Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Book Review - To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mocking bird - Harper Lee. (Re-read)

When asked what my favourite book is, I always state that it is impossible for me to answer such a question but "to kill a mocking bird" is definitively up there. I studied it in school and it was one of the few books that I actually enjoyed writing essays on.

I recently convinced my brother-in-law in read it and he loved it. It got me thinking. I loved the book when I was 17. How would I regard it as a 33 year old Dad with my own children?

The blurb:

"Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird". This is a lawyer's advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of this story - a black man charged with raping a white girl in the Deep South of the 1930s.

The answer to my question was that I was incredibly disappointed. Nah, just kidding. If possible I loved the book more.

I found Scout's exploits with Jem and Dillon nostalgic. They capture childhood perfectly. Scott's views on school and her neighbour's are endearing. They are so innocently observed but at the same time have an honest common sense to them. As a 17 year old I wanted to return to my childhood after reading this book, as a 33 year old, I want to do the same.

More importantly, I want to be the type of Father to my boys that Atticus is. Subtle, moralistic, but approachable, Atticus believes in teaching his children right from wrong, whilst at the same time letting them find they're own way.

The second half of the novel concentrates on the trial of a Negro accused of assaulting a white woman.  It is through the build up to the trial and the trial itself that Scout and Jem are able to learn about the injustice that exists in the world and why it important to still try and make that difference.

To kill a mocking bird has so many great moments: Atticus and the rabid dog; Jem and Mrs Dubose's punishment and of course Boo Radley that I could literally hurl superlatives at it all day.

All I will say that this is and will always be one of my favourite books of all time. Read it if you haven't, re-read it if you have.

My Rating: 9.8

Monday, February 25, 2013

Book Review - Roman: The fall of Britannia

Roman- The Fall of Britannia by K Ashman

Review by Jacqui Slaney

As is obvious from my latest reviews, I have read alot of stories about the Roman Army just recently. I have been lucky and all the books I have come across have been enjoyable with plenty of action and very good characters. They are all set in different time periods as well, so you are able to get a different view of the world in each series.

 In this book, Claudius is the Roman Emperor, to gain support in the Senate, he has decided on an invasion of a rebellious island at the edge of the empire-

Britannia. The last unconquered stronghold of the Celts and a land of gold and slaves. A dangerous place of men without fear, led by mystical Druid warriors, yet still to face the might of Rome in the unrelenting expansion of the Empire. Four Roman legions have assembled in Gaul undertaking final preparations for the invasion of Britannia and two young men are posted to a training cohort under the sadistic tutorage of battle-scarred veteran, Remus. The training is brutal but eventually the trainees find themselves involved in their first campaign, the invasion of Britannia. The legions invade in a frenzy of brutality and one of the defending Celtic warriors is forced to flee the battle to embark on a frantic rescue mission to the isle of Druids, where a young girl is due to be sacrificed. Meanwhile a cohort of legionaries under the command of Remus is tasked with finding the source of the Celtic gold. The Romans find themselves in strange and unfriendly environment and as they close in on their quarry, the fates of all four men become intertwined and a long held secret revealed, culminating in a savage climax that affects the very future of Britannia.

The story starts in the arena and follows a gladiator as after a series of events he ends up working for an ex soldier on an estate and takes as his own child a son of a slave.

The child Prydain grows and after being made a citizen of Rome joins the Roman Army along with the Cassus, the Roman son of the ex soldier. The reader follows them through their training and the prejudice that Prydain has to put up with from not being a true Roman.

The POV changes back and forth through the story and the reader also get to know the Britons themselves and their defence against the approaching invasion. It focuses on two young people Gwenno a daughter of a tribe leader and Gwydion a warrior.

I liked this change of perspective as it gives the story more depth and an idea of what exactly being on the end of an invasion by the Romans would be like. 

