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

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Highwayman Ironside

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I’ll warn you at the outset that this is a review of a short story, not a full novel, since I know a number of folk don’t read short stories. To be honest, I rarely do, except when they’re penned by authors whose full works I regard very highly. Then, often the shorts are side-adventures of their main characters from their novels and thus I tend to read them as part of a series.

I have had Ironside sitting on my kindle, bugging me to read it for quite some time. The reason I hadn’t? Precisely because it was an independent short story and not part of an ongoing series, and with my towering reading pile, there was no easy space to slot it in. But it was never removed from the list, because the author – Michael Arnold – is one of my absolute faves in the historical genre at the moment. He’s something of a ‘golden boy’ for me, since each time he releases one of his ‘Stryker’ novels, I know damn well it’s going to end up in my top 10 at the end of the year. So despite not having got round to reading this short work, I knew I’d enjoy it. And then, surprisingly, last week I found a book in my reading list had been withdrawn temporarily, and I had time. Well, how nice.

Highwayman Ironside is a quick read. Roughly a third of the length of the majority of novels on my kindle, I raced through it rather quicker than I would like, since I hate reaching the end of a book I’m enjoying. And, sadly, the problem with HI is that I had just got into the characters and the swing of things when it ended.  Still, I am not downhearted, partially because for less than the price of a beer, this is a few hours of top-notch entertainment, and partially because the more people tell Michael that this is a lovely intro to the characters and can we now have a novel, the more chance there is that he might do just that!

If you are not familiar with Michael’s books, then shame on you! Check out my reviews on the right-panel listing under ‘Stryker’. You’ll see just how highly I rate them. The Stryker novels are set during the English Civil Wars and follow a Royalist captain on a series of adventures. The character has been compared to Cornwell’s Sharpe, though I prefer Stryker myself. So enter a new milieu in the form of Highwayman Ironside. The tale is set in the 1650s, in the aftermath of the series of bloody civil wars that have devastated the land. They feature a trio of criminals on the highways of southern England, each of whom is interesting in their own right, led by Samson Lyle, known as the Ironside Highwayman.

A former Parliamentarian during the wars and a close companion of Cromwell himself, Lyle has become sick of the new regime, having witnessed firsthand the slaughter in Ireland and, disillusioned with the lack of change under the new revolutionary government, he has been named a traitor and a criminal. Driven by a sense of righteous revenge over the death of his loved ones, Lyle now rides the highways, seeking out those he sees as responsible and doing them mischief.

As you can see there is considerably more to the character than a simple highway robber. He is no Dick Turpin. To some extent, I occasionally caught a shadow in the story that made me think I was looking at the future of Captain Stryker. This story takes place over only three different scenes, yet tells an exciting tale of robbery, single combat, chases, infiltrations and investigations, flight and even a somewhat romantic interlude. In all, the story is well worth the read and I urge you to have a go. And then, hopefully, we’ll have bought enough copies to make Michael pick up his quill and pen a full-length tale of the Ironside Highwayman.

Written by SJAT

January 16, 2015 at 3:08 pm

The Terror – Giles Kristian

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It’s a common thing among writers these days to produce short stories between their main works. Heck, I do it myself on occasion. I’ve seen readers range from loving them and lauding them to moaning about them. But the one thing they do whether you approve or not is to allow the author to explore directions that their straightforward book series does not have room for. This is particularly the case with those writers who are published through the major traditional houses, who are more limited by their contracts than the independents.

In this case, Giles has taken an opportunity that would not fit into either his Raven series or his Sigurd series, and produced a tale that takes us back to the youth of Harald, Sigurd’s father. In essence, this is a prequel to the prequels. Moreover, it has a different style to the Sigurd series, in that it is more of a light-hearted adventure tale in the Raven mould than a Nordic saga in the Sigurd one. Giles continues to expand his take on the Viking world, spreading out backwards in time.

Once again, this being a prequel, it can be read independent of Giles’ other books, and would make the perfect taster if you’re not sure that his writing is for you.

The story revolves around a quest followed by a group of young men in the hope of winning the hand of a beautiful girl, the daughter of a Jarl. They must locate and subdue ‘The Terror’ and steal it from its current keeper for their own Jarl. I won’t tell you about The Terror itself. I’ll leave that a surprise for you, but be assured, it’s good. Swimming icy waters, fighting angry warriors, wrestling dangerous creatures, and of course, drinking, swearing, farting and in-fighting, Harald is determined to make a name for himself and win the girl. It is an interesting look at a character we were only given a tantalising glimpse of in God of Vengeance (check out my review of that book on the right-hand panel) and also introduces as a young man one character who runs through every viking work Giles has written thus far. Uncle. That is all.

So, it’s a short story only available as an e-book. It’s a piddly 99p. That’s gotta be worth a dip into the pocket. You can’t buy a sandwich for that, and a sandwich wouldn’t last you as long. Go get it on kindle here.

Going onwards, sorry for a rather sporadic burst of reviews recently. I’ve been beta reading unpublished works and running read throughs of my own joint work and have had little time for leisure reading. That’s changing again now, though, so more reviews to come.

Written by SJAT

November 28, 2014 at 10:23 am

Tom Swan

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A nice review for you today, in that it comes out of the blue and not as part of my ‘leaning tower of reading matter’. You see, I have a set pile of books I’m working through in an order, and occasionally a book comes up that I really fancy or by a writer that I love, and I shuffle it to the top. But in addition to that, I have a tendency to ‘palate cleansers’. When I’ve been nose-deep in four or five serious historical works in a row, I like to interrupt the dangerously towering pile with something short and light and pleasant. Early on I used to have to spend a day trawling through the various shorts out there, deciding what to stack up as potential palate cleansers. Then, courtesy of Robin Carter of Parmenion Books I found a source of the perfect shorts to tap regularly.

