Beautiful Star by Andrew Swanston

I’ve been lucky enough to have been to take part in a Book Blog tour for Andrew Swanston’s new book, Beautiful Star.

Beautiful Star is a series of short stories bringing the history we know about to life, in a way that we might not know about.  Andrew very kindly agreed to answer some of my questions about the book and the life of a writer in general.

Beautiful Star bc

1) The Beautiful Star isn’t a straightforward novel, in the fact that it is seven stories in one book. Where did the idea come from?

In the little church of the Fife village of St Monans there hangs a cutting from The Times of November 1875. It is a letter from Sir Robert Anstruther describing the disaster that had recently struck the village and appealing for donations to a fund for the stricken families. Much taken by the story, I researched it further. The result is Beautiful Star.
I found that I enjoyed the challenges of writing shorter stories and there followed, over the course of a few years, others which I stumbled upon – Eilmer, the Flying Monk on a visit to Malmesbury, The Castle on a visit to Corfe, for example – and wrote them while working on my Thomas Hill novels and their successors. Put together, they make up Beautiful Star and Other Stories.

2) What made you select the periods of history selected in the book?

They selected me in the sense that these are the stories I discovered and found interesting. They range in time from the years 1010 to 1875. They are connected otherwise only by being little-known historical footnotes, some to larger events of great significance, others not. The Tree is something of an exception, being a whimsical slant to a very well known story

3) In the book you give a voice to those people not normally heard in the history books, was this deliberate?

What most interests me is how events great and small affect ordinary people. Social rather than political or military history, if you like. What did Londoners think, for example, when they heard horrifying stories of Huguenots being massacred on the streets of Paris? Years after the notion of witchcraft had been largely consigned to the dustbin of history, how come an old woman could be tried for the crime in an English court and sentenced to hang for it. How did the news of Napoleon’s escape from Elba reach London and how was it received? Those are the sort of questions that I enjoy thinking and writing about.

4) How difficult was it to research seven different periods of history.

Not difficult. I love researching stories and digging into periods unfamiliar to me ( I knew next to nothing about pre-Norman England, for example) was an added bonus.

5) During the process of writing the stories, did any of them make you want to write a longer story?

I think they are all best told as shorter stories, being based on particular incidents.

6) Can you describe a ‘typical’ day writing?

Not really. I have no particular routine and just write when I want to. I do find that the pre-drinks hours of 3pm to 6pm are the most productive!

7) If you could give one piece of advice for aspiring authors what would it be?

When I was 13, my headmaster asked me, as headmasters do, what I wanted to do when I had to fend for myself in the world. I told him, truthfully, that I wanted to write. It took nearly fifty years, but eventually I became an author. So my advice to others is to never give up, even if you have to keep at it for half a century.

8) Which authors/writers inspired you to start writing?

As a boy I loved the Sherlock Holmes stories and still do. Horatio Hornblower is my no. 1 literary hero. So Conan Doyle and CS Forester must take the blame!

9) What kind of novels do you read to relax?

Oddly perhaps, I prefer to relax with non-fiction and have a hard core of‘must-read’ authors, including: Jared Diamond, Ben Macintyre, Michael Lewis, John Gribbin, Tom Holland and Anthony Beevor. All brilliant in their own way

10) What is up next from you?

I am writing the sequel to Incendium, a Tudor thriller set in 1572, which was published last February. I would like also to write another collection of shorter stories.


Andrew read a little law and a lot of sport at Cambridge University, and held various
positions in the book trade, including being a director of Waterstone & Co, and Chairman
of Methven’s plc, before turning to writing.
Inspired by a lifelong interest in early modern history, his Thomas Hill novels are set during the English Civil Wars, and the early period of the Restoration.

Andrew Swanston Headshot
Andrew’s novel, Incendium, was published in February 2017 and is the first of two thrillers featuring Dr. Christopher Radcliff, an intelligencer for the Earl of Leicester, and is set in 1572 at the time of the massacre of the Huguenots in France.
The Dome Press will publish Beautiful Star, a collection of short stories documenting a
journey through time, bringing a new perspective to the defence of Corfe Castle, the battleof Waterloo, the siege of Toulon and, in the title story, the devastating dangers of the life of the sea in 1875.

Social Media
Twitter: @AndrewSwanston

Posted in Blog Tours, Medieval Fiction | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Wings of the Storm by Giles Kristian

Wings of the Storm is the final book in his trilogy Rise of Siguard and follows our hero, Siguard as he attempts the win reputation and more importantly, riches so he can finally confront the Oath breaker King Gorm.

Fighting for the warlord, Alrik in Sweden, Siguard and his crew find themselves besieged by a powerful Jarl who wants back what was stolen from him and revenge on Alrick who took it from him.

Proving indispensable to Alrick, Siguard and his crew quickly gain a reputation as powerful warriors and bringers of death to those they oppose and its seems that Siguard really is Odin favoured but when he pushes his luck too far it seems he may have drawn the attention and ire of Loki the Trickster.


Captured and facing being sacrificed on a altar of blood, Siguard must use all of his skill and those of his trusted crew to escape the knife and assemble a host big enough to finally bring justice to the Betrayer, King Gorm and revenge his family and become a Jarl in his own right.

This is a belter of a book to finish this amazing journey Siguard and Kristian have taken us on and captures all the best things about Kristian’s writing. Nobody else, In my humble opinion captures the savagery, the brutality, the bloodthirstiness of the Viking age as well as Kristian but he also captures the joy, the camaraderie and the sheer fun of a crew with an open ocean and the world at their feet. 

