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Posts Tagged ‘Angus Donald

The Death of Robin Hood

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If ever there was a spoiler in the title, eh? But come on, we’ve been expecting this book for a while. Angus Donald’s superb Outlaw Chronicles have run to 8 books, which is pretty good for any series to maintain freshness and individuality, but we could see by book 6 that the characters were beginning to age and to look towards the end. And book 7 pretty much told us there was only one more tale to tell. And yet we’ve all hungered for this last outing for a year.

Donald’s series has gone from strength to strength over the greater part of a decade. The first book was one of the most outstanding debuts ever written in the genre and, though the second was, to my mind, the weakest of the series, that was still a gripping book. But I had maintained throughout that my favourite in the series was King’s Man – the third. Until now.

I know from personal experience how hard it can be to finish a series. Managing to engineer a plot that effectively ties up each and every loose end to a satisfactory level is nightmarish work. It is only when one tries that one realises just how much a series has exploded outwards over its course and just how much there is to resolve. And mine was only a four book series. Donald must have been head-scratching and fretting at this plot for a while. And yet however he went about it, he’s pulled off a real coup with this novel.

The war between King John and his barons we encountered in book 7 resurfaces in this last tale, with Alan and Robin joined by old friends and new as they navigate the impossible currents of their masters’ politics. Fighting for justice against King John is one thing, but when those very rebels offer the throne instead to the French, then which was can a loyal Englishman turn? This is the dilemma Robin and his friends end up facing. That’s something of a spoiler, I guess, but an early one, and if I’m to tell you anything about the book at all, it has to include the fundamental point of it.

From a brutal siege at Rochester castle, we follow the adventures of Robin and Alan across Kent and the south, imprisonment and war, betrayal and revenge, all the way to Nottingham and Lincoln. There are four points I think about this work that deserve specific mention.

There is a sense of ‘full circle’ about book 8. In book 1 we met Robin Hood the outlaw, running a vicious godfather-like world and carrying out guerilla war in the forests against the authorities. Over successive books, Robin had changed, achieving legitimacy, title and a role at the heart of the Kingdom. Here, now in book 8, we are treated, at least for a while, to a return to form. There is a sense that despite the characters’ now rather mature age, we are seeing them relive their youth and the excitement of those rebel days. This I loved. This, for me, is what I will take away from the novel.

Angus Donald is rapidly becoming the ‘master of the siege’. It can be extremely difficult to include at least one siege in a book multiple times within a series. I’ve done it myself, and it’s very easy for them to become blase and samey. There are sieges throughout the Outlaw Chronicles, and some of the books pretty much centre on one (The Iron Castle, for example.) And in book 8, there are two sieges to handle. And you know what? They are exciting, unpredictable, fresh and superbly-executed. Every siege Donald handles he manages to produce something new and worthwhile, which is a masterful thing.

The characters are fluid and changing. It is ridiculously easy to maintain a character, and it is equally easy to mess up their progression. To have your characters grow old and mature over a series in a realistic and noticeable way while maintaining the traits that make them who they are is a skillful thing. Alan and Robin, Thomas and Miles, plus their many companions, are painted well and have grown with the reader. Even the absence of Little John does not mar the sense of character at the heart of the book.

Finally, the death of Robin (see? I told you the title held a spoiler.) Such a momentous event – in history, let alone at the climax of a series – has to be handled just right. To have Robin die in some glorious golden way would be cheesy to say the least. To have him butchered out of hand in a sad, random manner would leave the reader huffing grumpily. To achieve something that is realistic, tragic, sad, noble and personal is a real bonus. And that is how this book ends. It is all those things, but I think the most important point is that it is personal. Robin’s end is not some great battle scene like the one that took King Richard. It is the result of strands of the tale long in the making, and it is truly a personal thing. Also, it took me by surprise in the end, which is magnificent. Oh, not that he might die – note once more the title – but how it might come about.

In short, The Death of Robin Hood is a tour-de-force and has shot to the very top as the best in the series, which is fantastic for a finale. If you’re not read the books, you’re in for a treat, because there are 8 now waiting for you and you can demolish the whole tale from beginning to end. If you have, then fear not, loyal readers. Donald has done you proud. This book ends the Outlaw Chronicles with a bang AND a whimper. It’s out today. Go buy it… trust me.

