Review of Stormbird (Wars of the Roses) by Conn Iggulden

Stormbird Wars of the Roses by Conn IgguldenThere is no romance at the heart of war. Conn Iggulden captures this sentiment perfectly in his latest novel, Stormbird (Wars of the Roses). The medieval period is often glamorized as a period of chivalry and romance in many films and novels, so I was relieved when Iggulden did not fall into this typical cliche. His writing is more in the vein of Bernard Cornwell with a gritty, realistic approach to what it was actually like to live through this turbulent period of English history. Granted he does take some liberalities with the history, but remember this is historical fiction not a biography, and he does point out these areas in the historical note.

Stormbird is the first novel in a new series planned by Iggulden. The book opens with a marriage alliance between King Henry VI of England and Margaret of Anjou, a young French noblewoman, in hopes of easing the hostilities between England and France. As part of the alliance, England agrees to return a portion of territories captured back to France. This agreement is manipulated by Henry’s closest advisers, Derry Brewer the spymaster (a fictional character) and Duke William of Suffolk. This truce enrages many of the powerful English nobles, including Richard, Duke of York, and they plot to overthrow the timid Henry from his throne. Also beneath this chaos grows the seeds of rebellion from the lower class who are tired of the nobility suppressing their freedoms. The leader of this rebellion is Jack Cade, and he has plans to march on London.

Chaos. Betrayal. Corruption. Tactical diplomacy. War. These are the words that best describe England and France during the medieval period, and Iggulden does not fail to deliver. It was a brutal period of history in which to live, and it is felt in the setting that the author depicts. Iggulden does a nice job moving between the various plot points and points of view. The pacing is good. I do wish the characters were a little more fleshed out, but hopefully that will come in the subsequent books. Though it would not have been historical accurate, it would have added some additional tension to have William of Suffolk and Margaret of Anjou in a secret relationship, as there seemed to be something there between them when they first met. Since the relationship between Margaret and King Henry was rather bland, this element — though I admit may be cliche and falls risk to romanticizing the period if done incorrectly — could have created an extra layer for readers that seemed to be missing.

Overall, I’d rate Stormbird 4 out of 5 stars. I hope to see a return of many of these characters in the next novel.

About the author:

Conn Iggulden is one of the most successful authors of historical fiction writing today. His previous series, on Julius Caesar and on the Mongol Khans of Central Asia, describe the founding of two of the greatest empires in history. Now, with Stormbird, he plunges readers into one of the most bloody and brutal periods in history, when two rival branches of one royal English family threw their country into a devastating, decades-long civil war. Iggulden lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and children.

What’s next?

Within the week, I should be offering a book giveaway for one free copy of Stormbird. Details to come later, so check back with my site soon. Also, I plan to post a Q&A interview from the author later in the week.

Review of A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin

So I finally got around to finishing A Dance with Dragons. I had started this book sometime last year, but put it down for a while and just circled back around to it recently. If it had been written by anyone other than George and was a series which I had not already spent a good deal of time with, I probably wouldn’t have finished it at all. The first three books in the series are amazing and are still the best fantasy books I’ve ever read. If you’re interested in reading A Song of Ice and Fire, I’d highly recommend reading the first three books and stopping there. To know what happens in the next two books, A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, I’d recommend just reading summaries of them somewhere on the web. Both books four and five are lengthy like the first three, but nothing significant really happens in either of them. And I really mean nothing significant. I cannot recall one event that stands out in either novel. Questions still loom from the end of Storm of Swords which have never been addressed. I was hoping for some reference back to what happens in the epilogue of Storm of Swords but you can’t find it anywhere.

Maybe I just missed the answers to some of these questions because I found myself speed reading to get through A Dance with Dragons. Most of the story goes nowhere. I even found myself bored with the series’ favorite characters: Tyrion and Jon. Tryion spends the entire novel, it seems, journeying to find Daenerys. Jon spends his entire time at the wall fortifying the wall. That’s about it. Some of the lesser characters I actually found more interesting in this novel. Bran’s storyline was intriguing to me for once, and then about halfway through, his POV stops and Martin never comes back to him. I personally wanted to read more of his narrative.

