“Hild” by Nicola Griffith (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2013)

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The beauty of the medieval historical novel Hild, by bestselling science fiction author Nicola Griffith is that it is a story about a woman who becomes a powerful and inspirational figure during the Middle Ages. The reason this is special is because most historical fiction novels of this nature, from the likes of Bernard Cornwell, Jack Whyte, and Ken Follett to name a few, feature leading male characters in all their books, with female characters playing a secondary, minor role.

Such is not the case with Hild, telling the story of a young girl who is full of life and determination, along with a certain special ability to predict what may happen and soon gains the ear and respect of Edwin of Northumbria in his effort to overthrow the Angles. The book follows her life, growing to become a powerful woman and eventually one of the pivotal figures of the period: Saint Hilda of Whitby.

Hild is a beautifully written novel that takes a little while to get going, but once the reader is fully engrossed in the character, Griffith doesn’t look to tell your average medieval historical novel of back to back action scenes and historic battles, but a moving story of people interacting and living through this tumultuous time and what they did to make a difference. And then of course, there is the captivating cover to draw any reader in.

Originally written on February 12, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Hild from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Pagan Lord” by Bernard Cornwell (HarperCollins, 2014)

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Medieval historical fiction extraordinaire, Bernard Cornwell, is back with the next installment of the Saxon Tales. The Pagan Lord is the seventh in the series, with King Alfred gone and the land is on the eve of war between the Saxons ruled by Alfred’s son, Edward and Wessex; while in the north, the Danes led by the Viking Cnut Longsword looks to take more land.

Our hero, Uhtred, has had his ups and downs in the series, but now wishes to bring what men he can together and take back his inheritance in the distant north land of Bebbanburg, but he will have to fight his uncle and progeny to do that. The Christian faith is also growing in this place that will one day be called “Angeland,” and when Uhtred kills an important bishop, he finds those of the faith also warring against him.

The Pagan Lord pushes Uhtred to the very edge and beyond, bringing the reader along with him. It shows Cornwell doing what he does best, moving his characters around and pitting them against each other in magnificent battle scenes. No one Cornwell book is like the other, which is what makes him such a great writer.

Originally written on January 27, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Pagan Lord from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

Death of Kings  1356  Winter King

“The Blood Gospel: The Order of the Sanguines Series” by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell (William Morrow, 2013)

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Many readers are familiar with James Rollins, known for his bestselling Sigma Force novels, as well as his standalone thrillers like Sandstorm and Amazonia.  Not as many people may know the author James Clemens, who is in fact a pseudonym for James Rollins.  Under this name, he has published seven fantasy novels.  The Blood Gospel, a new novel from Rollins collaborating with Rebecca Cantrell, author of thrillers like A Trace of Smoke and A City of Broken Glass, is the first in a new series known as The Order of the Sanguines, and marks Rollins’ return to the world of the supernatural and the fantastic.

In this gothic tale, a strange trio is on the hunt for a sacred text out of ancient history that must be recovered, known as the Blood Gospel.  The story begins with a devastating earthquake in Masada, Israel, killing many, but also revealing the hidden location of a sacred tomb.  The trio is assembled: Sergeant Jordan Stone, a forensic expert working for the military; Father Rhun Korza, a strange priest sent by the Vatican; and Dr. Erin Granger, a brilliant archaeologist who had been working nearby at the time.  Within the tomb they find the strange crucified body of a young, mummified girl.

Before they know it, the trio finds themselves under attack by some very strange characters, some of which don’t appear to be human, but they survive.  This begins the chase to track down the secret location of the Blood Gospel.  The enigmatic Father Korza reveals some important details about this sacred text and why it is important, and perhaps who some of these unusual characters they’ve been running into are.  As they follow clues, using their individual skills as well as plenty of intuition, the search leads them deep into the heart of Europe, within an ancient German castle.

As the story continues to open and reveal itself, like a beautiful, sacred tapestry, the authors do a great job of ratcheting up the suspense and action, making things tougher for their characters, as well as showing more of the back story, which has a history reaching back thousands of years.  Back to a time and origin of some strange beasts, which bear an uncanny resemblance to their current enemies.

