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Michael by Prue Batten

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MICHAEL_Cover

Anyone who’s read my reviews over the years will know how much of a fan I am of Prue Batten’s work. She and I have known one another for a long time now, having come up together as writers from the same humble start (one shared by other great authors like Gordon Doherty and Douglas Jackson, in fact.) But throughout my career, I have always watched for Prue’s latest work and devoured it, because, in a nutshell, she writes so well that I am constantly envious of her fantastic work.

Her prose is pure class, highly descriptive, emotive and yet also as smooth as a mill pond and as beautiful and detailed as a Canaletto. She cut her teeth on dark faerie fantasy with an excellent full series – the Chronicles of Eirie – before moving on to the Medieval world with her Gisborne series, and then a trilogy of spin-offs from that concentrating on some of the more interesting supporting cast. And that is where we are now. The Triptych Chronicles (Tobias, Guillaume, and now Michael.)

I’m not going to enthuse about it here, because it will all be hyperbole. You get the gist. I will say that it easily matches all of Prue’s other work, which is to say that it is utterly magnificent. And given that I know Prue has had more than a year of real life shake-ups that must have required all her attention and distracted her from writing, it does not show, which is another mark of a true professional. Quality-wise, be assured that once you read Prue’s work, you will want to devour all her books.

The Triptych Chronicles, as I said, expand upon some of the supporting characters from her Medieval series, and this last one is a magnificent example of how to take an interesting secondary character and thrust them into the limelight with enough depth and realism to make them worthy of a series on their own. Michael was, for me, in the original series a minor character with a few interesting questions hovering over his head. This book not only answers those questions, but it gives us the whole truth and history of the character, intricately tied into a plot that is tense, gripping and ineffable. I did not eff it, I have to say. Trade wars in Constantinople form the backbone of the story, though it is Michael’s place in them and his shadowed past that create the true tale. Oh, and I also have to add that I have spent time in Istanbul and written about it myself on several occasions, and I have come across no one who can capture the feel and the spirit of the place like Prue.

This may be her last Medieval novel. I do not know. But it is a great way to go out in style, if so, and we can guarantee that there will be other great reads ahead in whatever milieu Prue chooses. Michael is released TODAY! That’s 20th July. Go buy it. And if you’ve not read any of her other books, go buy them all.

UK copies through Amazon HERE

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Written by SJAT

July 20, 2018 at 3:18 pm

Tobias

with 3 comments

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Prue Batten has long been one of my favourite writers for quality of prose. Her word-spinning ability is at the top of her craft and anything she writes is enticing and enthralling, flowing across the pages with simple grace. The fact that the more she moves into the world of medieval historical fiction the more her plots also deepen and improve just adds to the reasons to read her work.

The Gisborne trilogy started out somewhere on the border between historical fiction and historical romance, and despite that not really being my thing, I read them it and loved it because, as I’ve said before, Prue could write a phone book and make it absorbing. But with the second and third volume in that series, the focus moved more towards the traditional historical genre and the action increased along with the intrigue, all without losing anything of character or style.

Tobias is the first novel in a series of standalone spin-off novels from that series and while it retains every aspect of skill and beauty I’ve come to expect from Prue, the novel also shows once again a strengthening of plot and deepening of knowledge and centrality in the medieval world. Here’s how Tobias as a novel really wins for me in 5 points.

