Waiting on Wednesday – Fatal Legacy by Lindsey Davis

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  For my latest Waiting on Wednesday, I look at one of my most anticipated historical fiction reads of 2023, with the epic and captivating sounding Fatal Legacy by Lindsey Davis.

Fatal Legacy Cover

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Early each year I get a particularly satisfying historical murder mystery fix with the exceptional writing of Lindsey Davis, who has been pumping out hits since 1989.  Best known for her Marcus Didius Falco series, Davis’s work focuses on ancient Rome and generally see her protagonist, originally the titular Falco, investigate a series of elaborate crimes.  The Falco books ended in 2010, but Davis soon followed them up with her current series, the Flavia Albia books, which follow the daughter of Falco as she gets involved in a series of similar investigations to her father.

I have been a pretty big fan of the Flavia Albia series since the get go, having received a copy of the first book, The Ides of April, when it came out in 2013, and I had an absolute blast with it.  I have since gone on to read most of the books in this series and I absolutely love the fantastic blend of dark mystery, compelling characters, fun humour, and interesting historical details that often require the protagonist to dive into some unique aspect of Roman life.  Each of the previous books in the series have been excellent in their own way, and I have had an absolute blast with awesome books such as The Third Nero, Pandora’s Boy, A Capitol Death, The Grove of the Caesars (one of my favourite books of 2020), A Comedy of Terrors and Desperate Undertakings (one of my favourite books from the first half of 2022).  Many of these books have gotten five-star reviews from me and I have such an amazing time getting through all of them.

Naturally, after absolutely enjoying the first 10 books in the Flavia Albia series, there is no way I am going to miss the 11th, and luckily I don’t have to wait too much longer for it.  The next Flavia Albia book will be Fatal Legacy, which is currently set for release in April 2023.  I already love the sound of this upcoming books as it will see the protagonist involved in a complex feud between two rival families:


Synopsis:

The next witty, must-read book in the Flavia Albia series.

An unpaid bar bill leads Flavia Albia to her most bitter and complex case yet.

Decades earlier Appius Tranquillus Surus wrote his will: it freed his slaves and bequeathed his businesses to them. He left an orchard to the Prisci, a family he was friendly with, on the condition that his freedmen could still take its harvest.

The convoluted arrangement has led to a feud between the two families, each of which has its own internal strife. Endless claims and counterclaims lead to violence and even death. Lawyers have given up in exasperation as the case limps on. The original will has disappeared, along with a falsified codicil – and might there be another one?

But is there a solution? Two youngsters from each side of the divide, Gaius Venuleius and Cosca Sabatina, have fallen in love, which could unite the feuding families. There is only one problem: were Sabatina’s grandmother and father really liberated in the Surus will? If not, the stigma of slavery will stop the marriage and the dispute will rage on forever.

Reconciliation seems impossible, but Albia will try. Her investigation must cut through decades of secrets, arguments, lies and violence to reach a startling truth.


Now, while I was already quite excited for this cool upcoming book, the above synopsis has got me very intrigued for Fatal Legacy.  This is mainly because the protagonist will find herself drawn into quite a complex sounding case, with feuding families attempting to gain control of a wealthy track of land.  This case itself sounds more like a legal thriller than anything else and I can’t wait to see Davis’s great take on the Roman legal system.  This will pair nicely with the inevitable murders, thefts, and schemes that Flavia Ablia will be forced to investigate, and I am sure that she will have to dig deep into both family’s secrets to find the truth.  Throw in a doomed, Shakespearian romance between two young lovers from each family and this has all the makings for another Lindsey Davis classic that I will have a wonderful time reading.

Based on how much fun and excitement I have had with the Flavia Albia series in the past, I was pretty damn hyped for Fatal Legacy, even before I knew what it was going to be about.  However, now that I can see just how interesting the new Davis’s story is going to be, I am even more pumped.  The plot synopsis above is extremely epic and I cannot wait to see what complex and twisty narrative, rich with historical detail, that the author comes up with.  I am already highly confident Fatal Legacy is going to be one of the best historical fiction books I read in 2023, and I will make every effort to grab a copy as soon as I can.

Fatal Legacy Cover 2

Death to the Emperor by Simon Scarrow

Death to the Emperor Cover

Publisher: Headline (Trade Paperback – 15 November 2022)

Series: Eagles of the Empire – Book 21

Length: 466 pages

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

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One of the world’s best historical fiction authors, Simon Scarrow, returns with another epic instalment in his brilliant long-running Eagles of the Empire Roman history series, Death to the Emperor.

I have made no secret of my deep appreciation for the works of Simon Scarrow, who is easily one of my favourite historical fiction authors.  A talented and compelling author, Scarrow has written several great series and standalone reads that cover historical subjects such as the Napolenic wars, World War II and even a cool historical crime fiction novel, Blackout.  However, his most substantial body of work is his Eagles of the Empire series, which is one of the best historical fiction series I have had the pleasure of reading.  Set during the reigns of some of Rome’s most infamous emperors, Eagles of the Emperor follow two Roman soldiers, Prefect Cato and Centurion Marco, who have fought on multiple battlefields across the empire.  I have had a wonderful time reading this series over the years, and it features some outstanding books, including the last four novels, The Blood of Rome, Traitors of Rome, The Emperor’s Exile and The Honour of Rome.  Naturally I started reading the latest book in the series (the 21st book overall), Death to the Emperor, pretty much as soon as I got it, and boy did that prove to be a smart decision.

60 AD, Britannia.  After years fighting side by side together, Prefect Cato and Centurion Marco are back in Britannia, the land they helped conquer at the start of their partnership.  Since their first time there, their lives have been transformed in ways they could have never believed.  While Marco is retired, serving a senior administrative role amongst the other retired veterans in Britannia, Cato is hiding out on the island, attempting to avoid Nero’s wrath for rescuing the Emperor’s former mistress from exile.  Determined to make their new lives in Britannia work, Cato and Marco are once again thrust into danger as tensions escalate throughout the island.

While the usual malcontents and druids stir rebellion and conflict against the Romans, tensions are higher than ever, especially as rumours spread that Emperor Nero wishes to pull out of the savage province.  However, Nero is also determined to squeeze the island for every bit of wealth it has, and he dispatches a ruthless and dangerous procurator to do this.  Worried that this move may destabilise an already fragile Britannia, Cato and Marco attempt to help their ally, the recently widowed queen of the Iceni, Boudica, whose tribe has caught the eye of the Emperor and his Procurator.

However, soon duty separates the two old friends again, as Cato is conscripted by Britannia’s ambitious governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, in his latest campaign to destroy the druid stronghold at Mona.  Left alone, Marco can only watch as outrage and disrespect brings the Iceni to the brink of war with Rome, one that he and his forces cannot possibly defeat.  Soon, the fate of Britannia lays in hands of one woman, Boudica, who can bring peace to the lands.  However, when Boudica is pushed too far, will she declare war on Rome, its Emperor, and her old friends Cato and Marco?

Death to the Emperor was an outstanding and fantastic read that once again highlights Scarrow’s impressive ability as a historical fiction writer.  Continuing the long-running story of Cato and Marco, Scarrow expertly dives into a major historical event and brings it to life in a compelling way.  I had a wonderful time reading Death to the Emperor and I felt that it was one of Scarrow’s better novels in recent years.

