Sunday, 31 July 2011

NEWS: Deja Review

Hail Mighty Readers,
Here's this months round up of previously reviewed titles that have either been released in PB format or have undergone new binding/artwork. (Covers in review may differ from current incarnation.)

This month you'll find:
01/07/11 McDONALD, Ian - The Dervish House
07/07/11 ARMSTRONG, Kelley - Waking the Witch
07/07/11 McINTOSH, Fiona - Valisar Trilogy 3: The Kings Wrath
14/07/11 BARCLAY, James - Elves: Once Walked with Gods
14/07/11 EGAN, Greg - Zendegi
14/07/11 FENN, Jaine - Guardians of Paradise
14/07/11 PEVEL, Pierre - Alchemist in the Shadows
21/07/11 SCARROW, Simon - Macro and Cato 10: The Legion

If we've missed one please let us know,


CRIME REVIEW: The Mysteries of the Greek Detective 5: The Whispers of Nemesis - Anne Zouroudi

Release Date: 04/07/11


It is winter in the mountains of northern Greece and as the snow falls in the tiny village of Vrisi a coffin is unearthed and broken open. But to the astonishment of the mourners at the graveside, the remains inside the coffin have been transformed, and as news of the bizarre discovery spreads through the village like forest fire it sets tongues wagging and heads shaking. Then, in the shadow of the shrine of St Fanourios (patron saint of lost things), a body is found, buried under the fallen snow - a body whose identity only deepens the mystery around the exhumed remains. There's talk of witchcraft, and the devil's work - but it seems the truth, behind both the body and the coffin, may be far stranger than the villagers' wildest imaginings. Hermes Diaktoros, drawn to the mountains by a wish to see an old and dear friend, finds himself embroiled in the mysteries of Vrisi, as well as the enigmatic last will and testament of Greece's most admired modern poet. The Whispers of Nemesis is a story of desperate measures and long-kept secrets, of murder and immortality and of pride coming before the steepest of falls.


I love a crime book that takes me either somewhere exotic or an area of the world I’ve never been before as this presents me with the chance to explore not only the seedy underbelly of society there but also the beliefs as well as rites that are common for the area to add a bit more mystique as well as spice to the tail.

What this book by Anne Zouroudi presented for me was a wonderful piece of escapism as I was taken by the hand to a land rich in folklore as well as modern interpretations. It’s cleverly written, the plot line spectacular and when added with a lead character that was multifaceted so that I could get to grips with him, it really made the story sing. Add to this the multi-layered perspectives of the principle players and it was an omnipotent title for the reader to digest. All in a wonderful addition to anyone’s Crime Fiction library and one that I will definitely endeavour to read the earlier titles for in order to get the full impact of this wonderful author.

URBAN FANTASY REVIEW: Mistification - Kaaron Warren

Release Date: 02/06/11


An intriguing modern fantasy from the award-winning writer of Slights . Marvo is a stage magician. His magic is real. Marvo grows up without knowing his parents, without knowing his heritage, without knowing much about life. The magicians have always been with us, since the beginning of civilisation. They fill our heads with the mist, keeping us from witnessing the stark reality of existence. But are things so bad that Marvo will bring it down on all of us, forever? Marvo begins to understand those around him, and his place in the world; he discovers that his remarkable powers can be put to good, or to evil. He only has to choose -


As a reader of quite a lot of Urban Fantasy I’m always on the lookout for something either a little different or something that will capture the imagination to take me on a special journey of discovery. It’s one reason Angry Robot are always on my To Watch lists as they bring something unique to the cooking pot and present titles quite unlike anyone else. A lot of the time this is successful, occasionally however it fails as was sadly the case with this, the new book by Kaaron Warren.

For me whilst the premise and concept were ideal for my type of tastes it was the execution of this that left it feeling rather flat. The characters felt more like they were there to further a story rather than be the story and when you added the collection of tales from passing cast members it felt more like the author tried to interlink a number of short tales in one big book that sadly failed on so many levels as I didn’t have the connection that I desire in such a book.

Whilst Kaaron is a talented author I would sadly have to say that this title is middle of the road for the genre and as such there are better books out there including Kaaron’s own Slights which was pretty imagination busting at its release. All in with luck, Kaaron’s next title will concentrate on getting back to what she does well and with a bit more character development which is what I demand from any book that I read, as after all, if I can’t empathise why should I care about their fates?

Saturday, 30 July 2011

SCIENCE FICTION REVIEW: Rule 34 - Charles Stoss

Release Date: 07/07/11


DI Liz Kavanaugh: You realise policing internet porn is your life and your career went down the pan five years ago. But when a fetishist dies on your watch, the Rule 34 Squad moves from low priority to worryingly high profile. Anwar: As an ex-con, you'd like to think your identity fraud days are over. Especially as you've landed a legit job (through a shady mate). Although now that you're Consul for a shiny new Eastern European Republic, you've no idea what comes next. The Toymaker: Your meds are wearing off and people are stalking you through Edinburgh's undergrowth. But that's ok, because as a distraction, you're project manager of a sophisticated criminal operation. But who's killing off potential recruits? So how do bizarre domestic fatalities, dodgy downloads and a European spamming network fit together? The more DI Kavanaugh learns, the less she wants to find out.


Having devoured Halting State a while ago I wondered if Charles would ever return to the gritty and dark near future world that he’d created as there was so much scope for the reader to explore. Luckily for me that is exactly what he does in this his new title, Rule 34.

Whilst the outline remains the same, the new characters that intersect are, as usual for Stoss, well-formed and wonderfully likeable. Add to this some fully believable developments, multi-layered plot and of course the usual Stoss misdirectional use of the magicians sleight of hand that when you get to a certain point you’ll have to reread to see the clues that have been nagging since their appearance as apparent off the cuff remarks. It’s cleverly woven, it has cracking prose and when you build up the crescendo to the extent that this author does you know that the payoff is going to be explosive. Great stuff all in and a wonderful read.