The Blood Gospel is an impressive collaboration between Rollins and Cantrell, revealing a complex and fascinating tale, as well as an intriguing world that sucks the reader in from the start.  Each main character has his or her own point of view, adding a depth and intricacy to them that is not usually common in these types of thrillers.  Unique answers that fit the story are presented to questions like: Why are Catholic priests sworn to celibacy?  Why do they ware pectoral crosses?  Why is wine consecrated and transformed into Christ’s blood during Mass?  And what is the real story behind the raising of Lazarus?  Whether you’ve tried Rollins or Cantrell before, The Blood Gospel will be the ride of your life.

Originally written on February 6, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Blood Gospel from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

 Bloodline  Devil Colony  Ice Hunt

“1356″ by Bernard Cornwell (HarperCollins, 2013)

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The Black Prince is one of those enigmatic figures shrouded in mystery, superstition and rumor from the medieval period of the fourteenth century.  In 1356, bestselling historical fiction author Bernard Cornwell provides his take on it by bringing back a popular and main character from his Grail Quest series, in Thomas of Hookton.

Thomas has created quite a name for himself and his small band of men, known as Le Bâtard, traveling through France and fighting for the English.  But he is now charged with a new quest by his lord, to recover the ancient and lost sword of Saint Peter, known as Le Malice, a relic from the past that will provide a great symbol and power to whichever nation possesses and wields it.  The French want it to get rid of the English; and the English want it to subdue the French.

1356 is another great example of Cornwell writing at his best, and it’s not necessary to have read the earlier series, as he fills you in where necessary.  His action scenes are written with skill, putting the reader right there, culminating with the great battle of Poitiers.

Originally written on January 7, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of 1356 from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

Winter King  Archer's Tale  Agincourt  Last Kingdom  Death of Kings

“The Death of Carthage” by Robin E. Levin (Trafford Publishing, 2012)

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Fans of historical fiction on the history and events of ancient Rome will find plenty to enjoy in Robin E. Levin’s The Death of Carthage.  The author has clearly done her research, filling the pages with crucial details of this past world that does a great job of immersing the reader in the time period and making them feel like they are really there.

The book is set during the time of the Second and Third Punic wars between Rome and the battle-hardened Carthage, divided into three separate stories.  The first, “Carthage Must be Destroyed,” is told in the first person from the viewpoint of Lucius Tullius Varro, who finds himself joining the Roman cavalry, serving in Spain under Scipio and playing a main part in the Second Punic war.  The second story, “Captivus,” is told by Enneus, Lucius’s first cousin, who finds himself captured by Hannibal’s general, Maharbal, and after a terrible Roman defeat, must now fight to stay alive.  In the final story, The Death of Carthage, told from the viewpoint of Enneus’s son, Ectorius, is serving as a translator who plays witness to the definite and final end of Carthage.

The Death of Carthage is stiff at times, and lacking in character growth and development, as things just happen for the characters, as opposed to emotions and experiences coloring the story; at times the story feels like a history book.  Nevertheless, the details are there to truly entrance the reader and make them remember this incredible time in the history of the world.

Originally written on June 27, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Death of Carthage from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Forest Laird” by Jack Whyte (Forge Books, 2012)

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Jack Whyte has delighted audiences with his fantastic Arthurian series, The Camulod Chronicles, as well as his Knights Templar trilogy.  He now returns with the first in his Guardians trilogy, as he begins the telling of the story of one of the most renowned people in Scottish history, William Wallace.  Made all the more renowned by Mel Gibson’s incredible portrayal in the award-winning Braveheart, Whyte admits in his introduction that it was hard to tell another story about William Wallace that wasn’t the same as the lengthy movie.  It is, however, recommended that you watch this movie before you read the book, simply so that you have the wonderful, unique sound of a strong Scottish accent freshly in your mind when you begin reading the dialogue in The Forest Laird.

The story is told from the viewpoint of Wallace’s close cousin, Jaime, as it begins when they are young boys, involved in a horrible incident, they soon make a new friend who takes them in and begins their training in warrior skills, and most importantly with the impressive longbow.  Jaime eventually begins teaching to become a priest, while with Wallace’s training as a strong warrior complete, he becomes a forester, looking to protect those in need.  Matters in Scotland begin to take a turn for the worse, as the English exact their control of the independent Scottish and Wallace begins to do his part to stop the English looking to harm his people, and begin the war that will change Scotland forever.

The Forest Laird begins a little slow, as Whyte front loads with a lot of story that needs speeding up, and breaks up the flow with lengthy descriptions on the political state of the country and what England is up to.  Yet, overall the book is an interesting opening chapter into the life of this incredible hero, as Whyte, who has done the research, explores as well as creates his own unique story.

