Audiobook reviews and an Event

First off, I have been asked by Amazon KDP if I’d like to be part of their forthcoming event in Edinburgh on May 23rd, to which I of course said, “I’d LOVE it!” I might have picked them up wrong but it seems they want me to be part of a panel giving advice to aspiring authors, rather like I did with them at the London Book Fair in 2014 (read about that incredible, and often humourous experience HERE). So, if you are in Scotland and can make it to the EICC on May 23rd, please come along and say hello – I will be taking copies of one of my books to sign and give away to interested parties!

Some more info HERE – I believe you need to sign up but tickets are free.

Right, enough of that. Onto some reviews of my latest Audible purchases….

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I was a spotty teenager when I first discovered The Sword of Shannara more than 25 years ago. My friend was given it as a birthday gift and oh, how I laughed at him for being a geeky nerd twat!

Until he let me borrow it and I thought it was just the best book anyone had ever written.

It was my gateway into fantasy and, although now I can see it’s basically a total rip-off of Lord of the Rings, it’s still an excellent read/listen. The parallels with JRR Tolkien’s masterpiece are blatant and legion (Flick & Shea = Frodo & Sam, Gimli = Hendel, Aragorn = Balinor, Gandalf =Allanon, Nazgul =Skull Bearers etc etc), but Brooks is, or at least was, a fantastic writer and I highly recommend this to everyone. My only reservation is the bizarre amount of times he describes characters as “lean”. It seems everyone that populates this world, from the giant druid Allanon to the lowliest goblin, is “lean”. They have lean frames, lean faces, lean figures…They could all do with a good feed from the sounds of them.

But I digress, it matters little to the overall experience, and this is one of the most enjoyable audiobooks I’ve listened to so far. Scott Brick isn’t perfect for fantasy narration – I liked him way better in Asimov’s sci-fi Foundation series – but he does a fine job here, even if his pronunciation of “Shannara” is irritating at first and he sometimes gives Flick a weird Dick Van Dyke-style cockney accent.

It’s a really long book so it represents great value for your monthly credit!

My rating – 5 / 5, easy!

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Writing Great Fiction – The Great Courses

I enjoy listening to lectures for some reason and this seemed like it would be an ideal way for me to learn a few new tricks while I drive around at work.

To be honest, and I’m not blowing my own trumpet here, I think this is probably aimed more at real beginners who’ve yet to pen a novel or publish even a short story. I found the lectures interesting although I’m unfamiliar with the vast majority of the books the professor uses as examples. They’re mostly all classics but I grew up on fantasy and sci-fi and now concentrate on historical fiction so I’ve not read The Maltese Falcon or Dickens or Melville but it doesn’t matter, you get the point of the lectures regardless.

The overall theme seems to be: “I’m not saying this is the right way or the wrong way to write because different authors forge their own path.” In other words, there might be rules most authors will stick to but they’re there to be bent and broken so, do what you like.

If you’re looking for some concrete ways to write a best-seller this isn’t for you. It IS, however, an interesting and entertaining listen and I’ve enjoyed it so give it a shot.

Rating – 3.5 / 5

That’s it for now I’m afraid. I have a few other new books in my library including the next two in the Dune series, a history of the decline of the Roman Empire, and an Aleister Crowley biography but I’ve either not finished those or not started them yet. I’ve been listening to too much AC/DC recently after buying myself a Gibson SG Standard and rediscovering my once-favourite band!

Keep it tuned here for more audiobook reviews and news on the release date of my final Forest Lord novella, The Abbey of Death which is all finished….

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“Path of the Hawk Book 1” by Ian Graham. Reviewed!

The Path of the Hawk

Book 1

path of the hawk 1

I’ll start this review by telling you Path of the Hawk is a prequel to a book called Monument that originally came out back about a decade ago. I read Monument years ago and it was so good that it truly lodged in my mind, particularly its main character, a real anti-hero called Anhaga Ballas. The legendary David Gemmell even endorsed it fer Gawd’s sake!

I’ve spent the intervening years looking for information about any more books by this guy Ian Graham who just seemed to write that one, fantastic, book then disappear completely.

Well, finally, in January of this year I half-heartedly searched Amazon for Ian’s name again and found out, to my delight, that he hadn’t just written one new book, but TWO.

