30 Dec 2014

2015- The Year of Historical Anniversaries......

So it nearly the new year- and for the history buffs amongst us, there's a lot to get exited about. 

15th June 1215- Magna Carta 
June is the biggie- marking the 800th anniversary of the 'signing' of the Magna Carta- considered by many to be the foundation of British Democracy, with many attendant notions of liberty, freedom and rule of law. 

On this side of the Atlantic, the events include a special exhibition in Salisbury Cathedral of the four surviving original manuscripts of the Great Charter, and the publication of a whole host of History Books on the Magna Carta, King John, and many other related subjects. 

In the fiction genre, there are a couple of titles of note. One is Dina Sleiman's upcoming  release Dauntless, the first book in her YA Medieval Valiant Hearts Series. Dauntless is set in 1216, the year after Magna Carta and at the very end of King John's reign, and has a lot in common with the Robin Hood stories....of whom King John is the perpetual villain.

"Though once a baron's daughter, Lady Merry Ellison is willing to go to any lengths to protect the orphaned children of her former village. Dubbed "The Ghosts of Farthingale Forest," her band of followers soon become enemies of the throne when they hijack ill-gotten gold meant for the king.

Timothy Grey, ninth child of the Baron of Greyham, longs to perform some feat so legendary that he will rise from obscurity and earn a title of his own. When the Ghosts of Farthingale Forest are spotted in Wyndeshire, where he serves as assistant to the local earl, he might have found his chance. But when he comes face-to-face with the leader of the thieves, will he choose fame or love?"

There is also an older title, dating that is from 2012, which I read last January- Swords of Heaven- The True Story of the Magna Carta by C.D.Baker.
This novel tells of the events of last years of the reign of Henry II, through that of his sons Richard and John, culminating in the Magna Carta and its aftermath, from the perspective of Isabel de Clare, wife of Sir William Marshall.
Marshall was in himself a fascinating figure, sometimes hailed as the Greatest knight in English history, who rose from relative obscurity to become Earl of Pembroke and Regent of England.

" Baker's meticulously researched novel reveals the nearly forgotten story of the unsung heroes of the Magna Carta...Sir William Marshal and Isabel de Clare. Complete with a colorful collection of memorable characters, this story-based-in-fact invites the reader to experience everyday life, love, and the dram of warfare in medieval England. Filled with action, suspense, romance and intrigue, 'Swords of Heaven' brings to life the breath-taking events that rescued liberty from the grasp of tyrants."

25th October 2015- Battle of Agincourt
For us Medieval buffs , six months later in October  also marks the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, that Great English victory of the Hundred Years War that probably made the reputation of Henry V, and is the seminal event of his conquest of France. In the secular fiction market, there's no shortage of novels related to Agincourt, but when it comes to Christian Fiction, there's a distinctive dearth.

Could it be because some Americans seem to prefer to take the side of France, and Joan of Arc is better known and celebrated by them? Maybe I'm putting the cat amongst the proverbial pigeons, but Agincourt is an event that still inspires and creates controversy.
The romantic in me is rather attracted to the idea of the longbows in the hands of he common Englishman  being a match for a heavily armoured knight, and allowing them to achieve victory despite likely having being vastly outnumbered.
William Shakespeare was to immortalize the Battle nearly 200 years later in his play Henry V - though by this time the victory was already legendary. As a huge fan of the play, and something of a sympathizer of Henry the man, the anniversary is wont to stir feelings of patriotism- For England and St George!

18th June 1815- Battle of Waterloo
400 years later was another battle which ended in a famous victory for Britain and her allies and which the Regency Buffs may be familiar- I am of course referring to the battle of Waterloo, marking the final end of the Napoleonic Wars

Given the popularity of the Regency sub-genre, there are probably many novels that mention or even feature the great battle- though I cannot think of any specific titles, the more seasoned Regency fans likely can.
I'm not aware of any specific planned commemorations, but there may well be something.

The Armenian Genocide 
Moving away from England and to a more tragic event without attendant celebrations of victories for freedom or Great Men. No doubt most are aware of the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Great War this year. It was during this conflict that the notorious Armenian Genocide took place- and event which has to this day never been acknowledged by the Turkish government as has been overshadowed by the wider events of the War and of the later Holocaust.
It is reckoned that some 1.5 Armenians, mostly Christians were killed or expelled from their ancestral homelands.
According to tradition, the Armenians are one of the oldest Christian communities on earth, and Armenia the first Christian country.
Before the Ottoman Empire, the lands which are now Turkey were part of the Eastern Orthodox Byzantine Empire, and the Armenians could be considered a survival from the Greek Christian past- the spiritual leader of the community even held the title of the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople.