FANTASY REVIEW: Stands a Shadow - Col Buchanan

Release Date: 15/07/11


Still grieving the death of her son, the Holy Matriarch of Mann has ordered her troops to embark on a mission to the Mercian Free Ports. Riding at the head of her army she plans to finally conquer the city of Bar-Khos, whose walls have kept them at bay for ten long years. Ash has other plans for her. The old Roshun warrior is determined that he will have vengeance for the crimes she has committed. But such a course of retribution is in direct opposition to everything he has lived for this isn't a Roshun vendetta it's personal. While Ash battles with his conscience, Che, the Matriarch's personal Diplomat and assassin, is questioning his own path. Watching as the Mannian army slaughters their way across the world, he wonders whether he believes any of the doctrine he has been taught to follow. As the battle for Bar-Khos intensifies, more and more lives are affected: Bahn who leaves all he loves in the city to try to protect it from the ravening Mannian empire, Bull the murderer who senses a chance to make things right, and Curl, the young prostitute who is determined to seek her own retribution on the field of battle. When the two armies clash all looks set to be decided. But it's not sheer force that will win this battle. But the tormented determination of one man seeking redemption ...


Bursting onto the scene last year with his debut, Col returns us to the Heart of the World to a time of bloodshed and politics, combat and double dealing as the cast from the previous title return to fight again against the ruthless march of an empire.

As with the previous Col plays for keeps, those who survive are changed and perhaps best of all, the double dealing politics as well as carefully interwoven plot line will keep you guessing right the way through to the end. If you’ve been looking for a new world to play in since the completion of Erikson’s opus then this one will more than please especially when you add solid prose, great pace and of course a character to appeal to each readers tastes. All in a most satisfactory read and one that I hope will continue for good while yet, after all the conspiracy runs far deeper than I think many will notice to start with.

Friday, 29 July 2011

URBAN FANTASY REVIEW: The Guardian Angel's Journal - Carolyn Jess-Cooke

Release Date: 14/04/11


When Margot Delacroix dies at forty-two years old, she is sent back to earth as a guardian angel - to herself. Renamed Ruth, she is forced by divine mandate to re-experience and record her biggest mistakes and fiercest regrets from the beginning of her life to her untimely death. Forced from the moment of her birth to witness the cogs of fate and the stuttering engine of free will, Ruth sets out to change the course of her life, and, ultimately, to prevent her premature death. When she realises that the reasons behind her teenage son's descent into drugs and murder lay within her own actions as Margot, she makes a pact with a demon - she will give up her place in Heaven in exchange for the opportunity to save her son from his fate. But the changes she makes result in consequences no one could expect...


OK this isn’t my normal type of book and when it landed I suspected that it was an error by the publisher, yet as I started I soon became engrossed in the timelines that dissect and cross in such a way that it makes the reader question their own lives as well as the characters who whilst in some respects are hard to like have a feeling of realism that they could be anyone you pass on the street.

It’s wonderfully written, it has great characters and the authors choice of words only add to the overall arc that makes this a book that was as shocking as it was questioning the human condition. All in whilst its harsh and the realism can be questioned the deeper emotional aspects within make this a story that really carries itself as something so unique and different to a great many titles out there that it really has to be read by all who want something unlike anything else. For me, this books questions as well as changes in the viewer’s condition as well as sympathies make this a title that really cannot be ignored and I really have to thank the publisher for sending this title I’d have otherwise missed.

FANTASY REVIEW: Echo City - Tim Lebbon

Release Date: 29/07/11


Surrounded by a vast, toxic desert, the inhabitants of labyrinthine Echo City believe there is no other life in their world. Some like it that way, so when a stranger arrives he is anathema to powerful interest groups. But Peer Nadawa found the stranger and she is determined to keep him and the freedom he represents alive. A political exile herself, she calls on her ex-lover Gorham, now leader of their anti-establishment network. Then they recruit the Baker, whose macabre genetic experiments seem close to sorcery. However, while factions prepare for war, an ancient peril is stirring. In the city's depths something deadly is rising, and it will soon reach the levels where men dwell.


I love a story that’s a little different to a lot of the titles already out there and Tim Lebbon is the type of author that really allows his mind to expand to encompass any tale that has a kernel of something special so much so that you’re never sure what you’re going to get in a proverbial Forest Gump type of manner.

What Echo City does is take Mega City One (or rather a city that feels like a fantasy version of Judge Dredds turf) and add a deeper horror element with a stranger carrying some undesired truth for the inhabitants that the totalitarian system doesn’t want revealed. Its beautifully done and with Tim’s talent it’s a story that has a lot of scope that will keep you entertained however where the story fails for me is that it all seems to occur in a Dark City type of environment where there’s nothing else out there and thus feels more than a little flat for expansion.

Yes there are area’s that can be explored such as how the city came to being or you have the scope to expand into the old a city is a 1000 stories waiting to happen but there is only so much that you can do and the story really has to be character driven which if they’re not that strong can fall flat fairly quickly. All in the story was entertaining but of all Tim’s books there are others out there that I’d recommend before this as a prime example of his work. I’m not saying that it didn’t fulfil what I wanted but rather just didn’t leave me with the bumps that I’ve expected at a tales end and for me that’s the pay off as far as Tim’s concerned.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

URBAN FANTASY REVIEW: The Dresden Files 13: Ghost Story - Jim Butcher

Release Date: 28/07/11


Meet Harry Dresden, Chicago's first (and only) Wizard PI. Turns out the 'everyday' world is full of strange and magical things - and most of them don't play well with humans. That's where Harry comes in. But he's forgotten his own golden rule: magic - it can get a guy killed. Which didn't help when he clashed with unknown assailants with his murder in mind. And though Harry's continued existence is now in some doubt, this doesn't mean he can rest in peace. Trapped in a realm that's not quite here, yet not quite anywhere else, Harry learns that three of his loved ones are in danger. Only by discovering his assailant's identity can he save his friends, bring criminal elements to justice, and move on himself. It would just be easier if he knew who was at risk. And had a (working) crystal ball. And access to magic. Instead, he is unable to interact with the physical world - invisible to all but a select magical few. He's also not the only silent presence roaming Chicago's alleys. Hell, he put some there himself. Now, they're looking for payback.


