29 Jan 2022

Enamored by Jody Hedlund Review

 Knights of Brethren #1
November 9th 2021, Northern Lights Press, 252 Pages
Print and Ebook 


During a time when legends were born . . .


A princess in need of a husband, a young Sage who cannot have her, and a web of deceit that threatens their love.

Having been raised by her childless aunt and uncle, the king and queen, Princess Elinor finds herself the only heir to the throne of Norvegia. As she comes of age, she must choose a husband to rule beside her, but she struggles to make her selection from among a dozen noblemen during a weeklong courtship.

With aspirations to become the wisest man in the land, Maxim is summoned home by his father Rasmus, a Royal Sage. Reunited with Elinor, once his closest friend, Maxim is quickly enamored with her even though he can never be considered a prospect for her husband.

Elinor’s feelings for Maxim are rekindled too . . . until she learns he has been unwillingly drawn into Rasmus’s scheme to take control of the throne. With the kingdom under attack both from within and without, can Elinor and Maxim overcome the deceit spinning around them? Or will it destroy their love once and for all?

The real story of Excalibur


 Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I confess, I wasn't sure what to make of Jody Hedlund's latest Medieval Fantasy Romance. I personally don't like it when anything is plugged as "the true story" of any Legend, because there are always going to be people who take such claims seriously and think its all true.
I also wasn't entirely comfortable with the idea of my country's greatest Legends being picked up and dropped in what is basically just a barely disguised fantasy version of Scandinavia which might be recognizable to fans of How to Train Your Dragon.

AFAIK, The Arthurian Legends, unlike Robin Hood, aren't some universal stories that can be translated to any culture or country... they're British (even many of the names are Welsh) were born The British Isles, in these Isles they should remain. They are not a Viking Saga.

In the end, I didn't find there was really too much in the way of Arthurian Legends here, or maybe I just didn't notice it? I think Maxim is meant to be vaguely based on Merlin, but its more the young and attractive BBC version of Merlin than the old man if that's the case.

This book did do something though that light romantic fantasy hasn't done for a while with me, and that's get me thoroughly immersed, and I did rather like it. Hence the rating. I loved Maxim as a character. His quirks and inner turmoil, and what's all this stuff about Royal Sages?
The inclusion of dragons in the novel could have cheapened it, but it was done well, even if the references to them bonding with people seemed vaguely akin a certain animated movie franchise aforementioned.

There were only a couple of parts I found less than impressive. One of them was the Sword of the Magi (c'mon it’s meant to be Excalibur...) loosing itself from a - cedar case for the One True King. 

I know. A cedar case. Can we just have a stone please? A rock? At very, very least some kind of Reliquary?
It just sounds so unimpressive as though the sword was a Clarinet or violin or something. Is the one true King meant to whip it out and play a solo?

Second, Elinor. I kind of didn't mind her at first, but the way she starts acting towards the end was inexplicable and felt really, really forced.

Also, this has to be said, the whole choosing a husband on the day of her 18th birthday before she can assume the status as heir to the throne, and "Oh yes let's have a contest/test so you can pick the best one!" seems really familiar somehow.
An Uncertain Choice, anyone? Please don't be a clone of Lady Rosemarie, Elinor. Please don't. This is a whole new story in a whole new world, you don't have to be her....

This was a nice clean Medieval Fantasy Romance, and the series does have promise. I will read the next one, I just really really hope it doesn't fall into to trap of recycling storylines and rehashing characters from the author's previous work.
Especially when you've got the vast wealth of storytelling fodder that is the Arthurian Legends to work with.

25 Jan 2022

A Conspiracy of Prophets by Suzannah M. Rowntree Review

 Watchers of Outremer #4
January 6th 2022, Bocfodder Press, 520 Pages
Print and Ebook

Genre: Historical (Low) Fantasy
Setting: Antioch, Modern Day Turkey

The last thing Lukas Bessarion wants is to warn the crusaders…yet if he refuses, a bloodthirsty demon will seize power.

Syria, 1098: After a gruelling siege, the crusaders finally capture Antioch—but within days, the besiegers become the besieged. Clawing for survival in a doomed city, the Franks turn to a new power for help: the mad prophet, Peter Bartholomew.

Plagued by his own unwanted visions, Lukas Bessarion knows the vicious Bartholomew is controlled by the demon Lilith, now growing in power. But none of the Franks—from naïve ladies to murderous counts and princes obsessed with political rivalry—seem worth saving.

Worse, if Lukas accepts his destiny as a prophet, he’ll need to renounce earthly power—like his father’s enchanted lance, hidden beneath Antioch. With the Lance, he hopes to avenge his beloved Ayla and lead his own people to victory.

But Lukas isn’t the only one who wants the Lance.

Lilith’s thirst for blood is insatiable. And to satisfy it, she will stop at nothing to gain control of Lukas, the Lance, and the entire crusade…

The Watchers of Outremer historical fantasy series continues with this dark and thrilling sequel to SPFBO finalist A Wind from the Wilderness!


