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.

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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.



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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


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Hannibal: Clouds of War by Ben Kane

The fields of Cannae run with the blood of 60,000 Roman soldiers, the Carthaginian General Hannibal has smashed the two consular armies sent against him and the path to Rome itself is open. 

For the young Carthaginian officer, Hanno the loss of his father on the fields of Cannae means there is only one option that Hannibal should take, March on Rome, sack the city, revenge his father and bring the war to a favourable end. 


Hannibal has other ideas and to reward Hanno for his service and bravery at Cannae he sends him to Syracuse on Sicily to help the city hold out against the Roman besiegers.

He is also to be Hannibal’s eyes and ears and to stop any treachery helping the Romans take the city.

For Quintus, the battle at Cannae was a bloody disaster. He not only had to watch as his fellow Romans were cut to pieces but he also lost his father  to the Carthaginian swords.

Only the actions of his Centurion saved his life and with a few fellow survivors fought their way to safety but the Roman state didn’t welcome them home  as heroes. Thought of as cowards they are banished for life to the Island of Sicily and the brutal fighting in front of the wall of Syracuse.

 A long way  from the blood soaked fields of Cannae, Aurelia is heart broken by the death of her father and banishment of Quintus.

As she anxiously waits for news from the front she hears news that he husband has been seriously injured and ignoring all advice decided to cross the war torn country to find him.

Captured and sold as a slave she finds herself sold to the leader of Syracuse and a city under siege.

As the threads of fate bring the three friends together in the city, can they each survive the ordeals thrown at them and escape the bloody siege of Syracuse?


Clouds of War is the third instalment of Ben Kane’s story of Hannibal. Now I have to admit to facing this book with a little trepidation. I really enjoyed the first in the series, Enemy of Rome but I really struggled with Fields of Blood.

The main problem I had is that I just didn’t like the main characters! I had enjoyed them in Enemy of Rome but by Fields of Blood they had turned into spoilt brats and that  put me off reading about them and the less said about Aurelia the better.

I naturally assumed that on reading Clouds of War that this would continue but happily that wasn’t the case. 

The three friends have grown up a lot after the slaughter at Cannae. It seems that witnessing the bloodbath and downright butchery of the battle shocked the two boys into maturity and hearing of the loss of her father did the same to Aurelia. 

The biggest character development has been with Quintus. No longer a spoiled son in the cavalry he is now a normal foot solider in the Roman army. His fellow tent mates have no idea who he is and it makes him a lot more likeable as he endures and suffers along with the rest of the Infantry. 

As with every Ben Kane book you can feel the research and authenticity of the period on every page. Every term and weapon used feels like it has been meticulously researched and checked before its put into the book.

This never affects the pace of the story and Ben never gets bogged down in the details, its just if he uses a term then you can be sure that as far as the experts are concerned its correct. I believe that in a genre as packed as the Roman period is, this sets Ben’s book apart from rest. 

I really enjoyed this book and for me its a relief that I did. If you are a fan of Roman Fiction then this book is a must and I can heartily recommend Ben’s series on Sparatcus and the Forgotten Legion. 


I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that not only is Ben a fab author he is also a tireless fundraiser for Charity.



Last year, along with Anthony Riches and Russ Whitfield, Ben walked the length of Hadrians Wall in full Roman kit. They raised thousands of pounds for the two charities they picked. These were Combat Stress and  Médecins Sans Frontières. 

This year they have decided to go one better and Ben Kane, Russ Whitfield and Anthony Riches will be walking from Capua to the Forum in Rome in late April 2014. This is for the same charities as last time and if you can please donate here

They really do suffer so its worth donating just to see that :)



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Paul Fraser Collard Book Tour 2014



I am very pleased and honoured to host the second leg of Paul Collard’s first ever Blog Tour. This tour celebrates the release in PB of Paul’s book The Maharajah’s General, the second book in his Jack lark series. (You can read my review Here).

I first met Paul on Twitter about three years ago. Our mutual interest in History and Historical fiction meant that we became friends in that new social media way.

I believe that this was before the first book ( The Scarlett Thief, Review here) was even written. Now, on Twitter you meet aspiring writers all the time, people with half written books or desperately trying to find someone to publish their finished books.

I must admit that I thought that Paul fell into this category, he would either never finish the book (especially when I found out were he did most of his writing!) or would go down the self publishing route but Paul is nothing if not determined.

The book was finished, agents were found a publisher agreed to turn Jack Lark into a reality and before I knew it in May 2013 I had a review copy in my hand!

With the book in my hands I now faced a dilemma…”What if the book wasn’t very good!?” We had talked about this book for at least a year and a half and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it but what would I do if it was awful!?

How would I tell Paul I thought it wasn’t very good!? Luckily I needn’t have worried.

I loved the adventures of Jack Lark from the beginning (Phew!) and book two was even better.