Perhaps not the most common saying ever, but to be honest a phrase from the Victorian period was suddenly echoing round my area not that long ago. “The Butcher has arrived, the Butcher has arrived.” Was virtually screamed at opening the envelope to see the cover of this, the latest adventure for Wizard PI Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden which as series fans will recall was left at a major cliff hanger at the end of the last book, Changes.

I really couldn’t wait to begin, but hey, if you’re preparing for a major read you need to lay some supplies in. Homemade Salami, Ham and Pastrami Baguette, check. Chilled bottle of Barrs Dandelion and Burdock, check. Comfy cushions and blanket for the sofa, check. Quick loo break prior to starting. Check. Finally phone unplugged for peace and quiet. Check. I was all ready to begin and woe betide anyone that got in my way.

What unfurls within this title is a story of danger, a story of old foes and a story where characters fears and emotional conflicts are faced after the previous titles events. It is fast paced, it has multiple twists and quite a few the reader really won’t see coming. As usual with Butcher, Harry is the star of the tale and this time, he has to deal with relatively little power relying on his other skills to get him through which makes this classic Dresden. The only real downside is how long its going to be before the next book arrives and with luck, the “Rag Lady” will get her first step on the road to recovery as well as allowing Harry to be back to his best.

THRILLER REVIEW: The Silenced - Brett Battles

Release Date: 28/07/11


Professional 'cleaner' Jonathan Quinn has a new client and a odd job: find and remove the remains of a body hidden twenty years ago inside the walls of a London building, before the building is demolished. But Quinn and his team are being watched. Suddenly caught in the crossfire between two dangerous rivals, Quinn must unravel the identity of the body and why it still poses so great a threat even in death. Because a plot stretching from the former Soviet Union to Hong Kong, from Paris to London, from Los Angeles to Maine is rapidly falling apart. And Quinn hasn't just been hired to tie up loose ends - he is one.


OK this is my first adventure with Brett Battles and to be honest, whilst it’s his fourth book, it was one that held me entranced from start to finish. The lead character was gripping, the scrapes and action high octane and when you add into it an author who knows how to not only entertain but thrill the reader it was a very enjoyable experience.

The prose was crisp, the dialogue outstanding but it was the sheer depth of twists and turns that kept me glued to see what would happen up to the final chapter that left me feeling exhausted by its conclusion. All in a great read and one that I thoroughly enjoyed and whilst I’ve not read other titles by Brett, I’ll definitely have to look at another adventure soon just after I give my shattered nerves time to get back to solid ground.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

GAME TRAILER: Warhammer 40K: Space Marine - THQ

Hail Mighty Readers,
Our friends at THQ let us know that the new cinematic trailer for Warhammer 40K Space Marine is now available here.

We hope you're just as excited about this as we are. So get your Bolters at the ready for September.

All the best,


AUTOBIOGRAPHY REVIEW: Can't Stand Up For Sitting Down - Jo Brand

Release Date: 14/04/11


The Stand-Up while Sitting Down Years...Jo Brand tells the story of how she crawled to fame and fortune, managed to persuade someone to marry her and had some children at an age when she should have been in a bath chair on the seafront. In this second volume of her memoirs, Jo recounts wild times on the comedy circuit, the attempts to tart her up for the TV screen, running the marathon, rally driving, her numerous, occasionally extremely inebriated, Edinburgh festival appearances, her 'acting' career, and much, much more. Jo Brand is one of our best-loved comedians, according to a quote she made up. This memoir is full of hard-won wisdom, hilarity and her views on life, laughs, friendships and all the good and bad things in the world. If she was Prime Minister, the country would be in even more of a mess than it is.


The life of a comedian is one that is usually touched by a lot of sadness that few ever hear about as they’re expected to be funny all of the time so when I embark on an autobiography of one I hope that its going to have some humour within as well as presenting their life in an interesting way.

Having missed Jo’s original Look Back in Hunger title, I was definitely interested in this one that dealt more with the comedic aspects as well as how it impacted her life as I’ve loved her humour for years. Its fascinating, it is wonderfully written and it’s Jo’s warm self-depreciating sarcasm that brings this to the fore in a wonderfully upbeat title. Add to this her own special journey through some life changing moments and it’s a book that I not only enjoyed but one I look forward to reading again, especially after I’ve picked up the first title so that I can get the full flavour of this larger than life remarkable woman.

SCIENCE FICTION REVIEW: Hell Ship - Philip Palmer

Release Date: 29/07/11


The Hell Ship hurtles through space. Inside the ship are thousands of slaves, each the last of their race. The Hell Ship and its infernal crew destroyed their homes, slaughtered their families and imprisoned them forever. One champion refuses to succumb. Sharrock, reduced from hero to captive in one blow, has sworn vengeance. Although Sai-as, head of the alien slave horde, will ruthlessly enforce the status quo. But help is close. Jak has followed the Ship for years and their battles have left Jak broken, a mind in a starship's body, focussed only on destroying the Ship. Together, can hunter and slave end this interstellar nightmare?


I’m a little old fashioned when it comes to my Science Fiction, telling me that the thing works is good for me, I don’t need to either know the mechanics of why it works, only that its believable and whilst the trend these days is to get quite in depth with the science part of the genre, Philip is an author who believes more in the aspect of storytelling with the science taking a supporting role.

Whilst to some this may seem a little old fashioned, for me it’s the perfect combo, great storytelling with a little science and a arc that is character driven, especially this offering with three lead principles against a war faring alien nation. It’s beautifully constructed, the characters, whilst in some cases quite alien, work wonderfully well together with each playing off the others strengths as they seek to complete their common goal.

