Sunday, 30 November 2008

House of Shadows (Medieval Murderers Group 3) by The Medieval Murderers

House of Shadows (Medieval Murderers Group 3) by The Medieval Murderers

Amazon UK synopsis:
'Bermondsey Priory, 1114. A young chaplain succumbs to the temptations of the flesh - and suffers a gruesome punishment. From that moment, the monastery is cursed and over the next five hundred years murder and treachery abound within its hallowed walls. A beautiful young bride found dead two days before her wedding. A ghostly figure that warns of impending doom. A plot to deposes King Edward II. Mad monks and errant priests ...even the poet Chaucer finds himself drawn into the dark deeds and violent death which pervade this unhappy place. '

5 Medieval mystery stories, between 1114 and 1163, set in the mysterious Bermonsey Priory on the outskirts of London.
Writers Susanna Gregory, Michael Jecks, Bernard Knight, Ian Morson, and Philip Gooden, each spin a tale centring on the abbey and the curse that is said to haunt it.
At the end the true nature of the curse is revealed.

A good selection of mystery stories, the book also gives you a taste of each writers styles.


this is Book 4 of the Daughter of Tintagel series.

Taliesin is appointed as Chief Bard to King Urien - Morgan's husband, and he is captured in her spell, like many other people.
This story brings out even more, the bitter conflict between Morgan and Arthur, and all is not as it seems in the marriage of Arthur and Gwenhyvar.
The narration of the tale is by Taliesin, and I am finding this method a bit disjointed at times.
You would need to read the other stories in sequence to be able to determine how each of the players fit into the overall story.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Relics by Pip Vaughan-Hughes

Relics by Pip Vaughan-Hughes

Set in the 13th Century, the novel centres around the main character Brother Petroc, a novice monk from Balcester. Unwittingly he is duped into stealing a relic and is framed for a murder he doesn't commit, ending up on the run from the authorities and the real murderer.
Fleeing for his life he runs to his former mentor a Brother librarian who directs him to the the enigmatic Captain de Montalhac and his crew of pirates, who sail him away from immanent danger.
The novel then spins a tale of relic hunters, conspiracies and a Greek princess.......

Although this novel has had good reviews I was disappointed with it.
It started off well but once it got aboard ship and the princess was introduced it became a little too fanciful for me.

Black Smith's Telling by Fay SAMPSON

Book 3 of the Daughters of Tintagel series and this story tells of Teilo Smith - another person who becomes beholden to Morgan - poor Teilo, he used to be a powerful (Black)Smith and master of the old ways. But he is drawn to Morgan and in the process loses his wife, due to her being accidently poisoned. He had made a potion to give to someone else, and his wife has touched the bowls. His daughter leaves home and Morgan then places a spell on him , so that he has to live the rest of his wife, dressed as a woman and carrying out women's roles.
Morgan's sisters" - Elaine and Morgawse are also dangerous and want revenge on Arthur.

We read also of Arthur's rise in power - but where is Merlyn. No doubt we will be told in the following books.

I have always had a fascination with Arthurian tales, and am enjoying these books.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The Death Maze by Ariana Franklin

The Death Maze by Ariana Franklin

published as The Serpents Tale in the USA - see Marg's review here

Thanks to Marg I hunted out this book from my local library.
I loved it ....just as I loved the first book Mistress of the Art of Death
Well written characters, lots of history, great women's roles.


Ana O.'s Medieval List

I too am aiming for Royalty and my choices are:

- The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman
- The Time of Singing by Elizabeth Chadwick
- Shield of Three Lions by Pamela Kaufman
- The Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
- Masques of Gold by Roberta Gellis
- Hood by Stephen Lawhead

Thanks for having me here! :-)

My Reading List for The Challenge

I'm aiming for Royalty so I selected 6 books to read:

Elizabeth Chadwick - The Marsh King's Daughter

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles - The Dark Rose

Paul M. Kendall - Yorkist Age, Daily Life During The Wars of The Roses

Sarah Bower - The Needle in The Blood

Roberta Gellis - A Tapestry of Dreams

Sharan Newman - Death Comes as Epiphany

Hopefully I'll be able to sneak one or two more...

Thursday, 6 November 2008

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

An extraordinary debut novel of love that survives the fires of hell and transcends the boundaries of time

The narrator of The Gargoyle is a very contemporary cynic, physically beautiful and sexually adept, who dwells in the moral vacuum that is modern life. As the book opens, he is driving along a dark road when he is distracted by what seems to be a flight of arrows. He crashes into a ravine and suffers horrible burns over much of his body. As he recovers in a burn ward, undergoing the tortures of the damned, he awaits the day when he can leave the hospital and commit carefully planned suicide—for he is now a monster in appearance as well as in soul.

