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

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Posts Tagged ‘Castle

Iron Castle

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The Iron Castle.indd

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.

Unsung sites to visit in Britain

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Here’s a quick Top #5 list of my favourite not generally well-known historical sites in Britain.

#5 – Aesica.

The Roman fort of Great Chesters on Hadrian’s Wall. Not under English Heritage control. Not covered in tourists gawking. Aesica is generally largely empty when I visit. Though the fort has not been excavated in the past century, somewhat dilapidates remains were consolidated after the 19th century excavation and are still visible (sections of wall, gates, internal buildings, the strong room.) Though overgrown and often being grazed by sheep, there is something I find magical and peaceful about Aesica and I always try to visit when I am in the area.

#4 – Jervaulx.

The cistercian ruins of Jervaulx Abbey are among the most evocative and beautiful anywhere in the world. The abbey is privately owned and payment is by honesty box. Again a serenely fantastic place. Go there early or late and you will likely be alone, which is the best way to wander among the breathtaking ruins. Combine a visit with a trip to the nearby Brymor Ice Cream place and you have the makings of an unforgettable day.

#3 – Whorlton Castle.

Close to the North Yorkshire Moors, near the A19 there is a hill covered in trees. From a certain angle on the road, you can catch a glimpse of the gatehouse of Whorlton castle. Turn off the road and pass through the village and go find it. Most of the castle lies as sad rubble at ground level among the tree roots, though the gate house stands proud and impressive. You will likely be alone to explore this absorbing little hill. Just down the lane is also a partially ruined church. A magical find.

#2 – Newminster Abbey.

Hardly anything remains of Newminster, standing buried in and entwined by the woods on the edge of Morpeth, Northumberland. A few small arcades, the occasional arch, scattered stonework across the ground. It is not easy to get to and therefore is rarely visited. Make the effort to climb the styles and cross the boggy ground, though. You will never find a more magical site than this. There is sommething almost fantasy, Elvish even about the arches and the tree roots. The place sends a shiver up my spine. Photograph courtesy of timojazz on flickr:

#1 – Hardknot.

The Roman name of this fort high on a mountain pass in the Lake District is not known. The fort seems to have been used for only 20 years. The walls are well preserved (with a little reconstructive help.) There are remains of various internal buildings, extramural baths, and even a parade ground with viewing mound that is higher up the hillside and requires a very wet, soggy climb. The fort is lovely, but it is the situation that really makes this something special and probably my #1 site to visit in Britain:

Written by SJAT

September 28, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Posted in Travel

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