel under his own name was A Brother’s Oath; the first book in the Hengest and Horsa Trilogy. He also writes under the pseudonym P. J. Thorndyke.

For more information, please visit Chris Thorndycroft’s website. You can also find him on Twitter and Goodreads.

 

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Storm of Steel (Bernicia Chronicles #6) by Matthew Harffy

 

 

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AD 643. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the sixth installment in the Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell.

Heading south to lands he once considered his home, Beobrand is plunged into a dark world of piracy and slavery when an old friend enlists his help to recover a kidnapped girl.

Embarking onto the wind-tossed seas, Beobrand pursues his quarry with single-minded tenacity. But the Whale Road is never calm and his journey is beset with storms, betrayal and violence.

As the winds of his wyrd blow him ever further from what he knows, will Beobrand find victory on his quest or has his luck finally abandoned him?

REVIEW

While the previous books in this series have shown Beobrand in all sorts of dilemmas, and in a wide range of emotions, Storm of Steel has managed to raise the bar. The opposing forces within this warrior chieftain; anguish, pride, brutal in war and anger, generous and kind, are displayed throughout this absolute page turning episode of Dark Age Britain. As is expected in a time where violence and brutality are seemingly constant companions, the tale is full of action, a storm of steel. But what really makes this part of the saga most appealing to me is the depth of character Beobrand has become. Without giving anything away, the situations, the anguish, angst, frustration, and doubts Beobrand has to deal with make this tale tick. He is long past the inexperienced young warrior in book 1, and with every ordeal he becomes more human, less exalted. The rest of the cast ain’t too shabby either. The author continues his wonderful portrayal of the warrior band of brothers; their camaraderie, their fierce loyalty to their lord, their battle proven worthiness, their grief at the loss of a friend. Their mettle is tested again and again in this tale of rescue and revenge. Surprises aplenty as Beobrand navigates the tortuous path woven for him by The Norns.  5 stars

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About the author

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.

 Follow Matthew Harffy:    

Twitter: @MatthewHarffy

Facebook: @MatthewHarffyAuthor

Website: http://www.matthewharffy.com/

Buy links:

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Kobo: https://bit.ly/2IQsFWo

Google Play: https://bit.ly/2GEC8i9

iBooks: https://apple.co/2UQcr6Y

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Killer of Kings – The Bernicia Chronicles by Matthew Harffy

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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? 

REVIEW

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.  5 stars

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About the author

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.

 Follow Matthew Harffy:    

Twitter: @MatthewHarffy

Facebook: @MatthewHarffyAuthor

Website: http://www.matthewharffy.com/

Buy links:

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2IRI8W6

Kobo: https://bit.ly/2GC9YnM

Google Play: https://bit.ly/2W3G4y3

iBooks: https://apple.co/2ISjuF1

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Twitter: @aria_fiction

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Instagram: @ariafiction

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Guest Blog post

Why I chose to write about the Anglo-Saxon period

By Matthew Harffy

People often ask me why I chose to write about the Anglo-Saxon period. The answer to that question sounds like a typical author’s cliché answer, such as, ‘the characters have a life of their own’, ‘I cannot not write’, and, one of my favourites, ‘I don’t choose what the characters do, I just write their story as they tell it to me’. I have heard writers say all of the above in one form or another, and I have even said some of those things myself. I used to think they were all trite answers that authors would trot out in order to sound mysterious and intriguing. That is, until I became an author myself and realised that there is an element of truth in every one of them! I suppose that is the case with most clichés. And, as is so often the case with clichés, even though my answer to the question about how I decided on the period to write about sounds contrived, it is actually true.

You see, I didn’t set out to write about the seventh century. This early mediaeval period, often referred to as being in the Dark Ages, chose me.

I can remember the moment when the seed of the first book in the series, The Serpent Sword, was sown. That was one October night back in 2001. But before I get to that, I need to give a bit of my history which will explain why that seed took root.

My parents moved us all to Northumberland when I was nine years old. I didn’t have the easiest time at school there. Being from West Sussex, my accent marked me as an outsider, which the girls seemed to like and the boys appeared to hate. This resulted in me being popular with the girls and being bullied by many of the boys.

