Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Cry of the Icemark by Stuart Hill

The Cry of the Icemark is the debut novel by Stuart Hill. Set in a land akin to that of Norse myth and legend the story tells the tale of young Princess Thirrin struggling to defend her land against an evil Empire which threatens to swallow Icemark and its neighbours to the north. In her perilous journey from her father's halls to the eventual battle Princes Thirrin encounters witches, warlocks, werewolves, vampires and other mythical creatures. The story is one of the underdog striving against great adversity, of children old before their time and of myth and legend. Can Thirrin save her kingdom and her friends? Or will the evil General Belloc triumph and wipe out the world as they know it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! Although the haughty and sometimes rude Princess can get on your nerves at times you have to admire her tenacity, courage and diplomatic skills. As someone who often feels they are alone in trying to achieve compromise it was refreshing to see it being wielded as a weapon of great power in this book. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys fantasy partictularly fantasy derived from Nordic myth and legend. The book is firmly steeped in our visions of Angol Saxon/Viking warrior culture and the fact that all the Generals from the Empire hae Roman names did not escape my notice!

I thought the book was well written and descriptive yet did not fall into the trap of all description and no action which is easy to do. Some characters were particularly lovingly portrayed such as Maggiore Totus and Thirrin's father King Redrought (who likes to wear yellow slippers). I particularly liked the relationship between Maggiore and Thirrin's uncle Olememnon. There are some beautifully well written scenes and I for one recommend this to anyone. Definitely one to read on this long winters nights with a good hot drink :)

*4 Stars*

Monday, October 30, 2006

For King and Country by Kate Sedley

Kate Sedley is more usually known for her Roger the Chapman series, which is set in the late 15th century. 'For King and Country' is set almost two centuries later during the English Civil War. It follows the story of Lilias, the daughter of a religious dissenter, who finds herself in Bristol at the outbreak of the English Civil War. Alone she has to turn to the family of MP Richard Pride for help.

Unfortunately I can't really say anymore about the novel. If you want a proper summary of the book try here. The reason I can't say anymore is that I had to give up reading this book. I got part way through chapter 5 (approximately 85 pages) when I felt I could go no further. I disliked all the characters, none of them appealed to me at all. The plot seemeded sluggish and did not hold my interest. I found myself flicking forward to try and find something redeeming in this book but I had to give up. Despite enjoying Sedley's 'Roger the Chapman' series very much, I found her first foray away from Roger was not particularly successful.

If anyone has managed to read this novel I'd would really appreciate your comments as I'm sure there must have been someone who enjoyed it!

0 starts

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The poisoned chalice by Bernard Knight

Yes I'm back again :) Hopefully for a while, so stick around for some more book reviews :) Remember these reviews *may* contain spoilers! Please feel to add comments of you own to any of these book reviews

The poisoned chalice is the second book in the John Crowner series by Bernard Knight. Set in 12th century Devon the series follows the life of John Crowner, recently appointed Coroner of Devon and staunch supporter of the absent King Richard. The this installment John has to deal with the rape of the daughter of one of the prominent citizens of Exeter. Not long after another well-to-do lady of the town is found dead in a churchyard thanks to an illegal abortion. Just who is guilty of these crimes and those that follow? Meanwhile John has to wrangle with his brother-in-law, the local sheriff, over what comes under the coroner's jurisdiction. Nothing seems to be straightforward!

This book is a welcome break from some of the later politics heavy books in the series. Although there are some undertones of the political situation within which the books are set, the book doesn't feel like a constant battle between the supporters of the king and the supporters of Prince John. As always Bernard Knight manages to paint an accurate and down to earth view of 12th century life. The rich are rich, but the poor are poor. People have real problems (pregnancy, unhappy marriages, rape etc) many of which do translate into the modern world. It deals with the after effects of rape, which you don't necessarily see when its covered in modern cop dramas. It shows how those around the victim can also be affected (in this case her fiancee).

On the whole the book is well written and I didn't feel bored at any point. It wasn't a book that I couldn't put down necessarily but I did want to learn what happened, whodunnit :) I would certainly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical murder mysteries or indeed murder mysteries as a whole. John Crowner is not perfect and does suffer from time to time. Unlike some modern dectectives whose personal lives are a complete and utter shamble, you do find yourself feeling life isn't all too bad for him. It's certainly not a thoroughly depressing kind of detective story!

3 stars

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Empress Orchid by Anchee Min

I was recommended this book whilst reading 'Memoirs of a Geisha'. It was also recommended on Richard and Judy back in March.

Empress Orchid is the story of a woman, whose bloodline is noble enough to allow her to apply to be one of the emperor's wives but lives in poverty. The book follows her through her early life, through her application, her choosing and her subsequent life in the Forbidden City. All this is against the backdrop of China's increasing woes at the hands of the British, French and Russians in the late 19th century. Can Orchid survive the feuding between the concubines, desperate to conceive an heir, political intrigues and the guns of the westerners?