All in a satisfactory tale and one that really was a joy to great. Great stuff from Philip which proves why he’s fast becoming my favourite science fiction author.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

FACTUAL REVIEW: Making Craft Cider: A Ciderists Guide - Simon McKie

Release Date: 10/04/11


Small-scale cider production is big business. In recent years the drink has seen a surge in popularity which has been a boon not only to the large industrial makers but also to small producers and home cider makers who value taste and complexity. This book takes us through the history, concepts, practicalities and techniques of craft cider production. It looks at the different styles of cider, and the effect of fruit variety, climate and orchard location on the finished drink. Each step in the process of production is dealt with separately and explained, and the book concludes with a suggested method for the home cider maker. This is the perfect introduction for anyone considering cider making, and a fascinating explanation of the history and process of real cider production for anyone who simply enjoys drinking it.


OK, let’s be honest here this is a book that will appeal to the west country quite a lot and whilst I’m more of a real ale and mead man myself I can appreciate the skills required to create that special blend from nature’s bounty. What this book from Simon McKie will do is take you by the hand through the various stages on the creation of the forbidden fruits alcoholic beverage from picking the right variety of apples to the various different stages of brewing and does it very well.

It’s in depth, it has easy to follow steps and whilst I don’t really touch the stuff myself, I always appreciate a master crafter at work. All in this was a fascinating book that not only presented the history of drink but also kept the reader fascinated at all the various products that can be created from one simple piece of fruit which made this a real gem of a book and one that really does deserve lots of time and attention which many Ciderist’s (or perhaps Ciderist’s in waiting) will lavish over almost as a religious experience. Great stuff.

FANTASY REVIEW: Ancient Blades Trilogy 1: Den of Thieves - David Chandler

Release Date: 07/07/11


Enter a world of darkness and danger, honour, daring and destiny in David Chandler's magnificent epic trilogy: The Ancient Blades. Croy is a knight errant, and bearer of an ancient blade with a powerful destiny. He's also kind of, well, dim. He believes in honour. He believes that people are fundamentally good, and will do the right thing if you give them a chance. Unfortunately, Croy lives in the city of Ness. A thriving medieval city of fifty thousand people, none of whom are fundamentally even decent, and who will gleefully stab you in the back. If you give them a chance. Ness is also the home to Malden. Malden is a thief. He lives by his wits, disarming cunning traps, sneaking past sleeping guards, and running away very fast whenever people are trying to kill him. Which is often. One time Malden stole a crown. And then he had to steal it back to avoid a civil war. Croy got the credit, of course, because he's a noble knight. Another time the two of them went into the tomb of an ancient warrior race, and Croy accidentally started a barbarian invasion. Guess who had to clean that up? They probably wouldn't be friends at all if it wasn't for Cythera. Cythera is a witch. A mostly-good witch. And despite herself she can't stop thieves and knights falling in love with her! At the same time.


Whilst many may not know the name of David Chandler, this debut series is one that I’ve been keeping an eager eye on when I originally heard about its forthcoming release. Firstly as it was to be released in quite a short turnaround and secondly because I know David’s writing under another name David Wellington.

What I expected from this tale was a story that is cleverly woven, one that keeps the reader glued and a whole host of fascinating characters to populate the world and whilst that is what was presented the world felt a little flat and sadly not quite formed well enough in his imagination to help keep the reader attached.

Add to this sadly stereotypical characters that yet again felt more 2d than fully rounded and it was a title that whilst reasonable enough left me feeling that the author had taken a bit of a backwards step as a writer. Don’t get me wrong, for those not used to the authors writing style it will entertain but it doesn’t blast out from the genre to stand apart like a great many others and when you’re up against authors like Patrick Rothfuss and George RR Martin you really need to pull all the stops out. With luck the second book will pick up where this one fell and hopefully redeem the series to a level that is more reminiscent to David’s Laura Caxton series.

Monday, 25 July 2011

FACTUAL REVIEW: British Motorcycles of the 1940's and 50's - Mick Walker

Release Date: 10/10/10


After VE Day in 1945 the British population returned enthusiastically to the road. But the cost and availability of both vehicles and fuel led to the post-war scene being dominated by motorcycles, most of them ex-military machines, eagerly snapped up for everyday use in an age when a family car remained just a dream for many. British industry, meanwhile, was exhorted to ‘export or die’, and until well into the 1950s the majority of new British bikes were sold abroad. During this period, the industry – the largest and most important in the world – continued to develop new and exciting machines. Mick Walker tells the story of the British post-war motorcycle during this golden age of the industry. With the help of archive photographs and advertising material this book conjures up a lost age of the British bike, of journeys to work by popping two-strokes, and trips to the seaside in the family motorcycle combination.


For years I’ve heard stories about my father’s motorcycling years especially tales about his Viper and the fun that he had on the roads of the 60’s. Yet not really knowing much about the British Motorcycle industry I wasn’t really that aware of how popular they either were or the sheer choice available. (Yes I was more than aware of the Norton series but that’s about it.)

In this book by Mick Walker you get to see the development of these classic machines as well as discover a whole lot more than many will be familiar with. All in this title is an ideal gift for people of a certain age to reminisce about these classic machines and I know my father will appreciate this as I saw him staring fondly at some of these classics at a Bike Show not that long ago. Just be aware that you may well lose the giftee for a few hours into their fond memories.

CRIME REVIEW: Where the Truth Lies - Julie Corbin

Release Date: 21/07/11


Claire's husband has been keeping secrets. About the whereabouts of the witness to the murder trial he's prosecuting . And about the letters he's been getting, threatening to kill their four-year-old, unless he tells the blackmailer where the witness is hiding. With their daughter's life at stake, it is left to Claire to untangle the web of lies and half-truths and find out just who might be responsible. And to stop them. Before it's too late.