So, noticing Path of the Hawk was just 99p on Kindle I bought it and eagerly dived in. I must point out, I haven’t read a novel in over a year – I just don’t have the time these days, but I made an effort for this. I really did love Monument that much!

Anyway, I’m very glad to say Path of the Hawk did not disappoint me at all. It tells the tale of Ballas’s days as part of an elite fighting unit (kind of a fantasy SAS or Navy SEAL) and, again, he’s not your usual clean-cut hero with a fairly well defined moral compass. Oh no, he kills people out of hand in brutal ways and basically doesn’t give much of a damn about anyone although he’s not as jaded and unfeeling as he was in Monument.

He has a couple of partners along with him for this adventure, as they seek to locate the source of some outlawed books and from beginning to end the action never really lets up. There’s a little side story but even that is full of action and some of it pretty gruesome too with a rather nasty biological/magical weapon described in horrible detail!

Even that seems tame compared to Ballas though, who is really an excellent protagonist. It’s interesting to see him feeling somewhat friendly towards one of his companions and I’m looking forward to Path of the Hawk Book 2 to see how his character progresses and comes closer to the drunken, bitter, nasty bastard he was in Monument.

The writing style is engaging and entertaining, the action fast paced and imaginative, and the characters interesting and well-drawn. The world they inhabit is detailed enough to feel real but not in the boring, overdone way some fantasy writers do.

Overall, this is an excellent fantasy read and a fine prequel to one of my favourite ever books.

Now I just need to find time out from researching my own new novel to read Path of the Hawk Book 2!

I will be doing a Q&A with Ian Graham within the next couple of days, so why not load up your Kindle with his three books and check back to see what he has to say about them all? You won’t regret it!

EDIT – check out that Q&A HERE now!

Final note – a few people asked me how to find Path of the Hawk in the USA and I’ve found out it’s not available as the publisher hasn’t put it out there! I’d suggest you find the paperbacks from the UK or email Orbit, the publishers, and tell them to get it sorted as these books deserve to find a huge audience.

Audiobook Reviews October 2016

Here’s my regular round of reviews from my recent Audible purchases. A couple of fantasy books and a couple of true classics, with a kids book at the end! But are any of them worth your time and money? Read on and find out…

 

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First up is The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. This is the sequel to The Name of the Wind which I raved about not long ago as it was the best fantasy novel I’d read/ listened to in years. And, for the most part, this second book continues the series in similar, great fashion. It is insanely long (42 hours!) so you are getting quite incredible value for money if you use a monthly credit for this thing and, like the previous story, the narration is perfect. Rupert Degas has a huge repertoire of voices and accents and he’s just a pleasure to listen to. The best narrator I’ve ever heard? Yes, I think so!

The story is a good one, with our hero Kvoth now a bit older, a bit more settled in himself and he has some great adventures in this tale. However, I found myself becoming a little bit irritated this time around as our hero is a master at EVERYTHING. From playing his lute to bedding women to fighting like a samurai to throwing magic around like a young Gandalf (yes, he’s still a teenager)…it becomes ever harder to suspend disbelief. By the time he’s seduced a Goddess and she’s found him the best lover ever you start to remember this is just a book, Kvoth isn’t a real man, and it’s hard to remain lost in the world Rothfuss has so diligently crafted.

But overall this is still a five star listen and highly recommended.

Rating – 5/5

twins

Another fantasy book, this time from the Dragonlance mythos. I always thought the mage Raistlin, and his big, dull-witted twin Caramon were the best characters in the whole series and this particular trilogy is ideal as it follows them on an adventure through time. My biggest issue with 80’s fantasy is how twee it often is – when people are dying there’s always some element of slapstick or silly one-liners that destroy any suggestion of realism and make them seem like more of a children’s story. Time of the Twins isn’t as bad as some of the Forgotten Realms books in that regard, and Raistlin is a nice, dark character, utterly selfish and nasty but, irritatingly the kender, Tasslehoff Burfoot (even his name is twee!) tags along and brings that annoying element of misplaced humour to proceedings. Occasionally the authors use the kender in a more interesting way – when bad things happen and the childlike character is upset it really does add an extra edge of horror. In general though, I wish fantasy authors would forget the comedy characters.