Top 10 reads of 2015

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How propitious. Thursday is blog day and this post, which is my top 10 reads of 2015 happens therefore to fall on New Year’s Eve. These are the best of my reads this year and are presented in order of Author surname, not preference. And, oddly, there are some of my fave authors not represented here, simply because I’ve not read one of their books this year. And for good measure I’ve thrown in a bonus read at the end! Enjoy the list.

Tobias – Prue Batten

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The first in a trilogy of spin-offs from Prue’s Gisborne series, Tobias was a hit this year since it maintained her absolutely tip-top standards of prose, style and character, while taking a step forward in terms of plot and action. It represents Prue’s best work so far and is a perfect marriage of style and content. Read my review here.

The Emperor’s Silver – Nick Brown

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One of my all-time fave series came back with a bang this year. Nick Brown took a novel character type and a little-used era and created the Agent of Rome. And his protagonist has grown and acquired friends through the series, and though this one stands out partially for the intricate plot, it mostly does so because of the impressive character growth of the supporting cast, which was long anticipated and very welcome. Read my review here.

The Great King – Christian Cameron

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The Long War series is one of the most immersive and expansive series in historical fiction, and the Great King stands out from the rest of the series for me because it contains everything I seek in this kind of work. It covers one of the greatest military engagements in Greek history, explores the Olympic Games and leads us a journey into the heart of Persia. All really good stuff. Read my review here.

The Devil’s Assassin – Paul Fraser Collard

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Jack Lark is one of the best literary inventions of the past decade. A truly unique character idea and one that initially I thought would have trouble managing a second book. And this one is the third! The third Lark book is also a game changer, taking us off on a tangent from what we were expecting, which is a brave move for an author and sometimes fails in execution. This one didn’t. Read my review here.

The King’s Assassin – Angus Donald

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The Outlaw chronicles have been a welcome staple of my reading for years now, and consitently make my top 10. King’s Assassin is something new, though. It feels different from the other novels in the series. To some extent, it felt like what had been a proper boy’s adventure series had grown up, passing through to become something different. It is the penultimate in the series and there is a definite feel of something coming to an end. Read my review here.

America’s First Daughter – Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie

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A new writer for me – two new writers, in fact. I’d encountered Stephanie’s work as part of the A Day Of Fire collection, but this was something else and a phenomenal achievement. It was a new type of read for me entirely, and one born from the most unique perspective. It opened up new avenues of interest in my life, and for that alone it deserves a top ten spot. Read me review here.

Eagles at War – Ben Kane

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Again, Ben Kane moves into a new milieu, having dealt with the Caesarian era, Hannibal and Spartacus. And this time he’s moved more into my period of choice. To take on the Teutoborg disaster and try to cover the scope in a single novel is a massive undertaking and he did it justice from both sides of the conflict, which was nice to see. Read my review here.

Lady of the Eternal City – Kate Quinn

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Again, a contributor to A Day Of Fire, Kate Quinn proved herself to me with this novel, which is languorous and exotic and yet at the same time informative and pacy, showing a side of the emperor Hadrian that I had never even imagined. A win on several levels. Read my review here.

Thunder of the Gods – Anthony Riches

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The empire series is on its eighth book now and seems to be running from strength to strength. Here we have moved geographically into the Middle East to explore the Parthian world in a truly action packed and fast paced military adventure. The reason for this win: Riches has settled into the characters beautifully and has managed to change directions with the overall plot arc now. Read my review here.

The Holy Thief – William Ryan

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One of the most atmospheric books I have ever read. Quite simply that. A Gorky Park for this decade, Holy Thief is a perfect marriage of intricate plot and foggy, dangerous, cloying atmosphere. The protagonist is extremely real and sympathetic and I felt totally drawn into the time. Read my review here.

Into The Fire – Manda Scott

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One of the most ambitious novels I have ever encountered, Into the Fire was a duel timeline treat dealing with modern police procedure and political shenanigans and the campaigns of Joan of Arc. It was a masterpiece in both times and probably hits my top ten of all time. Read my review here.

So there we go. 11 books in a top 10, and each and every one a gem. If you didn’t get round to reading one of them this year, go get it for 2016. Happy New Year and happy reading everyone.

