The second novel in this series has more of everything that made the first one such a great read. While I certainly enjoyed book 1, The Last Kingdom,The second novel in this series has more of everything that made the first one such a great read. While I certainly enjoyed book 1, The Last Kingdom, this second book cements the series as one of the all-time great historical fiction series. Uhtred, still a young warrior at around 20 years of age, continues to walk a tightrope between his allegiances to the Saxons and King Alfred (later, Alfred the Great) as well as to the invading Danes. A lot happens in this volume and it covers arguably the most critical point in the history of England.
It is hard to believe that the Kingdom of England was once reduced to a few square miles of swamp but that was indeed the case. A strong Danish invasion catches the people of Wessex by surprise but the determination of unlikely allies, Alfred and Uhtred, lead a legendary battle. Cornwall does his usual great job of bringing large historical themes and events down to the personal level of those involved and as George RR Martin says, “Nobody writes battle scenes like Bernard Cornwell”. Truly captivating scenes depicting shield wall tactics, bloody sword fights and inspiring descriptions of the “battle calm” that overtakes an efficient warrior like Uhtred, all combine to make this a page-turning read. Some truly heart breaking scenes near the end brings home the reality of what really happens in battle.
The numerous characters that interact on this stage can be mindboggling, especially for those readers uninitiated to Danish, Welsh and Saxon names. That got to be a little confusing in the first book but here I felt right at home, having grown used to who’s who. I also enjoyed one of the other broad themes of the series, that of Christianity vs. Paganism, especially since the protagonist is not exactly enthralled with King Alfred’s Christian piety. The resulting humor serves as great comic relief.
Greatly looking forward to book number three in this fine series and Uhtred’s quest to retake his homeland. ...more
The second book in the “Camulod Chronicles” picks up shortly after the events of the first book, The Skystone. It continues the tale of Caius BritanniThe second book in the “Camulod Chronicles” picks up shortly after the events of the first book, The Skystone. It continues the tale of Caius Britannicus and Publius Varrus (both great grandfathers of the future King Arthur of Briton) as they continue to build the colony of Camulod during the turn of the 5th century AD, when Rome was pulling out of Briton and leaving the Brits, the Celts, and other assorted peoples to deal with various invading groups such as the Saxons and the Northmen.
I love the way this series is a truly accurate historical novel series, at this point at least, that also just happens to be related to the Arthurian legends. As the colony of Camulod gets established, we get to see major historical events and influences unfold. For example, due to the need for mobility in responding to threats, the art of warfare using horses is advanced. Rome was never known for its cavalry but now there is a need for well-trained warriors on horses. A breeding program is introduced to increase the size of the horses, the stirrup is introduced, and the swords are lengthened to allow use from horseback. All of these developments are actual historical occurrences. We also get to witness the first rough efforts to convert a Senate-like council meeting where elitism prevails to a newer style of local government in the form of a round circle of chairs where all have an equal voice. I think we all know where this will lead to in an Arthurian sense.
But more importantly, this is a well-told tale. Just as in the first novel, this is a first person account by Publius Varrus, a former legionnaire, partly crippled through a battle injury, and now a master black smith. One might correctly guess from the title that he is the eventual crafter of Excalibur. His first person point of view lends a great perspective on bringing these great events down to the individual level and allowing the everyday life of families, lovers, builders, etc. to be as personal and emotional for the reader as it is for him. Great and satisfying personal achievements are matched by great loss and even tragedy. It is rare when a fictional novel brings a tear to my eye but this one managed to do it.
All of these great historical shifts in thinking and technique take many years. The first two novels cover most of Caius and Publius’s long lives but it is inevitable that we move on. I’m excited for the third book in the series The Eagles' Brood where I understand that Publius’s grandson takes over the first person account. His name is Caius Merlyn Britannicus, first cousin of Uther Pendragon. ...more
I am so very happy to have finally returned to the worlds of Bernard Cornwell. I’ve read most of his historical fiction but have been holding off on tI am so very happy to have finally returned to the worlds of Bernard Cornwell. I’ve read most of his historical fiction but have been holding off on this series, thinking I would wait until its completion, thus allowing me to read them in a fairly back-to-back manner. But they seem to keep going and the author himself has mentioned that he does not know how many more there will be…so I took the plunge.