I loved the incredible story that Scarrow wove around Death to the Emperor, especially as it provides the reader with an excellent blend of action, adventure, character development and a ton of historical detail.  Set shortly after the events of the last book, The Honour of Rome, Scarrow continues several threads from there, with Cato and Marco attempting to settle down in their old stomping ground of Britannia and find some peace.  However, the death of Boudica’s husband soon leads to chaos as the disgruntled locals start to push back against the increasing control and greed of Rome.  After a good introduction, which sets much of the scene for the rest of the book, the protagonists are split up, with Cato forced to accompany Governor Paulinus on his campaign to eradicate the druids, while Marco remains behind to attempt to keep the peace.  This results in a great split of storylines, and both of their exciting character arcs really paid off.  Cato’s story arc is a pretty typical Scarrow narrative, as Cato takes control of a new regiment and leads them into several battles as part of his campaign.  This results in several impressive action sequences, including a great and highly exciting extended siege sequence at the druid stronghold of Mona, which was one of the best battle scenes in the entire book.  At the same time, Marco bears witness to all the key events that lead up to Boudica’s rebellion, as the villainous Catus Decianus antagonises the tribes, despite Marco’s best efforts to stop him.  Marco’s storyline is a lot more intense and emotionally rich as the protagonist attempts to save all his friends against heavy odds.  However, despite his best efforts, Marco and his fellow veterans find themselves forced to fight Boudica’s army, which results in a pretty memorable ending.

I deeply enjoyed how this compelling narrative came together, and Scarrow was on excellent form as he provided the reader with everything they needed.  While the start of the book is a little slower, it sets the scene perfectly, before all the action and deadly developments ensue at a faster and more intense pace.  The author really built up the tension throughout the narrative, and you really knew that everything was going to go wrong, and boy did it.  The resulting battles, which includes several very fun sieges, were well worth the wait, and Scarrow did a wonderful job of showcasing all the carnage of these fights.  Separating the main characters created a much more complex and wider narrative, and I liked the excellent contrasts between the battles, as Cato’s successes with his forces are mirrored by Marco’s desperate fights with the small band of retired fighters under his command.  The intensity of the plot got even more pronounced as the narrative continued, and the reader really gets drawn in as a result.  I personally powered through the second half of the book in very short order as I wanted to see how everything would unfold.  The desperate and bloody conclusion to the narrative was pretty shocking, especially as there are some major series moments featured here.  The resulting cliff hanger finisher was just perfect, and you are left wanting more.  I am not entirely sure I’ll be able to wait a whole year to see how this series continues, but I am sure that the reader is for even more excitement and shocks when Scarrow brings out his next book.

One of things that really impressed me about Death to the Emperor was the level of historical detail that Scarrow put into it as he covers some of the early events of Boudica’s uprising.  The author does a remarkable job showcasing all the events that lead up to the rebellion, and he paints a compelling and unique picture around it.  Many events are discussed or shown in intriguing detail, including the general oppression of the local tribes, the attempts to embezzle money from the Iceni, the capture and humiliation of Boudica, and the disregard that Nero had for Britannia and his rumoured plans to abandon the province.  All these events, eventually lead up to the rebellion and it was fascinating to see them come about, especially through the eyes of a common soldier character like Marco.  The subsequent early battles of this rebellion, including the fight at Camulodunum, are very dark and brutal, and I deeply appreciated how Scarrow put his protagonists in the centre of these bloody conflicts, as they really raise up the intensity of the narrative.  At the same time, Scarrow also spends a good part of the book highlighting Governor Paulinus’s invasion of the druid stronghold of Mona.  This compelling campaign is often overshadowed by Boudica in history books, but it was an important part of the events at that time, especially as it left the rest of the province undermanned.  Scarrow covers this campaign extremely well through the book, especially as Cato is the officer usually at the front of the fighting, and it became quite a key part of the book.  I loved seeing this blend of historical events throughout Death to the Emperor, especially as Scarrow brings his usual flair for showcasing the Roman war machine throughout this book, highlighting the strategies and martial techniques of the Romans in exquisite detail.  I can’t wait to see the rest of Boudica’s rebellion in the next Eagles of the Empire book, as it is going to be epic.

Scarrow does another awesome job with the characters in Death to the Emperor, as he tells some intriguing character arcs that really helped to shape the narrative.  The primary focus as always is one of the series’ main protagonists, Prefect Cato and Centurion Marco.  Both have some intriguing character moments in this book which I had a great time with here.  Cato’s arc is pretty typical for much of the series, with the prefect forced back into combat, this time leading an auxiliary cohort on the campaign to Mona.  Cato’s arc is filled with a huge amount of action and intense battles as he fights from one end of Britain and back again.  It is always fun to see Cato in action, especially as he takes his units into some bloody battles, using a range of unique tactics to win.  While Cato is fun, the most intense character moments is focused on Macro, who remains behind and watches over the province while the army is gone.  Marco, who is mostly retired at this point, finds himself in a unique leadership position, and must work his force of reservists into a coherent force.  At the same time, he also finds himself greatly conflicted as he finds his loyalty to Rome tested due to his friendship with Boudica.  Forced to take military action against them, Marco tries to protect Boudica and her family, however, his orders and his slimy commander make that impossible, and he must decide whether he should continue to blindly follow Rome or do what is right.  His decision will have huge impacts on the story, and it places him in some dark situations.

Aside from Cato and Marco, who tend to be the primary point-of-view characters, Death to the Emperor has an awesome cast of supporting characters who really add a lot to the overall narrative.  This includes Boudica, who serves as Rome’s main antagonist in this arc of the series.  Boudica has actually been a friendly supporting character for many of her previous appearances, having formed a relationship with the two protagonists.  However, this book sees all that change as she is pushed too far, becoming the warrior queen we all know.  Scarrow handled her transformation from friend to deadly enemy extremely well, and it was fascinating to see her interact with Marco, especially as he keeps trying, but failing, to help her.  Aside from Boudica, I also liked seeing more of the fun supporting character, Apollonius.  Apollonius has been an interesting figure for the last few books, serving as Cato’s spy and advisor, and generally being a good secondary protagonist.  He has a very interesting time in Death to the Emperor as he remains behind to help Marco.  I loved seeing the continued relationship between the two, as Marco generally disapproves of Apollonius, and it was also quite intriguing to get some insights into why Apollonius chooses to stay and help Cato.  The final character I need to point out is Catus Decianus, the Roman Procurator who is generally considered responsible for Boudica’s rebellion.  Scarrow does an amazing job with Decianus, a real historical figure, and he turns him into a very despicable villain in Death to the Emperor.  The author paints him as an arrogant, greedy fellow, whose arrogance and general dislike of the Britannia locals, leads to the resulting war.  You really cannot help but hate Decianus, especially as he really is the main villain of this story.  These great characters, and more, turn out to be an amazing cast, and I had a wonderful time seeing the outstanding and dramatic narrative Scarrow wove around them.

Simon Scarrow continues to showcase why he is one of the best historical fiction authors in the world with the latest entry in his exceptional Eagles of the Empire series, Death to the Emperor.  Expertly showcasing the brutal events of Boudica’s rebellion with his long-running protagonists right in the middle, Scarrow tells a powerful and action-packed story that takes his characters into some dark direction.  Captivating, exciting and oh so bloody, Death to the Emperor will keep you relentlessly entertained and ensure you come back for more books in this epic series.  Highly recommended!

