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
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
One of the things that really draws me to historical-fiction is the vast array of times, places and subjects that can be written about. My first love will always be set in ancient times; be it Greece, Rome, Gaul, Britain; etc. Then there are times and places that haven’t been as prevalent in hist-fic novels; A Dance of Pride and Peril is one of those. Crete, 4000 years ago, was one of the earliest civilizations to crop up in the ancient world and Martin Lake has given us a wonderful tale about that island, the people and their beliefs. I first encountered bull leaping/dancing in Mary Renault’s A King Must Die and have periodically wondered why more authors hadn’t given that period a go, as it was certainly a fascinating place. Mr. Lake gives us the story of a young girl who is sold to a bull leaping school to learn to dance for the audiences who come to see the boys leap over bulls (and we’re not talking ordinary bulls; we’re talking aurochs; fierce, giant, temperamental beasts. The main character, Talita, is a determined, willful girl and the story of her enslavement and the way she deals with the various problems and situations she finds herself in, is beautifully told. The author also paints a vivid picture of that ancient civilization and also of Kemet (Egypt), bringing to life a time and place that would eventually be a great contributors to the future of that region. 4 stars
The final book in Martin Lake’s series The Lost King continues the story of Edgar Aetheling, the uncrowned King of England and his struggles to survive the machinations of William and his Norman conquest of England. While I enjoyed the first three books, this one I enjoyed the most. The author has superbly crafted a tale that grabs the reader’s attention and doesn’t let go. The characters come to life and in so doing, immerse the reader in the 11th century and the daily struggle to survive the whims and paranoia of England’s new masters. This is especially true in regards to Edgar who throughout the tale is beset with doubt, frustration, and emotional turmoil as he tries to choose the correct path to pursue his destiny. Learning to tread the tightrope walk set before him by William and his nobles without falling, Edgar’s tale is an extreme balancing act that not only threatens his life but also of his friends and loved ones. Martin Lake has produced a series that provides a glimpse of the good and of the evils of human nature; the greed, the betrayals, the lust and the love that marked not only that period but of all human history. 5 stars
I was privileged to get an advance copy of this, the sequel to A Love Most Dangerous. I have enjoyed reading many of the author’s books but to me his best work thus far has been the two on the life of Alice Petherton, the marvelously created favorite mistress of King Henry VIII of England. In the world of coincidences, a Facebook group that I belong to posed the question of which fictional character you have read comes most to life for you? I read a lot of historical fiction and have met many great fictional characters, Fronto from SJA Turney’s Marius Mules series, Blaise de Garsenc from A Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay, etc and I now include Alice. Martin Lake’s portrayal of a woman caught in the machinations of Henry’s court and who survives that tortuous road is brilliantly done; so much so that for me she lives and breathes in my mind even after I finished the book. That is not to say his other characters are second class, on the contrary, his Henry, Thomas Cromwell and the others make this book a very special read. I had 5 stars in mind after the first couple of chapters and that thought never wavered throughout. I am hoping that Martin Lake has room in his pen and/or keyboard for more of her story.
I was asked by the author to read his latest work, a task I have performed for him a few times now. I have not regretted it. Land of Blood and Water is the story of Alfred the Great and his struggle against, and eventual victory over, the Danish Chieftain, Guthrum. It is also the tale of a peasant family who find themselves intricately involved in the conflict by the services they render unto their King. The author does a fine job of bringing to life what it would have been like for a poor family living on what was essentially an island in a marsh to be suddenly confronted with the horror and the thrill to be set upon by the King of Wessex as he seeks a place to recoup after a disastrous defeat. The changes wrought in the lives of Brand and his family are many and the resentment of some of them is palpable throughout the book. However, it is not only the lowborn who experience change and a range of emotions as Alfred, too, undergoes many conflicting feelings. Indeed, the emotional content of the book is one of the highlights of the narrative. The characters are well written, the action flows seamlessly and the reader is left with a feeling as if they had been there. 4 stars
Having read and enjoyed Martin’s series on The Lost King I was more than happy when he asked me to take on A Love Most Dangerous. This despite the fact that most of the historical fiction I read involves the clash of arms and armies. This one is quite different from my usual fare not only from the standpoint of action but also from the time and place. I have never paid much attention to the court of Henry VIII other than the bits I learned in history. In fact my knowledge of him has always been compromised by Herman and the Hermits. In this telling of the life of a Maid of Honor in the court of Henry VIII I was drawn in like a moth to a flame. The story is of Alice Petherton and how she becomes the King’s favorite.
The book is well researched and this shows in the exquisite detail the author uses time and time again to bring to life not only life in the court but life in London….e.g. his description of the Thames and one particular street, Offal Pudding Lane…yikes, makes me wonder how they coped In that environment. The plot centers mainly on Alice and her rise and subsequent fall from grace and shows how frail life could be under the rule of a man like Henry VIII.
It is a tense, exciting, page turning experience as you follow Alice, a woman with the ability to beguile every man she meets and how she learns to deal with that. I highly recommend this and gladly give it 5 stars.
P.S. for those of you too young to remember 1965, Herman’s Hermits did a song called “ I’m Henry the VIII, I am”.