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Advent Calendar of Medieval Religious Institutions December 6th: Lanercost Priory

I have a huge soft spot for Lanercost Priory; my house is named after it! And I didn’t know it was Augustinian – Wimer’s order! Thanks to Historical Ragbag for a very interesting read.

Historical Ragbag

Lanercost1Lanercost2Lanercost3Lanercost Priory was founded in 1169. It was home to a group of Augustinian canons. Augustinians were not monks exactly. Each was a canon, an ordained priest, and they were ruled by a prior. The priory was founded partly as a political act; both to establish a point of Anglo-Norman control and to help demarcate the newly re-established English Scottish frontier. In fact a reasonable portion of the stone used to build the priory was probably reclaimed from the nearby Hadrian’s Wall.

The priory was founded by Robert de Vaux. As well as political considerations de Vaux also probably wanted a site to endow perpetual prayers both for himself and for the souls of his parents. The priory was endowed with both churches and lands and it was both dedicated and founded in 1169. The original buildings would have been largely wood, but due to the proximity of Hadrian’s Wall…

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Author Event – 12th December, East Bergholt

I had a number of people say that they were sorry to miss out on the launch event for Sheriff and Priest – so I thought I’d do it again!

This time the lovely people at Old Hall in East Bergholt will be hosting the event; put 12th December, 7:30 in your diary, and click through the link below to RSVP, so we know how many chairs to put out!

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/author-event-local-author-local-history-tickets-40147518308

Nicky.

 

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REVIEW – The Midnight Queen

This review first appeared on the Historical Novel Society’s website.

The Midnight Queen

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I’m not at all sure that this is conventional historical fiction – I think it’ll live on my Science Fantasy shelves! However, the world is a fascinating and complex one; magic exists, through spoken spells in arcane languages. The Kingdom of Britain includes the Duchies of Normandie, Maine, and Breizh, and excludes Eire and Alba (Scotland); Henry XII sits on the throne. There is firm, widespread belief in a slew of ancient gods – I recognised both Greek and Celtic ones – who have real powers. There is a plot against the life of the King, whose only daughter has been spirited away as a baby. The heroine is a feisty protagonist, and her character arc takes her from country bumpkin, ignorant of her magic, to a powerful mage, in the end accepting that she is indeed a Princess, with all that entails. Along the way, she meets and falls in love with her wicked stepfather’s student, who turns out to be almost her match as a mage. He returns her love, whilst developing from a callow youth with a stutter, to being a man who can defend his wife’s honour against an attack from her father the King. There’s plenty of action to keep you turning pages, and the magic is a necessary (and very interesting) part.

Overall, I enjoyed this book – it was a quick, easy read; and it’s certainly something I could see my teenage daughters devouring whole. It’s the first in a trilogy, so plenty more to look forward to.

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REVIEW – Empires of the Sun

This review first appeared on the Historical Novel Society’s website.

Empires in the Sun: The Struggle for the Mastery of Africa

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Starting with the shelling of Algiers by a French battle fleet in 1830, Lawrence James paints a deep and nuanced picture of the relationship between Europe and Africa. The book is split into four parts: 1830-1881 covers the Arab legacy and the early colonial period; 1882-1918, the height of the European colonization; then 1919-1945, and the growing national movements; and finally, 1945-1990 and the end of the European colonies. The last piece of the puzzle, the birth of Mandela’s South Africa, took place in 1993.

I was born a colonial and grew up in Africa, and the continent has always drawn me. I found this book revelatory in its treatment of the early history: it fleshed out wonderfully what was taught in school in Kenya, and painted a vivid picture of events and people. I was equally impressed by the last section, the last 30 years or so of which I lived through; it was fascinating to see a multifaceted view of events. If you’re interested in the history of Africa, you’ll love this book.

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REVIEW – Incendium

This review first appeared on the Historical Novel Society’s website.

Incendium

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Fire, fear, and rebellion—first in France, then in England, aimed at the deposition of Queen Elizabeth, and the restoration of Catholic Queen Mary. Ex-teacher and lawyer Dr Christopher Radcliff, in the employ of the Earl of Leicester, is charged with finding the plotters and dismantling the plot.

The setting of this book is beautifully done. All the sights, sounds and smells of Elizabethan England are there, along with an intriguing range of characters, from whores and sodomites to Jewish goldsmiths and Guild Masters. Some scenes are not for the squeamish, but the violence is entirely consistent with 16th-century London. Only one event caused me to raise my eyebrows, and that was when the protagonist tossed a groat to a beggar, on the occasion we first meet him. Later in the book, he’s dispensing far more realistic farthings! Uncommon generosity aside, I quickly grew to like Christopher, who remains undefeated by his crusty and overbearing employer, a suspicious ladylove, and a series of mishaps and misdirections that bring his continued employment as an intelligencer into severe doubt until the very end.

The plot has plenty of believable twists and turns, and the pace is nicely varied; it’s an enjoyable and fast-paced read. Christopher Radcliff is clearly destined to appear in future books, and I think he’s likely to gain some loyal fans.

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Easily distracted…

Today I’m grabbing an hour to write in between other committments. 15 minutes ago, I wanted to know where the market might be in Ipswich in around 1190, give or take 20 years. It’s for a very small scene near the start of the book, setting up the antagonist – the Prior of Holy Trinity priory – as a baddie. I came across this, from just before the Conquest;

ipswich1086

And now I want to know what the Thingstead was – maybe the local version of Parliament Square? What was built on it, and how much survived the Conquest? The red crosses mark potteries – good old dark grey Ipswich ware, that I find such a lot of in the field. I hadn’t realised they were in the centre of town – what did they add to the smells and sounds? I can feel my whole hour of writing being sucked into the black hole that is research – but isn’t it fun? 😀

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Distant Echoes anthology

I’m very proud to have a story in here 🙂 There’s some fabulous tales.