  1. The characters. Tobias and his brother Tomasso are two of my favourite characters from the Gisborne trilogy. They stand out as a fascinating pair and, being dwarves, there is a real depth to them, given the medieval fascination with such folk. They are written truly sympathetically and beautifully and rather than being so empathically written that their stature does not affect the tale, rather it does affect the tale as it should and the reader starts to see the world from that height, which is an amazing thing. The supporting cast are also excellent, in particular including Mehmet, who is again one of my favourite characters from the series and probably deserves a book of his own, Prue (hint, hint…)
  2. The location. In addition to the ship on which the characters travel, the cast stop at Crete, which is one of my favourite places, and the plot centres very heavily on Constantinople, where the majority of the tale takes place. And Istanbul is one of my top 2 places on Earth, with which I am very familiar. So as well as loving the settings, I could feel the heady atmosphere of the place and picture every junction, facade and doorway.
  3. The plot is beautifully crafted, like the ribbons around a maypole, each thread entwining with the others, under, over, under, over. For the plot given at the start of the book, and what drives our heroes into their long and fraught journey is only the opening salvo of what is a deep, complex and in places surprising plot, involving a clandestine business deal, a woman of great importance with enemies across Byzantium, a missing holy icon and a sinister force hunting the pair.
  4. The interaction between the two brothers. The pair may be virtually identical to others but they are very different people and the growing rift between them and the way they deal with each other in their turbulent relationship throughout is perfectly done.
  5. Atmopshere. In the Gisborne series, we have felt the cold, damp, dour atmosphere of Medieval England, the hot, dusty, dangerous atmosphere of Outremer, the glittering, cultured atmospheres of Genoa and Venice. Well now, Prue has turned her attention to that cultural melting pot that is Istanbul and the join between Europe and Asia. It is one of my favourite things to experience and I felt it oozing out from the pages, so well done there, Prue.

So there we go. I don’t think I’ve spoiled the plot for you, but if you’ve not read the Gisborne series, I heartily recommend them. If you have, you’ll LOVE Tobias. The novel can be read as a standalone if you so desire, but you’ll get a lot more from it if you’ve read the Gisborne books and have a grounding in the characters, so that’s definitely the best way to do it if you have the leisure.

Another Batten masterpiece. And it’s out today. Go get it and be entranced.

Written by SJAT

August 31, 2015 at 9:33 am

Istanbul, not Constantinople

with 6 comments

So, after 6 years we just made it back (this time with 4 of us rather than 2) to Istanbul. And confirmed that it is still our joint favourite location on Earth along with Rome. It is somewhat hard to beat. And so for those of you who’ve not considered visiting or who are wavering as to whether to go, here’s my top tips…

0016 Blue Mosque

  1. Most important of all: do not be put off. Do not allow rumour or uncertainty to put you off. When we went this time, we happened to time it (yes more than a year after the park riots) but only a week after the hospital riot following the poor young lad’s death. A number of people expressed concerns, and we could understand them and expected to have to be wary. The simple fact is that we felt safe everywhere and more than that: welcome and encouraged. Even with some political problems, the Turks are a friendly people and Istanbul is a relaxed, pleasant place.
  2. Go off the beaten track. Istanbul has maybe a dozen major historical sites that are thrown at you constantly (eg Aya Sofya, Basilica Cistern, Blue Mosque, Chora Church, Topkapi palace.) There are lesser sights. And then there are the unusual ones. And then there are the astounding ones. Istanbul is packed with sights like a pomegranate with seeds. Some of them require a bit of walking or extensive tram use. Go for it. It’s cheap, you’ll see things you’d regret missing, and exploration is half the fun of the city.
  3. Do not book a short trip. The girls behind us returning to the plane said that next time they were only booking a one-way ticket so that they can choose when to come back. They were right. Istanbul sucks you in and tries to keep you. If you want to immerse yourself in it stay for a week minimum. If you’re wanting to see whether it’s for you, do 4/5 nights, but take it from me: it is. Book longer.
  4. Get yourself in the mindset. Istanbul is a meeting of worlds but also a meeting of ages. It is the ancient, the medieval, the renaissance, the new and the modern as well as just east and west. Read C C Humphreys’ A place called Armageddon, or Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sarantine Mosaic, or Christian Cameron’s Tom Swan series (or might I suggest my own Ottoman Cycle!) Having a good historical context for the place will give you something you might not see otherwise. Oh, and if not a reader (why are you here again) you could watch Topkapi or From Russia With Love, or play that Assassin’s Creed game.
  5. Keep your eyes open. Istanbul is absolutely chock full of odd fragments. There is every chance that when you walk down a side street you will see a wall with layers of bonding tiles. It’s Roman/Byzantine. Or early Ottoman stolen style. It might be the back wall of a garage which was a monastery 1200yrs ago, or a couple of 3rd century columns supporting a doorway, or a 17th century watchtower. Nothing in that city is what it seems.
  6. Plan in advance. Search out everything you can find and make sure you don’t miss something just because you don’t know about it. If necessary, mail me and I will send you a fairly comprehensive list. Rank things. And go. Do it. But take maps. Be prepared. PPPPPP as they say. 🙂
  7. Try the foods and drinks. It’s not Turkey without Koftas, good Kebabs, coffee like sweet silt, and of course yogurt and sherbert. Do not buy a fez. Only a feckin’ idiot buys a fez… like the muppet we watched wearing one while sucking face outside a mosque at a cafe table.

