Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Emir of the Slitted Eyes: LION OF CAIRO by Scott Oden

Lion of Cairo by Scott Oden
Now, this is one of those books where I really wish Goodreads had half stars.

For me The Lion of Cairo wasn't quite a 3 star, and yet I am not comfortable with making it a 4 star. Choosing from the two, in the end I decided it deserved 4 more than the 3, because the story itself was really enjoyable and zipped along without a single boring bit.
So, without adieu...Lion of Cairo, you get 4 stars out of 5.

A lot of people wouldn't have the problems with this book that I did. So, don't base your decision to get this book on my review alone.
And those problems were purely in some of the writing. Some of the writing, to me, was really scratchy, whereas, some was perfectly fine and some was really good. It was inconsistent.

  Sadly for me, there was too much scratchy and that's what caused me the star rating drama. If there was a two rating system, I would give this book 3 stars for writing skill and 5 stars for story. My logic? Giving it 4 stars is the average of the two. :-)

Okay, characters. There are a few interesting characters in this book. Assad, the Emir of the Knife, was of great interest until he hooked up with the King of Thieves and the courtesan, then he became a non event for me.  Oden, the author, really didn't hit too hard with this character, this Assassin, and I can't figure out why. I know he has the ability to write in a great Assassin character because while he missed with Assad, he hit perfectly with The Heretic. I am a fan of a good heartless Assassin, so I loved the Heretic character.
The whole 'hate magic' in the salawar blade thing, (Assad's blade) was a miss too and didn't really gel with the story. And there is a necromancer also. Made me wonder whether this is supposed to be Historical Fiction or a Fantasy Fiction.
There are enough good characters in this book to keep you interested I am sure, and you, as a different reader with different tastes, may entirely disagree with my comments on Assad or other.

I wonder how I would have felt about The Lion of Cairo if I had not already been an admirer of Scott Oden's other books. And therefore I came to the book with certain expectations.
 He became one of my authors to watch after I read Men of Bronze and Memnon.  The skill of his writing was there in these books and so the whole way through The Lion of Cairo I was wondering whether it was Oden even writing the book, or whether something has happened in his life to change the way he writes. The first two books compared to this one are like chalk and cheese. Is it supposed to be Young Adult?  No matter whether it is meant to be YA, I really wish Oden wouldn't use the word 'slits' one hundred million times in reference to eyes. Argh. It was repetitive.
I was also wondering throughout this book if the writing problems are because he rushed too fast in writing it. Did he have a deadline to meet? Did he just not get the chance to be critical of his own writing because it was being rushed to print? Oden can do much better than this as far as writing goes. I swear.

Now, I see that I have said more negative than good here and that was not my intention. The story is terrific and I kept wanting to go back to this book to see what would happen next.
It is supposed to be the first in a trilogy I think and I can say without doubt that I will be buying the next one, despite my issues with the writing. The story is just so addictive and I want to be loyal to a good solid author (give him a chance to redeem himself).
Even though I have said some fairly negative things here, I would still recommend this book to a Young Adult reader who will love the adventure, or an adult reader who doesn't take writing so seriously.

- Medieval Mayhem

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The Long And The Short Of It: KING HEREAFTER by Dorothy Dunnett

King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett
What a complicated review this is to write. It will be a super short one to boot!

I do not want to give this book two stars. The writing quality alone deserves five stars. But what else should I give a book that I have tried twice to read and have never gotten passed about 100 pages?
Something about the story and plot simply isn't engaging enough for me. It is kind of a boring story and when you have so many books you want to (willingly) read in your year, it is hard to keep focus on a book you feel you are reading against your will.

That it is long, is a little to blame. It is a huge commitment to keep reading a book that is boring you when it is around 800 pages of small type. Becomes more like unwanted homework than an enjoyable pastime.

I will not give up on it though. There was so much potential in King Hereafter that I intend on giving it a third reread at some stage. In case the story improves further in.
I own the book, so it is here, if I am ever in the mood.

Half my problem with enjoying the book may have something to do with the fact that I lost some of my lust for reading in 2014 and I am now, (in Feb 2015) only just getting it back.
This is not the time for wearing my brain away to a nub on a stagnating doorstopper.

