A Black Matter for the King by Matthew Willis & J.A. Ironside

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Blurb

TWO POWERFUL RIVALS — ONE DECISIVE BATTLE

Now a political hostage in Falaise, Ælfgifa forms an unlikely friendship with William, Duke of Normandy. William has been swift to recognize her skills and exploit them to his advantage. However, unbeknownst to the duke, Gifa is acting as a spy for her brother, Harold Godwinson, a possible rival for the English throne currently in the failing grip of Edward the Confessor. Homesick and alienated by the Norman court, Gifa is torn between the Duke’s trust and the duty she owes her family.

William has subdued his dissenting nobles, and a united Normandy is within his grasp. But the tides of power and influence are rarely still. As William’s stature grows, the circle of those he can trust shrinks. Beyond the English Channel, William has received news of Edward’s astonishing decree regarding the succession. Ælfgifa returns to an England where an undercurrent of discontent bubbles beneath the surface. An England that may soon erupt in conflict as one king dies and another is chosen.

The ambitions of two powerful men will decide the fates of rival cultures in a single battle at Hastings that will change England, Europe, and the world in this compelling conclusion to the Oath & Crown series on the life and battles of William the Conqueror.

My Review

Let me start out by saying that Aelfgifa is probably the character in fiction I’ve found who is closest to me in terms of biting wit, though I will admit freely that I’ve never gone one on one with powerful individuals such as Duke William of Normandy, or her brother, Harold Godwinson. To me, those conversations were the highlight of this tale. That’s not to imply the other facets of the book aren’t worthy, indeed I was thoroughly entertained by this telling of the monumental events leading up to and including 1066. It is the kind of writing that draws the reader into the settings, you are sitting in the herb garden eavesdropping on William and Aelfgifa; thundering alongside William and Gallet as they spur their coursers into the enemy; commiserating with Aelfgifa as she struggles to convince Harold of a better course of action. Intense drama, creative working of the sparse historical record, and a detailed look into what made William and Harold tick. William’s volatile temperament, Harold’s miscalculated duplicity are a couple examples of the genesis that became the Norman invasion of Saxon England. A rousing, page turning tale awaits you my fellow readers. 5 stars

About the Authors

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J.A. Ironside (Jules) grew up in rural Dorset, surrounded by books – which pretty much set he up for life as a complete bibliophile. She loves speculative fiction of all stripes, especially fantasy and science fiction, although when it comes to the written word, she’s not choosy and will read almost anything. Actually it would be fair to say she starts to go a bit peculiar if she doesn’t get through at least three books a week. She writes across various genres, both adult and YA fiction, and it’s a rare story if there isn’t a fantastical or speculative element in there somewhere.

Jules has had several short stories published in magazines and anthologies, as well as recorded for literature podcasts. Books 1 and 2 of her popular Unveiled series are currently available with the 3rd and 4th books due for release Autumn/ Winter 2017.

She also co-authored the sweeping epic historical Oath and Crown Duology with Matthew Willis, released June 2017 from Penmore Press.

Jules now lives on the edge of the Cotswold way with her boyfriend creature and a small black and white cat, both of whom share a god-complex.

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | GOODREADS

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Matthew Willis is an author of historical fiction, SF, fantasy and non-fiction. In June 2017 An Argument of Blood, the first of two historical novels about the Norman Conquest co-written with J.A. Ironside, was published. In 2015 his story Energy was shortlisted for the Bridport short story award.

Matthew studied Literature and History of Science at the University of Kent, where he wrote an MA thesis on Joseph Conrad and sailed for the University in national competitions. He subsequently worked as a journalist for Autosport and F1 Racing magazines, before switching to a career with the National Health Service.

His first non-fiction book, a history of the Blackburn Skua WW2 naval dive bomber, was published in 2007. He now has four non fiction books published with a fifth, a biography of test pilot Duncan Menzies, due later in 2017. He currently lives in Southampton and writes both fiction and non-fiction for a living.

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An Argument of Blood by J.A. Ironside & Matthew Willis

 

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It is my privilege to be part of the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour for An Argument of Blood. First, a brief summary of the story:

William, the nineteen-year-old duke of Normandy, is enjoying the full fruits of his station. Life is a succession of hunts, feasts, and revels, with little attention paid to the welfare of his vassals. Tired of the young duke’s dissolute behaviour and ashamed of his illegitimate birth, a group of traitorous barons force their way into his castle. While William survives their assassination attempt, his days of leisure are over. He’ll need help from the king of France to secure his dukedom from the rebels.