I loved this book when I first read it as a teenager and to be fair it’s still a good story. Certainly worth a listen even if the narrator misprounces words and names  which is not his fault as someone should have been proof-listening and pointing out the many errors.

Rating – 4/5

sherlock

Now to the first of the stonewall classics – Sherlock Holmes! This is another long one representing enormous bang for your buck at FIFTY EIGHT HOURS!

I’m a huge fan of the Jeremy Brett TV series from the 80’s and 90’s and, for me, Brett is and always will be the real Holmes so I wasn’t sure how I’d like someone else’s voice reading the dialogue but I needn’t have worried. Simon Vance is perfect and runs Rupert Degas close as one of the best narrators I’ve heard yet. He has that refined, upper class accent that works so well with the setting and he has just enough voices to make it all hugely entertaining. I actually stopped listening to this at one point because I was enjoying it so much that I didn’t want it to ever end! Although in saying that, I have found myself not enjoying the later stories to the same extent but I’m not sure if that’s fatigue or because Doyle’s latter-day Holmes stories simply weren’t as good as the earlier classics.

Still, for such a long book, read so well and featuring two of the best characters ever created, this is one of the best Audible buys around.Do yourself a favour and use one of your credits for this!

Rating – 5/5

dune

The next of the true genre-defining classics is set in a far different time and place to Holmes’s London but I was really pleased to realise it’s also read by Simon Vance! There’s some other voices who chime in here and there making this something of a more lavish production, but overall it’s just Vance and he does a fine job again.

Dune is a strange book – I first read it when I was about 15 and thought it was a boring pile of crap. Then I tried again a couple of years later and it blew me away. I returned to it once more in my thirties and again loved it. The rest of the series isn’t so great, especially the later books, but this first novel is so good if you’ve never read it before please give it a try.

I suppose the hero, Paul Atreides, is similar to Kvoth in the way he’s so good at just about everything but here it seems natural. I have already used my latest credit to buy the sequel, Dune Messiah, so look out for my review of that in due course although at only 9 hours it’s much shorter than Dune which clocks in at around 21 hours.

The book inspired an excellent Iron Maiden song – “To Tame A Land”, check it out HERE where it’s backed by parts of the not-so great movie…Frank Herbert HATED heavy metal so wouldn’t let them call the song “Dune”, unlike Patrick McGoohan who was happy to allow them to call another song “The Prisoner”.

Rating – 5/5 again!

I’ve listened to some excellent audiobooks in recent weeks although I also bought the Forgotten Realms “classic” Pools of Radiance which I always fancied as a kid but never got around to reading.

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I’m not even going to bother with a review for it but I won’t be trying any more from the series. It was like watching someone else play a bad computer game. Anyone a fan of this series?

 

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Finally, something a little bit different! My 9-year-old daughter loves books too and has started listening to Audible which I buy extra credits for. I must admit, being a thrifty Scot I rather grudge using a credit for a kids book as they generally last for about 1-2 hours! But my daughter has really enjoyed some so I asked her to write a little review for her favourite so far.

The World’s Worst Children by David Walliams

Reviewed by Freya McKay

The narrator (David Walliams) spoke very clearly and had good expressions in his voice. It was disgusting when the boy picked his nose and made it into something even more disgusting! My favourite character was one of the girls who always did naughty things and blamed it on her wee brother. They are all very naughty! This book is very interesting  and I sometimes wonder how the writers comes up with such good stories.

 

So there you go, I hope you’ll check out some of these and enjoy them as much as Freya and me. If you are waiting to use a credit on the fourth and final book in my own Forest Lord series, Blood of the Wolf is in production right now. Nick Ellsworth returns to voice Robin and John and the rest of the crew and I cannot wait to hear it!

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Some audiobook reviews – Terry Pratchett, Bernard Cornwell, Graham Hancock, Dr Penny Sartori, and Donnie Eichar

I listen to quite a lot of audiobooks nowadays, through the Audible app on my phone or tablet. I got into it when I had to proof-listen my own audio versions (read, of course, by the fantastic Nick Ellsworth) and it’s a great way to enjoy books you might not have time to physically read.

Here’s some short reviews of my most recent listens. Ben Kane’s Eagles At War is next up…

If you’ve read (or listened to) any of these let me know what you thought of them in the comments section, or email me via the CONTACT page!