Some members of the community settled in Syria, and their descendants are not caught in the Middle of the conflict there. Perhaps then, 2015 is also an appropriate year to be mindful of the plight of the ancient Christian Communities of the Middle East, in Syria, Iraq and other regions, who are facing persecution and threatened with extermination today. 

11 Dec 2014

The Spilintered Oak: A Short Story of the First Crusade by Rosanne E. Lortz

Madison Street Publishers, July 1st 2014 
 Kindle Edition, 21 Pages  

A Tale of Danger, Duplicity, Cunning, and Conviction

"Archbishop Rothard would like nothing more than to find out which of his three clerks is spying for the Holy Roman Emperor, but when a crowd of Crusaders come clamoring to kill the Jews of Mainz, he must set his own plans aside and make the difficult decision of which side to take...."

There are good books, and there are great books- but in my conservatism, there are not many books I would label as 'must read'. This is one of them- it can in all honesty be compared the The Boy in the Striped Pajamas as a tale of humanity and compassion in the midst of hatred and brutality- it is, simply, a story that needs to be told

The atrocities perpetrated against the Jews in parts of Europe and the Middle East during the Crusades are deservedly notorious and widely publicized- almost every book and documentary about the period will likely mention something about them
Yet what is not so well known is that a number of prominent clerics not only disapproved of these massacres, but actively sought to protect the Jewish populations resident in the cities over which they held authority- and that such actions were not in line with the official policy of the church. Not all medieval people were rabid, homicidal, anti-Semites, despite what the popular media might make out
The Splintered Oak tells the story of one such a man- Rothard, Archbishop of Mainz- a scholar and man of peace, (a city in Germany) whose attempt to save the Jews who come to him for aid end in the failure of his courage, the greater strength of the foe and ultimate despair. Yet he ultimately learns that "sometimes, in order to live a life worth saving, one has to die". 

A poignant, tragic, yet necessary tale which at only 21 pages can be read in less than an hour.   Recommended for all.

8 Dec 2014

Centurion's Daughter by Justin Swanton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
348 Pages, August 1st 2011, Arx Publishing 

Her Frankish mother dead, 17-year-old Aemilia arrives at Soissons in Roman Gaul in search of her Roman father whom she has never met. She knows only that his name is Tarunculus and that he is a former centurion. 
She finds an old man fixed on the past, attempting in vain to kindle a spark of patriotism in his dispirited countrymen. Soon, Aemilia is caught up in her father's schemes to save the Empire and the intrigues of the Roman nobility in Soissons. 

In the war between Franks and Romans to decide the fate of the last imperial province, Providence will lead her down a path she could never have imagined. Written and illustrated by master storyteller Justin Swanton, Centurion's Daughter is a thoughtful and compelling journey to a little-known period of history when an empire fell and the foundations of Christendom were laid.


Interesting book covering the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century, or more specifically, the fall of Roman France (what was left of it) to the Franks, the people who gave their name to the country that was to be established in place of the ancient Roman province that have been called Gaul.
The story is told from the perspective of a girl who is caught between both worlds, the daughter of a Roman Centurion, and raised in the villa of a Roman Aristocrat, Æmilia is however, half Frankish, and her knowledge of the Frankish language makes her useful as a translator- but also causes her to be subject to suspicion and discontent.

In one sense, it is the story of a young Lady struggling to survive in a society that clings to the old ways that seem doomed to die out, but to nonetheless hold onto and protect all she holds dear; her father, her faith, her love of books and learning.
Yet she could only fight for so long, and eventually must learn to accept the new order. One part coming of age story, perhaps in another sense, but also a sold work of historical fiction in its own right, with plenty of realistic details, and is obviously well researched.

Had I not heard in a documentary recently that the Romans built apartment blocks, I might have thought the references to these an anachronism- but it is not so. There’s even a element of Romance, and the characters face realistic challenges and moral dilemmas. Is it better for Æmilia to protect and defend the culture she knows and lives, at all costs, or be prepared to embrace the rule of the Franks? Is it better to remain loyal to her potentially treacherous employer, and risk the consequences, or reveal all, which could also prove detrimental? How can she please a father determined to do all he can to fight in what may ultimately be a hopeless cause, and whose loyalty to Rome verges on fanaticism?

My only real historical complaints were some terms and phrases which seemed rather modern. Also, the prayers to Mary may be an issue to non-Catholic readers- though I tend to accept these as a reflection of the time, and some rather odd manifestations of her faith every now and again. However, for those seeking a solid historical novel, which is not the usual Romance and perhaps requires a little more attention, it may be a good choice. I would certainly read more by this author, who is working on another book. A King Arthur story might be good.....

I was given a copy of this book by the author for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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