I’m not sure at this point what George intends to do with the series. The end of A Dance with Dragons certainly concludes with another cliffhanger, but at this point, can I be confident the final two books will be interesting enough to hold my attention for 2,000 additional pages? I don’t mean to sound too negative in this review. To highlight some good points, Martin’s writing style and his attention to detail and knowledge of his characters are unparalleled. I do enjoy reading his words as they are always so carefully chosen and fluid. Since I’ve invested so much time in the series, I will read the final two books, but I was disappointed with this one. By now, the story should be picking up at a faster rate, and instead, it felt like I was trudging through mud (or snow if you’re beyond the wall).

If this had been a standalone book by any other author, I would have given it two stars and probably not finished it. But because it’s George and I do think he is one of the best fantasy writers of all time, I’ll give it three.

Review of River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay

River of Stars - Guy Gavriel KayRiver of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay
Hardcover: 656 pages
Publisher: Roc Hardcover; 1 edition (April 2, 2013) 

In his latest book River of Stars, Guy Gavriel Kay returns to the empire of Kitai several centuries following Under Heaven. While it is not necessary to have read Under Heaven before this book, it does provide some historical context of where the empire is now compared to where it was before.

The great empire of Kitai is in decline. The emperor is more concerned with the arts and with building his magnificent garden that he tends to ignore the fact his empire is under threat from rebellious factions. Kay does a nice job with the cultural aspects and historical details in the novel. The court intrigue and social interactions of the characters brings the Song dynasty alive.

Ren Daiyan is the protagonist of the novel. His is an outlaw. Forced to band together with other outlaws like himself after killing seven men, Daiyan has dreams of restoring the empire to its once former glory. He wants to be a great military leader.

The other main character is Lin Shan, a daughter of a scholar. Shan is educated in many subjects unusual at the time for women. She is a gifted poet and calligrapher.  Without delving too heavily into the plot, Lin Shan, like Daiyan, plays an important role in the shaping of the ever-changing Kitai empire. 

There are a lot of interesting factors at play in this novel: court politics, war, cultural arts, love. As always, Kay is an exquisite storyteller and great developer of characters. While it might take a bit longer to get into than Under Heaven, Kay’s latest novel is still worth the read.

Review of Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell

Agincourt - Bernard Cornwell - Historical Fiction - Hundred Years War - Medieval History - Middle Ages HistoryOnce again Bernard Cornwell transports the reader to the Hundred Years War with Agincourt. As you can surmise from the title, the novel centers around the Battle of Agincourt, when on October 25 of 1415, a ragged, starved and outnumbered English army of 6,000 men faced off against 30,000 French soldiers. The French were well-rested. They were a seasoned army of knights and men-at-arms. But the one element the French did not have were longbowmen. And the English army had plenty.

The narrative follows the life of one of these longbowmen, Nicholas Hook. Hook is a wanted man in England for a confrontation he has with a rapist-priest, and so he joins Henry V’s army to escape being hanged. The story progresses through two sieges, one at Harfleur and the other at Soissons, and finishes with the ending battle at Agincourt. As always, Cornwell does a brilliant job with his research and describing the battle scenes.

Regarding the characters, most in this novel are pretty forgettable. Cornwell spends a lot of time with Hook of course, since he is the main character, and he does spend more time on the main love interest, Melisande, than in some of his past medieval novels, which is nice. The main antagonists are the rapist-priest, two brothers who harbor a long-standing family feud with Hook’s family, and Melisande’s father. The priest and the brothers have zero redeeming qualities, but Melisande’s father is rounded out a bit by the end. Nick’s closest friends, his longbowmen companions, are secondary and do not play much of role besides throwing in bits of dialogue here and there. Hook’s lord, John of Cornwaille, is a likeable character, and I would have preferred to see more of him.