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The Boys from Biloxi by John Grisham

The Boys from Biloxi Cover

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (Trade Paperback – 18 October 2022)

Series: Standalone

Length: 454 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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Legendary crime fiction author John Grisham returns with another impressive read, this time combining a complex, multi-generation character narrative with some excellent legal thriller elements to create the amazing novel, The Boys from Biloxi.

As I have mentioned a few times on this blog, last year I finally got the chance to read something from renowned author John Grisham.  The author of multiple iconic legal thrillers, Grisham was a major author whose work I had only consumed by way of film adaptations.  Luckily, I was able to fix that by checking out his 2021 release, The Judge’s List, which followed a complex investigation into a dangerous serial killer who was also a successful judge.  I had an outstanding time reading The Judge’s List, and it made me determined to check out some more of Grisham’s books, especially his new releases.  This included the fantastic short-story collection he released earlier this year, Sparring Partners, and his latest book, The Boys from BiloxiThe Boys from Biloxi is an intriguing standalone novel that proved to be quite excellent, and I am very glad I got my hands on it.

In the heartlands of Mississippi, the city of Biloxi is notorious for its vice, lawlessness and general lack of morals.  A successful fishing and tourism spot on the coast, over time Biloxi became known as a place where all manner of gambling, drinking, drugs, girls and every other vice could be found.  However, the battle for the soul of Biloxi is about to begin as two families go to war.

Jesse Rudy and Lance Malco are both second-generation Americans.  The sons of hardworking immigrants, Jesse and Lance grew up on the streets of Biloxi, learning the value of the American way and hoping to make something for themselves by choosing very different paths in life.  While Jesse chose to become a lawyer, working himself tirelessly to get his degree, Lance used his father’s money to invest in the seedy clubs of Biloxi.  Both are happy in their respective lives, but, despite the close friendship of their sons, Keith Rudy and Hugh Malco, the two families are about to go to war.

After years of watching the corruption of Biloxi reach new heights, Jesse Rudy embarks on a mission to clean up the coast and works to become the city’s district attorney.  His first target is Lance Malco, whose has become Biloxi’s biggest crime lord, controlling multiple illegal night clubs and bringing a brutal gang war to the city.  As the two men go head to head, their sons soon follow in their footsteps, with Keith going to school to become a crusading lawyer, while Hugh becomes a thug for his father.  Before long it becomes clear that only one family can remain in Biloxi, and the loser will not survive their defeat.

Grisham continues to showcase why he is so highly regarded with another awesome and captivating read in The Boys from Biloxi.  Making great use of historical Biloxi, this fascinating crime fiction novel told a wonderful tale of crime and legal shenanigans that turned two families against each other over the course of decades.

I got pretty hooked on this novel right away, especially as Grisham started everything off by painting a cool picture of Biloxi, which promised to be quite a unique setting.  The author swiftly compounded my interest by quickly and effectively introducing the reader to the Rudy and Malco families and showcasing their history.  The early chapters of the book seek to build up the four main characters of the story, Jesse Rudy and Lance Malco, and their sons, Keith and Hugh.  Grisham paints a multi-generational tale around them, simultaneously diving into how each character grew into their destined roles, as well as the friendship that Keith and Hugh had as children.  These key characters are built up extremely quickly at the start of the novel, and before long you are really invested in their narratives, especially as there are some interesting contrasts between the adults, with Lance becoming a vicious criminal, while Jesse works hard to find his calling as a lawyer.

After all this substantial but necessary character and setting development, Grisham starts diving into the meat of the story, the conflict between the two families, and the wider fate of Biloxi, all of which is shown from the perspective of an intriguing range of characters.  This starts when Jesse Rudy decides to run for district attorney, promising to clean up Biloxi and shut down the illegal clubs owned by Lance Malco, leading to a protracted battle over many years.  The two sides engage in all manner of endeavours, including political runs, criminal investigations, turf wars and more, all while the younger characters grow up and start getting interested in their respective father’s worlds.  There are some great scenes spread out through this elaborate narrative, including several entertaining trials, where the lawyer characters battle it out in the courtroom.  Grisham clearly has some fun with these courtroom scenes, not only because the legal thriller elements are his bread and butter, but because it gives him the opportunity to come up with some ridiculous and fun legal manoeuvres that the characters utilise to win their cases.

The battle between the two families soon becomes the primary focus of the book, eclipsing some of the other storylines and character arcs going on simultaneously.  There are some key and memorable scenes chucked into the centre of the book that really change the nature of the story, and it helps to focus the plot onto the younger generation of the respective families as Keith and Hugh continue their father’s war.  The pace really picks up in the second half, and Grisham does an amazing job of bringing all the various plot points together, with some key moments cleverly set up much earlier in the book.  Everything wraps up extremely well towards the end, and the characters all end up in some interesting and emotionally heavy positions.  While the conclusion is mostly satisfying, Grisham does end everything on a rather sorrowful note that will stick in the reader’s mind.  An overall exceptional read, and you will find it extremely hard not to get swept into this powerful and captivating narrative.

One of the things that I felt really enhanced this already cool story was the great setting of Biloxi, Mississippi.  Now, I must admit that I thought Biloxi was a fictional city while I was reading this book (I had honestly never heard of it before), especially as Grisham really built it as the vice capital of the south.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was real, and I was really impressed with the way that Grisham utilised it as a background setting in this book.  Grisham spends a substantial amount of time exploring and examining Biloxi throughout the book, and the early chapters of The Boys from Biloxi, contain a very in-depth and fascinating look at Biloxi’s history, culture, and the people who lived there.  While the characters of this story are fictional, some of the key plot events are real, and I loved how Grisham was able to work historical events, such as hurricanes, the influence of the Dixie Mafia, and Biloxi’s changing society into his compelling narrative.  The author really shows all sides of Biloxi throughout this book, including its position as a hub for immigration early in the 20th century, its role during World War II, as well as how it became known for its clubs, casinos, and other areas of vice throughout its history.  Due to how the story is structured, Grisham spends quite a lot of time examining various parts of Biloxi’s culture and position in Mississippi, and you really get to understand its heart and soul, even with some of the over-the-top story elements.  I also appreciated seeing the characters interacting with the city throughout the lengthy course of the book’s plot, and it was great to see some of the characters grow from children to adults, all while living in Biloxi.  This was an amazing setting for this very clever book, and I really appreciated the outstanding story that Grisham was able to wrap around Biloxi.  I will certainly not be forgetting that Biloxi is a real city for a very long time, and it sounds like a very interesting place to visit.

Finally, I must highlight the many great characters featured throughout The Boys from Biloxi.  Grisham writes a compelling cast for this impressive story, and I enjoyed getting to know the various fictional inhabitants of Biloxi, especially as the author decided to make most of them very big personalities.  Most of the focus is on the key members of the Rudy and Malco families, particularly the family patriarchs and their eldest sons, around whom this war is fought.  As such, Grisham spends quite a lot of time building these four characters up and showing the key events that turned them into the men who would fight over the soul of Biloxi.  These characters proved to be very compelling to follow, and Grisham writes a compelling and heartfelt tale around them, filled with love, regrets and the powerful influences that change people.  I did feel that, at times, Grisham did make the four main characters a little too perfect, as all of them tend to succeed and excel at everything they put their mind to, and frankly it did get a little tiring to see them be the very best at every sport, job and academic pursuit they tried out.  However, you do really get close to these characters, especially once their war gets even more personal and dangerous.  Throw in a massive group of distinctive and memorable supporting characters, most of whom have personalities and personas to match the outrageous city of Biloxi, and The Boys from Biloxi has an excellent cast who help to enhance this very entertaining read in so many fun ways.

