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Posts Tagged ‘Army

Hunting The Eagles

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It’s been a year or two since I last journeyed with Tullus and his companions in Eagles At War. And in some way, I feel that has improved my approach to the book rather than having launched into it on its release, because as this story opens 5 years have passed since the dreadful massacre in the Teutoborg forest where 3 legions were obliterated, a few straggling survivors limping back beaten and dejected to Roman lands.

Tullus is determined to revenge himself in Arminius and the Germans who destroyed his legion and handed the survivors dishonour by taking their eagle. Back in Rome where the new emperor Tiberius is being hailed, Tullus learns that the nobke general Germanicus is planning a campaign to chastise the Germans and recover the eagles. Sidestepping the rules, he signs on with this new army and makes his way back to Germania to have his revenge.

But Arminius has not been idle, and is stirring up trouble again, and so the two peoples – age old enemies – are lining up for a set-to of immense proportions. In this novel we are treated to our familiar heroes of both sides from book 1 facing endless trouble (rebellious legions, uncooperative tribes, burned-earth tactics, immense brutality and more.) Oh and my favourite scene rescuing endangered Germanic family members before Germanicus’ army rolls over them.

As always with Kane’s books, the characters are well-drawn, the scene perfectly set, the descriptive deep and powerful, the plot pacy and strong, the writing effusive and consuming. But the thing at which Kane excels for me, and which makes his books some of the darker and more powerful in the genre, is the level of reality the reader is made to feel. Every scene is so intricately woven with the yarns of human fact, deep emotion, historical detail and raw strength that Kane’s books can leave you needing to rest and recover before pressing on. His is a rare talent in provoking such a response, and it can often feel that you are experiencing the story far more than any other way other than actually being there.

Hunting the Eagles is one of Kane’s finest tales and builds on the first in the series, covering slightly less familiar events than that first military disaster. I shall be fascinated to see what he does with the last book of the trilogy.

Buy it. Read it. Experience it.

 

Altar of Blood

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One of the best ways, in my experience, to guage the quality of fiction is how easy it is to read. Yes, there is some crap out there that is an easy read, and yes, there are great reads out there that require concentration and work. But more often than not a book that just grabs your attention and drags you along from beginning to end is a success. I find Anthony Riches’ books to be like that. They hook you in the first few pages, relieve you of sleep, food and work and occupy your waking moments until you reach the end and close the book with a smile. Case in point: Empire IX – Altar of Blood. Started it one morning. Finished it the next afternoon. Couldn’t stop reading it.

Part of it now has become the familiarity with the characters, the setting and the writing style. By the ninth book in a series, readers know they’re going to get what they want. They’re on a safe bet. But kudos is due any author who makes it to book 9 in a series and isn’t simply rehashing old stuff. I pick up Riches’ books and I know I’m in for a treat, though. And even this far into a series, I know I’m in for new twists and fresh discoveries.

Riches, you see, is unpredictable. He cannot be counted on to give us happily ever after, to give us tested formula for all my comments about familiarity. Riches might kill off someone important any moment. He will take us to new places and may even turn the tables so that previous friends are enemies and previous enemies friends. Such keeps things fresh.

With the ninth in the empire series, there is a new feel to the start. Altar of Blood begins with viciousness and eye-watering brutality, and then settles down into an opening tale of tragedy. Then gradually, as our hero is put through the emotional mill yet again, the true tale of the book comes out. We are re-introduced not only to the usual characters but also to the wicked emperor and the snake Cleander. And then our heroes are sent off on a dreadfully dangerous secret mission into barbarian lands, following a brief ‘Dirty dozen’ recruitment session. Interestingly, where the previous books have focused primarily on our friend Corvus/Aquila with interludes carried by his friends, this book is almost entirely narrated around characters that were formerly supporting cast, with Aquila only occasionally coming to the fore.