Overall, for pure historical reference and vivid, epic battles, this novel is an enjoyable read. If you prefer stronger characters, I would recommend some of Cornwell’s other novels like his Saxon series, his Arthurian saga, or even the Grail Quest series.

My rating: 4 stars.

Review of Bloodstone by Paul Doherty

Bloodstone - Paul Doherty - Medieval Mystery NovelBloodstone (Brother Athelstan Mediaeval Mysteries)
by Paul Doherty

Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Creme de la Crime (March 1, 2012)
ISBN-10: 1780290160

Book Description:

An intriguing new Brother Athelstan historical mystery – December, 1380. When the corpse of Sir Robert Kilverby is discovered in a locked room, Brother Athelstan accompanies the King’s coroner to investigate. For Sir Robert had in his possession a priceless relic, a sacred bloodstone, which has now disappeared. Did Sir Robert die of natural causes or was he murdered? Athelstan is sceptical of rumours of a curse hanging over Sir Robert, but when it is discovered that a second old soldier has been gruesomely slain on the same night, the rumours no longer seem so far-fetched . . .

I generally don’t read a lot of murder mystery type books, and if I do, they are most likely going to be set during the middle ages, obviously. One of the best I’ve read is Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose, and while Bloodstone does not compare to Name of the Rose in breadth and scope — Eco’s book is two to three times as long — in some respects it could be considered more enjoyable. Doherty’s book is much more concise, as he quickly gets to the murders at hand and the investigation that ensues. The story does not get lost in philosophical and scholarly debates.

The strongest element of the book is that it is unpredictable. Maybe I haven’t read enough murder mysteries, but I really had a difficult time predicting who had committed the crimes. Doherty also does a fairly nice job with his characters. For such a short novel, only 240 pages, the reader does get a good sense of the characters, though most are not overly complex. The major characters like Athelstan are well-liked the entire time. The secondary characters do slightly shift in perception as the story unfolds. Doherty’s dialog is also fairly good. Most of it comes across as being realistic. It’s not Hemingway-esque or on the level of Bernard Cornwell even, but it is still good.

The only quibbles you might could have with the story is the setting. Doherty does a nice job with putting the reader in the medieval period, but I’m certain you could nit-pick and find elements that are historically debatable.

Overall, the story is a good-read. The pacing is good and the suspense is well drawn out. Perfect length.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Review of Knot of Stone

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: to commemorate South Africa’s first massacre on 1 March 1510. A new book reveals how an isolated 16thC murder altered the course of North-South relations, and is reviewed here by world-reknown historian, Malyn Newitt, Emeritus Professor of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies at King’s College London.

Knot of Stone: the day that changed South Africa’s history
by Nicolaas Vergunst

*Review by Malyn Newitt

Arena Books (September 2011) ISBN 978-1-906791-71-1 available at amazon barnes&noble

The history of Portuguese overseas expansion is a quarry where writers of all kinds continue to dig for treasure. In the sixteenth century it inspired lyric poets like Camões to embellish history with tales of pagan gods, prophecies and supernatural beings; and travellers like Mendes Pinto to invent a wholly new literary genre—the fictional autobiography—as a vehicle for his commentary on “life, the universe and everything”. More recently the writers of ‘alternative history’ have given it their attention. Some, like Mascarenhas Barretto, have unashamedly claimed their work as history—others have adopted the decent fig leaf of fiction which allows them to explore the remotest corners of their topic without any sense of guilt or the need to make any concession to probability.

The idea that there is an ‘alternative’ history—a secret narrative that is fully revealed only to the initiated—can probably be traced back to the Apocryphal Gospels and the Gnostic writings of the ancient world. In the Middle Ages it found expression in the canon of Arthurian literature and the work of writers like Mandeville. Since then it has found many exponents, each carrying forward, through a kind of apostolic succession, their belief in the existence of a ‘secret’ history. To take an example, Margaret Murray, and her populariser Hugh Ross Williamson, interpreted English history as the narrative of a pagan cult of the ‘divine king’, as described by Sir James Frazer in his epic study of mythologies, The Golden Bough. More recently best-selling authors like Dan Brown and Umberto Eco have exploited, to the considerable advantage of their bank accounts, a vast and apparently insatiable popular interest in ‘alternative’ history.

