S.J.A. Turney's Books & More

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Top Ten Reads of 2013

with 6 comments

It’s that time of year again where I choose the top ten books I read in 2013. In fact there are a number of other books that could have made it into here, but I had to limit it to ten, really, and it was tough. Note also that these ten are in Author order, not preferential countdown. If you missed these books in 2013 go read them in 2014.

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Actually, I had real trouble choosing between this and the follow-up (Assassin’s Reign) by Mike Arnold. Both are superb. For some reason, though, Hunter’s Rage edged in. Very tightly plotted and written, HR for me took the pace of Arnold’s first book and combined it with the depth of the second, resulting in a rollicking action-packed Civil War epic across Southwest England. It was the book that made me realise that, despite the comparative sticker on the front, Captain Stryker had, for me, surpassed Sharpe as a great character. Full review here.


Prue Batten is the mistress of the silken word, and with the Gisborne series she has moved away from the Faerie worlds that brought her talent to the fore, and into Medieval history. The first Gisborne book held me in its satin grasp to the very last word, despite the deliberate failings in the principal character which drove me nuts. This second book in the series had all the grace of the first, but threw in a solid plot of murder and mayhem that took us half way across the then-known world. Full review here.


Slight cheat for you here, in that this hasn’t yet been released, so you haven’t missed it. I had the opportunity to beta read ‘An Archaeological Guide to Walking Hadrian’s Wall (East to West)’ by M.C. Bishop last month. Like its earlier West to East counterpart, this is a stunning guide to the wall for anyone who might like to walk a stretch of it. You don’t  have to walk the whole thing to appreciate the guide. In fact, given the depth of knowledge, the surprising humour and the multitude of fabulous anecdotes, you don’t even have to leave your armchair to enjoy it. Boot up your laptop, start Google Earth and follow along. Watch for its release shortly.


For me, Nick Brown sort of came from nowhere. I read all three books in this series in 2013, and wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m often nervous starting reading a new Roman writer, as I tend to get twitchy in case they’re horribly inaccurate or they beat me at my own game. Brown impressed me. He has created an enthralling character, who gets thrown into a variety of life-threatening situations. The first two books were very different from one another, which is refreshing for a series, and this third was a total departure again, taking us on a fabulous manhunt across the Mediterranean and into action and intrigue. Read my review here.


My current read is actually Paul Fraser Collard’s second Jack Lark novel: The Maharajah’s General and it is, if anything, better than this, but will not be quite finished by midnight tonight, so it doesn’t count! The first was actually a real surprise to me, as it’s a long way from my era comfort zone (Mid 18th century Crimea), and yet it gripped me with an intensity few ancient world novels can. As a debut it was excellent. I find myself thinking that it’s been so long since Sharpe was televised that maybe Jack Lark should take a turn on the screen. Collard writes in a style that I find comparable to watching a thrilling historical movie. Read my review here.


Doherty continues to be both friend and nemesis. He and I tend to vie for top spots together a lot, and have become firm friends over the past few years. Yet the excellence of his work makes me grumble! 😉 Strategos was a tour-de-force for me, an epic of the Byzantine borderlands. In book 2, Apion has grown into a strong leader, haunted by his past and with strands of fate woven into his future. It is a powerful military tale, packed with intrigue and atmosphere. Read the review.


Angus Donald’s Outlaw Chronicles have always been a fave, with some particularly strong titles in the series, but Grail Knight definitely hits the top of the arc. Far removed from the old Robin of Sherwood forest robbing the rich and donating to the poor, this book takes us on a great quest to the Albigensian lands of SW France and, in a move I couldn’t have anticipated, even made me sympathetic to the one character in the series that I truly loathed. Reviewed here.


Ben Kane now has three series under his belt, two completed and one ongoing. This being the latter is not why the book stands out though. Hannibal, to me, is Kane’s strongest work, with the best characters, the most gripping action and the most powerful plot. It is more human than the Forgotten Legion series, and deeper than the Spartacus bilogy. It is Kane at his best, and Fields of Blood took the strong foundation of the first Hannibal book and built on it, continuing the tale as the Carthaginians ravage Italy, with Rome almost powerless to stop them, forever threatening the fragile relationships between the protagonists. Review is here.