John Grisham presents another exceptional and highly entertaining crime fiction read with the brilliant new book, The Boys from Biloxi.  One-part historical fiction read, one-part character-driven tale, and one-part legal crime thriller, The Boys from Biloxi was an amazing read that follows a feud between two families that lasted generations.  Deeply compelling and filled with some exciting and fun scenes, The Boys from Biloxi is a highly recommended novel that I had a wonderful time reading.

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Call of Empire by Peter Watt

Call of Empire Cover

Publisher: Macmillan (Trade Paperback – 25 October 2022)

Series: The Colonial series – Book Five

Length: 368 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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Australia’s master of the historical adventure returns with another deeply exciting and highly intriguing character driven read that follows one historical family as they embark on war and adventure across the world, Call of Empire by Peter Watt.

Towards the end of each year, I always know that I am about to have my historical action and adventure quota filled as the new Peter Watt is coming out.  Watt has been a particularly enjoyable and compelling Australian author for years, producing intriguing historical fiction books with a focus on Australian history.  His works have so far included the long-running Frontier series and his compelling Papua trilogy, both of which contained some remarkable historical adventures.  However, I personally have been really getting into his currently body of work, The Colonial series, which I have had a wonderful time reading in recent years.

The Colonial series started of back in 2018 with The Queen’s Colonial, an intriguing read that followed young Australian Ian Steele in 1845 as he switched places with an English nobleman to take up his commission in a British regiment.  Becoming Captain Samuel Forbes, Steele found himself drawn into several of England’s deadly 19th century wars, while also forced to confront several dangers back in England as the real Samuel Forbes’ family sought to have him killed.  This fantastic series continued for two more books, The Queen’s Tiger and The Queen’s Captain, both of which were excellent reads.  Watt continued the series last year with The Colonial’s Son, which jumped ahead a couple of decades to follow the main character’s oldest son as he followed in his father’s footsteps and become a soldier in the Queen’s army.  I had a great deal of fun with these exciting books, and I was very happy when I received the next entry in the series, Call of Empire.

Starting in 1885, several years after the conclusion of The Colonial’s Son, Call of Empire sees protagonist Ian Steele finally living the quiet life in New South Wales, enjoying time with his family and friends, and expanding his business empire.  However, the British Empire is constantly finding itself in conflict across the globe, and soon the young New South Wales colony is called upon to send troops to assist the British campaign in Sudan.

Determined to serve the Empire once again, Ian’s oldest son, Josiah, takes a commission in the New South Wales army and journeys to Africa to fight the Sudanese forces for the British.  However, his decision will alienate him from the love of his life, Marian Curry, who is determined that he stop fighting in imperialistic wars.  At the same time, Ian’s younger son, Samuel, is learning the family business out in the Pacific with the family’s friend, Ling Lee.  However, Samuel and Lee are soon dragged into a dangerous plot to smuggle guns for the Chinese, as Lee’s obsession with freeing China from European control leads them into mortal danger.

Soon the entire Steele family finds themselves in deep trouble across the world, and only the most daring of actions will help them survive.  But as the Empire’s wars continue and the Steele family and their friends are drawn into even more conflicts, can even their legendary luck continue?  Death and tragedy awaits them all, and soon the Steele family will face a loss they never expected.

This was another fantastic and deeply exciting novel from Watt, who continues to dazzle with his fast-paced writing and impressive historical insights.  I loved the awesome story contained in Call of Empire, and I ended up powering through this book in less than a day.

Watt produces another exciting and ultra-fast paced story for Call of Empire that takes the reader on a wild and captivating journey through some interesting parts of late 19th century history.  Starting in 1885, Call of Empire primarily follows the three male members of the Steele family as they attempt to overcome the various challenges they face in their respective endeavours.  Watt tells a multi-layered, multi-generational, character driven story that follows multiple characters simultaneously as they engage in their own story.  This means that readers are often treated to a range of different storylines in the same chapter, having one character engaged in war, while another deals with issues at home, and at the same time a third finds themselves caught up in adventures at sea.  This makes for quite a complex read, although the range of storylines are well balanced and never oversaturate or confuse the story.  Indeed, Watt is a pretty clear and concise writer, and the reader is able to have a lot of fun with several of the storylines at the same time.  Watt features an outstanding range of storylines throughout Call of Empire, and I loved the blend of war, politics, exploration, business, romance, character development and legal concerns that were featured at various points throughout the 15 year long plot.  This reminded me a lot of the author’s previous Frontier novels, especially the focus on one big family, and I had a wonderful time seeing the elaborate narrative he wove around his characters.  Watt really takes this story in some interesting directions, and there are a few big surprises, as well as some tragedies that established readers of this series will be hit hard by.  This proved to be quite an addictive read, and I loved seeing his characters continue to traverse through life in their chaotic and adventurous ways.  The book ends at the start of the new century, and it looks like Watt will be taking his characters in World War I next time, which I am sure will be suitably traumatic.

Easily my favourite thing about this book was Watt’s excellent dive into the always eventful colonial history of Australia.  In particular, Watt examines several lesser-known wars and conflicts from the 19th century, with a particular focus on the role of New South Wales.  This starts early in the plot with one of the characters getting involved in the Suakin Expedition in Sudan, which was part of the larger Mahdist War.  This deployment saw a battalion of New South Wales soldiers travel to Sudan as part of the war effort and was the very first military force to be raised and deployed overseas by Australia.  While there wasn’t a lot of fighting involved with this campaign, I was deeply intrigued by the history and the politics behind it, and Watt did a wonderful job of exploring it in great detail throughout the book by inserting his characters.  Watt continued this trend throughout the rest of the book, which saw several of his characters involved in both the Boer War and the Boxer Rebellion in China.  Both conflicts had Australian soldiers involved, fighting on the side of the British, and Watt took exquisite care to explore what role the Australians played in them, and how they came to be involved in the conflict.

Out of all of them, I particularly enjoyed the captivating examination of the Boer War in Africa, which was one of the more deadly wars Australians fought in during the 19th century.  This war, and one of the character’s roles in it, dominated a good part of the book, and Watt did an amazing job of bringing different parts of the conflict to life.  The author really captured just how dark and bloody this war was, from snipers in the African bush, to the horrors inflicted on the Boer settlers.  However, Watt saves some of his best writing for the Battle of Elands River, a protracted battle that saw the Boers surround a force of Australians and their allies in a brutal siege for 13 days.  Naturally, one of the characters is right in the middle of this fight, and Watt really showcased the carnage and terror that the Australians would have felt being surrounded and bombarded.  I honestly didn’t know a great deal about some of these early Australian military conflicts, and it was absolutely fascinating to see them come to life in the hands of this talented author.  Having this great historical background really enhanced the overall quality of the novel, and I had a wonderful time diving back into these sometimes overlooked parts of Australian military history.