OK, I missed Julie Corbin’s debut, Tell Me No Secrets, however that didn’t mean that I didn’t hear a lot of good things about it. So when I discovered that the new title was out it was one that I endeavoured to seek out to see not only what I’d missed, but also to give the author a fair crack especially seeing as the second novel is usually the tempering of the author whereas the first is more the baptism of fire.

What unfurls within this book is a title that is strongly characters drawn, they’re the key to the novel and whilst the overall arc is gripping, it’s characters like Claire who keep you glued as they face not only a parent’s nightmare but also a task that feels insurmountable.

It was gripping, it was reasonably paced and it was a tale that kept you glued due to the high tension throughout. Add to this a beautifully created arc, some nicely used prose and all in it was a successful story that more than entertained the reader. Finally add to this the authors own “voice” in her writing style and I suspect that she’ll be a name to watch in the near future. Great stuff.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

GUEST BLOG: The long way home for Richard the Lionheart - Angus Donald

The problem with being a forceful, domineering, alpha male, the kind of man that other men will follow into battle, is that you risk making a lot of enemies. And so it was with Richard the Lionheart, King of England, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and lord of lands from the Pennines to the Pyrenees. A shining hero of the age, a legend in his own lifetime, perhaps the most renowned warrior of the latter part of the 12th century – there were a lot of people who absolutely loathed him.

So when the Third Crusade ran out of steam in the autumn of 1192, and Richard was contemplating a retrun to England, all the routes back home from the Holy Land were thick with enemies. And all these foes were eager to capture the Lionheart if they could and, as was the custom of the day, hold him prisoner until – literally – a King’s ransom could be collected and paid.

As I describe in my novel King’s Man, and in earlier books of the series, the Lionheart had fallen out with King Philip of France during the course of the crusade and had insulted Duke Leopold of Austria, the leader of the German contingent. He had even alienated Henry VI, the Holy Roman Emperor, by supporting the King of Sicily against him. The Emperor controlled most of Germany and much of the Italian peninsula; southern Spain was in Muslim hands; and France was barred to him by Philip – so Richard knew that he would have a serious problem getting home overland. However, the naval technology of the day did not allow ships to overcome the powerful currents flowing through the straits of Gibraltar and pass westward into the Atlantic, thus preventing Richard from taking the long way back to England by sea.

The only chance that Richard had of making it safely home was through subterfuge. So his ship left the Holy Land and made a feint westward towards Sicily, then doubled back, entered the Adriatic and sailed north. On 10th December 1192, King Richard found himself ashore, at Aquileia, near Trieste in north-eastern Italy, with only a few companions, and hundreds of miles from friendly lands. Disguised as a Templar knight, Richard headed north in secret into the heart of Europe, making for safe territory controlled by his brother-in-law the Duke of Saxony. However, after an icy, gruelling journey on poor roads, the King was spotted and apprehended by his Duke Leopold’s men. It was only a few days before Christmas, the weather was awful and the King was sheltering in a brothel in the outskirts of Vienna. Some stories suggest that it was his aristocratic habit of demanding roast chicken for dinner, rather than humbler fare, that led to his discovery; other tales say that it was his companions’ practice of calling him ‘Sire’ that gave away his royal identity.

Duke Leopold must have been delighted to have the King of England in his clutches, and he promptly locked Richard up in Durnstein Castle, a stronghold on the Danube fifty miles west of Vienna, and began to contemplate the vast ransom he could collect. He informed his overlord, Henry VI, the Holy Roman Emperor, of his windfall, and a letter still exists, which I have quoted in King’s Man, from Henry VI to King Philip of France, in which the Emperor gloats shamelessly about the capture of this returning royal pilgrim. By the conventions of the time, seizing King Richard was an illegal act, as the Pope had decreed that knights who took part in the crusade were not to be molested as they travelled to and from the Holy Land. And Duke Leopold and Emperor Henry were both subsequently excommunicated for their actions.

Richard was passed from stronghold to stronghold in the German-speaking lands until he wound up at Ochsenfurt, a fortified town in northern Bavaria, in mid-March 1193. It was there that English emissaries caught up with their captive King and began the long process of bargaining for his freedom.

Negotiations for Richard’s release took the best part of a year. And King Philip and Prince John, the Lionheart’s treacherous younger brother, actively colluded to prevent his ransom being paid and the King being released. These two went so far as to make a huge counter-offer in cash to the Emperor to keep Richard imprisoned until Michaelmas 1194. But after strenuous diplomatic efforts by Richard’s mother, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, the payment of 100,000 marks – an enormous sum, perhaps twice the GDP of England at the time – and the handing over of hostages, the King was finally released in early Februrary 1194.

Sadly, there is no historical basis for the legend of Blondel, which I have co-opted for my hero Alan Dale in King’s Man. The legend goes like this: after Richard’s imprisonment in Europe, his faithful trouvere Blondel searched high and low for him, playing his lute outside the walls of castles all over Germany in an attempt to find his lord. While singing a song under the walls of Durnstein Castle, a song he had written with Richard during the crusade, Blondel was rewarded by a familiar voice singing the second verse from a tower high above him.

There really was a Blondel, a famous trouvere from Nesle in France who was a contemporary of the Lionheart and some twenty-five of his songs have been preserved in French museums and libraries – including one that begins ‘Ma joi me semont . . .’ on which I have loosely based Alan Dale’s song ‘My Joy Summons Me’ in King’s Man. In reality, Blondel would not have needed to seek out his lord, the Emperor and Duke Leopold would have gained little advantage in hiding King Richard’s whereabouts from Richard’s followers. They wanted the ransom money, and they needed to be in touch with the King’s subjects if they were to negotiate a price.

King Richard eventually returned to England, a free man, in March 1194. He briskly cowed the supporters of Prince John and retook the powerful castle of Nottingham (as told in King’s Man), displaying once again his qualities as a supreme medieval warrior and charismatic leader in battle. While the Lionheart may have made enemies, there can be no doubt that his loyal fighting men adored him.