There is some quite brutal descriptions of battle, but obviously you cannot expect a lot else with this period of history. There is a twist in the tale that you can see coming, but it gives the story some intrigue.

There are numerous complaints you will see in other reviews about the grammar and spelling and that characters when they speak use modern phrasing.

This is all-true, but take it from me it does not distract from the story. Yes, maybe some of the history is not totally spot on, but if I wanted a completely accurate story about the invasion, I would pick up a history book. I found at the start the writing was a little stiff, but as the book goes on the plot flows better and the characters become to be more natural.

I would say, if you are looking for an interesting book, then try this one, It’s not that long and I think it is worth the effort.

8 out of 10

Friday, February 22, 2013

Book Review - Outlaw

Outlaw - Angus Donald

Robin Hood has always enthralled me. Whether it was Errol Flynn's swashbuckling hero, Costner's OTT warrior or even Disney's take on the myth,I have loved them all and seen them multiple times. Angus Donald's series has always been on my radar then but it wasn't until Jacqui started raving about the series that I really started to take note.

The blurb:

When he's caught stealing, young Alan Dale is forced to leave his family and go to live with a notorious band of outlaws in Sherwood Forest. Their leader is the infamous Robin Hood. A tough, bloodthirsty warrior, Robin is more feared than any man in the county. And he becomes a mentor for Alan; with his fellow outlaws, Robin teaches Alan how to fight - and how to win. But Robin is a ruthless man - and although he is Alan's protector, if Alan displeases him, he could also just as easily become his murderer...From bloody battles to riotous feast days to marauding packs of wolves, Outlaw is a gripping, action-packed historical thriller that delves deep into the fascinating legend of Robin Hood.

One of my all time favourite series is the Warlord trilogy by Bernard Cornwell. Bernard took a well known story and flipped most of the characters on their heads. It worked perfectly, and what was left was a fascinating story. Gemmell produced the same with his Troy trilogy and after reading the opening book in Donald's Hood series, it looks like I have stumbled upon another winner.

Like with Cornwell's series, the story is told from a lesser known character who has the privilege of observing the main characters and offering an insight on what they think of them. In this case Alan Dale takes on the role. Alan is every bit as likeable as Cornwell's Derfel. This is a good thing as it allows Robin Hood to be flawed and not always likeable, which offers fresh insight into the man whilst still keeping the readers interest with Alan's exploits.

Robin Hood then is a complex entity. Whilst his actions are sometimes vile, he is clearly a good man with the right intentions and exudes leadership.

Donald manages to include all the common characters and actions associated with Robin Hood. Little John, Friar Tuck and King Richard are all present. Marion is also there, although she is referred to as Marie-Anne. Little John and Robin met fighting with sticks but not fighting on a log as the other stories indicate, whilst King Richard is not yet the Monarch and the Friar does not always see eye to eye with Robin.

The subtle differences add to the tale rather than distract from it. As for the plot itself, it focuses on Alan Dale's childhood and introduction to the outlaws rather than reveal Robin's main plans. This too works well and immerses the reader into the setting nicely.

The climatic battle wraps up the plot nicely whilst logically paving the way for the second book.

As of right now, I am struggling to find any weaknesses with "Outlaw." I think that is the best way to end this review.

My Rating: 9.2

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Book Review - White Wing (JS)

White Wing by Gordon Kendall
Product Details

Review by Jacqui Slaney

Considering I have so many new books to read, and though it may be my imagination, but the pile seems to get bigger every day! Lately, I am returning to old favourites to read, due to the amount of time I am spending sitting round hospitals, I find that I prefer the comfort of a book that I have read and enjoyed.

This one is such a book, I first read it years ago, and have kept a copy ever since. Though I have read many science fiction novels, I have always classed this as one of the best, which is odd in one sense, as its now really hard to find a copy and have not found anything else by this author.

In the story, Earth has been destroyed during a war with an alien race, and the Galactic League has accepted the scattered remnants of the human race as refugees.

