Saturday, 31 October 2015

The Far Shore, Nick Brown

Publishers: Hodder & Stoughton

Pages: 432

Main Characters:

Cassius Corbulo, Indavara, Annia.

Joining the Imperial Security Service was supposed to be easy. Gaining the same rank as a Centurion without the risk of imminent death is a great perk to have in the Roman Army. However, so far Cassius Corbulo’s first few months in the service have been nothing less than dreadful. His first posting was to a small fort in Palmyra, which he valiantly defended against the rebellion of Queen Zenobia. Then having gained some glory in the service, Cassius and his servant Simo were tasked with retrieving the lost Faridun’s Banner, which was vital in gaining peace on Rome’s eastern frontier. Now Cassius and his new bodyguard Indavara have finally been given a task they can enjoy.

The mission is pretty simple. All Cassius and his retinue have to do is travel to the Greek island of Rhodes and pick up a message from the Deputy Commander of the Imperial Security Service. Cassius cannot wait for a long overdue holiday on an island that is brimming with culture, good wine and women. However as usual, Cassius is not that lucky. When he and his men arrive at the commander’s house they find that he has been brutally murdered and his body mutilated. The Commander’s daughter Annia, with her forthcoming manner and all out bossiness, persuades Cassius to pursue the murder inquiry and find those responsible for her father’s death.

After finding a Carthaginian captain to help them, the investigation takes Cassius and his men all over Rhodes and the Mediterranean. Dangerous storms and conflicts on the ship almost end the man-hunt. Nonetheless, when the crew finally arrives at a small Roman town on the North African coast, they realise that the murder and situation is grimmer than they expected. Cassius must use his cunning and the attributes of his men to find the puppet-master behind the Commander’s murder.

My vision of Cassius and Indavara

This is the third book in Nick Brown's Agent of Rome series and I have to say I really enjoyed it. I thought adding the murder/mystery element to the novel made it seem fresher than some other Roman historical fiction novels that can sometimes stagnate. I really liked learning more about the mysterious Indavara and thought that Cassius developed more in this novel too. He came across as the arrogant aristocrat that I believe he is. I liked this because I feel that other books in this genre always have a similar zero-to-hero protagonist who comes from a rich family and is forced to serve in the army. Cassius does fall into this category too, but I think by making him arrogant distinguishes him from other characters in other novels that always seem to take on the ‘one of the lads’ personalities. In real life I think there would have been a hierarchy, with the young aristocratic officers taking on an ‘us and them’ personality between themselves and the legionaries. This is what Cassius does in the book and it makes him seem more realistic.

I have to admit that some parts of the book I listened too via an audiobook. At first I really didn’t like the audiobook as the narrator used some very unusual accents for the characters. Cassius sounded a lot like Micheal Gambon, Simo (a Gaulish slave) had a scouse accent and Indavara sounded like he was from the east end of London! However, the accents grew on me and I found myself reading the book and giving the characters the accents in my mind!

I would suggest this book to anyone who is a Roman historical fiction fan. Like I said, it is different to most of the other series out there and was a very enjoyable book to read. I’m looking forward to the next one!

For author's official website please click here.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Darth Plaugeis, James Luceno

Publishers: Lucas Books

Pages: 368

Main Characters:

Darth Plagueis (Hego Demask), Darth Sidious (Palpatine)

As December rapidly approaches with the release of the new Star Wars movie, I have been getting seriously hyped for the new chapter in the franchise’s saga! This excitement has led me into all things Star Wars as I’ve been playing some of the old video games, watching the old movies and for a long time I’ve wanted to read a Star Wars novel.

However, reading a SW novel has always made me a bit dubious, as many of the books and literature are always released as companions to the movies and have left me doubting the time and originality put into the stories. After doing some research, I found quite a few ‘top ten’ lists of the best SW novels, with quite a few respectable bloggers and journalists backing up these books. One book I noticed in most of these lists was Darth Plagueis by James Luceno.

As some of the more dedicated SW fans will know, Darth Plagueis was the Sith Palpatine tells Anakin of in Revenge of the Sith, when trying to turn him to the Dark Side.

“Did you ever hear the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise? It’s a Sith legend. Darth Plagueis was a Dark Lord of the Sith, so powerful and so wise that he could use the Force to influence the midi-chlorians to create life. He had such a knowledge of the dark side that he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying.”
—Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, 
Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith

Darth Plagueis was Palpatine’s Master and this book tells of how he persuaded Palpatine to become his apprentice and how they forged a partnership which helped the youmg Naboo (Aka Darth Sidious) becoming the Galactic Emperor. A partnership which took decades to manoeuvre Palpatine to the summit of the Senate through betrayal and murder. But even longer for Plagueis to control the Force and have sway over life and death.

