Review: Templar Silks


William Marshal lies on his death-bed at Caversham surrounded by his wife, children and grandchildren while he awaits his loyal servant to bring him two pieces of silk he has secreted away from everyone for thirty years, so he can take his vows and die a Templar Knight.

While on his death-bed he thinks back to the time and circumstances that led him to get those pieces of silks.

When William is the Marshall in the household of the Young King Henry (oldest son of Henry II), they sack the highly rich and important church of Rocamadour to get funds to pay the Young Henry’s mercenary army. Young Henry soon dies of dysentery making William swear to a deathbed  promise to take his cloak to Jerusalem and place it on the Holy Sepulchre to atone for his sins in sacking the holy Rocamadour.  There starts a journey that changes William’s life and his lifepath.

William finds his judgments questioned time and time again while journeying through unknown lands such as Constantinople to the Holy Land. He almost dies in his attempt to get to his destination. When he finally gets there after months on the road, the Holy Land isn’t what he expects it to be. Instead of the morally upright and ethical citizens he expects, he discovers a nest of vipers, a worldly prelate with a concubine and political factions vying for power as the young King Baldwin dies of leprosy, leaving behind a tiny child as his heir.

Unused to the cultural differences William has a bit of culture shock. While lords of opposing factions try to recruit him to their political causes, including a former enemy, William has to dance a razor fine line of diplomacy to stay true to his honour and not be led down a dark path or fall on the wrong side of the political divide. That famous honour of his is sorely tested when he falls passionately in love with a lady he is forbidden.

It all goes horribly wrong, leading William to take refuge at the Templar Mound to be a secular knight of the Templars and get his two pieces of silk burial shroud. While all the while outside the gates, Saladin is attacking the Holy Land repeatedly to take it from the Christians, in ever more violent skirmishes, which he eventually succeeds in.

William Marshal’s tomb can be seen today at Temple church in London, opposite the Royal Courts of Justice.

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Review: The Winter Mantle


There is an unexpected twist fairly early on in the book where this tame author pulls out a Game of Thrones trick and kills off a main character.

Also unexpected was that the main characters become background-characters and background-characters become protagonists. Also there is a disabled main character, a bastard, a popular and gullible main character making foolish decisions and a main character who is rather prissy, prejudiced and pious. The cast has a Game of Thrones-esque feel without the vibrancy and nastiness! No antagonists last throughout the book. Some minor ones pop up from time to time.

The difference of this book with Game of Thrones is the characters were real. The Saxon, Waltheof, 1st Earl of Huntingdon does marry William the Conqueror’s niece Judith. Judith betrays her husband to her uncle the King and Waltheof gets executed for rebellion through gullibility of believing a fellow Saxon friend and he is martyred as a saint at Crowland Abbey where there is a statue of him said to perform miracles ( during the middle ages). Judith refuses to marry Simon 1st Earl of Northampton who King William Rufus sends to take over Waltheof’s formaer lands and Simon marries her daughter Matilda instead and Judith becomes a nun!

Normandy, England and the road to Jerusalem on crusade are all covered. The story follows two generations of Waltheof’s Saxon-Norman family at the time of William the Conqueror and his heir, William Rufus.

The book is a pleasant meander through history.

 

Review: Fire Bound


This is a nice little story about a team of superhumans with telekinetic powers sent by the government to investigate the strange killings of genetically modified cows by a flying half human, half bat creature. The team track the creature down to the isolated lab of a rich mad scientist with no humanity, set to unleash his monster out into the world at his command. First the mad scientist wants to test out the superhumans against his creatures…

Review: The Fourth Gift by Elizabeth Chadwick


This is another book I realise that I read from this author of Medieval Historical novels that is an American Wild West romance. It seems there are two authors of the same name! It’s weird when you are expecting English medieval content to get a cowboy Mills and Boon romance! This American-born author is using Elizabeth Chadwick as a pseudonym. Whereas the award-winning English author was born in England and it is her real name.

Goodreads doesn’t even store a copy of the book so I did a little digging around and found this story was part of a compilation, called A Wilderness Christmas. Hence the mismatching cover image.

Anyway it’s a nice little story of an illiterate, poor, hillbilly female sheep farmer whose uncle gambles away half her estate in a game of poker and loses to a handsome, educated and wealthy Western novelist. The novelist comes to live with her at the ranch and she tries a multitude of ways to get rid of him but ends up falling for him and vice versa. Then his precocious society belle eleven year old niece comes to stay with them at the ranch and plots to get them together. The scenario is of course ludicrous since it was extremely rare that people at the opposite ends of society and education levels ended up together in that era.

 

Review: Practical Magic


This is one of those books where the movie is better.

