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Posts Tagged ‘Giles Kristian

Winter’s Fire

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Winter’s Fire is almost certainly my favourite Giles Kristian book so far, and that’s no mean feat, since I generally find the second book in a series to be the poorer cousin. Mind you, this might be the second book in Sigurd’s rise, but realistically it’s the fifth novel he’s written in the ongoing Sigurd and Raven series. Is it good? Let’s just say I spent this afternoon making Viking-based jokes and comments around Ripon and singing ‘Fimbrulvinter, fimbrulvinter’ to the tune of Spongebob Squarepants. Oddly, nobody asked me why, so I never got the chance to explain that Winter’s Fire is released today.

I really enjoyed God of Vengeance last year, especially following the somewhat dark and heavy Brothers’ Fury, and was more than pleased to be back in Kristian’s vision of the Viking world. And Winter’s Fire continues that tale perfectly. But there are subtle differences. Because this is not the disastrous cause of Sigurd’s vengeance, but part of his journey, there is less need for doom-laden anguish in this book and more room for humour. In that respect it reminds me more of the original Raven books than its immediate predecessor. There is more humour and adventurous yarn-weaving here than in the previous book, and that is very welcome to me. Historical fiction takes itself rather too seriously at times, and it is nice to be able to laugh at a fart gag from time to time. After all, we’re all mentally 12 when you come down to it.

Kristian’s skill as a storyteller and constructor of plots is notable with this book for one reason in particular to me. Like The Empire Strikes Back (yes, I return to my usual trilogy comparison) Winter’s Fire does not tell a focused story which ties up tight at the end. It roves as a plot, with tendrils reaching out in different areas, introducing new elements and bringing old ones back. Indeed, from part way through the book, we are given an entirely new thread to follow as Sigurd’s sister’s own tale becomes as important as a central theme as his. And the story kind of ends (minor spoiler I guess) on something of a cliffhanger, in the old fashioned weekly adventure serial style. How will the hero get out of this? And yet, despite the apparent disparate nature of the plot, it just works. It reads beautifully, it feels like a tale that grows, then focuses, then comes to a satisfactory conclusion. Indeed, as I said, it is, I think, my fave of his works thus far.

The story follows Sigurd and his motley crew as they prepare for the backlash of his killing of Jarl Randver in the previous book. He knows King Gorm will come for him, or send men to do so. And with his Odin Favour he manages to slip the net, of course, and set off on a new epic. But what he doesn’t know is that a new villain has promised the treacherous king that he will take Sigurd’s life. Thus begins a series of seemingly random events that will send Sigurd into the service of a King and a Jarl he’s never heard of and his sister Runa into the arms of a religious sisterhood the like of which we would love to see armed to the teeth and paying a visit to ISIS. Threads you could almost forget from early in the book will come into play near the end.

Moreover, as well as the usual crew, who we know and love from other books, there are several new and exciting characters brought forth in this book. The villain, who you will soon identify, is a true, chilling, evil bastard. He is not the common or garden villain that Randver was. This fellow is a truly unpleasant piece of work. You’ll love him. You’ll hate him. You’ll love to hate him. And the former champion of King Gorm? Well, I’ll let you discover that on your own. And the seidr-wife? Well she is just too cool.

I could go on for hours. The fact is that this book will almost certainly be in my year’s top 10 in December. It’s a work of the skald’s art. It came out today. That means you can have it on your e-reader or in the mail to you within the minute if you just open a new tab. Do it. Just go do it. It’s a win in every way. Kristian has been in the top tier of historical and adventure writers for years, but he’s just upped his game again.

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Written by SJAT

April 7, 2016 at 10:21 pm

Golden Lion

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A fascinating book and one I was looking forward to reading. I’ve read a few of Smith’s novels in the past and he’s a recognised master of the pen and I’ve read everything Giles has written and have yt to be disappointed by him. So something written by both of them? Well it had to be a win.

The book is the latest in the Courtney series of which I had thus far read only one. Since Smith books tend to leap about a bit era-wise and the Courtney series more than most I didn’t know what exactly to expect.

The book is set in the reign of Charles II with characters who remember the civil war all too well. It takes place on the Indian Ocean and the shore of Africa around Zanzibar. It involves an earlier villain previously presume dead and a series of revenge plots. It is as action packed and evocative as you would expect from either writer.