If ‘alternative’ history influences, convinces or just intrigues you, then Nicolaas Vergunst’s Knot of Stone is the book for you. The event around which the book is built is the murder of the first viceroy of the Estado da India, Dom Francisco de Almeidam, in 1510. According to the chroniclers, he was killed, along with sixty of his men, by Khoikhoi herdsmen when he landed at the Cape of Good Hope on his return voyage from India. The author’s interpretation of this event is set out early in the book. Speaking through the voice of the learned professor Mendle, Vergunst claims that the viceroy was not simply the victim of a skirmish with local herdsmen but was assassinated by some in his own party—in a kind of ritual execution, his throat was pierced by a lance and “thus they silenced him for ever”.

Why should such a distinguished servant of the Crown have been ritually murdered? This is what the novel seeks to explain through an elaborate journey (a real as well as an intellectual one) taken by the hero and heroine of the novel—Jason and Sonja—through the literature, lands and shrines of the ‘alternative’ history. The novel begins with the discovery of the bones of Almeida and his men and moves swiftly to the discovery of a secret and uncatalogued dossier on Almeida, which Sonja steals from the library. Jason is one of Cape Town’s leading archaeologists and a former Coloured (this is post-apartheid South Africa) who lived “in a netherworld of different cultures and disparate histories”. (p.57) Throughout the novel he acts as the sceptic—sceptical chiefly of the myths and self-delusions that white Europeans indulge in when considering their colonial past. “Colonialists”, he says, “always impose a culture of violence on those they conquer, convert or civilise…”. (p. 25)

The author is extremely well read in early Portuguese history and very knowledgeable on a vast range of topics, all of which becomes clear as the reader is led to explore not only the early history of Portugal but Templar sites and shrines in France—including Mont St Michel and Mont Ségur—and then on to the writings of Rudolph Steiner and John Buchan with even a walk-on part by Heinrich Himmler. The key to the novel turns out to be a belief in reincarnation and the unravelling of which historical figures are reincarnations of each other; though as one of the characters understandably asks, “are you trying to unravel or tie up these loose ends?” (p.41)

There is, indeed, a basic implausibility about the official version. How were Portuguese soldiers, equipped with crossbows and armour, men who had successfully fought the armies of the Ottomans, the Indians and the Egyptians, massacred by herdsmen armed only with fire hardened sticks? Something in this story has been left out, and it is this that the novelist seeks to supply. Almeida’s early life is the clue. Coming from a distinguished noble family he fought for king Afonso at the battle of Toro and was present at the fall of Granada in 1492. There he became possessor of a manuscript which opened to him the world of secret knowledge that had been possessed, among others, by the Templars. Possession of this knowledge meant that he was entrusted with taking forward the great task of “re-establishing intercourse between Europe and the East”. (p.50) Like Camões, “Almeida could fuse Catholic notions of Grace with a sense of karmic justice”. (p.49)

Further than this I will not go because readers of this review may already have decided whether this is the book for them.

However, this book is not just another expedition into the hidden realms of ‘alternative’ history, it is also an extremely interesting and intelligent discussion of the problem of historical knowledge. What can we know of the past and how do we know it? Historical writing, Sonja concludes (p.49), is “a mix of archival research and bardic inspiration, personal opinion and public information”. Later, the author says, “nothing is mere legend; fact and fiction co-exist in history”, but surely, Sonja counters, “we should draw a line somewhere”, and the answer she gets is, “we shouldn’t believe in something we can’t look at critically”. “History”, she claims, “offers a plausible accord between our experience and our imagination” (p.102) but, she is told by professor Mendle in reply, historians only “wrote what they thought we needed to know.” (p.103) So, history is almost always propaganda. This is merely an example of the crackling philosophical exchange which fills the book and that constantly challenges our ideas about truth, knowledge and reality—and it is this philosophical discussion which, on second reading, becomes the real purpose of the book.

