Stuart Rudge, author of Rise of a Champion and Blood Feud, joins me for a look at building Islamic Zaragoza

Well, this is a first. Today, I welcome Stuart Rudge to my blog. He’s going to tell us all about his research for his new book, Blood Feud, Legend of the Cid Book 2, available now. So, I hand it over to Stuart and he’s going to tell us about building Islamic Zaragoza, which features in his new book.

Research can be boring and tedious – or, it can be interesting and engrossing. When I was researching the Islamic city of Zaragoza for my latest novel, Blood Feud, I found myself leaning in the camp of the latter. The more I was looking in to what medieval Islamic cities looked like and how they functioned, the more I was looking forward to describing it in my novel. Today, I am going to show you how I researched Zaragoza, and how it might have looked in the days of El Cid. Let’s go on a little tour.

I will start with the name. Before the Romans came to Spain, it was a village named Salduie, and then the Romans founded a colony for retired veterans and named it Caesaraugusta. After the Islamic invasion and conquest, it was renamed Saraqusta, which eventually evolved in to the modern name, Zaragoza. As I like to have historically authentic names to my novels, I have plumbed for the Islamic version of the name, like I have done with all of the various taifa kingdoms in the same period (e.g. Toledo is Tulaytula, Valencia is Balansiya, etc).

Below is a screenshot from Google Maps of the centre of modern Zaragoza, and includes some of the key features of the Islamic settlement. The orange lines indicate the approximate outline of the walls built by the Moors, along with the site of the Aljaferia palace, and La Zuda palace, which were key landmarks of the city in the eleventh century.

Estimated site of Islamic Saraqust

The Aljaferia

The Aljaferia palace is a unique building, as it is one of the only complete structures standing today which dates to the taifa period of Spanish history. Dating to the eleventh century, the palace was named “Palace of the Joy” by amir al-Muqtadir, and he held his court and greeted his embassies in his “Golden Hall” as he described it. The modern interior is largely different to what the Islamic amirs would have walked through, as the city was conquered by the kingdom of Aragon at the beginning of the twelfth century, and over time the Christian monarchs converted it to suit their tastes, but we do have examples of friezes from the eleventh century, and the columns and archways give us an indication of Islamic architectural and artistic styles from the period, as seen below. 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/72/La_Aljafer%C3%ADa_-_Palacio_taifa_-_Detalle_04.JPG/220px-La_Aljafer%C3%ADa_-_Palacio_taifa_-_Detalle_04.JPG
Column capitals and yeseria, c. eleventh century.
Images: Wikipedia

In its zenith it would have been a place of wonder and beauty, a tranquil palace in the centre of a neigh impregnable fortress just outside of the main city. As the building was being renovated during the latter half of the eleventh century, the only part of the citadel which the story of Blood Feud takes part in is the Troubadour tower, which preceded the citadel by around two hundred years, being part of an earlier fortification which was incorporated in to the Aljaferia palace.   

Aljafería Palace
Frontal image of the Aljaferia palace, with the Troubadour Palace on the right
Image: Wikipedia

La Zuda Palace

Before the amir of Zaragoza moved his court to the Aljaferia palace, the governors of the city were housed in La Zuda palace. Located in the old Roman part of the city, it was built adjacent to the corner section of the Roman wall next to the river, and like the Aljaferia, it was a similarly fortified and secure site.  

The current site is occupied by a sixteenth century tower and an eighteenth century church, which has replaced an earlier medieval church, and since none of the Islamic site remains, we have no definitive way of knowing what the palace would have looked like. In my view, the exterior wall would have looked something akin to that of the Aljaferia, albeit on a smaller scale. The interior is where imagination is needed. I took inspiration from the Aljaferia, the Alcazar of Seville and the Alhambra of Granada, three of the most famous Islamic palaces in Spain, thrown in with some artistic creativity, to create what I believe would have been a (roughly) accurate portrayal of what an Islamic palace would have looked like; a tranquil haven away from the hustle and bustle of the city. An example of what I came up with is below:

“Walking around the palace, I wondered why al-Muqtadir was moving his court to the citadel outside the walls. As we passed through the gate, we entered a courtyard with a long pool which stretched to a hall at the opposite end, with trees bearing peaches, lemons and pomegranates that ran parallel to the pool. Pointed archways with alternating black and white painted blocks were held up with thin black columns, and the walls were painted white with black script running down each wall. The colonnades around the periphery led to side rooms shielded with silken drapes, whilst bronze incense burners hung from the ceiling, filled the air with a perfumed scent intensified by the sweetness of the fruit trees. Court officials sauntered here and there as guards stood vigil with tall spears; each man wore the uniform of pale yellow favoured by the amir. There was relative silence within the palace save for the occasional chatter which echoed in the corridors, and made it a tranquil haven away from the commotion of the city.