A beautiful and compelling, but clearly unhinged, sculptress of gargoyles by the name of Marianne Engel appears at the foot of his bed and insists that they were once lovers in medieval Germany. In her telling, he was a badly injured mercenary and she was a nun and scribe in the famed monastery of Engelthal who nursed him back to health. As she spins their tale in Scheherazade fashion and relates equally mesmerizing stories of deathless love in Japan, Iceland, Italy, and England, he finds himself drawn back to life—and, finally, in love. He is released into Marianne's care and takes up residence in her huge stone house. But all is not well. For one thing, the pull of his past sins becomes ever more powerful as the morphine he is prescribed becomes ever more addictive. For another, Marianne receives word from God that she has only twenty-seven sculptures left to complete—and her time on earth will be finished.

Already an international literary sensation, the Gargoyle is anInferno for our time. It will have you believing in the impossible.

I don't actually tend to take much notice of holidays, and that is even more true when it is a holiday that we don't actually celebrate here. It was therefore a bit of a surprise to find myself reading not one but two books that are perfect Halloween reads. The first is a short story collection called Many Bloody Returns featuring vampires and birthdays stories from lots of different writers, and the other was this book.

From the very early pages, it is clear that our main character is one that most people would not want to befriend. Ironically enough, prior to his accident he was, physically at least, someone that would be considered very attractive - young, wealthy, attractive. After a terrible childhood, he drifts into a world filled with pornography and drugs, until he is driven as opposed to drifting in this world. After his accident, his is no longer physically attractive because of his terrible scarring, an irony that is not lost on him or anyone else.

This isn't a book for the faint of heart. The first few pages are nothing but graphic, as our main character, who remains nameless throughout the whole novel, has a terrible car crash.
We meet him a few seconds before as he drives along a cliff top road, influenced by drugs and alcohol. We ride in the car as it rolls down the hillside, as the flames engulfs, as he is rescued and taken to hospital and as he realises the full extent of his terrible injuries. I started reading this book on the train, and I was actually wincing at some of the parts, particularly where he talked about what happened to one of his feet.

And yet despite the gruesomeness of the descriptions, the writing is multi layered with moments of macabre comedy, beautiful tenderness, and incredible depth. The writing is not perfect - there are moments when tenses slip - but it is definitely compelling.

When our burns victim meets Marianne Engel, he is caught up in the whirlwind of energy that she brings with her, almost manic at times. He does not know her, but she is insistent that they have known each other for hundreds of years and she proceeds throughout the rest of the book to tell him their story. She also tells other stories, of ultimate love stories set in Iceland, Japan and England through the years. The story she tells is completely fantastical, and whilst there is some evidence to suggest that people are right to question Marianne's mental stability, our main character finds himself becoming less suicidal, less emotionally restricted and more open to new friendships around him due to her influence.

This book has so many layers - it is definitely a love story, there are fantasy elements, particularly in the latter stages of the book, it is a historical essay on the production of books in medieval abbeys, and a tribute to Dante's Inferno with side trips into mysticism and other historical detail. In lesser hands this could have become tangled and we could have been left with an unsatisfactory mess. Luckily for the reader, Davidson is skilled, and instead we end up with an infinitely readable, complicated and beautiful novel. A strong love story bound in fascinating detail.

Love is an action you must repeat ceaselessly.

This is a very assured debut novel. I can't wait to see what Andrew Davidson comes up with next.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

The Time of Singing by Elizabeth Chadwick

One woman forced to make a heartbreaking sacrifice...

When Roger Bigod, heir to the powerful earldom of Norfolk, arrives at court in 1177 to settle a bitter inheritance dispute with his half-brothers, he encounters Ida de Tosney, young mistress to King Henry II. A victim of Henry's seduction and the mother of his son, Ida is attracted to Roger and sees in him a chance of lasting security beyond the fickle dazzle of her current life; but in deciding to marry Roger, she is forced to make a choice.

As Roger's importance as a mainstay of the Angevin government grows, it puts an increasing strain on his marriage. Ida is deeply unhappy with the life she has to live in his absence and grieving for her losses. Against a volatile political background the gulf between them threatens to widen beyond crossing, especially when so many bridges have already been burned.

With so many new books coming out all the time, there are lots of authors that I am pleased to hear have new releases coming up, and then there are the authors that I am genuinely excited about new books from. Among the latter category is British author Elizabeth Chadwick. A quick look through my archives at any of the reviews for her books will confirm just how much I really enjoy them. Luckily for me, she once again has not let her readers down with this excellent novel about the life of a medieval couple trying to walk the narrow path between serving those troublesome Plantagenets and their own happiness.

Our main characters are Ida de Rosnay and Roger Bigod. Whilst still a very young woman, Ida makes her debut at court as one of King Henry II's wards, and very quickly catches his eye for much more earthly reasons. Whilst Ida is aware that it is a great honour to be the King's mistress, she is also aware that she is now damaged goods in terms of the marriage market, even though Henry has promised to look after her, especially once she gives birth to his son.