                                               My Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐


 A Conspiracy of Prophets is the Fourth novel in the Watchers of Outremer series, and continues the story of Lukas Bessarion, the eldest son of a Syrian Byzantine family who was catapulted forward in time when the magic ritual of an Arab sorcerer Khalil went wrong. He ended up 400 years in the future, in the midst of the First Crusade, with his home city facing invasion by hordes of "pilgrims" from France and across Europe.

Now, nearly a year later, Lukas is a lost soul. Following the murder of his beloved Aayla at the hands of the Frankish knight and his nemesis Everard le Puiset Lukas is bent on revenge. That and recovering the priceless artefact which his father recovered shortly before the catastrophic event which separated them.

The Bessarion Lance, which the Crusaders believed to be the famous Spear of Destiny, is closely guarded and in the hands of his enemies.

I would say that the two stories involving Lukas have been somewhat darker than the other novels in the Watchers of Outremer series, involving Marta and John Bessarion (Lukas’s sister and father) respectively, but it was nonetheless a wild rollercoaster of a ride through history and the complex web of shifting alliances and political intrigue. Did I say that before? Pretty sure I did.

Necessity, as the old saying goes, produces strange bedfellows, and so Lukas ends up helping his sworn enemy and befriending his sister, Emoleta, a young woman who is not a watcher, but appears to be a Prophetess, and has as much pain and darkness in her past as him. Just to add, I love Emoleta. 

No this is not Emoleta she's a fictional character, but I love this picture, OK?

She's incredible, and I want to see more of her. I sincerely hope she returns in the Lukas next novel, but I am not sure I can wait three years to see her again!

As historical events and personal allegiances collide, the mythological and fantasy elements of this series come to the fore. One of the leading figures of the Crusade is under the influence of the ancient demon Lilith, who thrives on chaos, violence and evil and the character's battles begin to transcend the physical.

All the time, through the novel, one hopes that Lukas will make the right choices and conquer his own inner demons, but the path he chooses makes his ending uncertain.

What I do love is how the author managed to develop some of the secondary characters in the story, to the point that they actually emerged as more sympathetic if not likeable and more important to the narrative than Lukas, including the Le Puiset siblings.

I do personally wonder if that is one of the emerging themes of this story, that the characters choices can determine not only their destiny, but the fate of entire nations and peoples. As someone who has read history, I have a fair idea of what's going to happen when the Crusaders reach Jerusalem, but I wonder how the author will incorporate that into the story.

A Lukas seems to be morphing into something more like an anti-hero one wonders what the ending of his story will bring. It seems like there's no coming back from a shocking decision he makes towards the end of this novel (which I won't give away because it would be a major spoiler) but who knows how it will pan out?

Thanks to Suzannah Rowntree for sending me an ARC of her amazing novel. This didn't influence my review and all opinions expressed are my own.

Content warning: These novels cover territory that readers of traditional religious and Inspirational novels might find very dark. An ancient demon, Lilith appears in physical form and likes to tease and torment characters with her evil, their own actions, and her wicked, sardonic sense of humour (what else would one really expect from a demon?).

There’s a couple of references to her possessing people, and demigods from the ancient past also make an appearance. There are references to human sacrifice and other rituals, which whilst not graphic may prove disturbing to some readers, as well as some rather more graphic violence.

I don’t think the books in this series are suitable for preteens, and discretion is advised even fore some teenage readers.


24 Jan 2022

The King's Mercy by Lori Benton Review: Again, better late than never

June 4th 2019, Waterbrook, 400 Pages
Print and Ebook

Genre: Historical Fiction
Period: Mid 18th Century USA (pre Revolution)

When captured rebel Scotsman Alex MacKinnon is granted the king's mercy--exile to the Colony of North Carolina--he's indentured to Englishman Edmund Carey as a blacksmith. Against his will Alex is drawn into the struggles of Carey's slaves--and those of his stepdaughter, Joanna Carey. A mistress with a servant's heart, Joanna is expected to wed her father's overseer, Phineas Reeves, but finds herself drawn instead to the new blacksmith. 

As their unlikely relationship deepens, successive tragedies strike the Careys. When blame falls unfairly upon Alex he flees to the distant mountains where he encounters Reverend Pauling, itinerate preacher and friend of the Careys, now a prisoner of the Cherokees.
Haunted by his abandoning of Joanna, Alex tries to settle into life with the Cherokees, until circumstances thwart yet another attempt to forge his freedom and he's faced with the choice that's long hounded him: continue down his rebellious path or embrace the faith of a man like Pauling, whose freedom in Christ no man can steal. But the price of such mercy is total surrender, and perhaps Alex's very life.


 My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


The King's Mercy was originally concieved of as the retelling of an account of a man who was touched by the story of an escaped slave from one of the Letters (or epistles) in the Bible. However, like many stories it took on a life of its own and went in directions the author didn't plan for.

What emerged was a rich story set in mid-18th century America. Alex McKinnon was a man with nothing to lose deprived of family and friends and sent alone to a strange land. Joanna was a woman who appeared to have everything, but with a family facing ruin and unable to help the people she cared about.

