Sunday, 15 October 2017

WINTER'S FIRE by Giles Kristian

Winter's Fire by Giles Kristian
  In my opinion, this is truly a 'bridging book'. A book two that serves as the bridge between the story set up in book one and the dramatic ending of book three (if it is a trilogy, which I think it may be). Some may disagree. This is only my experience with it.
In saying that, I have not read book three yet, so I may be wrong and book three may read like this one. I guess I'll know that when I get there.
  Now, calling it a 'bridging book' is not as negative as it sounds. Sometimes trilogies and series' have these books. They are still a decent read, they can just feel a bit like a no mans land.

   Book one seemed more robust with storylines and personality, and while this one was still a good read and I still recommend it, I am going to go so far as to say that it lacked the same spark. There seemed to be sections that fought with the flow of the book, like the storyline that developed for the sister. Or, maybe I am being too harsh because I have no interest in Runa independently. I am reading these books for Sigurd's tale. To those who like the Runa character, it may be a highlight.
I was not looking to spend any time on the sister, but I am sure that there are female readers who delight in the Runa story being interwoven with the story of Sigurd and his wolf pack. I am not one of those female readers. Perhaps her character's story would have been better served by a spin off book all of its own. For me, in this Sigurd series, Valgerd is more than enough woman for me.

   I feel I am being a little apologetic for my lukewarm feelings on the book. I think that is because I really like Kristian's writing and the way he tells a Viking tale. I have a bit of an interest in Vikings and if we did not have Kristian writing about them, where would we get our Viking fix? He is only one of three authors who write with this quality and intelligence about Vikings and one of those three does not write about them anymore. That writer is Robert Low, of which there will never be another author like him. Bernard Cornwell gives us his Uhtred books, but they are few and far between.
If you like this era as I do, and you like it very well written, then you need these Viking stories by Kristian. He is the Lighthouse in our rough seas.
   I feel bad not giving a glowing review for Winter's Fire. I desperately want to ignore the negative and just focus on the positive, and yet I have always objected to people being 'yes men', so in the name of honesty – which I value above all else as a reviewer – I say this about it: this book, Winter's Fire, is still a good read, just not a great read...but, gee, it sure is well written! Masterfully so in places.
  I hope Kristian is not finished with these Viking tales. He is the cream of the crop.
  I recommend it, absolutely. On its own, you may appreciate it more than I did, as I had my feelings on book one looming over my shoulder the whole way through.

   As far as a star rating, I feel it is better than a three star, not quite a four star. Which makes this one of those rare times I have to use a half star to give it three and a half stars.

3 ½ stars

– MM

Monday, 9 October 2017

THE FLAME BEARER by Bernard Cornwell

The Flame Bearer by Bernard Cornwell
  I wish every day was an Uhtred day. When I am reading a new book in the series, this character just brings so much enjoyment to my week.
  There is something about the books that makes them so stress free to read too. They are written well and yet you don't have to work hard. Plenty of lovely prose in them if you want to notice it. Heaps of outstanding dialogue, which is hard not to notice. The laughs are plenty. The characters are rich in personality. It all blends so perfectly in these books and you can knock one over so quickly. Maybe too quickly. As now there is the long wait for the next book and I had already dragged out reading this one in anticipation of another one in the series coming in 2017, but it didn't, so now we fans of Uhtred, have to wait until the end of 2018 I guess.

  This book is one of the most significant of the series. You would have to read it to know why. I can't really go into that without dropping in massive spoilers. It is just...monumental and prodigious. Read it to know why, and if you are a fan of the series, then enjoy!

  I have to say, I found the scenes between Uhtred and Constantin to be some of the most enjoyable scenes between two characters of the whole series to date. Well, at least of those I can recall and I am sure there are other 'greats' and after ten books, I simply do not remember them. But Constantin is such a character, a good match for Uhtred, and Cornwell plays both enigmatic characters off each other so well.

  This book is like the others in most ways. Vile, cunning priests, extraordinary warriors, great deeds and deceptions, ineffective and underwhelming nobility and rulers, travelling all over the countryside and then travelling all over it back again, lots of insults parried back and forth between Dane and Saxon, Saxon and Saxon, Pagan and priest, a bit of sea action, port action...screaming life to the fullest...dying miserably..yeah, it's all there for the fan of this that one significant and momentous thing. It is there too.