They have been grudgingly given an artificial world to take as their own, and are looked down upon by all the other races in the league. They are allowed to form a squadron to fight with the other league members, and each squadron is given its own colour. To show Earths barely tolerated presence, their Wing is given white, which everyone else sees as a non-colour.
This Wing soon becomes the refugees’ source of pride as they end up with more Aces than any other and more kills as their pilots become the most skilled.

Within the Wing, there are teams of flyers and support officers and this books focus is mainly on one such team.

The characters are introduced well, with the POV changing when necessary, which increases your knowledge and connection to them.

The story actually starts with a death of a member of the team, and though this character is unknown to you, the writing is so skilful that the reader feels the effect on the characters left as you do feel as if you know them. As the book goes on, you understand why the death is felt so keenly and what the addition of a new member actually means to the team.

The characters are great, and to name just a couple of characters, you will cheer on Dustin in his struggle and feel like slapping Gregory when he acts like an idiot.
There are great battles and there is a lot of intrigue with spies, bombs and poisonings so really there is something for everyone.
All the threads are nicely pulled together at the ending, though it feels like there could have been a sequel, but unfortunately this never materialised.
This is a hard book to find now, but trust me, it is really worth the hunt.

10 out of 10

Monday, February 18, 2013

Book Review - Too close to home

Too close to home – Linwood Barclay
Too Close to Home
I really enjoyed Linwood Barclay’s first novel. It was very much in the mold of Harlan Coben’s standalone novels. I.e. good characters and fascinating plot twists. What I especially liked, is that they focus on ordinary family’s and explore how they would react if the unimaginable happened and how far they would be willing to go to protect your family.
The blurb:
When the Cutter family's next-door-neighbours, the Langleys, are gunned down in their house one hot August night, the Cutters' world is turned upside down. That violent death should have come so close to them is shocking enough in suburban Promise Falls, but at least the Cutters can console themselves with the thought that lightning is unlikely to strike twice in the same place. Unless, of course, the killers went to the wrong house...
At first the idea seems crazy - but each of the Cutter family has a secret they'd rather keep buried. What was on that old computer teenage Derek and his friend Adam Langley had salvaged? And where is it now? What hold does a local professor and bestselling author have on Ellen Cutter? And what does Jim Cutter know about Mrs Langley that even her husband didn't?
To find out who killed the Langleys and why, everybody's secrets are going to have to come out. But the final secret - the secret that could save them or destroy them - is in the one place nobody would ever think of looking...
Too close to home is another winner. A chilling opening chapter paves the way for the start of the unravelling of multiple mysteries. Family members all have secrets in their past that they wish to remain buried. But at the same time, these secrets are realistic. The kind of thing that could happen to you or me and that we might keep from our loved ones. The result is that the reader is immediately immersed in the story and is swept along at a frantic pace.
The story focuses on the Cutter family and in particular the father Jim. Jim is a disillusioned artist, lacking in confidence and is not convinced his work is any good. As a result he had taken a number of jobs that do not fulfil him. One of these was working for the local Mayor, a man Jim is disgusted with and who regularly offends Jim’s principles.  
As with all stories of this ilk, every little detail is vital: Jim’s relationship with the Mayor – crucial; His wife’s relationship to her boss – relevant; Derek’s hobby – vital. The good thing about Linwood’s plotting though, is that nothing mentioned feels forced or contrived in any way. Linwood manages to slot in all these plot elements so that they are unravelled naturally and logically.
Although the identity of the killer can be seen a mile off, seriously a blind man in the dark with a blindfold on could see this one coming (not sure that the dark and blindfold actually make a difference in my analogy – if you’re blind, you’re blind), this does not matter. The story is still gripping and there are still aspects of the plot that are wrapped up nicely in the end.
All of the characters have something to them. They are fleshed out just enough to be interesting and are likeable enough for you to care about them.
There are some negative points. Jim is uncharacteristically trusting of certain people given the circumstances of the past few days and some prominent characters fade into the background by the end of the novel which is disappointing.
The ending, is more exciting than your average novel of this kind with a degree of unpredictability to it. My wife has read the rest of Linwood’s novels and raves about them. I think I will have to follow suit.
My rating: 8.6

