My review of Bernard Cornwell’s Pagan Lord

The Pagan Lord is the seventh book in Cornwell’s Saxon series, and, finally, our hero Uhtred makes it back to his old home Bebbanburg. At last!

I’ll begin by saying this author is one of my favourites, and this particular series has given me a lot of reading pleasure in recent years. Before that, his King Arthur series were what really inspired me to try and write Wolf’s Head: 1 (The Forest Lord).

For that reason, I’m probably being harder on The Pagan Lord than I would be if it had been written by almost anyone else. You see, the thing is, Cornwell is such a fantastic writer that I’ve come to expect real greatness from him every time I pick up one of his books. Anything less is something of a disappointment.

I was disappointed with The Pagan Lord.

That’s not to say it’s not a great book – it certainly is. Beautifully written as always, with little nuggets of historical information that constantly prove the depth of knowledge the author has for his subject and characters that are familiar yet always interesting. But, for a novel about a warlord, there’s really not a lot of fighting, or action in it. Much of the book is taken up by Uhtred travelling about the place pretty aimlessly and the long-awaited return to Bebbanburg was a real anti-climax. I’ve waited years for that?

The ending is excellent though, and very nearly had tears forming in my eyes. It certainly had me, as usual, looking forward to the next book.

For a while now I’ve felt that this series has gone on too long. I assume Cornwell’s agent or publisher thought it would be a good way to make money by keeping things going and, while I still enjoyed the book, and the previous six too, I feel we’re rather treading water with the story now. If the entire series had been condensed into three or four books, total, I think we’d have been looking at a truly seminal historical fiction series.

Instead, what we have is just a great series. Which really isn’t too bad, I suppose. Like I say, though, I hold Bernard Cornwell in such high regard that even a really good book like this feels a little disappointing.

Overall, a great read, showing a master of his craft at work. Not, however, quite at the top of his game, as he was in the first few books of this series. You still need to read it though!

Sequel almost finished…

I was writing the final scene in The Wolf and the Raven on Sunday, when my wife came home early with the two wee ones and put a spanner in the works. So…it’s NEARLY finished! Although, I’ll still have to edit it and do a fair bit of historical research on things like the layout of Nottingham Castle (yes, Nottingham is in it this time around). Nearly there though!
On another note, I changed the category of the book from the “War” charts to “Medieval” and, in the USA, it’s in the top 10! Nice to see it rubbing elbows with Ian Mortimer’s book, since I used that massively for researching the period. Quite chuffed at that. 🙂
http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/books/5040/ref=pd_zg_hrsr_b_2_3_last

Two winners of signed copies of Wolf’s Head!

OK, as promised, I’ve picked two names from the hat to win signed copies of the paperback version of “Wolf’s Head”. This is as a thank you to all those who posted a review of the book online. The two people are Paul Bennett from Salem, Mass (H. P. Lovecraft country!) and Presterjohn from the Blue Boar Inn message board who posted a review on Goodreads. Thank you so much to both of those people and also to all of you who posted a nice review somewhere online – I appreciate it very much!

If you’re interested here are  the two reviews:

http://hooverbookreviews.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/wolfs-head-by-steven-mckay/

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/684794775

 

The Wolf and the Raven extract

He was a tall man, although he wasn’t powerfully built, being more wiry than massively muscled, but his clothing and bearing clearly marked him as the leader of the soldiers facing the rebels. With his short black hair and stubble, dark eyes and confident, relaxed stance, every one of the rebels felt their gaze drawn to him like iron filings to a dark magnet. Clad all in black, from head to toe, with a boiled leather cuirass moulded to show the shape of his chest, he knew he was an imposing figure and revelled in the sinister power he exuded.

“What do you want?” One of the rebels asked, his voice wavering. He was a broad shouldered young man, obviously an archer, although his bow was nowhere to be seen, probably discarded when he and his comrades fled from Boroughbridge. He hefted a cheap looking sword and tried his best to look menacing. “We’ve done nothing wrong.”

Gisbourne wandered forward and, drawing his dagger with his left hand, cut a small piece of meat from the bottom of the skewered mutton. He lifted it to his lips and blew on the crisp meat gently to cool it, his eyes taking in the men before him, resting eventually on the man who had spoken. The leader, obviously.

“You’ve done nothing wrong, eh?” Gisbourne took the small slice of meat in his mouth and chewed slowly, a smile of pleasure lighting his dark features. “Where did you get this meat then?”

The rebel was ready for the question, stammering his reply almost before the question was asked. “We bought it from the butcher in Wooley, you can ask him.”

Sir Guy finished the mouthful of mutton and placed his dagger back in its sheath in his boot. “You men are rebels. Outlaws,” he stated, ignoring the cries of denial from the men before him as he continued. “And you have stolen this sheep from some local farmer.”

