A New Historical Fiction Release!

SOI3

At long last, it’s here! Servants of Infamy is now available for purchase on Amazon Kindle. I realise I’ve been yammering on about this ex-work-in-progress for a while now, so you may have forgotten what all the fuss is about!

You can find the introduction, premise and blurb in this post. Extracts are available here and here. There’s also a pre-prologue which I wrote exclusively for readers of this blog, Darkness Approaches.

Download the free sample on Kindle and let me know what you think. If you enjoy it or think someone else might, recommend it to a friend, family member, colleague or arch-nemesis.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

You can find it here on Amazon US: 

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01BKWKCUE?

And here on Amazon UK: 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B01BKWKCUE?

Darkness Approaches…

Oswald had tilled the fields around his home for almost five decades. Over those long years of honest toil he saw his home grow from a pitiful hamlet to a prosperous village. There was always a flock of newborns each year, their squalling cries disturbing his sleep.

But Oswald did not mind. His family was old Saxon stock, they had been warriors in their time. As far as he was concerned, his ancestors tilled the fields for their descendants to enjoy the bounty they produced. He was an honest man and a strong man.

Even so, his blood chilled in fear when he heard the garbled cries of the lad running through the village. It was the depth of night when even the wolves retreated to their dens. The cries rose again, carrying swift and far on the silent, still air.

‘Murderers! Villains! Help!’

He raced out of the cottage, leaving his ageing wife with a swift kiss on her pale cheek. The village had emptied onto the small common of green pasture, grey in the midnight darkness. Every man among them was armed with hoe, scythe, hammer and axe. They were many, but each showed terror on his face.

There had been foul rumours touching the fringes of their small village these past days. Rumours of wickedness, the Devil’s minions at large in the country.

‘What is it, boy?’ Oswald asked, cornering the babbling youth who they had set to watch the fields by night. ‘Is it thieves, bandits, Frenchmen?’

The lad gasped for breath and snuffled, wiping away loose tears with the grimy sleeve of his tunic. ‘Yes, mister Oswald.’

‘Yes to which?’ He slapped the boy and the youth wailed in shocked pain.

‘All of those, mister, and worse. It’s them!’

‘Who, you damned fool?’

But he knew before the boy even spoke the name. Oswald felt it in the chill which sapped the strength from his broad shoulders, saw it in the slithering arms of grey mist creeping through the village. Terror wrapped their homes in its bitterly cold embrace. The Devil’s work.

‘It’s the Black Two,’ the boy said, his voice falling to a hushed whimper.

Mutters of fear, shouts of anger. The crowd erupted around him and voiced their terrified rage. Oswald held up his muscular arm for calm and the villagers fell silent. Not one of them met his eye, every glistening orb fixed on the far end of the common.

Oswald turned and saw them. The Black Two. A pair of indistinct shapes stalking out of the mist and darkness. Their bodies wrapped in black leather, chainmail shining on the breast of a tall warrior. Cruel weapons held firm in their hands.

‘They’re coming,’ Oswald whispered as the last trace of trembling courage fled from his body. ‘God help us.’

SOI2
Coming very soon…

Cover Wars!

Recently, I have been very focused on covers. There are a few reasons for this: a minor copyright fracas (which you can have a nose at in the comments of this post), general feeling of “not quite right” and the need for a new cover for an upcoming book.

Firequeen True cover

This was the subject of my little copyright mishap. I foolishly used a royalty-free background image for the original cover (left). There’s nothing wrong with doing so, until it turns out that the webpage advertising it as royalty-free doesn’t own the copyright!

Particularly embarrassing if you happen to be a law student (who should know better!). But I prefer the new version (right) and the image is from Kindle’s stock collection so if there’s a foul, Kindle will be the one getting a red card.

Continue reading “Cover Wars!”

Kappa: Japanese Fiction Review

I’ve recently been keeping up with Meg Sorick’s series on drinking adventurously (trying the alcoholic offerings of far-flung lands and describing them for your pleasure). Drawing inspiration from her, I thought I’d bring you a taste of something different which you might not have encountered before. Not having the stomach for exotic spirits, however, I bring you a sample of the unique flavour that is Japanese literature.