The series (and this first volume) features Uhtred of Bebbanburg, (Uhtred Ragnarson) born to a Saxon lord in Northumbria, but captured and adopted by the Danes. But really, it’s about the birth of England amidst the continuous Danish invasions (Viking warriors) in the 9th and 10th century. Uhtred proves to be a great storyteller because although he was born in what would become England, he was captured by the Danes at an early age and spend his formative years with them, learning their ways, worshipping their gods, and becoming a warrior in his own right. And so he can bring the history of the region to light through both sets of lenses, so to speak. The timeframe of this first volume covers Uhtred’s life from about 10 years of age through age 18.
Cornwell, as usual, paints a vivid picture of this time and of this world and uses it expertly as a backdrop upon which to tell the story itself. I can’t emphasize this balance enough for there is much history to learn here and also a great story to be told. They complement each other and neither gets bogged down by the other.
Many thanks to my Goodreads friends who have nagged me into getting started on this series. Looking forward to the rest of them, no matter how many that totals.
This novel was awarded the Newbery Medal for excellence in American children's literature in 1950. That is often a sure sign to avoid a book but in thThis novel was awarded the Newbery Medal for excellence in American children's literature in 1950. That is often a sure sign to avoid a book but in this case I was drawn to the setting: England during the Middle Ages, as the bubonic plague is sweeping across the country. Young Robin is sent away to become a knight like his father, but his dreams are dashed when he loses the use of his legs. Since his parents are away, serving the king and queen during war, and the servants abandon the house, fearing the plague, Robin is saved by Brother Luke, a friar, who finds him and takes him to a monastery and cares for him. Brother Luke teaches Robin how to swim and carve wood and make a harp, to be independent and build self-confidence, but Robin also learns patience and strength from the friar. The friar tells him that before overcoming a challenge you must first find "the door in the wall".
This was one of the earliest attempts of a children’s novel to involve a physical handicap for the main character ever published. The expected theme of Robin fighting to overcome his handicap is always in the background but most of the book dealt with normal issues affecting all young people no matter what their circumstances in life, namely, trying to figure how best to “fit in”. The book does a good job of describing what life in the Middle Ages would be like without beating you over the head with it. Robin gets his chance to be a hero by the end and I suspect many young readers, even today, might find this enjoyable. ...more
I’ve been waiting to read this historical novel for quite some time and am so glad to finally have had a good opportunity to do so. Basically, ever siI’ve been waiting to read this historical novel for quite some time and am so glad to finally have had a good opportunity to do so. Basically, ever since I completed its predecessor, The Pillars of the Earth I’ve known I would have to make time for it. I was completely blown away by the first and even though I knew this second book took place several generations later and consequently would pretty much be a stand-alone book, it would be worth the considerable time investment. Like the first, I chose to listen to it via audio book during my lengthy commute to and from work each day and even spending over two hours every workday with these characters it still took me over a month to complete this epic.
Was it worth it? I mean that’s over 45 hours of listening pleasure. I could easily listen to three other “normal-sized” books during that same time span. My answer is an unequivocal “Yes!” Of course it’s a long book but narrator John Lee is an absolute master of audio book narration and I am always glad to spend time listening to his work. The author, Ken Follett, is also a master at his craft and I am happy to conclude that his attempt to capture lightning in a bottle twice has succeeded handsomely.
There are plenty of plot similarities to the first book and some reviewers have been turned off by this. Events take place in the same location, Kingsbridge, albeit two centuries after the gothic cathedral that lay at the heart of the first book was completed. The two main characters, Merthin and Caris have a lot in common with Jack Builder and Aliena from Pillars and it’s still all about life in those times including the influence of the church and the politics of the era. But to me, all great stories and novels are built through the characters themselves and this book is littered with dozens of them, all with individual personalities, motivations, and accomplishments (or lack thereof). It’s certainly an overused book reviewer cliché but Follett really has created an amazing tapestry of interwoven story threads that all relate to each other and serve to drive the plot forward. The novel covers several decades in the lives of the main characters and to watch them grow and change is the stuff of a great read. Yes, it’s a long book but all of those individual stories make it anything but boring. I would be hard pressed to state which of the two books is my favorite.
I am not overly familiar with the grand historical chapter of British history known as the Wars of the Roses. I have come across bits and pieces of itI am not overly familiar with the grand historical chapter of British history known as the Wars of the Roses. I have come across bits and pieces of it over the years so feel I have a sort of cursory outline understanding of it. So it has been a great pleasure to read the first book of Conn Iggulden’s series, Stormbird, as well as this second chapter.