Kristian’s prose is as usual superb and you can feel his love of the Norse sagas and all things Viking in every word he writes and when he is describing the rituals and whims of the Old Gods you can almost physically feel them in the room with you such is the beauty and power of the prose.

I think I once described Kristian’s ability to write a battle scene as almost 3D like and he doesn’t disappoint in the final climactic battle of this book. He manages to cram into a paragraph the ferocity, the viciousness and gruesome bloodiness of battle and such is the power of the descriptive narrative that as Kristian builds layer upon layer of noise, blood, terror and brutality you feel yourself drawn into the heart of the scene.  

I don’t think I can recommend this book (and the Series) enough and if you are looking for a book that captures why we are still fascinated by the Viking age, 1000 years after it ended then you have just found it.   

Wings of the Storm is the fabulous final book in the Rise of Siguard series and the author once again brings to life the savage and brutal world of the Vikings in a way only he can. 

You can read my Interview with Giles Kristian here.





Posted in Viking Fiction | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Interview with Giles Kristian

Well, its been a while but I’m finally re-launching the blog! Life has conspired in various ways to take me away from the world of reviewing and to be honest I haven’t read much over the last 18 months either but the bug has bitten again and I’m ready to go!

And what better way to relaunch the blog than to be a part of Giles Kristian’s Blog Tour to help celebrate the launch of his latest book, Wings of the Storm which is the last book in his Rise of Siguard series (Review here). Giles has very kindly answered some of my questions about the book and what the future holds for him.

So pick up your oar, strap on your sword and find a place on the rowing bench as we sail headlong into the world of the Vikings as imagined by Giles…

1) What can we expect from the last book in the series?

Wings of the Storm is the climactic finale in the Rise of Sigurd series. Sigurd and his crew of oathsworn warriors are fighting for an ambitious warlord in Sweden, for Sigurd knows he needs fame and reputation, and silver too, if he’s to attract warriors to his own banner and, at last, challenge his hated enemy, the oath-breaker King Gorm. But while men have come to believe he is Odin-favoured, its seems Sigurd has drawn the eye of another god: Loki the Trickster. A daring raid goes wrong and Sigurd is captured, bound like a slave and taken to the sacred temple at Uppsala, where the blood of human sacrifice flows to appease the gods.

I felt I’d rather built things up across the first two books, with Sigurd desperate and yet unable to take his long-awaited revenge on his enemy. But delaying vengeance is a very Viking thing to do. If someone wronged you, you might wait years before exacting your revenge. The act of biding your time, taking retribution when it was least expected, showed your self-control and was much admired. So, in Wings of the Storm I knew it was time to unleash the pent-up fury. Readers can expect an adrenaline-fuelled climax which I hope will leave them shuddering and breathless and perhaps even with a sense that the old gods have been watching.

2) After six books writing about Sigurd, is this the final trip for him?

There could easily be more books in the Rise of Sigurd series because Wings of the Storm doesn’t lead directly into RAVEN: Blood Eye. It would still be some fifteen or so years before Sigurd meets Raven. Plenty of time for more adventures (it’s almost as if I’ve thought about it), although it’s perhaps more likely that I’ll write another RAVEN book, because I keep getting emails from readers asking me to. And, thinking about where I left the story, it seems only the decent thing to get the last survivors of Sigurd’s band out of Miklagard before they become soft and corrupt. Before they become accustomed to the finer things in life or drown themselves in wine and women and the many delights of the ‘greatest city’. We wouldn’t want our wolves to become tame, would we? Then again, from what I recall there aren’t many of them left at the end of Odin’s Wolves, so perhaps the kindest thing is to let them enjoy themselves. They’ve earned a few perks.

Maybe I should see what my publisher thinks about the idea. Either way, Wings of the Storm is likely to be my last Viking book for a few years because I have other stories planned. I’m going to miss Sigurd and his motley crew. Let’s see what the Norns weave.

3) Where did the inspiration for Sigurd and his crew come from?

I was on a stag weekend in Oslo, visiting the Viking Ship Museum, sneakily touching the stunning Oseberg and Gokstad ships when no one was looking, and I found myself imagining our group of friends aboard those very ships, at the row benches, out to pillage and plunder (as we were!). I imagined the banter, the black humour and the camaraderie, the thinly disguised fear and trepidation and excitement and wanderlust. I felt the first threads of something start to weave in my mind as I stood there in that awe-inspiring place. As soon as I was home, and the fog had cleared, I wrote the first lines of RAVEN: Blood Eye. Being half Norwegian and having spent so much time on little boats in and around the islands and fjords of western Norway, it seemed entirely fitting that I should write a Viking story. Mind you, I couldn’t have known Sigurd and his crew would journey on through six novels, and when I think how, very early on in my career, my mother said, ‘Why don’t you stop writing about Vikings and write something that people actually want to read about?’, I think it’s going rather well!

4) How much research goes into the books?

It’s hard to pinpoint precisely when a lifelong interest and passion becomes deliberate research for a book. But I have to say that one of the joys of writing about late 8th century Norway is that it predates the history of the Norwegian kings. While this doesn’t exactly mean I can do what I want, it does mean I get to have fun without having to weave my tale within accepted historical events and around people who actually lived and breathed. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again, (Charlemagne in Sons of Thunder, Prince Rupert and King Charles I in The Bleeding Land), but part of me can’t help but feel presumptuous, even arrogant, putting my words in the mouths of real historical people. It’s very freeing when you don’t have to consider any of this.

