Pendragon by Mike Weatherley

This book is about a ‘decurion’ in the roman army whose family home is ravaged and destroyed by Saxon raiders. He additionally loses both his parents and his beloved wife in the raid. He and his brother {also a decurion} obtain 10 days leave to ‘recover’ from their loss.

During that time they ride North to the ‘wall’ and join up with the battalions there. Although the battalions are known as ‘dragons’ due to their standards. Ambrosius is keen to follow through on a plan that he has been working on since his devastation of his loss. His brother is supporting him and riding alongside him, despite not knowing ‘the plan’. So even Victor is surprised at Ambrosius’ actions during the battalions multi-faith ceremony.

And from there, it is history, of sorts (in other words, you will have to read it for yourself).

There was a short explanatory section at the front giving the background and details of the story, in such a manner as to not spoil the book for anyone. At the end of the book was a further explanatory along with references.

The language of the book was modern British English, though the explanatory had already given details of roman equivalents to give the reader a ‘setting’.

I liked that the author took the time to give a background to the story at the beginning, as I like to know how to pronounce names etc in my head as I’m reading. I did also like having the map of roman places to get my bearings in the story.

The longer explanatory at the end along with the references support the factual elements of the story and substantiate the ‘arthurian’ and ‘amazonian’ aspects.

The book is quite a short story (and having subsequently had communication with the author about this, I understand that this is due to a word limit imposed by the publisher), so I was disappointed when the story came to an end. I do look forward to the rest of the trilogy in due course, to see how the relationship between Ambrosius & Geneva (an amazon) continues.

This book will probably suit those who like books with historical reference. I have in mind the style of Ken Follett, when he wrote his historically based “pillars of the earth”.

“… he necessarily shucked-off his erstwhile hunched demeanour of a grieving widower, now standing straight and tall, once more, like the military man he was…”

I received an e-ARC of this novel through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. NetGalley does not allow for paid reviews.

4/5 Stars (What this means…five-stars-applied-carefully)

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Pendragon: The Arthur Chronicles: 1

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Official description:
Ambrosius Aurelianus is a historically attested fifth century A.D. Christian Romano-British soldier. His regiment is one of few defending his Celtic homeland against pagan Anglo-Saxon pirates. In the year 485, Anglo-Saxons murder his wife and parents, while raiding local farms. Ambrosius then goes on a quest, galvanising the remaining British troops to hunt down all Anglo-Saxon tribes threatening his fellow Britons. He is accompanied by his younger brother, Victor (Uther in Celtic), who worries Ambrosius has a death wish to rejoin his wife in the next world. However, Ambrosius finds love again with Geneva, a woman serving in another cavalry regiment. Descended from the original 5,500 Sarmatians brought to Britain 300 years earlier, they retain the tradition of women fighting alongside men, like their ‘Amazonian’ ancestors. This regiment’s founding commander in Britain was: Lucius Artorius Castus!
Mike Weatherley grew up in the county of Kent (whose Latin name was Cantium), which was the first part of Roman Britain conquered by invading Anglo-Saxons in the late-fifth century A.D. Born in the Chinese year of the dragon, he always felt an affinity with those mythical creatures, as well as being fascinated with the legends of the mysterious ‘Arthur’, the British hero who fought those first Anglo-Saxons. Despite a career as a scientist, Mike always harboured the dream of writing a definitive version of Arthur’s story. How appropriate that his fifteen years of research on the subject reveal just how closely intertwined the worlds of the historical Arthur and dragons actually were. Having reached his solution to this mystery, Mike hopes his novel has given back to the British people their greatest cultural icon, who was previously stolen from history by writers of medieval fiction and Norman propaganda.

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The Girl in The Tower by Katherine Arden,

“”It is a talisman, that thing,” Morozko said. He spoke as though he were choosing his words. “It may be some protection.””

This is book two, I haven’t read book one, but the story still worked for me.

Vasya has left home, her parents are dead, the villagers think she is a witch and will kill her if she returns. She doesn’t want the life of a woman in Rus, life in a convent or a tower. Vasya wishes for life as a traveller, on the move, experiencing new places. That is not something a woman can do.

Vasya rides Solovey, a bay stallion, with whom she is able to communicate. Solovey helps to keep Vasya safe wherever he can. But even immortal horses have their limitations.

Her brother Sasha is a monk and he too is a traveller. Wandering about the countryside doing the bidding of his masters.

There are characters in the story whose aim is to do mischief and mayhem in order to enrich their own lives. These are the people who are set against Vasya, Sasha and their companions. Vasya must hide herself under the guise of a boy throughout it all, in order to protect herself.