Bernard Cornwell Warriors of the Storm narrated by Matt Bates

Graham HancockMagicians of the Gods narrated by Graham Hancock

Donnie EicharDead Mountain narrated by Donnie Eichar

Dr Penny SartoriThe Wisdom of Near-Death Experiences narrated by Penny Sartori

Terry PratchettThe Colour Of Magic narrated by Nigel Planer

Dead Mountain

dyatlov pass incident

I’d been quite interested in this whole myth, legend, whatever you want to call it, for a while now. For those
that don’t know, basically a group of pretty experienced and competent hikers went out climbing near Siberia
and didn’t return. They were found in various states of undress, all dead, having left their tent in a hurry.
But why?
Well, this book aims to explain it.
The narrator is quite good, although his voice can be a bit droning and ultimately it’s a short book. That
said, the main revelation, the reason why we’re listening to this, could fit in half an hour so the other 6
hours is basically the author’s tale of his journey retracing the hikers’ steps.
And it’s an interesting one, well told, really taking you along on the snowy ride with him.
His theory for what happened to the group makes perfect sense to me – better than UFO’s or Yetis or KGB agents
in my opinion. When you put yourself in their position and listen to what he thinks happened it really does
seem like he’s figured it out.

I managed to listen to this whole thing in one day, so that tells you two things: 1) it’s short and 2) it’s
compelling listening.

Recommended!

Warriors of the Storm 

warriors of the storm audiobook

I personally believe this series has gone on for too long. It should have been tied up, with Uhtred retaking
Bebbanburg at least four books ago.
However, Cornwell is such a great writer that, although I feel the story overall isn’t as powerful as it could
have been in a shorter series, I still read or listen (as here) to each new book as soon as they come out!
The previous novel (Pagan Lord if I recall correctly) I felt was a bit meandering, and this one starts much
the same, with not a lot happening – certainly no blood or thunder – for a while, and I was starting to worry.
But it soon picks up and Uhtred heads off to Ireland and returns again, killing and mutilating lots of enemies
and even setting up a new king along the way.
The supporting characters, like his daughter and her husband, are great – just as blood-thirsty as Uhtred
himself, yet, like him, still likable!

It’s good stuff and the end suggests Bebbanburg may, finally, be the focus next time around.
I hope so.
The narrator isn’t as good as the guy that did Cornwell’s King Arthur series. I don’t know how old this fellow
is, but his VOICE makes him sound like he’s in his early-mid twenties. Since this story is told from Uhtred’s
point of view, and Uhtred is an older man, the whole thing just seems off. To his credit though, he reads well
and has a good range of accents, even if some of them don’t quite come off every time!

Overall, if you have enjoyed this series so far, you will like this one just as much, possibly even more than
some of them.
Bernard Cornwell really is a master of his trade!

Magicians of the Gods 

graham hancock audiobook

I, of course, read Hancock’s earlier book, Fingerprints of the Gods, years ago and it led me onto his other
work and more by the likes of Robert Bauval, Graham Phillips, Christopher Dunn etc so I was interested to read
this one. Since I don’t have much time to read books these days I decided to try the audio version.
I’m glad I did, BUT, it must be said, audio for a book like this has its downside.
First of all, Graham has an entertaining, engaging voice. Yes, he has a slight accent, but who doesn’t? It
never once annoyed me and, overall, he reads excellently, with a passion and knowledge of the writing that
only the author could bring.
However, with a book like this I really like to a) see photos of the things being described and b) research
some of the places and themes that are covered.
With a physical book both of these are not a problem, but with audio there are no pictures and on more than
one occasion I had no idea how to research something Graham was talking about. These places are in foreign
lands, so the spelling isn’t always obvious and there’s stuff I’d like to have found out more about but I’ve
forgotten what they were now since listening to this while driving around at work made it impossible to take
notes!
Still, I got the overall gist of what the book was about and much of it was utterly captivating (that seed
bank hidden somewhere underground really captured my attention – I just wish I knew how to spell its name!).
In terms of value for money, this is a really long book so well worth your monthly credit.

These books sell millions, yet they’re still viewed by the mainstream as somehow crackpot, which probably puts
many people off them.