            Idris led us across to the opposite side of the courtyard and through to a large hall, and here the decoration was more elaborate. The walls bore intricate patterns painted in vibrant blues, reds and yellows, and it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. I marvelled and let my jaw hang slack, for something so striking was rare in Castile and I could have lingered all day to drink it in. Fine bronze statues of stags lined the walls too, and the domed ceiling was of smooth, dark stone studded with small pieces of coloured glass, so it resembled the stars twinkling in the night sky. The perfumed scent intensified, and the air was filled with the sound of a man uttering what seemed like poetry to an audience.”    

The Roman City

By the eleventh century, the shell of the old Roman city of Caesaraugusta would still have been intact. The fact that part of the Roman walls still stand suggest they would have stood in some capacity in the Islamic period. We know that some parts still stood, as they do today, yet other parts would have been stripped of their masonry to be used elsewhere in the city for new structures, and only the foundations would have remained to form some sort of border or barrier. As the Moors built another wall around their own city, there was no need to fully maintain the Roman fortifications.

Estimated site of Roman Caesaraugusta

Part of the section in Zaragoza involves Antonio tailing an old foe towards the wharfs, and again later on when he is trying to prevent his escape. In my research I found scant information relating to what the Islamic wharf would have looked like at the time, and had to improvise. But around a month or so before I was going to release the book, I stumbled across the website Zaragoza.es. On there, it had a little pamphlet with information about the Roman forum, the wharf and the walls. From the below picture, we can garner quite a lot of how things looked.

Artist impression of how the Roman forum and wharfs would have looked. 
Image: Zaragoza.es

The central structure and wide open space is the old Roman forum, which was the beating heart of the city, and the structure below it, facing the river, is a huge warehouse. The image below shows a reconstruction of what the warehouse may have looked like.

Cross section of old Roman warehouse.
Image from Zaragoza.es

We know from sources that the forum was all but gone by the eleventh century; given the close proximity to the river, it is likely the area was turned in to a large market. It is also likely that the warehouse was still functioning at this time, and was used as a place to store goods coming straight from the ships before being taken to market, or further afield on the back of mules. Given the length of the wharf and the amount of ships that could have been docked at any one time, it is not hard to imagine the area as a hive of activity, with men coming from all corners of Europe, Africa and the Middle East, bringing goods such as spices, leather and metal work, raw materials from far off lands, luxurious silks and linens, and even slaves.  

After conducting all of my research, I made myself a little map with all the different sites of the city, and where the Roman and Islamic parts of the city would be. Here is what I came up with:

https://stuartrudge.files.wordpress.com/2020/03/zaragoza-2.png?w=611
My interpretation of how Saraqusta would have looked

The characteristics of both the Roman city and the Muslim city would have been very different. Roman cities generally followed a set of rules; wide, straight streets, close to a water source, with strong walls and a central open space called a forum, where the principle administrative buildings were located. Muslim cities tended to be more compact, with narrow, winding streets, branching off to cul-de-sacs of homes for the inhabitants, with a large space reserved for markets, and various mosques scattered throughout the cities. One example for the differences was transport. The Romans used wagons to transport their goods, and so main streets had to be wide enough to accommodate two wagons travelling abreast, whereas Muslim traders used pack animals such as mules, and so the streets would not be as wide. In a warm climate like Spain, narrower streets coupled with white washed walls of the buildings made the cities feel cooler, darker and more compact.

I hope you have enjoyed this little tour around the medieval city of Zaragoza. For a more in depth look at how I envisioned it, pick up a copy of Blood Feud, the second book in the Legend of the Cid series, and explore the secrets of one of the great taifa states of the medieval period.