  Loved it! Love it more just thinking about it! 5 brightly burning stars for you Flame Bearer.

- MM

Friday, 14 July 2017

GOD OF VENGEANCE by Giles Kristian

God of Vengeance by Giles Kristian
  I could have sworn, after I began this book, that I wasn't going to like it. It was written very well, which is what I always expect from this author, as he has only gotten better and better with each book he releases. The scene setting was excellent, also what I expect from this author as this Scandinavian culture is close to his heart - being directly descended from it.

  However, for some reason I could not connect with what was going on. For more than 100 pages I was bored and often tempted to skip pages. I simply could not connect or feign interest in what was going on, despite its rich action sequences.
  Boring is an odd thing to say seeing as the beginning of this book finds you knees deep in a long and elaborate battle scene that must have exhausted the author to even write it. Such was the indepth and intelligent way it was woven. So much going on in a vast master plan.
  I was just starting to think that it was purely a matter of compatibility (which was the case with a series the author once did that was set during the English Civil War) when, yes, it sneaked up on me.     
 Crept up on me from behind it did. Without any real up change in pace, or abrupt turn about face.
 When I thought about it at the time, trying to work out why I was suddenly feeling so differently about the book, I actually worked out what my issue had been. The story had developed too quickly too soon for me in those early stages. Many people won't have this same problem, because that is how it goes. We all read differently. Different brains. Different visualisation. Different approaches to fantasy.
  My early reading of the book had me involved in established relationships and a highly complicated battle scene before I'd even learned who the characters were (under the surface) or had any investment in their lives whatsoever. That's all it was in the end. I did not care who lived or died in the first 100 pages or so. Had no interest, as I had not really been introduced to them. I had been thrown into their shieldwall before we'd even exchanged pleasantries. I felt no comradeship and no loyalty to either side.
  Character relationships, while dealt with a little in the opening pages, were actually shaped post battle, not pre. I was ice cold about what was going on.
  This was too poignant a battle to be caught napping. It was absolutely critical to the plot of the entire book. Of the whole series. So, if you find yourself in the same predicament, keep on. You need to.

  And now my attitude changes towards the thing. I kept on. Knew I needed to. Then, to my great relief, when I did know them...I was in love. With the story, the characters. Truly. What a book. I could hardly believe I'd gone from ice cold to utter infatuation.
  It has been a while since a group of characters has gotten under my skin this much, but it was bound to happen. Vikings combined with journey adventure. Two of my loves. As long as Giles Kristian wrote well and captured the 'road trip' vibe that I like, then I was bound to be on board.
  The characters, thankfully, ended up being rich and colourful. Their story involving and fascinating.   
Their Saga became all I cared about until the very last page.

  Sigurd turned out to be quite the charismatic chap. I am a huge fan. A man who can lead others into war, no doubt. The female character was perfect. Not helpless and emotional. Gack, thank goodness for that. A great Shieldmaiden she was. Thank you Giles Kristian for the girl power.
  Really, every character was very well drawn, but my favourite character would have to be Black Floki...of course.
  I think this might be a common experience for readers as I see that the author might be working on a graphic novel about Black Floki, with the early illustrations by his accomplice looking very promising. I don't imagine Giles would go to such lengths unless he was getting feedback that his readers were feeling the same way about Black Floki as he does.

  God of Vengeance is a great find and it rates highly on cool factor.
  I went ahead and bought the next few books in the series and am excited to read them. 
  5 stars out of 5.

 - MM

Thursday, 27 April 2017


  I've had a good couple of weeks with these books arriving in the mail (purchased online).
In particular, The Risen by David Anthony Durham and Sons of the Blood by Robyn Young were greeted by me with more than a few yip yips of excitement.

  I have made no secret of my admiration for David Anthony Durham's one and only (until The Risen was released) historical fiction book, Pride of Carthage. I even class it as one of my top ten 'Must Read' Historical Fiction books. That list I posted to this blog a couple years back.  It can be found here: Top Ten Must Read Historical Fiction Books.
  It was always a great shame that the author had not written anymore historical fiction, so when I heard he was about to release another one, and it was set in Ancient History, I was elated. Not necessarily for me, but for the historical fiction reading community as a whole. Good quality authors writing in the historical fiction genre are of high value. For their ability to transport the reader whilst also educating them on history.