The protagonist Sally and her younger sister Gillian are orphaned and taken in by their batty old aunts, who are two witches in Massachusetts. The two sisters are ostracised by their school mates as little witches and they live a lonely isolated existence watching the women in town visiting their aunts in the middle of the night for love spells.

Wild child Gillian gets fed up and runs off with her lover when they are teenagers to have a normal life. Prudish Sally stays with the aunts, but ends up marrying a local man and has two little girls of her own. When her husband gets killed, Sally gets sick of magic and decides to move to New York State with her girls and start a normal life.

One day Gillian turns up with her dead boyfriend at Sally’s door and the past is suddenly brought back into Sally’s hard-worked-for normal life.

In the movie, Sally’s girls remain young children and Sally returns with them to live in the aunts’ house again. In the book Sally’s girls are teenagers with boyfriends of their own and Gillian has another boyfriend who she ends up marrying. The flowers that grown over dead Jimmy’s burial site are roses in the movie and he is buried in the aunt’s garden. In the book he is buried in Sally’s New York home garden and the flowers are different.

The book waffles on and is a long meandering read with lots of random flashbacks. It took too long to read.

Review: The Tin Princess


The last book in the Sally Lockhart series doesn’t have Sally in it. She just makes a couple of cameo appearances at the beginning and end of the book as Mrs Goldberg. Her husband Dan only has a mention. Her daughter Harriet has no mention.

This story happens a year after the third book, The Tiger in the Well and is the story of Sally’s best friend Jim Turner who tracks down Adelaide, the little girl who we thought was dead from the first book, The Ruby in the Smoke.

Adelaide is now a teenage prostitute and picked up in a brothel by no less than a Prince from the tiny fictitious kingdom of Raskavia ( between Austria and Germany) smaller than the size of the county of Berkshire. He marries her and she becomes a princess. He hires her a tutor Becky to speak German, the Raskavian language. A close friendship ensues.

Meanwhile Jim is outside their London house in St Johns Wood and notices an assassination plot against the prince and is hired by the prince to protect him and his new wife. The Raskavian nobility is appalled at the choice of the prince’s wife, but Adelaide proves to be an excellent leader once they are settled in Raskavia with Jim and Becky in tow. Jim is madly in love with Adelaide but she is married and the author tries to create romantic tension, which somehow doesn’t quite work. The characters do a lot of intense staring at each other. Poor Becky is infatuated with Jim.

The Tin Princess refers to Raskavia’s source of income, nickel mines, which both the Austrians and Germans want. The book also has some true life characters from Prussia who were involved in annexing smaller kingdoms around Prussia at the time and unifying the various kingdoms as one large country, Germany.

The book is ok, though somewhat predictable. The first and third books of the series are the best in my opinion, less predictable, more action packed and more thrilling.

I may have discovered a plot hole in this book…the characters go on a train journey that lasts several hours ( at least three to five hours I’m estimating from the narrative), yet the author says the Kingdom of Raskavia is smaller than the county of Berkshire. Old steam trains were slow, but not that slow!

Review: Gameboard of the Gods


I’m not sure what genre to place this book. It seems to fit dystopian – science fiction – magical realism – fantasy.

The book is set in the USA after an economic, political and social decline when the country is renamed the RUNA ( Republic of United North America) with the capital Vancouver. The government is fearful of another uprising and monitors religious groups and cults closely to ensure no deviation of thought in people.

People are microchiped, monitored and they are given a number according to their desirable genetic makeup. The higher the number the more perfect a person is. RUNA is technologically advanced while the provinces are backwaters of poor infrastructure, laws and technology.

The protagonist, Justin March is a homeland investigator of banned and unlicensed religious groups who is exiled to Panama because he dared to suggest in his last investigation report that there might be more than a scientific reason for some strange happenings going on within a cult group. The government expects him to be factual and scientific, but Justin has ravens who talk to him in his head. He can’t cope and takes a lot of drugs, alcohol and sex to drown out his reality and survive the primitive existence in lawless futurist Panama.

When suddenly he is recalled mysteriously to the RUNA to investigate a series of inexplicable murders in the high patrician caste ( pure genetic inbreds). The CCTV footage shows closed doors and no sign of a murderer in each case. Only someone with Justin’s skills to find the inexplicable can help.

Justin is paired up with a praetorian Nordic bodyguard for the assignment, Mae Koskinen who harbours secrets and who he falls madly in love with, but she can literally kill him since she has a government issued implant that increases her strength and ferocity. Further her genetic score is an impossible nine which implies she’s had her genes genetically altered before birth, which is illegal.

The protagonists are vulnerable and damaged and interesting for it. This book is a page turner and quite different to other books I’ve read. I recommend it.