Blood Feud is available now, and can be picked up from Amazon here.

Book Review – Fortress of Fury by Matthew Harffy – Historical Fiction

Here’s the blurb;

“AD 647. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the seventh instalment in the Bernicia Chronicles.

War hangs heavy in the hot summer air as Penda of Mercia and his allies march into the north. Caught unawares, the Bernician forces are besieged within the great fortress of Bebbanburg.

It falls to Beobrand to mount the defence of the stronghold, but even while the battle rages, old and powerful enemies have mobilised against him, seeking vengeance for past events.

As the Mercian forces tighten their grip and unknown killers close in, Beobrand finds himself in a struggle with conflicting oaths and the dreadful pull of a forbidden love that threatens to destroy everything he holds dear.

With the future of Northumbria in jeopardy, will Beobrand be able to withstand the powers that beset him and find a path to victory against all the odds?”

Beobrand is becoming a firm favourite for fans of historical fiction. But, as many will know, I struggle a little with his ‘grumpiness.’ I have enjoyed the author’s new hero, found in The Wolf of Wessex, a whole lot more, and I’m really keen to read the new book A Time For Swords, as well. But, I’m always curious to see what Beobrand is up to, and therefore I was keen to get an advanced copy from Netgalley and the publisher.

Fortress of Fury is a solid addition to The Bernicia Chronicles.

It begins strongly, and slowly builds to the portrayal of Bebbanburg facing one of its greatest challenges throughout its long history. The battle scenes are well-played out and Beobrand earns battle glory for himself.

The scenes that follow the big battle are very much laying the groundwork for future stories about Beobrand and his band of geishas, and for that reason, I very much felt that the book peaked too soon. I was anticipating a blood and gore-drenched battle that lasted for days, and that was not what I got, concerned rather with events after the attack on Bebbanburg. It’s not a direction I was expecting, and it wrong-footed me a little.

That said, I look forward to seeing what trouble Beobrand and his geishas get themselves involved in next. I’m sure it’s not going to be pretty, and if Beobrand cracks a smile, I might well cheer!

Fortress of Fury is released on in ebook on 6th August 2020, and the audiobook and hardback will follow later in the year. (The cover is amazing).

Book Review – Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England by Annie Whitehead – non-fiction

Here’s the blurb;

“Many Anglo-Saxon kings are familiar. Æthelred the Unready is one, yet less is written of his wife, who was consort of two kings and championed one of her sons over the others, or his mother who was an anointed queen and powerful regent, but was also accused of witchcraft and regicide. A royal abbess educated five bishops and was instrumental in deciding the date of Easter; another took on the might of Canterbury and Rome and was accused by the monks of fratricide.

Anglo-Saxon women were prized for their bloodlines – one had such rich blood that it sparked a war – and one was appointed regent of a foreign country. Royal mothers wielded power; Eadgifu, wife of Edward the Elder, maintained a position of authority during the reigns of both her sons.

Æthelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, was a queen in all but name, while few have heard of Queen Seaxburh, who ruled Wessex, or Queen Cynethryth, who issued her own coinage. She, too, was accused of murder, but was also, like many of the royal women, literate and highly-educated.

From seventh-century Northumbria to eleventh-century Wessex and making extensive use of primary sources, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England examines the lives of individual women in a way that has often been done for the Anglo-Saxon men but not for their wives, sisters, mothers and daughters. It tells their stories: those who ruled and schemed, the peace-weavers and the warrior women, the saints and the sinners. It explores, and restores, their reputations.”

Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England is an ambitious project, on a scale that few may truly appreciate as it covers over 600 years of Early English history. That’s even before factoring in just how fragmented the surviving sources are, and how complicated they can be and how many languages are involved. Or the fact that the majority of such sources were written by men, and not just men, but men in holy orders. As someone who has written about some of these fabulous women, I know just how difficult and complicated a task it is, and just how far you have to go in order to tease out the smallest details.

It is for this reason, that the book can feel a little unwieldy in places. I think that people new to the subject matter and to the time period might well struggle with the first section of the book on Pioneers in Northumbria. In an effort to include every woman, of whom so little is known that sometimes it is just a name, it can feel a little bit like a long list of women who you might not be able to fully grasp their importance in the events of the period. There might also be some frustration that the women could only be powerful because of who they married, gave birth to, or were born to. This, however, can’t be avoided. It is the nature of the sources.