There follows a tale of subterfuge and double dealing, insurgency and counter insurgency, chases, battles in deep forest and swamp, catharsis and healing, treachery and betrayal and heroism in unexpected places. The tale owes something in form to ‘Heart of Darkness’ or ‘Apocalypse Now’, but one thing is certain: with Riches’ own blend of adventure, action, violence, harsh language and reality born of understanding the military mind, he is becoming something of a Tarantino of historical fiction. Fresh, unpredictable, fascinating and exciting.

And Husam! Oh, Husam, you are sooooo cool.

Altar of Blood is out in paperback today. Have you read the series? No. Then get started, as you’ve a treat ahead of you. If you have, then rest assured, volume nine is far from disappointing. Go buy it now.

The Pale House

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Back in April I read McCallin’s first Reinhardt novel (The Man From Berlin) completely off the cuff, as it sounded different and interesting. Set in wartime Sarajevo with a rather lost, bitter detective in the Abwehr, it was a fascinating, complex read with an unusual point of view and setting. Without wanting to risk spoilers, the way it ended suggested that any sequal would have rather a different feel, and the character would be different.

It’s taken me a while to find the time, but now I’ve read the second book (The Pale House) and, while I had initial reservations, I am impressed and thoroughly enjoyed it. Reservations why? Well, as I said above the previous book had a somewhat game-changing ending, and I think the first maybe 10-15% of The Pale House is spent putting Reinhardt back in a position where he can investigate the plot. It feels a little like the suggested future at the end of book 1 has been glossed over to allow book 2 to flow. So to be honest it took me maybe 10% to settle into it. Then, as Reinhardt returns to Sarajevo, this time as one of the Feldjaeger – the Wehrmacht’s military police – he stumbles across a grisly scene that will have long-reaching effects for him and the military in Bosnia. And with that discovery, the plot begins to roll forward.

And what a plot. You see, while I thought this book took a short while to untangle its legs and get running, once it did it quickly began to outstrip the first book. The plot is tighter, more delicate, intricate, and yet carefully, cleverly revealed to the reader. Moreover, the plot is compounded with a number of subplots, some of which are linked and others not, forming a grand scheme that, while it was easy to pick out about half way through some of what was happening, right to the very end I was still being hit by surprises.

In Reinhardt’s world, no one can be trusted. The enemy are not the allies (Britain, the USA and Russia.) They are, to some extent, the partisans plagueing Bosnia. They are also the native para-military nominally organisations allied to Germany and yet causing more trouble than any enemy. But the most insidious enemies in Reinhardt’s world almost always come from among his own people – among the hierarchy of the German military.

Quite simply, I’m not going to tell you anything about the plot other than how nice it is, as it would be far too easy to accidentally drop in a spoiler. I shall just say that this book is set some time after the first, and while there are a few faces cropping up who we met in book 1, they are largely incidental or at best supporting characters. This is a whole new tale with a whole new cast and it shows that McCallin is anything but a one trick pony. The Pale House is, despite my initial worries, better than The Man From Berlin. I heartily recommend them both. They are tales outside my era-based comfort zone, but I love this series and I am excited to note that a third novel (The Divided City) is due out in December.

Written by SJAT

September 3, 2016 at 10:05 am

Spoils of Olympus

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An unusual era is tackled well by a new author in this engaging read. Set in an era about which I have some knowledge but am far from ‘knowledgeable’, this is a tale of the aftermath of the death of Alexander the Great and the jostling for position of his varied successors, told from the point of view of a young recruit. Andrikos is forced to flee his small Anatolian town after a run in with some lowlifes leaves him in trouble, and he heads off to join the army and get away for a while.

Cue the meat of the story, which is a military saga set amid battles, raids and individual ‘secret’ missions of which Andrikos finds himself part. For those of you who like your Historical Fiction strewn with battles and bodies, this is your kind of book. It is fairly graphic and brutal, but that is largely tempered by the fact that it is told from the point of view of the young recruit, with all his own problems, glories, cameraderie and excitement.