Morozko ‘Winter King’ is there on the periphery watching out for Vasya where he can, but he cannot reach into the city and that is where Vasya is most at risk, and where disaster hits.

I found myself worrying about Vasya when I was away from the book, there were parts where she was in dire straits and I couldn’t help but wonder what would come next.

A well written tale of the old gods of medieval Russia. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I received an e-ARC of this novel through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. NetGalley does not allow for paid reviews.

5/5 Stars (What this means…five-stars-applied-carefully)

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Official description:
The next in The Bear and the Nightingale trilogy.
For a young woman in medieval Russia, the choices are stark: marriage or a life in a convent. Vasya will choose a third way: magic…
The court of the Grand Prince of Moscow is plagued by power struggles and rumours of unrest. Meanwhile bandits roam the countryside, burning the villages and kidnapping its daughters. Setting out to defeat the raiders, the Prince and his trusted companion come across a young man riding a magnificent horse.
Only Sasha, a priest with a warrior’s training, recognises this ‘boy’ as his younger sister, thought to be dead or a witch by her village. But when Vasya proves herself in battle, riding with remarkable skill and inexplicable power, Sasha realises he must keep her secret as she may be the only way to save the city from threats both human and fantastical…

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The Devils prayer by Luke Gracias

“Guilt is the currency of the Catholic faith. Guilt is the mortgage on our souls, held by the faith. We pay for it in repentance, abnegation, altruism, and charity until the day we die. Our penance is a journey, and as we travel down its road we are given a sense that we are being forgiven or healed. It is some sort of cosmic wheel that we choose to believe in, to help us shut out the Devils of our past.”

This tale is of stories within stories, that build up a history of human manipulation and mistrust (and I could add deceit and depravity).

Siobhan’s mother disappeared six years ago and Siobhan has just heard that her mum committed suicide in front of 80,000 people during a religious event and that she was a nun when she did so.

At her mothers memorial service Siobhan is approached by a priest who brings her something of her mothers and tells her that “Sister Benedictine” asked him to pass them on to Siobhan.

Siobhan sets out on a journey of discovery to find out what her mum wanted her to know and what others want for themselves or to keep hidden.

Siobhan finds out what her mother lived through, from the age that Siobhan was four, until the present day. None of it is expected or ordinary. It is a long twisted story. Siobhan is periodically interrupted as she discovers the truth of her mothers life and has to take action to protect herself. Her mother has given her information and Siobhan must decide what to do next.

And, phew, what a wild ride that was! Totally absorbing and engaging. I certainly would read that again and recommend it. Particularly if you like historical/religious – good versus evil type tales.

I received an e-ARC of this novel through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. NetGalley does not allow for paid reviews.

4/5 Stars (What this means…five-stars-applied-carefully)

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A nun commits suicide in front of thousands in Spain. In Australia, Siobhan Russo recognises that nun as her mother, Denise Russo, who disappeared six years ago.

In search of answers, Siobhan travels to the isolated convent where her mother once lived. Here she discovers Denise’s final confession, a book that details a heinous betrayal that left her crippled and mute, and Denise’s subsequent deal with the Devil to take revenge. In the desperate bargain Denise made with the Prince of Darkness, she wagered Siobhan’s soul.

As Siobhan discovers the fate of her soul, she learns that hidden within the pages of her mother’s confession is part of The Devil’s Prayer, an ancient text with the power to unleash apocalyptic horrors.

And now her mother’s enemies know Siobhan has it.

Can Siobhan escape an order of extremist monks determined to get the Prayer back? Can she save the world from its own destruction?
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Dragonsong by Michael Forester

“Hail, Oberon –defend me now! For thou art my dear chosen one this evil must thou not allow! Thy silence doth thy father now amaze!”

A tale of dragons and ancient times, with elves and humans in strife.

Oberon, Captain-King of Elves, covets a maiden in Albion, but she (is protected and ) only wants to take up and fulfil her inherited duties. In his rage at his rejection Oberon determines to revenge himself on her and Albion.

Later in the book, on taking up her duties Rebekah finds her true love, which is when Oberon unleashes his revenge, twisting her against her father Merlin, in the process.

It then falls to Merlin to try and help redeem his daughter and save all of Albion from dragonsong in the process.

This book is not written in prose, it is all rhyming couplets. It takes some getting used to. The first time I started to read, I put it aside in frustration. However, on re-starting the tale I persevered and found it engaging to read. In fact I managed to get three quarters of the way through in one sitting.

Those who like ancient style tales will enjoy this book. But like many bardish tales, you could expect tears!

I received an e-ARC of this novel through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. NetGalley does not allow for paid reviews.