As I mentioned above, Call of Empire was a very character focused book that featured a range of fantastic point of view protagonists through whose eyes the story unfolded.  Watt features a great combination of characters, with a compelling mixture of younger figures who were the focus of The Colonial’s Son, and even a few characters from the first three Colonial books.  There was quite a range of different character storylines in Call of Empire, and you swiftly get drawn into the various unique adventures of each of the characters.  It was fascinating to see how the older characters had evolved since their original adventures, and I liked how Watt started focusing more on the next generation, including by expanding the role of the younger Steele son, Sam, who had an amazing outing here.  There is a great examination of the events that help to form these figures character, and it was fantastic to see them overcome so much adversity at various parts of their life.  I will say that some of the male Steele characters did tend to blend personality wise as the book proceeded, mostly as they are cut from the same adventurous cloth, but you still grow to like all of them, and you ended up getting touched when bad things happen to them.  There are some very interesting and powerful developments that hit the main characters in this book, and this ended up being a very key novel in the family history.  I had a wonderful time seeing the latest exploits of the Steele family, and with the next generation being introduced towards the end of the book, you know that they have even more adventures to come.

Peter Watt continues to showcase his talent as Australia’s premiere author of the Australian historical adventure with his latest Colonial novel, Call of Empire.  Bringing back several of his fantastic protagonists from the previous books, Watt crafts together another exciting read that dives into some intriguing parts of Australia’s military history.  Fast paced and full of awesome action, Call of Empire is another amazing read from Watt, and one that I had a lot of fun getting through.

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Act of Oblivion by Robert Harris

Act of Oblivion Cover

Publisher: Hutchinson Heinemann (Trade Paperback – 20 September 2022)

Series: Standalone

Length: 464 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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That master of historical fiction, Robert Harris, returns with another deeply compelling read, this time diving into one of the most fascinating manhunts in history with Act of Oblivion.

1660, England.  It is the dawn a new age in English history.  Following the death of Oliver Cromwell, the country has allowed King Charles II to come to power.  In exchange, the King has agreed to clemency for the former Parliamentarians, allowing peace to return to England for the first time in decades.  However, the King’s clemency is not absolute, and under the terms of the Act of Oblivion, all the men involved in the execution of his father, King Charles I, including the 59 men who signed his death warrant, are to be hunted down and brutally executed.

General Edward Whalley and his son-in-law, Colonel William Goffe, are two such men.  Former Parliamentarian leaders, their signatures lie prominent on the king’s death warrant.  Knowing that their deaths are close behind, Whalley and Goffe are forced to abandon their families and flee to the colonies.  Arriving in New England, Whalley and Goffe attempt to become part of the local community, but the shadow of their treason is far-reaching, and both old soldiers will have to live with the consequences of their action.

In London, Richard Nayler has been appointed as secretary of the regicide committee of the Privy Council.  Tasked with tracking down, capturing and executing all the men wanted in relation to the King’s death, Nayler attacks his task with zeal and passion, determined to bring justice to those who wronged the kingdom.  However, Nayler saves the vast amount his hatred and determination for Whalley and Goffe, two men he bears a particular grudge against.  Soon, a large bounty is placed on the two fugitive’s heads, and Nayler himself arrives in America, determined to see the men captured.  Forced to flee across the continent, Whalley and Goffe find themselves as outcasts and fugitives wherever they go.  The chase is on in the new world, and no-one is prepared for how far this mission of vengeance will go.

Robert Harris does it again, producing a brilliant and riveting historical epic that reconstructs fantastic historical events in impressive detail.  I have long been a fan of Harris’s writing, having deeply enjoyed An Officer and a Spy and V2, and his latest book, Act of Oblivion, is one his better works.  I had an outstanding time getting through this complex novel, especially as it spent substantial time diving into a unique historical occurrence I was unfamiliar with.

I had an exceptional time with Act of Oblivion, especially as Harris presents an elaborate and massive story set across multiple years.  Leaning heavily into historical sources, Harris dives deep into the flight of Goffe and Whalley and perfectly portrays their journey to America and the hardships they encountered.  This proves to be quite an intense and frustrating tale, as these two protagonists suffer a great deal through the course of the book.  Forced to abandon their families, Goffe and Whalley are initially seen as heroes by the people of Boston and Cambridge, but the two fugitives are gradually forced to flee from these towns due to the machinations of the English and their former enemies.  Forced to flee to smaller and smaller settlements, the protagonists are chucked into some uncomfortable positions in their flight, which includes years of depredation and isolation throughout the country.  The full tale of their time in America (or at least what is known), is pretty damn remarkable, and I felt that Harris did a wonderful job bringing it to life and showing what these two might of experienced and the lengths they went through to survive.  However, it does occasionally get slow in places, mainly because the historical fugitives were often unable to move for fear of being captured.

Harris covers these slower periods well by mixing in a second major storyline that runs parallel to the depictions of Whalley and Goffe.  This second storyline is primarily set in England and Europe and showcases the events occurring while the fugitives are in hiding.  Mainly shown from the perspective of the fictional character hunting them, Richard Nayler, as well as several scenes that show the fugitives’ family, this second storyline adds some real colour and danger to the events, especially as you get to witness the hunt from the other end.  The blend of fictional and historically accurate storylines works extremely well, and Harris creates a deeply fascinating and compelling overall narrative that really draws you in.  Seeing the simultaneous actions of both hunter and fugitives is a lot of fun, and I loved Nayler’s reactions to the constant escapes of Whalley and Goffe.  Harris also spends time showing the hunt for the other regicides, which Nayler embarks on with greater success.  Not only does this add in some additional fun action and historical context, but it also ups the stakes of the main storyline, as you are forced to witness the gruesome fate that awaits Whalley and Goffe if caught.  All this adds up to quite a remarkable tale, and I was deeply impressed with how exciting and captivating Harris was able to make these historical events appear.

One thing that is extremely clear about Act of Oblivion is the sheer amount of historical research that Harris put into crafting this book.  There is so much exceptional and compelling detail put into Act of Oblivion, as Harris goes out of his way to make this book as historically accurate as possible.  Naturally a substantial amount of this research goes into showing the known events of the two fugitives, as Harris meticulously recounts where they went and the various places they were forced to hide.  While the author does add in a few literary embellishments, this appears to be a very accurate and intriguing depiction of the fugitives’ flight in America, and I had such an amazing time seeing what they went through.  Harris makes sure to try and tells as much of their tale as possible, and the book goes all the way up until 1679, when the records end.  At the same time, Harris spends a large amount of time exploring the history of the rest of the world.  The novel is chock full of intriguing depictions of various key parts of British and American history at the time, which I found to be extremely fascinating, especially as you get to see how England changed after the return of the

King.  Harris also makes sure to examine how major historical events around the world might have impacted the lives of the two fugitives, and I felt that he worked all these fascinating events into the main story extremely well.  All the historical aspects of the book are showcased to the reader in a fantastic and very readable way, and even non-history fans will be able to dive into this story extremely easily.  This is mostly because the historical events themselves are pretty damn remarkable (honestly historical reality stranger than fiction in some places), but I really appreciated how well Harris was able to explore them and showcase them to the reader.