For God of Vengeance some friends and I spent a few days on the island of Karmøy on the west coast of Norway where the story is set, and we rowed the largest replica Viking ship ever built, Draken Harald Hårfagre. It was more of a jolly than serious research. Besides which, those islands are such a part of me that I only have to close my eyes and I’m there. Sometimes, when I’m writing – and not just these books but other stories too – it feels more like I’m remembering than creating. I dream it, too. It’s a strange and powerful magic and whatever it is, I hope it never goes away.

5) Why do you think the Vikings continue to fascinate people? 

I think we’re attracted to this idea of people who did not conform to wider society’s rules, who lived according to their own values and traditions and who, for a while at least, refused to accept the centralisation of power and the oppressive doctrine of Christianity which had conquered so much of Europe. Vikings are usually portrayed living hedonistic lifestyles. Loads of feasting and drinking, brawling and generally being raucous. What’s not to like about that? Even their idea of heaven is just a bigger feast with bigger mead horns and a never-ending hog roast. I know where I’d rather go when I die!

We’re impressed by the Vikings’ wanderlust, which saw them take to their open boats and sail most of the North Atlantic, reach south to North Africa and east to Russia, Constantinople and the Middle East. The voyages they made are simply staggering, and I think the combination of courage, ambition and seafaring skill is alluring.

Also, unlike, say, the Celts or the Saxons, Angles or Jutes, we think we would recognise a Viking. I suppose this is down to some of the iconic objects which we associate almost exclusively with these pagan warriors: The long-hafted battle axe, the drinking horn and of course the infamous but beautiful longship. And, for some people – somewhat astonishingly – that enduring image of the horned helmet, for which there is of course no evidence. But this imagery gives us a picture of who we think the Vikings were. It all helps the Viking brand.

6) What has been your favourite scene you have written over the series?

I like the scene in God of Vengeance that begins with the line: ‘The beat of the drum was slow at first, like the ebb and flow of the tide,’ where Sigurd is hanging in a twisted, wind-blasted tree in a swamp, hallucinating and tripping out, having imbibed Asgot’s potions. I recently listened to that scene on the audiobook and was blown away by what a beautiful job Philip Stevens, who narrates the series, did of it. Other than that, I’d have to say the final battle in Wings of the Storm is my favourite scene across the three books. It’s the most epic thing I’ve yet written and I’m hoping it will leave the reader as breathless as it left me writing it. There’s another battle I like, in Brothers’ Fury (the second of my Rivers/Civil War books), which I’m very proud of, but this scene in Wings of the Storm is the equivalent of the album title track and I think it earns that honour.

7) Can you describe a ‘typical’ day writing?

You really want to hear it? Really? This is the problem with writing. While the end result can, with luck and a following wind, be a book which is entertaining and immersive and even, in some cases, life-changing, the actual process of creating the book is dull. Boring. Frustrating and unglamorous and, well, not dissimilar to doing homework (the thought of which still brings me out in a cold sweat). It necessitates sitting in front of a screen for bum-achingly long periods and thinking until one’s brain aches. This is something I’ve never been good at. In fact, I was held down a year at primary school because I was no good at it. I would just get up from my desk and wander around the class, disrupting other kids who were trying to work. I still do that, but there are fewer people around to disturb.

Truth is, more and more I’m growing to detest the sedentary nature of the job, which is a bit of a problem but what can you do? Of course, the freedom of working for myself and from home is worth a lot. A lot! If I have a cracking hangover, no one is clocking me on at 9am. If I wanted to take the day off and do a three-movie marathon at the cinema with a large popcorn, ice cream and a bag of fizzy cola bottles, who’s going to stop me? The trouble is, the book/script/treatment/blog/pitch etc has to get written one way or the other and I’m not a fast writer anyway so there’s no time to waste. Besides which, just imagine a creative job like this with no self-imposed discipline. That way madness (and the pub) lies. So, most of the time I start at 9am and I finish around 4.30-5pm. I just can’t concentrate any longer than that because writing a novel is intense and exhausting and if I have at least 1000 words (good ones and keepers at that) I’m happy enough. Then in the evenings I do the publicity, marketing and admin side of things, answering readers’ emails, wrangling the various social media platforms and essentially running the business, with everything that entails. Writing the novels is only part of it.

8) If you could give one piece of advice for aspiring authors what would it be?

Don’t show off your work until you’ve put it away for a few weeks, then come back to it. That’s when you realise how much is wrong with it and what you need to do to improve it. Also, if you can, have your work-in-progress assessed by a professional at The Literary Consultancy: Back in 2005 they provided feedback on an early draft of RAVEN: Blood Eye and that feedback was a real eye-opener for me. I took their advice, put it into action and the result was a stronger, more saleable manuscript.

9) What is up next from you?

LANCELOT: The Betrayal. That’s what I’m writing now. Not a Viking in sight. This will be my take on the Arthurian myth and I’m coming at it from a different angle by telling not Arthur’s story, but Lancelot’s. Lancelot is the flawed hero of the legend, the great lover, the great fighter, and the man whose affair with Guinevere, his best friend’s wife, presages the downfall of Arthur’s Britain. Now there’s an interesting character to write about, I thought. It’s not slated for publication until 2018 because it’s going to be a big book and in many ways it’s a different kind of book from any I’ve written before. But I’ve also got another big project on the go which will keep me very busy when I’m not in Lancelot’s world. I’m afraid I can’t say more about that until the new year, but I’m more than a little excited about it. For me, 2017 is going to be a year of head-down hard work. For now though, it’s time to head into a brutal and beautiful land where the old gods still hold sway. To join Sigurd and unleash the Wings of the Storm.

