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 And then, surprisingly, last week I found a book in my reading list had been withdrawn temporarily, and I had time.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

Meet My Main Character

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I have been tagged by the lovely and talented Elaine Moxon on a blog h0p, the title of which is ‘Meet My Main Character’.

The first thing to do therefore is to play proper deference to my tagger. Elaine is a writer of the Wolf Spear Sagas, a series of as-yet-unpublished works based in the post-Roman dark ages. Though the books are not available for sale yet, I am privileged to have had the opportunity to read Elaine’s work after its polish but before any of you get it (blows smug raspberry) and I have to say that she will be one to watch with interest when the books hit the shelves. Keep that in mind as you pop on over to read her blog here.

Of course, having a number of series out and various short story collections, at first I deliberated as to which main character I should be introducing here. After all, I am best known by far for my Marius’ Mules Roman novels, but I think we’re at the stage, six books into the series, where Fronto should need very little introduction. And the main characters of my fantasy works vary with each volume, so that’s a complexity in itself. But really, I’ve just released the third volume in my Ottoman Cycle quadrilogy, and I’m sure a lot fewer folk will be familiar with him than with grumpy old Fronto. So here we go. This is a blog about the principal lead in the Ottoman Cycle…


1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historical figure/person?
The lead character in the Ottoman Cycle is a young man by the name of Skiouros. He is a Greek speaking orthodox Christian in a Muslim world. When the story opens in The Thief’s Tale, he and his brother Lykaion are in close contact and they are the subject of the first book. Skiouros is Greek for ‘Squirrel’, and the appellation I think fits him quite well. His brother Lykaion in Greek is ‘Wolf’. Again, I think this should give an opening idea of the character. Skiouros is a fictional figure that weaves in and out of real historical events and interacts with real historical personages.
2) When and where is the story set?
The Ottoman Cycle is set at the close of the 15th century and covers roughly half a decade in all, so the timeframe is reasonably tight. Though the prologue to the first volume opens in 1481, the story itself truly begins in 1490 and at the end of volume 3, we have only just moved into 1495. The story roves around, following a rough circle around the Mediterranean, beginning in Istanbul under the Sultan Beyazid II only thirty years after the conquest and the fall of the Byzantine empire. The stories in print thus far take us through Crete and into Africa, then on to the western Med. Without wanting to drop in spoilers, the third book is largely set in Italy, so there is a great variation in scene, though not in era.
3) What should we know about him/her?
Over three books Skiouros has been many things. He is nothing if not adaptable. But we shall concentrate for obvious reasons on his opening appearance, in the Thief’s Tale. As the title suggests, Skiouros is something of a street waif, chancer and pickpocket. As the reader discovers in the prologue, Skiouros and his brother Lykaion lived on a farm outside Hadrianople (modern Edirne) until the Ottoman devsirme took them. The devsirme was a draft that selected Christian children from Ottoman controlled Balkan regions and returned them to Istanbul, where they would be made to convert to Islam and then placed in positions of use in government or the military. Although it sounds tantamount to slavery, most of the famous rich, powerful and influential figures in Ottoman history began as Christian subjects that advanced through the devsirme. In the Thief’s Tale, Lykaion is taken to serve in the Janissaries – the Sultan’s guard. But Skiouros escapes as they reach the city and goes on the run. Spending the next decade living on the streets and on his wits, Skiouros builds up a useful skill-set, and remains in touch with his rigid, disapproving brother. Skiouros still longs for freedom and to return his brother to the world beyond the city walls. Skiouros is a thief, a cheat, a liar and more, but essentially not a wicked man despite it all.
4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?
Argh. Spoilers. Too easy to ruin the whole thing for new readers here. The main conflict is pretty much the meat of the plot in The Thief’s Tale, so I cannot say much about it. What I will say is that it heavily involves the difficult relationship between the two brothers and centres upon a burning desire for revenge. Beyond that you’ll have to read the book to unravel…
5) What is the personal goal of the character?
Again, much the same. To detail that would be to spoil two books for new readers. Basically, Skiouros’ principle goal tends to mutate with circumstances and events, as such things tend to do. Initially his personal goal is to survive in a regime where his religion, ethnicity, language and culture are a minority that rarely stray beyond a small enclave, to keep himself hale and hearty and a free man, beholden to no one and with no commitments. A secondary goal of his is to persuade his brother – now a Muslim and staunch supporter of the Ottoman regime – to abandon his duty and flee to freedom, to return to the Greek world with him. These things are not set to be his only or final goals, though.
6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
The Ottoman Cycle is a set series of four books. The first two (The Thief’s Tale & The Priest’s Tale) were released in 2013, and the third (The Assassin’s Tale) was released just over a week ago. The fourth and final volume is set for early next year and will be entitled The Pasha’s Tale. Plenty of info on all my work is available on my website at www.sjaturney.co.uk
And… in the interest of fun and frolics, to celebrate book 3’s release and this blog hop, if you would like a free copy of book 1 to dip your toes into the world of Skiouros and his brother, for the next three days, I have lowered the price of The Thief’s Tale on Smashwords to… NOTHING. Go get your freebie and find out what makes Skiouros tick for the rest of the series. Click HERE to go to Smashwords and buy the book, and use the code QJ36K to obtain a free copy in any electronic format you require.

7) When can we expect the book to be published?

As noted above, The Assassin’s Tale is now out. The next volume in the series will be in the new year, and in between, on Halloween, the seventh novel in my Roman series will be released. Look for Marius’ Mules VII: The Great Revolt in late October.

* * * *

And that’s it for my waffling…

I’ve tagged just one more writer to take part in this blog hop, so keep a look out next Monday (16th) for the main character of:



Tim is a writer of Viking and Dark Age fiction. Check out his novel ‘Spear of Crom’. (Click the pic to go find it on Amazon)

spear of Crom COVER smaller

And check out his blog hop post next Monday (16th June) on his blog HERE


Written by SJAT

June 9, 2014 at 8:00 am