The title (in the UK, at least), “Trinity” references the forces allied against King Henry VI and his queen, Margaret of Anjou, namely York, Salisbury, and Warwick (later to become known as “The Kingmaker”. This book essentially covers their political machinations for the crown and Margaret’s masterful moves against them. This volume in the series covers the time frame of 1454 through 1461. This is a key time in the overall build-up and positioning of the houses of York and Lancaster as well as major events of the war itself, covering the Battle of Heworth Moor, as well as what many believe to be the actual beginning of the Wars of the Roses, the Battle of St. Albans in 1455. This volume ends with the critical events at Sandal Castle at the end of 1460 wherein two of the members of the titular “trinity” lost their lives.
This author does a good job of bringing the vastness of the political events that occurred during those years down to the personal level. To my knowledge, all but one of the characters in this book are actual historical people. The one who is not, spymaster Derry Brewer, serves well as a way to let readers see certain key events through his eyes. I was struck particularly with the character of York, who is proving to be a complicated man with complex motivations. While it is clear that neither side of this conflict really wants war, York, in particular seems torn about just what his goals are: protecting the throne for the rightful ruler or becoming the heir himself.
This is not an easy book to follow, especially if the reader’s knowledge of these events is as cursory as mine. This is a complex historical struggle, with some characters shifting allegiances and it’s not always easy to follow the events. To compound matters, names of characters can be confusing with many sometimes being referred to by their given name (Richard) and sometimes by their title (York, as in Duke of York). This is common, of course in historical novels and non-fiction books involving British history but makes it doubly difficult to keep it all straight. And even worse, naming conventions of the time weren’t all that creative. Which Richard or Henry or which Mary are we talking about? And for that matter, which York or which Warwick is being referenced given that they all have sons that take over when a titled position is vacated. Thankfully, this book contains several detailed maps, complete family trees, and a handy list of characters that also includes who they are supporting. Without them, I fear I would have been completely lost.
Overall, these books are a great way to understand what occurred during the Wars of the Roses but at the same time, enjoy a good old fashioned novel of intrigue, political gamesmanship, and fierce battles of honor and revenge. It can be a bit of a chore to get through but worth it in the end. Looking forward to the next chapter in this historical saga. ...more
This book is the first novel in the “Camulod” series, a nine book set that encompasses the Arthurian mythos from a historical perspective rather thanThis book is the first novel in the “Camulod” series, a nine book set that encompasses the Arthurian mythos from a historical perspective rather than a “fantasy” perspective. I had been reluctant to begin, even though I had heard plenty of good things about the entire series. This was mostly due to the fact that I have read numerous Arthurian accounts, many of them relatively recently, and was unsure of starting yet another one.
So glad I did give it a try though! Right from the beginning it reminded me of perhaps my favorite Arthurian series, Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles. That is to say, this book started out with gritty warfare told from the perspective of the Roman warriors on the front lines, down in the dirt and mud, fighting for their legates, their legionnaires, and for the glory of Rome. The story begins in the final days of the Roman Empire in Briton (~375 AD – 425 AD) and involves several flashback sequences that help establish the two major characters for the novel, Publius Varrus and Caius Brittanicus, both solid Roman soldiers. A career-ending injury to Publius leads to major changes and we quickly pull back from the day-to-day soldiering and begin to see the larger picture of what everyday life was like for citizens in Roman Briton during that era. By the end of the book we get to experience even larger issues as we live through what amounts to the abandonment of Briton by the Roman Empire, just after the overrunning of Hadrian’s Wall and the final shake-up of emperors.
The story is told from Publius’ first person POV as he transforms his life from soldier to blacksmith. There is not a clue that we are in the Arthurian world throughout the first half of the book…it’s pure historical fiction. And excellent historical fiction it is. Well-rounded characters I came to care about and worthy goals I hoped they could achieve. Publius’ quest for Skystones (meteor rocks) is the central driving force but it is not until the second half of the book that we get some clues that this is taking place several generations before Arthur and the gang’s appearance. It is fascinating to read how terms such as dragon's nests, the Lady of the Lake and the Pendragon clan are introduced via perfectly natural non-fantasy methods. No magic what-so-ever in this book.
I suspect this entire series will be a fascinating read. I expect we will see Whyte continue to incorporate traditional Arthurian names, places and events as well as the names of various historical figures that have been suggested as being the possible basis for the original King Arthur legend. This implies, of course, that Whyte's version of history is the true story that has become distorted over time to become the legend and stories of magic that we know today. It should be a great ride. ...more
The 6th Ethan Gage swashbuckling adventure once again puts poor Ethan into incredulous adventures that strain the bounds of possibility…but then that’The 6th Ethan Gage swashbuckling adventure once again puts poor Ethan into incredulous adventures that strain the bounds of possibility…but then that’s the point. Ethan begins this volume in a fairly steady place. He has lost his wife in a hurricane at the end of the last book so has moved back to England and is trying to raise his young son. He also has a bit of money in the bank, for a change, having sold a valuable emerald and invested the proceeds in England.
