Invasion – Tales of the Empire by SJA Turney

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If there’s one thing I’ve learned after reading so many of Mr. Turney’s works, it is that to expect the unexpected.  In this the fifth volume in Tales of the Empire we find the Empire invading the isle of Alba; it is reminiscent of Rome in Britain but with enough plot twists to keep the reader guessing as this invasion is fraught with much more than just battles between 3 legions and tribal warriors.  As in the previous four volumes in this series, we are introduced to a whole new set of characters and with the action mostly on Alba, a new location.  Once again, the author shines as he creates his characters with a wide range of personalities.  The three tribunes are a good example of that as each one has something different about him to bring to the table.  Of nasty specimens be assured that there are plenty and they are wonderful additions indeed. The reader also gets to enjoy the imaginative descriptive prowess of the author as he paints a vivid picture of the surroundings and the hill forts; especially the fortress of the Queen.  Another winner for Mr. Turney; that’s also to be expected.  🙂

4.4 stars

Pax Gallica – Marius Mules IX by SJA Turney

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Things are heating up between Caesar and the Senate.  The Senate calls for him to lay down his legions and return to Rome for prosecution while Caesar seeks to be made a Consul.  Marcus Falerius Fronto, ex-legate of the Tenth Legion has been declared an outlaw and takes his family to Massilia whereupon he decides that despite his differences with Caesar, the only way to regain what the Senate has taken from him is to rejoin Caesar.  Meanwhile there is an uprising in Aquitania led by an enigmatic man known as The Smiling King and Fronto is sent there with one legion made up of veterans ready to retire to put down the incursion and settle the veterans in that region.  Throughout this series, the author has created some very memorable characters, both Roman and barbarian.  In Pax Gallica, that honor belongs to The Smiling King; driven by vengeance, fueled by sacred vows, and totally ruthless in his pursuit to bring down Caesar.  Fronto needs all of the steadfast, professional demeanor of his ‘legion’ just to survive the opening salvos from this new enemy.  Fronto also needs all of his guile and experience to try to stay one step ahead of Smiley but is inexorably and with much loss led to where The Smiling King wants him.  Mr. Turney delivers yet again a muse inspired tale filled with drama, mystery, heroic deeds, loyalty, and most importantly a story of many twists and turns as he sets the stage for the inevitable showdown between Pompey and Caesar.  5 Stars and a Hoover Book Review query, Why haven’t you started this series yet?  🙂

Crocodile Legion by S.J.A. Turney and Dave Slaney

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Meet Mr. Turney one day, I will, and will beg him, “Please Simon wan Kenobi, teach me to write.”  The prolific creator of books for old farts like me, such as, Marius Mules, Praetorian, and The Ottoman Cycle has now produced a tale for children.  And an excellent one I might add.  The story revolves around a quest for riches to help pay for the rebuilding of Alexandria.  It is full of excitement, adventure, danger and mystery and is sure to entertain the age group it is intended for.  In addition, the illustrations by Dave Slaney are just delightful.  I especially liked the roving eyes and expressions of the leopard pelt worn by Uncle Scriptor and the portraits of the diminutive heroes, Marcus and Callie.  Better even still…there are more of these tales to come.  5 stars

Marius Mules VIII – Sons of Taranis by SJA Turney

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In this episode of the Marius Mules saga we find both Caesar and Fronto looking forward to the future.  For Caesar, a pacified Gaul has him preparing for his return to Rome and a Consulship.  For Fronto, it is trying to make a go as a wine merchant in a somewhat hostile business environment but at least it is not one requiring one’s skill with a gladius .  This is what both men desire, peace, so as to get on with the next phase of their lives and careers.  Ahh, but peace is an ever elusive and tricky beast and once again, Caesar has revolts and plots to put down and Fronto finds himself not only in a business turf war but also in a scheme by a band a fanatic Gauls whose plan is to release Vercingetorix from his Roman captors.  As per usual with Mr. Turney, the story is written with the intent to further  flesh out the main characters in this saga, so we are given more insights into the minds and actions of men like Varus, Decimus Brutus, the Gaulish noble Caravinos and of course our congenial host in Masillia, Fronto.  Of action, there is plenty, from the scattered pockets of revolt in Gaul, to the streets of Masillia to the…well I’ll not say where as that might be a spoiler.  The plots/story lines are seamlessly woven together and are marked with the occasional twists that make things more interesting.