And I must urge people to continue reading as the author soon lands on more solid ground (because there is more information available and the women feel more fully formed.) The chapters on Mercia and Wessex are a much easier read, and by the time we reach the chapters on Serial Monogamy and Dowager Queens, the women feel ‘real.’ Again, this is because of an increase in the source material, and potentially, because readers will know more about the tenth and eleventh centuries.

The author manages to cover an extraordinary number of women over the long centuries of the Early English period, and if there are moments where I might have included different information, or rejected some of the Saints Lives and Anglo-Norman historians from the narrative, this is a personal choice, based on my own research methodology which does seem to be the exception rather than the norm.

I confess, the book would have benefitted from a chronology for each chapter, and perhaps a slightly different format (I read an ebook so this might display differently in the paperback), but overall, I am in awe of the author’s ability to hold the narrative together and to produce something that I hope will encourage people to further research these wonderful characters who should be just as well known as their male counterparts.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

Women of Power is released today, 30th May, and is available from the publisher as well as on other sites, although it is showing as a preorder.

 

The Last King – New Release Alert

With my new ‘hero’ I’ve decided to forge a different path to previous books. I’ve done bloody and sweary before (Pagan Warrior and The Lady of Mercia’s Daughter) and I’ve done battles and politics (Brunanburh) but for The Last King I wanted something different; full-on action and adventure, in a historical setting, with a hero it’s impossible not to admire. If I’m going to tell the story of the ninth century in England, a period that most historical fiction readers will associate with Bernard Cornwell’s Uhtred, and most historians with Alfred, I needed a strong storyline and a character worthy of that storyline.

Luckily, there’s one such man. Enter King Coelwulf, the almost unknown and completely forgotten about King of Mercia. When I say unknown and forgotten about I mean completely that. If it is indeed the same historical character, Bernard Cornwell has poor old Coelwulf die during a feast with King Alfred and his wife, paving the way for Lord Æthelred (at least he does in The Last Kingdom).

This isn’t actually Bernard Cornwell’s fault. Until the coin find in 2015, no one thought a great deal of Coelwulf. His name appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle but it’s far from in a complimentary way (For details of the coin find go here (The Ashmolean Museum – Watlington Hoard)). But he’s been in my thoughts ever since I wrote The Lady of Mercia’s Daughter in 2016, but he’d never fully formed, until, one day, he just did; not just bloody and sweary, but bloody, sweary and brutal, a man with skills to be admired, and a single-minded determination.

So, I give you Lord Coelwulf, proud Mercian and staunch warrior.

The Last King is available now, the sequel, The Last Warrior will be available from June.

 

Book Review – Commodus by Simon Turney – historical fiction – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“Welcome to a fracturing Roman empire in the second century AD: ravaged by plague and with wars rumbling on along all frontiers. One man tries to hold everything together but, beset by personal tragedy from a young age, who is holding him together?
You’ve heard the stories: the crazy emperor who thought he was Hercules and fought in the Colosseum as a gladiator. But is ‘crazy’ too easy a label? Could there have been a method behind the perceived madness?”

Commodus by Simon Turney is my sort of historical fiction – people who actually lived – with their lives told in an intriguing and interesting way, bolted around known ‘facts’ and not a little imagination to bring the character alive! This is the first book I’ve read by Simon Turney but it won’t be the last.

The story is a well-told tale of a Roman Emperor who, I must assume, has a bit of a bad reputation. This is a sympathetic account of his rule, and I doubt I’ll be the only person who finishes the novel and considers just what it is about him that’s quite so bad (apart from his delight in killing exotic animals that would garner a great of bad press in our day and age) – in that respect, the author does an excellent job of rehabilitating a bit of a dodgy character.

A thoroughly enjoyable read. Highly recommended. I read it in a day!

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a review copy.

Commodus is now available in paperback, and is available from here, as well as from other retailers!

 

 

Book Review – A Tapestry of Treason by Anne O’Brien – historical fiction – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“Her actions could make history – but at what price?

1399: Constance of York, Lady Despenser, proves herself more than a mere observer in the devious intrigues of her magnificently dysfunctional family, The House of York.