Enter Roger Bigod, a man who is in the middle of a fight for his inheritance and therefore has to do everything that he can to stay on the good side of Henry, so feeling an attraction to the king's mistress is probably not a great place to be! Like so many of Elizabeth Chadwick's other leading men, Roger is a man of honour, determined to do what is right. In fact, one of those other leading men, William Marshal, is one of Roger's friends and allies. It was interesting to see some of the events that were covered in William's books from an outside point of view. Anyway, back to Roger. What makes him unusual compared to so many of his contemporaries is his treatment of women. There are no dalliances with the court ladies, noble or otherwise, and he never loses sight of what his goals are. He has a determination that comes from knowing what it is that he wants, and doing everything he can to get it.

For Roger and Ida the chance to be together is a chance at happiness despite the odds, but it comes at a terrible price - one that continues to be paid by Ida year upon year. As Roger is called to perform task after task for the Plantagenet kings, always hoping that this time will be enough to have his full inheritance restored to him. There is always a chance, however, that spending all his time and energy in the fight for his entitlements that Roger may well lose something far more important to him.

What this author is really good at is balance. Whilst her books are definitely historical fiction of the highest order, there is an underlying romance as well. There is some sex in her books, but she knows how much detail to give and how much to leave up to the reader's imagination!

With lots of detail and colour, Chadwick knows how to bring the past to life vividly, but doesn't let the detail get in the way of a really good story. She also manages to include something new to me in all of her books! In this case, it was about jousting in the middle of the River Thames. If I was younger and fitter, a man (oh and alive in the 1100s), then river jousting sounds like a lot of fun!

If you haven't yet, read Chadwick, add her to your TBR list. Her books may be difficult to track down in the US, it is well worth the effort of getting them from either Amazon Canada or The Book Depository.

So, the only question left to ask really is when is the next book out?

Sunday, 2 November 2008

The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin

In twelfth-century England, one remarkable woman is trained to uncover the final secrets of the dead.

Rosamund Clifford, the mistress of King Henry II, has died an agonising death by poison - and the king's estranged queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, is the prime suspect. Henry suspects that Rosamund's murder is the first move in Eleanor's long-simmering plot to overthrow him. If Eleanor is guilty, the result could be civil war. The king must once again summon Adelia Aguilar, mistress of the art of death, to uncover the truth.

Adelia is not happy to be called out of retirement. She has been living contentedly in the countryside, caring for her infant daughter. But Henry's summons can not be ignored, and Adelia must again join forces with the king's trusted fixer, Rowley Picot, the Bishop of Saint Albans, who is also her baby's father.

Adelia and Rowley travel to the murdered courtesan's home, a tower within a walled maze - a strange and sinister place from the outside, where a bizarre and gruesome discovery awaits them. But Adelia's investigation is cut short by the appearance of Rosamund's rival: Queen Eleanor. Adelia, Rowley, and the other members of her small party are taken to the nunnery in Godstow, where Eleanor is holed up for the winter with her band of mercenaries.

Isolated and trapped inside the nunnery by the snow and cold, Adelia watchs as dead bodies begin piling up. The murders are somehow connected with Rosamund's demise. Adelia knows that there may be more than one killer at work, and she must unveil their true identities before England is once again plunged into civil war.
It's fair to say that I really enjoy the work of British author Diana Norman, whether we are talking about the straight historical novels that she publishes under that name, or the historical mysteries that she has started to write under the pen name of Ariana Franklin.

With the character of Adelia Aguilar, we have a character who can take us to the heart of a medieval murder, in the same way that we can see when we watch TV series like CSI. She has been specially trained in the medical schools of Italy to investigate the hows and whys of peoples deaths. In the previous book in the series (Mistress of the Art of Death), Adelia found herself in King Henry II's England, and with this book she is summoned again by the king himself to investigate and see whether his beloved mistress, Rosamund Clifford, may have been murdered, even though she lives in a tower in the middle of a barely accessible maze.

What complicates the investigation this time is that Adelia not only has to look after her own safety, and the safety of her friends, but also that of her daughter. She is being accompanied during her investigation Rowley Picot, a man of many masks - the King's trusted fixer, Bishop, Adelia's ex lover, and father of her child.

For me, one of the strongest parts of this novel was when all the characters were snowed in together for a good length of time. With everyone eager to impress Queen Eleanor who has unexpectedly arrived, and who is looking to start an uprising against her husband for her own reasons, life in a small community is difficult enough, let alone when you are trying to investigate a crime, and keep the Queen happy at the same time.

There is less of the investigation aspect used in this novel, and more interaction with the other characters, most of them have more than one agenda. As the body count grows, Adelia must protect her people, untangle the complicated relationships, and find the murderers of a several people.

I know that there are people who have read the first novel for whom the relationship with Rowley didn't really work, but it really doesn't bother me. I like that there is a chance for Adelia to be loved for the strong and intelligent woman that she is, even if it is a love that has to be constrained by time, distance and circumstance. It probably helps that I like Rowley a lot.

Overall, another fun read, from a fine historical author. I look forward to reading Grave Goods, the third book in the series, which is due to be released in March 2009. It is probably worth mentioning that this book has also been released under a different title in some countries - Death Maze.