We all know how the story ends regarding Gaius Julius Caesar but we are a few episodes away from that bloody day in March so it will be with much anticipation that we wait to see how the author gets us to that momentous time.  But as the humble scribbler of the cover blurb for this edition of the saga states, ‘Marius Mules just keeps getting better.’  I couldn’t agree more.  5 stars

A 63-year-old blog tour virgin reviews SJA Turney’s Praetorian – The Great Game

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Wow, this is sure exciting stuff.  Who would have thought that me, a humble yet insightful reader and reviewer of books, would make it to the most prestigious blog tour of SJA Turney?  I have known Simon for a couple years now, a relationship brought forth through the great bringer together of old friends and maker of new ones, social media.  In fact, it is his fault I have a Twitter account.  I had finished reading Marius Mules IV and noticed in the About the Author section that Simon listed his Twitter handle.  Well, I enjoyed the first four books in the series so much I just had to tell him and @hooverbkreview was born and began what has become a pretty cool network of authors, reviewers and other fellow travelers.  Soon I had inveigled my way into his confidence and got on his list of beta readers which is really nice because I get a signed copy of the books and I know that they will be worth a small fortune at some point in the future.  So if my writing career doesn’t take off then I have those signed editions to fall back on in my retirement and now I’ll have one more as I have just finished his latest, Praetorian: The Great Game.

Where to begin?  The protagonist, Rufinus, the depth of scenic detail, the mesmerizing plot twists?  That sounds like a logical order to proceed with.  Rufinus is your average legionary doing the foot slogging, shield walling duties of a Roman soldier all for the glory of Rome and the Emperor Marcus Aurelius.  Then in one of those ‘no good deed goes unpunished’ moments his life takes a radical detour.  Without going into too much detail as to not spoil it, Rufinus is promoted to The Praetorian Guard and is subsequently posted undercover at Commodus’ sister Lucilla’s villa.  From then on he finds out just what kind of man and loyal soldier he is.  He is tested time and time again managing to emerge stronger as a character after each ordeal, physically, emotionally and rationally.  A fascinating character developed beautifully by the author.  That holds true for the rest of the cast of characters as well.  The two Praetorian Prefects, Paternus and Perennis, the dark and visceral Dis and the savage beast called Tad are just a few of the more interesting players.

I have found over the past few years that Simon has a great ability to transport the reader to the places he is describing, whether that is the Emperor’s Palace in Rome, the various monuments and temples but most especially the Imperial Villa at Tibur.  I felt as if I was walking the grounds taking in the opulence of the imperial sections, the contrasting slave quarters and even the hypocaust system.  This descriptive flair is also evident in his turns of phrase.  For example an exclamation uttered by one the characters: ‘by the seven sacred shits of Jove.’  Or when after setting the scene with a gate guard suffering from intestinal distress meeting Acheron, Rufinus’ hound from Hades.  The result: ‘The guard’s bowels surrendered.’  Maybe it’s just me but I burst out laughing when I read those tasty tidbits.  🙂

The pace  of the story moves along readily and builds to an exciting climax and has within it moments when I would pause and say ‘okay, I didn’t see that coming.’  Rest assured that you will be entertained and maybe even educated a little about the world of Gnaeus Marcius Rustius Rufinus.

I vow by the seven sacred you know whats that this is a 5 star winner.

 

Let’s all give a big Hoover Book Review welcome to today’s guest, Simon Turney.  Welcome, Simon and thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions from this humble yet insightful reader and reviewer of books.

 

  1. How does it feel to have Praetorian published after such along interval between conception and publication?

Oooh…. Exciting! Yes, definitely exciting. I’ve long believed it’s my strongest novel and that it would be well received, and I’ve been dying to let readers see it for a long time (Oo-err!) It’s like having an amazing hat but only being allowed to wear it in private (weird analogy? You bet!) It’s been a long road for Praetorian and it’s not quite the book in started as, largely due to the talented editing of my agent Sallyanne, who turned it from a lump of quartz to a diamond. But the very best thing about it being out there? I have had the plots for books 2 and 3 sitting in a folder on my PC for a year now. I’ve even done the research trip, taken the photos and investigated the locations for book 2. I’ve been ready to write it for more than half a year, but it’s not been worth launching into until book 1 was in publication. Now… I can start on book 2 (working title: The Emperor’s Man)

  1. I have been impressed in all of your work with the amount of descriptive detail you include in the surroundings, the architecture and just the way you put the reader inside the luxuriousness of a place like the Villa Hadrianus. When you visit a site for a book how long does it typically take until you have enough inspiration for your imagination?  In other words how do you bring to life a site that has stood idle for centuries?