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Book Review - Bloodline

Bloodline – Mark Billingham
I unquestionably regard Mark Billingham as one of my favourite authors. For some bizarre reason however, I do not read his books very often. I read “Death Message” in 2010 and before that “Buried” in 2007. Both books I rated with high scores but for some unknown reason I once again waited a long time before I read another book. Alas, I chastised myself and plunged once more into the world of DI Thorne.
The blurb:
When a dead body is found in a North London flat, it seems like a straightforward domestic murder until a bloodstained sliver of X-ray is found clutched in the dead woman's fist - and it quickly becomes clear that this case is anything but ordinary. DI Thorne discovers that the victim's mother had herself been murdered fifteen years before by infamous serial killer Raymond Garvey. The hunt to catch Garvey was one of the biggest in the history of the Met, and ended with seven women dead. When more bodies and more fragments of X-ray are discovered, Thorne has a macabre jigsaw to piece together until the horrifying picture finally emerges. A killer is targeting the children of Raymond Garvey's victims. Thorne must move quickly to protect those still on the murderer's list, but nothing and nobody are what they seem. Not when Thorne is dealing with one of the most twisted killers he has ever hunted...
Bloodline features one of the most harrowing prologues in recent memory. Its significance does not become apparent until later in the novel but regardless it is a testament to Mark’s skills as a writer that he can create something so eerie using brand new characters within a few short pages.
After that, reading the book was like slipping into an old pair of slippers and sitting by the fire. Thorne is as excellent as ever. Struggling to deal with his personal life, he remains as stoic and quintessentially male. As usual he throws himself into the case he is working on rather than find a way to communicate with his partner.
The great thing about Mark Billingham’s books is that if you were to remove all the plot elements, all of the drama and even the antagonists, I would be quite happy to follow Thorne’s life as he sits behind his desk or down the pub conversing with his colleagues. Billingham executes dialogue perfectly. It is honest, realistic and funny. At the same time it is never mundane. The banter between Thorne as his colleagues is always interesting and at the same time progresses the story either via the plot or characters.
As I alluded to earlier, in “Bloodline” Billingham focuses on Thorne’s inadequacies as a partner to Louise. After an upsetting incident in their lives, it is Hendrix that is left to console both of them as neither can find a way to express their feelings. This leaves Thorne both grateful and resentful that he is unable to talk to his girlfriend and introduces a new dynamic in the way the characters interact with each other.
The plot itself is a good one. Raymond Garvey was one of the most notorious serial killers the Met put away. Now as the children of his victims are being murdered Thorne strives to protect them. This is an interesting twist on your average serial killer story. Thorne knows who the next victims are and vows to protect them, even if they are not altogether keen on being protected.
The motivations of the serial killer are clear. The killer is clearly deranged but their reasoning is perhaps a little understandable in a warped way. Billingham manages to keep things interesting by mixing the correct amount of drama and intrigue with suitable dollops of gore.
The conclusion is satisfactory . A little predictable perhaps but it is disguised enough not to matter. Billingham continues to impress with his series and now I need to catch up!!
My rating: 8.8

Monday, February 11, 2013

Book Review - Legionary: Viper of the North

Legionary- Viper of the North by Gordon Doherty

Viper of the North

Review by Jacqui Slaney

I really did not mean to mean to read this book, having read so many good Roman stories lately, I had wanted a longer break before returning to these series.
Unfortunately, I kept catching sight of this book 2 on my Kindle and having enjoyed the first so much, I gave in and had to read it.