Given that, here are things (not necessarily the top ones you get pointed at) not to miss:

  1. Spend a day walking the walls. Start at the Yedikule fortress, walk the land walls, and then the sea walls via Golden Horn and then Marmara. It is a stunning journey full of wonders. It’s long, but it is more than worthwhile and you will see Istanbul from every angle.
  2. Go and visit the monastery of the Pammakaristos (Fethiye Camii) and explore Fener and the area around it. It is the most truly local and real area you will find and that church/museum is one of the most amazing places in the city.
  3. You will visit the Basilica cistern. You might visit the 1001 column cistern. There are a hundred of these water tanks in the city, but do not miss dinner at the Sarnic restaurant. Dinner in a Roman cistern among the myriad of columns is a special thing.
  4. Walk the Blachernae area. Some of it has been horribly reconstructed and some is under current work, but everywhere from the Chora to the Golden Horn… walk it just inside the walls. You will see a side of the city you would otherwise miss!
  5. The Hippodrome is hard to miss. You will find a thousand tourists being herded round it every hour. Go past the end of it and trace the Sphendone – the curved end – down and back up. If gives an idea of scale you would fail to see any other way.
  6. When you visit the Aya Sofya, realise that this was attempt #2 of Justinian’s church. The first version on a small scale was the church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, now known as Küçük Ayasofya Camii. Try to get there. It’s beautiful.
  7. Istanbul is full of Roman honorific columns. Track them down and visit for a fun quest: Hippodrome columns x3. Goth’s Column, Cemberlitas, Column of Marcian and Column of Arcadius. And then look for the REALLY obscure ones.
  8. Take the boat trip up the Bosphorus. It’s cheap. It’s relaxing. It’s fun and it’s educational. Take the short trip for a 2hr rest. Take the long one if you want to get as far north as Anadolu Kavagi, but be prepared to eat seafood for a while then.
  9. Go for dinner at Palatium restaurant on Cankurtaran. It was a stunning atmosphere, an amazing meal and an all round great evening. But even more, in their courtyard you can descend into the rooms of the Byzantine Imperial palace.
  10. Simply: stroll. Enjoy the city. The more you wander and meet the people and find the unusual unexpected sites, the more you will fall in love with the place and the people.

And with that now in the bag, here are another 10 reasons to visit:

Arch of Theodosius Fragments 5

Fragments of the Arch of Theodosius

Aya Sofia 14

The Haghia Sophia (Aya Sofya) of Justinian

Basilica Cistern 01

Basilica Cistern (Birbindirek Sarnic)

Blachernae - Palace of Porphyrogenitus 2

Palace of Constantine Porphyrogenitus (Tekfur Saray)

Bosphorus - Rumeli Fortress 9

Rumeli Hisar, the fortress of Europe

Chora church 10

Church of Saint Saviour in Chora (Cariye Camii)

Column of Marcian 2

Triumphal column of the emperor Marcian

Land Walls 14

Reconstructed section of the Land Walls of Theodosius

0041 Hippodrome

The Hippodrome of Constantinople as it is today.

IMG_2513

The Bukoleon palace. Probably my favourite single place in Istanbul…

Written by SJAT

March 22, 2014 at 12:24 am