On the other side of the English Channel lives ten-year-old Ælfgifa, the malformed and unwanted youngest sister to the Anglo-Saxon Jarl, Harold Godwinson. Ælfgifa discovers powerful rivalries in the heart of the state when her sister Ealdgyth is given in a political marriage to King Edward, and she finds herself caught up in intrigues and political manoeuvring as powerful men vie for influence. Her path will collide with William’s, and both must fight to shape the future.

An Argument of Blood is the first of two sweeping historical novels on the life and battles of William the Conqueror.

And the review:

An entertaining tale of William the Conqueror (or Bastard, depending on who’s talking), as a young man shaken out of his young man’s revelry and into the harsh reality of life as a Duke.  It is also a tale of Godwin’s youngest daughter, Aelfgifa, the unlovely, yet extremely intelligent girl who finds herself a player in the game for the English throne of the heir less Edward.  The authors have combined to deliver an intriguing look at how these early years led to the eventual history making/changing year of 1066.  The characters come alive, the youthful exuberance of William turning into a fierce determination, the misjudging and dismissal of Aelfgifa are perfect examples, and by no means the only ones.  It was a strange time and everyone who has the slightest link to the throne gets involved, and while this is all historical fact, it takes a good fiction writer, or in this case fiction writers, to take that history and piece together a tale that falls into the realm of believable possibility.  We all know the outcome awaiting William, but it is still an intriguing take on the path leading to his destiny, and an intriguing look at the easy to overlook woman who played an important part in that destiny.  4.3 stars and am looking forward to the sequel.

About the Authors

J.A. Ironside (Jules) grew up in rural Dorset, surrounded by books – which pretty much set he up for life as a complete bibliophile. She loves speculative fiction of all stripes, especially fantasy and science fiction, although when it comes to the written word, she’s not choosy and will read almost anything. Actually it would be fair to say she starts to go a bit peculiar if she doesn’t get through at least three books a week. She writes across various genres, both adult and YA fiction, and it’s a rare story if there isn’t a fantastical or speculative element in there somewhere.

Jules has had several short stories published in magazines and anthologies, as well as recorded for literature podcasts. Books 1 and 2 of her popular Unveiled series are currently available with the 3rd and 4th books due for release Autumn/ Winter 2017.

She also co-authored the sweeping epic historical Oath and Crown Duology with Matthew Willis, released June 2017 from Penmore Press.

Jules now lives on the edge of the Cotswold way with her boyfriend creature and a small black and white cat, both of whom share a god-complex.

03_J.A. Ironside.jpg

Matthew Willis is an author of historical fiction, SF, fantasy and non-fiction. In June 2017 An Argument of Blood, the first of two historical novels about the Norman Conquest co-written with J.A. Ironside, was published. In 2015 his story Energy was shortlisted for the Bridport short story award.

Matthew studied Literature and History of Science at the University of Kent, where he wrote an MA thesis on Joseph Conrad and sailed for the University in national competitions. He subsequently worked as a journalist for Autosport and F1 Racing magazines, before switching to a career with the National Health Service.

His first non-fiction book, a history of the Blackburn Skua WW2 naval dive bomber, was published in 2007. He now has four non fiction books published with a fifth, a biography of test pilot Duncan Menzies, due later in 2017. He currently lives in Southampton and writes both fiction and non-fiction for a living.

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Sons of the Wolf by Paula Lofting

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It is 1055, a decade or so before William makes his move for the English crown.  King Edward is without an heir…Harold Godwinson wants to be that heir but before that can happen, there are other enemies to deal with.  Wulfhere is the thegn of a small village and has newly returned from the battlefield, one that is a source of nightmares and those are only part of the woes the protagonist faces at home.  Wulfhere is a complicated and conflicted character and is but one example of the well written characters the author has created, both fictional and historical.  The author has also given the reader a wonderful view of what life was like, the lives of the villagers, the thegns and nobles are vividly portrayed.  So too, are the scenes of battle, whether a full blown engagement or a feud induced brawl, the bestial savagery of man is on full display.  I really enjoyed this tale.  It is a page turning nail biter and what’s even better is that it’ll continue in a sequel. 4.3 stars

 

In Search of Glory(The Lost King Book 4) by Martin lake

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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

1066 What Fates Impose

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Once again this old reader of books was asked to read and review an author’s muse inspired work.  Once again this old reader of books was glad he said yes.  1066 What Fates Impose is, as the title indicates, a story of the Norman invasion of England and William the Bastard’s attempt to claim the throne.  One of the reasons I like this book is that while William has his place in the story, it is King Harold Godwinson who is the main protagonist.  The author does an excellent job in setting up Harold’s eventual rise to the crown and the problems he faces in keeping it.  The story is rich in the feel and flavor of the times due to the historical research done by Mr. Holloway and the main characters are all well written.  While the first third of the book does run a little slow(as the author sets up the rest of the book) the remainder qualifies as page turning material.  An adventurous ride awaits the reader as the action flows from place to place setting up the climatic clash at Hastings and the world changing outcome of that battle.  Give yourself a treat and delve into the world of 11th century life, warfare and history in this well written tale.  4 stars.