I understand from his website that Kachel is ex-military, having served in the Middle East, and that comes as no surprise. Reading this book I would have guessed that the man writing the combat scenes had personal experience of same, and especially the harsh military training which occupies much of the first half of the book. The feeling of realism is strong and there is little hint of outlandishness about it.

Indeed, the book does to some extent come over as a Macedonian/Hellenistic sort of ‘Heartbreak Ridge’. That’s not a complaint… I love that movie. But it is a fairly concise way of putting forward what I felt about the book. So, given what I’ve said, you’ve probably already decided whether you’re interested in it. I would certainly recommend it to readers of ancient military histfic readers. I will leave you with one up and one down about it:

Kachel has clearly done a great deal of research into the era. His knowledge of the military, politics and social culture of the post-Alexandrian era comes through in the text. For me it was an informative as well as engaging read. As I say, I’m no expert on the era, but he comes across as very knowledgable, and I doubt most potential readers would find much to complain about in that respect.

For me, Spoils of Olympus: By the Sword was a solid 4 star read. In terms of story and characterisation, it could well have been a 5. And although there were typos (‘route’ for ‘rout’) and incorrectly-chosen words (‘they accosted his background’) here and there, what knocked a star down for me was the inclusion of a certain type of modern phrasing that somewhat shatters the historical illusion (early on in the book, for instance, I came across the phrase ‘pussywhipped’ which was the worst of these that I read and stuck in my head all the way through.)

So there you go. A relatively small negative against a swathe of positives. If the ancient military is your thing, I suspect you’ll enjoy this book. Give it a try.

Written by SJAT

February 28, 2015 at 8:41 pm

Facts about Fritz

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An unusual review of a little gem for you today. As you know I occasionally like to review the odd non-fiction work among the novels I read. Well the other day I came into possession of a copy of Facts about Fritz by Robin Schafer and Tim Hardy. Rob is a German military historian and consultant (and without doubt the most knowledgeable such I have ever come across) and Tim is a talented graphic designer. Together they have combined their skills to release this wonderful item.

If, like me, you have a passing knowledge of the First World War, mostly gained through school, holidays in northern Europe… and Blackadder, of course… then this book might prove as fascinating and informative to you as it does to me. If you are already an expert, it is pitched a little below your level to be honest, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth having. Far from it.

Essentially, this book is 50 pages, with every two pages being an individual fact sheet on one aspect of the German army in 1914-1918. The production is superb. Glossy and beautiful, it’s a thing of beauty. But beyond that, it is chock full of period photographs, fascinating images of artefacts surviving to the present day, anecdotes and accounts from witnesses as well as the facts themselves as provided by the informed mind of Rob. The content varies from short factoids – such as

“Approximately 40,000 Messenger dogs operated with German units during the war.”

to letters written by the men at the front, to lengthy paragraphs detailing for instance the Reich’s Postal Service, to extracts from contemporary tales. All interspersed with appropriate imagery.

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Subjects covered include such wide-ranging matters as the Iron Cross, Flags, Trench Newspapers and the Flying Circus.

The book is an objective and factual work on the army of the Kaiser’s Germany and should be fascinating to anyone who has even a passing interest in the era. The book costs £7.99 and is currently only available through Tim Hardy’s website HERE. I would also urge you to keep an eye on Rob’s site –  as well as being fascinating in general, he has another book on Fritz and Tommy coming out next year through the History Press and that will be worth grabbing.

Back with some more choice fiction for you in the next week. 🙂

Written by SJAT

October 22, 2014 at 10:55 am

Anthony Riches’ Empire Series

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You may have missed my review of Anthony Riches’ latest epic a week or two back, but if you did, here’s a little treat for you. I’ve been treated to a nice little Q&A session with the author himself. Hopefully if you’ve not read my reviews or possibly even his books, this interesting and enlightening little interview will push you to doing so. After all, the Empire series continues to ride at the crest of the wave of current Historical Fiction.