Another historical aspect of this book I deeply enjoyed was the author’s extremely detailed and moving depictions of the American countryside and its settlements in the 17th century.  Quite a lot of the book is spent out in the American wilds, as the two protagonists are constantly fleeing from their pursuers and avoiding people, and Harris makes sure to patiently and lovingly depict the various locations they find themselves in.  You really get a sense of the beauty and danger of the land during this period, and I loved seeing the various English characters react to the wide open spaces after spending time in cities like London.  Harris also takes the time to describe several of the historical settlements that the characters journeyed to and through, and you get a real sense of how built up or settled they were.  I found it fascinating to see all the descriptions about the various settlements, especially as many are quite significant cities in modern times, and it was really cool to see how they originated.  The descriptions of towns like Boston and Cambridge were pretty intriguing, especially as I didn’t realise just how built-up they were during this period (sentiments that some of the character’s shared), and I loved also seeing the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam, especially as Harris also explored the events that saw it renamed as something far more iconic.  Throw in the deeply fascinating depictions of the people inhabiting these settlements, including the distinctive religious differences (so many puritans) and political sentiments.  Religion in particular becomes quite a key part of this book, and watching the various Puritan figures discuss their beliefs and their thoughts on the actions of the main characters, is particularly intriguing, as you get to see how these religious fugitives shaped early America.  Overall, this is a very impressive and clearly heavily researched look at 17th century America, which all historical fiction fans will deeply appreciate.

I also really enjoyed the central figures of Act of Oblivion and I found their storylines to be very compelling.  As I mentioned above, I really didn’t know that much about Edward Whalley and William Goffe before reading this book, but that swiftly changed.  Harris did a remarkable job showcasing the lives of these two historical figures and you really get to know everything about them.  While I am sure that Harris made a few character changes to fit the narrative, I felt that the overall presentation of them was pretty realistic.  Harris really highlights their personalities, religious convictions, and deep pride in the actions they took under Cromwell throughout the book as they spend time remembering their pasts.  All the key moments are their lives are captured in some way throughout the book, either in the plot or in their memories, and you soon see what events led them to become fugitives.  While the depictions of some their actions during the war and Cromwell’s control of England does make them a tad unsympathetic, I grew attached to them, especially as you see them suffer in isolation over a period of years.  Harris did a remarkable job showcasing how he believed these people would have felt spending years and years trapped in attics and basements, and you can just feel the mental and physical impacts it had on them.  This was frankly a brilliant portrayal, and I had an excellent time getting to know these unique historical figures.

Aside from Whalley and Goffe, the other major character I need to mention is Richard Nayler, the man charged with hunting the fugitives down.  Nayler is a purely fictional character, although Harris indicates upfront that someone likely had this job in the 17th century.  I quite enjoyed the portrayal of Nayler in this book, especially as he serves as a grim and determined counterpart to the protagonists.  A Royalist who witnessed the execution of King Charles I, Nayler goes about his duties with a resolute duty, determined to make all the regicides pay.  However, his main obsession lies with Whalley and Goffe, who holds responsible for the death of his wife and child.  Despite this tragic past, it is a times hard to feel sorry for the super serious Nayler, especially as he has little compassion for others, even the innocent.  However, he is quite a captivating figure, especially as his growing obsession with finding the fugitives becomes more and more apparent.  While his fellow returned Royalists initially share his determination, it soon becomes evident that he is true fanatic, while the others are purely in it for political reasons.  Harris really shows the downside of obsession through this character, especially as Nayler sacrifices a lot to try and find the fugitives.  I felt he had an impressive storyline throughout Act of Oblivion, and this great fictional character played off the real historical figures extremely well.

Robert Harris’ latest novel, Act of Oblivion, once again highlights the author’s outstanding skill as he recounts a particularly fascinating occurrence from history.  I loved the amazing story contained in Act of Oblivion, especially as the author did such a great job incorporating historical events into an intense and captivating plot.  Deeply intriguing and very entertaining, Act of Oblivion is a highly recommended read, and I can’t wait to see what elaborate historical tale Harris comes up with next.

Act of Oblivion Cover 2

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Waiting on Wednesday – Dead of Night by Simon Scarrow

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  In this week’s Waiting on Wednesday, I look at a fantastic upcoming historical murder mystery with Dead of Night by Simon Scarrow.

Dead of Night Cover

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I have been in a real historical fiction mood over the last week, having read several awesome and enjoyable reads with great historical settings to them.  As such, I wanted to feature a historical fiction book in my Waiting on Wednesday post and who better to look at then one of my favourite authors, Simon Scarrow.  Readers of this blog will know I have been a major fan of Scarrow for years, and reviews for several of his latest books, such as The Blood of Rome, Traitors of Rome, The Emperor’s Exile and The Honour of Rome, can be found here.  The above books all fall within his Eagles of the Empire series, and I have a lot of love for his Roman historical fiction work.  I am especially keen for his next novel, Death to the Emperor, which is out very soon, however, the Eagles of the Empire books aren’t Scarrow’s only ongoing series.

Last year Scarrow released an intriguing and enjoyable historical murder mystery novel with Blackout.  Set in Nazi controlled Berlin just before the outbreak of World War II, Blackout followed an honest police detective who attempts to investigate a series of brutal murders throughout the city during a harsh winter.  This case was complicated by the political implications of the murders, and the protagonist was forced to go up against the dangerous and insidious Nazi party, while trying to maintain his own soul.  I deeply enjoyed Blackout and I had an amazing time exploring Scarrow’s foray in the crime fiction, especially as it worked well with the exceptional historical elements.

Due to how much I enjoyed Blackout (as well as my general love of all things Scarrow), I have been keeping an eye out for a potential sequel for a couple of years now, and I was very happy when some details about it where released.  This second Blackout novel will be Dead of Night, which is currently set for release in February 2023, and it appears that it will continue some of the excellent elements contained in the first book.

I really like the sound of the plot for Dead of Night, especially as the book will continue to follow the first novel’s protagonist, Criminal Inspector Horst Schenke, as he finds himself caught up in another complex and problematic murder investigation.  This time, Schenke finds himself barred from investigating the suspicious death of a SS doctor and must once again contend with the machinations of his Nazis superiors as he attempts to solve the crime.  The plot sounds amazing, and it looks like Scarrow will once again combine a great mystery, with an examination of the Nazi regime and how it took over key German institutions, like the police.

As such, I am pretty excited for Dead of Night, and I already know I am going to have a brilliant time getting through this book.  Not only am I excited for the sequel to Blackout, but I am just generally happy to get another Scarrow book so soon after the upcoming Eagles of the Empire book.  I have no doubt that Dead of Night is going to be one of the best historical fiction reads of 2023 and I look forward to getting through this compelling mystery.

Synopsis:

The stunning new thriller set in wartime Berlin from the author of Blackout: ‘A wonderfully compelling thriller, reeking of authenticity, and a terrific depiction of the human world within the chilling world of the Third Reich’ Peter James

BERLIN. JANUARY 1941. Evil cannot bring about good . . .

After Germany’s invasion of Poland, the world is holding its breath and hoping for peace. At home, the Nazi Party’s hold on power is absolute.

One freezing night, an SS doctor and his wife return from an evening mingling with their fellow Nazis at the concert hall. By the time the sun rises, the doctor will be lying lifeless in a pool of blood.

Was it murder or suicide? Criminal Inspector Horst Schenke is told that under no circumstances should he investigate. The doctor’s widow, however, is convinced her husband was the target of a hit. But why would anyone murder an apparently obscure doctor? Compelled to dig deeper, Schenke learns of the mysterious death of a child. The cases seem unconnected, but soon chilling links begin to emerge that point to a terrifying secret.

Even in times of war, under a ruthless regime, there are places in hell no man should ever enter. And Schenke fears he may not return alive . . .