If you find yourself even remotely interested in the ideas in the book’s synopsis I recommend you give this a
listen. Maybe try and borrow a copy of the hardback from your local library though, so you can dig deeper
yourself!

Recommended.

The Wisdom of Near-Death Experiences

dr penny sartori audiobook

I had really high hopes for this when I started listening to it and I should stress I did enjoy listening to
it. But I felt there wasn’t enough science in it – it’s mostly anecdotal evidence and a lot of it is from
people who claim to be “psychic”.
I’d have liked to hear some hard facts about what the doctor’s research found but from what I can gather her
experiments didn’t really prove anything. The symbols she set up high so anyone in her ward experiencing an
NDE could see them were never seen. So you can take that as evidence of the NDE not being as real as its
claimed, can’t you…?
I expected to be convinced by this book but ultimately it just raised a lot of unanswered questions. If it’s a
REAL thing, why do cultural expectations play any part?
It IS worth a listen, and the narrator is quite good just don’t expect to embrace death after listening to it!

The Colour of Magic

terry pratchett audiobook review

Nigel Planer’s reading here is perfect, it literally had me laughing out loud on numerous occasions. His Hrun
(or whatever he’s called) is so funny I looked forward to that character appearing every time. Pratchett
really got off to an amazing start with this book, his writing really shines. I’ve read the paperback before,
of course, at least twice since I first discovered it back when I was a lad and this version brings it all to
life.
The one issue is the horrendous sound quality. I can only assume this was recorded back when the book first
came out, in the 80’s, and the production team used TDK D90’s to capture Planer’s voice. When transferring the
audio to digital for this version they must have played back that old cassette, recorded it on a potato and
uploaded it to Audible. It is really that bad.

HOWEVER, it does NOT ruin the overall experience that much and I still really recommend you buy this. It’s a
fantastic piece of escapism and I couldn’t wait to download the Light Fantastic and now, Sourcery, to enjoy
Rincewind’s adventures for as long as possible.
RIP Terry Pratchett, a true literary master.

 

I hope you give some of these books a try, and if you haven’t already dipped your toes in the world of audio, the Audible app is FREE and you also get to choose one (might even be two now) FREE audiobooks as a trial so there’s no reason not to give it a go.

All of my own books are also available from Audible and (I believe) on iTunes. If you’d like to know more about them please comment below or use the CONTACT button!

best robin hood novel

 

Review of The Voyage of Odysseus

I was very lucky to receive an advance copy of Glyn Iliffe’s brand new novel in his Adventures of Odysseus chronicles, The Voyage of Odysseus. Was it as good as the previous books? Read on to find out!

voyage of odysseus cover

 

“From one adventure to another the pace never lets up. Like Homer’s original, Glyn Iliffe’s series is destined to become a classic!”

That’s the strapline I gave to Glyn for the cover of this book and I think it about sums it up. The Trojan War is over and it’s time – at last! – for Odysseus and his men to go home. Back to the wife and child he hasn’t seen for a decade. But it’s not going to be that easy is it?

Anyone who’s ever read the Odyssey will know there’s still a lot of story to be told and Glyn uses this book to do so. Gone are the schemes and plots to get inside Troy and, in their place are fantastic islands populated by bizarre monsters like the Cyclops. Truly this is a tale of magic and adventure!

And yet, the characters Glyn has created are – here more than ever before – portrayed as REAL people, with real flaws and emotions. They attack an innocent village, for example, purely so Odysseus can gather some more plunder (wealth and slaves) to take back from the long war. This is how it was back then and the author doesn’t shy away from it – it’s just a part of life, but it really shows us the type of hard men we’re dealing with and it’s a great counterpoint to all the fantasy that permeates the story.

The battle scenes are excellent – vivid, exciting and brutal, while the pacing of the tale is just about perfect, drawing the reader in from the very start and not letting go until the end. And it’s a long book so you’re really getting your money’s worth here, as Odysseus and his side-kick Eperitus lurch from one horrible situation to another, even visiting Hades along the way.

Glyn Iliffe has been lucky in a way with this series because much of the tale has been written for him, so he “just” has to flesh it out in his own style. BUT that can also be a curse and I think the end of this particular book shows that. If you know the story of Odysseus from Homer’s original you will know his voyage home is not an easy one – far from it. And as a result this novel is very dark, with a lot of death and sadness and I did feel it started to become rather oppressive just as it neared the end.