My blog reviews of the last four books can be found here:

and my goodreads reviews of the previous three here:

So without further ado (ron ron ron, ado ron ron), here’s a little peek into the mind of the man behind this fantastic series:

Q. In ‘The Emperor’s Knives’ you take significant steps towards dealing with some of the background plot that has underlay the entire series so far. Did you consciously decide to bring the series over the last few books to a position where that could happen, or did the progress of the series serendipitously put you in a position to deal with it?

A. I have a masterplan…*smiles smugly*…*then looks shifty*…oh alright, no I don’t, not really. What I do have is a load of history books and an overactive subconscious. The way it works is that I read the histories, find a relevant fact, and then off we go. So, for example:

**spoiler alert** (don’t read this if you’ve not read book 6 yet!)

it’s recorded that a consignment of coins stamped with a head that wasn’t the emperor’s was at the root of the death of a certain praetorian prefect in about AD185 – and so it wasn’t rocket science to draw a line from Dacia (where the gold came from), through Britannia (where it was intended to be used in the purchase of legionary loyalty) to Rome (where the Tungrians take it to see justice done)

 **spoiler over, (bet you wish you hadn’t read it now, don’t you!)

Picture me in the Henhouse (writing hidey hole) grinning with smug pleasure as my “cunning plan” came together without conscious volition.

And you thought it was all cleverly planned, eh? What do you mean, ‘no, I didn’t’? Harrumph.

Q. In book 7, your locations are more vivid and intricate than ever before. How important to you is it to visit a place that you are going to write about first?

Hugely. I’ve been to all of the locations. All over northern England and southern Scotland, Belgium (Tungria), Rome several times…the only place I’ve not been is Romania (Dacia), just because I ran out of time – did it show, I wonder? And of course I’ve not yet been to…ah, but you don’t want to know where book 8’s set, now do you?

Q. Was it a whole new experience after 6 books which revolved strongly around military campaigning on the empire’s borders to instead work on something more intrigue based in the great city? And given a choice, which do you prefer?

A. Both (**copout alert**). It was a huge change, and I loved it, but it gives me big problems in book 8 from a ‘getting back to basics’ perspective. I’m like a farm boy who’s seen the big city and then has to go back to his plough… Although it’s nice to get the Tungrians back on stage, especially my latest soldier character, ‘Jesus’. You’ll know why they call him that when you meet him!

Q. Your books contain a few historical characters as well as your fictional ones, such as Commodus, Cleander and Clodius Albinus. How do you go about deconstructing the myths about those people and then assembling them to portray within your story?

A. What I actually do is a mixture of debunking as much myth as I can (for example, the revisionist view of Perennis is that he was probably doing a decent job of being emperor in the absence of Commodus showing any interest) with the reality of needing characters who can fit into my version of the late second century (which mean that he is also the man commanding the loyalty of the Knives). I think the two approaches can co-exist pretty well. Clodius Albinus was reputed to be ‘the best of men’, but who can say what was motivating the writer, in an age where you had to get paid to be able to afford to write, and there were no pubic institutions to do the paying, which only left individuals – like Clodius Albinus! And after all, this is fiction!

Q. Although the bulk of the Roman military was made up of auxiliary forces and native units, the most famous fighting force was the legions and it is with them that 90% of the public will immediately identify when they think of Rome. What prompted you to write about the less famous auxilia than the legions?

A. I just felt it was time someone had a try at them, and it was great fun. After all, it was the auxiliaries who did the lion’s share of the fighting by the time of this series, so the first time one of my characters called the legions ‘roadmenders’ there was a real snigger in it for me. Mind you, that might rebound on the Tungrians at some point. They may not be auxiliaries for ever, you know!