There are echoes of pirate era tales and of Napoleonic naval books, of African adventure and of British Empire colonialism. There are aspects of religious conflict, of slave trading, of piracy and hunting of snares and rescues, of sea battles and duels. Essentially it should have something for every reader of action adventure.

Having recently involved myself in several different collaborations I am intrigued as to how this one was carried out. I have experienced alternating chapters, separate parts to one novel and even multiple viewpoints. This one bears the hallmarks of none of them.

The writing to me feels more like a Smith book, as though Smith has essentially written the prose right through. But most aspects of the plot feel very Giles Kristin to me, from the superb and chilling array of villains to the hairpin plot twists to the cameraderie of the sailors right down to the locations.

The combination has produced an excellent tale whatever the case, though I couldn’t help but feel that Giles’ part was somewhat downplayed in the novel’s paperwork, with his name in relatively small print, a scant mention and no picture on the flyleaf etc.

So the upshot… would I recommend it? Yes I would. I suspect that readers of both writers will enjoy it. I think readers will get most from it if they have at least some familiarity with the Courtney novels and in particular the one that comes chronologically immediately before this but that being said I had not read that one and the book still worked for me. A hearty slice of adventure in an unusual milieu I would say and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Written by SJAT

September 24, 2015 at 9:00 am

The Terror – Giles Kristian

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the-terror-by-giles-kristian

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

Vengeance is here

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Remember Raven? Well you should do! Giles Kristian’s debut book and the series that followed were ground-breaking for me, being the first Viking novels I had read. They had all the action, excitement and fur-wrapped adventure – with frozen snot in your beard – as a reader could hope.

Then Giles stopped (or more accurately paused) the Viking writing to delve into the world of the English Civil War with The Bleeding Land, which was one of the deepest, most harrowing pieces of historical fiction I ever read. A sequel spawned to that, and here was I awaiting the third of those novels. But no. Giles is of Norwegian descent and clearly he was, to quote a famous scene, pining for the fjords. As a surprise, instead of a third civil war novel, or even a fourth Raven one, we are given… (insert drumroll here) A PREQUEL!

Enter God of Vengeance. For those of you who haven’t read the Raven books, you’re in luck. This could be read without any prior knowledge. In fact perhaps it would even be better. For those who have, this novel tells the tale of our Raven fave Sigurd as a young man and treats us to his introduction to several of the solid characters who will make up his crew in Raven (including the excellent Black Floki.)

Sigurd is too young to accompany his father to war as part of King Gorm’s war on the rebel Jarl Randver. Instead he travels to a clifftop with family and friends to watch the sea battle unfold. To his horror, instead of seeing his father win easy glory, he watches as King Gorm betrays his father and the three ships are overwhelmed.

Thus begins Sigurd’s saga and a new series for Giles as the Odin-favoured wily hero, betrayed, orphaned and homeless sets out with the few survivors of his father’s oath-sworn to form a band of warriors – based upon a Gods-sent vision – in order to seek revenge on his enemies and regain his  honour. Ranging around a relatively small region of the western coast of Norway, Sigurd will wade through blood if he must to achieve his goal.

One of the surprising things about this book is the inclusion of a strong female character. Strong females are not all that common in ancient-medieval fiction anyway, and in the Viking world perhaps even less common. This shield maiden is a welcome addition to the cast.

The thing I will say above anything that recommends this book is the writing. Giles’ early works were very action/adventure, in the best possible way, while his civil war saga has  been harrowing and dark and emotional. God of Vengeance seems to draw on both sides of his writing to create a new, different style. It has the feel of a traditional Viking Saga. The wordsmithing in it is fine and authentic-feeling, and it will transport you right back to the era. Giles has moved on from being a storyteller of the highest calibre to being  a true Skald.

God of Vengeance is out today and if you loved Sigurd as the supporting character of Raven, you’ll LOVE him as the hero of his own saga.

Buy it today.

Written by SJAT

April 24, 2014 at 8:00 am

Giles Kristian: The bleeding good book…

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Another recommendation for you today. Some time ago, I launched into Giles Kristian’s Raven Saga. You may have seen my reviews knocking around, as they were so good I ran from one to the next seamlessly and enjoyed all three immensely. They were up there with some of the best adventure/historical fiction I’ve read. I never flinched from recommending them. But recently, Giles has turned his not-inconsiderable literary talents toward a new theatre: the English civil war:

The civil war is not a period I know a great deal about and, while I have a passing interest in it, it’s never hooked me so much that I sought out things to read about it (I much prefer looking at historical sites relating to it than reading about it.) It may be that, for me, the civil war has always been just a little too recent.