I’m not an avid reader of crime and mystery, but occasionally I like to delve. I’m also not a huge fan of the Victorian era, though again I occasionally like to see a bit of Ripper/Sherlock type work. D.E. Meredith managed with her first Hatton & Roumande mystery to hook me completely with a tale that had me guessing to the end, packed with such atmosphere, you can almost smell the oppressive smog of 19th century London. CSI Victorian England dragged me right in. Read the review here.

The Eagle's Vengeance Empire VI

You simply can’t go wrong with Anthony Riches’ Empire series. If you like action and the Roman military, it’s the place to be. And the series seems to be going from strength to strength, with each novel surpassing its predecessors. After dragging us to the far corners of the Roman world in books 4 and 5, book 6 takes us back to where it began, on Hadrian’s Wall. Chock full of action and character, with a few unexpected twists, Eagle’s Vengeance is up at the top of Riches’ work. Review is here.

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So that’s my top ten. If you’re not on it, it’s no reflection on your work, as it was a really hard choice to pin down, and some of my fave writers have missed out because I’ve not read any of their books in 2013. A prime example of that is Doug Jackson, whose latest, Sword of Rome, is my next read and will be the first novel I delve into in 2014. An honourable mention has to go to Louise Rule, whose Future Confronted is a powerful book (check out my previous post for a review) and vied for a place.

I’m looking forward to some great books in 2014. In the meantime, Happy New Year to everyone, readers and writers all, and enjoy your work and leisure. Books are still the world’s best medium.

Cheers, all.

Written by SJAT

December 31, 2013 at 1:36 pm

6 Responses

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  1. Hi, impressive list…

    I look forward to your blog and would like to ask a question since I agree with most if not all of your reviews so I wanted to ask you about an author and series that I have enjoyed.

    Have you ever read the series “Marching With Caesar” by R. W. Peake and if so what did you think of them.



    January 9, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    • Hi Joe.

      I have Marching with Caesar in my pile of books to be read, but haven’t actually read it yet. I hear good things but, since I’m currently writing a series based on the Gallic and Civil wars I’m trying to avoid reading anything that impacts on the subject, and Peake’s is the same campaign, so I likely won’t read them for a number of years until I finish the Marius’ Mules series. Don’t want to find I’m being influenced in my own storytelling, you see.





      January 9, 2014 at 1:01 pm

      • Ah.. hadn’t thought about that, good policy… I look forward to book 6 of Marius’ Mules and other reviews coming up. Thanks for getting back to me.



        January 9, 2014 at 1:14 pm

  2. This looks like a perfect 2014 list for me! What do you plan on reading this year?



    January 11, 2014 at 5:26 am

    • Cheers, Daniel. Started it with Doug Jackson’s Sword of Rome, but I’ve also got some catching up to do with Robert Low, Ruth Downie and James Aitcheson, as well as the latest Ben Kanes, Tony Riches etc as they come out. 🙂



      January 11, 2014 at 9:56 am

  3. […] In fact, some time apart, I beta read both of these books. One might be mistaken for thinking that a guide to walking the wall East-West would be little more than a carbon copy of the West-East one, only mirrored. Of course, this is not true. Both of these E-books, available at Amazon (click on the pic above to go there), are stunning guides. I walked much of the length of the wall many years ago and very much wish these had been out then. Should I get the chance to do so again, I will be doing  it with my kindle in hand and this guide loaded ready. Not only is it informative on a level you will not find in any guidebook I have found on the wall, it is also entertaining. In fact, as something of an ‘armchair archaeologist’ I thoroughly enjoyed reading these books with Google Earth open next to me, following the route from the comfort of my sofa with a good scotch. I ooh and ahh each time I read them at the fascinating little titbits they contain, and chuckle at the humour throughout. Have I sold them yet? If you’re ever going to visit the wall, just don’t do it without one of these guides. And at £2.50 you just cannot go wrong. As a last note, these guides actually made it past some of the most notable fiction last year to make it into my top ten reads of the year (check that post here) […]


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