This is a rich a remarkable book. It is better the second time it is read and better still the third time. It makes an interesting addition to any library on the history of the descobrimentos.

Malyn Newitt
King’s College London

‘Knot of Stone’ is available at amazon and barnes & noble, see http://www.knotofstone.com/online-offers for details.

Review of Lion of Ireland by Morgan Llywelyn

Lion of Ireland - Morgan Llywelyn align=Lion of Ireland by Morgan LLewlyn

Oh, where, Kincora! is Brian the Great?
And where is the beauty that once was thine ?
Oh, where are the princes and nobles that sate
At the feast in thy halls, and drank the red wine?
Where, oh, Kincora?

Oh, where, Kincora! are thy valorous lords?
Oh, whither, thou Hospitable! are they gone?
Oh, where are the Dalcassians of the Golden Swords?
And where are the warriors that Brian led on?
Where, oh, Kincora?

– From the Lamentation of Mac Liag for Kincora

Ireland. A land of beauty. A land of stretching green hills and blue waters that crash against the coastal cliffs. A mysterious land at the edge of the world. For 10th century Irishmen, it was a land fraught with warfare among the Irish tribes and the Norse invaders from Scandinavia. It was a land where no man could find peace.

For Brian mac Cennedi (Brian Boru), it was home. As a young child among twelve brothers and sisters, Brian saw Ireland as it could be, and as all young boys do, Brian dreamed. He dreamed of a unified Ireland that would one day exist undisturbed from the outside threats of the Norsemen and the inner rivalries among the various tribes.

Though he never thought he would be the one to lead the Irish people to greatness.

Brian is considered among some historians to be the greatest king in Irish history. As a young boy, he experienced first-hand the horrors of war, the memories of which would always remain with him and later spark in him a warrior spirit that could not be quenched until Ireland was free and finally at peace.

Lion of Ireland is the story of Brian. It is the story of Ireland. It is an epic that follows the life of Brian from age nine until his death. Almost all of the characters in the novel are actual people in history. A few of the them are fictional, like Brian’s first love Fiona and his closest friend Padraic. Morgan Llywelyn does a great job with representing all of her characters, though I do wish she had done more with Fiona. Fiona’s character appears near the beginning of the novel but only returns sporadically throughout the rest of the book.

Overall, the pacing of the story is good, the characters are well envisioned, and the dialogue is realistic. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about medieval Irish history.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Review of Quest of the Warrior Maid: Bradamante & Ruggiero by Linda McCabe

Quest of the Warrior Maid: Bradamante & Ruggiero by Linda McCabe - Medieval Epic Poem - CharlemagneQuest of the Warrior Maid: Bradamante & Ruggiero by Linda McCabe
Paperback: 428 pages
Publisher: Destrier Books (June 22, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0983636206

Product Description:

A love foretold between sworn enemies will determine the fate of Christendom. Bradamante, the niece of Charlemagne, and Ruggiero, a Saracen knight descended from Hector of Troy, are renowned warriors who meet and fall in love on a battlefield before being separated. This tale of impossible love is set against the backdrop of a holy war between Islamic and Christian armies shown in bloody sieges in Marseille and Paris. Other legendary heroes such as Orlando and Renaud de Montauban are featured in this saga of chivalry, secret romances, betrayal, revenge, and magic. The story is adapted from the classic, but largely forgotten, epic poems “Orlando innamorato” and “Orlando furioso” written during the Italian Renaissance. Quest of the Warrior Maid should appeal to fans of Arthurian legend, medievalists, Francophiles and Italianophiles.

Quest of the Warrior Maid by Linda McCabe really captures the feeling of the old epic poems from which it is adapted. The main characters, Bradamante and Ruggiero, are strong, endearing characters that go through numerous struggles of separation and conflict in their quests for love. This story is about love at first sight between two people who cannot, on the surface, be together because of their positions in opposing armies (Islam and Christian). This religious barrier and the physical separation between the characters create constant tension that makes the story a page-turner.

