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

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Posts Tagged ‘Sherwood

Angus the Warlord

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A few weeks ago I ran a bit of a special blog entry (see here) about Angus Donald and his series of Outlaw books, based on the fact that his third novel in the series, King’s Man, had just been released in paperback. Well, good news, Donald-o-philes and Robin Hood loons: The fourth in the series has just been released in hardback form. So, here’s my two-penneth to get you all fired up to go buy it…

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I finished Warlord a few nights ago (I am on holiday in darkest Snowdonia with the phone reception and wifi capability of a dead capybara on a pointy stick so I’ve only just had the chance to post this).

I found that Warlord followed the trend in Angus’ series in that THERE IS NO TREND. Honestly, one thing you can really count on with the Outlaw books is that any new title will have a new story, a fresh angle and a different feel and theme to it. There is nothing formulaic or repetitive about the series in any way.

Outlaw was a tale of survival and redemption with Alan Dale and the infamous Robert Odo of Locksley, better known as Robin Hood. The story took us in a new and interesting way around familiar old legends, with a fresh and brutal interpretation of Robin that is nothing like the man in green of classic TV.

The second book, Holy Warrior, took us to Outremer and the world of the crusaders, with a now-legitimate Robin. The mood was darker and more soul-searching and, to be quite honest, left me feeling angry at Robin and, to a lesser extent, Alan. This was, for me, the ‘Empire Strikes Back’ of the Outlaw series.

Thirdly, King’s Man was the tale of King Richard’s imprisonment in Germany and Alan and Robin’s part in his return to power. It was also the tale of Prince John’s rise and then fall. It was a story of intrigue and espionage and to that point the best in the series, I would say.

And so, to Warlord. Once again, Angus has taken us in a new direction. Alan and Robin move with the action to Normandy, this time, to Richard’s brutal and protracted war with Phillip of France. There are three very distinct threads of action in this tale, though not consecutive or in order, but the tale is an amalgam of the three, bound together like a celtic knot.

Firstly, Alan Dale is beginning to delve into the secrets that surrounded his father’s expulsion from Notre Dame in Paris and his subsequent death upon the order of a mysterious and powerful figure. This story involves murder, conspiracy, penetration deep into the heart of the enemy in Paris, and the investigation of some of the most powerful men in the world. This is as good a mystery tale in itself that it could fill a novel on its own and stand up to the best histfic murder mysteries out there

Secondly, there is the war itself, which is told in vivid description, with all the heroic scenes expected of Coeur de Lion’s somewhat rash valour and excitable nature. But it is also brutal and unpleasant, giving us details about the world of medieval warfare that goes beyond the simply ‘what happened and who won?’ style of history and explores the effects on the ordinary soldiers and the people caught in the middle of a war between their masters.

Thirdly, there is the tale of Alan’s growth and love and his manor at Westbury, the depredations of his land under the vicious Hag of Hallamshire, the growing relationships with Goody and his men, including young Thomas, the squire, who is now almost the Alan we remember from the first book.

So that’s a rundown of what Warlord is about, missing out too many spoilers. “But”, I hear you say, “what’s it like?”

Warlord is simply excellent. It brought to mind elements of a number of my favourite things, including some of the feel of the Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars video game (that may sound a strange comparison, but it remains one of the best-written and most evocative plots I have ever found and if you haven’t played that game, buy it straight after Warlord), the siege scenes in medieval movies like Jeanne d’Arc (an average film to my mind, but an excellent siege scene), visits I have made to some of the book’s locations in my youth (the Chateau Gaillard I found particularly breath-taking), the great tales I read as a boy of Richard the Lion Heart and his wars, and even a touch of the Arthurian legends, mixed with Christian myth and more.  See how much the book makes me think of other very cool things?

Old villains that survived the previous books are just as vile and loathsome as ever, but are somewhat cast into the shadows by the arrival of new and all-the-more twisted and maniacal antagonists. Old friends are back in their full glory, and with them others who were previously minor and now begin to come to the fore. The last fight in the book is some of Donald’s best work and had me almost twitching and leaning left and right with the swings as I read (like when you watch a rollercoaster on TV). It was, for me, on a par with the most excellent duel scene in King’s Man, about which I have previously raved.