Of course that steady state of affairs doesn’t last long and he soon finds himself working with Napoleon once again and then manages to become a double agent for England as well. In fact he bounces back and forth so many times that I lost count, but all through humorous circumstances and all at Ethan’s escalating peril. The plot culminates with the battle of Trafalgar and Ethan’s unwilling participation with Lord Nelson as well as on the French/Spanish side. This is a crazy exciting plot, and I couldn’t even begin to properly summarize it (as is usually the case with an Ethan Gage novel). And at the same time it’s a great way to get up close and personal with historical events.
I went into this one expecting a fairly easy-reading period mystery novel set in London and during World War II and that is exactly what I got. With tI went into this one expecting a fairly easy-reading period mystery novel set in London and during World War II and that is exactly what I got. With the help of an inside friend, Maggie Hope lands a job as a typist in Winston Churchill’s offices at Number 10 in 1940, just at the beginning of the Blitz. But Maggie is an educated woman, great at mathematics, and yearning for more. However, 1940’s Britain is not all that receptive to women of such ability and drive so it’s an uphill battle for her. Being in the right place at the right time, though, (or the wrong place/time, depending on one’s point of view) gets Maggie in deep with terrorist plots, secret codes, and all sorts of deadly adventure.
The plot is a little on the far-fetched side and there are a few too many convenient plot twists but overall this was a fun read. I wish there had been a little more Churchill interaction. What little did occur was interesting reading. I think the novel also suffered from a little too much chatting among the core characters. That could serve well as character building but to me it took too long to get to the actual plot and also too long to wind down at the end. There are times it reads like a first novel by this author (it is, and pacing is among the most difficult tasks to master) but it is a polished novel. Almost too polished as every single loose end is neatly wrapped up for us.
The novel can stand alone but also sets up the next book nicely. Even though I have pointed out some faults, I still enjoyed it quite a lot and I expect I will plunge on ahead and read the next one as well. ...more
When I know I’m good and ready for a challenging read I know I can always turn to Mark Hodder’s Burton & Swinburne adventure series. One really neWhen I know I’m good and ready for a challenging read I know I can always turn to Mark Hodder’s Burton & Swinburne adventure series. One really needs to put everything else aside and prepare for full throttle complexity, and after reading this 4th book in the series, I’m thinking they’re growing even more convoluted than ever.
Ever since I read the first book in the series, The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, I’ve been impressed with the author’s creativity. To be able to explore this world of Victorian age England in an alternate history version (where Victoria is assassinated early in her reign) is always fun. Good steampunk novels, time-travel novels, or old fashioned character-driven historical novels can be difficult to write but to combine all of the above is a tough feat to pull off. But Hodder does it once again.
Sir Richard Francis Burton is the primary character, of course and we see the story unfold through his eyes. I found the other characters well drawn once again and great fun to follow along with as they encounter various historical figures and places in 19th century England. Some are well known to us, like Charles Darwin, Bram Stoker, Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), while others are far less known, at least to me, but nevertheless important historical contributors.
My one complaint about this book is that I am probably just not smart enough to read it. I get the same feeling when I read a Neal Stephenson book. Time travel plots can certainly be convoluted with resulting paradoxes prompting bouts of head scratching puzzlement on the part of the reader, but when said paradoxes drive the plot and the action, the result can be absolutely confounding. It was difficult to keep track of who was doing what to whom and when they were doing it. Add to that a rather large cast of characters and we have a recipe for a complicated stew. Paradoxes that result in branches to parallel universes and timelines abound throughout and I was not always confident that I was understanding which set of characters or which version of the timeline I was observing. For that reason I took off a star on my rating even though the fault is likely mine for just not being smart enough.
Nevertheless, the attempt was worth it just to read Mr. Hodder’s prose and absorb his wit if nothing else. I am anxious to see what comes in the next novel for it is evident that this universe has been blown wide open with this novel and there is no cap to what can happen next (or previously). ...more
I have long had a soft spot for stories involving the London police force in the immediate aftermath of the Jack the Ripper murders. They were so maliI have long had a soft spot for stories involving the London police force in the immediate aftermath of the Jack the Ripper murders. They were so maligned after failing to catch Saucy Jack that it became almost impossible to do their jobs. They had completely lost the faith and support of the populace.