Family history (he is half Norwegian) inspired GILES KRISTIAN to write his first historical novels: the acclaimed and bestselling Raven Viking trilogy – Blood Eye, Sons of Thunder and Odin’s Wolves. For his next series, he drew on a long-held fascination with the English Civil War to chart the fortunes of a family divided by this brutal conflict in The Bleeding Land and Brothers’ Fury. Giles also co-wrote Wilbur Smith’s recent No.1 bestseller, Golden Lion but in his new novels – God of Vengeance (a TIMES Book of the Year), Winter’s Fire and now Wings of the Storm – he returns to the world of the Vikings to tell the story of Sigurd and his celebrated fictional fellowship. Giles Kristian lives in Leicestershire.



Twitter: @gileskristian

Facebook: GilesKristian

Posted in Blog Tours, Interviews | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Into The Fire by Manda Scott

Into the Fire blog tour poster

One of the real pleasures of book reviewing is being asked to take part in book blog tours and even more when that book is by one of your favourite authors.

I came to Manda’s book quite late and embarrassingly it was because i didn’t really read female authors, I’m not really sure why but I had just never thought that I would connect with the book or the author. Well how wrong could I be!? After seeing people I respect on Twitter waxing lyrical about her books I picked up Dreaming the Eagle the first book in the Boudica series.

I instantly became a fan, read the entire series within a week and then proceeded to read everything written by her and was stuck by just how well written they were with intelligent and well paced plots but it was the characterisation that really blew me away.

Well round characters populated the books and I can honestly say that they were different to anything I had every read before, they seemed to come at me from a completely different direction to what I was used too, rather naively I assumed this was because they were written by a woman but I soon realised that its because they are written by an intelligent and extremely interesting author who comes at life from a different angle than most people ( I mean that most respectfully) and this comes across in her novels.

When I heard that the next novel was going to be a retelling of the story of Joan of Arc I was immediately excited by the prospect of reading just what direction the story would be taken in.

I won’t say too much about the plot in case of spoilers but the book is split into two different stories, One set in 1400’s and the second in modern day France.

Obviously the part set in the 1400’s covers a retelling of the Joan of Arc story and strips away the myths that have built up around the story. Told from the point of view of an English agent the story gets to the heart of the story of the fight back of the French crown against the seemly invincible English. Leading this fight back is a young girl who inspires the army she leads but fear and distrust in those around the king.

It also explains why the myth of divine intervention built up around her as the sexism of the time just wouldn’t allow a young girl to lead and inspire an army and too also fight and ride as good if not better than some of the greatest knights of the age.

The second story is set in modern day Orleans and shows the effect the myth of the maid has on the political parties fighting a mayoral election. The central character is a high ranking police officer who is leading the hunt for a team of arsonist who are bringing fear and terror to the streets of Orleans, she is also just so happens to be married albeit unhappily to the leading candidate in the mayoral election.

Both parts of the book are fantastic stories in the own right but when read together really bring the book and story to life. The story in modern day France is particularly clever and shines a light onto France’s battle with its past, its growing immigrant population, the fear of Islam and the rise of the national front.

It also shows the sheer power of national myths on the modern psyche and how they can be twisted and manipulated to suit the needs of politicians and fringe groups.

If you want an intelligent but highly entertaining retelling of the story of Joan of Arc then I can’t recommend this book enough, Manda Scott has again proven what a fantastic writer she is and has cemented her place at the top of my reading list!

 Manda Scott (born 1962) is a former veterinary surgeon who is now a writer, under the name M C Scott. Born and educated in Glasgow, Scotland, she trained at the University of Glasgow School of Veterinary Medicine and now lives and works in Shropshire. She made her name initially as a crime writer. Her first novel, Hen’s Teeth, hailed by Fay Weldon as ‘a new voice for a new world’ was shortlisted for the 1997 Orange Prize, and No Good Deed was nominated for the 2003 Edgar Award.

Her subsequent novels, Night Mares, Stronger than Death and No Good Deed, for which she was hailed as ‘one of Britain’s most important crime writers’ by The Times, were published by Headline and are now published, along with her other books, by Transworld Publishers, an imprint of Random House. She writes both historical and contemporary thrillers. “The Boudica series” are her first historical novels.

Her more recent Rome series (written under the name MC Scott), beginning with The Emperor’s Spy, are spy thrillers, set in the same fictional universe with some of the surviving characters from the Boudica series.

Between the two major historical series, she wrote The Crystal Skull, a dual timeline novel with a historical thread set in the Tudor era and a contemporary thriller set in modern-day Cambridge.

Her latest novel is a fast-paced, dual timeline thriller, Into the Fire, which explores the truth behind the myth of Jeanne d’Arc – and the impact those revelations could have on modern day (2014) France.

Chairs: In 2010, she founded the Historical Writers’ Association, of which she is currently Chair. She co-organises the Thames Valley History Festival and the Harrogate History Festival. She is Chair of the Prize committee of the HWA Debut Crown and in 2014, organised the first meeting of the Historical Publishing Groupmanda1

******For a chance to win a signed copy of Into The Fire please go to my Twitter page (here)  and Retweet the pinned tweet at the top of my page.*******

Posted in Blog Tours | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Holy Lance by Andrew Latham

The Holy Lance is the debut novel by Andrew Latham. Set during the brutal and bloody years of the Third Crusade the story follows the trials and tribulations of Knights Templar, Michael Fitz Alan.

