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

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The Flame Before Us by Richard Abbott

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Being what you may call an amateur historian since my teens, oh those many years ago, I am always looking for material, whether non-fiction or fiction, to feed me; to teach me.  This series by Richard Abbot has been an eye opener regarding the area of the Near East, Palestine, The Levant; whatever you want to call it.  So many groups have either settled there or held sway over it through the centuries and in The Flame Before Us they all meet.  Wilios or Troy has finally fallen after a prolonged siege and while it is still up for debate and discussion as to what happened to the invaders after the war; while there were some who returned to their homes across The Aegean Sea, others remained and drifted south to find new lands to call home.  That is the crux of book 3 as these mysterious Sea Peoples come into contact with, in some cases violently, with the Kinahny, the Hittite, the Ibriym, the Mitsriy; in short the whole gamut of Old Testament peoples.  The author has crafted a tale filled with memorable characters and has given us a glimpse into the possibilities of so many disparate groups coming together in a region that has seen nothing but strife even unto today.  From the noble, nose in the air, Egyptians to the settlements of peasants to the nomadic clans, we have a tale of loss, hardship, and hope as cultures collide and times change.  Kudos to the author for a most enjoyable series.  I look forward to more.  5 stars

 

Scenes From a Life by Richard Abbott

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Scenes From A Life is a most apt title for this multi-layered tale of ancient Egypt and Canaan.  Makty-Rasut is a scribe who fashions scenes from the lives of his clients on the walls of their tombs.  The narrative is also setup to give the readers glimpses into the scenes from his life as he attempts to understand the vivid dreams he has.  His journey up and down the Nile and finally to
Canaan leads him to find what he lost in the past(won’t say more about that-no spoilers)… The author, as he did in the first book in the series, In A Milk and Honeyed Land, describes what life was like in 1200 BC in exquisite detail and brings to life the culture of the Nile Valley and of the hill country to the north.  Full of emotional highs and lows the story unfolds a tapestry woven with all the pieces that make up what it is to be human, then and now.  If you’re looking for some well written historical fiction about an era not as well covered as say, ancient Greece or Rome, then I cannot recommend highly enough this series by Richard Abbott.  I will be going on to book three as quick as I can.  5 stars.

About the author:

Richard lives in London, England and writes about the ancient middle east – Egypt, Canaan and Israel. His interest began with a study of how styles of literature and poetry were shared cross-culturally in the Late Bronze and early Iron Ages. Having taken those studies as far as he wanted on an academic level, he switched to using the material as background for historical fiction. In a Milk and Honeyed Land and its successors sprang out of the desire to tell the stories of ordinary town and village life of those days, rather than the exploits of kings and conquerors.

He works professionally in IT quality assurance. When not writing words or computer code, he enjoys spending time with family, walking, and wildlife, ideally combining all three pursuits in the English Lake District.

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The Black Stone by Nick Brown

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Over the course of the last few years I have delved into quite a few books that are parts of a series.  The Agent of Rome series by Nick Brown being one of the best of them.  The Black Stone, the fourth book in the series, continues the adventures of Cassius Corbulo, his slave/attendant Simo and his bodyguard Indavara.  In this tale they are on the trail of the mysterious black stone, an ancient object of worship that has been stolen and one that the Emperor Aurelian really wants back.  The thief has it taken to a very remote spot in the Hejaz Mountains in Arabia where he is building a cult following for a sun god and where he is also fomenting rebellion among the nomadic tribes against Rome.  The narrative brings out a perfect feel for the inhospitable, treacherous and dangerous terrain Corbulo and his crew must cross just to get to the location.  Corbulo is not your typical Roman soldier; he is not a warrior, but a deeply sensitive and very intelligent man and it takes all of his smarts to outwit his foes.

One of the things an author must accomplish in any series of books that utilize the same main characters is a continuing sense of character development.  Nick Brown passes this test with flying colors.  The reader gets to know more and more about the three companions as the relationships between them are tested; to the limit in some instances, and one does not know until the end if they pass those tests.  Another strength of the author, the drama and intrigue of the plot, held me spellbound during the climatic last half of the book.  Once again I raise my coffee cup in salute for another masterful story and cannot wait to start on book five.  5 stars.

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The Holy Lance by Andrew Latham

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When going through my “to be read” list of books to choose which one to read next, I often allow myself to be swayed by the chatter on various social media outlets.  The Holy Lance was one of those where the chatter almost compelled me to read it.  One of the things that drew me in was the fact that the author is an acclaimed historian; something that I have found to enhance any historical-fiction they write.  Besides, I like to support those who have taken up the profession of Historian as I am a self acclaimed amateur one (was my major in college back in the early 70’s).  Now, when you couple all of that with the history of the region and the current climate of terror and hatred, it became a no brainer to read a book about the Crusade under Richard the Lionheart.