This is a beautifully written book. The first time I picked it up I read the first 11 chapters without realising! Easy to read, a fascinating story, it's hard to pick any faults. It certainly is a must for anyone with any interest in Imperial China, particularly in the 19th century. Min describes every room, every costume, every ceremony with great care and you can feel the scenes unfolding around you. I've had real difficulty putting this book down and it's been such a shame to have to go back to work after I've finished my lunch! This is a beautiful, well crafted book.

5 stars

Monday, May 15, 2006

Grim Tuesday by Garth Nix

Grim Tuesday is the second book in Garth Nix's The Keys to the Kingdom Series. After defeating Mister Monday and taking control of the First Key, Arthur leaves the House to return to the secondary realms leaving strict orders to be left alone for at least six years. Within minutes of the new day, Tuesday, Arthur is summoned back to the House, this time to defeat Grim Tuesday. The Lower House is in serious debt to Grim Tuesday, who is calling in the money that is owed. He will stop at nothing to claim what is owed to him, even reposessing Arthur's home on Earth. Can Arthur brave the Pit, free the second part of the will and defeat Grim Tuesday?

Garth Nix is superb writer. I have read his Abhorsen series with great delight and thoroughly enjoyed the first installment of this present series, Mister Monday. Although Grim Tuesday was well written unfortunately it suffered the curse of the 'second book' to some degree, it was not as good as the first one. I was not as gripped by this storyline unlike the previous book, perhaps because in some ways it is a repeat of the format of the first book. A mortal trying to outwit the Denizon of the Day to free a piece of the will. Despite this, Nix still manages to keep the scenarios fresh. I think perhaps I found this book hard to get into because of the fact much of the initial action in the House is in the Pit, which is best described as a coal mine with London smog and the trappings of the Industrial Revolution (but sadly no canaries). In other words Nix has placed a lot of action on a backdrop of nothingness almost. A hard thing to do!

I would definitely encourage people to read this series. Ok so Grim Tuesday is a slight let down after Mister Monday, but it's not a disaster. I'm definitely looking forward to Drowned Wednesday.

3 and a half stars

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Apologies to anyone who has been trying to e-mail me! I seem to have got my e-mail address wrong! I've now updated my profile with the right one so no further problems.

Again, very sorry!

Scorpion Rising by Marilyn Todd - a review

Scorpion Rising is the latest book by Marilyn Todd in the Claudia series. Claudia Seferius is the young widow of a Roman wine merchant. Left the entire business by her late husband, Claudia finds herself up against her late husband's family, the Wine Merchants guild and society at large. It's not easy running a business in a man's world. Claudia often finds herself on the wrong side of the law trying to keep the business afloat, being chased by the drop dead gorgeous head of the Security Police, Marcus Cornelius Orbillo.

In this outing, Claudia finds herself blackmailed into investigating the death of a young acolyte. She's managed to get herself on the wrong side of a Gaulish crime lord, known as the Scorpion, who wants her dead. The only way to save her skin is to discover the killer. The priestesses are known as the Hundred Handed as they talk with their hands. They worship nature, believe dwarves have healing powers and keep men as sex slaves. Claudia must penetrate this deeply secretive society to get to the bottom of this mystery, before the Scorpion finds her and fulfils his threats.

This is in fact Claudia's 13th outing and the format is becoming a little tired. The constant 'will they get together or won't they?' between Claudia and Orbillo is particularly frustrating and you'd think by now they would have sorted themselves out!

The storyline as a whole has more twists and turns than a labyrinth with a number of smaller mysteries interweaving their way through the main murder mystery. I must admit I did get lost on occasion, although whether this was down to having to read it in snatches over lunch breaks or was a fault of the book I don't know. I certainly didn't have it all worked out and there were some big surprises. On the whole though I found Claudia's constant berating of the Hundred Handed a bit over powering. Ok so there are plenty of things you can find fault with (men kept as sex slaves, no marriage, priestess not keeping their children etc) but as someone who tries to tolerate other cultures I just found myself wanting to knock some tolerance into Claudia!

It's reasonably written, but it's not a must read. If you've enjoyed the other books in the series, it's worth reading. If you fancy a murder mystery series set in Ancient Rome with a heroine rather than a hero, then I'd advise you start at the beginning and work your way through the series rather than reading this one first. You do need to know something about Claudia before launching into this book. The first book in the series is I Claudia.

3 stars

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The Cup of Ghosts - a review

The Cup of Ghosts by Paul Doherty

Well I managed to finish this book sooner than I thought I would!

The Cup of Ghosts is the first book in a series telling the story of Isabella of France's lady-in-waiting, Mathilde. The story covers the period immediately prior to Isabella's wedding to Edward II, king of England, in Boulogne through to the weeks after her coronation in Westminster. The plot is largely based on primary sources from the 14th century, which reflects the author's academic interests (he obtained a doctorate from Oxford for his thesis on Edward II and Queen Isabella).