Waiting on Wednesday – Falling Sky by Harry Sidebottom

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  For my latest Waiting on Wednesday, I look at an impressive upcoming historical fiction novel I am extremely excited for with Falling Sky by the always exciting Harry Sidebottom.

Falling Sky Cover

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I have a mentioned a few times before that my reviewing career began with a singular focus on historical fiction, a genre I was very keen on at the time, and I spent multiple years purely reading historical books.  As such I got very familiar with several impressive authors and to this day historical fiction remains one of my favourite genres which I keep coming back to.

One of all the authors I grew especially attached to during my historical fiction phase was the very talented Harry Sidebottom.  Sidebottom, an expert on writing Roman historical fiction books, is a very skilled author, who has written several amazing novels over his career, most noticeably his Warrior of Rome and Thrones of the Caesars series, both of which told exciting stories of action, adventure, and intrigue in various points of ancient Rome’s history.  I am a particular fan of the first Warrior of Rome book, Fire in the East, which features one of the better historical sieges I have had the pleasure of reading.

In more recent years, Sidebottom has been producing several truly impressive and captivating reads, that also featured a bit of an interesting experimental edge to them.  This started in 2018 with The Last Hour, an impressive and highly exciting novel that acted as an addition to the Warrior of Rome series, and which brought back Sidebottom’s original protagonist, the Germanic warrior turned defender of Rome, Ballista.  I loved The Last Hour’s story, especially as it combined historical fiction with a thriller storyline that saw Ballista, stuck in a 24-esque situation, where he is forced to make his way through a hostile Rome in a tight time limit in order to save the Emperor and his own family.  Loaded with tight, gritty action, this was an extremely awesome read and I had such a brilliant time getting through it.

Sidebottom has since followed up The Last Hour with several other great books, all of which I have eagerly grabbed as soon as I could.  This includes two great standalone reads, The Lost Ten and The Return, as well as another Warrior of Rome book, The Burning Road.  All three were excellent reads, and I loved the amazing stories that they all had.  The Lost Ten featured a military-thriller storyline that saw a team of specialist legionnaires attempt to break into a notorious enemy prison, while The Return featured a brilliant Scandi-Noir inspired storyline about a returned Roman solider who is suspected of a series of gruesome murders in his home village.  The Burning Road on the other hand once again focused on Ballista and showed him and his young son forced to fight through a brutal slave revolt on Sicily, which ended up being quite an impressive and intense survival adventure story.  All these books, and more, from Sidebottom have been quite outstanding and I am naturally inclined to seek out and grab any additional novels that Sidebottom writes as soon as I can.

Well, my wait for his next book is nearly over as Sidebottom has an intriguing and awesome upcoming novel coming out in a few months with Falling Sky.  Currently set for release in October 2022, Falling Sky is another addition to the Warrior of Rome series and follows Ballista as he and his Emperor embark on another campaign.  This time, Ballista is going up into the alps to fight a mountain campaign against a usurper Emperor and must face off against rebellious Roman troops in a bloody civil war.  However, unbeknown to Ballista, he is travelling with the secret antagonist of The Last Hour and must try to survive the inevitable assassination attempt that comes his way.

Needless to say, I am exceedingly excited to read Falling Sky and I am already fairly confident it is going to be one of the top historical fiction books of 2022.  I am going to have so much fun seeing Ballista getting back into action, and I hope that we get to see the protagonist indulge in his speciality of siege warfare.  It sounds like Falling Sky is going to have a fantastic combination of war, historical elements (at which Sidebottom excels), and a good dose of intrigue and espionage, which should make for quite an epic read.  I already know I am going to love this latest Warrior of Rome book and I can’t wait to get my hands on Falling Sky later this year.

Plot Synopsis:

AD 265, Gaul – The Roman Empire is on the brink.

Emperor Gallienus has amassed a huge army across the Alps to seize back the mountains from the usurper Posthumus.

War has come.

Ballista and his cavalry are on the frontline, battling in the most brutal of conditions. But if he is to survive the campaign and finally retire to his beloved Sicily, it’s not just the battlefield he needs to navigate.

As he and Praetorian Prefect Volusianus lay siege to Posthumus’ armies, it becomes clear the greatest threat to Ballista’s life might just come from within his ranks. After all, Volusianus has shown he will go to any distance for his own ends. Is Ballista just another pawn in his game?

The Lawless Land by Boyd and Beth Morrison

The Lawless Land Cover

Publisher: Head of Zeus (Trade Paperback – 31 May 2022)

Series: Standalone/Book One

Length: 474 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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Get ready for one of the most thrilling historical adventures of 2022 with the wildly entertaining and deeply captivating medieval fiction novel, The Lawless Land, by the outstanding team of Boyd and Beth Morrison.

Despite my recent focus on other genres, historical fiction in all its forms remains one of my favourite book categories to check out, especially with awesome new novels coming out all the time.  One of the best examples of this is The Lawless Land, which I was lucky enough to receive a copy of a little while ago.  The Lawless Land was a fascinating read that takes some great protagonists on a bold adventure through medieval Europe.  This book was written by Boyd and Beth Morrison, a brother and sister team who have deeply impressed me.  This was a rather interesting combination of writers, as Boyd Morrison is an acclaimed thriller and historical fiction author, and Beth Morrison is the Senior Curator of Manuscripts at the J. Paul Getty Museum and has a PHD in history.  These overachieving siblings really cooked up something special here with their first book, and I loved the outstanding story it contained.

In 1351, Europe is in utter chaos as the Hundred Years’ War rages in France and the Pestilence ravages the countryside, depopulating towns and devastating cities.  These are dark days indeed, and only the desperate and the foolish can be found traversing the roads.  Unfortunately, this includes skilled knight Gerard Fox, whose lands and titles have been taken from him as punishment for a crime against the church, and who is now forced to wander the world by himself, desperate to reclaim his family’s honour.

Journeying towards the castle of Lord Tonbridge, the one man who may be able to prove his innocence, Gerard witnesses a band of armed men waylaying a noblewoman.  Impulsively jumping into action, Gerard saves the women, slaughtering her attackers and forever changing his life.  The young woman, Lady Isabel, is Lord Tonbridge’s betrothed, who has fled from her future husband, taking with her a sacred relic she is sworn to protect.  Forced to abandon his own quest, Gerard agrees to escort Isabel to safety, however, he is unaware of the chaos that is about to be unleashed upon him.

Tonbridge had promised Isabel’s relic to an ambitious Cardinal in Paris, one who is determined to rise to the station of Pope.  Desperate to reclaim the relic and use it to cement his position, the Cardinal and his pawn, Tonbridge, unleash their substantial forces to hunt down Gerard and Isabel.  Fleeing their pursuers, Gerard and Isabel traverse the breadth of England and France to find safe harbour for the relic.  Forced to contend with dangerous foes around every corner, Gerard, Isabel, and their faithful companions will face the worse that medieval Europe has to offer and more.  But worse lies in wait for Gerard, as he bears a dark connection with his pursuers that will ensure they will never stop hunting him.

Wow, now this was a really cool historical fiction novel.  The exceptional writing team behind The Lawless Land have produced an outstanding novel that is extremely exciting, action-packed, and character driven, while also being heavy on the historical detail and accuracy.  This results in an exceptional and epic historical thriller read that I had an absolute blast getting through and which gets a well-deserved five-star rating from me.