I have to say that I was really disappointed with this book! It never really grabbed me and made me want to read more and at times it could be quite tiresome and confusing. Since I first watched Revenge of the Sith, I’d always wanted to know more about Plagueis. Finding this book had me dreaming of lightsaber battles, deceit and an extension to the SW universe that I’d never known about before. However, it was mostly filled with confusing (but I guess important) events about companies, politicians and gangs whose names were hard to pronounce; never mind remember later in the book! These facts about the SW universe do make the plot seems more believable and explain Palpatine’s rise down to every minute, boring detail. However, I wanted big, brash action packed SW which we all know and love from the films.

'The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis

Take for instance the death of Plagueis. Right at the start of the novel we read about Sidious standing over his master’s corpse as a crack is sent through the Force, confirming Plagueis’s death. So I thought, ‘WOW, I cannot wait to get to the end and read about the epic fight that must happen’. As I said, the book is dense with details about the Outer Rim and the workings of the Republic but you think, ‘ah it’s worth it to get to the end and read about the fight’. However, you read about Plagueis’s death and think, ‘is this a joke?’ It’s almost done as an afterthought and takes up about two pages which you rub together with your fingers, believing there must be more- the pages must have all stuck together! But they haven’t and it left me feeling extremely frustrated!
Artist's impression of Plagueis

However, the book was not all bad. I did enjoy reading about the infamous Darth Maul and his rise to power as you don’t learn that much about him in Episode I, in which I’m pretty sure he only has about two lines. The book also gives a great context to the start of Episode I and explains for example; why a 13 year old girl is the Queen of an entire planet, and why the Trade Federation is blockading Naboo.

I think if this book had been a history book and was named something like: ‘the Secret History of the Collapse of the Republic’  I would have enjoyed it more. I would have found it really interesting but I wouldn’t have been expecting too much from it and therefore could come away disappointed, instead coming away satisfied that I’d read it and would want to read more history like it. Which to be fair, is kinda how I feel. I do want to read other SW novels so in some ways the book has done a good job.

I would suggest this book to anyone who is looking to learn more about the wider SW universe but I’d suggest you don’t get too excited about it.

For author’s official wookieepedia entry click here.

Anyone interested in Star Wars rumours should read this though....

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

The Unforgiven, Gav Thorpe

Publishers: Black Library

Pages: 446

Main Characters:

Azrael, Annael, Telemenus, Cypher

Picking up straight after the Master of Sanctity, The Unforgiven describes that the Dark Angels' plan has failed with the escape of Astelan. The chapter looks like it could be turned to turmoil and with the capture of the thrice-cursed traitor Cypher and his revelation that the chapter is in grave danger, the Dark Angels must make a decision on what their future entails. Do they trust the Fallen and follow his guidance or do they risk everything by ignoring him and carrying on as they always have done, casting further lies and secrets on the already allusive Chapter? Supreme Grand Master Azrael and his close advisors must come up with a plan of action to counter the danger posed to them by the Fallen Space Marines.

After disobeying orders and saving his friend Sabrael, Annael is serving a long penance. Under the stern gaze of Chaplain Malcifer, the boring and menial tasks of cleaning and maintenance work have worn Annael’s mind down to a pulp as he still cannot accept that his actions were wrong. As destruction looms over the Dark Angels all Space Marines are needed to fight against the traitors. But until Annael truly repents and understands the consequences of his actions his superiors will not allow him back into the Black Knights. With his strong will (and sometimes thick skull) it may be too late for Annael to help his comrades in the ensuing chaos!

The brutal mutilation on the world of Ulthor has not dampened Telemenus’s spirit. With the Emperor at his side and a new understanding and zeal for his role in humanities’ protection against the Xenos, Mutant and Traitor, Telemenus’s spirit and blood has become ignited! As a reward for his dedication the injured Space Marine is rewarded by Grand Master Belial, becoming entombed within the battle armour of a Dreadnought. Though emerging as a legend amongst the Deathwing for his actions on Ulthor, Telemenus knows that he still has his duty to do and will use his new body to further the Dark Angels’ and the Emperor’s cause.