Surrounded by power-hungry men, including her aggressively self-centred husband Thomas and ruthless siblings Edward and Richard, Constance places herself at the heart of two treasonous plots against King Henry IV.  Will it be possible for this Plantagenet family to safeguard its own political power by restoring either King Richard II to the throne, or the precarious Mortimer claimant?

Although the execution of these conspiracies will place them all in jeopardy, Constance is not deterred, even when the cost of her ambition threatens to overwhelm her.  Even when it endangers her new-found happiness.

With treason, tragedy, heartbreak and betrayal, this is the story of a woman ahead of her time, fighting for herself and what she believes to be right in a world of men.”

A Tapestry of Treason is a stunning novel. The character of Lady Constance is a revelation – she is perhaps the most complicated of Anne O’Brien’s historical ‘women’ to date, and the book delightfully fluctuates between the conspiracies and treasons that she’s involved in, even though she is, but a woman in a man’s world. How she survived the king’s wrath on so many occasions is a bit of a miracle.

In the end, I was completely hooked on the novel, and just read the last 40% or so in one sitting, in heightened anxiety from each high to each new low. Lady Constance certainly wins the heart of the reader, even if she herself would never admit to even having a heart.

I believe this is the best of Anne O’Brien’s books to date.

Thank you to the Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy. I would certainly have read it anyway – and I’m just delighted I got to read it so far in advance of being released.

A Tapestry of Treason is now available in paperback, and is available here.

‘The Reading’ End of Year Review

I’ve read many, many books this year. Some have been fab, some not so fab, and some have just filled a little niche that needed filling. I’ve also written, read and re-read a fair few of my own books this year. But I’m not going to include those in this.

When I look back, I see I’ve read many historical fiction books this year – the majority just historical fiction, but also a few that were historical who-dun-its. I’m a fan of Marple and Poirot, so this does make sense to me.

In fact, 24 of the 71 books I’ve read this year (thank you for keeping track Goodreads), have been historical (and a further 6 of those have been my own historical fiction books, so yes, historical fiction accounts for a great deal of my reading.)

Of those, here are my five favourites of the year. I’m not going to put them in any order, because I enjoyed them all for different reasons.

Anne O’Brien’s A Tapestry of Treason was one of the first books I read this year, and it was a wonderful read. Commodus by Simon Turney was another of the stand out books, as was The Last of the Romans by Derek Birks (which I’ve just discovered I didn’t review on my blog, so there’s a link to Goodreads), Sword of Kings by Bernard Cornwell and Wolf of Wessex by Matthew Harffy. I was lucky enough to get review copies of many of these books, although I took a chance on The Last of the Romans through Kindle Unlimited and was really pleased I did.

I also read some historical fiction that really didn’t appeal to me, in the end. I prefer historical fiction to be about ‘real’ people (I know their stories will be fictionalized) and told in an engaging and interesting way.

As to the historical mysteries I read, I’m going to highlight Silent Water by PK Adams, a fellow indie author, who takes the reader to Tudor Era Poland. It was fascinating.

As to those novels I read which took a historical era as their background, I thoroughly enjoyed The Dark Days Deceit by Alison Goodman – a sort of fantasy/historical mash-up that concluded the trilogy in a completely satisfactory way.  And The Body in the Garden by Katharine Schellman which isn’t released until next year, but which is an enjoyable who-dun-it. I’ll review it closer to the time.

I also read quite a bit of sci-fi this year, and here the standout book must be Skyward by Brandon Sanderson. I didn’t realise it was aimed at a Young Adult audience. I devoured it, even though I’ve tried Brandon Sanderon before and really didn’t enjoy his story (ducks for cover). I’m really looking forward to finding the time to read Book 2.

I’ve not read as much fantasy as normal this year. But, what I did read was well worth it. Here, I’m going to wax lyrical about Peter Newman. His series, The Deathless, inhabits such a weird and wonderful world that it completely absorbs me. If you’ve not read the first two books in the trilogy, then you’re in for a real treat. The Ruthless was released earlier this year, and I know the third part is due out next year. I’m keen to read it.