Ryunosuke Akutagawa

Ryunosuke Akutagawa

We can begin with the author, Ryunosuke Akutagawa. He wrote Kappa in 1927 as a social commentary, making clear his negative view of corruption in Japanese society. One feature which made him stand out as an author was his willingness to blend western and Japanese influences in his fiction.

Akutagawa committed suicide by overdose in the same year Kappa was published, believing he had inherited a mental illness from his mother and fearing he would lose his mind. This casts a shadow over the tale which makes its meaning more powerful.

Continue reading “Kappa: Japanese Fiction Review”

Servants of Infamy (extract)

White Rose

Here is an extract from my current work-in-progress, Servants of Infamy. This was quite a fun part to write so I thought I’d share it.

This is also the one part so far with only noble characters in it (I mentioned in a previous post that this is Wars of the Roses from a common-man perspective). That means it shouldn’t give anything away about the main plot!

As ever, feedback is appreciated!

A great commotion at the inner gate caught his attention and he strode over to it, feeling his expansive belly sway with every step. He had been in his prime when old Richard died, now he would face the man’s son as a fat old duke. The new title added weight to his bearing, he thought. Not that he needed it.

Make way for the king!” a sentry shouted down into the deserted space between the Norman keep’s high towers.

Suffolk waddled aside and dabbed at his face with a yellow silk handkerchief. The sun was hot overhead in a sky absent cloud, stifling. It pricked sweat from his brow, but the discomfort would be worth it to see the expression on York’s face. He knew well the cause of his fellow duke’s return. Poverty. Ireland had eaten through his coffers like a plague that devoured men’s flesh.

How funny a thing fate was. It was an empty purse that had driven York’s father in his treason, lacking the funds to buy even a saddle horse that would carry him to campaign in France.

Damned fool.” Suffolk said, looking at the spot where the Third Earl of Cambridge’s blood had wet the cobblestones. He let a wicked smirk play across his mouth. “You might have walked.”

A thick oak door creaked open beneath the gateway’s crumbling masonry. In came a troop of horsemen in the royal livery and badge of Lancaster. Regal red and blue cloth, golden lions and fleurs de lis, and the red rose in stately bloom. To see the golden leopard’s face of Suffolk adorn those strapping guardsmen, he thought, but it was only a passing fancy.

William, is that you?” Henry asked through a gap in the plush velvet curtains of his carriage.

The king was barking today, Suffolk thought. Truly, God and the Virgin were with Suffolk on that blessed afternoon. Henry snapped in a voice of command that might have belonged to his battle-ready father, were it not for the drooping nose, weak eyes and slack jaw which peered out at the duke.

They were the features of a simpleton, not a king. But no, Suffolk reminded himself, Henry was no simpleton. His mind lived in two worlds at once and who could say with which hand the Lord gave and with which he took away. A curse might count for a blessing in the right hands. God had granted England a mad captain so that the first mate might take the tiller and lead all of them into prosperity.

William, it is either you or else a walrus has somehow scaled the ramparts.” Suffolk laughed dutifully at the king’s jest. “Why have you called my council to attend me at this forsaken castle? My estates in Windsor are far more comfortable and at Westminster I have the abbey. What is there for us here? Must we pray in that dilapidated shrine?”

It is a fine church, Your Majesty. If I might be so bold as to suggest -” his words stuck to his tongue as he reached out to pull back the curtain. Within, Henry sat alone on a pile of crimson cushions and plump furs. “Where is the queen?” he asked in a deadened tone.

That is my business and not yours.” Henry replied, his voice prickling in response to Suffolk’s sudden abandonment of all formality.

Where is she?”

Margaret was invited to dine with the Duchess of York and certain other renowned ladies of court. Does that satisfy you, William?”

It does not.” he snapped, throwing the curtain closed in the king’s face.

