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