The Danubian frontier is weaker than ever, and a storm is gathering in the north . . . Deep winter, 376 AD: Emperor Valens has withdrawn the field armies from Moesia and Thracia to fight in the Persian War. The impoverished limitanei legions left behind to defend the banks of the River Danubius are now all that stands between the war-hungry Goths and heart of the Eastern Roman Empire. For Numerius Vitellius Pavo and the men of the XI Claudia, the brief from Emperor Valens is simple: to avoid war with the Goths at all costs while the Roman defences are so weak. But in the frozen lands north of the Danubius, a dark legend, thought long dead, has risen again. The name is on the lips of every warrior in Gutthiuda; the one who will unite the tribes, the one whose armies will march upon the empire, the one who will bathe in Roman blood . . . The Viper!

This is a straight continuation from the first book, using the same characters of Pavo, Gallus and the rest.
As good as the first book is though, in this story you can clearly see the authors gained experience as the characters are more finished and the dialogue is more natural, which can be a hard trick to master.

This story is fast paced with different sub plots twisting through it, one of which is the intrigue about the Viper, is he is real, and if he is, who is he, as there are hints dropped that the Romans are being watched.  There are many clues to this is, and it can be worked out though the clues are subtle. There is a good hint of menace to this story with a shadowy puppet master pulling the strings of all the different peoples involved. There are also plot lines cleared up from Book 1 making clearer some of actions of the different characters and filling out their backgrounds.

The battle scenes are excellent, well described and bloody enough for anyone and this world of the Goths and Romans is made very real for the reader especially with the big scene at the end of the booking with the Danube crossing.

I really enjoyed this book, it is very easy to read and hard to put down. All the ends of the story are nicely pulled together with an opening for the next instalment, which I for one will be looking out for.

9 out of 10

Friday, February 8, 2013

Book Review - The Wonderful wizard of Oz

The wonderful wizard of Oz – Frank L Baum

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Like many I grew up watching the Wizard of Oz over and over. Christmas was considered a tragedy the film was not listed in the TV Guide. My house echoed with cries from my sister saying “Melting, melting, oh what a world!” or “Put ‘em up, put ‘em up. I’ll fight you with my eyes closed…”

I always meant to get around to reading the original books but the closest I have come is reading Maguire’s, “Wicked” which I found was a great concept but a poor book. and the forthcoming film reignited this endeavour. When I mentioned this to Jacqui, being Jacqui she immediately read the first two books and reviewed them. Now finally I have got round to doing the same.

The Blurb:

Dorothy thinks she is lost forever when a terrifying tornado crashes through Kansas and whisks her and her dog, Toto, far away to the magical Land of Oz. To get home Dorothy must follow the yellow brick road to Emerald City and find the wonderfully mysterious Wizard of Oz. Together with her companions the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion whom she meets on the way, Dorothy embarks on a strange and enchanting adventure.

I did not realise that Frank L Baum’s books were intended for children. Or to be more specific, I did not realise that they were so short and basic. This is not necessarily a bad thing (give me Baum’s original over Maguire’s tedious political versions any day of the week) but it did leave me sometimes wishing for more.

For starters I was looking forward to reading in greater detail parts of the film I loved, in particular the Wicked witch of the west and the winged monkeys. Not only did I find this sequences vastly different but disappointing in the book in some cases. The role of the Wicked witch of the West is greatly reduced to such an extent that blink and you will miss her. In the film the Margaret Hamilton’s witch is perfectly played as oozing malevolence and cruelty. In the book she is ineffective and almost spoilt. There is no indication that she poses any sort of threat to Dorothy and her companions herself, relying on others to do her bidding and sulking when they fail.

The winged monkeys on the other hand, are not evil in any way. They are slaves forced to grant three wishes to whomever possess the golden cap. Instead of making them interesting characters, they only serve as nice Deus ex Machina when the group needs to travel any sort of distance.