Q. Book 8 looks to be set in the east. Beyond that, what does the future hold for ‘Two Knives’ and his companions?

A. Another 25 years of war on every frontier, civil war, the biggest battle of the second century which lasted two days (TWO DAYS!!!), a military strongman, treachery, honour and blood. Lots of blood!

So thank you to Tony for that and a reminder that book 7 (The Emperor’s Knives) is out now in hardback and book 6 (The Eagle’s Vengeance) is released in paperback tomorrow.

Go buy!

Written by SJAT

February 26, 2014 at 8:00 am

Hannibal’s back

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I’ve been a fan of Ben Kane’s books since the Forgotton Legion, and when last year I read Hannibal: Enemy of Rome, it shot up into my top Historical Fiction reads and came out as clear top of Ben’s books. Given the fact that my love of Rome tends towards the Principate era and that I’ve never really concentrated on the early Republic, it surprised me how much it gripped me. And then Ben disappeared off for a while to write his Spartacus series. Don’t get me wrong: the Spartacus books were excellent books and I thoroughly enjoyed them, but when Hannibal was my fave, it made me twitch having to wait so long for a second in the series.

And finally, as time allowed, I managed to get stuck into Fields of Blood.

Taking up where the first book finished, with Carthaginian forces firmly ensconced in Italy and threatening Rome, we knew this book was going to involve some of the most brutal fighting in the republic’s history. Most likely, it was going to involve Cannae – a name that despite my lack of in depth knowledge of this early era, I was well aware of. No one can give any level of study to the roman military without hearing the names of a few choice battles: Alesia, Adrianople, Actium, the Teutoborg forest… and of course Cannae.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This book is still about people primarily, rather than powers or armies. It still centres on the Roman group of Aurelia, Quintus and Gaius and the Carthaginian family of Hanno, Sapho and Bostar.

And what this second book in the series does (and does very well) is to grow the characters beyond the bounds of the first book, and to deepen and expand the relationships between them, largely by testing those relationships to breaking point.

Quintus and Gaius and Fabricius are away at war, leaving the women at home, where Aurelia struggles against her apparent destiny in an arranged marriage while the man she really loves fights for the Carthaginian general intent on destroying Rome. While she does what she can to fight this fate, her mother struggles with family troubles and loan sharks intent on ruining her.

Quintus finds himself threatened with dismissal and being sent home, and decides on a drastic course of action that will see him beginning his military career over, from the bottom, where he will encounter dangers from within his own ranks as well as from the enemy.

Hanno is still recovering from having let Hannibal down and has narrowly escape brutal punishment. Now he is doing all he can with his phalanx of men to regain the favour of his general while at the same time trying to decide whether his brother Sapho is really mad enough to want him out of the way.

The scene is set. Hanno and his army are worryingly close to the farm where he had first got to know Aurelia, and she is almost all he can think of – her and a Roman officer who has become the focus of his vengeance.

Parallels can be found between the two young men’s journey throughout the book, the main of which is watching their progress and growth as military men while having to keep out a wary eye for the dangers that hover about them waiting to put a knife in their spine.

As usual with Ben’s books, the level of historical detail included within is stunning, with close attention paid right down to sentence level, and the authentic feel that lends the book is intense.

And on to the battle. I won’t ruin it for anyone. There will be people who do not know how great and important Cannae was to Rome. There will be people who do not know which side won. And therefore I’m not going to tell you. Read the book and find out. But suffice it to say Cannae was immense. In fact, Ben described it just today as ‘the bloodiest battle on Italian soil for 2000 years’, so that gives you some idea. And the level of attention Ben has lavished even on the battle means that it occupies a sizable chunk of the book.

Given that the entire battle is seen through the eyes of Quintus and Hanno, it is quite impressive how the epic scale is made plain to the reader while maintaining a personal point of view of the close action encountered by the characters. It is hard not to be swept up in the action, rejoicing and cheering for both sides when things are going their way and panicking and fretting for them all when they’re not. And if you’re not familiar with the battle already, you will be kept guessing about the outcome for a while.