I am very happy to host this Blog tour and here Paul tells us the books and novels that inspired him to take up a pen (well, Laptop) and bring to life the adventures of Jack Lark.



 My Favourite Historical Novels

I have loved historical fiction for almost as long as I can remember. I can still vividly recall the first time I discovered a Sharpe novel and from that day on I have devoured every series I can lay my hands on. When I set out to write my own novel it never occurred to me even think of writing any other type of story. My first attempt, a distinctly mediocre effort set in the Peninsular War, may not have succeeded but my love for this genre was fully cemented.

So here are my five favourite historical fiction series, the ones that inspire me to this day.

Bernard Cornwell

I read Sharpe’s Honour as an impressionable eleven year-old one summer holiday and I must have re-read every Sharpe novel a dozen times since. There is something in Bernard Cornwell’s writing that is utterly captivating. I am mesmerised by the pace of his stories and so completely enthralled by the wonderfully described action that I find it nearly impossible to put a Sharpe novel down once I have started it. For me the Sharpe novels represent the pinnacle of historical fiction. The best of the bunch to my mind is Sharpe’s Enemy, a book I have read so many times that my first copy fell apart. Bernard Cornwell is a masterful storyteller and to see his quote on the front of my books is without doubt one of the highlights of my life, let alone my writing career.

George McDonald Fraser

I did not discover the Flashman novels until I was well into my twenties. Quite how they passed me by I have no idea but I am rather glad that did as I was able to read the series in one go, one fabulous adventure after another. George McDonald Fraser’s work is an absolute joy and I do not think I have read another author who writes with such style. Flashman is a bold and inspiration creation that can never be replicated.

John Wilcox

Like the Flashman novels, I first read John Wilcox’s Fonthill novels when the series was well underway. I find John Wilcox’s novels tend to stick in my mind for a long time after I have read them and the quality of his work and his craft is worthy of a slower read that takes time to savour his skill. Not that these are slow-paced stories. The action comes thick and fast and in Fonthill and 352 Jenkins, Wilcox has created a double act that stands in fair comparison to Sharpe and Harper.

Christian Cameron

Christian Cameron’s work is a very new addition to my bookshelves. I read The Ill-Made Knight on the recommendation of Robin Carter (Parmenion Books) and I cannot remember ever being as captured by a story since I first discovered Sharpe. Simply put, Christian Cameron is one of the finest historical fiction writers working today. His books scream out in authenticity. Every last detail seems real and I cannot begin to comprehend the amount of research that must go into every story. I am now working my way through his Long War series and I have to say it has become rather hard to put down Christian Cameron’s work and even think about trying to write anything of my own as nothing feels like it is coming close to his level of quality.

Stephen E. Ambrose

Okay, so I am cheating here a little by talking about a historian rather than a writer of novels but I felt I had to mention Stephen Ambrose, as his work is a huge influence on my own. Stephen Ambrose is the historian behind a series of books that bring together the memories of men who fought in the Second World War. As a child of the seventies my childhood was dominated by the war fought by my grandfather’s generation. I grew up on a diet of Commando Comics, War Picture Libraries and films like The Longest Day and The Great Escape. But it was not until I discovered the work of Ambrose that I started to learn so much more about what it was like to actually be there.

Anyone who has watched Band of Brothers (based on one of Ambrose’s books) or Saving Private Ryan will understand me when I say that it was not until I saw these films alongside books like those produced by Ambrose that I started to understand something about the reality of the war. To my mind it does not matter than these works feature the soldiers of the Second World War. I imagine that the experience of war is really not so different be it is fought by an American paratrooper in 1944 or a British redcoat in 1854. There is a commonality in war that I can draw on to make my novels as hard-hitting and as real as I possibly can and I will always attempt to capture something of this in the battles and the action that I describe. It may not be to everyone’s taste but I think it is important not to pull any punches and to make my books as real as I possible can.


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The Emperor’s Knives by Anthony Riches

Having survived their brush with the Emperor Commodus, the Tungrian Cohort take up residence in Rome awaiting their orders. For Centurion Corvus this is the opportunity he has been waiting for. Determined to avenge the killing of his family he must go up against the dark forces of the Imperial Palace.

This fearsome and shadowy group has Rome gripped by fear, used by the Imperial palace as assassins and revenue collectors, they make whole families disappear and ensure that their property ends up in the Imperial coffers.

From the heights of a Senator, though a Pratorian officer,  street gang boss down to the deadliest of them all a Champion gladiator  Corvus has sworn revenge on them all.


With the unswerving support of his fellow officers and friends, Corvus knows he must descend into the murky and dangerous underworld of Rome if he is to avenge his family. 

But Corvus must contend with more than just the the dangers of going up against these men, his informant is an enemy from the past who is playing a game of his own and with rival factions within the senate showing an interest, Corvus must tread carefully if he is to survive.