Dorothy herself is likable another, and the Scarecrow, Tin man and cowardly lion are every bit as enjoyable as the film. Frank L Baum tries to remind us constantly of the characteristics they lack in their speech I.e the Scarecrow will often state he can’t offer a solution as he has no brain but their actions often contradict what they say to the point where the lack of brain, heart or courage is irrelevant to their adventures. I get that this is kind of the point but still.

The only other disappointing aspect (and this comes with the territory of the a children’s book) is that you never get the sense that the quartet are ever really in danger. Each time they are faced with a hardship or problem it is immediately resolved. Sometimes I yearned for a bit of drawn out tension.

However, these are minor quibbles when you consider the target audience. There are a host of positives to the book. Some are so good it makes you wonder why they were never included in the original film. The china village, the scarecrows defeat of the crows, tin man’s defeat of the wolves and bees and the Twinkies in particular are all great little episodes.

The wizard is also better, appearing in a different form to each of the companions and his fraudulent behaviour exposed to a greater depth - the spectacles to enter the Emerald city for example, is a great idea.

All in all, I found the Wonderful wizard of Oz a charming read. It was enjoyable enough that I wished some of the parts expanded but as a children’s book is still stands the test of time.

My rating: 8.4

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Book Review - Storm Front (JS)

Storm Front: The Dresden Files Book One by Jim Butcher

Storm Front
Review by Jacqui Slaney

Having read so much historical fiction lately, I decided to take a break from that and go for a fantasy novel for my next book.

I actually decided on this one, as saw a later book in the series in a bookshop and liked the sound of it, also had a vague memory of Rob talking about this author (very bad of me not to remember!).

Meet Harry Dresden, Chicago's first (and only) Wizard P.I. Turns out the 'everyday' world is full of strange and magical things - and most of them do not play well with humans. That's where Harry comes in. Harry is the best at what he does - and not just because he's the only one who does it. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal capabilities, they look to him for answers. There's just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks. So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry's seeing dollar signs. But where there's black magic, there's a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry's name. And that's when things start to get . . . interesting. Magic - it can get a guy killed.

For someone who enjoys the Rivers Of London series you can see this was an easy choice for me to make. Instead, of a trainee wizard police officer, Harry Dresden is a fully trained wizard who is a private investigator just to pay the bills.

To help the money situation, he first takes on a case that appears to be about a missing husband and then in his role as advisor to the police department goes to a double murder scene. He soon realises that these cases are intertwined and is dragged into a situation, where being arrested as a suspect in murder could be the least of his worries.

As I have mentioned before, I am wary about reading books about magic, some of them are overdone with all things magical being thrown at you left, right and centre. The writing here is much more subtle, with the story set in very similar time to ours, except with things going wrong, more and more people are turning to the arcane for help.

 Harry is an excellent character and has a strong supporting cast of police, fairies, mobsters and vampires, which makes this a very enjoyable book. I liked the character of Murphy and that of Bob and Toot-Toot (what a great name for a fairy). There is a good baddie, and some demons and giant scorpions thrown in for fun as well (see there is something for everyone).
The story zips along at a good rate with writing that sets the scene well. The descriptions of what Harry sees when he opens his third eye, is well described and should be creepy enough for anyone.

This book made a nice change for me and I will definitely be looking for more by this author as have been told that the later books only get better.

9 out of 10

Monday, February 4, 2013

Book Review - If snow hadn't fallen

If snow hadn’t fallen – S J Bolton
The Kindles are a great invention for a number of reasons, one of these is they have allowed authors the opportunity to write short novellas on a frequent basis. These are usually very cheap and allow the authors to remind their fans why they are so good and give them their “fix” whilst waiting for the next release. S J Bolton is one of my favourite finds in recent years. I was therefore pleased to find this novella on the Kindle whilst I was waiting for her next release in April.
The Blurb:
They say that snow covers everything that is mean and sordid and ugly in the world...but beneath the carpet of white, the ugliness remains.