In other words…a perfect situation for captivating historical mysteries/thrillers.
The Yard, which obviously refers to the very early Scotland Yard, is the first published novel by Alex Grecian who has an interesting and very successful background in writing graphic novels. And this is just such a captivating novel as I hoped it would be. It is definitely more of a “thriller” than a “mystery” as we come to know the criminals involved very early in the novel. Interestingly, there is more than just one case occupying the detectives of the Yard. In fact it is always refreshing to see a police force of any kind depicted with an overwhelming number of cases rather than the single case at a time that we usually see on network television. But there is definitely a primary case in this novel and it involves somebody murdering their very own detectives.
I found this to be an engaging read. A nice mix of characters, both on the police side and the Londoners they encounter. The murder case itself isn’t particularly complex but I love to see sleuths engaging their brains in eras before modern forensic science makes it seem easy. In fact, this story includes descriptions of the very first finger printing techniques used by their doctor (what we would call their “medical examiner”) and the resulting skepticism of most of the detectives.
4.5 stars. I’ll be happily adding the next two novels in what I’m sure will be a continuing series to my TBR list. I’m anxious to see how the “The Murder Squad” continues to jell going forward. ...more
Having tackled the historical accounts of Julius Caesar as well as the Khan dynasty, Conn Iggulden has turned to his own British roots with The War ofHaving tackled the historical accounts of Julius Caesar as well as the Khan dynasty, Conn Iggulden has turned to his own British roots with The War of the Roses, perhaps the bloodiest 30 year span in all of English history. This first volume in a projected trilogy covers the time frame in the 15th century when King Henry VI comes of age, through the Cade Rebellion.
Going into this novel, I was expecting it to be heavy on the political intrigue and power struggles at the root of the conflict. After all, this is The War of the Roses. Indeed, the novel covers those events leading up to the launch of the War, but far more time is spent with a few key characters that impact events and how they come to take the actions that they do. The wedding of the young French maiden Margaret of Anjou to King Henry VI is central to this novel as is the loss of most of the English territory in France due to the wedding agreement. The rivalry between Richard, Duke of York and William, Duke of Suffolk fulfilled my need for intrigue while the English rebellion in France with fearless longbowman, Thomas Woodchurch, satisfied the on-the-ground warfare strategy need. Jack Cade’s rebellion and march on London was fun to ride along with even though both sides were equally sympathetic so it was hard to root for one over the other.
I confess to never having learned much about the War of the Roses, nor have I read a historical novel covering the topic. However, I have read an extensive quantity of historical novels of all kinds and I feel quite comfortable recommending this one. Not only did it give me the chance to read of this historical era I also got to finally read a Conn Iggulden novel, an author I’ve been meaning to try for years now. After just one book, I will definitely go back and read his previous novels. The author’s afterward clarifies some points and admits to altering the timeline from time to time but it is evident he has researched the events thoroughly for this series.
When reading of English royalty, I always worry that I will be confused about who’s who, but Iggulden avoids the tendency of some historical novelists to forget that they are novelists and not pure historians. Iggulden brings a vast, complex, political mess down to the important components that allow us to understand what happened. That’s a tough thing to pull off well. ...more
I’m having trouble rating this book for some reason. I was intrigued by the premise of the novel: a whore/madam named India Black, running a brothel iI’m having trouble rating this book for some reason. I was intrigued by the premise of the novel: a whore/madam named India Black, running a brothel in the red-light district of 1876 London and unexpectedly thrust into a spy game between British and Russian agents involving military secrets. Sounds like my kind of novel.
Indeed, the basic plot held up its end of the bargain although there were times when it seemed to meander a bit too much, almost as if the author was having to write herself out of one scene only to get trapped in another. I found the character of India Black to be mostly interesting, full of sassy wit and humorous attitudes towards her compatriots. But here again, that seemed to get repetitive as well. Sort of like a one-trick pony (no pun intended). The other characters of the book seemed a little one-dimensional and several were almost cartoonish, all of which fed my feeling that this was an author’s first work and that she was still learning the writing game. It’s like she was trying too hard.
The author also has an annoying way of inserting India’s thoughts in parentheses…all over the place. I’ve never seen so many parenthetical expressions in one novel before, sometimes two or three in one sentence. The effect, unfortunately, was just cumbersome to read. I sincerely hope the author discontinues this practice in future novels.