He waved the horsemen on and the king’s guards led the small procession back out of the inner gate. They knew better than to heed the king’s cries for them to halt, just as they knew not to take him to the keep. Henry would wish to pray thanks to God for their safe journey, as he always did. There was a joke frequently told in the royal guardrooms of England, that the king would not squat to move his bowels without offering thanks to Christ for their safe passage.

My books:

Wars of the Roses: Stormbird Review

Stormbird

As promised, here is my review of Conn Iggulden’s Wars of the Roses: StormbirdIt’s an important novel for me as it partly inspired my current work-in-progress, Servants of Infamy (previously White Rose).

Introduction

The genre is historical fiction. It’s set during the Wars of the Roses, 15th Century England. Conn Iggulden is a renowned author of historical novels set in Ancient Rome or Medieval Europe for the most part.

Click here for an article by me about why this book represents a dramatic change in Conn Iggulden’s writing style.

Is Stormbird any good?

This is some of the best historical fiction I’ve read recently. The author manages to get to grips with a complex tapestry of historical events without getting bogged down or letting his prose dry out.

It’s an immersive read. You can’t help but be drawn into the environment and empathise with the characters. I found a few characters particularly engaging: Margaret, Suffolk and Derry Brewer to name a few. Conn Iggulden avoids allowing his characters to be constrained by their historical personas. They are very human and that’s a good thing.

The plot also moves at a good speed and keeps the reader interested. There are twists and turns, moments of suspense to keep you hooked. You’re not always sure whether your favourite character will make it out of a situation alive.

Problems with Stormbird

In spite of all of this, there are a number of issues with this historical novel.

Perhaps I’m being fussy, but when I purchased a novel with Wars of the Roses in the title I expected, well… maybe a little bit of war between the roses. In reality, this novel concerns the build-up to the civil war, with the future opposing sides merely snarling at each other and firing warning shots. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I was led to expect more.

There’s also the issue of where in society Conn Iggulden draws his characters from. It seems that Derry Brewer is most people’s favourite character and he’s certainly mine. That’s because he’s interesting, but more importantly he stands out from the rest of the protagonists as a man of humble birth.

After a while I lose all sympathy for someone who gets their head lopped off because owning a mere dukedom just didn’t cut it.

Should you read the next instalment?

You should definitely read Stormbird if you’re a fan of historical fiction. That said, I wouldn’t bother continuing with the series. The reason ties in with a few things I’ve mentioned above.

This novel is set before the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses and the characters don’t fit their historical personas. Sadly, when the conflict does begin later in the series, it seems to have a severe effect on Conn Iggulden’s characters. I lost much of my sympathy for those I liked in the first novel, much of my respect for those I despised.

The second instalment falls flat in many ways. I’d rather have read the first and treated it as something which stands alone, rather than as part of a series. If I wanted to read about Margaret of Anjou as the severe, ruthless queen rather than desperate heroine of Stormbird, I would have read a history and not a novel.

Find Stormbird here on Amazon.

The First Covenant Teaser

The First Covenant Teaser

True cover

Here’s an extract from my fantasy novel, just for you!

Arik moved deeper into the heart of the mountain. Living rock pressed in on him from all directions. Water seeped through the limestone, making the walls of the tunnel damp to his touch. It was too dark to even see which way led down and which led up. Arik had to run his hands along the smooth stone to feel his way.

A dim pinprick of light came into being far ahead of him. It had a pale, otherworldly glow to it. After a hundred steps he entered the moonlit hollow and inspected the opening in its ceiling. A narrow tunnel shot up for many leagues through the mountain to catch the light of the moon.

“Your people are more inventive than I would have guessed.” He said.

Something stirred on the other side of the cavern. It rested beneath a thin blanket of furs on a hard ledge of stone. With a groan, the creature beneath raised itself into a sitting position. Arik went to stand by the bedside and looked down at his host.

The creature’s back was bent and its skin was paler than parchment. Two bloodshot orbs blinked out into the moonlight from a disfigured skull. One side of its head had been caved in and an ugly red scar ran down its scalp and across its brow. But there was a brutal intelligence in its seeping eyes.