4/5 Stars (What this means…five-stars-applied-carefully)

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Official description:
A bardic epic fantasy in rhyming Old English, an allegorical masque of good and evil in an Authurian tradition. Rebekah, daughter of Merlin and noblewoman of Albion has been driven to madness by the murder of her lover Vidar. In her torment she bargains with the Prince of Demons to turn her into a dragon. Once transformed, she seeks to take revenge upon her father, Merlin, whom she is fooled into believing is responsible for Vidar’s death.

Behind the subterfuge stands Oberon, Captain-King of Elves, who cannot foresee the devastation his jealousy and unrequited love for Rebekah will unleash upon the world of Gaia. Its salvation depends upon Merlin travelling back in time to find a pure hearted warrior, Lady Attie, who, together with Michael, seer of Albion, must take the Sleep Stone from the gates of Hell to persuade the dragon to sleep. But if they are unable to return the Stone to the mouth of Hell in time, the demon army will awaken and ransack Gaia in a war that will destroy its existence. Time is the solution to Gaia’s destiny – but only if the gods of Asgard can find a way to stop it.

Dragonsong is a unique epic fantasy that explores fundamental themes of good and evil, jealously and revenge. Woven together with a gripping and powerful plot, the pattern of the language, the musicality of the form and the profound emotions invoked carry the reader to extremes of human experience and capability at both its best and worst.

A Note From the Publisher
Michael Forester was born with a pen in his hand. His first published creative work, If It Wasn’t For That Dog, about his first year with his beloved hearing dog Matt was published in 2005. He is an Oxford University graduate, a Winchester Writer’s Festival prize winner and has been long/shortlisted three time in the Fish Writing Contest. His first novel Vicious was showcased by The Literary Consultancy.

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The Spy by Paulo Coelho

“I am the nightingale who gave everything and died while doing so. Sincerely, Mata H”

I thought this book would tell me of Mata Hari’s life and adventures.

It is, in fact, a book about the ending of her life. It is written in the form of correspondence from the heroine to her lawyer and his response. Mata Hari writes from her prison cell, telling the tale of her life as she sees it, and as she wishes her daughter to know of it. Her lawyer writes the tale of his defence of her lifestyle and activities, ‘for the record’.

I kind of enjoyed this book, I expected more excitement and adventure I think. When really it was all so very ‘polite’ and !dull. I wasn’t borne along reading at speed for the next chapter. I even read some bits more than once (as I got distracted by external events and had to leave the book to one side) and found that I hadn’t quite remembered them or found them sufficiently engaging to remember them at all. It’s a bit sad really as I was looking forward to reading this book. I don’t think I would recommend it to anyone unless they had a strong interest in the subject matter.

I received an e-ARC of this novel through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. NetGalley does not allow for paid reviews.

3/5 Stars (What this means…five-stars-applied-carefully)

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When Mata Hari arrived in Paris she was penniless.
Soon she was feted as the most elegant woman in the city.
A dancer who shocked and delighted audiences; a confidant and courtesan who bewitched the era’s richest and most powerful men.
But as paranoia consumed a country at war, Mata Hari’s lifestyle brought her under suspicion. Until, in 1917 she was arrested in her hotel room on the Champs Elysees and accused of espionage.
Told through Mata’s final letter, THE SPY tells the unforgettable story of a woman who dared to break the conventions of her time, and paid the price.

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Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

I took my time reading this book, I needed to absorb it. It isn’t the sort of book I normally choose to read, but I was immersed in it totally. When I came to the end it was a bit of a shock to realise that I wouldn’t be in that Icelandic environment again.
The book is well written, with only one or two conversations where I lost track of who was talking and had to re-read the passage.
It is based on a real-life event pieced together from research, set in the 1800’s in Iceland. To me, times seemed grim for the poorer folk back then and I’m sure I would not have even survived. The description of the environment and living conditions made the book come to life.
I may read it again in a year or two, when I’ve forgotten the details a bit.

4/5 Stars

Official synopsis:-

Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes.

In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnúsdóttir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of two men. Agnes is sent to wait out the time leading to her execution on the farm of District Officer Jón Jónsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderess in their midst, the family avoids speaking with Agnes.

Only Tóti, the young assistant reverend appointed as Agnes’s spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her, as he attempts to salvage her soul.

As the summer months fall away to winter and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes’s ill-fated tale of longing and betrayal begins to emerge. And as the days to her execution draw closer, the question burns: did she or didn’t she?

Based on a true story, Burial Rites is a deeply moving novel about personal freedom: who we are seen to be versus who we believe ourselves to be, and the ways in which we will risk everything for love.

In beautiful, cut-glass prose, Hannah Kent portrays Iceland’s formidable landscape, where every day is a battle for survival, and asks, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?