But despite all of this, and the power of the battle itself, the thing that the book actually left me with more than anything is something I encountered with Giles Kristian’s Bleeding Land. It was the aftermath of the battle. Just as with that other book, where we experienced the dead freezing on the field below Edgehill while ghouls snapped off their fingers for the ring they bore, in Fields of Blood we get to experience all the horror of the battlefield in high summer, full of the most unimaginable sights, to witness the relief of the victors as soldiers seek out their family among the survivors or the dead, to see the surviving losers running scared, hiding in groups and experiencing utter despair. To see what happens to the people as they hear the news.

The story of Hannibal is far from over and Ben Kane has many more books in the series before he writes of Zama and the fall of Carthage, but this is a significant step in the tale both on the scale of the nations themselves, and of the characters that go through it all.

With some series, I find myself beginning to get irritated with characters in the second book because they are not changing or growing, or just become stagnant. Such is not the case in Fields of Blood. I just want to see more of them and am now going to have to impatiently anticipate ‘Clouds of War’.

Bravo once again, Ben. For you to produce a book that actually manages to get me behind Rome’s enemies is quite a feat!

Kane’s top series and it looks to be going from strength to strength, people. Buy and enjoy.

Written by SJAT

September 2, 2013 at 2:13 pm

The Scarlet Thief

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Redcoats. The word sends a strange thrill through you, doesn’t it? Especially if you’re English, I suppose. Makes you want to start singing ‘Rule Britannia’. And the redcoat era of the British army covers some pretty momentous times. The Jacobite rebellion in the 1740s? The war of American Independence in the 1770s? The Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century? The Raj? The Zulu wars? And then there was the Crimean. Funny thing is that few people if you ask them in the street will be able to tell you much about that war. They might remember that Florence Nightingale served in Scutari. They might know names like Raglan, Lucan and Balaclava? Few will know anything and it’s possible that it would hardly be remembered at all but for Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade. It’s an odd period for most of us as it’s still carrying the feel of the Napoleonic era but the army more resembles the defenders of Rorke’s Drift.

Not for me. Strange, really, but I reckon the number of people who will even have heard of the battle of the Alma before reading this book will be surprisingly small. And yet as a kid our family often went to a pub by the river in Ripon that was called The Alma and it had a profound effect on me. You see every pub sign seems to be a coloured animal or some craftsman. The pub sign at the Alma showed redcoats crossing the river in the face of the Russian hordes. It was a stirring thing to see on regular occasions and it coloured my image of the Crimea from a young age.

On to the tale. This debut offering from Paul Fraser Collard is the first tome in the Jack Lark series. It tells the tale (without wanting to risk spoilers) of a low-born proper ‘man’s man’ soldier who by guile and cunning finds himself leading men in the opening salvos of the Crimean campaign among the upper class wastrels that generally occupy the higher ranks. Tied in alongside are threads of a revenge plotline and a nemesis that fits the bill perfectly.

Quite simply, Collard has managed to capture the feel of the Crimea to such an extent that at times I found myself lost in scenes that reminded me faintly of The Charge of the Light Brigade, Waterloo, or Zulu. His descriptions and use of language draw the reader deeply into the world of Jack Lark and make the book eminently readable. The tale is snappy and fast paced and will drag you along by the braces to the end.

Collard has managed to put together an idea for a character and tale that is interesting, refreshing, and not derivative of or directly comparable to most of the current historical fiction and that will earn Jack Lark a solid niche, I suspect, in the manner of Cornwell’s Sharpe, Arnold’s Stryker or Scarrow’s Cato. The book had me wondering to near the end how it would resolve and the final moment fitted absolutely perfectly, giving the epilogue a gold-trimmed finish for me.

The characters are believable and sympathetic (or not where appropriate) and Jack himself is a character that will draw me to purchasing future books in the series without delay or consideration.