The Lawless Land was such a cool read, and I quickly fell in love with its brilliant and exceptional story.  Essentially an adventure thriller set in medieval times, the authors start The Lawless Land off very quickly, showing the protagonist in battle as he saves the damsel in distress, only to end up in even more trouble.  Effectively introducing the key characters early on, you get a real sense of the novels impressive style right at the start, especially with its gritty feel and intense action sequences.  The story soon evolves into a high stakes chase across Europe, as Gerard, Isabel and their companions try to outrace and outwit their opponents to save Isabel’s relic and get revenge for Gerard.  The authors make excellent use of multiple character perspectives here to showcase the chase from both sides, and you get a good look at the various schemes and ploys of the antagonists, as well as the full depths of their villainy.  These amazing and action-packed scenes are expertly interspersed with some flashback chapters that examine the full history and tragedy of the protagonists, especially Gerard, and work to fully establish the enmity between him and the antagonists.  This entire first half of the book is very well written, and the authors’ excellent style will appeal to wide range of readers, not just historical fiction fans, as anyone who enjoys a great adventure or gripping thriller read, can get really engrossed in this excellent story.

This perfectly sets up the second half of this epic novel, which sees the character involved in all manner of carnage and battle as they attempt to win.  I honestly powered through the last 250 pages or so in a day; I was having that much fun reading it.  This second part has everything, including jousting tournaments, prison breaks, desperate chases, elaborate skirmishes, political intrigue, skullduggery and more action than you can shake a stick at.  There is even a full-on judicial duel (think The Last Duel), which was one of the most impressive and gritty fights in the entire book.  There are some intriguing twists, clever reveals, major tragedies, and some outstanding action throughout this entire second half, and it was so much fun to see it all unfold.  I really must highlight the impressive action of The Lawless Land, as all the fights felt particularly realist and very epic, and you can honestly feel every powerful swing and strike of steel on steel.  The authors bring all the established story elements of The Lawless Land together extremely well in the end, and readers will come away satisfied, especially with the fun conclusion and the great ending for the characters.  While this is ostensibly a standalone read, and the authors do wrap up everything really well, there is potential for a sequel at the end, and I for one would not be opposed to seeing more from these characters in the future.

One of the most compelling parts of The Lawless Land was the brilliant dive into the history of medieval Europe.  The writing team clearly did their research when it came to this novel, which is hardly surprising considering the scholarly expertise of one of its authors.  As such, this novel is loaded with impressive and captivating historical detail which isn’t overshadowed by some of the more over-the-top action.  You get a great sense of the how bleak and brutal the continent was at this point in history, with some chilling depictions of plague and pestilence, as well as some intriguing looks at The Hundred Years’ War, including a full flashback chapter to the Battle of Crécy.  The authors spend time exploring a ton of fascinating stuff from this period, including knightly conduct, the power and influence of the church, day to day life for people in cities and the countryside, and so much more.  I particularly loved the scenes set around a tournament in France, where the protagonist engages in a series of jousts.  The sheer amount of detail and realism around these scenes are so very cool, and you can really picture how everything would have looked and felt.  There is also a great examination of medieval manuscripts (again, because of one of the author’s academic focuses), which become a key part of The Lawless Land’s plot, and it was really interesting to examine the significance and process behind them.  All this impressive work around the setting and other historical elements of The Lawless Land really enhanced the overall quality of the book, and I loved how seamlessly it was worked into the epic narrative.

I also must highlight the fantastic characters featured within The Lawless Land, which includes an awesome balance of likeable protagonist and maniacal villains who hunt them.  The story is perfectly split between the two groups, and you get some fun and intense competing views of events throughout the story as a result.  The protagonists are headlined by the awesome character of Gerard Fox, a wandering knight, banished from his family’s lands by the church following a confrontation with one of the antagonists years ago.  Dragged into this conspiracy by accident, Gerard becomes Isabel’s companion and protector, and tries to escort the relic to safety.  A man of action and honour, Gerard is haunted by his past and his many failures, which include watching his brother die in battle, and being tricked into losing everything.  He is also obsessed with discovering the true fate of his mother, and her mysterious disappearance and certain revelations draw him into this conspiracy even further.  A lot of the novel revolves around Gerard’s past, and it was fascinating to see him come to terms with it and try to balance this current quest with his own desires.  Gerard ends up being a pretty awesome protagonist to follow, especially with his martial prowess, unique weaponry, penchant for mischief and trickery (like a certain French fox), and his unbending desire to do the right thing.

Gerard is accompanied by some interesting companions, and the most prominent of these is Lady Isabel.  A noblewoman who was forced into marriage, Isabel seeks to protect her family’s most sacred relic from her betrothed and goes to great length to escape him.  Although she is initially seen as a bit of a damsel in distress, you soon begin to realise that there is a lot more to Isabel than what first appears, as she is an incredibly capable woman with some keen insights and strategies that prove invaluable to her companions.  The authors work some excellent storylines around Isabel in this novel, and you really come to appreciate and enjoy her pluck, courage and intelligence.  There is also a very clever twist about this character revealed in the second half of the book, which was set up extremely well by the authors, including in some flashbacks that both hint at and hide the truth from the reader.  I also should mention the fun supporting characters of Henri and Youssef, two friendly rogues who have substantial history and friendship with Gerard.  Henri and Youssef are excellent additions to the protagonists, and their fun personalities balance well with Gerard and Isabel’s to create a very likeable group of heroes that you become quite attached to, even if that leads to eventual heartbreak for the reader.

I also need to talk about The Lawless Land’s outstanding trio of villains who dog the protagonists’ steps throughout the entire narrative.  This includes the evil Lord Tonbridge, Isabel’s betrothed who she runs away from.  While Tonbridge is mainly hunting them for Isabel’s relic, it also becomes clear that Tonbridge is even more obsessed with righting the perceived slight to his honour and is eager for vengeance.  However, Tonbridge is also partially subservient to villainous French cardinal Molyneux, who has promised him power and a kingship if he succeeds.  Molyneux is particularly despicable, as an ambitious and immoral member of the church who is attempting to become Pope.  Using his influence and the protection of the church for his advantage, Molyneux gains large amount of money and land through unscrupulous means and has some dark history with Gerard’s family, which deeply impacts both his and Gerald’s motivations to confound each other.  The final villain is Molyneux’s vassal and bastard son Basquin, who serves as the protagonist’s main pursuer.  A skilled swordsman and tactician, Basquin is a worthy, if not superior, foe to Gerard, whom he bears a powerful grudge against.  There is some fascinating history behind Basquin that became quite an awesome part of the plot, and it was great to see the intense and captivating confrontations between the two.  The authors take Basquin in some intriguing directions in this book, especially when his own desires clash with that of his abusive father, forcing him to go rogue and enact his own ambitious plan.  All these villains were extremely well written, and it proved highly entertaining to see them go up against Gerard, Isabel and the rest throughout The Lawless Land.  I had such a great time with the characters in this book, and their intense relationships, rivalries and schemes added so much to the power of the novel.

Overall, The Lawless Land was an exceptional and impressive historical fiction read from the great new team of Boyd and Beth Morrison.  These two talented writers came up with something very special with The Lawless Land, and I loved the outstanding and highly addictive narrative contained in this book.  Featuring a ton of epic action, some amazing characters, and some superb historical detail, The Lawless Land was an incredible read that comes very highly recommended by me.

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