Funnily enough, this is to some extent the subject of a guest post I did a couple of days ago for https://forwinternights.wordpress.com/ … I’m a great believer that a scene in a book feels a great deal more real if the author has put their heart and soul into the location, and the best way to do that is to experience the place yourself. I try and visit every location I use (it’s not always possible, but I do my best.) When I visit a location, first of all I have my camera to hand at all times. I take a lot of photos. That means that when I come to write about it, probably months later, I can refer back to see, for instance, whether one building is visible from another, and such like. I also pay attention to smells, sounds, terrain and wildlife. Are there terrapins in the pond? Do you break into a sweat on the angle of approach? Is there the scent of jasmine in the air? These are the things that bring a location to life. Of course, the amount of detail you throw into the scene is a fine line too, since loading it down with too much can impede the pace, but a good description turns a scene from ‘mmmm’ to ‘wow!’ Because of the different senses I need to record, as well as my camera, I carry a dictaphone, on which I keep seemingly endless notes.  I am careful enough in selecting locations that it never takes long for inspiration to strike. If I cannot see the scene in my mind’s eye within minutes, it’s the wrong location! As for the bringing to life a long-dead site, I would suggest readers pop over to forwinternights and read the blog I posted, which goes into some detail on that.

  1. In any story involving the Roman Legions there is going to be violence and to bring the reader into what it is like to stand in a legion shield wall or even in a street fight there has to be some blood and gore. Do you ever question any of the gory passages you write as to whether it might be too much?

Oh yes. In fact, while it’s nothing to do with battle, there is a torture scene in Praetorian that is a vastly toned-down version of the original. My editor suggested I cut it down and she was, in retrospect, correct. Even now, going back over the original makes me wince and makes my eyes water! Similarly, in The Pasha’s Tale, which has just undergone its final edit, I have completely removed a scene in which a household of civilians is cut down. It was, in the end, seemingly too much for the tale, and so joined so many other scenes in ‘File 13’. Oddly, I don’t think I’ve ever toned down a battle scene. Battle is in its very nature brutal, and those people who are reading a novel about the legions at war are almost certainly expecting such vicious description. In fact, some of my readers have expressed disappointment at lack of violent bloodshed from time to time. What I am turning away from more often is non-battle brutality, since scenes like that are far more shocking and unpleasant.

  1. Another facet of your writing that I enjoy is your usage of colorful phrases. For example, the seven sacred shits of Jove.  How do you come up with these nuggets?

Simply: I have no idea! I have a peculiar imagination as anyone who knows me will verify. I tend to be very inventive with my phrases even at home. I have been known to shout things like ‘Turdhoney!’ when I drop an egg on the pantry floor. Words just fit together so well into odd phrases even if they shouldn’t. More so, if they shouldn’t.  I trained with the best, mind. My German housemate at University initiated the phrase ‘suppurating, buggering heck!’ which remains one of my faves. Cursing and swearing can be horribly offensive and it irritates me to hear people using gratuitous bad language out in the streets. But somehow the offensiveness of an imprecation is inversely proportional to the humour within. If what you shout when you drop a rock on your toe is odd or funny enough, people will laugh rather than taking offense.

  1. Do you have plans to see what’s in store for Rufinus?

Hmm. I nodded to this with your first question, didn’t I? There are years of fun ahead for Rufinus. For a start, books 2 and 3 will see him variously at the family estate in Hispania, in southern Gaul, in Rome and Ostia, and even out in the wilds of Dacia (modern Romania.) There are still an array of dangerous men in the Roman court, including a couple of well-placed men whose actions will change the course of Commodus’ reign. Be sure that Rufinus has a part to play with them. And over in Dacia sometime soon, two future usurping emperors are busy. Book 2 is already planned down to a chapter level ready to write and book 3 is a nebulous plot at the moment. Beyond that? Well, the sky’s the limit. As with Marius’ Mules, as long as people want to read about Rufinus, I’m happy to write about him.

  1. Finally, what’s next for Simon Turney? What are you working on now?

I am just putting the finishing touches to The Pasha’s Tale (the fourth and final installment of the Ottoman Cycle) which I will publish once the cover is complete, with a tear in my eye as I say goodbye to writing about 15th century Istanbul. Next week I begin work in earnest on Marius’ Mules VIII: Sons of Taranis, which I am already champing at the bit over. That should be out in the late summer this year, all being well. After that, sometime towards the end of the year, it is the turn of Praetorian book 2. In the meantime, there are three side projects already written and waiting for publishing, including the joint work with Gordon Doherty, which is one of my favourite things I’ve ever written. Shortly, we are going to embark on book 2 of that series too. All go at Chez Turney as you can see! Never a dull moment.