HISTORICAL FICTION REVIEW: Outlaw Chronicles 3: King's Man - Angus Donald

Release Date: 21/07/11


THE THIRD CRUSADE IS OVER Richard the Lionheart is bound for England. But with all the princes of Europe united against him ...can the greatest warrior in Christendom make it safely home? THE LION IS CHAINED Captured. Betrayed. Imprisoned. King Richard's slim hope of salvation rests on one man - a former outlaw, a vengeful earl, a man who scoffs at Holy Mother Church: ROBIN HOOD The mission is deadly, the enemy all-powerful, but for King and country Robin and his loyal lieutenant Alan Dale will risk all - from blood-soaked battlefields to deadly assassins - to see the Lionheart restored to his rightful throne.


With the myth of Robin Hood having been written and rewritten for nearly a millennia, any author who tackles it now has to bring something new to the fore in order to not only make their mark but also to generate a character that will strike a chord within.

What Angus has done is take one of the minor characters, Alan Dale and bring him to the forefront and present the hero in not only a more believable light but one that the reader really can’t help but like. It is almost as if the mythical outlaw has aquired the readers trust and given it to Angus himself.

The book is beautifully written and with this, the third part in Angus’ epic story, its continued to grow along with the characters as historical events are not only cleverly interwoven within the mythos and whilst Angus admits to changing the odd part to fit, it’s a story that benefits more for these changes. Add to this a classy storytelling style, spartanesque prose, cracking overall arc which when blended with his own writing style really generates something special. All in, this is a book that I couldn’t put down and had immense fun reading. Angus really has done the legend justice and with his own brand of wit, it’s a series that you really have to read.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

FACTUAL REVIEW: Discovering Highwaymen - Russell Ash

Release Date: 12/06/11


Daring hold-ups and amazing exploits made some highwaymen heroes in their lifetime and legends in ours. Indeed, some were just as we imagine them: fearless cavaliers, carefree and romantic knights in three-cornered hats, and true gentlemen of the road. Yet many more, such as the semi-mythical Dick Turpin, were unmitigated rogues who simply sought easy money. In this book Russell Ash writes about both sorts of highwaymen, their different backgrounds and methods, the measures taken against them, and the punishments they suffered, as well as some of the locales, inns and taverns they are supposed to have frequented. Discovering Highwaymen concludes with the biographies of the twelve most famous examples, from Jerry Abershaw to Dick Turpin, recounting their legendary adventures and often grisly ends.


Stand and Deliver, Russell Ash brings the Age of Highwaymen to the reader in this compact and fascinating title from Shire as his book takes you from the various methods to routes trolled by the modern romanticised characters and on to various heroes who we now only know of in folklore.

Its expressive, it’s creative and above all else it’s a title that can be dipped into on various short journeys that makes this a cracking title to enjoy. Add to this a cleverly constructed narrative that the reader will fall for the charms of and it’s a book that all in is pleasing as well as informative. Great stuff.

FACTUAL REVIEW: The Great Chevauchée – John of Gaunt’s Raid on France 1373 - David Nicolle, Ill. Peter Dennis

Release Date: 20/05/11


In 1373, John of Gaunt set off from Calais on a great raid to strike at the heart of France. Driven by the high ideals of chivalry,the raiders left with epic pageantry. However, the reality soon overwhelmed the raiders. Beset on all sides by French ambushes and plagued by disease and starvation, the raiders battled their way through Champagne, east of Paris, into Burgundy, across the Massif Central and finally down into the Dordogne. Unable to attack any major fortifications, John of Gaunt’s men plundered the countryside, raiding towns and villages, weakening the French infrastructure. While the military value of the raid is debatable, the English knights who finally made it home were hailed as heroes. This book charts the course of the raid from beginning to end, studying all the battles and skirmishes the raiders fought along the way in this bloody example of chivalric warfare.


At school I was never that interested in history as to me the teacher wanted to spend a lot of time on the Industrial Revolution which kept me fairly bored. As such it felt, at the time, that history really didn’t have that much to teach me as a lot of the stuff I was shown kept me fairly catatonic. That is, of course until I started finding things out on my own and wondered how the guy could still be teaching and boring the hell out of kids when there was so many rich veins to mine to keep the minds active with facts, figures and adventure. After all why do people want to spend days on the Spinning Jenny when they can strike out on campaigns for wealth, riches and fame with characters like John of Gaunt and his Raid of 1373?

What authors like David Nicolle brings to the reader is the facts and figures in a way to help the reader understand the events not only behind why they occurred but also brings together all the facts as if the reader were on campaign with no real risk. Its beautifully written, it has great prose and when its added to the wonderful artwork of people like Peter Dennis, Donato Spedaliere and Mariusz Kozik it all comes to life especially with the maps of the campaign added.

All in this range of books are thrilling, entertaining and of course wonderfully expressive which make these a great gift to give to the young or old historian. Cracking stuff.

Friday, 22 July 2011

FACTUAL REVIEW: Medieval Mason's - Malcolm Hislop

Release Date: 10/10/09


This book explains in detail the practice of masoncraft in the Middle Ages, using evidence from a number of sources. Monastic chronicles, building contracts and other contemporary documents have already revealed a good deal of information on the subject, but less attention has, until now, been paid to archaeological evidence preserved in numerous surviving Medieval buildings. Dr Hislop investigates how a study of certain features in these buildings, such as the stonework and building joints, can contribute to our knowledge of working practices of masons in medieval England. By focusing on how to interpret clues in the building structure, this account provides a practical guide to pursuing the study of masonry, and helps the reader to understand and identify the medieval mason's approach to design and constructional techniques.


In a world where we walk and fail to notice so many details, its fascinating to find a book that explores the wonderful constructions that are still standing centuries after their original construction where blocks of flats that were built in the last 30 years have long since been flattened due to the poor construction. It leaves you wondering what we knew then that we no longer know and what skills have been lost by the builders of modern times.