  Robyn Young is another of those treasures and any new book by her is cause for celebration. I thought so highly of her trilogy set during the Wars of Scottish Independence.
  This was my review of the first in that trilogy, Insurrection.  Can not recommend them enough. To have a new book - and a new trilogy - from this author is wonderful.

  The other two books, well, these authors need no introduction. Giles Kristian and Bernard Cornwell are two well known and respected authors who you can nearly guarantee won't let you down every time they release a new book. They are both very skilled historical fiction authors.
  The Flame Bearer by Bernard Cornwell is number 10 in his Saxon/Viking series. One of my favourite series'. Always thrilled when a new one of those books comes out. I got behind on this series and only got to number 9 in the series a few weeks before this post. That review is here: Warriors of the Storm.
  Winter's Fire is the second book in Giles Kristian's newest Viking series and I am currently reading the first one in this series now, God of Vengeance.

  Of all these new books, it will have to be Robyn Young's book, Sons of the Blood, that I will read first. I'll be picking it up beginning of May and reading it at the same time as some friends. Can't wait.

- MM

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

WORLD ON FIRE by Christian Kachel

   I was so impressed with book one in this series, the author's debut book, and had given it such a glowing review that when it came to reading book two, World on Fire, I had unfairly attached too much baggage to the book. It was one of the reasons that it took me so long to actually read it, when I should have been reading it soon after the release.

   Book one in the Spoils of Olympus series had its flaws. It was, after all and as mentioned, a debut, and you have to forgive debuts their training wheels....if the book shows enough promise despite them. And I thought it had ample promise. Enough ample promise that I took it personally that here was a American male author writing very well in the historical fiction sub genre of Ancient History, and what is it that I feel the United States is missing out on these days? American male authors writing very well in the historical fiction sub genre of Ancient History. The United Kingdom has plenty of successful authors in this sub genre, but where are the Americans?
Steven Pressfield did it, doesn't do it anymore, David Anthony Durham did it once over a decade ago and only recently returned to release one on Spartacus, Michael Curtis Ford did it, but where did he go?
   I digress...
   Yes, there was ample promise and in part it was that, and not the flaws, that made me drag my heels before jumping into World on Fire.

   Sometimes, authors put everything they've got into their debut. The first book is often something they have been sitting on for a long time, years even. They write them, rewrite them, leave them, come back to them, rewrite them. Burning the candle at both ends researching, obsessing, worrying.
   If they are lucky, a good solid first book pops out from this maelstrom of literary process and ritual.
Christian Kachel is one of those lucky ones. His first book was an impressive debut, but as for book two, could he do it again? Or ideally, do it better?
   Book two is no longer a debut. By book two you are an author, no longer a novice. Time to be taken more seriously.
   I was nervous. For the book. For him.
   I need not have been.
   He did just fine.

  World on Fire was a more polished and readable offering from cover to cover than its predecessor. Both in storyline and in writing quality. That isn't to say that By The Sword was poor writing. It was well written, but it did fall down sometimes and it did need some fat sliced away from long protracted scenes and flashbacks. World on Fire is more professional in many ways. I really enjoyed where his head was at in this book and I was practically glowing with relief as I read it.
  I think the author learned a lot about his writing after getting that debut out of the way and out of his system. He is really starting to shine as an historical fiction author and I am eager to see what is to come down the track with book three in the works.

   I think Christian Kachel can stand proud, shoulder to shoulder with any of his historical fiction peers - whatever the country, whoever the publisher – that currently write in periods of Ancient history.
   The book is wonderfully readable. In saying that, the love story and emotion driven elements were not written as well, but once I hit those scenes and got over that hump, the book continued to be a terrific way to while away my reading hours. His peers can make these same mistakes with love story and relationship elements. He's not alone in that. Some authors write from a different part of their mind when dealing with love and emotion and many readers can sense the shift. But, when he digs into the theatre of war and the espionage, he does it as good, if not better, than so many of those peers.
   You can tell a lot from an author by his or her ability to create a battlefield in the mind's eye of the reader. It is not easy, with all that goes on, to weave it all into a nearly tangible experience.