I also read all of Mark Lawrence’s four releases this year – Holy Sister concluded the Book of the Ancestor trilogy, and he also released The Impossible Times trilogy, through Amazon Publishing. These are probably still fantasy but in a 1980’s setting (unless they’re sci-fi). I enjoyed them all, but confess, the D and D setting of The Impossible Times trilogy was a bit trying at times. Still, the 1980s was perfectly encapsulated – like an episode of Stranger Things.

I’m also going to mention the John Gwynne book I read this year – A Time of Blood. Foolishly, it wasn’t the first in a series, but goodness me, it was gripping, and I’ve now got the first book to read!

I’ve also listened to my first audiobook, and while I found it great to walk to, I confess, I’m not sure audio is for me. If I’m writing myself I have music on, and because I normally walk to get away from writing, I don’t find listening to stories to be restful. But I do have a fully stocked Audible library so that might change.

While I’ve managed to read a great many books this year, I’ve now found my enthusiasm for ‘new’ waning a little and I’ve sought refuge in a few classic PERN novels, and for 2020, I plan on indulging in the Deverry books by Katharine Kerr in anticipation of the new book coming out in 2020. The books have all been released with fantastic new covers, and I might just have to treat myself to them all over again.

I’ve also not read as many non-fiction books this year as I might normally do. But I think that will change in 2020. I’ve got a great deal of research to do for future projects. Of those non-fiction books I have read, they’ve all been something I was interested in any way, and I’m going to mention Warrior and The Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown. Both were very readable and well written.

I would like to thank Netgalley and also some very brave authors who’ve allowed me access to Advanced copies of their books throughout the year. It makes for much more varied reading!

 

Book Review – The Wolf of Wessex by Matthew Harffy – historical fiction – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

AD 838. Deep in the forests of Wessex, Dunston’s solitary existence is shattered when he stumbles on a mutilated corpse.

Accused of the murder, Dunston must clear his name and keep the dead man’s daughter alive in the face of savage pursuers desperate to prevent a terrible secret from being revealed.

Rushing headlong through Wessex, Dunston will need to use all the skills of survival garnered from a lifetime in the wilderness. And if he has any hope of victory against the implacable enemies on their trail, he must confront his long-buried past – becoming the man he once was and embracing traits he had promised he would never return to. The Wolf of Wessex must hunt again; honour and duty demand it.

I was lucky enough to get an EARC of Wolf of Wessex from the author.

I’ve read all the previous books by Matthew Harffy set in seventh-century Bernicia, and many will know that I have a few complaints about his grumpy main character. Wolf of Wessex is a breath of fresh air, set two centuries later and with a new main character who doesn’t infuriate me with his grumpiness and general ill-temper all the time.

I’d give Wolf of Wessex a full 5/5, without even having to think about it. The story presses on at a good pace,  there are lots of short, sharp chapters, and a good mystery as well.  The attention to detail with regards to the forest landscape was really good as Dunston is forced to leave his home while still utilising the skills his solitary lifestyle has taught him.

The writing truly flows, the descriptions feel natural, and the pacing is fab. It’s a page-turner that I highly recommend.

Wolf of Wessex is released on 14th November, and is available from here:

Book Review – Sword of Kings by Bernard Cornwell – historical fiction

Here’s the blurb;

“Uhtred of Bebbanburg is a man of his word.

An oath bound him to King Alfred. An oath bound him to Æthelflaed. And now an oath will wrench him away from the ancestral home he fought so hard to regain. For Uhtred has sworn that on King Edward’s death, he will kill two men. And now Edward is dying.

A violent attack drives Uhtred south with a small band of warriors, and headlong into the battle for kingship. Plunged into a world of shifting alliances and uncertain loyalties, he will need all his strength and guile to overcome the fiercest warrior of them all.

As two opposing Kings gather their armies, fate drags Uhtred to London, and a struggle for control that must leave one King victorious, and one dead. But fate – as Uhtred has learned to his cost – is inexorable. Wyrd bið ful ãræd. And Uhtred’s destiny is to stand at the heart of the shield wall once again…”

I sometimes feel that this series of books has long since run its course, but Sword of Kings, Book 12, had me intrigued just from reading the blurb.