So having spilled all of that, I still liked the book. I liked India and I liked the settings and I liked the plot. I plan to read more of the series at some point and that’s a rarity for a series that starts out with a 3-star rating from me. But that’s just the way it is. ...more
This is the second in the popular Sharpe series by the prolific writer, Bernard Cornwell, and the middle book of what I understand is referred to as tThis is the second in the popular Sharpe series by the prolific writer, Bernard Cornwell, and the middle book of what I understand is referred to as the "India Trilogy" subset of all of the Sharpe novels. It is now 1803, some four years after the events of the first novel, and Richard Sharpe is now firmly entrenched in Wellesley's army. (For those that don't know, Wellesley's great claim to fame is as the victor at the Battle of Waterloo, but he had a long career prior to that).
This time around, Sergeant Sharpe faces a choice: whether to suffer along as the capable but under-appreciated sergeant facing formidable odds against an Indian horde (The Mahratta) led by a German soldier, or to flip sides and join the traitors, becoming a well-respected and powerful officer and enjoy the associated riches that come with the position. What follows, the history books record as the Battle of Assaye, and, as usual, Cornwell nails the gritty nature of battle without succumbing to the blow-by-blow pitfall that some authors do.
This is the 18th Cornwell book I've read and I have yet to be disappointed. This Sharpe series, in particular is just good fun but built upon historical fact. He has said that he meant these books to be a "land" version of the Horatio Hornblower books (which I've also read) and I believe he has succeeded admirably (no pun intended). Looking forward to the next one!...more
I came to this one knowing it to be a historical mystery, set in the middle ages, but also knowing that the author is a fairly well-known romance writI came to this one knowing it to be a historical mystery, set in the middle ages, but also knowing that the author is a fairly well-known romance writer. I have nothing against romance writers in general, preferring to judge every book and author on their own merits and not by some preconceived stereotype.
What I found was a nice story with an engaging mystery plot and fairly well-drawn characters. I happen to know quite a bit about the actual history of this time (just after the Battle of the Standards, the opening round of the struggle between Stephen and Matilda) and it is obvious that the author has done her research well. And I did like the way the history interacted with the mystery plot.
But overall, I was less impressed with the actual writing, especially the dialogue. Nearly every line seemed to be followed by something like, "she said knowingly" or "he said wistfully." I know that basic writing classes teach students to avoid such adverbial phrasing but I also know that rules are meant to be broken and some fantastic writers occasionally do it anyway. But repeated use of this makes for a "style" of writing and, to me, it screamed "amateur".
Similarly, each line of dialogue was followed by an activity of some kind and never strung together: (note: this is not a quote from the novel, just my own made-up example to illustrate the style)
Character 1: "Cold night out tonight, wouldn't you say?" Activity: She glanced toward the squire, curling her hair over an ear.
Character 2: "Indeed" Activity: The squire began to polish a set of armor.
Character 1: "Maybe it will rain" Activity: A thrush tweeted in a nearby bush.
Character 2: "Perhaps you are right. It might rain." Activity: Another thrush answered its mate's call with another tweet.
etc. etc. etc.
Some of that sort of thing works well to add texture to a scene but I didn't enjoy being hit over the head with it.
I could give many more examples of the writing style but...I will resist. I am certainly no master of the written word but I know a manuscript in need of an editor when I see one.
So overall I would rate the story and plot a "4" but grade the writing level at a "2" so compromised with an overall grade of the dreaded "3"
This novel can easily be read as a stand-alone novel but it does feature Thomas of Hookton, the protagonist of his "Grail Quest" series and I believeThis novel can easily be read as a stand-alone novel but it does feature Thomas of Hookton, the protagonist of his "Grail Quest" series and I believe those that have read those three books previously will have an even greater appreciation for this one. The title of this novel, of course, refers to the year in which it takes place, 1356, during the Hundred Years War. The action takes place in France. The heir to the British throne, the Prince of Wales, best known as the "Black Prince" is set to invade. The French have teamed up with their Scottish allies and are ready to rumble.
But pivitol to the outcome of the coming battles are rumors of an artifact, the lost sword of Saint Peter, said to grant certain victory to whoever possesses it. This is not a unique concept for a Grail Quest novel, as Thomas of Hookton has previously hunted down the Holy Grail itself.
But do not think of this as a "battle" book. While Cornwell is well known for writing extremely accurate battle scenes (at least as best can be known of such historical details) this novel delves into many areas beyond the battle. In fact the culmination of the novel, the actual battle of Poitiers does not begin until the final 60 pages or so. Prior to that we are treated to all sorts of adventures among various factions, well-drawn characters, and an engaging plot. Thomas of Hookton, himself is a great protagonist but he shares time with a host of intriguing characters from scoundrels to the pious, all leading the reader to keep turning pages and wishing for further entries in this series.