Originally written on March 17, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Forest Laird from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“King Raven” by Stephen R. Lawhead (Thomas Nelson, 2011)

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Stephen R. Lawhead’s Robin Hood trilogy – Hood (2006), Scarlet (2007), and Tuck (2009) – received much acclaim and became big bestsellers when they were released, as he presented one of the more complete and superior epic tales of this forest hero and his band of merry men.  In 2011, for those looking to read the trilogy for the first time, or for those hardcore fans, Thomas Nelson released all three books in a single mighty volume, allowing readers to put it up on their shelf next to their copies of The Once and Future King and The Lord of the Rings.

Bran ap Brychan doesn’t really know if he ever wants to be king, but his father is a poor king who doesn’t treat his subjects of Elfael as well as he should perhaps, but Bran doesn’t really know what he wants to be.  Then all that changes when a group of Normans invade the Welsh kingdom and his father is killed, making Bran the automatic heir.  Except the Normans seize the kingdom, awarding it to a bishop and care little for Bran and his supposed claim to this throne.  And so begins Bran’s adventure, as he brings together a band of merry men to go see King William and wrest back his kingdom.  Thwarted in London, he is told he can have his kingdom back for a ridiculously high amount of money.  So Bran sets about getting the money the only way he knows how: from those cursed Normans who stole his land, as well as making sure his people are treated right and well.

Stephen Lawhead presents the first of his impressive trilogy on Robin Hood in Hood, explaining his detailed research in the afterword, and pointing out the unlikelihood of this character living in the thirteenth century in Sherwood Forest and going against King John.  Lawhead posits Robin Hood living in the late eleventh century in the time of William the Conqueror and his overtaking of Britain with his Normans.  Bran is a Welshman, and the Normans cared little for this distant part of Britain, except when they wanted to make it their own.  It makes perfect sense that a man out of legend would rise up to help the people against these dastardly Normans.  Lawhead also pulls from Celtic mythology to blend this story that might well have been, seamlessly.  He also does a great job of playing on the many fabled stories and clichés everyone knows about Robin Hood, though tweaking them a little to make them all the more entertaining.  Hood is a great and riveting work of historical fiction that will have any fan of the genre hooked.

In Scarlet, the book opens with the framing tale of Scarlet, who is in prison and sentenced to be hanged.  In the brief time before his execution, Scarlet tells his story of losing everything and becoming a forester when he meets this King Raven.  At first challenged to an archery contest, he reveals his extreme skill, rivaling that of King Raven, better known as Bran, and soon becomes a valuable member of his “merry men.”  But Bran needs a skilled warrior like Scarlet to fight back against these Normans steadily taking control of Wales, as William the Red doles out more land to his cutthroat barons.  The book comes to its climax as Scarlet must choose whether to be executed, or to give up the secret location of King Raven and his men.

In the conclusion to the trilogy, Tuck, told from the viewpoint of the redoubtable friar, it seems the Normans simply won’t give up, and King Raven, also known as Rhi Bran Hood to the people of Wales, must muster not only his skilled foresters, but incite an entire revolt from his people, based mainly in his kingdom of Elfael.  With the treacherous Abbot Hugo and the evil and bloodthirsty Sheriff de Glanville, it will take everyone working together to bring these Normans to their knees once and for all and send the firm message to King William the Red that King Raven and his Welshmen will not be crushed.

Lawhead rounds out the trilogy in a great way, bringing it all to a satisfying close, but still with plenty of action and subplots and complex goings on.  Again blending the history with the Welsh mythology, it is a very enjoyable read seen through the eyes of a new character.  And the King Raven tome allows readers to enjoy the complete saga in one big book and perhaps one very long sitting (though I wouldn’t recommend it), as well as featuring a sample of one of Lawhead’s other books, The Skin Map.

Originally written on March 13, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of King Raven from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Tuck” by Stephen R. Lawhead (Thomas Nelson, 2009)

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In Stephen R. Lawhead’s conclusion to the King Raven trilogy, readers get to enjoy it from the viewpoint of the jolly and redoubtable Friar Tuck, who has been around since the first book, Hood, and on through the second, Scarlet.  But little has been seen in the abilities of this clergyman, until now, who is bravest and shines brightest at his most important moment.