As with the previous books, and increasing with each new release, one of my fave characters is King Richard himself. I suspect that the amount of research Angus has done on this famous king is deeper and more involved than anything else he has undertaken in his work, and it shows. Angus’ portrayal of Coeur de Lion is magnificent, and easily the best I’ve come across either on paper or screen. That alone makes Warlord an outstanding book.

So the upshot is that Warlord is another winner from the author of Outlaw. If you like his books, you’ll buy this one, I’m sure, and if you’ve not read any, then you need to buy them all and start from the beginning.

Oh… and Warlord throws us some tremendous teasers for what to expect in book 5. It makes me hunger for the next release

Buy the book on Amazon here or visit Angus’s site here.

As always, Mister Donald…. Bravo!

Written by SJAT

July 23, 2012 at 5:28 pm

Robin of Donald

with 7 comments

I know I promised you a kids/travelogue post, and I promise there’s one coming, but each week I look at writing said post, but realise that there’s a new great book out there that I need to make sure everyone knows about. So, we’re back onto Historical Fiction again, but hold on to your seat, as this is some of the best you’ll ever read.

You see, we’re all tremendously familiar with Robin Hood. Most of us were weaned on Errol Flynn, Claude Rains and Basil Rathbone fencing up and down stairwells and plotting in golden thrones, swinging through the greenwood like Tarzan in camo. It’s still the yardstick by which swashbuckling is measured. You probably know of or remember Richard Greene. And Michael Praed and Jason Connery mooching around moodily to Clannad’s ‘Hooded Man’ soundtrack. Everyone tutted and sighed at the strange route that Kevin Costner took from Dover to Nottingham via Sycamore Gap at Hadrian’s Wall, but we still loved the movie, even as we complained. Morgan Freeman still rocks, of course. And some of us even saw the much more down-to-earth version with Patrick Bergin. And though ‘Men in Tights’ makes me twitch, I still love Cary Elwes. There was some Xena-esque American series, I believe, which largely passed me by. And Tony Robinson in Maid Marion and her Merry Men. And even Russell Crowe with his wandering accent and his ladyfriend fighting off the French nation with a school outing.

So… the point of all that? We’ve seen Robin Hood a million times, in a million guises. We know him inside and out. We even know all his friends and most of the events that are likely to occur in his tales. I have become jaded with Robin. I even largely stopped watching his tales as they are churned out by rote. They are now as realistic and fresh as a King Arthur story (and don’t even get me started on them). No one can surprise us with Robin Hood, right?

And then along comes Angus Donald and turns it all on its head. I approached his first novel, Outlaw, with trepidation. I had actually exchanged words with Angus about his new novel as I was producing Marius’ Mules at the same time, and I went to read Outlaw, partially because it’s good to know what other people are writing (what you’re up against), partially as a break from the constant Roman text I was reading at the time, but mainly, I have to admit, because Angus seemed like such a nice guy. I did not read it because it was a book I would naturally take from a shelf (see my words above about being jaded with the whole Robin Hood thing.) I read it, I am now aware, for all the wrong reasons.

But what is important is that I read it.

Because it actually did surprise me. Not only did I realise, only a quarter of the way into the book, that I was now reading it because I couldn’t put it down, but it had completely swept away my reluctance to touch the subject with even a barge-pole. I read Outlaw. In fact, I read it twice that year, as a break from my Roman reading. Outlaw is a stunning book that makes Robin a believable (and oft worrisome) character. A man who rules Sherwood with an iron fist. A man who should not have ‘merry men’, but rather ‘goons’, ‘thugs’ and ‘muscle’. His companions, had they been 700 years later would have names like ‘Knives’, ‘Squint-eye Pete’, and ‘Leftie’. In short: Robin is a 12th century gangster.

In fact, I enjoyed Outlaw so much that I have become something of a Donald-o-phile, clamouring for him next book while he’s still poised over the ink well, thinking of the title. And so, I actively promote his work wherever I can. I love the series, and I love Angus’s writing. Bit of a turn-around from being reluctant to read his first novel, eh? In fact, Angus has gone on to produce four novels in the series, with a fifth under the pen as I write this.