The book is slow to start. To begin with you feel you will be reading Mathilde's train of consciousness, and I found the moments where she interrupts her dialogue to berate herself frustrating. Thankfully Doherty eventually relaxes into his more usual story telling style. The storyline has been very well researched and at times you do feel Doherty is over doing the facts, describing in great detail the clothes and ceremonies, down to the different fabrics used in Isabella's gowns. The slow pace of the book can also be annoying as the book covers a very short period of time in great depth. You feel as if Doherty relates almost every meal Isabella attended in a 12 month period!

Despite the slow pace and the over attention to detail the book is worth reading. I'm not a great fan of historical political fiction (endless negotiations, banquets and ceremonies can be a little tedious after a while) but thankfully there is also a murder mystery element in the book, even if the murder mystery is historically accurate. There is plenty of sleuthing, bodies and intrigue to satisfy.

This series is some what of a departure from his other two series set in Medieval England. Instead of using the history of the period as a backdrop for the action, he uses the history as the actual story. It certainly is a great book if you want to learn about this period in English royal history. A slow starter but worth sticking with.

3 Stars

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Roman Ransom - Review

A couple of days ago I finished A Roman Ransom by Rosemary Rowe. It is the 8th book in the Libertus series, set in 2nd Century Britain under Roman occupation. Libertus is the freedman of the senior magistrate in the province and works as a mosaic maker. He continually seems to get mixed up in murder mysteries that he has to solve for his patron.

In this installment Libertus is suffering from a serious illness. Unfortunately his patron's wife Julia and young son Marcellinus have been kidnapped and his patron is anxious for him to help search for them. When a ransom demand to release a prisoner in exchange for Julia and Marcellinus arrives, Marcus finds himself in a difficult position. Does he release the prisoner to save his family at the risk of his career or does he sacrifice his family? Will Libertus be able to help from his sick bed?

It's not Rowe's best work. Some of the themes in this book have occurred before (although in a slightly different format). Part of the problem is that a kidnapping theme can often be frustrating because of the waiting, the lack of action between ransom notes etc and Libertus' illness confining him to bed most of the time. It's not a dreadful book though. Like all good mystery stories the actual mystery is quite simple and to be honest I didn't have it all figured out by the time the answers were revealed. Yet there just felt like there was something lacking.

3 stars

Currently reading (04/05/06)

I'm currently reading Paul Doherty's Cup of Ghosts. I've found it a little different from his other work in that the prologue takes the form of someone's train of thought which makes the book a little harder to get in to. At least it is set in one of the periods that Doherty specialises. The book is about Isabella of France who married Edward II of England in the 14th century. He has already written a non-fiction book on this period, Isabella and the strange death of Edward II and I understand he also has an Oxford doctorate in the topic. When I finish it I'll write a review :)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

What do I like?

I thought the best way to start this blog would be by saying which authors I already read, just to give you a taste :) In the last few months in particular I've been reading (in no particular order!) :-

Rosemary Rowe - Writes murder mysteries set in 2nd century Britain during the Roman occupation

Paul Doherty - I like reading his Hugh Corbett series of murder mysteries set in the medieval period in Britian. I've also read some of his books set in the late Roman Empire (e.g. The Song of the Gladiator) and enjoy those. My favorites though are his Brother Athelstan series, set in Medieval London.

Susanna Gregory - Matthew Bartholomew series, set in early medieval Cambridge. I recently read her first foray into 17th century London and loved it. Again she writes crime/murder mysteries

Jonathan Stroud - The Bartimeus Triology, really good childre's fantasy series

Christopher Paolini - Eragon and The Eldest. Absolutely the best fantasy books I have read in some time. Enthralling

Marilyn Todd - Roman murder mystery series

Alys Clare - Medieval murder mystery books

Sharon Penman - I like her series about Justin de Quincy, a knight of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (political intrigue in medieval England)

J K Rowling - Don't think I need to say anymore!

Clive Cussler - I love Dirk Pitt and Kurt Austin and his new series based on the Oregon is also fab! Good old fashioned adventure.

Garth Nix - read all of the Abhorsen series and enjoyed those. Recently read Mister Monday. Children's fantasy books.

Bernard Knight - Murder mysteries set in 12th century england with the King's Coroner for Devon, Sir John De Wolfe

Deryn Lake - 18th century murder mysteries

Eoin Colfer - Love the Artemis Fowl series. Another children's fantasy series

Edward Marston - Has a murder mystery series set in Restoration England and Victorian Britain.

Alexander McCall Smith - Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency series, Sunday Philosophy Club etc. Hard to describe!

Peter Tremayne - Murder mystery series set in 7th century Ireland

So yes, I like historical crime mysteries and children's fantasy books :) But I also read other bits and pieces like Alexander McCall Smith and the last Sharon Penman I read (Time and Chance) although set in the 12th century was not a murder mystery. I also read Memoirs of a Geisha a few months ago and am trying to get hold of Empress Orchid. Therefore bit of a range of books I read! Would love more suggestions of books you think I might like. Will also be posting some reviews so watch out for those :)