It seems the Normans simply won’t give up, and King Raven, also known as Rhi Bran Hood to the people of Wales, must muster not only his skilled foresters, but incite an entire revolt from his people, based mainly in his kingdom of Elfael.  With the treacherous Abbot Hugo and the evil and bloodthirsty Sheriff de Glanville, it will take everyone working together to bring these Normans to their knees once and for all and send the firm message to King William the Red that King Raven and his Welshmen will not be crushed.

Lawhead rounds out the trilogy in a great way, bringing it all to a satisfying close, but still with plenty of action and subplots and complex goings on.  Again blending the history with the Welsh mythology, it is a very enjoyable read seen through the eyes of a new character.  If Hood was the tasty appetizer, and Scarlet the delicacy of a main course, then Tuck makes for a delicious and perfect dessert.

Originally written on March 12, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Tuck from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Scarlet” by Stephen R. Lawhead (Thomas Nelson, 2007)

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Stephen R. Lawhead returns with the second of the King Raven trilogy, after Hood, doing an excellent job of making it feel fresh and new: this tale is told from the viewpoint of someone completely new, Scarlet, who knows little of this “King Raven” character or what he can do to aid him.

The book opens with the framing tale of Scarlet, who is in prison and sentenced to be hanged.  In the brief time before his execution, Scarlet tells his story of losing everything and becoming a forester where he meets this King Raven.  At first challenged to an archery contest, he reveals his extreme skill, rivaling that of King Raven, better known as Bran, and soon becomes a valuable member of his “merry men.”  But Bran needs a skilled warrior like Scarlet to fight back against these Normans steadily taking control of Wales, as William the Red doles out more land to his cutthroat barons.  The book comes to its climax as Scarlet must choose whether to be executed, or to give up the secret location of King Raven and his men.

Lawhead continues to spin a great legendary yarn, blending the world of possible historical fiction with Celtic mythology, all with a fresh eye through a new character.  He also does a great job of playing on the many fabled stories and clichés everyone knows about Robin Hood, though tweaking them a little to make them all the more entertaining.  If you enjoyed Hood like a delicious starter or appetizer, then Scarlet is a tasty main course!

Originally written on March 12, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Scarlet from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Hood” by Stephen R. Lawhead (Thomas Nelson, 2006)

Hood
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There are a couple of “legends” in British history that many people worldwide know about: one of them is King Arthur and the other is Robin Hood.  Arthur has an entire bookshelf of history and fiction written about him, and many of those fiction books profess to be as accurate as the possible truth, even though it is still not fully known if there ever was such a living person.  As for Robin Hood, much of the same story and lore shrouds this figure, and yet the amount written about him is small in comparison.  There are many seminal works that are considered part of the “King Arthur Cannon,” such as Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, Chretien de Troyes romances, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon, Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles, and Jack Whyte’s Camulod Chronicles, to name a few.  In fact the author, Stephen R. Lawhead, has even written a series about Merlin and Arthur, known as his Pendragon Cycle.  There have been mediocre to poor TV shows about he who robs from the rich to feed the poor, but there has never really been an equivalent book series or trilogy about Robin Hood of a high caliber; until now.

Bran ap Brychan doesn’t really know if he ever wants to be king, but his father is a poor monarch who doesn’t treat his subjects of Elfael as well as he should perhaps, but then Bran doesn’t really know what he wants to be.  Then all that changes when a group of Normans invade the Welsh kingdom and his father is killed, making Bran the automatic heir.  Except the Normans seize the kingdom, awarding it to a bishop and care little for Bran and his supposed claim to this throne.  And so begins Bran’s adventure, as he brings together a band of merry men to go see King William and wrest back his kingdom.  Thwarted in London, he is told he can have his kingdom back for a ridiculously high amount of money.  So Bran sets about getting the money the only way he knows how: from those cursed Normans who stole his land, as well as making sure his people are treated right and well.

Stephen Lawhead presents the first of his impressive trilogy on Robin Hood in Hood, explaining his detailed research in the afterword, and pointing out the unlikelihood of this character living in the thirteenth century in Sherwood Forest and going against King John.  Lawhead posits Robin Hood living in the late eleventh century in the time of William the Conqueror and his overtaking of Britain with his Normans.  Bran is a Welshman, and the Normans cared little for this distant part of Britain, except when they wanted to make it their own.  It makes perfect sense that a man out of legend would rise up to help the people against those dastardly Normans.  Lawhead also pulls from Celtic mythology to seamlessly blend with the story.  Hood is a great and riveting work of historical fiction that will have any fan of the genre hooked and wanting to read more in the trilogy.

Originally written on March 12, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Hood from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.