Thursday, 14 June 2018

BLOOD FOREST by Geraint Jones

Blood Forest by Geraint Jones
The trickiest reviews to write are the ones about books I have read that are already on the back foot for being a setting I am not interested in. It makes it hard, because I have to work out why I am not really getting into the story. Is it because I just don’t like the setting (in this case Roman)? Or is it because I just did not like the book?

I thought long and hard about Blood Forest while I was reading it and after I finished it. 

In the end, this is what I came up with…

I am not a keen reader of Roman historical fiction, or ‘swords and sandals’ if you will. And yet I do read it and enjoy it if the setting is beautifully and skilfully done. For example, the M.C Scott Roman historical fiction books. There is some skill at times in the Blood Forest settings, but my issue was that the main setting was the squaddie comraderies. It was the plot, sub plot, the story. For about 80% of the book. I need more going on than all the walking, talking, gutting, grunting, stabbing, walking, talking, sleeping, sh*tting, spitting, talking. Not that it isn’t loved by many. It simply isn’t something I get in to. Not my fault, nor the fault of the author.

So, there was that. And it was an obstacle to get over, for me. I don’t care about the gore or the swearing. I used to - as so much of it in swords and sandal books, is not for the betterment of the read, it is only for shock value - but now I expect it from these squaddie/grunt comraderies books and I have learned to live with it, to a degree. If it is done in mature way.

My problem with Blood Forest was that after a promising start, the comraderies became all the book was about and the plots and sub plots were absent or presented in such a fleeting way that if you blinked you’d miss them. I was even forgetting the loose plot about the memory loss and the Felix background. I have noted other reviewers commenting on absence of plot too and I think to many who are looking for more, then it is quite distracting.

War for many soldiers can be boring. A lot of sitting around waiting for orders to come down, waiting for transport, waiting to move out. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Digging latrines. Talking about women's body parts. Sleeping. Cleaning weapons. And for some, very little or no combat or action. Sometimes not getting a shot off or getting shot at. So, if it is boring for real soldiers, imagine how documenting this life can be boring for readers who don’t need that detailed insight. Who already know about it perhaps.

I think that covers it. My issue was both. The roman squaddie/grunt setting dominating plot devices and suspense. And my general disinterest in Romans and dislike for them as a people.
Simple. Not simple. Yes?

In saying all that. Make up your own mind on this book. I read it for a book club read, so I was already pushing the boat out into unfavourable seas. My opinion is compromised.

- MM

Thursday, 31 May 2018


I had a bit of a buying splurge in May and as a result, on my desk this month, I have three nice, shiny and newly arrived novels with some really eye catching covers. Although they all look like variations on a theme, giving us their backs. No eyes to the front for these lads. Butts clenched. Facing their enemies... I guess...

The Green Count by Christian Cameron
Book three in his terrific Chivalry series continues the story of the knight William Gold. The first book in the series, The Ill-Made Knight, ( my review of Ill-Made Knight on this blog) saw this character dragging himself to the top by his bloodied fingernails. He tried hard to better himself and so he did. Book two, which I only recently read, The Long Sword, (my review of The Long Sword on this blog) was a real beauty of a read. I loved it, despite the author's propensity for occasional wordiness. It isn't an issue though. I just skim those parts.
The Green Count is book three. Quite eager to read it, but then I'm also quite eager to read several of the books sitting on my bookshelves.

The Falcon of Sparta by Conn Iggulden
This is an author that I think will slay with his version of the Spartans. He is a big talent, his writing nowadays simply deft. I read his stand alone novel Dunstan (my review of Dunstan on this blog) last month and gave it five stars. He really proved himself in that book as one of the best in the business. Maybe he proved it with his Wars of the Roses series, but I haven't read them. I have only read his Mongols and one of his Roman books. All of which had a very mixed response to. Going from love to loathe. All these years later I tried him again with Dunstan and I am back to singing his praises. Probably more eager to read this one than The Green Count by Christian Cameron, so this one will come before it.

Blood Forest by Geraint Jones
A new kid on the historical fiction scene, Geraint Jones, is impressing readers of the genre with his gritty and bloody Roman period historical fiction. Me, well, I'm not really a Roman period kind of girl, but I am giving this debut author a shot to impress before I give up on the sub-genre again. Often Roman historical fiction, reads with an over the top machismo. It is more prevalent in that sub-genre than it is in any other sub-genre that I read in the historical fiction genre. I don't tar them all with the same brush, some are good writers, but some simply are not. Like drunk teenagers playing cowboys and Indians...only in the case of this period, Romans and barbarians; an equally, no, greater, vile genocidal people of history. Yeah, you guessed it, I don't like Romans much. Which is another reason why I avoid the sub-genre.
I read a few sample pages from Blood Forest and what I read I found didn't read like that at all and I am so relieved. Because I went and bought it. And seeing as this is the June Group Read in Ancient and Medieval Historical Fiction Group, I am 20 pages into it.
And I am impressed.  Intelligent dialogue. Smart visualization. Hope this lasts past the first three chapters. (and anybody who knows about submitting manuscripts knows why).