But things finish on a hopeful note and the next book is set up perfectly!

Glyn is now self-published and I think this new novel really proves his mettle as a writer. Given his original books had the benefit of major in-house editors, cover designers etc I can say this, and his previous self-published book The Oracles of Troy, stand alongside them and, in fact, are probably BETTER.

 

The Voyage of Odysseus  should be out NOW – I hope you pick up a copy, but DO start at the beginning if you haven’t read the previous books. They’re ALL excellent.

MY RATING – 5/5

Click HERE to read a Q&A I did with Glyn on the Historical Novel Society website when his previous book came out.

historical fiction greek

Glyn Iliffe, author of the excellent Adventures of Odysseus series.

BUY the Kindle version HERE in the UK

BUY the Kindle version HERE in the USA

 

Another stunning review for Rise of the Wolf

It’s always nerve-wracking when a Robin Hood scholar reads one of my books. They know the legend inside out and have their own ideas of how it should be treated.

So I was very happy to read this quite fantastic review of my new book on Goodreads. Take a look and get ready for publication this Friday!  #RiseOfTheWolf

“McKay’s straight-forward style is consistent and well-suited to his story, but I also observed that there was considerable growth in the scope of his writing with this one.”

Click HERE to read the full review.

New Knight of the Cross review!

The hugely popular Indian Book Reviews website have posted a great new review of my novella Knight of the Cross. Take a look HERE.

Knight-Of-The-Cross

In other news, if you haven’t read my Robin Hood novels yet, The Wolf and the Raven will be on special offer (Kindle version) from this coming Wednesday, April 15th. Wolf’s Head will also be reduced in price at the end of the month, I’ll post more about it nearer the time.

To make sure you don’t miss out on things like this, please do use the FOLLOW button at the top of the page and sign up for email notifications any time I post here.

Lady of the Eternal City by Kate Quinn – review

Review – Lady of the Eternal City

by Kate Quinn

This is not my usual sort of book. In fact, I’d go as far to say I’ve never read a book like this before, simply because I wouldn’t choose it myself at the library or book shop (I was sent an Advance Review Copy by the author because I’d enjoyed one of her previous works). I am very set in my ways when it comes to entertainment – I don’t watch horror movies, I don’t listen to pop music and, when it comes to novels, I like a lot of action. While there is some action here, the novel is centred around the relationships of the main characters, with Emperor Hadrian, his wife Empress Sabina, grizzled old soldier Vercingetorix and Hadrian’s (male) lover Antinous.

lady of eternal cover

It’s a very long book and the thing I enjoyed most was the fact that I felt like I was learning a lot about this period of Roman history (I didn’t know much at all before this). It’s all told in such an interesting way, though, that you’re happy to be learning while engaging with the characters and their tangled, irrevocably intertwined fates.

As with any good book you will be rooting for your favourites while hoping that the “baddies” get what’s coming to them and, for the most part, you’ll be glad to see just that happening. However, Emperor Hadrian himself proves to be an extremely complex individual – I feared we were just dealing with a cliched, blacker-than-black murderous lunatic but I was wrong. I won’t spoil things but by the end of the book you realise each and every one of these people, particularly Hadrian, were just humans like you or I, with hopes and dreams and a dark side as well as a good side.

I felt sorry for all of them because they suffer so much but the end of the book leaves some room for hope, rather like the previous book of Kate’s that I read, A Day of Fire.

Overall, I have to be honest, I could have done with more people getting their teeth punched out – the most important relationship in my usual reading is the one between a hairy-arsed barbarian’s sword and his enemy’s face! But, as I say, Lady of the Eternal City is a long book and, when you have limited time to read as I do, the fact I enjoyed it enough to finish it speaks volumes for the skill of the writing and the strength of the story.

If you fancy a change of pace from endless brutality but still want a trip to ancient Rome then you should definitely pick this one up, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

Find out more in the Q&A I did with the author here.