Mine is about a Bronze Age girl on the threshold of womanhood whose world is ripped apart by an invading force. What future is there for someone who is only half-marked as a warrior?

“Gripping and thought-provoking stories of people, places and times past by writers from the Historical Novel Society.

A new anthology of nineteen award-winning and acclaimed historical fiction short stories.

Distant Echoes brings you vivid voices from the past. This haunting anthology explores love and death, family and war. From the chilling consequences of civil and world war, to the poignant fallout from more personal battles, these stories will stay with you long after the last page.”

Pre-order now via the link below. Publication is on Monday 25th September.

 

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Review – WHERE THE RIVER PARTS

This review first appeared on the Historical Novel Society’s website.
Radhika Swarup, Sandstone Press, 2016, £8.99, pb, 307pp, 9781910124765

It’s 1947. Teenagers Asha and her friend Nargis are oblivious to the upheavals taking place on the wider stage, as India draws closer to Independence, and the creation of Pakistan. Radhika Swarup vividly paints life in Asha’s Hindu, and Nargis’ Muslim, households, and the mutual respect and friendship between the families. The girls walk to school hand in hand, and dream of their future husbands. Asha has given her heart to Nargis’ brother Firoze, who is learning law from Asha’s father; they had stolen a march on their relationship, and started a baby, when their world collapses.

Partition wrenches the lovers apart. Asha loses her baby, her husband-to-be, and her parents within 24 hours of Independence, as the new countries come bloodily into being. She must find a way to survive; to try and love the man whom fate throws at her, and to bring up their daughter, in the new Hindu India.

Finally, Asha’s Americanised daughter persuades her widowed mother to fly over for a visit. Fate turns the wheel again, and brings Firoze back into Asha’s life – their grandchildren have fallen in love! All the old attraction is still there…

This is a beautifully written book, immersing you in the detail and mores of each of the very different settings and periods. I wish it had ended differently, but I loved it, right up until the final plot twist.

 

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Review – CULLODEN

This review first appeared on the Historical Novel Society’s webpage.
Trevor Royle, Little, Brown, 2016, £25, hb, 409pp, 9781408704011

My brother-in-law is a mild-mannered man, who wore a grey suit every day to work. We’d go on weekend outings around lowland Scotland, ending in a cosy pub. At Culloden Moor, though, he was suffused with anger, striding up and down gesticulating wildly as he relived every turn of the battle. It was easy to imagine him in clan tartan, claymore high, screaming defiance as he charged into the wall of lead from Cumberland’s muskets.

The battle that ended Bonnie Prince Charlie’s hopes in 1746 had consequences that exploded like a firework across Europe, North America, and India. Trevor Royle paints a fascinating picture, tracing the effects of the Jacobite defeat and the careers of the men on both sides of the battle lines across the next 50 years. He clearly shows how that battle set forces loose which shaped the British Empire, made the French defeat in the Seven Years War inevitable, and so set up the necessary conditions for the American Revolution to succeed. It changed the world.

In parts, the book is not an easy read. Cumberland’s sobriquet as the Butcher of Culloden was earned after the battle, with the brutal suppression of the clan system in the Scottish Highlands – his soldiers had orders “to drive the cattle, burn the ploughs, and destroy what you can”. There are parallels with the way Native Americans were treated whilst the British and French forces were jockeying for ownership of North America, and of course their retaliation isn’t for the faint-hearted either.

My brother-in-law’s ire at a battle lost three centuries ago sparked my curiosity enough to ask for this book. I expected a blow-by-blow account of the battle. I got much, much more than I bargained for – a much broader appreciation of a formative period in world history. I shall have to buy my brother-in-law a copy; I’m keeping mine!

 

 

 

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Review – THE GREEN COUNT

This review first appeared on the Historical Novel Society’s website.

Christian Cameron, Orion Books, 2017,, pb, 475pp, 9781409172796
This book continues the tale of William Gold, whom we first meet in The Ill-made Knight and The Long Sword. To date, Will’s career has taken him from impoverished squire, to being knighted on the field of battle; this story picks up in Cyprus in 1365.

I love historical fiction most when it’s nuanced – when the author assumes I know enough about the period to catch allusions to contemporary politics; when you are immersed in the landscape; and when the characters are rounded human beings with faults as well as virtues. It also helps – at least in an action story – when weapons are accurate and used correctly.

Christian Cameron has achieved all of this and more. I know the English 14thC, but this book ranges widely across the Mediterranean, taking us from Jerusalem to the Greek Islands, in the company of Knights of St John, priests, Mongols, slaves, noblemen, Islamic scholars, and more; the entire riotous spectrum of mediaeval life, portrayed in  technicolour and smellovision. I also learnt one or two new sword fighting techniques!

Sir William Gold is a thoroughly likeable man, who grows from an impoverished lone knight to the leader of a powerful company of men (not to mention gaining a wife and step-family), without losing the self-deprecating charm that makes him such a pleasure to spend time with.

Whether you’re after a roistering action book, a masterly portrayal of 14thC European and Asian realpolitik, or to admire a storyteller at the height of their powers – you will enjoy this book.

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