- MM

Monday, 28 May 2018

THE HARROWING by James Aitcheson

The Harrowing by James Aitcheson
It is a rare thing these days for me to read a book through the night and have to force myself to stop reading well after midnight in order to get some sleep. Many of the books I give 5 stars to, don’t even inspire me enough to do that. Due to (and I mean this with utmost sincerity) I love my sleep. Not too many books compete with a love like that. But The Harrowing did. It truly was a book that I couldn’t put down.

I read it quicker than I read most books and I probably could have read it even quicker if it weren’t for Hagustaldesham. Yes, it’s a long one, a tongue twister, a name to catch you up on; if you are a reader like me who needs to read every word correctly or you can’t proceed. Hagustaldesham. The town our five intrepid travellers are headed, across this post-apocalyptic landscape. For present company, for you, why don’t I call it what it is in later times. Hexham. Much easier to say that…and to type that.

So, our intrepid travellers are bound there, to Hexham. The priest, the lady, the servant, the warrior and the minstrel – in a time when Northern England is being wasted by the Normans and their ‘harrying of the north’. As the book proceeds, the story deviates from the main story, in order for each of these characters to tell their personal tale on how they came to be there, on their way to Hexham. One of these character’s stories I had no time for, mostly because I felt it went on too long, but the rest I enjoyed.

This is my favourite period of history, along with the Anglo-Saxon period that precedes it, and this may contribute to me loving the book more than someone who has no big interest in the period.  But, in saying that, it is still a great story for any reader who enjoys historical fiction.

I got so caught up in the story that I was actually heartbroken in the end. I still am now, nearly a week later.
Not giving away any spoilers by talking about my heartbreak, because it is just that heartbreak you get when you have gotten attached to certain characters and, as this is a stand-alone book, all good stories must come to an end. It wasn’t the ending I wanted, but that is subjective. The next person’s opinion will be different, and the one after that will be different again. 

I have read this author, James Aitcheson, in the past, where he dealt with this same period of Norman invasion, and those were also books that I enjoyed. For some reason, and don’t ask me why as I don’t know the answer myself, I wasn’t expecting this book to be as good as it was. The surprise at finding this book to be a jewel of the genre is followed by disappointment that it isn’t published in all countries, therefore, the US do not get to read it unless they buy it in paper version from a UK book store website. That is a shame, as I feel any country that does not have this book available in paper and digital, is missing out.

5 stars out of 5.


Sunday, 20 May 2018

DUNSTAN by Conn Iggulden

(Dunstan by Conn Iggulden, AKA The Abbot's Tale in the US)
Dunstan by Conn Iggulden

Well, I think it pretty obvious that Conn Iggulden relished breathing life into this complicated creature called Dunstan. What a joy it is to read books that are so clearly a work of pride by the author. And he should be proud. This was a bloody good book. The best I have read of him so far… but of course, I have not yet read everything he has written. 

Now, Dunstan of Glastonbury is not your typical feel-good protagonist. Don’t expect to go into this book backing him to the hilt throughout his journey. He can be a very bad boy, and an even worse adult and there are many readers of this book who are saying they loathed him or disliked him. I actually did like him eventually. At first, in the opening chapters, with the way he treated his brother, I really didn’t like him much at all. With time, that passed and I found myself often rooting for him as he planned and plotted his vengeances and his climb to the top.

In his lifetime he outlives them all. Kings, Queens, family. And in the end, he gets a bit over it all. I suppose, as an insomniac and with many sins to ride his soul, life can get a little exhausting in the end for an old schemer like Dunstan.
What a man though. What accomplishments. What a colourful life. What things he must have seen.

Iggulden has made up so much, but this is historical fiction, it is to be expected. You have the few references to him in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and not much else. This gave the author a fairly broad palette to work his colours upon. With the attention not on giving us one long-winded info dump that reads more like a Non-Fiction, but to give us a fiction that follows the known history closely enough to inform us while entertaining us.

And what a world he had to entertain us. But don’t let me try to explain it…let Iggulden explain it through the words of his Dunstan:

“You have to understand our kingdom is a flame in a storm gale, guttering, flickering, struggling to survive. To the West, we still had the Vikings who had made their fiefdoms in Ireland. To the east and north, we had the might of all those small kings who saw our coast as a challenge – the Danes, the Swedish kings, the savage Norse. To the south, all along the coast of old Gaul, more Norsemen gathered, peering across at us. They waited all around us then. We had no chance to survive, some said. Yet we fought even so, whenever they came. Some men will.
We fought, because not to fight was to be destroyed, but also because we’d glimpsed something in the land, the rivers. Our fathers and grandfathers had found a good place, a sweet valley, with wolves on every hill all around us, just watching. We were farmers and soldiers and princes and priests. They were mere cruelty.
When a king died, they came howling down the hills.” 

This was quite a land of fire and sword in those times and what better world is there than that, for this author to pick up his brush and give us the most vividly worded account of a manipulative, aspiring, selfish, flawed, sinful creature called Dunstan of Glastonbury.

- MM