Marius Mules VI – Caesar’s Vow by SJA Turney

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Those of you who have read the previous volumes in this series may not find it hard to believe but I will say it anyway…they just keep getting better.  The author left himself a considerable task at the end of book 4…to refresh your memory it is there that the main fictional character, Marcus Falerius Fronto, has a major falling out with his friend and commanding general, Gaius Julius Caesar.  A rift so vast that Fronto leaves the army and spends the whole of book 5 dealing with personal issues while Caesar continues his quest without one of his most trusted advisers and tacticians.  Getting them back together did not seem possible but Simon is nothing if he isn’t a resourceful writer.

Their reunion, put forward by none other than Marcus Antonious, is not an easy one and that is one reason why this book is such a great read.  Nothing is easy…Simon could have had them patch up, shake hands and gone forward right from the beginning of the reunion but that would be too easy and a bit of a boring letdown.  I will say no more lest I give away too much.   The main plots are, for Caesar, the death of Ambiorix, the Eburone King who was responsible for the destruction of two legions and for Fronto, the return to the fold and command of a legion.  Of course, those two aspects of the story are intertwined, converging like two tributaries to the Rhenus and becoming one in the end.

The continued development of the main characters is an ever constant need and has become a strength of the author.  I especially enjoyed the progress of some of the main characters such as:
Caesar – much more human/not the above the fray-confident specimen he is often portrayed as…his conversations with Fronto especially are very telling and interesting
Labienus – another example of a differing representation – not a madman bent on outdoing Caesar
Antonius – now, he is larger than life…imagine Richard Burton meets James Purefoy
Fronto – he has been many things in this series and has grown with it…seeing him as commander of a Navy Seal like operation was well done…
On the fringe and just waiting to burst on the scene is that ever popular Gaulish rebel, Vercingetorix…his brief appearances here leaves one with the impression that he could be the most formidable foe yet to take on Caesar and Fronto.
I throw 5 stars at Simon Turney for yet again turning it up a notch.  Now get to work on Alesia.  🙂 
About the author:

I live with my wife, my slightly barmy son and very vocal daughter, and two (close approximations of) dogs in rural North Yorkshire, where my wife and I both grew up, surrounded by friends and family. A born and bred Yorkshireman with a love of country, I cannot envisage spending my life anywhere else, though my anchor is sometimes tested as the wanderlust hits and we travel wherever I can find the breathtaking remains of the classical world. I have a love of travel and history, architecture and writing and those four interact well enough to keep me almost permanently busy.

Since leaving school and University, I have tried a great number of careers, including car sales, insurance, software engineering, computer network management, civil service and even paint ing and decorating sales. I have lived in four counties and travelled as widely as time and budget allowed and find myself, on the cusp of my fortieth year, back where I began and finally doing something I love.

Having written a number of unpublished short stories in my early days, I decided back in 2003 to try and write a full length novel. That was the start of Marius’ Mules. Being a lover of Roman history, I decided to combine my love of writing and my love of classical history. Marius’ Mules was followed two years later by Interregnum, my attempt to create a new fantasy story still with a heavy flavour of Rome. Since then, the success and popularity of both have inflated my head so that I can no longer comfortably fit through doors, and has spawned sequels to each work, with a third in the fantasy series and the sixth Marius’ Mules now complete, as well as a series set in the 15th century Mediterranean.

I maintain another website detailing the Roman sites I visit and photograph, and write a blog about books. Find me on twitter as @sjaturney. I am an almost terminally chatty person. That’s just a due warning if you feel like contacting me (see above.) I am always happy to speak to people and have put together an FAQ gathered together from things I have been asked previously.   http://sjaturney.co.uk/      http://wordpress.com/read/blog/id/7641919/

Ironroot by S.J.A. Turney

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Given the fact that I have read many of  Simon Turney’s books I would have thought by now that it would be nigh unto impossible for him to surprise me.  I am used to the plot twists that he infuses into his novels, indeed I sort of expect them.  However, in Ironroot, the second of three books set in a pseudo Roman world, he managed to do just that.

The protagonist Varro, a Captain in the Imperial Army, is wounded during a skirmish and is subsequently told that he is dying because the weapon used on him was laced with Ironroot, a poison with no antidote.  When it becomes apparent that he was specifically targeted, a conspiracy to cover up a senior officer’s treasonous activities unfolds.   Thus begins a race against time as he and an enterprising member of an engineers cohort seek out the truth and possible revenge.  What follows is an exciting tale of action, loyalty and a steadfast belief that they were chosen for this mission by a local tribal deity.

Now the author could have gone in many different ways with this including a formulaic one but this is where all the surprises in the plot come to the fore.  The climatic scenes are wonderfully portrayed demonstrating Mr. Turney’s vivid imagination and abundant sense of irony.  I would love to be more specific but that would be unfair to the author and to prospective readers…after all, they deserve to be as surprised in their reading of this novel as I was.