The men again shouted their innocence, the fear plain on their faces. These were no hardy soldiers – they were armed mostly with pitchforks, blunt hatchets and hammers. Not one of them wore even light armour.

Every one of them looked terrified and desperate.

“Please, my lord,” their young leader begged. “We’re just peasants. We were forced to join the Earl of Lancaster’s army!”

“Peasants you may be,” Gisbourne replied disdainfully, “but your king seeks justice for your treason.” He raised his crossbow. “Kill them,” he ordered, as he squeezed the trigger and watched the wicked steel bolt hammer into the young rebel’s chest, throwing the man backwards onto the grass where he lay, gasping and crying pitifully.

His soldiers moved in and engaged the panicked rebels who offered little resistance, the pitchforks proving no match for the sharpened steel Gisbourne’s men wielded so mercilessly.

One of the outlaws flew straight for the black-clad bounty hunter, screaming with rage as he pulled his axe – more suited to chopping wood than cleaving skulls – behind his head, ready to bring it down on Gisbourne’s head. “You shot my brother you bastard!”

Sir Guy dropped his crossbow on the ground and sidestepped the rebel’s wild downward swing, pulling his sword smoothly from its scabbard as the youngster barrelled past. The polished silver steel stood out in stark contrast against Gisbourne’s all black attire as, spinning nearly full circle, arm outstretched, he hammered the razor sharp blade into the axe-man’s neck.

The young man, only just into his teens from the look of his beardless face, was thrown sideways to the ground, the great wound erupting in blood as he fell.

The fight was over within seconds, as Gisbourne’s soldiers ruthlessly cut down the frightened peasants. The victorious soldiers searched the dead men for valuables but found nothing, as their dark leader took out his dagger and cheerfully helped himself to more slices of roast mutton.

“Dig in, lads,” he grinned, gesturing at the dead rebels. “These boys have lost their appetite.”

Amazon’s “100 Books for £2.99 or less” promotion

I wanted to write something about this, as, when I was emailed by Amazon asking if I wanted to take part, I couldn’t find anything about it on the internet and was a little unsure how it would turn out. I made a note to let people know how it  went so other authors will have an idea what to expect in future.

Basically, Amazon said they would put Wolf’s Head in their October “100 Kindle books or £2.99 or less” promotion, but they can reduce the price to whatever they want, and your royalties per sale drop accordingly. My regular price for the book is £2.27, so I was thinking, “What if they reduce it to 49p for the month and it doesn’t sell any extra?”

I imagine for someone that actually makes their living from selling ebooks, this could be a bit of a dilemma. I mean, it’s AMAZON right? Surely if they’re offering to put your book in a promotion it has to be worthwhile? You can’t buy this sort of publicity! At the same time though, the fear is there: what if if doesn’t sell any extra, and the discounted price means a big drop in earnings for the month?

It wasn’t that much of an issue for me, because I work a full-time day-job, so I was able to say, “Well, okay, even if it bombs, I have to take the chance. It’s not like the sales are paying my mortgage anyway.”

October came and the discounted price was 99p, which wasn’t too bad. At this stage, the book had been out for a few months and, although still doing well, it was starting to edge its way down the charts as new books were being released and so on, so I was really hopeful the 99p price would drive it back up to within the overall Kindle best sellers top 500.

I checked the charts every hour, watching to see if anything happened. The grin on my face got bigger and bigger as it went back up to number 1 in Amazon’s two “War” chart subcategories, and, overall, it eventually reached number 137 in the OVERALL bestsellers list for all Kindle books in the UK. It seemed my niggling doubts about the promotion were unfounded!

WH no.1 amazon WAR STORY FICTION 2nd oct

Throughout the month, Wolf’s Head remained in the “War” chart top 5, hitting the top spot again in the middle of the month and again on the final day. It stayed in the “Historical Fiction” top 20 rubbing elbows with books by the likes of Philippa Gregory, Bernard Cornwell, Simon Scarrow and Conn Iggulden.

For a debut novel, this was just unbelievable.

I spent the entire month checking the chart placings, smiling every time it jumped back up a place or two. I’ve also been lucky enough to receive a lot of new reviews, almost all of them 5 stars (the average rating is 4,6/5 from 68 reviews), which must have helped keep things motoring along.

Overall, I sold more than double the amount of copies I’d been selling up to that point each month, which meant more overall royalties despite the reduced price, but more importantly, a LOT of new readers who will hopefully look out for my next books.

It’s November now, and the book is back to the regular (but still bargain!) price of £2.27. Hopefully it will continue to fend off competition in the charts for a while yet.

So, if Amazon send you an email asking if you would like to take part in this promotion – you know what to do! I’m very grateful to them for allowing me to be a part of this, maybe I’ll get the chance to do it again once The Wolf and The Raven is finished…