Having said that, I still can't count this one among the top-tier of Cornwell novels. The plot does jump around a little too much making me wish he had delved into some of the subplots a little deeper and although he weaves in a whole host of interesting characters, there are just too many of them to really get to know them well. Still, even a subpar Cornwell book is well worth the time to read....more
I have a long and varied history with Mr. Sherlock Holmes. I read the complete works, a two-volume set, more than 30 years ago and, looking back, wasI have a long and varied history with Mr. Sherlock Holmes. I read the complete works, a two-volume set, more than 30 years ago and, looking back, was probably a little young to truly appreciate their nature. I wasn't ready for the more classic story-telling style of that age and so I tended to find them boring. But I was a completest and so read every one without retaining much memory of the individual stories. Many many years later I was re-introduced, after a fashion via television's "Sherlock" series from BBC. That intrigued me enough to pursue The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a collection of stories by many of my favorite authors and consequently I was pulled back into that world.
This particular novel isn't a Sherlock Holmes novel per se. Rather it's about a modern day "Sherlockian", a recent inductee into the secret "Baker Street Irregulars", a real-life group of Sherlock enthusiasts. It seems Arthur Conan Doyle kept a diary for most of his life but, famously, a portion of the diary has been missing for decades. Now, it's been found. It's bound to be an interesting portion of the diary because it covers that portion of Conan Doyle's life that deals with the time between his killing of Holmes at Richenberg Falls and his choosing to resurrect the character he loathed several years later. Why did he do it? What could have happened in Conan Doyle's life to change his mind about returning to that character? And why would people commit murder for a chance to read what it contains?
So the game is afoot, both in the present day as they hunt for the diary (and attempt to solve a murder in a deductive reasoning sort of way) as well as alternating chapters of flashbacks to the past where we get to enjoy Conan Doyle working with his good friend Bram Stocker as consultants to Scotland Yard, solving their own murder mystery. I found both interwoven stories to be fun to read but especially enjoyed the 1900 Conan Doyle parts. At times the present day characters seemed a little wooden but this was mostly compensated for by the action that occurred in those scenes. The next clue was too conveniently discovered on more than one occasion which is the only reason this isn't getting a full 5 stars. Overall, it was a very fun read and the author's note at the end was fascinating. So much of this novel is based on factual mysteries surrounding the actual historical Arthur Conan Doyle and the missing diary portion. My Sherlock obsession has just kicked up a further couple of notches.
This is the author's first published work and given his relatively youthful age, I'm looking forward to many future works. I also intend to go back and read at least some of the actual Sherlock canon. Highly recommended....more
This is just what I was afraid of...a very good historical novel, introducing me to yet another series that I must now follow. And this series has oveThis is just what I was afraid of...a very good historical novel, introducing me to yet another series that I must now follow. And this series has over 20 books in it.
But that's just what I expected from a Bernard Cornwell novel: great characters surrounded by a great plot and depicting a cool historical situation. Throw in a well-drawn bad guy and a very good cast of supporting characters and you've got yourself a fine time of reading. I chose to read these books in chronological order, as the author recommends, even though this is not the first of the series as he wrote them. Highly recommended....more
I love the way Bernard Cornwell can take history and make it come alive. This is the story of the famous battle of Agincourt (Azincourt in French) thaI love the way Bernard Cornwell can take history and make it come alive. This is the story of the famous battle of Agincourt (Azincourt in French) that took place in October of 1415, as told through the eyes of an English archer. The battle is famous mostly for the overwhelming odds that Henry V's army faced against a superior French army, as well as for being immortilized in Shakespeare's Henry V. The battle was also instrumental in elevating the use of the English longbow as that era's most feared weapon of war.
But don't think this is just a novel of a medieval battle. Cornwell does his usual masterful job of depicting the major events of the battle and the months leading up to it by bringing the focus down to the individual level of those who partcipated in it. Nicholas Hook is the protagonist and to watch these events unfold through his eyes makes one very happy not to have had to live in those times. This is as real and gritty as it gets, and I was fully absorbed in the action of the battles as well as his life and thoughts and motivations. There are many very well written characters here and all of them not only allowed me to enter their world and story but also assisted in my complete understanding of the history itself. The reader gains a firm understanding that it was not just the longbow that won the day; in fact, far more important may well have been the terrain itself, turned into a field of clay mud by the previous day's hard rain, and causing the French men-at-arms in their full armor to be literally stuck as easy pickings for the swift, unburdened archers. I also appreciated the afterword by Cornwell where he discusses the differences of opinion that exist today over the actual details of the battle, including the all-important strength comparisons. For the novel, he used the more-or-less traditional legend of 6,000 English facing 30,000 French.