The journey will take him from the depraved palaces for the Roman elite and all the perversions you can imagine to the roar of the crowd and fifty thousand people demanding blood in the Coliseum. 

Corvus’s enemies feel safe in their power and the terror they inspire but Corvus is made of iron and he has hatred burning in his veins and a determination to destroy the power of the Emperor’s Knives.

The Emperor’s Knives is the seventh book in Anthony Riches Empire series. I have been a fan of the books since the first, Wounds of Honour was published.

All of the previous books have been set on the far flung borders of the Empire and normally involves a set piece battle against Rome’s enemies,  this book though is a real departure from this tried and tested formula.

Set in the murky and dangerous world of Rome and her inhabitants, this book features much more than the previous books. Riches explores the anger and bitterness that consumes Corvus and ultimately the futility of revenge but it also shows the power of friendship and comradeship that exists within a group of men who have to deal with death on a daily basis.

The dialogue is snappy and fast paced and I don’t believe that there is a better writer in capturing the banter between soldiers, it can be rude and brutal but at times hilariously funny and on occasions will make you laugh out loud.

Its a clever story line and allows the reader to experience the full spectrum of Rome of the time. From the opulence and decadence of the Rome elite to the ordinary Roman and their daily struggle to survive and on to the glamour and danger of the gladiators you get a real feel of the attraction and revulsion of the power that is Rome.

This is one of those books that once you start reading you find it impossible to put down, I found myself still reading it a 3am on a school night. Its a gripping story and in my opinion is the best book of the series.

It will be interesting to see where Mr Riches will takes this series next but I know this book will be a hard act to follow.

The Emperor’s Knives is available in Hardback now





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The Tudor Conspiracy by Christoper Gortner

It’s 1553 and Queen Mary is sitting on the throne of England but religious strife unsettles her realm. With her enemies thrown into the tower or in hiding, Mary can concentrate on bring England back into the embrace of Rome.

For Princess Elizabeth a comfortable exile from court is rudely interrupted by a summons from her sister Mary. As heir to the throne and for many protestants, Elizabeth is seen as England’s only hope from foreign domination and Mary has decided to keep her close to her and under a watchful eye. Tudor

Brenden Cole has also enjoyed his time away from court. The  domestic bliss he has enjoyed with the love of his life is cut short when the spy master Cecil sends him to court to protect Elizabeth not only from Mary but also from the factions who want to use her to undermine Mary.

Mistrust and intrigue infest Mary’s court and Brenden finds must play both sides as he desperately tries to discover the whereabouts of a cache of Elizabeth’s letter that could send her to the executioners block.

Brenden must use all of his skills to protect Elizabeth and the last hope of England’s protestants. If he fails he knows England will fail under the control of a foreign power and the influence of the Papal curia in Rome.

I am a huge fan of Christopher Gortner’s and his book The Queen’s Vow (written under CW Cortner) was one of my books of 2013 and he doesn’t disappoint with The Tudor Conspiracy.

In a genre already groaning under the weight of books on the Tudors, this book stands out for having one of the lesser known Tudors as its main focus. Instead of the ubiquitous Henry the VIII or Queen Elizabeth this book concentrates on the relationship between Queen Mary and Princess Elizabeth.

Christopher Gortner is first and foremost a storyteller and this book beautiful weaves together a plot that is rich in historical detail, intrigue and the sights and sounds of 16th Century England.

He manages to capture the religious conflict prevalent at that time as Mary looks to reassert Papal control over her subjects and stout Englishmen try to stop Foreign dominance over their affairs.

Fear is a re-occurring theme throughout this book, both sides are so scared of what will happen if the other side wins. You can almost smell the pitch and burnt flesh lingering in the background as both sides look to get the upper hand.

The writing is fluid and the history is worn very lightly, I don’t mean this in a bad way but that the story doesn’t become bogged down in tedious descriptions of 16th Century life. We have all read books where the author showing off his research forgets that he is writing a book of fiction and not a reference book!

The characterization is fabulous as well and the contrast between the two sister is a major reason this book is so good. Known forever to history as “Bloody” Mary, we just start to see the transformation from the a Queen of popular exclaim  to a paranoid and fearful monarch as advisor’s  drip poison into her ear.

And it captures her struggle with what to do with her sister. Elizabeth is demure, obedient, in fact a paragon of sisterly love in front of her sister  all the while plotting with Mary’s enemies to secure her place and save her life.

In the middle of all this is  our hero, Brenden. I really like Brenden as a character, he is intelligent, kind, hard working  and when he needs to be just  little violent. He also has a dark secret that just gives him an edge and makes him, in my opinion very likeable.

I’m a big fan of Christopher Gortner and he hasn’t disappointed with The Tudor Conspiracy. If you like great Historical Fiction (and your reading my blog so I’m guessing you do) then I highly recommend you read, not just this book but all of his books.

The Tudor Conspiracy is out now

As a bonus please read the interview I did with the author here. 

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