The story follows Alex's journey towards faith and redemption. "The King's Mercy" was an apt name, as his tortured and wounded soul sough purpose and freedom before discovering mercy, faith and love where he did not expect them. Joanna has a similar arc, realizing that some friends can't be trusted and that adversity can impact people in very different ways. It did a good job of describing the lives of enslaved people in 18th century America, and didn't shy away from some of the more unpleasant realities.

The only downer for me was that I felt the story was a little too complicated, and there were too many "side characters" with their own stories. This, by turn, made the narrative a little confusing and choppy in some places.

I would certainly consider reading more novels by this author in future as this was a great introduction to her work.

I requested an Arc of this title in 2019 and subsequently purchased the ebook of my own volition. All opinions are entirely my own and this did not influence my review.

23 Jan 2022

Books I read Last Year: The Barrister and the Letter of Marque by Todd M. Johnson

August 23rd 2021, Bethany House, 407 Pages
Print, Ebook and Audio

Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: 19th Century London and surrounding counties

As a barrister in 1818 London, William Snopes has witnessed firsthand the danger of only the wealthy having their voices heard, and he's a strong advocate who defends the poorer classes against the powerful. That changes the day a struggling heiress, Lady Madeleine Jameson, arrives at his door.

In a last-ditch effort to save her faltering estate, Lady Jameson invested in a merchant brig, the Padget. The ship was granted a rare privilege by the king's regent: a Letter of Marque authorizing the captain to seize the cargo of French traders operating illegally in the Indian Sea. Yet when the Padget returns to London, her crew is met by soldiers ready to take possession of their goods and arrest the captain for piracy. And the Letter--the sole proof his actions were legal--has mysteriously vanished.

Moved by the lady's distress, intrigued by the Letter, and goaded by an opposing solicitor, Snopes takes the case. But as he delves deeper into the mystery, he learns that the forces arrayed against Lady Jameson, and now himself, are even more perilous than he'd imagined.


My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This book looked to provide a welcome break from my usual Regency romances, so I snapped it up (on Netgalley) quite quickly, and I am glad I did.
The Barrister and the Letter of Marque was something akin to a Sherlock Holmes Mystery crossed with a legal thriller. William Snopes, A London barrister (a type of lawyer specializing in courtroom advocacy and litigation) has to represent a noble client. As he looks into her case, he discovers dangerous secrets in high places.

The case involves a ship which engaged in privateering in the Indian Ocean. A Letter of Marque was essentially licensed piracy, allowing a vessel to sieze enemy ships and thier goods. Without it, such vessels and their crews could be arrested as pirates.
As the story, and the cast develops It turns out to be about a lot more than just a lost Letter of Marque. There are twists and turns aplenty, loyalties and relationships are tested, and there is a smattering of romance.

Although I did appreciate the "use" of place in this novel, and how it incorportated so many places, both inside and outside London, there were a couple of things which annoyed me. The tendency to include the noun "County" after the name of every other county.

Sussex County, Essex County, etc. That's not how place names work in Britain. Sussex and Essex are counties, but counties are ancient regional designations. Ergo, when someone talks about what county they come from, or are living in, they just say the name of the county.
They will simply say "I am from Lancashire", not "I am from Lancashire county" because everyone knows Lancashire is a county.

I'd certainly recommend this as an introduction to Todd M Johnson's work, and I think the author has gone through a lot of effort to familiarize himself with the workings of the English legal system.

Thanks to Netgalley for approving my request for this title. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

Between Two Shores By Jocelyn Green Review: Better Late than Never

February 5th 2019, Bethany House, 409 Pages
Print and Ebook

Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: 18th century Canada, Montreal


The daughter of a Mohawk mother and French father in 1759 Montreal, Catherine Duval would rather remain neutral in a world tearing itself apart. Content to trade with both the French and the British, Catherine is pulled into the Seven Years' War against her wishes when her British ex-fiancé, Samuel Crane, is taken prisoner by her father. Samuel claims he has information that could help end the war, and he asks Catherine to help him escape.

Peace appeals to Catherine, even if helping the man who broke her heart does not. But New France is starving, and she and her loved ones may not survive another winter of conflict-induced famine. When the dangers of war arrive on her doorstep, Cathering and Samuel flee by river toward the epicenter of the battle between England and France. She and Samuel may impact history, but she fears the ultimate cost will be higher than she can bear


My Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I finally read this, after like two years. Between Two Shores was a really good book, and I think the standout aspect was that it turned out not to be a romance at all, at least not in the traditional sense or with the traditional conclusion.
Kind of like Great Expectations, it showed that you can love someone, without necessarily being together or acting on those feelings.

I have read two other books by this author, and I think BTS was the most complex in terms of storyline, characters, and the historical backdrop, but also the one I enjoyed the most. Katherine's character arc was incredible. Even Samuel's was, but to a lesser extent, and its really good how the conclusion was presented without vilifying him for his choices.

The only thing I found a little confusing was how the timeline kept jumping back and forth. Other that that though, it was a wonderful evocation of the lives of a family caught between two worlds and cultures, and later of a community torn apart by a conflict which was not of thier own making.

Thanks to Bethany House for approving my request for this title on Netgalley. I purchased the ebook of my own volition as well

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