King’s Assassin

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The seventh book in Angus Donald’s superb Outlaw chronicles is out today. Well, you know how I feel about the Outlaw books, don’t you? Just in case anyone’s still unaware of them, these books represent a whole new and very realistic treatment of Robin Hood, seen through the eyes of the minstrel (and so much more) Alan Dale.

Some series of historical fiction find a winning formula and stick to it. I would say, in fact, that most of those series do that. An author finds the sweet spot where his readers are happiest and continues to write in it. Some manage to continue with great success, though others start to feel stale some time around book five or six, I find. Other authors – rarer, braver ones – allow their series to grow and change like a living thing, which runs the risk of annoying those readers who enjoy that sweet spot, but allows the author to explore more and the reader to experience more. They do not become stale.

The Outlaw chronicles have grown and changed throughout Angus’ career as a novelist, and have done so with great success. In fairness, they would have to do, since they have covered two and a half decades of Alan’s life. He has changed from a young scamp to a mature, responsible knight in his time, and that journey from boy to man has been gradually reflected throughout the series, giving them a sense of growth and allowing the reader to identify with, and truly believe in, the character.

That being said, even with the general progression of time in the series, book seven has moved on more than usual, and feels slightly different – though far from in a bad way. Indeed, despite the ongoing plot threads I suspect a new reader could pick up book seven and not be lost by the missing of the previous books.  A decade has passed since the siege of Chateau Gaillard and the events related in The Iron Castle, and that’s some gap to bridge. Needless to say it is bridged in style.

Angus has never shied away from handling the great events of the 12th and 13th centuries in his books, from the Third Crusade, the rescue of the Lionheart from Germany, the Holy Grail, the Cathar Heresy, right to the siege of Gaillard. All these events have been inextricably entwined with the characters in his books, both Robin and Alan as well as the supporting cast. And book 7 takes on one of the most important events in British history – the signing of the Magna Carta. Propitious timing, given that only a few days ago that event celebrated its 800th anniversary.

A quick note on the plot and events within (avoiding spoilers at all costs): This tale takes us on from Robin and Alan’s previous position as landowners of England suffering the whims and oppression of the tyrant King John. The last two books or so have languished solidly within that nightmare situation. Well, with book 7 that tense, dangerous world is coming to a head. John is determined to reclaim his lost lands in France, but he is unpopular and poor as kings go. Wars cost money and need men. To get the men he needs he will have to hire mercenaries and send cash to his friendly rulers across the sea. And that means more money. And where does that money come from? Clearly from men like Robin and Alan. England is being squeezed until every last penny pops out, and that is crippling the people and fomenting unrest among the nobles. Though they will fight in France to reclaim his territory, John’s nobles are beginning to think the unthinkable: of the death of a tyrant. And you can be sure that Alan is expected to play a part…

King’s Assassin masterfully weaves together three or four major plot threads, with each one having a bearing on the others, each having an immediate connection to the current tale while also recalling events in the previous books. There is war. There are daring escapes. There is betrayal – LOTS of betrayal. There are assassinations and sieges, desperate flights and heroic duels. But there is also a grounding in the real world. None of this is Errol Flynn leaping onto candelabra and laughing as he pinches the sheriff’s hat. It is all a tale that could so easily have happened as it is written.

I was interested to see the return of a few old characters I had all but forgotten, and impressed and surprised at one particular event that was very brave of Angus to handle, I have to say. Enough said about that. No spoilers is my policy. But you’ll know what I mean when you get to it. The book is extremely well written, as you would expect, the prose poetic and carrying a feel of the language and idiom of the era, and is up there at the very top of the series, and indeed of the whole genre. King’s Man has always been my favourite of Angus’ books, but King’s Assassin is truly every bit as good.

There is a palpable feeling of closure about this book, which at once makes me sad and makes me want to shake Angus’ hand. There can be no doubt that the Outlaw Chronicles are coming to an end soon. Not with this book, but with one or two perhaps left to go. While that means that I am facing the possibility of no more Robin and Alan in a few years time, it does mean that Angus is determined not to drag out the series to its detriment and can instead take it out with a bang, which is the perfect thing to do. And, of course, it means we might then be treated to a new hero from one of my favourite Hist-Fic writers.

