“The Empty Throne” by Bernard Cornwell (HarperCollins, 2015)

The Empty Throne
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In the eighth installment of Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Tales, with King Alfred now gone and buried, readers might think the series would be winding down, but it is quite the opposite. Æthelred, the current ruler of Mercia, lies on his deathbed with no legitimate heir, and an empty throne sits awaiting a new ruler.

Uhtred of Bebbanburg was thought mortally wounded at the end of The Pagan Lord, and now he is still alive, but not necessarily well. His grievous wound is very slowly healing, meanwhile he has to work with his son and men to make sure the church and those in power don’t elect who they want to rule. Uhtred has a powerful leader, Æthelflaed, in mind not just because she is a lover, but also because she is well liked by Mercia and is sister to King Edward of Wessex.

In addition to elect new rulers, Uhtred is also on the hunt for his sword that was taken from him and is purported to be in the hands of Bishop Asser who is somewhere deep in the heart of Wales. And then at some point he’s going to end up in a big battle with some Vikings.

In true Cornwell fashion, The Empty Throne has it all for a gripping historical fiction novel and fans will rejoice while new readers will have no problem getting hooked as the author keeps them clued in to everything going on.

Originally written on January 28, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Empty Throne from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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The Pagan Lord  1356  Excalibur  Death of Kings  The Winter King  The Fort

“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.

“River of Stars” by Guy Gavriel Kay (Roc, 2013)

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In River of Stars, Guy Gavriel Kay returns to the same world as he did with Under Heaven inspired by China’s Tang Dynasty, but jumps 400 years ahead and presents one of his own unique partly historical fiction, partly fantasy novels, this time inspired by the Song Dynasty. River of Stars is another great example of Kay’s lyrical writing and creative talent, making it no surprise he is a bestselling author with many readers worldwide.

Ren Daiyan was just a boy when he was ordered out on a mission to protect a magistrate and when besieged by highwaymen fought and killed them all in cold blood. It changed him, made him advance beyond his years and see the world and his life in a new way. From that moment he was different and never returned home, taking a new path. He finds himself joining a group of outlaws, becoming a Robin Hood type character, feared by those rich nobles who must travel throughout Kitai to serve the emperor.

Lln Shan is a beautiful woman and the daughter of a scholar who has educated her in ways most women never are. She is a talented songwriter and calligrapher who soon earns the interest of the emperor. She finds herself uprooted from her simple life and transported to one of lavish opulence in the city of the emperor, but it is one she is quite inexperienced with and must learn the complex politics and ways that a noble woman should perform.

As factions pit against each other and a war begins to brew in the north, Ren finds himself drawn to the wondrous city of Xinan and then Hanjin as he begins to serve the emperor in the army, doing what must be done to preserve the peace and the empire. He also meets a beautiful and talented woman by the name of Lln Shan.

River of Stars is well named, as it takes the reader on a literary pleasure cruise along a river of words and images, transporting them back in time to this great period of luxury and decadence, but also harshness. Kay does a good job of showing the various classes and levels of society, making this world seem not that different from our own, and certainly a relateable one. He also introduces his quasi-fantasy element; giving scenes and events a supernatural and spiritual feel that go beyond the mundane. Fans of Kay will delight in River of Stars, and for those looking to try the talented writer for the first time, this is a worthy example.

Originally written on September 23, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

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

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“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.

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 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.

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“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.