A follow-up to Circle of Stones, this novel follows Madoc, a Welshman and lesser know "discoverer" of the new World in the 12th century. If you enjoyeA follow-up to Circle of Stones, this novel follows Madoc, a Welshman and lesser know "discoverer" of the new World in the 12th century. If you enjoyed the first book then you'll like this one too. I've had both on my shelves for years and finally committed to reading them this year...I barely made it. The first was a bit dry for my taste and moved a little too slow so I had procrastinated on this second volume as long as I could.
The first third of this second book overlaps the first book completely, but telling of the events from a different perspective, that of Madoc's instead of his mother, Brenda. That was problematical in that it was too long for those who had read the first book, but was rushed for those who hadn't...no character depth developed. The rest of the novel was well written, even though still at that same slow pace that occurred in the first book.
I'm not so sure of the historical accuracy here either. Of course, the author is dealing with a pieced-together legend so I didn't expect "facts" on Madoc's life. But I do expect things like the weather in Florida, the nature of fish and wildlife, etc. to be at least close to reality. Her novel, Sacajawea, had similar problems with taking too much literary license with known facts. I also found some things just plain hard to swallow like when a Welshman and a native American girl come to understand one another so easily, including language, in just a few days, and in some cases, only hours. Such sloppy writing/editing just serves to jar the reader out the experience.
I understand a third book in this series has recently been published. If I had nothing else to read, I would go ahead and pick it up. But as it is, life is too short and my TBR list is already way too long....more
This one has everything I enjoy in a big ol' historical novel: lots of interesting characters that are fully fleshed out, an interesting panoramic setThis one has everything I enjoy in a big ol' historical novel: lots of interesting characters that are fully fleshed out, an interesting panoramic setting, a nice complex plot (but not too complex), unexpected plot twists, characters who are killed off unexpectedly, characters who live unexpectedly, good guys/gals and bad guys/gals, intrigue, romance, swashbuckling action, and of course, well-researched history.
A well-written novel, indeed.
But what made this one truly a masterpiece in my mind is the fact that I listened to it on audio CD. I commute for 2 hours each day for work and still, it took me a good solid month to make my way through this one. It was a huge undertaking (32 CDs) but what a month it was! I was really sucked into the narrative, not only due to the quality of the book itself but also due to the fantastic reader, Mr John Lee. He is simply one of the best in the business and his softly British accent is just perfect for this novel. I was totally swept away. One hears of the great oral tradition, before they had the ability to write down stories and history, when people passed along those stories via the spoken word. This was like that somehow for me...and as much as I liked the novel, listening to this one was just that much cooler.
I've had this novel and its sequel on my shelves for over 10 years and am just now getting to them. I had read the author's previous works, Sacajawea,I've had this novel and its sequel on my shelves for over 10 years and am just now getting to them. I had read the author's previous works, Sacajawea, and Prairie: The Legend of Charles Burton Irwin and the Y6 Ranch back in the early 1990s and have been anxious to give these "Circle" books a try. This novel states that it is the first of a series but to my knowledge only one sequel has been published, back in 2001. A third book, "Watch the Face of the Sky" is/was supposed to be published in 2011 but I'm not certain of its status.
This book was an interesting read about the harsh life in Wales back in the mid 1100's AD. Brenda is the protagonist as well as the mother of Madoc for whom there is some credible evidence for his being the first European to "discover" America. The second book in this series is more about him.
So the book itself was well written and detailed some interesting history of Northern Wales and the time of conflict based upon the old religion (Druids) and the new religion (Christianity). However, I found the story progression to be at a pretty slow pace and thus my 3 star rating. I've unintentionally been reading several novels taking place in that era of the British Isles including The King Raven Trilogy (a different sort of take on the legend of Robin Hood by Stephen R Lawhead) as well as The Pillars of the Earth so I think it's time to go for something a bit different before returning to the sequel to this one....more
I'm just not smart enough to appreciate this work. Lots of stuff happening but mostly plotless. I could appreciate the humor Stephenson uses as well aI'm just not smart enough to appreciate this work. Lots of stuff happening but mostly plotless. I could appreciate the humor Stephenson uses as well as the characters he was able to develop but I just couldn't keep my mind from wandering as I read it. Since I completed this entire tome as well as the other two volumes (8 novels in all in the three volumes) I will count this among my "trophy" reads and not my "treasures"....more