Go and find King’s Assassin in your favourite store. Read it. You won’t be disappointed. It is one of those really hard to put down books.

Bravo again Angus

Written by SJAT

June 18, 2015 at 10:17 am

Iron Castle

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Now, unusually, the Iron Castle has been out a week before I’ve got my review up. Why? Simple: I have had a plethora of books and manuscripts to read all arriving in a short time and most of which will never see the light of review day, but all had deadlines. And shuffling them around, one thing was clear… Angus Donald’s Outlaw novels do not deserve to be shoe-horned into the middle of such a rush. They deserve to be savoured like a 12 year old single malt. So I have taken my time and enjoyed every nuance of the book.

Anyone who’s followed my blog or my Goodreads or Amazon reviews will know my opinion of Angus’ books. They are one of the top series of historical fiction out there. I have enjoyed each of the books, though I have always maintained that the best in the series was King’s Man (the third of six). Well, the Iron Castle might just topple that for me.

I think that anyone who’s read the first five books will agree that with the death of the Lionheart and the somewhat off-shoot nature of the plot of book five, we all wondered how the interactions and situations would work with King John on the throne, what with Robin being such a loyal follower of Richard. How could the series continue to work? Well the good news is that with this return to the intrigues and dangers of interacting with the Plantagenet dynasty, the whole feel of the book has actually taken a step up rather than down. Serving a man the protagonists dislike more than the enemy has its own special fascination and informs not only the plot of the book, but the deeds and desires of the characters.

So what’s it about? Well you know I avoid spoilers as much as possible, but there are certain things I think I can say without ruining anything for you. Through Robin’s desire for settled security for his wife and children, he finds himself taking an oath to John. Through Alan’s ongoing fealty to Robin, so does Alan. Both men therefore find themselves dragged to France to take part in John’s wars over the ownership of Normandy, with King Phillip of France looming in the east, Arthur of Brittany in the west and other troublesome characters in the south. The defence of the crown land of Normandy would look utterly daunting were it not for one thing: the route for Phillip into Normandy is guarded by Chateau Gaillard, the great Iron Castle built by King Richard a few years earlier. This imposing and unconquerable fortress is the one great bastion holding the enemy from John’s lands. I think you can probably see where this is going, particularly given the book’s title. Expect a siege. I did.

The siege of Chateau Gaillard is a familiar event to many lovers of medieval history, and was one of the most brutal of the age. It made it recently onto Dan Snow’s TV series Battle Castle. Given the fact that I was already familiar with the siege and many years ago spent a day exploring the ruins of the castle, I was particularly interested to see how Angus handled the great and horrible event. The answer is: masterfully. There are a few books out there that have portrayed a siege in a fashion that actually had me sweating and biting my nails for the heroes as I read. Nick Brown’s ‘Siege’. Douglas Jackson’s ‘Hero of Rome’ and Paul Fraser Collard’s ‘Maharajah’s General’ are three of the best. The Iron Castle has now joined that list. It has all the tension, glory, despair and horror of a Zulu or a Masada and more. The fate of the ‘Useless Mouths‘ still leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth.

And as the threads of the characters and plot weave about the siege, there is a hint of treachery and betrayal that informs some of the more critical events and which will leave the reader guessing until the very end.

The main characters continue to grow, which is pleasing, especially six books into a series. Robin is becoming a straighter, less despicable character, which had to happen with Royal commission and a family. Alan seems to have finally tipped past that point where the concerns of youth guide his hand – he’s been heading that way for three books – and is now a grown man in all respects.

Simply, this series is a long way from done, clearly. Book six reaches heights I had not expected and injects new strength into the Outlaw books.

The Iron Castle is now available in hardback and various e-formats. Go buy it, people, and see how a siege is written.

Grail Knight

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One of the highlights of my year is the new Angus Donald novel, but this new book was slightly more anticipated than usual. You see, while I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all Angus’ books, I have noted the opposite of what they used to say about the Star Trek Movies (the even movies were the better ones). While I thoroughly enjoyed Holy Warrior (2) and Warlord (4), it was Outlaw (1) and King’s Man (3) that were outstanding in the series and eclipsed many other great reads of the time. So would book 5 continue this trend?