The story starts off as a pretty standard medieval fare as the author describes Saladin’s attempts to relieve the siege of Arce by King Richard’s forces. This is brought to life by a fantastic description of a Cavalry charge by the Knights Templars which really got the blood pumping!


The story then takes a turn as Fitz Alan is sent by King Richard on a mission to retrieve the mythical relic the Spear of Longinus, long believed to be the spear that pierced Christ’s side as he hung on the cross, Richard is determined to own it and the magical help he believes it will give him.

Readers need not worry, this doesn’t descend into a Dan Brown type treasure hunt and the spear doesn’t shoot laser beams or give eternal life to whoever shall possess this relic. While the characters certainly believe that it is a magical relic it is just that, a relic that will give a morale boost to whoever owns it.

In a race against time, Fitz Alan has to use all of his cunning and intelligence as he looks to find the relic before the forces of Saladin and even competing Christian factions find it but Fitz William is a warrior of God and he will not be denied.

This is a very good debut novel from an author who obviously loves and knows the medieval period. Beautifully detailed while not flooding the plot with facts and figures this book really brings to life the blood and strife in the Middle East during the Crusades.

While religion has to be a major theme of the book the author manages to incorporate it without taking sides or being blatantly biased to one side or the other. All the religions are pious, cruel, kind and insincere in equal measure and this creates a nice balance within the book.

The really strength of the book is the great characterization of the main protagonists. Fitz Alan is a dark brooding character, pious and dutifully he is constantly fighting his inner demons and this gives him real depth as a character and I found that I really liked him. The author also works his magic on King Richard, making him, in my opinion much more of a realistic medieval king. While undoubtedly still heroic and mighty in battle he is also arrogant, egotistical and cruel and gives a reality check to this most over hyped of English Kings.

If you like your medieval history with a touch of realism and a cracking story populated by interesting characters then you should put Holy Lance to the top of your reading list.


Knox Robinson author Andrew A. Latham is an award-winning professor of International Relations who regularly teaches courses in medieval political thought, international relations, and war. Trained as a Political Scientist, Latham has spent the last decade-and-a-half researching political violence in the Middle Ages. He has written scholarly articles on medieval war, the crusades, jihad, and the political thought of Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas. His most recent book is a work of non-fiction entitled Theorizing Medieval Geopolitics: War and World Order in the Age of the Crusades.

Latham was born in England, raised in Canada and currently lives in the United States. He graduated from York University in Toronto with a BA (Honours) in Political Science; later he earned an MA from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario; and later yet, he earned a PhD from his alma mater, York.

Posted in General | 1 Comment

SJA Turney Day

To celebrate the release of SJA Turney’s latest book, Praetorian I am dedicating the blog to to all things Roman.

Praetorian tells the story of a young and inexperienced legionary, Rufinus. During a battle in the Germanic wars he inadvertently saves the life of a senior officer. As a “reward he is promoted to the elite Praetorian guard, and thrust into the murky and dangerous world of the Imperial Family.

As he tries to adjust to his new role he comes to the attention of the new Emperor Commodus and is drawn ever closer to the Imperial bosom and all the inherent dangers of being that close to power.

 SJA Turney is probably most well known as the author of the excellent Marius Mules series featuring the irasicable Fronto.
Praetorian is the first book in a new series that will feature young Rufinus. I have been a fan of the author’s for a few years now and the Marius Mules series is one of my favourites and I glad to say this book maintains the standards I expect from the author.
I enjoyed the fact that the book is a complete departure from the Fronto books, it can be very easy for an author when writing a new story in a familiar setting to blur the between the two stories.
While Fronto books are heavy on battles and slaughter this book is much more concerned on the intrigue of the Imperial family though fans need’nt worry there is still plenty of bloodshed!
The character’s are well rounded and Rufinus is a likeable man who is desperately trying to fit into his new surrounding.
One of the most interesting characters is Commodus, we all remember the monster from Gladiator but in this book he much more of a three dimensional character rather than the one dimension monster. I actually really liked him and it will be interesting to see how the author deals with him as the burden of power bear down on him.
This is a cracking book and I can highly recommend this and the author’s back catalogue.
The author has kindly agreed to answer a few questions so please enjoy them below.
1) Can you give us a quick plot outline for Praetorian?

Now, without spoilers, obviously I can only go so far, but in very shortened form, Praetorian is the story of a young legionary during that horrendous war at the end of Marcus Aurelius’ reign who through sheer chance saves the life of a Praetorian prefect and finds himself suddenly and unexpectedly promoted to the Guard. When the old emperor dies and his son Commodus comes to the throne, peace is achieved and Rufinus is posted back to Rome where he has to overcome prejudice and bullying which again indirectly leads to him being given an undercover mission: to infiltrate the great imperial villa currently inhabited by the emperor’s sister, who the Praetorian prefect suspects of involvement in a plot to kill her brother. There follows a tense investigation to discover the details and then a race against time to save the emperor’s life.

2). Where did the idea for this book come from?

Really it was born out of the desire to write about one of Rome’s more maligned emperors and to try and portray him in a more sympathetic light. In reviewing Commodus’ early reign, the plot against him that involved his sister leapt to my attention as it has been completely overlooked in both Hollywood treatments of that emperor and rarely written about. I had a plot and a villain. All I needed was a hero. I wanted someone completely different from Fronto, so Rufinus was partially born as an anti-Fronto. Young rather than old, inexperienced instead of a veteran, a nobody instead of a noble officer. The list goes on. Everything just fell into place so easily.