Lord Uhtred has firmly moved into a time period I know, study and write about, and while sometimes it’s hard to read the way another person treats ‘your’ characters, I thoroughly enjoyed the starkly different interpretation of events surrounding King Edward’s death, because, quite simply, there is no ‘right or wrong’ when writing about this period. It’s a very much anything goes scenario, and into this, Lord Uhtred, bored and old, having finally captured Bebbanburg, is allowed to take centre stage.

Uhtred is older, but not wiser, and once more, if it wasn’t for the intervention of others, he would certainly not make it to the end of Book 12, hale and hearty.

Uhtred has as many enemies as normal, and his loyalties are split, but the will is strong to enact some revenge when he realises his ships are being attacked by an old enemy he ‘s made an oath to kill. Heading South, with the news that King Edward is either dying or dead, while plague pushes its way ever northwards, there’s a great deal of time spent on board ship. There’s a battle on a ship, and then another battle, and then there’s tides, rivers, currents, different boats, oars, sails and many other ship related activities. (It does get a little repetitive). There’s the Farne Islands, Kentish coasts, London, rivers in Mercia, London once more and then a bridge as well as a wall.

The action is pretty full-on but somewhat repetitive. Uhtred makes any number of bad decisions, and then the quest for revenge drives him on, even though it probably shouldn’t.

In effect, Uhtred turns the tide of ‘history’ once more, and not necessarily to his favour.

The old rivalries between paganism and Christianity continue, as does Uhtred’s unease with the plans the new king has for Northumbria, and for him. It’s these scenes that I find most tedious. I would like a little more nuance to Uhtred, but it seems his character will never develop more than it has. BC tries to make Uhtred appear as more than just a thug by adding a few women to the cast, as well as a host of orphans, and having his relationships with them testify that he isn’t ‘a ‘bad man’ just a righteous one who must abide by his oaths.’ Essentially, if Uhtred likes you, then that’s good, but if not, then you’re in trouble.

There are many elements to the story that I would change – the insistence on Anglo-Saxon place names being one of them, the ship ‘lingo’ another one – but hey, it’s Uhtred. You know what you’re getting from the start, and you won’t be disappointed, although you might feel a bit seasick!

Here’s to the next book.

Sword of Kings was released on 3rd October, and is available from here:

Book Review – Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown by J F Andrews – historical non-fiction

Here’s the blurb;

When William the Conqueror died in 1087 he left the throne of England to William Rufus … his second son. The result was an immediate war as Rufus’s elder brother Robert fought to gain the crown he saw as rightfully his; this conflict marked the start of 400 years of bloody disputes as the English monarchy’s line of hereditary succession was bent, twisted and finally broken when the last Plantagenet king, Richard III, fell at Bosworth in 1485. The Anglo-Norman and Plantagenet dynasties were renowned for their internecine strife, and in Lost Heirs we will unearth the hidden stories of fratricidal brothers, usurping cousins and murderous uncles; the many kings – and the occasional queen – who should have been but never were. History is written by the winners, but every game of thrones has its losers too, and their fascinating stories bring richness and depth to what is a colourful period of history. King John would not have gained the crown had he not murdered his young nephew, who was in line to become England’s first King Arthur; Henry V would never have been at Agincourt had his father not seized the throne by usurping and killing his cousin; and as the rival houses of York and Lancaster fought bloodily over the crown during the Wars of the Roses, life suddenly became very dangerous indeed for a young boy named Edmund.

Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown is an engaging study of exactly that. Taking the reader from the years after the Norman Conquest until the beginning of the Tudor era, there is much to learn about those who should have been king or queen had happenstance been a little different.

The author has an engaging writing style, and if, every so often, the opinions offered are purely based on the author’s personal preference, it can be overlooked, as most historians will always have a personal favourite or enemy from the time period that they study, and the author does make it clear when offering a personal opinion.

It is a very readable book, and I particularly enjoyed reading about Lady Constance at the beginning of the 1400s (as I’ve just read a fiction book about her). Neither does the author shy away from such difficult topics as the murder of the lost heirs, and is as even-handed when recounting the lives of the Black Prince, as those who suffered at the hands of over-mighty uncles.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown is released on 2nd October, and is available from here; and also from here:

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Lost-Heirs-of-the-Medieval-Crown-Hardback/p/16791

(I am struggling to get a cover image so please click one of the links as it is really quite fab!)