About G K Holloway

I was born in a small anonymous little town in the north of England where I lived the first twenty five years of my life. On leaving school I worked in a variety of jobs until I decided it was time for a change. Having always liked history, I thought I’d enjoy studying the subject for a degree, so, enrolling onto evening classes at my local college to take O Level and A Level courses, seemed the obvious thing to do.

After graduating from Coventry with an honours degree in English and Politics, I spent nearly a year in Canada before returning to England to train as a Careers Advisor in Bristol; a city I like so much I’m still living here thirty five years later. Once I’d qualified, I worked in secondary education before moving onto further education, adult education and eventually higher education.

The inspiration for my novel, ‘1066: What Fates Impose’, came from reading a biography of Harold Godwinson, that my wife bought me. I found the book really opened my eyes to the late Anglo Saxon era. Once I’d finished it I wanted to know more, so I read books about William the Conqueror, the Godwin family and then more and more about Anglo Saxon England. I found the history fascinating, full of marauding Vikings, papal plots, blood feuds, court intrigues, assassinations, so much so, I couldn’t believe the story hadn’t been covered more. So, I decided to do something myself. I researched everything I could about the period, including court etiquette; sword manufacturing techniques; everything. I also visited many of the locations that appear in the book, usually on family holidays and once I’d done all that, and it took quite some time, I wove together facts and fiction to produce the novel.

When writing the book I decided to stick as close as possible to the events and be as true to the characters as possible. For me it’s important to get the research right, so the reader has confidence in the story, knowing what they’re reading is the real thing. This is why Lady Godiva doesn’t ride naked through the streets of Coventry – It never happened. Besides, there was enough going on at that time for me not to have to add any additional spice to the story. Most of the events depicted in my book really happened with perhaps, one or two exceptions or manipulations. That is, I think, why the history comes alive.

Blood of Ironside – The Lost King Book 3 by Martin Lake

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Once more into the fray as Edgar continues his struggle to reclaim his throne from William the Bastard(or Conqueror depending on your point of view).  What is most intriguing to me at least in this series is the historical fact that we know that William wins in the end, yet the author provides us with the hope, forlorn though it may be, that maybe Edgar can be successful.  He is certainly determined enough as there are numerous occasions for him to just throw in the towel and submit to William or to just head elsewhere such as Constantinople.

In this volume, the author has Edgar confronting not only his failures but also the internal process of what kind of King would he be.  Edgar grows much in this part of the story as he grapples with the lessons he learns about kingship and the power derived from that position and also the limits to that power.

One of the aspects of writing that I feel the author does well is character introduction and development as there is a host of great characters that fill up these pages.  Edgar has a core of followers that include outlaws, nobles, reluctant thugs, Counts and Kings.  He also has a host of enemies, so many in fact that I liken Edgar to some half dead warrior surrounded by a flock of carrion crows and vultures just waiting for the chance to finish him off.  That he survives to continue the quest is a testament to his character and to his friends.  He is certainly the most likable tragic figure I’ve come across in a long time.  I highly recommend this series and hope that Martin Lake doesn’t wait too long to give us book 4.  I rate this at 4.8…well done Martin.

Wasteland: Book 2 of The Lost King by Martin Lake

The further I go into this wonderfully written series the more I want to know about William the Bastard and the Norman conquest of England, a subject that doesn’t receive due justice or scrutiny on my side of The Pond in my humble opinion.  All I ever learned was the date 1066, nothing about the reality of the time.  English resistance and rebellion during this period is the focus of the author’s work and I couldn’t help but wonder how things would be different if the Normans had been thrown back to Normandy.

The main character is Edgar, the rightful King of England as proclaimed by The Witan after the disastrous defeat at Hastings.  In book 2 he has raised an army and allied himself with a large Danish force with the intent of recovering his crown.  There is little that goes right for Edgar as he is faced time and time again with adverse results in battle and with treachery and betrayal.  The author has given the reader a steady glimpse into the mind of Edgar as he deals with these defeats and betrayals and how he subjects his doubts and fears to an indomitable spirit to survive and to succeed.

I heartily recommend this very readable and enjoyable journey into the England’s history and look forward with great anticipation to the next volume in the series.  4 stars and a thank you for kindling my desire to know more.