What Malcolm’s novel does is take the reader into these structures and reveals secrets that whilst may seem simplistic were key to not only the building but also in the longevity of these ancient structures. It’s fascinating and when you think of the tools that they had to work with it feels almost like a miracle that so many of them were built especially when you consider that some of the jobs concerned are now split into two different career paths. All in a fascinating journey and a read that I really enjoyed which whilst technical kept the subject alive as you walked through the structures. Visiting cathedrals will never be the same again and for the writer of either fantasy or historical fiction the technical knowledge will be invaluable.

HISTORICAL FICTION REVIEW: Agent of Rome 1: The Siege - Nick Brown

Release Date: 21/07/11


270 AD Rome has ruled Syria for over three centuries. But now the weakened empire faces a desperate threat: Queen Zenobia of Palmyra has turned her Roman-trained army against her former masters and the once invincible legions have been crushed. Arabia, Palestine and Egypt have fallen and now Antioch, Syria's capital, stands exposed. Cassius Corbulo is a young intelligence agent fresh from officer training. He has been assigned the menial task of rounding up wounded legionaries but then urgent new orders arrive. He is the only ranking Roman officer left in the line of the Palmyran advance. He must take command of the fort of Alauran, the last stronghold still in Roman hands, and hold it against the enemy until reinforcements arrive. What Cassius finds at Alauran would daunt the most seasoned veteran, let alone a nineteen year old with no experience of war. A mere scattering of divided and demoralised legionaries remain, backed up by some fractious Syrian auxiliaries and a drunken Praetorian Guardsman. With the Palmyrans just days away, Cassius must somehow find the discipline, resourcefulness and courage to organise the garrison, save Alauran and secure Rome's eastern frontier...


The Roman Army has trampled its way through a good few authors minds and ended up on modern bookshelves with the resulting battles not just between them and their foes but between the lead characters and the author. Whilst many struggle to keep the hugeness of the task to their will, some have successfully made the Roman period their own, names like Simon Scarrow, Ben Kane, Anthony Riches and Lindsey Davis.

To this already auspicious company, a new name is being whispered within the ranks as his march towards his release date nears. That is Nick Brown, who with his debut novel creates a battle that’s not only memorable but also a Roman Roukes Drift. It has great characterisation, solid prose and a good sense of pace. Add to this almost cinematic sequences and it was a title that I was not only glued to but one that gave me the type of sword and sandals novel I love. All in a great debut and one that I’m going to be demanding that the senate rewards with its own triumph. Congrats on a novel well written Nick.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

INTERVIEW: Maria Dahvana Headley

Having written the very successful Year of Yes, when we heard that Maria had a new Urban Fantasy trilogy featuring Cleopatra and the warrior healing goddess Sekhmet (the lioness headed one) we couldn’t resist getting the chance to know her a little better.

Here we chatted to her about everything from inspiration to writing and her own 20lb war cats…

Falcata Times: Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it's something you have to do rather than want. What is your opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?

Maria Dahvana Headley: It doesn't suck to be a writer, and it particularly doesn't suck to be a writer who manages to make a living writing. It may be a difficult career sometimes, but let's be real. There are "difficult careers," and then there are careers in which you crush rocks for a living. Writing is not the same as crushing rocks. I have an incredibly awesome profession. I make a living making up worlds. I'd never view the urge to write as somehow miserable. The urge NOT to write, particularly while on deadline, on the other hand...

FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?

MDH: When I was 16 or so, but back then I thought you just wrote because you loved writing, and then, if you were incredibly lucky, someone read it. I had no idea people wrote for a living. I'm from a small town in Idaho. I thought I was going to be a playwright, originally. I moved to NY, and went to school to study that. But eventually, things shifted and I started writing prose. I think that was the right thing, but who knows? Talk to me in ten years. I might have gone nuts, reinvented myself again, and be writing haiku, or songs. Basically, I like to tell stories, in whatever form.

FT: It is often said that if you can write a short story you can write anything. How true do you think this is and what have you written that either proves or disproves this POV?

MDH: Hmm. I don't think it's true that if you can write a short story you can write a novel, or a screenplay, or a play... None of these things are the same thing. I've done all of them. They're less related than I'd have thought, and the raw material is not the same. Novels are luxurious in comparison to short stories. You can develop and develop, and something can pay off 100 pages later. In short stories, that can't happen. For me, writing a short story is like having a fling. Maybe a fabulous, monthlong fling. Novels are a commitment. They're like marriage. You have to be devoted to telling that one story. It can be hard to stay so committed. In fact, there's one section in Queen of Kings where I have a story within a story - the character Usem tells the Emperor Augustus a long tale about his life and adventures - and I wrote it because I was going insane developing my huge novel plot. I was in the throes of writing a big battle, and I couldn't work out a plot point, so I took a break and wrote myself a little story. The story was related, but it was also a breath of magic in the middle of writing a violent section of novel. And now it's part of the novel.

FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?

MDH: Cleopatra sells her soul to a chaos goddess, ends up bloodthirsty and immortal, and goes to war against Rome.

FT: Who is a must have on your bookshelf and whose latest release will find you on the bookshops doorstep waiting for it to open?

MDH: I'm a huge Neil Gaiman fan. Peter Straub, too. I love the writer Kathryn Davis (Labrador, Hell, The Thin Place) - her books are strange, perfect, and incredibly layered in the way that Angela Carter's are. I can't wait for my friend, lauded sci-fi writer Nicola Griffith's new one, which will be a wild and awesome shift from her previous work: ambitious, badass historical fiction about the 7th century character Hild of Whitby. Um, I read everything. All genres, from highbrow lit to dark fantasy, and everything in between. Actually, I particularly love writers who live in the in-between. Writers whose books contain both gorgeous sentences and page-turning narratives please me no end.

FT: When you sit down and write do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you? ie Do you develop character profiles and outlines for your novels before writing them or do you let your idea's develop as you write?