- Medieval Mayhem

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Positively Beaming: BY THE SWORD by Christian Kachel

By the Sword by Christian Kachel
I have read a lot of historical fiction over a lot of years. There might be times, as I trudge through it all, that I nearly forget why I read historical fiction in the first place. Especially in those stretches of time where I find myself reading so many more uninspiring books than I do fantastic ones.
Historical Fiction has changed noticeably in the last five or six years. And there has been this danger of being bashed dumb by a pulp fiction tsunami containing sloppily written books haemorrhaging weak, passive-verb laden prose.

I have often found myself wondering..where have all the potential Classics of the Ancient History sub genre of Hist Fic gone? The Gates of Fire and Pride of Carthage novels. The I,Claudius and The Warlord Chronicles. Are they still being written and discovered in 2015? Can publishers still find them in more than dribs and drabs? Can they even find an audience for them anymore when they do?
Will there be room for thoughtful and intelligent historical fiction novels? Where the author takes the time to understand creative writing before he or she writes his/her story? 

I have found a few excellent authors who are harnessing word and story craft, but I am also always grimly watching the line to see what is coming down it. To see what the future of the Ancient History sub genre of historical fiction, will look like. 
Little did I expect to discover that future in an Independently Published novel that I nearly did not read nor know existed.
Of all the places to find a budding author of the calibre that I speak of above....I find him in the world of Indie books. I can hardly believe it myself. Not to trash Indie books....I mean that I wouldn't expect to find this book Indie published because I would have thought a Trad publisher would have snapped him up.

If he had not smooth talked me (Me! An expert in Indie and self pub SERE tactics because I get offered so many of them) and sent me his book in the mail, then I would have missed out on being exposed to this promising author's work.  
What a near miss it was.

By the Sword is the first in a series (or was it a trilogy?? I forgot to ask, or forgot it if I was told) called Spoils of Olympus.
It is set in Ancient Greece, 322BC, following the death of Alexander the Great. 

I could bang on and on about everything that happens, but you know that is not my style. I like you - the reader - to find out plots and storylines by reading the book or the book blurb yourself. I will only touch on a few things.
The story heads out with your narrator, Andrikos, at that poignant moment in his life where he is young, impressionable, bored and running blindly into self destruction. Many of us have been there. Good kids at heart in our day, but with too big of a sense of adventure and with too many wild seeds to sow. The right guiding hand, the wrong kind of trouble, and we find ourselves keening for a way out of our own messes. Andrikos' way out, as with many teens throughout history, is to sign up for the Army.

You may think now that you know this book. Without reading it, you have worked it all out. Boy joins army. Goes through Basic. Loses his virginity. Goes to war. There may be a love triumvirate. Commonly two men and a girl. Has his first, second, third, taste of battle. Excels in leadership and combat. Is given his own band of brothers to lead. Comes home a changed man and a local hero..blah..blah..blah..
You'd be wrong. But I don't blame you. I was wrong too. While some of those plot devices are in By The Sword, it is not all this book has to offer. There is a point where the book takes a complete deviation from the normal flow of things and pulls on its second skin.

I look at the back of the book trying to work out what else I should tell you. I see words in the book blurb. Clandestine, intrigue, violence, brotherhood. Yeah, I'll give the author those. That isn't all the smoke and mirrors of your usual hackneyed book blurb. It does have all that going on.
Obviously, being a debut, not everything is going to be perfect. Damn close though. None of the faults are fatal ones. They are easy to circumnavigate in future novels if the author wanted to evolve his style a little.

I do not understand why this book was ever overlooked by agents and publishers (except the Indie one that picked him up). In fact, I think I have an extra forehead wrinkle from all the frowning I have done as I have read it.
There were actually times where I have put it down and said out loud “but how did this happen! This is too good!”
Books like this should not be slipping through the cracks. Good stories, an author with bonafide life experience and solid writing skills.

What more could a lover of historical fiction wont for? 

Oh, I know..she would wont for book two. 

I hope I haven't given the author, Christian Kachel, a big head with all my flowery words. But how can any self respecting devotee of this genre leave negative feedback in their reviews when she/he deems the writing or stories bad in books, or aggrandize books that probably don't deserve it...and then not give a power stroke of positivity in a review for a book with as much going for it as this one.