It is a rip-roaring novel full of character and action and any writer would be more than pleased to be able to put their name to it, but for a debut work it is quite a stunning piece.

Bravo Mr Collard. Roll on book 2, I say.

Written by SJAT

June 5, 2013 at 9:19 pm

The Tony’s Gold

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I’ve been a fan of Tony Riches since Corvus first put in an appearance in Wounds of Honour, and I’m always pleased to pick up an ‘Empire’ book.

I’ve done reviews of the others so far, and I would reference them in this review. The first three in the series I always considered very much a single story arc over three books. Moreover, they were staunchly and solidly novels of the Roman military.

Cue Tony’s curveball: The Leopard Sword. The fourth book in the series was something of a departure in style, concentrating more on an ingenious plotline of intrigues and banditry than on the military campaigns we’d come to expect. Having read reviews and spoken to people since, I’m not sure how well-received the change was. I personally thought it was a triumph and a real growth in character, style and plot crafting.

Well The Wolf’s Gold should be an all-pleaser as far as I can see. In one way, it’s very much a return to a military-oriented plotline, with stretches of good solid campaigning in there, which should please the die-hard ‘Military Riches’ fans, and yet also involves a depth, ingenuity and intricacy of plot that has been born – in my opinion – from the style of Leopard Sword.

The plot to this masterpiece moves us once more. The first three books had us in Northern Britannia, and the fourth shifted the action to the forests of Germany, while in this one, the poor beleaguered Tungrian cohorts are sent to Dacia (modern Romania) into the Carpathian mountains to provide defence for the gold mines that are essential for imperial revenue. It is here that they will meet a number of interesting and often dubious characters and fall foul of plots and tricks that will once again have them fighting for their lives and have centurion Corvus creating crazy plans that have little chance of success.

As always with Tony’s writing, he sacrifices just the tiniest modicum of uptight concern for anachronistic idiom (something more authors could do with trying) in favour of something that feels realistic and appropriate to the reader and creates a flow of text that’s never interrupted.

And that’s a big part of this book. From the very start it races away and takes the reader with it. The flow is just too easy to read and hard to put down. As usual there is a humour among the soldiers that borders on the tasteless at times, and feels thoroughly authenic (and also happens to make me laugh out loud) combined with a brutal combative narrative that pulls no punches and coats the reader with gore, all overlaid with a few saddening scenes and thoughts.

From the might of Sarmatian hordes and their perfidious nobles to the treachery of self-serving mine owners, the untrustworthiness of border troops, the mindless buffoonery of the upper class legionary Tribunes, the madness of battles on ice, and the heart-pounding stealthy infiltrations of installations by a few good men, Wolf’s Gold should win on many levels and certainly does with me.

Moreover, this novel sees a significant advance in the overall arc of Corvus’ history, his murdered family and the imperial intrigues that accompany it.

As a last aside, Tony is one of few writers of Roman fiction who rarely feels the need to name-drop, his characters almost always fictional and self-created, which I find refreshing and even when he does so, it is fascinating. In this case we are introduced to not one, but two, future attempted usurpers of Imperial power.

All in all, Wolf’s Gold is a storming read, and Riches’ best yet. I cannot wait to see what is going to follow in book 6 following the events of this.

Written by SJAT

October 25, 2012 at 7:22 pm

Harvey Black

with 15 comments

Hi folks.

Today I’m going to direct your attention to another writer of historical fiction. This one, however, writes a little different from the people I’ve steered my friends & readers towards previously. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m so heavily-based in Rome and the ancient world that I can barely even think in terms of anything after the end of Byzantium and that the modern world gives me a faint case of the heeby jeebies.

I’ve recently expanded my reading outside the confines of the empire, however, taking in the viking writings of Giles Kristian and the brutal Robin Hoodiness of Angus Donald (both of whom I will be revisiting soon, so watch this space.) The furthest from my comfort zone, though, has to be Harvey Black.