   I am not sure if this following quote conveys my meaning, because it is pulled out of context. When you are swallowed by a story, sometimes you need the reading fug of crescendo and excitement attached. Ripped from its context the fug is washed away.
   Risking that cleansing, here is a quote as example of how this author conveys his battlefield vision.

          “Antigonus took his usual place on the far right flank alongside his son, Demetrius, and lined his sixty-five elephants in a single rank in front of his entire army. This was an admission of our phalanx's superiority due to the Silver Shields and the old veteran hoped to bolster his phalangites with the presence of the intimidating beasts. He placed light infantry in the gaps between the animals to solidify this front rank. As Eumenes gave the order for the horns to blow, our army lurched forward and the dust cloud expanded to a point where I had to squint my eyes.....    
         …..As the armies neared, I could hear the terrible shrieks of elephants engaging each other in the centre of our formation. Their brutal encounters consisted of violently locking tusks and attempting to gore one another while their mahouts rained down missiles. The front ranks of our cavalry now engaged Antigonus' right flank. The dust had kicked up to such a point that I could not see the front line of our formation and knew we had reached the enemy only by the halt in our advance.”

   On that, I have to wind up my review. All I can say to finish is, that if you like what you read there, then read the book for yourself and let me know what you thought. The author has recapped book one in this second book, so I believe you can read World on Fire without reading By The Sword first, but why would you want to?
   Special shout out to Americans....if you are an American or live in America, I definitely recommend this book to you. Support your American male authors if they write in Ancient History. Good quality ones are a rare flower and should be encouraged to keep writing and keep writing well.
Maybe one day, the more influential publishers will notice and you will start to see more Ancient History historical fiction written by male authors on the shelves of your local book stores and libraries.


5 stars out of 5

Note: I received this book from the author for review. The author understood that I value my integrity and would be completely honest. And so I was, as I always am.
- MM

Monday, 10 April 2017

WARRIORS OF THE STORM by Bernard Cornwell

  It has been a long time between drinks for me and, after a couple years since the last time I had read a book in this series, boy, it sure was good to be back drinking from the well of Bernard Cornwell's Uhtred.

   I've missed the big guy, with all his scorching, sardonic quips and his unabashed mocking of just about anybody, he is a big personality to endure, and I endure him with such delight and immense gratitude.
   Rarely does a character, consistently, make me smile and laugh out loud as much as Uhtred Uhtredsson of Bebbanburg. He is a character to be enjoyed and can carry these books and their stories on his back alone. No other character can compete and, thankfully, Bernard Cornwell never lets them. His Uhtred takes centre stage at all times. And most especially so in this book. Number nine in the series.

  These books are stand alone. Cornwell always reiterates important back history so that people who are reading them as a stand alone, or who read the series but need a refresher, can follow along fairly seamlessly. If you do read the series, however, this book has a lot of closing chapters in it. With characters you have known for many, many years, leaving the series for good. I will not tell you who they are, so as not to spoil things, but like or loathe them, it is always a little sad to see characters that we have gotten to know over many years, finally become no more.
We even learned a thing or two about Finan in this book. His storyline was fascinating to follow and it felt like another loose end tied up. But, Uhtred is on to new chapters in his life, including, in maybe only a few more books, the end of his own story and the passing of an era, so it is expected to see some loose ends come together. It makes no sense to weave them to their conclusions in the last two books. That would be rushing it.

  Warriors of the Storm turned out to be one of my favourites of the series. I loved it from start to finish. It could be because the leave taking of a few lingering characters from earlier books left me feeling sentimental. It could be because I did have a break for a couple of years and completely forgot how much I enjoy these books. Or, it could simply be because the book was a bloody good read. I am thinking it is all three, but in saying that, without the first two, I would still regard it highly and recommend to others based on nothing more than it being that good read. The former two matter little when it comes to me thinking of recommending it.

  With battles and strategies, twists and turns (that you may or may not see coming), short journeys, some seafaring, some nostalgia, Christians who were tolerable for a change and Danes like we love them, brutal, blustery and bombastic, this was an entertaining, well paced read, that made me want to read it all over again as soon as I'd finished it.

5 out of 5 stars.