You can find The First Covenant on Kindle if you click here!

Vikingr Teaser

Vikingr Teaser

Cover 2

Stones crunched under Erikr’s feet. They had made it to the beach. Men lined the side of the longboat, hammering sword, spears and axes against their shields. Erlingr and the other karls raced ahead, their feet pounding on the wooden planks of the pier. Erikr tried to run faster but all of the muscles in his legs burned. Suddenly, he was dragging his burden alone. Turning back, he saw Alva sprawled on the beach with her hands clutched around her ankle. He dropped the deer’s heavy carcass and sprinted back to her.

“It twisted!” She cried.

Men and women poured out of the meadow, their faces contorted with rage as they saw their enemies climbing aboard the ship. Then they whooped in victory at the sight of Erikr and Alva crouching halfway between them and the pier. The enraged crowd surged down onto the beach. Erikr hauled Alva to her feet and dragged her down the stony slope. Their feet slipped and skidded on the wet rocks as they drew closer to the longboat. On board the ship, the karls shouted and gestured wildly behind them.

Alva’s ankle gave out at the pier. Feeling her weight pulling down on his shoulder, Erikr looped his arms under hers and hauled her down the walkway. Rough hands reached down and dragged them both up over the bulwark and onto the deck of the longboat. They lay panting where they were deposited as oars were brought over and braced against the pier. The longboat slowly drifted away from the shoreline while howls of impotent rage burst from the mouths of their frustrated pursuers.

You can find Vikingr by clicking this link!

Whore of Rome Prologue

Whore of Rome Prologue

Whore_of_Babylon

Here’s the first half of my prologue. I hope you enjoy reading it!

A measly crowd had gathered at the edge of Rome’s great forum, men and women clutching the hems of their tunics over their heads to shield them from the sputtering downpour. Iron grey clouds hung in the sky and the air was thin, dry after the sudden release of moisture.

Their eyes were fixed on a few shuffling figures that shambled their way over the broken rock and loose earth at the foot of the cliff. Above them, the Capitoline Hill’s twin peaks loomed dark and imposing against the turbulent sky.

Two men of the city watch, with rainwater running in sheets down their hard leather cuirasses, picked their way down the jumbled slope. They took care not to lose their footing on the slick earth, supporting the weight of an old man between them.

His back was hunched and grey hair hung lank down the back of his sodden toga. Every so often, the crowd saw him shudder with cold or fear. His frail, mud-caked feet struggled to gain a purchase on the uneven slope and failed. He seemed to surrender, letting his body hang limp and allowing the guards to drag him the rest of the way.

At the very foot of the cliff, the small party disappeared inside a narrow opening in the living rock. A muffled, ragged cheer rose from the sparse crowd and the onlookers began to move away. They would return soon for the execution. They all knew that in Rome, imprisonment was only ever a temporary measure before an executioner’s rough hands found their way to the sentenced man’s neck.

Once every spectator had gone from the rain soaked street, one of the watchmen took a package bound in tightly wrapped skin from inside his armour. He laid it in front of the old man and departed. The second guard struck a flame to the wick of a fat candle and then he too returned to the downpour outside.

They moved off a short distance, finding shelter beneath a boulder jutting out from the slope. The old man raised his face and looked around the cell. It was little more than an arched alcove cut into the wall of the cliff, but it was dry enough for his purpose.

The old man’s fingers quivered as he scratched the metal stylus across the carefully prepared and stitched skins. In its wake were left small black figures in wet ink, trailing after each other to form words which cut deep into his heart.

He was ancient, old enough that there were few things left that he truly feared. When he was younger he had been beaten, whipped and degraded. More times than bore counting he had been dragged towards the void of death and kicked back into the harsh light. But he still felt terror at the thought of what he was about to do.

The purpose of a book’s prologue or first chapter is to pose a question to the reader which makes them want to read on, or even finish the whole novel in search of answers. Did this prologue grip you and make you want to know more? Let me know in a comment. I really do appreciate all of your feedback.