But even though school wasn’t always fun, I loved the countryside that surrounded the small village of Norham where we lived. Northumberland is much more rugged and sparsely populated than the south east of England and everywhere you turn there are reminders of the distant past. The village of Norham itself, nestling beside the broad expanse of the River Tweed, is overlooked by the crumbling ruins of a Norman castle and its mediaeval church once housed Robert the Bruce’s forces when they besieged the castle for seven months in 1318. The land is hilly and wild and the coastline is rocky and dotted with ruins, such as the picturesque and magnificent Dunstanburgh Castle, which sparked my youthful imagination.

One of the most famous castles on that coastline is Bamburgh. The fortress that stands on the mighty crag overlooking the North Sea is huge and built in a mediaeval style, having been significantly restored in the nineteenth century. But for a long time I never understood the castle’s significance to the region from long before it was a stone castle that played an important role in the fifteenth century Wars of the Roses.

We moved away from the area when I was still a child, but it had a lasting effect upon me and my view on the world. I remained interested in the natural world and also in castles and the people who had lived in them. Growing up in the eighties, I became obsessed with fantasy novels and films and played role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons, where larger-than-life characters battled evil creatures with swords, spears, shields and magic.

Years went by and so it was in 2001, with my first daughter asleep in her cot and my wife working late, that I found myself watching a documentary on television about Bamburgh Castle and graves which archaeologists were excavating there. The graves dated from the seventh century and earlier and the programme spoke of the importance of Bamburgh, or Bebbanburg as it was known then, in the early mediaeval period. This was the time of the Anglo-Saxons, whom I knew little about at the time. Bebbanburg was the capital of the northern kingdom of Bernicia. I had never heard of such a place, but in the seventh and eighth centuries Bernicia and its neighbouring kingdom Deira, which when unified became Northumbria, were some of the most important kingdoms of the British Isles and even of Europe!

That television programme gave me a brief glimpse into the past of a landscape that I hadn’t visited for twenty years. And something about it spoke to me. I rushed upstairs and started to write the first scene of what would become, many years of research and writing later, the first novel of the Bernicia Chronicles, The Serpent Sword.

As my writing and research continued over the ensuing years, I discovered that the period was perfect for writing epic, gripping thrillers. Good stories need conflict and the seventh century is full of it. You have the Anglo-Saxons invading from the east battling with the native Britons who they referred to as the Welsh (which derives from the Old English for foreigner!). There is the clash between old pagan religions and Christianity. And there is even the conflict between the Roman Christianity coming from the south, and the Irish form of Christianity, spreading from the west and the north. Most of the kings of the time died in battle and there was subterfuge and intrigue aplenty. On top of all of that, there were very few written records, meaning there is a lot of leeway for a novelist to create original stories. I realised that I was able to write stories that indulged my love of swords and battles and great heroes, grounding them in a real historical time and place. The only real difference from the fantasy books and games I loved was that there were no dragons and no magic, though of course, the people of the time believed in both.

And so you see, I did not make the decision to write about the early Anglo-Saxon period. If I hadn’t lived in Northumberland as a child, perhaps that television documentary would never have resonated with me in the way that it did. But as I look back, I am so pleased that my parents chose to move to Northumberland, as without that experience the seeds for The Serpent Sword might never have found fertile ground in my mind and I’m sure that my life would have been much less interesting and rewarding as a result.

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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 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

The Dane Law by Garth Pettersen

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After a peaceful year running their Frisian estate, Harald and Selia are called to Engla-lond.

Their return is marked by violence and intrigue. The king has vowed to Queen Emma that their son, Harthacnute, will inherit the throne, but the atheling is cruel and reckless. Many view Harald as the better choice, which makes him a target for the unseen supporters of his half-brother. King Cnute urges Harald to be prepared to assume the throne should Harthacnute prove inadequate. Harald resists being swept up by forces beyond his control, but doubts he will survive the reign of King Hartha.

And what of his older brother, Sweyn?