Buy Kate’s Books

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The Holy Lance review

The Holy Lance

by Andrew Latham

holy lance cover

As I’ve noted before, (in my Day of Fire review) being an author has its perks. Sometimes I’m asked to review books before they’re available to buy and it’s really nice to  read something before anyone else gets to see it. Andrew Latham, Professor of Political Science and reader of my own historical novels asked if I’d take a look at his debut The Holy Lance and, if I liked it, share my thoughts and maybe provide a strap-line for the cover.*

Now, it’s very flattering to be asked to critique someone’s work but sometimes it’s poor and it’s a chore to even finish it, never mind come up with an excuse not to review it. I’d rather not say anything than be hurtful after all.
I’m glad to report that, thankfully, Andrew Latham’s The Holy Lance didn’t need any excuses – it’s a damn good read!

A historical fiction adventure very much in the mould of Cornwell, Scarrow, Robyn Young et al, the book centres around a Templar Knight’s quest to retrieve a prized artefact: the titular holy lance. Michael Fitz Alan is an entertaining character, with all the leadership and martial qualities you hope for in a novel like this. Indeed, his violent exploits are often extremely visceral, with much blood spilled as he battles through the Holy Land on this, the first part of his quest.

The battle scenes really do stand out, being superbly written and bringing the action to vivid life in the reader’s imagination, but there’s more to the tale than just violence. Like Lord of the Rings, The Sword of Shannara or Bernard Cornwell’s 1356 our hero is after a powerful artefact that will turn the tide of war in his favour. Yes, it’s a theme that’s been explored many, many times over the years, but that’s because it’s a good theme!

The author doesn’t make everything as black-and-white as Tolkien’s hobbits vs orcs though. This isn’t a straight-forward tale of good versus evil – it’s sympathetic to both sides in the conflict which makes for a realistic and satisfying read.

Latham’s scholarship shines through in every page – indeed, I was writing my own Knight Hospitaller novella at the same time as I read this and I freely admit I learned a lot. Not only is it a great tale, you know the history has been thoroughly researched and, as in any top-class histfic title, it makes the book that much more enjoyable. It’s a balancing act between too much and not enough scholarship in this genre and The Holy Lance straddles the tightrope with ease.

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Andrew Latham

If I have a criticism it’s the fact that the chapters are quite long, with the first being almost 10,000 words. Obviously, this is a matter of personal taste, but I like a short, punchy first chapter that starts things off with a bang and drags the reader in by the short and curlies, whether they like it or not. The Holy Lance doesn’t have that and, I have to be honest, I feared the worst when it took me so long to finish the first few pages. It could easily put readers off which would be a real shame as things picked up after that and I was relieved to find myself really enjoying the story.

I’m probably not the best person to ask for a review if you’re on a timetable as I don’t have much time to read these days, but I finished this in just a few days and am very much looking forward to the next one. Which will probably be strange for Professor Latham to read, given this one isn’t even out yet!

Histfic fans will really enjoy this and I’m proud to have been one of the first people to read it. The future promises much for Andrew Latham…be sure you’re there when his first novel hits the shelves on March 24th this year.

Pre-order your hardback copy here (UK)

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Holy-Lance-English-Templars/dp/1910282413

or here (US)

http://www.amazon.com/Holy-Lance-English-Templars/dp/1910282413

Find out more at Andrew’s website:

http://www.aalatham.com/

* “Violent and visceral…. meticulously researched… superbly plotted…. The Holy Lance is historical fiction at its best!”

A Day of Fire – A Novel of Pompeii by Ben Kane et al

I’ve been very lucky to get an advance copy of a new book, Day of Fire – a novel of Pompeii by some of histfic’s finest writers, including Ben Kane who’s supported me since before Wolf’s Head was even published.

I wasn’t sure how well the book would work, being a collaborative effort with sections written by different authors and, to be honest, I’ve never read any of the contributors’ other work (apart from Ben, obviously).

I’m glad to say I’m loving it. I mean really loving it. I think it’s safe to say this one of the best books I’ve read in the past five years at least – it’s fantastic. Which is just as well, as it would have been pretty awkward for me if I’d thought it was shit after agreeing to review it…

You can look forward to a Q&A with me and Ben in the next couple of weeks, before I post my review.

In the meantime, you can pre-order the novel on Amazon. It’s only £3.15 in the UK (I assume it will be the same ludicrously low price in the rest of the world). Click the cover image below to check it out!

http://www.amazon.co.uk/A-Day-Fire-novel-Pompeii-ebook/dp/B00NI5CBXI