MDH: Both. For this book, I knew the end, and I wrote it before I wrote the middle. I have a vague outline, which I thoroughly diverged from. This book, though, because it's got a historical spine, had some definite rules to be obeyed. There were certain things that couldn't happen, in terms of character death,etc. And other things that could. There's something that happens about halfway into the book, a really crazy something, in which we suddenly get a character back into the narrative, even though that character has died. I discovered that some glorious loopholes in history are possible, if you're writing a book that takes place in a world where there are witches and soul summoners. But that event? I didn't know it was going to happen until one day I wrote it. It was a happy surprise, and then, it totally worked.

FT: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?

MDH: I'm never guilty about pleasure. There you have it, a guilty pleasure unto itself.

FT: Lots of writers tend to have pets. What do you have and what are their key traits (and do they appear in your novel in certain character attributes?)

MDH: Two Bengal cats. They are absolutely in Queen of Kings. There are tigers and lions throughout that book, and Bengals are part wildcat, very playful and warlike. I'm glad mine weigh less than 20 lbs. A 40lb version would be dangerous.

FT: Which character within your latest book was the most fun to write and why?

MDH: I had a great time writing Chrysate. She's a witch from Thessaly, and she's very very dark. I made her up out of all my worst dreams, and also out of Medea and a few other classical bad witches. I actually did a lot of research into classical magic for her character. She's also stunningly beautiful. I had fun writing a beautiful woman who is nothing but nasty underneath her skin. And maybe her skin isn't even her own...

FT: How similar to your principle protagonist are you?

MDH: Very. I totally lose control of myself and drink people's blood, and of course, I'm royalty. Well. Not really, in fact. My protagonist ends up turned into essentially a monster, entirely because of ill fortune, and probably because of hubris too. It was interesting to write a book wherein the protagonist does a lot of horrible things I'd never do. I did a lot of thinking about how to make those things not only plausible, but sympathetic, even when they're not. I had to give her really high stakes, and in this case, historically, they're already there. Her desire to save and/or rejoin her husband and children is what drives her actions. I can relate to that.

FT: Where do you get your idea's from?

MDH: Idea Store. That question, by the way, is one that almost all writers hate. We don't know where our ideas come from. They just come. They're a mixture of everything we've ever seen, read, eaten, drunk - and they just float up out of the darkness, for me anyway. Then we work and work until they are right. I have no idea where they come from. But when one shows up, I try to be ready.

FT: Sometimes pieces of music seem to influence certain scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your tale or is it a case of writing in silence with perhaps the odd musical break in-between scenes?

MDH: Yes, I have tons of music which has influenced this book, and I'm writing a piece for Largehearted Boy's Booknotes which will give you the whole thing. (Should be up on May 12.)

FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?

MDH: I can say that I'm writing it right now, and that it's very different from Queen of Kings - though it's a sequel.

FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instructions to learn the craft? If so please let us know which ones.

MDH: I went to NYU and trained as a playwright, and later I went to Breadloaf, where I did some writing workshops, but really, as far as novel writing goes, I just read a million books, and I write all the time. I think the best thing you can do for your writing is study the work of writers you love. Pay attention to how they're making things work. Figure out WHY you love them. That makes you a better writer.

FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?

MDH: Twitter; an italian restaurant in Seattle where I'm going to have cocktails the day the book comes out; Wonders & Marvels; Ebay, where I visited a French pendant from 1850 with a wonderful "lover's eye" painting at its center and a serpent biting its own tail, along with acrostic carved gemstones that say "Crown" indicating the original owner was the queen of someone's heart. It's very pricy, though, and so, not mine. Also just visited YouTube, where the booktrailer for Queen of Kings is posted.

For more information on Maria and to keep up to date please visit her website.

URBAN FANTASY REVIEW: Queen of Kings - Maria Dahvana Headley

Release Date: 21/07/11

What if Cleopatra didn't die in 30 BC alongside her beloved Mark Antony? What if she couldn't die? What if she became immortal? Queen of Kings is the first instalment in an epic, epoch-spanning story of one woman's clash with the Roman Empire and the gods of Egypt in a quest to save everything she holds dear. As Octavian Caesar (later Augustus) and his legions march into Alexandria, Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, summons Sekhmet, the goddess of Death and Destruction, in a desperate attempt to resurrect her husband, who has died by his own hand, and save her kingdom. But this deity demands something in return: Cleopatra's soul. Against her will, Egypt's queen becomes a blood-craving, shape-shifting immortal: a not-quite-human manifestation of a goddess who seeks to destroy the world. Battling to preserve something of her humanity, Cleopatra pursues Octavian back to Rome - she desires revenge, she yearns for her children - and she craves blood...It is a dangerous journey she must make. She will confront witches, mythic monsters, the gods of ancient Greece and Rome, and her own, warring nature. She will kill but she will also find mercy. She will raise an extraordinary army to fight her enemies, and she will see her beloved Antony again. But to save him from the endless torment of Hades, she must make a devastating sacrifice. Brutally authentic historical fiction meets the darkest of fantasy in Maria Dahvana Headley's extraordinary debut novel about the most famous woman in history: Cleopatra, Queen of Kings.

Having been turned onto Maria’s writing by a friend in the publishing industry I was interested to see what would occur in her first Historical Urban Fantasy, Queen of Kings, part one of a trilogy. What unfurled within was a tale that delightfully written with great prose, wonderful descriptions and a wicked twist on the alluring femme fatale vampire that readers have been fascinated with since Le Fanu’s Carmilla.

However whilst Cleopatra in the tale was one of the undead due to a ritual with Sekhmet (the lioness headed goddess in Ancient Egypt) the tale is one about love, loss and vengeance which is not only cleverly balanced but wonderfully creative alongside refreshing. Add to this a pacey story arc, some great dialogue and a principle character who we can associate with as she loses her humanity and it’s a title that was not only entertaining but one of sheer fascination. All in, the book was a wonderful departure from a lot of the usual vampire fiction out there and when blended with a unique story teller is bound to be one that will attract many readers. Fangtastic.