3) Being so well known for your Roman series Marius Mules was it daunting to venture into a different period of the Roman Empire?

To be honest, it felt absolutely natural. I had already forged a path away from Marius’ Mules with a manuscript based on the 22nd legion in Egypt and, though that entire manuscript was consigned to ‘file 13′ in the end, I had nearly completed it, so Praetorian was actually my second non-Marius Roman work. I found it great fun to write, and totally different. The only thing I found daunting was how well it would be received. Marius’ Mules is a solidly military series, and on the occasions I have dipped into politics with it and veered away from the military, it disappointed a few readers. Well while Praetorian has its share of fights, it is a whole different animal – more of an espionage action/thriller. It seems to be being well-received so far. Let’s see how it goes…. *crosses fingers*

4) What is it about the Roman period that attracts you to it?

I think there are several things that make Rome such an attractive proposition. Mainly, it is the sheer scale of it. If you include everything, you’re looking at an empire that begins in 753BC with the founding of an aggressive city and ends in 1453AD with the fall of Constantinople to the Turk. That’s 2206 years of the same empire in various forms. By comparison, England has only been a unified country for less than half that time! In that time Rome was a kingdom, a republic, and two very different empires. It was pagan and then Christian. Stretching from Portugal to Arabia and Scotland to southern Algeria, it encompassed a vast, varied area. The sheer scope of the era is astounding. And yet many people still think of Rome and see that traditional view: a legionary in segmented armour, bearing a shield with lightning bolts on it, or a senator in a toga. The beauty of exploring the Roman world and writing about it is being able to try and shatter that image. Ben Kane often portrays the early Rome, where the army is formed in a different manner and the soldiers far more resemble the Greek army of Marathon or the Macedonian forces of Alexander than anything people commonly picture as Roman. Conversely, Gordon Doherty portrays late Rome, where the nobles look more Persian than Roman and togas are a thing of the past, and the legions have all-but gone to be replaced by mobile field armies of fast-moving light infantry and cavalry and by barbarians serving the empire on a retainer. It’s almost impossible to get one’s head around the scale of Rome. Some of the most intelligent scholars in the world have spent a lifetime studying Rome and still only unearthed a corner of it. And, let’s not forget that Rome is the first culture to be thoroughly recorded in written language throughout most of its time. Greek scholars will, of course, berate me for that comment, but I would suggest that there is far less written evidence for the bulk of ancient Greek culture than for Rome.

5) Ultimate Roman? (not including your own creations 🙂 )

Too much choice! Runners-up would have to include Scipio Africanus, Titus Labienus, Corbulo, Agricola, Trajan, Antoninus Pius, marcus Aurelius, Maxentius, Justinian… oh so many more. But if I had to pick one? It would be Julian (the ‘apostate’). When Julian came to power in 361 (he only reigned for 2 years), the empire had been thoroughly Christianised for half a century. But Julian was the ultimate Roman in the traditional sense. He saw new Christian Rome as a failure. He yearned for the days of the great principate with emperors like Trajan and felt that only a return to the old ways could save the declining state. Sadly, he died of a battle wound before he could complete his reforms and his successor continued the trend that had begun with Constantine. I see it as telling that half a century later Rome fell and the western empire was overrun by tribes. Was Julian right? It would be fascinating to see what might have happened had he lived to a ripe old age and overturned the entire Roman system. he’s also very sadly neglected by history, and I once contemplated a novel about him, but for the fact that Gore Vidal had done just that back in the 60s. Hmmm…perhaps it is time for a new treatment? *Scribbles note in to-do book*

6) For a long time you were self published, would you recommend the self published route for budding writers?

Hmm. Tough question. Not sure what the answer to that is, really. What’s right for one person won’t necessarily work for another. And certainly it’s not the guaranteed pathway to stardom some would have you believe. It can involve a lot of hard work and headaches and a lot of rejection and failure. And despite any success I’ve had through self-publishing, even 6 years down the road, I am still working on securing a contract with a major publisher. So the upshot is that I would always recommend pushing for the full monty before going alone. I would class it as a last resort unless a writer has a plan that specifically requires it (and I know one or two who have done this for very good reasons.)

7) What is a ‘typical’ writing day for you.

Coffee. Coffee. Coffee.
Actually, I rarely ever get started on time. I plan to start by nine, but the kids always edge that up a bit. I tend to admin first thing (correspondence, site updates etc.) Then I lock myself away in the office, crank up the music, switch on the coffee machine, check my plan for the day, work things through in note format and then write solidly, on occasion taking the time to pop downstairs for a bite of lunch. I write until 5, trying to fit in some editing in the meantime. In essence, I write at speed for 8 hours a day, fueled by coffee. In retrospect, actually, I’ll say 7 hours. Internet research and twitter are wonderful distractions, after all. Fascinating to set out with Google to learn the Latin name for a river in central France and end up learning the history of the Muppet Show. Gods bless the Internet!

8) What authors/writers inspired you to take up writing.

Very simply: Guy Gavriel Kay. I have many authors I love to read, but the one who inspired me to try and create my own tale is Kay. Indeed, passing Marius’ Mules by, my other early work, Interregnum, was very much my attempt to emulate that man’s works. I have had it compared once or twice by readers, and that, for me, is the greatest compliment I can imagine.