Simply, yes. Grail Knight may well be the best of the five and, even if not, it is on a par with the outstanding King’s Man, which is about the highest praise to give anyway.

Why is it a win? Well to start with, Angus has consistently managed to take Robin Hood (one of the most cliched subjects in history) and write a series about him that repeatedly side-steps cliche and delivers fresh, engaging and fascinating tales that do not irritate in the way Robin Hood could so easily do (ahem, Ridley Scott!) That in itself is a feat. But this tale is also about the Holy Grail. No it’s not a spoiler. Even if you didn’t realise from the title (giveaway #1) the lead-up in book 4 made it obvious this was going to happen. And if there’s anything that delivers more cliche and general awfulness than Robin Hood as a subject, it is the Holy Grail. And yet in this book, Angus has managed to avoid cliche and awfulness very neatly. The result is that, in a book about two things that are a minefield of cheese, Angus has created a gem of a tale that delivers shock, joy, fascination and sheer power. Kudos.

The tale delves deeper into the awful and mysterious ‘Master’ and his secretive order within the Knights Templar. It portrays the Templars in an unusual light, making them bad guys, dubious and selfish, harsh and outside the law, while not accusing them of heresy and demon worship as seems to be the norm for writers these days. (Minor spoiler coming here:) The quest for the grail leads Alan from his home in Westbury, alongside his liege lord Robin, leaving a ruined home and a dying love to search for the one thing that can save her. It leads us to Cathar country in south west France and explores that beautiful world, centring on somewhere I have always wanted to visit. The plot never falters, hurtling along at pace, ever goading the reader to ‘just a few more pages’. The plot is neatly constructed and leaves no loose ends, in fact tying up a number of frayed threads from the previous books!

Probably the biggest win for this book with me, though, is the cast. As well as the essentials, a number of old friends return, including one of my faves – Sir Nicholas de Scras. And… Nur. You see I had become rather irritated with the witch woman in the previous books and had even gone as far as to grumble about her on Twitter at Angus! And yet she returns in Grail Knight to take her place in the cast and does so in such a well-crafted way that I thoroughly enjoyed it and found that I was appreciating her part as much as any other.

The book is happy and sad, full of subterfuge and open action, tense and calming, magical and spiritual and practical. It has everything you might expect from one of Angus’ books, but in spades.

Be prepared to put aside all your other hobbies and much sleep (I read 80 pages in the middle of the night yesterday) and enjoy a book every bit as good as King’s Man. Fans will not be disappointed and, if you haven’t read Angus’ other books, I would recommend them as always, but now with 25% more voracity!

Oh and the ending? Masterful. Simply masterful.

I sent the author a message when I had almost finished it, calling Grail Knight a Tour De Force and that is what it is.  This stunning piece of Historical Fiction is out in hardback today and you can go get it here.

Written by SJAT

August 1, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Angus the Warlord

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A few weeks ago I ran a bit of a special blog entry (see here) about Angus Donald and his series of Outlaw books, based on the fact that his third novel in the series, King’s Man, had just been released in paperback. Well, good news, Donald-o-philes and Robin Hood loons: The fourth in the series has just been released in hardback form. So, here’s my two-penneth to get you all fired up to go buy it…

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I finished Warlord a few nights ago (I am on holiday in darkest Snowdonia with the phone reception and wifi capability of a dead capybara on a pointy stick so I’ve only just had the chance to post this).

I found that Warlord followed the trend in Angus’ series in that THERE IS NO TREND. Honestly, one thing you can really count on with the Outlaw books is that any new title will have a new story, a fresh angle and a different feel and theme to it. There is nothing formulaic or repetitive about the series in any way.

Outlaw was a tale of survival and redemption with Alan Dale and the infamous Robert Odo of Locksley, better known as Robin Hood. The story took us in a new and interesting way around familiar old legends, with a fresh and brutal interpretation of Robin that is nothing like the man in green of classic TV.

The second book, Holy Warrior, took us to Outremer and the world of the crusaders, with a now-legitimate Robin. The mood was darker and more soul-searching and, to be quite honest, left me feeling angry at Robin and, to a lesser extent, Alan. This was, for me, the ‘Empire Strikes Back’ of the Outlaw series.