Of course I had to be forthcoming. Of course.

5 stars out of 5. All day long.

- Medieval Mayhem

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Robin Hood Revisited: THE WOLF AND THE RAVEN by Steven A. McKay

The Wolf and the Raven
Much improved. Much, much improved.
Last year I received this book, and the one before it, for review. I only read one or two Indie books a year now and it was only because this author has really established himself a reputation for professionalism, that I decided to accept the books for review.

The first book I was lukewarm on. It was okay. A lot better than I had thought it would be, but it had its problems, as do most debut books.
In my review of Wolf's Head, I think I mentioned that the bones were there and experience as a writer would probably see the second book (and those that follow it) showing an improved maturity to Steven's writing.

This year I have tackled this second book by Steven A. McKay and I am happy to say that my prediction was right.
The author has cast off the confines of his first story restraints and written a very decent book.
The characters read with more maturity, the writing is getting stronger, the adventure is abundant.

I've said this before, and what the heck, I'll say it again...First books can be a real skeleton in the closet with authors if they span too long a breadth of time. They start them in highschool, University or early in their working lives, then come back to them later on, as a different person wanting to 'finally finish that novel they once wrote'.
They are not the same person as they were when they started the book, and, nine times out of ten, I feel this in debuts. And I felt that in the first book by Steven A. McKay. But those traces are long gone now. Unlike the first book, this book doesn't feel like it is written by two or three different people.

One of Steven's strengths in this book is always keeping that wheel turning. There is no down time for his characters where you find yourselves wanting something to happen. As soon as his characters do something, have adventure, get themselves in strife, they are back on their feet getting stuck into it again.
I like an author who can do this without making the book read in a restless manner.

Flaws. Well, there are a couple, but they are not something that should put you off trying this book. I feel that while the author is really showing maturity now and writing with more skill, it is inconsistent. From time to time some parts do make me cringe a little.
I do not think they will affect your enjoyment of this book, it is just the growing pains of an author who is honing his craft.

3.5 stars out of 5

- MM

Steven A. McKay's video for this book - sourced You Tube

Thursday, 29 January 2015

On My Desk: BY THE SWORD by Christian Kachel

I was recently sent a copy of this book. By The Sword by Christian Kachel. It is first in a series called Spoils of Olympus and it is fresh off an Independent publisher's printing press just for me.
It was released in November 2014 and is most commonly found as an ebook, although a paper copy can be bought online as well. I don't read ebooks, so scored a hardcopy.

When Christian offered me a copy of his book, something about it made me want to give it a go. I say no so regularly, that I surprised even myself when I said yes.

Boy, am I glad I agreed to read this. I shouldn't, officially, be reading it right now because I am trying to get a different book read, but I read the first page and couldn't stop reading! I don't get to say that often enough these days!

Before I knew it I was 20 pages in and had to throw out the anchor.
I have to finish that other book I am reading, but I hope when I get back to By The Sword, that the great storytelling continues through the whole book and does not start and finish in the opening chapters.

As for the book itself, By the Sword is actually a lovely book in the flesh. A good hearty size with an eyecatching, glossy black and white cover that you really have to see in person to truly appreciate.

Being a nut for a map, I was pleased to discover a map on the opposite page to the first chapter.
Good stuff, Christian Kachel. Kudos to you.

- MM

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Does Not Translate: THE KING'S HOUNDS by Martin Jensen

The King's Hounds by Martin Jensen
This was kind of the literary version of the Seinfeld show - it was a book about nothing. Only the tv series was supposed to be 'a show about nothing', and was still about a lot of fun things.
This book was not fun, it actually was about nothing.

The characters didn't interest me, the writing was clunky and the translation was not good.
There is so much going on in this period. And yet, to me, the author failed to latch on and ride it into a great story.

In theory, the setting should be a colourful one and had all the potential to float this story like a bobbing buoy on a surging sea.
It is Britain, 1018. Cnut has conquered parts of England, cultures are clashing, uprisings are plentiful, the slave trade is about to go into overdrive. Settlements are popping up overnight. 
But, this book captured none of that to me. If it weren't for the words Vikings and Saxons being thrown around, it could have been devoid of ethnicity and could have been any European country before the Late Middle Ages.