Review:Origin


The Fifth book in the Robert Langdon series sees less action and a lot on social media, technology and AI. I figured out who the bad guy was in the first fifth of the book. Robert Langdon doesn’t figure it out till the end of the book. Seriously? Who hasn’t watched dystopian tech based movies like Terminator, Matrix, Ex Machina etc which all have a common theme about tech overtaking and controlling humans?

The plot is very thin in this book. I got bored over all the social media excerpts in the book. I found other books in this series more interesting like the first three books Angels and Demons, Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol. Dan Brown is flogging this series to death. Also, he seems to be single-handedly flying the flag for the intoxicating effect of the old man’s physique where these characters seem to think much younger women are looking at them in admiration. With Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo movement trending at the moment, this is rather an uncomfortable paradox of a flag for the author to wave at this time.

Review: A Column of Fire


The third in the Kingsbridge series see another 200 years pass in the fictitious town of Kingsbridge to the 16th century (Pillars of the Earth was 12th century and World Without End was 14th century). Each of the three books in the series is a self-contained epic that can be read separately and not necessarily in order. There is some reference in this third book to protagonists in the first two books, but only as famous town characters e.g. Merthin’s Bridge, Caris’s Hospital, Prior Philip’s grave. That and the town of Kingsbridge is the extent of the connection between the three books.

The protagonists in this book are Ned Willard, a mild protestant and merchant’s son, Margery Fitzgerald the mayor’s daughter and Ned’s love interest who is a staunch catholic, Sylvie Palot a staunch protestant and the third part of Ned’s love triangle. The antagonists are Rollo, Margery’s brother and a fanatical catholic and Pierre Aumande a ruthless politician and another fanatical catholic. All the other characters are supportive and there are some cameos from true characters of the time.

Elizabethan England is on a fragile tightrope of religious tolerance between the catholic and protestant faiths. The population changes faith according to the preference of the king or queen ruling them and the people are scared to be caught worshiping the wrong faith. Neither extremist side is happy with the compromise of religious tolerance and there are burnings, massacres and plotting a plenty from sabotaging protestant traders businesses in town, planned massacres, to plots to overthrow and assassinate the queen.

As Ned and Margery are on opposite sides of the religious divide, their love is doomed from the start. But as with Merthin and Caris in World Without End, this is a lifelong love they have despite their differences and obvious obstacles. Ned has to watch Margery being forced to marry for the social position of her family and in his despair he leaves Kingsbridge and goes to Hatfield to join the upcoming queen-to-be court of Elizabeth’s at Hatfield and falls into working for William Cecil and later Francis Walsingham the spymaster, as his deputy. His work as a spymaster leads him to Paris where England’s ultra-Catholics seek support from the catholic city and the Guise family who are the staunchest of the catholic ruling class. That’s where Ned meets his counterpart Pierre Aumande who is a fabulously nasty character, low born bastard of a bustard and embarrassed about it, with a chip on his shoulder and aspirations of grandeur and ambitions to be the chief advisor to the Guise family who are the second family of France after the royal family and desperate to grab the throne for themselves or at the very least be the power behind the throne. Mary Queen of Scots makes an early appearance in the book as does Sylvie whose family own a bookshop as a façade for their real work of passing banned protestant books to their congregation.

Unlike the first two books, this book is international with chapters in Paris, Antwerp, Seville, Caribbean, London and Kingsbridge. Slavery and piracy are introduced in the book to add to the melting pot of troubles and questionable morals and ethics of the time and the book also refers to the first pilgrim boat to America at the end.

The book is gripping and I’d advice not having long breaks of too many days between readings as there is a large cast of characters and many parallel story lines in this complex plot. The author has conveniently put the list of character names at the beginning and back of the book for reference. I read the book in about nine days (750 pages).

I’m not sure whether the Kingsbridge series will remain a trilogy or whether there will be another book two hundred years later in the 18th century, perhaps covering the French Revolution and maybe even a new town, New Kingsbridge in America, with naturally more pirates and maybe witch trials?

Review: Tell Tale


Tell Tale is a charming set of short stories, which I much prefer to Roald Dahl’s Kiss Kiss. While Dahl’s stories were dark, gory and murky, Archer’s stories are more about the quirkiness of human beings and are simply nice.

I like the story of the Insurance fraud couple which has three potential endings for the reader to choose his/her favourite one. There was also the story of the Neapolitan policeman who is sent to a provincial town to solve a murder for which the entire population seems to be volunteering as the murderer. There are couple of hundred word flash fiction stories in here too and one that took a quarter of the book.

The author finishes Tell Tale with the first four chapters of his soon to come out intriguing cold war Russian thriller. I’ll definitely be reading that! Who knows if it’ll end up being an epic eight novel series like the Clifton Chronicles or whether it’ll be curtailed to a trilogy.