Thirdly, King’s Man was the tale of King Richard’s imprisonment in Germany and Alan and Robin’s part in his return to power. It was also the tale of Prince John’s rise and then fall. It was a story of intrigue and espionage and to that point the best in the series, I would say.

And so, to Warlord. Once again, Angus has taken us in a new direction. Alan and Robin move with the action to Normandy, this time, to Richard’s brutal and protracted war with Phillip of France. There are three very distinct threads of action in this tale, though not consecutive or in order, but the tale is an amalgam of the three, bound together like a celtic knot.

Firstly, Alan Dale is beginning to delve into the secrets that surrounded his father’s expulsion from Notre Dame in Paris and his subsequent death upon the order of a mysterious and powerful figure. This story involves murder, conspiracy, penetration deep into the heart of the enemy in Paris, and the investigation of some of the most powerful men in the world. This is as good a mystery tale in itself that it could fill a novel on its own and stand up to the best histfic murder mysteries out there

Secondly, there is the war itself, which is told in vivid description, with all the heroic scenes expected of Coeur de Lion’s somewhat rash valour and excitable nature. But it is also brutal and unpleasant, giving us details about the world of medieval warfare that goes beyond the simply ‘what happened and who won?’ style of history and explores the effects on the ordinary soldiers and the people caught in the middle of a war between their masters.

Thirdly, there is the tale of Alan’s growth and love and his manor at Westbury, the depredations of his land under the vicious Hag of Hallamshire, the growing relationships with Goody and his men, including young Thomas, the squire, who is now almost the Alan we remember from the first book.

So that’s a rundown of what Warlord is about, missing out too many spoilers. “But”, I hear you say, “what’s it like?”

Warlord is simply excellent. It brought to mind elements of a number of my favourite things, including some of the feel of the Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars video game (that may sound a strange comparison, but it remains one of the best-written and most evocative plots I have ever found and if you haven’t played that game, buy it straight after Warlord), the siege scenes in medieval movies like Jeanne d’Arc (an average film to my mind, but an excellent siege scene), visits I have made to some of the book’s locations in my youth (the Chateau Gaillard I found particularly breath-taking), the great tales I read as a boy of Richard the Lion Heart and his wars, and even a touch of the Arthurian legends, mixed with Christian myth and more.  See how much the book makes me think of other very cool things?

Old villains that survived the previous books are just as vile and loathsome as ever, but are somewhat cast into the shadows by the arrival of new and all-the-more twisted and maniacal antagonists. Old friends are back in their full glory, and with them others who were previously minor and now begin to come to the fore. The last fight in the book is some of Donald’s best work and had me almost twitching and leaning left and right with the swings as I read (like when you watch a rollercoaster on TV). It was, for me, on a par with the most excellent duel scene in King’s Man, about which I have previously raved.

As with the previous books, and increasing with each new release, one of my fave characters is King Richard himself. I suspect that the amount of research Angus has done on this famous king is deeper and more involved than anything else he has undertaken in his work, and it shows. Angus’ portrayal of Coeur de Lion is magnificent, and easily the best I’ve come across either on paper or screen. That alone makes Warlord an outstanding book.

So the upshot is that Warlord is another winner from the author of Outlaw. If you like his books, you’ll buy this one, I’m sure, and if you’ve not read any, then you need to buy them all and start from the beginning.

Oh… and Warlord throws us some tremendous teasers for what to expect in book 5. It makes me hunger for the next release

Buy the book on Amazon here or visit Angus’s site here.

As always, Mister Donald…. Bravo!

Written by SJAT

July 23, 2012 at 5:28 pm

Robin of Donald

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I know I promised you a kids/travelogue post, and I promise there’s one coming, but each week I look at writing said post, but realise that there’s a new great book out there that I need to make sure everyone knows about. So, we’re back onto Historical Fiction again, but hold on to your seat, as this is some of the best you’ll ever read.