I found the main character, Halfdan, so incredibly annoying and two dimensional and I found his support character, Winston, a poorly forged copy of historical mystery solvers who are already done to perfection in this genre, ie Matthew Shardlake from the C.J. Sansom series. In fact there were a lot of similarities between Winston/Halfdan and Matthew Shardlake/Jack Barak. At times it felt nearly plagiarised, but all it was, was a bad copy.

The translation I think was the story killer here for me. It was a terrible translation. It had been translated too literally and with modern words used frequently. A translator with a better understanding of what is required of an historical fiction translator, may have done a better job. Who knows.
I wish I was fluent in Danish, so that I could read the original to see whether this book was massacred at the hands of the translator more so than the author. I suspect the translation is to blame for a lot of the grievances I have towards this book.

I thought about giving it 3 stars, because there were some chapters that I enjoyed. In hindsight, now I have put some distance between me and this read, I realise those enjoyable parts did not in fact outweigh the overall negative feelings I have towards this book

- MM

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: THE GATES OF ROME by Conn Iggulden

Gates of Rome by Conn Iggulden
It has been a bloody long time since I last had a review to do that felt this easy to write. This book was so cut and dry for me. It falls into a class of read that I never fail to find the words to elaborate on.
One of the nicest negative review words a reviewer could draw upon - incompatibility. The sweetest way to say that I thought it was bad, but maybe it isn't the authors fault.

If we were in a relationship, this book and I, I would be saying to it "I want you to know that it isn't you. It is me. I think we are just too different and are far better off apart. I know you will find other fish in the sea that will appreciate you better than I".

Only this is a book, not a relationship. So about this book I will say;

We simply are not compatible. It will be compatible with many thousands, and it has been. The proof of that is there in all the positive ratings on Goodreads and Amazon and in the book deals and bank accounts of the author.
For me, however, I do not like books that dedicate most of their quantity to childhood characters. If I liked to be in the heads of kids for that long I would be reading the Young Adult genre. A genre I do not like to read, because, obviously, I am an adult, who likes to read about adults.
That is not to say there are no adults who like to read about children. Only I am not one of them.
I say give them a chapter or two, maybe a quarter or even a third of the book (okay, a third of a book may be stretching it), but just don't make boys and girls the main feature of a book for adults.
Good for milking an extra book out of a series and making more money, but not always great fun for adult readers.

I also found the writing to be a little simple and raw, which only accentuated the YA aromatics.

The other thing that bugs me and makes us incompatible, is flagrant disregard for historical accuracy just because you don't like the restraints of the historical accuracy mistress. She isn't such a bad bird and can be forgiving if you feel the need as an author to break free and dabble. But this book doesn't dabble or stretch the confines for more freedom, this book gives historical accuracy a wide, albeit arrogant, berth.

And while there are those thousands of readers who don't know the history enough to know that this book is an alternate history, there sure are thousands that do. I don't even know much about this history, and yet I can see it.
Arrogance with historical accuracy is a turn off for me.

I read all this author's Ghengis Khan series. Had a love/hate relationship with it. Liked one or two, really liked one, hated the rest.
I don't like Roman historical fiction much, but I bought this (used) book based on some decent experiences with that Ghengis series.

That is the last time I follow an author into his or her other ventures so blindly.

I finish by pointing out the other advantage of saying a book is incompatible with your tastes. I get to say 'don't take my word for it' to anybody reading this review.
We don't all have the same approach to books. This is one of those books I think you will need to discover for yourself.

- MM 

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

What? 2015 already??

2015 already? how did that happen? I feel like I had only just put my feet up.
No avoiding it. The new year is here. I will continue to blog it up in 2015 if all goes to plan.
Obviously, there are some months where I am not reading Historical Fiction or not thinking about anything worth blogging about, in those months, posts to the blog will be light on. I do not plan on those empty months being the norm though. only the exception.

Reading a Military Non Fiction currently,. Won't be reading a Historical Fiction for a few more days. For this reason, there won't be any new Hist Fic reviews for a couple weeks.

Hope 2015 has plenty of great reads in it for you!

Regards to all and sundry,
Medieval Mayhem