9) What Next?
Plenty! That’s the simple answer. The final installment of the Ottoman Cycle is now just awaiting a cover  before it’s ready to publish. A book that I have written in collaboration with Gordon Doherty is now complete and about to be sent off to our agents to see what might become of it. Another collaboration (a Roman-based childrens’ book with illustrations by the talented Dave Slaney) is also with my agent, seeking placement. All these things are on the cusp, as well as a collection of Roman short stories for charity. And I am about to write Marius’ Mules VIII: Sons of Taranis. And late in the year it will be the turn of Praetorian II, which is already fully planned out and ready. It’s all go in Turneyland.
Posted in Roman Fiction | 2 Comments

Ostland by David Thomas

1941 and for the idealistic young detective Georg Heuser his new posting to the renowned headquarters of the Berlin Police dept was a dream come true. Under the guidance of commissioner Ludtke, Hauser hopes to make a big impression on his bosses.

He gets his chance quicker than he expects when rumours of a killer haunting the Berlin Railways reach the murder squads ears. Targeting lone women commuters, the killers assaults and then bludgeons them to death. 


As the body count rises, the Berlin Murder squad comes under increasing pressure from the ruling Nazi party to capture and execute this deviant. With war raging across Europe Hauser must use all of his brilliant skills if he is to stop the killer and earn the gratitude of SS chief, Heinrich  Himmler. 

1959 and in West Germany two lawyers, Max Kraus and Paula Siebert are in pursuit of Nazi war criminals, in particular those men involved in the brutal suppression of the Eastern Front in the area the Nazis called Ostland.

Charged with clearing the area of Jews, communists and any deviants deemed undesirable, these men killed and butchered their way across Eastern Europe. Millions were killed and Max and Paula are determined to these men to justice.   

While they are targeting many, one man is particular is in their sights. A cold, calculating and efficient killer of men these man oversaw and took part in some of the worst atrocities of the entire war. This mans name is Georg Heuser. Paula and Max what to find out how this good man became a monster. 


So where do I start with this book review? Okay I will start in a easy part…This is probably the best book I have ever read! So why? well that is harder to explain.

The book is based on real events and real people and has three aspects to the book. The first half of the book is a murder mystery as Georg attempts to capture the killer. The second half of the book is more complex as Georg is sent to police the occupied areas on the Eastern Front and the slow descent into criminality and murder. The intertwining thread is the 1959 court case as Paula and Max attempt to bring him to justice.

The first half of the book sets up Georg as an engaging and likeable character, his enthusiasm  for his new job and his belief in the law and law and order make him a an easy character to empathise with. As he brings his skills to the task of capturing the killer he enjoys life in Berlin and falls in love.

This sets up the second half of the book as he is sent to the Eastern front and begins the slide into cynicism and despair as his belief in the law and law and order means he must comply with the orders of the Nazi government and facilitate the removal and extermination of  people they class as undesirable.

It is quite a harrowing story as his very belief in the power of the law means that he struggles against the orders he receives and his belief that he must spare his men from the horror and so he takes on more of the killings himself.

This book is a fantastic study of how a man can descend from an upright and decent citizen to a bitter and drunken killer of men, women and children and how he can live with himself afterwards. It is a compelling and engaging book that captures your attention from the first word and keeps it to the last.

I know I haven’t done justice to just how good this book is but I honestly can’t recommend it enough.



Posted in 20th Century | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The Black Stone by Nick Brown.

For Imperial agent, Cassius Corbulo the last three months have been something of a holiday, While Bostra was hardly a Rome or Antioch it was still a pleasant posting and his duties were hardly taxing . 

The arrival of his boss, Abascantius to Bostra suggests his life of ease is coming to an end. With rebellion breaking out in neighbouring Palmyra and the tribes of Arabia growing restless the Emperor himself is leading his armies to bring the area under Roman control once more.


For the authorities in the east everything must be perfect for the Emperor’s arrival but when a mysterious enemy attacks a temple and spirits away the Black stone of Edessa, a stone claimed by the Emperor then they must get the stone back before he arrives.

Cassius is charged with finding out who stole the Stone and what they intend to do with it. With an escort of select troops, Cassius with his faithful followers Indavana and Simo must travel into the desert and into the middle of the restless tribes.

As they travel deeper into the relentless desert  they see signs that the tribes are ready to rise up against the Roman yoke and Cassius’s mission gets more and more complicated. 

Can Cassius travel into the heart of the storm and not only find the Black Stone but also retrieve it before the Emperor arrives in the East?

The Black Stone is the fourth book in Nick Brown series featuring Imperial Agent Cassius Corbulo.

This series just gets better and better and The Black Stone is the best book so far.

Unusually for series set in the Roman period the author tends to avoid the large set piece battles and the massed ranks of the legions that other books seem to fixate on.

This gives the books a very “local” feel, instead of sweeping across the whole empire the books focus on one particular area of the Empire. The last book (The Far Shore) looked at Roman colonists on the African coast and this book focuses on the Tribes of Arabia and their relationship with Rome.

The one advantage of this plot device is that you get to really understand the customs and traditions of the area. The author can devote much more time to really developing how they interact with Rome and then officials sent to administer them.

Another interesting facet of these books are the three main characters. Cassius, Indavara  and Simo are all complex and interesting characters. All three of them are struggling with who they are and maybe this is why they get on so well and the relationship really works in the books.

Cassius is the reluctant hero, unlike most “heroes” he isn’t particularity brave or proficient with weapons, he dislikes violence and would rather live a life of debauched idleness. His one strength is his sense of duty and a desires to complete his mission successful.

Cassius is an excellent character and is one of the main reasons the books work, he is very likeable without being the superhuman killing machine most heroes are portrayed as.