Deathwing Dreadnaught

I was so excited to start reading this book! Master of Sanctity is probably my favourite book that I’ve read this year and the ending absolutely leaves you wanting for more! However, I’m sad to say that I was a little disappointed. 

One of the main reason I liked Master of Sanctity was because of the characters Sapphon and Asmodai. Their bitter rivalry caused some great tension in the second book and their very different styles and personalities complemented each other perfectly. In The Unforgiven, they are reduced to smaller roles as Azrael becomes a dominant character. So small in fact, that about two thirds of the way into the book they are totally cut adrift and not heard of again until the very end of the novel! And even then there is only a few paragraphs quickly summarising their fates. I wouldn’t mind so much if there was going to be another book and they remerged there, but there isn’t and I can’t quite understand how a character as important as Sapphon, which the second book in the series is named after, can be so easily removed. It’s like removing Harry Potter from the final book and then quickly mentioning him at the end, so you know he is alive and has survived the trauma the whole series has been building up to.

Nevertheless, the book did have some really good points such as the final battle between the Dark Angels and Chaos. I especially liked that other chapters of the ‘Unforgiven’ were included in the battle and it was pretty cool seeing the difference between them and the secretive Dark Angels. In addition, I did like that Thorpe brought Azrael into the series as he is such an important character and I enjoyed reading about the secrets the Supreme Grand Master knew about the Chapter, such as the Watchers and Luther. Even though I liked Azrael’s introduction, I think it was done at the expense of losing Sapphon and Asmodai. I would have preferred if Telemenus’s had been replaced because I don’t think his story added that much extra to The Unforgiven, I honestly forgot that he survived Ulthor!

To summaries, this was by far my least favourite book in the series and I was disappointed by that. The ending was pretty epic and I think it leaves the series open for later novels by Thorpe or possibly by other authors. I’d love to see a one off novel about Sapphon, maybe him getting his judgement from the Council for his failings with Astelan and his eventual seppuku (falling on his sword)?

I’d suggest this book to anyone who’s a fan of Gav Thorpe and has read his other Dark Angels novels. I’d also suggest it to anyone who is looking to get into the Science-Fiction genre because I think Warhammer 40K have some of the best novels in that genre.

If you are a fan of Warhammer 40K novels please leave me some suggestions on other books to read, I really want to get accustomed with other Space Marine chapters and authors so please leave me a comment with a suggestion or go to my Facebook.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Hannibal: Clouds of War, Ben Kane

Publishers: Preface

Pages: 448

Main Characters:

Hanno, Quintus, Aurelia

Based on Sicily, Hannibal: Clouds of War is the third book in Ben Kane's Hannibal series. After the catastrophic defeat at Cannae, the war in Italy lulls as Rome and Hannibal assess the damage to their armies and plot their next move.

The theater of war shifts to Sicily, where our three heroes become entangled on the island in the Roman effort to capture Syracuse from Hannibal's allies Hippocrates and his brother Epicydes.

Quintus is part of the disgraced Roman army exiled to Sicily and camped around the ancient city of Syracuse. After settling in to the life of a Hastati, Quintus's pride and arrogance get him into trouble with a new Centurion called Pera. Beating him in a horse race, Quintus has watch his back as he has another enemy in his own ranks. However, unlike Marcerio, the new Centurion has substantial power over Quintus's future.

Gaining glory in the war against Rome and proving he is the most mature of his two brothers, Hanno is handpicked by Hannibal for a secret and deadly mission. Hannibal wants Hanno to travel to Syracuse and advise the two sibling dictators ruling there to ensure that the city does not fall into Roman hands. However, spying does not come easily to Hanno and he must balance the two different personalities of the brothers to ensure that chaos does not arise in the Syracusian defence.

Aurelia is the matriarch of her own household and busies herself with the care of her young son Publius. Although her marriage to Melito is loveless, it nevertheless has been successful.

However, when news reaches her that Melito has been injured in the city of Rhegium, Aurelia rushes to be at her husband's side. She must make the journey through perilous waters and risk the wrath of the Carthaginian navy and the Sicilian slavers if her vessel is caught.

I have to admit that this book has been my least favourite in the series so far. I get a feeling that this was a sort of 'filler' novel in the series between the more famous battles Hannibal faces in Italy. This is because it was based around the siege of Syracuse, in which for a long time nothing really happens. Kane tries to make up for this by adding the intrigue of Quintus's enemy Pera and by trying to make Hanno an undercover spy; even though he doesn't seem to do much spying!