And the reason I’m telling you all this? Because Angus has not one but two books coming out! The paperback of King’s Man has become available in the UK today, and the hardback of Warlord is out on the 19th July (a mere fortnight.) This gives you time to buy and read the first three before Warlord comes on sale. Believe me, you’ll not need two weeks. They’re un-put-down-able. I seriously urge you to buy and read the series. If you’re unsure, buy and read Outlaw alone, just to decide. One book… what harm can it do! (American release dates as yet unknown I’m afraid, but they will be released in due course there, and the first two are available. You can always order them from the UK sites, of course. Hee hee hee.

Outlaw introduces us to Robin and his world, in a brutal and realistic, yet heroic and engaging tale seen through the eyes of the ageing Alan Dale, troubador and ‘merry man’. Holy Warrior takes the stories into dark, uncharted territory with Richard Coeur de Lion and his crusade. King’s Man (my fave so far) spins the most amazing yarn concerning Robin’s trial for heresy and King Richard’s imprisonment in Germany. I simply cannot wait to see what treasures Warlord holds…

So, just to help push you into it, here are my reviews for the first three books:

Outlaw         Holy Warrior      King’s Man

And the important links, of course, for your viewing pleasure:

Angus’s website     Angus’s page at Amazon.com     Angus’s page at Amazon UK     Angus on Twitter     Angus at the HWA site 

And that’s pretty much all I have to say today. Don’t miss out. Read the books. You’ll love them, I guarantee it. Hopefully, Angus will allow me the use of the images. If not, I will surrender myself to the castle at Nottingham and await summary justice by that little Norman tit, sir Ralph Murdac…

Ciao for now.

Outlaw 3: King’s Man

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After Outlaw and Holy Warrior, I simply couldn’t wait for the ordinary trade paperback of King’s Man. I bought the outsized ROI edition and then also the kindle version. And I don’t regret it.

Outlaw was an astounding debut for me. It challenged my perceptions of Robin Hood, created a whole new epic around him and kept me rivetted, It also showed Angus’ not inconsiderable knowledge and in-depth research into an era that is very complex and vast.

Holy Warrior took the tale in a different direction and, while a more mature story , was darker and more troubling, though no less a great read. It made me fear for the future of the series, given my changing views of the principal characters, in much the same way as (as a sad Star Wars fan) ‘Empire’ is dark and troubling. In those dark and troubling tales real change and growth and character are brought out.

Then: King’s Man. Quite simply it is a breathtaking book. While the previous two novels were very much separate stories in a series, this has bound the whole group together, drawing on a great wealth of detail from both previous works and using them to weave a spellbinding story based around Richard I’s detaining in Germany after the crusade.

Obviously, that is not all there is to the book, but it is the main post around which the hall of King’s Man is constructed. The story includes dangerous journeys through foreign lands, ordeals of holy inquisition, troubles with Templars, an unusual and excellent view of medieval London, sieges, warfare, assassination and so much more.

I was astounded to see the return of some favourite characters that I had not thought to see again, and the introduction of some new classics (Rix – wow what a character). An extra note worth making is that Alan has grown so much by the 3rd book that he’s no longer the impressionable child of the earlier works, but has really come into his own, showing a real taent for character growth.

I could go on about character, description, plot and more, but only at the risk of rendering the review to long to be readable. So I will finish with this:

King’s Man is the best of Angus’ novels to date and one of the best novels I have read, period. It is beautifully written, with care to detail and surprises and twists that knocked me aside. The story is a true arc and no tiny detail is left unused and ignored. I fear now for the upcoming ‘Warlord’, for I find it hard to see how Angus can improve on this.

Whether in Hardback, Outsize pb, upcoming trade Paperback, or e-version, read this book. If you have read the first two, grab your reading list and push this to the top. If you have not, read all three back-to-back. I cannot recommend it any higher than that.

Brave, Angus. Bravo.

Written by SJAT

April 20, 2012 at 9:08 am