Both Indavara and Simo both have different internal struggles that affect their relationship with Cassius. Simo struggles between his duty to Cassius and his desire to follow the teaching of Christ and this cause some real tension between the two.

Indavara is struggling with who he is the most, a cold eyed killer he remembers nothing before his life in the arena.  This plot line is one of the most interesting because you can see the conflict between the efficient killer and the nice, normal guy that is trying to break out.

In this book the first cracks appear in the relationships between all three and their struggles between loyalty to each other and the desire for happiness.

The Black Stone is a cracking read, the plot is fast paced and the action scenes very exciting. The escape from the enemy stronghold in particular is very good.

I can’t recommend this book, or series enough and I’m glad to say it keeps getting better and better.

Posted in Roman Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Above by Isla Morley.

For 16 year old Blythe, the Horse Thieves Picnic was the highlight of her year. Her school crush had come back into town and is escorting her to it.  Little does she know how her life is going to change when she accepts a lift from Dobbs, a family friend.

Waking up in a cold dark concrete ABOVE-provisional-coverbunker, Blythe realizes she is a captive and is in an underground nuclear bunker. Why would Dobbs take her? What does he want with her?


For Dobbs it is all about survival, survival of himself and ultimately the human race. The Armageddon is coming and he has to be ready. He has been preparing for this his whole life. Stocking up his bunker with seeds and plants he is preparing for ‘after’, all he need is his Eve to save mankind.    

He picked Blythe because she is strong, able to survive the isolation and darkness. She will come round in time, when she understand he has saved her but Blythe only has one thing on her mind…Home.

Now this isn’t normally the type of book I would read but I wanted a break from Historical fiction and it was sitting on the bookcase so I thought, why not!

I have to say I’m glad I did because I really enjoyed it, its very different but superbly written.

As with a football match this is a book of two halves, now I don’t want to give away to many spoilers about second half of the book so this review will concentrate on the first half.

It starts off as a run of the mill kidnapping story, hope and escape are all that are in Blythe’s mind. As time goes on and Blythe tries to adjust to captivity it descends  into a  dark tale of lost hope , anger and madness.

The writing style was a little strange to begin with but as the story condenses into Blythe and her surroundings it comes together to really capture her emotions.

It was a little tough to read at times as this young girl struggled to keep her sanity and struggled to know what was real and what is a figment of her imagination.

For a story that is on the main two people and a concrete bunker it certainly maintains your attention and the narrative flows at a quick pace.

While this book is a dark story of kidnap and the struggle against despair and madness it ultimately is a story of redemption and hope.

As I said, not my usual fare but very enjoyable.

Above is released today.



Posted in 20th Century, General | Leave a comment

God of Vengeance by Giles Kristian

Sigurd, son of  Harald is keen to make his name in battle. As a son of a Jarl he knows he must forge his own path if he is to emerge from his fathers shadow and weave his own name into the sagas.

His opportunity comes quicker than he expects when his father is betrayed by his King and a powerful Jarl. With his home destroyed, his family slaughtered and his sister captured by his enemies, Sigurd must flee for his life.

With just a few trusted friends, Sigurd roams the seas as an outlaw, hunted by his enemies and prey to every Jarl and chief keen to curry favour with the king.


Sigurad’s chances of survival seem to be slim but Sigurd is determined to wins the gods favour, especially Odin’s who he plans to attract with blood and chaos.

Travelling to the edges of society he collects together a band of desperate men, they are killers and warriors but all believe in Sigurd and his cause.

Keen to show his crew that their cause is blessed by the gods, Sigurd endures an ordeal of pain and horror which he hopes will bind the gods to his favour.

Beset on all sides by enemies, Sigurd and his crew are tested by blood and fire but his crew love and trust him for he has shown them he  blessed by the gods and a warrior born.

They will need all of their skills in blood and iron as Sigurd and his crew go up against the King and his Jarl but Siguard is relentless, he wants his sister and he wants revenge on those who brought blood and terror to his family.

God of Vengeance is a prequel to Giles Kristian’s highly acclaimed Raven Series.

Anyone who has followed this blog will know I am a huge fan of Giles Kristian’s books. I have mainly reviewed his English civil war books (Bleeding Land and Brother’s Fury)  but his Viking books are where he is in my opinion, at his best.

The ECW books are brilliant but when Giles is writing about Viking you really feel the passion and love he has for the subject.

Giles writing style is fast paced, punchy and brutal but also at times utterly beautiful as he weaves Norse saga into the action and his passion for the subject really shines through.

It never feels forced and it reads so naturally, lurching from blood and gore into simple yet almost poetic lines of saga and then back to the blood.

The action comes at you like a train as scene after scene of brutal and bloody action hit you, at times leaving you feeling drained as the sheer power of the scenes punches you in the stomach.

I’ve said it before and I will repeat it here, I doubt there is a better writer of battle scenes than Giles. He likes to liberally soak his scenes in blood and gore but it never feels gratuitous or unnecessary. They are powerful and at times very moving.

The scene where we first meet Black Loki is a fine example. Brutal, bloody and violent it is also beautifully written and the description of the various moves feel balletic at times. It is a fantastic introduction to a brilliant character.

I would like to add that this book is more than just a book of battles and blood, it is also a book of friendship, honour and tradition.

Fans of the Raven books will love this book. We get to meet all our favourite characters again and its great seeing how they all met. It is also interesting seeing the bonds and comradeship develop that were so evident in the Raven Books

I honestly can not recommend this book enough, it is Giles Kristian at his very best.












Giles Website


Posted in Viking Fiction | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments