A pretty straight forward and standard romance. The protagonist, Nara, is rejected from her home and destined way of life because of a prophesy. ThenA pretty straight forward and standard romance. The protagonist, Nara, is rejected from her home and destined way of life because of a prophesy. Then she meets Lorcan, a chieftain's son of an enemy tribe, and they become reluctant friends. Eventually they fall in love and team up to get their tribes to join forces against the might of the Romans, who are invading their territory, which never ends well for anyone....more
Almost as fun as the second in this series, which I accidentally read first. I love what DePoy has done with the very probable likelihood that MarloweAlmost as fun as the second in this series, which I accidentally read first. I love what DePoy has done with the very probable likelihood that Marlowe was a spy. There is not a ton of evidence to prove this, but plenty of supposition, and that's where these novels live. They take actual events, such as the Throckmorton Plot, and weave real facts into a story that could have involved Marlowe. Why not? It's fun and possible and Elizabethan fans ought to read these....more
I have thoughts about this one that need to percolate a while. The first thought is that humans are a scourge and don't deserve to survive as a specieI have thoughts about this one that need to percolate a while. The first thought is that humans are a scourge and don't deserve to survive as a species. We do horrible things to each other....more
Daughters of the Witching Hill was one of the best books I read all year. I don't know how I didn't read it before now, considering that Mary SharrattDaughters of the Witching Hill was one of the best books I read all year. I don't know how I didn't read it before now, considering that Mary Sharratt is one of my favorite authors, but I'm glad I corrected the oversight.
This novel deals with the Pendle witch trials of 1613, near Lancashire, England. It is a beautifully written portrayal of the two women at the heart of the trials, Bess Southerns (AKA Mother Demdike, or Gran to Alizon) and her granddaughter Alizon Device. Told through their points of view, we learn about their lives, the village where they grew up, and how they became cunning women and healers.
The secondary characters, the other "witches" and their accusers, and villagers alike are all nearly as well fleshed out as Gran and Alizon themselves. Alice Nutter, Nancy Holden, Roger Nowell, even the gaolers at the end all had distinct personalities and were there for a reason, not just to fill pages.
I really liked Sharratt's handling of the supernatural elements. While Gran and her family all had familiars, healing powers, etc, it all fit within the scope of what was widely believed at the time and can easily be seen as something readily explainable by logic. *I* don't think they had familiars, but *they* believed it, and those around them believed it, and so it was. Other things, such as Alizon's cursing of John Law, is easily explained as a stroke, which the fellow would have had whether he encountered her on the road or not. I thought it was brilliantly written and highlights the author's intimate knowledge of the place and time, as well as her detailed research.
Some of my favorite scenes: I love the scene when Gran advises Alice Nutter about being barren and how to fix it. Getting the girl to laugh, giving her practical advice, and giving her insight into motherhood are all things my own mother, aunts, and grannies have done for me (p 50-52).
The charme in the beginning was lovely. I kind of want to embroider it on a linen with pretty flowers or something.
I loved all the scenes with the Queen of Elfhame, and how she ended up looking just like Gran did as a young woman. That was some wonderful juxtaposing and symbolism there, Gran and the Queen of Elfhame and the Virgin Mary.
Of course, the final scenes made me all weepy, and I blubbered at the very last chapter, told again from Bess/Gran's perspective. ...more
In this ninth installment of Westerson’s Crispin Guest medieval noir series, we find Crispin himself playing a supporting role as his apprentice, Jack Tucker, takes the lead. A mysterious man hires a very drunk Crispin to kill a woman. Crispin, his chivalrous nature horrified at the very idea, instead goes to warn her. Beguiled by her beauty, he ends up in bed with her, eventually passing out from the alcohol. When he comes to, he is shocked to discover that the woman had been murdered while he was unconscious. Before he can get far in his investigation, he is himself arrested for the murder, leaving Jack to solve the crime on his own. With the help of some new characters – the plucky lawyer, Nigellus Cobmartin; and the lovely Isabel Langton, niece of Gilbert and Eleanor of the Boar’s Tusk Tavern – and our old friend John Rykener, Jack takes on the mantle of The Tracker alone for the first time.
I have read and loved every other book in the Crispin series, which is set in late 14th-century London, and this one was no different. It is somewhat bittersweet to see Jack growing up, becoming a man, and meeting a girl he can seriously consider marrying. I still think of him as the little boy he was in the first book. At the same time, it is wonderful to see him grow and use the skills he’s learned at Crispin’s knee to save his mentor from the gallows. Westerson crafted a terrific story once again, full of twists and intrigue, and frankly a lot of frustration! Those sheriffs need a good swift kick. If it is infuriating to read about their petty tyrannies, how much worse must it be for poor Crispin to have to live and work with them. Another masterful job from Westerson. Highly recommended!...more
This is the second installment of the Blood of Kings series by Ashman. I also read and reviewed the first book of the series, and the second book picks up roughly twelve years after the first left off. The struggle for control of the Welsh house of Aberffraw continues, with the rightful ruler Gruffydd ap Cynan missing and unable to claim his place as the leader who can try to unite the warring houses of Wales.
Nesta ferch Rhys, the daughter of Gwladus, Queen of Deheubarth, is just as much a prisoner as Gruffydd, though of a different sort. She is taken to the court of William II as a royal hostage, where she eventually becomes the mistress of the eventual Henry I. She learns to navigate the morass of court politics and becomes a strong and capable woman in the process.
I have to confess that the first book in the series didn’t do much for me, but this second book held my interest very well. The writing is more sophisticated and the action more organic. Similarly, the character development is strong throughout the novel, as are the scene descriptions. Ashman has moved beyond telling rather than showing, which does wonders for the narrative. Based on these changes within the novel, I will gladly look forward to reading the rest of the books in this series....more
Set during the reign of William the Conqueror, A Land Divided details the unrest in Wales and the Welsh Marches. English lords behind the scenes pit the fractious Welsh royalty against one another as each fight to claim control of territory and thrones. Betrayal and battle are rampant, and no one ever really knows who is a friend or foe. Gruffydd ap Cynan, the deposed and exiled true king of Gwynedd, allies with Rhys ap Tewdyr, the king of Deheubarth, against Welsh and English factions who would see their kingdoms forced under the rule of William of Normandy. This is the tale of their struggles to reclaim their thrones from those they view as traitors.
This is a straightforward novel, simply told and with little embellishment, which may appeal to some who enjoy a direct style of narration. The action is fast-paced, though often it is at the expense of style; the author has a great tendency to tell rather than show the story. Overall, while the novel deals with a fascinating period of history, it lacks stylistic flair that would make it stand out....more
In Renaissance Florence, revenge rules supreme, and the feud between the powerful Medici and Pazzi families colors nearly every aspect of life. When Giuliano de Medici is brutally murdered in a church, his brother Lorenzo turns the city on its head to seek out his killers and deliver vengeance upon the hated Pazzis. A key piece of evidence, a portrait known as the Feast of Herod which depicts the conspirators, has disappeared from the Palazzo, along with Lapaccia, a woman from a renowned house. Her friends, women from diverse backgrounds who form a secret group of female artists, must recreate the missing painting to help restore peace to their beloved city and bring the missing woman back to the good graces of the Medici family. With the help of Leonardo da Vinci, the women risk their reputations, families, and lives to pursue their forbidden love of art and help draw out the conspirators seeking to wrest control of Florence from the Medicis.
Morin pens a tight narrative, with vivid imagery and complex plotting throughout. Her character development is good, though I would have liked to see more depth in some of the women in the group. However, because the novel focuses mainly on one of them, Viviana, it is forgivable that the others are not quite as well fleshed out. Morin’s research is thorough, and I enjoyed her use of Da Vinci as a mentor to the ladies. I look forward to reading the rest of the series....more
Rossalinde “Ross” Tremayne is a young widow who took up cross-dressing to carry on her husband’s pirating career during the reign of Mad King George. She took to the seas to keep her natural magic talents at bay, refusing to register her abilities as required with the Mysterium. At her estranged mother’s deathbed, Ross learns she has a young half-brother, and she inherits him along with a small wooden box, plunging them all headlong into a magical quest to undo an ancient curse and free an entire race. Along the way, Ross meets an assortment of allies and enemies, ranging from a shape-shifting wolf that may have his own agenda, a rival pirate who definitely does, evil government agents, and otherworldly beings of the Fae.
This fast-paced novel opens with action which is strongly maintained throughout. The characters are all reasonably well-developed, though there is still plenty of room to grow and learn more about each one, hopefully in future installments in the series. The plot comes to a satisfying conclusion with excellent potential to continue the story further. I am already anxious to read the next installment. It is a cracking fun read with plenty of humor, magic, and a little sex. This should appeal to any fan of historical fantasy....more
Lady Helen Wrexhall is excited to begin her first Season out in society. She has noticed that she is getting heightened senses and wonders about it when Lord Carlston enters her life. Accused of murdering his wife and fleeing to France to avoid prosecution, he has returned to England, he claims, to mentor her in her new abilities as a Reclaimer. Their duty is to keep in check the Deceivers, evil beings who drain the life force out of people in various ways. The group of people that has Reclaimer skills is known as the Dark Days Club. Helen must decide if she will join them or if she will turn her back on Carlston and his world and fundamentally change who she is for the chance to have a life of love and happiness.
This is a terrifically fun novel and a good starting place for readers who may not be familiar with historical fantasy. The main characters are well developed, though the secondary characters are mostly flat. There is ample room for them to grow in subsequent novels, however. The action takes a hundred pages or so to get going, but it doesn’t drag because the setup of the characters and plot is interesting enough not to need tons of action right away. The plot moves along well and left me wanting to see what happens next. I would definitely read more by this author, and recommend this novel to readers of 12 plus who enjoy historical fantasy and steampunk, though I wouldn’t categorize this novel as such....more
This debut novel, set in 13th-century Sri Lanka, is the story of court poet Asanka. When his king is usurped by a tyrant from the mainland, he is commissioned by the new king to translate a holy Sanskrit text into the local Tamil language. Asanka at first makes some minor mistakes in translation, which then become deliberate and subversive alterations to the text. Through his work, Asanka becomes the reluctant catalyst for rebellion.
Cooper’s novel is written in gorgeous, lyrical first person as a one-sided narrative directed to Asanka’s mistress, Sarasi. Through Asanka’s eyes, readers see the changing political climate he struggles through, his role as a figurehead of insurrection, and his overarching desire to be reunited with Sarasi. Woven wonderfully throughout the novel is the theme of the change poetry can create, a stark counterpoint to Asanka’s own claim that “poetry makes nothing happen.” This novel is highly recommended for its lush imagery, unique narrative format, and strong theme of human creativity and endurance....more
Morgan Llywelyn reminds readers why she is the mistress of Irish historical fiction with this newest addition to her extensive body of work, which weaves Irish myth with historical and archaeological evidence into a complex and fascinating tale of mythic prehistoric Ireland. Told largely from the perspective of Joss, a young man of the Túatha Dé Danann struggling to figure out his place in the changing world, the novel covers the conquest of the Túatha Dé Danann and the settlement of the Gaels in Ireland. It is rich with Irish mythology, as is any novel worth its salt that’s written by this author.
The character development is detailed and satisfying throughout. Readers see Joss grow from a child to a leader and deal with joy and tremendous loss. Eremon and Amergin are similarly complex and conflicted figures. Secondary characters such as Shinnan, the Dagda, and Sakkar are nearly as well-fleshed as primary characters and add depth because they make readers genuinely care about them. A third category of characters that is particularly intriguing are the inanimate ones, such as Ierne (Ireland) and the harp, Clarsah. Giving names and traits to inanimate objects gives them power, and the same holds true here as well. The land and the harp both hold subtle but prominent places within the narrative, and the novel would not have quite the same lovely otherworldly tone without their voices. One line is particularly beautiful: “The harp, if it was a harp, added other themes. The music, if it was music, gave voice to sunshine. And moonlight. A woman’s extant cry as she bore a child. The clashing antlers of rutting stags. Hope and fear and courage… That is more than music; it represents an entire world.”
This beautiful novel is highly recommended for lovers of Irish mythology, magical realism, and those who hold out hope that they may themselves be descendants of the ancient noble blood....more
Set in London in 1388, The Silence of Stones is the exciting eighth installment of the Crispin Guest series. The novel opens, as anticipated, with action, in this case an explosion, after which it is discovered that the Stone of Destiny has been stolen from the coronation chair and replaced with a replica. King Richard II tasks Crispin with finding the Stone, which is thought to create kings. To “encourage” Crispin's best efforts, Richard imprisons his apprentice, Jack Tucker, with the threat of a traitor’s death if Crispin doesn’t find the Stone in three days. Crispin himself seems to be growing as a character, for he is less bitter about his situation in life than in previous books. His tracking skills are as keen as ever, though, and help make his compelling characteristics shine. Jack Tucker also is growing both as a character and as a boy. He manages a wonderful side job of his own, despite being under lock and key. It is wonderful to see him stretch his wings as a tracker and as a boy becoming a man. Henry Bolingbroke, Katherine Swynford, and, delightfully, John Rykener all make important appearances throughout the book as well. Despite his squeamishness, Rykener makes a terrific and funny sidekick, one who will hopefully continue the role in future novels, though of course not to replace Jack. For readers less familiar with Rykener, he was a 14th century cross-dressing prostitute. He had been arrested and interrogated, not for prostitution, but for cross dressing. Westerson’s Author’s Note goes into further detail about this intriguing historical figure. This is a satisfying and fast-paced tale, complete with Westerson’s typical dry humor and thorough research. ...more
A Brother’s Oath is the first of a trilogy about brothers Hengest and Horsa, Scandinavian raiders who were instrumental in the migration of the Vikings to England. This tells the story of their youth, which is unrecorded, and is thus rich subject matter for authors of historical fiction. The novel opens with good action, though it stalls a bit while the characters are built up and the various plot lines are introduced with approximately a third of the way through the pace picking up again. Once it did, this was an exciting read.
Hengest, the favoured elder son of a local warlord, and his brother, Horsa, fall out of favour with their father. Horsa decides, sooner than Hengest, to find his own way in the world and makes a name for himself as a raider. Hengest eventually makes a life with a woman of his own choosing. The brothers are reunited years later through treachery, hardship, and adventure.
Thorndycroft does a nice job throughout of showing the action rather than telling about it, and the imagery is vivid. Character development is similarly thorough, though parts felt more rushed than necessary. The book could do with another copy edit as there were quite a few minor punctuation errors, though they did not detract from the story itself.
The details of Viking culture are well researched and draw on extant Anglo-Saxon literature as a primary source. I especially enjoyed the poetry and phrases Thorndycroft worked into the dialogue and at the beginning of each new section....more
**spoiler alert** Mistress of Mourning was the second novel I have read by Karen Harper. It was set in the earlier days of the Tudor dynasty, in the r**spoiler alert** Mistress of Mourning was the second novel I have read by Karen Harper. It was set in the earlier days of the Tudor dynasty, in the reign of Henry VII, and focused largely on the death of Arthur, Prince of Wales. The premise was interesting - a widowed chandler, Varina Westcott, is hired by the queen, Elizabeth of York, to carve effigies of her dead children and her missing brothers, the Princes in the Tower. Varina becomes the queen's confidant and she is hired, along with the king's man Nick Sutton, to go to Wales to investigate the death of Arthur, whom the queen believes did not die of illness but of foul play. Along the way, of course, are the requisite bad guys, traitors, and love stories.
The idea that Arthur was poisoned is intriguing. I am not sure I believe it myself, but Harper makes a compelling argument in favor of it. Given the prince's poor health throughout his life, a Yorkist assassin slipping in a deadly herb that would cause symptoms resembling any number of illnesses isn't too much of a stretch to be unrealistic. I suppose it could happen.
The issue with the Princes in the Tower felt a little rushed in the end. Henry's confession felt a tad contrived, the explanation for their deaths too convenient. But I liked the homage to Henry II and Thomas Becket's feud, and how Henry VII's "confession" was similar to Henry II's "order" to kill Becket.
In general, I liked the characters, though I felt they all needed more development. I thought that was a little odd since the other book I'd read by Harper had extremely well developed characters. Varina and Nick were, of course, the most thoroughly fleshed-out, though they still lacked some depth and had questions left unanswered. It wasn't enough to detect from the overall plot, just something that was a bit strange considering the experience I had with her other book, Mistress Shakespeare.
Overall, a quick, fun read. Recommended for fans of Tudor history....more
Really this is more of a 2.5 star book for me but I didn't want to give a lower count. Royal has the framework of a terrific series, but in this firstReally this is more of a 2.5 star book for me but I didn't want to give a lower count. Royal has the framework of a terrific series, but in this first installment, she kind of told rather than showed a whole lot. I read a ton of mysteries and even I found myself lost at times, wondering if I had missed something.
I do like Prioress Eleanor, Sister Anne, and Gytha. Thomas and John as well. The character development was actually quite good for such a short book.
The historical details are accurate as well, it was just a matter of telling about them rather than showing as I mentioned above. However, I can only assume this improves because this is just the first in a multi-volume series which is recommended by several authors whose opinions I value. So I will gladly read more after this one. It wasn't bad at all, just wasn't one that grabbed me right off the way some have done....more
**spoiler alert** The Wild Girl was an unexpected delight. I loved Forsyth's Witches of Eileanan series, and I loved the Rhiannon series even more. Bu**spoiler alert** The Wild Girl was an unexpected delight. I loved Forsyth's Witches of Eileanan series, and I loved the Rhiannon series even more. But those were both fantasy and she could do whatever she wanted in those worlds. I was a little bit alarmed? taken aback? Maybe even a bit worried? To see that she had turned her pen to historical fiction. Would her research be thorough? Would the tale be interesting, or would it fall flat, as happens with so many historical fiction novels? Would it plain old boring? Worst of all, would it be such an inaccurate history that it would actually make me love her fantasy novels less for it? I'd be lying if I said these thoughts hadn't all crossed my mind.
I am delighted that such was not the case! This was a masterfully crafted novel, the characters well developed, the research extensive. From the start, I was captivated, and Forsyth kept me in her thrall like so many wizards and witches from the fairy tales the Brothers Grimm wrote about.
The novel opens with Dortchen Wild dancing alone in a snowy wood, rejoicing in the death of her father. At length, we learn why she was glad when he died, and anyone else who knew about him would have been dancing right alongside her. Certainly I did a happy dance in my chair as I read. My only regret was that his death hadn't come a good 15 years earlier than it did. Vile bastard.
The relationship between Dortchen and Wilhelm Grimm was so entirely human. It was full of love and pain and life. It had many wasted years, though as Wilhelm said, perhaps they were not wasted. If their path had been smoother, maybe he wouldn't have had so much time to write what is now one of the most beloved collections of children's fairy tales in the world. Maybe, too, Dortchen wouldn't have had the time to exorcise the demons her father created in her and her marriage to Wilhelm wouldn't have been as happy. Who knows. But in a sad way, it also seems completely appropriate that the source of so many of the Grimm's tales had such a terrible childhood, such a horrible father, such horrific events to have lived through. Because, really, what else do fairy tales teach us but that dragons can be killed, that evil can be overcome?
Dortchen's life is depicted throughout the novel in wonderful, sometimes brutal and painful detail. I can almost smell the stillroom where she prepared herbs for her father's apothecary shop, see the garden where she grew her vegetables and plants, the forest that was so often her refuge. Cassel sounds like a lovely little village, and I am determined to visit it if possible next time I go to Europe.
I confess I don't know a whole lot about Napoleon. What immediately comes to mind is the line from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure: He's a short, dead dude. The rest of my knowledge of Napoleon comes mostly from British history on the topic - a biased source if ever there was one! So I hadn't known that in some ways, the changes he made to the laws were actually considered favorable, or that they were missed when he finally abdicated. It was interesting to learn how people in small towns might have reacted to him, how he might have influenced their daily lives, how they might have reacted to his abdication or to the Russians. It was interesting to see how it affected Dortchen's life, and how it wove its way into her interpretation of the stories she told to Wilhelm.
Prior to reading The Wild Girl, I had never even heard of Dortchen Wild, nor understood her importance to the tales collected by the Brothers Grimm. Certainly I never knew that Wilhelm Grimm ended up marrying his primary source! The cynic in me says he did so in order to have direct access to her for his own work. Fortunately, his own writing and diaries prove otherwise, that he genuinely loved his Wild girl. I am glad that, at least for Dortchen, fairy tales do sometimes come true....more