Saying that, I knew Giles was a good writer from his earlier stuff, and the promo video produced for the book pushed me ever further towards it…

SEE THE VIDEO HERE

And so I settled into the book not really knowing what to expect but, perhaps, waiting for a Raven-esque adventure saga with lots of God’s Teeth and Damn Your Eyes and Have At Him, Sirrah -s. Ok, there are a few of those, but the novel is totally not what I expected. I suspect, furthermore, that a number of people who were real Raven fanatics will dislike this shift into a deep, thoughtful and saddening world, while other folk who would not consider Raven will flock to it.

The Bleeding Land, you see, is not a war story. It is a tale of a torn family, of the love of brothers and sisters pulled by the fickle strands of fate in different directions to such an extent that they are at war. It is a tale of love and loss and heartbreak and strength and perseverance and duty and honour. In fact, the tale actually ends just after the first major battle of the Civil War, which gives you an idea of where the meat of the story lies: not in battle, but in the story of those who fight it.

That’s enough of the plot. Don’t want to ruin it for you. I will say three things in particular that I consider strengths and which should draw you to want to read it.

Firstly, there is the sheer visual nature of the narrative. It is almost impossible not to completely visualise every scene he writes. In fact, there is such depth of feeling in the descriptive that you can even smell, hear or taste the scene. It was such a shock from almost the opening scene to be drawn so completely in that I felt I was there. This alone is phenomenal and a rare gift.

Secondly, there is the nature of the battle scenes. Battle scenes are very easy to write (from personal experience) for excitement, for horror, for gore, for valour and so on. What Giles manages is to write his civil war millitary engagements from the smallest skirmish to the great ckash at Edgehill with such care that they are all-encompassing. They are all of the above and more and, given the descriptive I mention previously, they are evocative of every clash you’ve seen in a classic movie: the cannon fire in Cromwell, the volley fire in Zulu. They are scenes that will stay in your memory.

Thirdly, the simple skill with words. A score of times or more in the text, I read a phrase, a line, a description, that made me wish I could write even half that well. It is a beautiful piece of narrative.

So go on… You need to follow the tale of Tom and Mun, their parents and sister, of Emmanuel and the folk of Lancashire good and bad. And cheer Prince Rupert (and the King, for I am and will always be a Royalist at heart). This emotional roller-coaster of a tale will tear out your heart and rebuild it only to batter it again. As a last word, I would compare Kristian’s treatment of a torn family to the standalone works of Guy Gavriel Kay (and I can think of no higher praise, Kay having been my favourite writer for decades.)

Buy the Bleeding Land and experience it.

Written by SJAT

July 17, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Raven Saga

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*Reposted to replace lost posts from 2012*

r1

I was doubly surprised by Raven. I bought it, in all fairness, because I’d spoken to Giles on twitter – he’s a really nice fella – and it had a cool cover. There. Admission of guilt.

I’ve got 3 viking sagas sat in my bookshelves, all unread, because I obsess over the Roman era and I have trouble with Viking culture, because I’ve always thought they didn’t have one. So it took me a long time to get around to braving Raven. So that was my first stumbling block: not been keen to launch into viking tales.

Moreover, opening the book, I discovered that it’s written in first person perspective. I’m not a lover of such. I find that I can read most genres and even novels that are hard work if they’re in 3rd person, but they have to be exceptional for me to bother in first person. Stumbling block 2.

I started reading Raven, teeth gritted against the perspective, expectations of cultural interest low, but knowing that the author is an articulate, intelligent and pleasant man. Thus I persevered… until page 2.

As soon as I turned the page it was no longer a matter of perseverance. I was quite simply hooked. All my expectations, worries and niggling doubts vanished and by the 2nd chapter I was rethinking my attitude to the viking era in general. You see, though I had little interest in the whole Viking thing, it turns out that I love them, but had forgotten it, locking it away deep inside with a label saying: to be opened when you’re busy arrogantly pigeon-holing things. Suddenly I remembered Kirk Douglas as Einar in the Vikings. Suddenly I was remembering Asterix and the Normans. Suddenly I was back by the campfire in the Thirteenth Warrior, listening to the twelve norsemen boast. It turns out that I was blinkering myself.