Rumor has it that the spear that pierced the side of Jesus was hidden away in a remote Lazar House deep in Saracen held territory.  Richard wants it; his rivals want to keep it from him; Saladin wants to keep it from any Crusader.  This sets up a remarkable tale of a troop of Templars led by Michael Fitz Alan who infiltrate Saracen territory in order to claim the relic for Richard.  The main protagonist, Fitz Alan, is a mighty warrior of Christ, fearless in his pursuit of and in the killing of the unbelievers.  He is also possessed of a troubled mind and soul who struggles each day with his past.  This is one of the strong points in the book, the author’s portrayal of these Templar Knights as men who hold firmly to the belief that their very souls depend on strict adherence to their Rule.  The story is replete with exciting action, dramatic turns of events and in my opinion gives a brief on why we continue to war in that area of the world to this day.  A 5 star effort for this, the first book in the series.  Hooverbookreviews says, ‘get ready to read, you may learn something.’  🙂

About the author:

Knox Robinson author Andrew A. Latham is an award-winning professor of International Relations who regularly teaches courses in medieval political thought, international relations, and war.  Trained as a Political Scientist, Latham has spent the last decade-and-a-half researching political violence in the Middle Ages.  He has written scholarly articles on medieval war, the crusades, jihad, and the political thought of Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas.  His most recent book is a work of non-fiction entitled Theorizing Medieval Geopolitics: War and World Order in the Age of the Crusades.
Latham was born in England, raised in Canada and currently lives in the United States.  He graduated from York University in Toronto with a BA (Honours) in Political Science; later he earned an MA from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario; and later yet, he earned a PhD from his alma mater, York.
Latham is a member of the Historical Novel Society, the Historical Writers’ Association and De Re Militari: The Society For Medieval Military History.
Since 1997 Latham has been a member of the Political Science Department at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where he where he lives with his wife Wendy, daughter Bernadette and son Michael.

In a Milk and Honeyed Land by Richard Abbott

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I was drawn to this novel simply because of the time period and the locale.  I enjoy reading about the early history of the ancient Near East. My first real exposure to that area was as a freshman in college and the mesmerizing and thoroughly entertaining Professor Milton Covensky and the textbook he wrote, The Ancient Near East Tradition.  Of course, that was a historical perspective, in the world of historical-fiction, the series by Sam Barone, The Eskkar Saga provided an interesting take on the Tigris-Euphrates civilizations.  In A Milk and Honeyed Land gives us a sterling portrayal of the Canaanite hill country in 1200 BCE; a time of change in the region.  The influence of Egypt is waning as new forces enter the land.  These forces being the Ibriym(Hebrews) under the leadership of Joshua.

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The story offers a glimpse into the everyday life of the four towns, Gibeon, Kephirah, Beeroth and Kiriath Jearim(in the book they are named Giybon,Kephrath,Meyim and Jarrar’s Town) that have bonded together in a matrilineal society.  In the Old Testament they are known collectively as the Gibeonites.  Much of the story centers around the seers or priests of the towns, in particular the seer of Kephrath, Damariel.  I found this to be a very moving narrative of the people in their daily lives; the struggles, the joys, the times of celebration and the times of sorrow.  Damariel is a wonderful character and it is through his eyes we learn of the ritual religious practices of the people, the high places and standing stones.  The author’s use of dialogue is especially touching and his descriptive narration is spot on.  Mr. Abbott certainly did his homework and his extensive research is evident throughout.  I went into this book not knowing what to expect as both the author and the subject matter were new to me.  What I came away with is a better understanding of what life was like in a time and place that was integral in the rise of much of Western civilization. I also came away with the knowledge that I have another series of tales to follow…Scenes from a Life and The Flame Before Us are now on my to be read pile.

5 stars and a ‘You have to read this ‘ Hooverbkreview recommendation.

About the author:

Richard lives in London, England and writes about the ancient middle east – Egypt, Canaan and Israel. His interest began with a study of how styles of literature and poetry were shared cross-culturally in the Late Bronze and early Iron Ages. Having taken those studies as far as he wanted on an academic level, he switched to using the material as background for historical fiction. In a Milk and Honeyed Land and its successors sprang out of the desire to tell the stories of ordinary town and village life of those days, rather than the exploits of kings and conquerors.

He works professionally in IT quality assurance. When not writing words or computer code, he enjoys spending time with family, walking, and wildlife, ideally combining all three pursuits in the English Lake District.

Outcasts by Martin Lake

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This is a most interesting and thought provoking entry by Martin Lake.  Jerusalem is under siege by a Muslim horde led by Saladin and is being defended by the respected knight, Balian.  With so few knights to defend the city, Balian bestows knighthood on ordinary peasants and that has unexpected results for those who survive the fall of Jerusalem.  The tale follows the separate paths that the main characters have to follow in order to survive or to seek out their loved ones.  One of the more salient features of the story is how the new ‘knights’ are treated by their fellow Christians as opposed to how they are treated by their Muslim captors.

The story is full of the descriptive talent I’ve come to enjoy from Mr. Lake as he takes the reader on a journey to many of the historical sites of that part of the world, Jerusalem, Tyre, Antioch & Baghdad, for example.  The author has also given us many great characters to grow fond of or to despise.  I enjoyed this tale of the seemingly endless conflicts to control The Middle East and I am looking forward to finding out what happens to the characters as the story continues in the sequel.  4 stars.