One of the defenses of Syracuse

I understand that this lull was true in history as the war moved to Sicily, with Hannibal hoping to ensure an easy route through the Mediterranean for his troops and supplies. However, I felt like this book was  purely written to set up something huge to come in the next couple of novels, such as the war in Hispania and Hannibal's eventual defeat (sorry for spoilers).

Nevertheless, as the saying goes 'the devil's in the detail' and as always Kane packs this novel with historical depth and description. I especially like this in his explanation of the Syracusian defences and of Archimedes’s machines of war. The deadly crossbows, catapults and sea hooks give a sense of the formidable task the Legionaries faced when scaling Syracuse's walls, whilst also being historically accurate which I especially liked!

Example of Archimedes Sea Hook/Claw

As I said above, this was my least favourite book in the series so far. However, that isn't to say it's a bad novel. The detail was amazing and the sub plots of Quintus and Centurion Pera did add a lot to this novel. Plus the story of the massacre of Enna was very entertaining. Nevertheless, it still felt that this book was a filler novel for later books in the series. If Kane had released it as a standalone story with different characters I think I would have enjoy it more. But in this series it didn't stand up to the first two novels (because they were so good!).

For author’s official website please click here.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Hannibal: Fields of Blood, Ben Kane

Publishers: Preface

Pages: 405

Main Characters:

Hanno, Quintus, Aurelia

I bought this book on the day of its release and was extremely eager to get stuck into it because the first book in the series, Hannibal: Enemy of Rome was so good!

However, two years later I still hadn’t started and became determined to get re-emerged in this series. Now that I work a pretty boring job, I found the time to be able to finally get through the novel and that was by downloading the audiobook. I’m extremely glad I did because I was gripped by this book from the very start and ended up finishing the 16 hour long audiobook in two days!
As I said above, this book is the second in Ben Kane’s Hannibal series and is set a few months after the end of the previous novel. The plot follows three main characters: Hanno a Carthaginian, Quintus a Roman Cavalryman and Aurelia, Quintus’s sister. Quintus is part of the defeated and quite frankly embarrassed Roman Army dogging the footstep of the infamous enemy of Rome- Hannibal.
After being overpowered at the River Trebia, the Roman Cavalry is licking its wounds and its hurt pride. After a stupid hunting incident, Quintus is ordered to return home by his father in shame. Being the patriotic Roman, Quintus decides to defy his father’s orders and enlist in the Roman infantry as a Velites, the lowest form of soldier in the army. Having been in the infantry a few hours, Quintus learns that it is not as easy or as civilised as the life of a cavalryman. Adjusting quickly to his new role and to new enemies, Quintus must prepare for the greatest battle in Roman history, the Battle of Cannae.

Painting of the carnage at Cannae
Hanno is an infantry officer in the Carthaginian army and is currently out of favour with his general Hannibal. After releasing his old friend Quintus at the River Trebia, Hanno is desperate to show his worth to his general. On a scouting expedition Hanno is captured and tortured by the Romans, igniting a flame of hatred for Carthage’s oldest enemy that can only be quenched by Roman blood. However, there is one Roman he would love to meet again and that is Quintus’s sister Aurelia. As the Carthaginian army passes Capua, a chance encounter with Aurelia causes Hanno to look at his life differently.
Missing her brother and father (and Hanno) terribly, Aurelia is in despair as news from the battle at Trebia is slow to reach her farm in the Italian countryside. Because of the lack of news, her father’s debtors come knocking and Aurelia is force to marry a rich Roman noble to pay the debts. After her meeting with Hanno she falls even deeper into depression, dreaming of a life that might have been if the war never happened.

Ben's video of the Cannae Battlefield
This book was great, even listening to the audiobook I was absolutely staggered at the amount of detail Kane puts into the book. His description of the hierarchy in the Roman army and the battlefield of Cannae make the events of the battle so real, making you feel the horror of the soldiers who were trapped so perfectly in Hannibal’s web. In addition, I loved the change of fate Quintus has in the book. If any of you have read my other reviews, you’ll know I love a zero-to-hero protagonist. Putting Quintus in the Velites fills that role perfectly for me as I didn’t find him that interesting of a character until then.
This was a great historical novel and I loved every minute of listening to Michael Praed read the story! I’d suggest this book to anyone who likes other authors such as Simon Scarrow and Anthony Riches. I just downloaded the audiobook for Hannibal: Clouds of War and can’t wait to listen to it!

For author’s official website click here.
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