Raven is an engrossing story, surprisingly taking place mostly on land, despite the longboats in early play. As much of the tale revolves around their Saxon victims/allies/acquaintances in Britain as it does around the norsemen. Raven himself is a fascinating character, built in many layers and continuing to acquire them as the story progresses. The other characters are equally strong: Sigurd the great Jarl, Olaf the second in command, Black Floki (my personal fave) and a cast of many glittering folk. There are twists, magnificent actions sequences that will have you shouting for the brotherhood, gruesome scenes of torture and murder, rousing heroic moments, betrayals, love interest… in short everything you could want from the book.

Along with Angus Donald’s Outlaw series, this is one of few series in 1st person perspective that is not only readable, but simply magnificent.

I am currently halfway through the sequel now and finding it every bit as good as the first. In short, Raven was an attitude changing book for me and has opened up a new genre entirely as readable.

Buy Raven and you’ll want to read the others.

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I so enjoyed the first Raven book that I wasted little time launching into the second. It started just as I expected, launching into a continuation of the story from Blood Eye, with just as much ‘oomph’. I was hooked.

However, Sons of Thunder is a different novel. Not what I expected and certainly not just a continuation of the story, though it does do that admirably too.

The first book had been a rip-roaring constant barrage of action and battle, heroics and betrayal, sneak attacks and audacious plans. Sons of Thunder built for only a couple of chapters on the same theme before sweeping all the plans from the table with surprise actions and decisions by the principal characters.

Suddenly I found I was reading more of an epic journey than an action fest. The story slowed into a languid, highly atmospheric and often tense journey, bringing the reader into an intimate understanding of what life would be like among the brotherhood of Sword-Norse aboard their dragon ships. I will say straight away that this was a surprise direction as far as I was concerned for the story to take, though in no bad way. Indeed, it lent a new freshness and interest to the tale.

I did, however, wonder really where the tale was going to go. I found myself thinking ahead and trying to see how the story might pan out, never quite able to work it all out.

And then, again, somewhere around two thirds of the way through the book, the direction changed once more, and suddenly the pace was breakneck, every bit as exciting and action-packed as Blood Eye. Indeed, I would say that Giles packed into a third of this book as much excitement as there had been in the first novel of the series, an achievement for which I doff my cap to him.

The story leaps and turns and twists in so many unexpected ways that I find it hard to describe how much I enjoyed it, and it builds to the very end to a moment that will be a defining one in the saga for me; one of those ‘Lo, there do I see my father’ moments from 13th Warrior (thanks Giles). It sets up the third tale beautifully and makes it almost impossible to pause before launching into that book (which I have just done).

The characters continue to entertain and build, some departing their life in appropriate manners, other previous unknowns coming to the fore. Raven himself continues to become stronger and more sure, and my personal fave remains Floki.

The highlight of the book for me was (without spoilers) the manner in which the Norsemen reacted and adapted to what was, for them, a thoroughly alien environment. It was masterfully done.

Now: On with Odin’s Wolves…

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So now I have come to the end of the Raven saga and it leaves me feeling a little sad. Perhaps some time, after his new series has been fully aired, Giles might return and write another Raven story. I hope so.

Each of the Raven books has followed beautifully from its previous bedfellow and has progressed the general tale and the growth of Raven himself, but also each of the books has a very individual character and addresses different themes, issues and emotions.

Odin’s Wolves opens with the wolfpack already off the coast of Portugal on their way to the great city of Constantinople. The first third-to half of the books is to some extent a fascinating travellogue of the western Mediterranean as seen through a baffled Norseman’s eyes.

Indeed, approaching half way through the book, I wondered whether that was the form the book would take.

But then they reached Rome and the real plot truly kicked in and picked up pace. I won’t ruin the plot for you, but where the second Raven novel fitted all the action and adventure of the first into just the latter half of the second, this does the same, but even better, with a tight, well-defined, clever and believable plot, foreshadowing the creation one day of the infamous Varangian Guard.

As a Roman/Byzantine nut, it fascinated me and I couldn’t spot a thing out of place.

But despite everything: the ‘Das-Boot’ tension of the run through the Hellespont, the crumbling glory of Rome, the beauty of the Bucoleon palace (one of my favourite places I have ever walked), the fights, the tricks and the glory… the thing that strikes me most about Odin’s Wolves was the growth and changes in the characters, which were subtle, clever, and helped weave the plot. It was this that led me to conclude that Giles hit his perfect stride in this book. Given that, I cannot wait to read The Bleeding Land.

Bravo again. Odin’s Wolves is a masterpiece

Written by SJAT

May 11, 2012 at 9:24 am