REVIEW

Oh, the lengths one will go to if one longs for the crown, either for them self or their progeny. The Dane Law, as the blurb indicates, is the story of King Cnute’s sons and the tough decision to choose his successor. Well, that’s the main plot.  The author has crafted a tale that is so much more than that. It is also a love story, a story of determination and survival, a story of the duplicitous nature that is a royal court.  And, oh what a duplicitous lot of characters we have, my peeps.  Mind you, not all of the main characters are shady, unscrupulous, and single minded, but they sure make for an interesting, enjoyable, entertaining read.  Of the many things that I have found over the years that I’ve been reading and reviewing books, is the utmost pleasure derived from well developed characters, and The Dane Law certainly fulfills that criteria.  Of course, I felt like punching out the evildoer or at least screaming at their evil deeds and intentions, a sure sign that the author has done their job. 🙂

Another aspect of The Dane Law that, as a historian, I really appreciated was the use of  contemporary spellings of names and places. To me that reinforces the whole idea that England has such a long and varied history, and how that place evolved over the centuries to become what is is today, and the many other cultures influenced by that evolution. I might not know how to pronounce some of the names and places, however, I enjoy reading them all the same.  So, my dear reader prepare for a far flung adventure that has one turning pages in anticipation of what comes next in this tale, a lead up event to the Godwinson/William confrontation.  5 stars

Glass Island by Gareth Griffith

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Dark Age Britain – the Romans have gone, the Saxons are coming, the native Britons are in trouble. An exhilarating, yet tragic tale awaits you, dear reader; one that has it’s basis in the thin historical record of the period and that is expertly applied in a fictional context that is as believable as to seem like the truth. The author has given such life to the characters and a view of the world they lived in that makes one think this is the way it might have been. I was especially intrigued by the strong female presence among the male dominated warrior society and that they made a huge difference in the lives of their people, either by healing, guidance or even in warfare. The pivotal battle against the marauding Saxon’s (without giving away too much) is an excellent example of the author’s ability to make the reader feel a part of the chaos and turmoil; an aching with every loss is felt through the written words.  It is also a tale of resilience in the face of tremendous loss and an uncertain future – a tale of an age that was brutal, where only the strong survive. 4 Stars

Conrad Monk and the Great Heathen Army by Edoardo Albert

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A delightful tale of a rather unusual monk and his attempts to get rich while avoiding the Danish horde that is running roughshod over Britain. Conrad is a schemer, always ready with a plan; which is a good thing as his plans have a way of not going according to plan. His companion, Brother Odo, a very devout monk, unwavering in his faith in God and in Conrad’s plan(s), provides much of the mirth while also provoking sympathy from the reader. The author has crafted an entertaining version of the Danes – the sons of Ragnar; Ivarr, Ubba, and Halfdan – and the eventual clash with Aethelred and Alfred. I particularly enjoy historical-fiction when the historical events are written in such a way that the fictional aspect; the interaction of the fictional characters with the historical, the way that the story is tweaked to allow the reader to think, “Yeah, it could have happened that way.” Conrad Monk and The Great Heathen Army did just that while also sparking periodic chuckles and chortles from this amused reader.  4 stars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wolves of War by Martin Lake

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In Wolves of War, Mr. Lake has once again given us a tale of an intriguing time in Britain’s history.  The Danes, under the leadership of Ivar the Boneless have come to Britain’s shores; this time it’s not a raid and run endeavor, this time they’ve come to stay. The story revolves around the quick witted brother of a renowned blacksmith; not your typical Viking warrior, and his unexpected rise in Ivar’s retinue of advisers.  Buoyed by a host of wonderful characters, both fictional (Leif,Thorvald, Aebbe) and historical (Ivar, Guthrum, the Kings of Northumbria, Mercia, Wessex, and East Anglia), the reader is taken on an emotionally charged voyage as Leif embarks on an unexpected journey; one that will see him find love, and happiness, as well as a full slate of unwanted, dangerous troubles. One of the historical aspects I really enjoyed is the appearance of a younger Alfred, before he became ‘The Great’.  The author has written about him in prior books, but this time it provides insight to his character; his piety, his lustful nature, his politically sagacious mind. All in all an enjoyable, entertaining read of a pivotal era in Britain’s long history.  4 stars