Robin is a huge fan of the writer Christian Cameron (and I can understand why.) His ancient Greek epics include God of War about Alexander the Great, the Tyrant series, the Long War series, and he is now foraying into the high Medieval period, with his upcoming novel: The Ill-Made Knight. I’ve read a few of his classical tales and they are incredibly deep in content, bold in scope and well-written. They are not – I will hasten to point out – light reads and belong with the powerful Historical Fiction works of Ben Kane, Robyn Young, Manda Scott and their ilk. So when Robin started making appreciative noises about a set of short stories written by Cameron I wondered how easily his epic narrative style could possibly translate into shorts.

And so, at an appropriate palate cleansing moment in my reading, I downloaded and read the first part of Tom Swan and the Head of Saint George.

And since then, any time I need a palate cleanser, I just check online and see whether another part is out yet! I’ve now read parts 1-5 and part 6 is due out in two days, just in time to fit in my book pile yet again.

Set aside Cameron’s other works for this moment (and this moment only, as I would also urge you to pay attention to his Greek epics too) and I will concentrate on Tom Swan.

In truth, this isn’t so much a set of short stories, as one long story, told in episodes, like the old television serializations. Remember Flash Gordon (in black and white)? The Lone Ranger? Well add Tom Swan in that list and you won’t go far wrong. In style it is a classic adventure serial, with each episode leaving the reader saying ‘Damn! What next?’ and waiting for part x to emerge from the virtual quill.

Tom Swan is set in the mid 15th century (in a time and in locations not a great deal removed from those in which I am currently writing). The tale follows a young Englishman of dubious (illegitimate) noble heritage as he finds himself on the losing side on a French battlefield and through a series of strange fortunes and misadventures, finds himself employed by a Cardinal from Constantinople in the very year that great city is destined to fall to the Turk, exploring the known world, swashing his buckle, kissing princesses, defending fortresses, stealing treasures and spying for governments.

Tom Swan is something of an Indiana Jones of the later Middle Ages.

The tales are told with the sheer depth of knowledge that Cameron displays in his more epic works, but also with a lightness of heart and spirit and a sheer love of adventure that carries the reader along with him to each cliffhanger, making him feel like that young child watching the TV and wondering how Flash was going to escape next week.

Each book is only 99p ($1.55) on Kindle (these are an electronic book only, by the way) and I think you really can’t lose spending that paltry pittance on part one HERE for Amazon UK and HERE for Amazon.com just to see if you like it.

I think you will.

Written by SJAT

June 18, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Han, but far from Solo

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An alternative title for the blog that I was toying with was: I’ll have a Shifu Cloth with Fried Rice and Special Ribs.

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A few years ago I first became acquainted with the writing of Prue Batten, as she happened to be a member of the same peer review site as me. I got to read a sample of her fledgling work there and became a fan.

Prue’s portfolio has somewhat exploded since then, with four books in her Chronicles of Eirie fantasy series now available as well as a work of medieval historical fiction.

I read the first book (The Stumpwork Robe) and the second (The Last Stitch) in close order but, due to lack of time and other commitments I somehow missed A Thousand Glass Flowers. Recently, having had book four brought to my attention, I delved back into the world of Eirie and I’m thoroughly glad I did. The series follows the fortunes of an extended family that share mortal and faerie blood but the bonus for me is that although they create a definite series, the books work quite well as standalones, with only a little loss and a few gaps to bridge, and not having read the third in no way damaged my comprehension or enjoyment of the fourth.

So: about the world. In her chronicles, Prue has created a whole world that is almost a shadow of Earth. There are fantastic replicas of Medieval western Europe, Renaissance Venice and exotic India which all form the settings of earlier books. The style of her creation is to me reminiscent of Guy Gavriel Kay’s world and I find it enthralling. This latest foray opens up a new part of that world to explore: The Han. Clearly influenced heavily by Imperial China and with perhaps Japanese influences, it is a rich setting to become involved in.

About the writing. Prue is a wordsmith par excellence. Her use of unusual and oft archaic terms combine with her skill at sentence structure and description to provide a rich, heady read. I noted once that reading her work is like reading silk and now, five books on, that description holds all the more true. Prue’s concentration on character, motivation and feeling shows through and really brings the characters to life.

And finally, about the story: The Shifu Cloth is a story of siblings cruelly torn apart by kidnapping and slavery. Isabella, snatched from her native land, finds herself a slave of the mysterious and insular Han. As she begins to plan her escape and a journey back home, she is drawn into a web of strangeness wher she meets emperors and spirits, warriors and nobles, and her true potential gradually comes to the fore in the face of adversity. At the same time, her distraught family begin to fall apart as the search for Isabella produces no result until a bolt of strange cloth shows up bearing a hidden message and her half-brother Nicolas begins a dangerous journey in search of his lost sibling.

The whole thing is beautifully done. I would recommend you go have a read of the sample on Amazon here and see what you think. Currently most of the series are only available in eformat as the paperbacks are due, I believe, to be re-released soon.

This is highly recommended reading, particularly for those fantasy lovers out there, especially ones who like works in the vein of Guy Gavriel Kay.

Written by SJAT

February 6, 2013 at 6:07 pm