I bumped into Harvey courtesy of twitter (where I have to admit that I’m considerably more prolific than I am here, though no less daft.) Through our nodding acquaintance and off the cuff, so to speak, I bought Harvey’s first book, Devils With Wings.

No, this is no Stephanie Meyer-esque sucky gothy horror work. Nor is it about moths, which, my mother tries to convince me are said Devils. No. Devils with Wings, in fact, is as far removed from the doom-ridden Twiglet series as it is from my normal comfort zone. It is, in fact, a novel about the Fallschirmjäger, the elite Green Devils paratroop regiment of the German military in the Second World War.

Given everything you know about me, here’s the big surprise, then. I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed it enough that I’ll happily recommend it to you guys. Moreover, I enjoyed it enough that I have the sequel: Silk Drop, sitting next up in my pile of books to read.

To entice you, I give you first: Imagery…

 Devils with Wings: Silk Drop: The Green Devils' Invasion of Crete

And I give you description of the first novel:

From the blurb:

A military thriller based around the adventures of two young Fallschirmjager paratroopers during the early part of World War II. It is a fictionalised adventure based on the famous assault on the impregnable Belgian Fortress, Eben Emael.

Tall, gangly Paul Brand is supported by his junior sergeant, Unterfeldwebel Max Grun, as he experiences his first action as a platoon commander in Poland, September 1939. The mutual respect between the two comrades grows as they experience the sights and smells of battle at close quarters Following their success in Poland, Paul, Max and the platoon are sent to a clandestine camp in the foothills of the Harz Mountains to train for a secret mission.

Confined to camp for six months they undergo intensive training for their next mission – the subjugation of the Eben Emael Fortress. Two German secret weapons will assist them to complete their task; the first is the glider, used for the first time to deposit troops directly onto a target, and the second secret weapon is a new Hollow Charge Weapon, capable of blasting through steel or concrete. On completion of their training, nine gliders containing seventy two Fallschirmjager land on top of the fortress, before the troops move in to the depths of the tunnels to finish the job.

Over one thousand Belgian troops fail to stop them. This exciting fictionalised retelling of the assault on Eben Emael is written by an author with experience in army intelligence.

And in my own words: Devils with Wings is a tight story with some very engaging characters, packed with action and adventure, telling  the events that surrounded the first strike of Germany into the western front, in Belgium. It is an event about which I had previously no knowledge and therefore was new and interesting. For me, the high point is the tense approach to the main mission in rickety gliders. More to come on that. I fear there may be some out there who would be put off by the fact that this is a story of a German wartime unit. To you, I would say, Pah! Do not be. We are all aware that, despite that diminutive psycopath with the oily hair and ‘tache and his close cadre of genocidal knobheads, there were a number of men and women in wartime Germany that were not murder loving Nazis but rather real, ordinary people with a job to do, with families, dreams and aspirations and, yes, honour. This story is about them and Harvey deserves, I think, a certain respect for telling such a tale. Finishing Devils With Wings merely made me want to read Silk Drop.

And thirdly, Click HERE to read an extract in PDF format of my favourite part of the book (short enough to browse now, I tell you!)

Fourthly, I shall barrage you with a selection of appropriate links, on the understanding, and in the knowledge, that you will click at least two and peruse them, or my hords of flying plasma-cannon monkeys will seek you out and fling poo at you.

1: Amazon’s page on Harvey, with appropriate links to both his books: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Harvey-Black/e/B001KCG3DK/

2. Harvey’s website (on which today – Saturday 10th March – you will find a storming blog about Berlin during the cold war, Harvey’s era of service):  http://www.harveyblackauthor.com/

3: A page on the Fallschirmjäger to satisfy the needs of fact-a-holics:  http://www.fallschirmjager.net/

And finally, and only to save them for a grand finale, here are three promo videos for you to have an ogle at:

Written by SJAT

March 9, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Posted in WW2

Tagged with , , , , , , , , ,