You see, we’re all tremendously familiar with Robin Hood. Most of us were weaned on Errol Flynn, Claude Rains and Basil Rathbone fencing up and down stairwells and plotting in golden thrones, swinging through the greenwood like Tarzan in camo. It’s still the yardstick by which swashbuckling is measured. You probably know of or remember Richard Greene. And Michael Praed and Jason Connery mooching around moodily to Clannad’s ‘Hooded Man’ soundtrack. Everyone tutted and sighed at the strange route that Kevin Costner took from Dover to Nottingham via Sycamore Gap at Hadrian’s Wall, but we still loved the movie, even as we complained. Morgan Freeman still rocks, of course. And some of us even saw the much more down-to-earth version with Patrick Bergin. And though ‘Men in Tights’ makes me twitch, I still love Cary Elwes. There was some Xena-esque American series, I believe, which largely passed me by. And Tony Robinson in Maid Marion and her Merry Men. And even Russell Crowe with his wandering accent and his ladyfriend fighting off the French nation with a school outing.

So… the point of all that? We’ve seen Robin Hood a million times, in a million guises. We know him inside and out. We even know all his friends and most of the events that are likely to occur in his tales. I have become jaded with Robin. I even largely stopped watching his tales as they are churned out by rote. They are now as realistic and fresh as a King Arthur story (and don’t even get me started on them). No one can surprise us with Robin Hood, right?

And then along comes Angus Donald and turns it all on its head. I approached his first novel, Outlaw, with trepidation. I had actually exchanged words with Angus about his new novel as I was producing Marius’ Mules at the same time, and I went to read Outlaw, partially because it’s good to know what other people are writing (what you’re up against), partially as a break from the constant Roman text I was reading at the time, but mainly, I have to admit, because Angus seemed like such a nice guy. I did not read it because it was a book I would naturally take from a shelf (see my words above about being jaded with the whole Robin Hood thing.) I read it, I am now aware, for all the wrong reasons.

But what is important is that I read it.

Because it actually did surprise me. Not only did I realise, only a quarter of the way into the book, that I was now reading it because I couldn’t put it down, but it had completely swept away my reluctance to touch the subject with even a barge-pole. I read Outlaw. In fact, I read it twice that year, as a break from my Roman reading. Outlaw is a stunning book that makes Robin a believable (and oft worrisome) character. A man who rules Sherwood with an iron fist. A man who should not have ‘merry men’, but rather ‘goons’, ‘thugs’ and ‘muscle’. His companions, had they been 700 years later would have names like ‘Knives’, ‘Squint-eye Pete’, and ‘Leftie’. In short: Robin is a 12th century gangster.

In fact, I enjoyed Outlaw so much that I have become something of a Donald-o-phile, clamouring for him next book while he’s still poised over the ink well, thinking of the title. And so, I actively promote his work wherever I can. I love the series, and I love Angus’s writing. Bit of a turn-around from being reluctant to read his first novel, eh? In fact, Angus has gone on to produce four novels in the series, with a fifth under the pen as I write this.

And the reason I’m telling you all this? Because Angus has not one but two books coming out! The paperback of King’s Man has become available in the UK today, and the hardback of Warlord is out on the 19th July (a mere fortnight.) This gives you time to buy and read the first three before Warlord comes on sale. Believe me, you’ll not need two weeks. They’re un-put-down-able. I seriously urge you to buy and read the series. If you’re unsure, buy and read Outlaw alone, just to decide. One book… what harm can it do! (American release dates as yet unknown I’m afraid, but they will be released in due course there, and the first two are available. You can always order them from the UK sites, of course. Hee hee hee.

Outlaw introduces us to Robin and his world, in a brutal and realistic, yet heroic and engaging tale seen through the eyes of the ageing Alan Dale, troubador and ‘merry man’. Holy Warrior takes the stories into dark, uncharted territory with Richard Coeur de Lion and his crusade. King’s Man (my fave so far) spins the most amazing yarn concerning Robin’s trial for heresy and King Richard’s imprisonment in Germany. I simply cannot wait to see what treasures Warlord holds…

So, just to help push you into it, here are my reviews for the first three books:

Outlaw         Holy Warrior      King’s Man

And the important links, of course, for your viewing pleasure:

Angus’s website     Angus’s page at Amazon.com     Angus’s page at Amazon UK     Angus on Twitter     Angus at the HWA site 

And that’s pretty much all I have to say today. Don’t miss out. Read the books. You’ll love them, I guarantee it. Hopefully, Angus will allow me the use of the images. If not, I will surrender myself to the castle at Nottingham and await summary justice by that little Norman tit, sir Ralph Murdac…

Ciao for now.