11 November 2012, London.
Long-smouldering feelings come to a head in a burst of shocking violence. A young Muslim man is brutally murdered by a masked gang.

There is just one witness to the horrific crime: DC Lacey Flint. Or at least that's what she thinks...
This is the perfect “fix” I was talking about. It shows off everything that is good about S J Bolton’s writing: Great characters and intriguing plots. Most recently S J Bolton has commenced a series based on DC Lacey Flint. In this novella we explore Lacey’s character further. We see what makes her tick and her need to pursue cases by bending the rules and thinking outside the box. At the same time, she continues to develop from the rather insular character we first met to a more human person, willing to co-operate with others.
The plot focuses on a horrific crime that Lacey witnesses. A crime based on racial motivation. However, the progress moves too slowly for Lacey. Haunted by the fear that she could have done more to save the victim, she relentlessly pursues all avenues. It is the perfect demonstration of Lacey Flint’s need to succeed and solve the crime.
The plot itself, although a simple one, develops in an interesting direction. I’ve seen some reviews that have said they felt the story was predictable. I for one did not think so. The ending was wholly satisfying and wrapped up things nicely. As I said, a perfect fix of S J Bolton.
My rating: 8.4

Friday, February 1, 2013

Book Review - The Iron King (JS)

The Iron King by Maurice Druon

Review by Jacqui Slaney

I had heard of this series when reading George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, as he mentioned it as one of those series that inspired him to write it.

The story sounded like something I wanted to read, but though this book has been republished a few times in French, trying to find an English translation was quite hard, until now.
Found this while browsing and did not immediately recognise  the author but caught the name of George RR Martin as writing the foreword, when I realised what I had found, bought it without hesitation.

This is the description:

Accursed! Accursed! You shall be accursed to the thirteenth generation!”
The Iron King – Philip the Fair – is as cold and silent, as handsome and unblinking as a statue. He governs his realm with an iron hand, but he cannot rule his own family. His sons are weak and their wives adulterous; while his red-blooded daughter Isabella is unhappily married to an English king who prefers the company of men. A web of scandal, murder and intrigue is weaving itself around the Iron King; but his downfall will come from an unexpected quarter. Bent on the persecution of the rich and powerful Knights Templar, Philip sentences Grand Master Jacques Molay to be burned at the stake, thus drawing down upon himself a curse that will destroy his entire dynasty.

I have read many other reviews about this book, some positive, many negative. It is amazing how many people complain that just because GRRM said that this book inspired him, they were disappointed as they expected this book to be like his work, which it certainly is not, this is not historical fantasy no matter what some people call it.

This book was written roughly fifty years ago, so the language is slightly dated, but this does not distract at all from the quality of the writing.

 The story starts with the final downfall of the Templar’s, with the Grand Master being burnt at the stake. The throne needs money and the richness of the Templar’s has made them an obvious target. The curse spoken by Molay just before the flames take hold, is a dramatic piece of narrative, and is thrown against Philip, the Pope and the Kings highest advisor.

This is not the main story of the book, there are various sub plots involving the Lombard’s who are involved in lending money to everyone so know everyone’s secrets and you have the  infidelity of the three wives of Philips sons, which Isabella, the only one of the Kings children who seems to have any strength,  is determined to uncover.

I find the history of this time interesting, so was quickly hooked on the story, and actually read it in about three sittings. Like the Dorothy Dunnett’s books, you need to concentrate, due to intrigue in the story and the many characters though helpfully there is a list of characters at the beginning of the book so you can give yourself a reminder if needed who someone is. There is some details of the executions used and the various torture methods which can be a bit gruesome but really fit with the period of history

The majority of the story threads are tied up nicely by the end of the book, though obviously there is enough to keep your interest for book two.

I enjoyed this book and will definitely be looking for the next, if you like history and historical fiction, then give this one a go as think you will enjoy.

8 out of 10