Normally, it would be difficult to pull off a “love at first sight” scenario without seeming cliche, but McCabe does it well because of its basis in the epic poems. The chapters are short, with many of them ending in cliffhangers, so the entire novel reads very quickly.

Quest of the Warrior Maid is the first volume in the Bradamante and Ruggiero series.

Review of Feudal Society Vol 1 by Marc Bloch

Feudal Society: Vol 1: The Growth and Ties of Dependence by Marc BlochFeudal Society: Vol 1: The Growth and Ties of Dependence by Marc Bloch

Paperback: 324 pages
Publisher: Routledge; 2 edition (November 16, 1989)
ISBN-10: 0415039169

Feudal Society by Marc Bloch is one of the definitive guides to the study of feudalism during the medieval period. The book’s main focus is on feudalism in Western Europe, though it does mention other regions as well, however only briefly. If you are just beginning the study of feudalism, I would actually recommend investigating other titles that give a more general overview of the subject from a high-level. Bloch’s books, volumes I and II, discuss the subject on a granular level, a “down in the weeds” approach as opposed to a surface-level overview. You will have to read and re-read this book, and even then, you will likely not understand everything fully. It’s certainly a book to be poured over, to diagnose sections or chapters or even paragraphs. It’s a book where you could spend hours investigating his cross-references and still not be satisfied. It is life’s work condensed into two volumes.

If you were to start with Bloch’s book as an introduction to the subject, I would recommend reading it through without stopping to examine or meditate too much. It can be overwhelming. Personally, as a reader, I have a hard time doing this. I found myself reading the same paragraphs several times to make everything sink in. If you were to read it without pause, you will come away with remembrance of the important points of the subject. You can easily get sidetracked if you want, for example, stopping to further investigate the differences between feudalism and manorialism.

A general breakdown of the book is as follows:

  • Part I -The Environment: The Last Invasions
    This section focuses on the time around the fall of the Roman Empire and the subsequent invasions of Europe by the likes of the Hungarians, Moslems, and Scandinavians.

  • Part II – The Environment: Conditions of Life and Mental Climate
    If you are reading this through for the first time, I actually feel like you could skip most of this section and come back to it later. In my opinion, the subject matter in this section is secondary or tertiary to the actual foundations of feudal society, except for Chapter 4: Material Conditions and Economic Characteristics. You should read Chapter 4, but the others you could probably skip (Chapters 5, 6, and 7). You might want to read Chapter 8 as well, as it discusses The Foundations of Law.

  • Part III – The Ties Between Man and Man: Kinship
    This section is important to understanding the powerful bond among kin that would carry over to the powerful bond between lord and vassal later on.

  • Part IV – The Ties Between Man and Man: Vassalage and the Fief
    This section is where you really get into the topics most people think of when they hear the word feudalism: vassal and lord, homage, the fief. Remember, this is not your seventh grade history course on feudalism. This part takes a deep dive into the subject matter. Be prepared to read in short bursts and come back to it later. If you are reading this book for a second time, I would start in part four and begin my study here.

  • Part V – Ties of Dependance among the Lower Orders of Society
    This is the last part of volume I. Here, you will find topics such as manorialism, serfdom, and villeinage. This is another great section to read and re-read.

So in conclusion, if you are new to the subject of medieval history and feudalism, do not start here. It will likely be overwhelming. If you are reading Bloch’s book for the first time, I would read it on a surface level and re-visit certain sections later. Also, you might consider skipping chapters five through seven on a first go-around. If I am coming back to Bloch’s book for a second or third time, I would start with sections four and five. These two sections get to the heart of the subject matter.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Review of The Burning Land by Bernard Cornwell

The Burning Land by Bernard CornwellThe Burning Land is the fifth installment in Cornwell’s Saxon Stories. Set in late 9th century Britain, King Alfred the Great is close to death, and Uhtred breaks his oath to Alfred to ride north to Northumbria in order to reclaim his ancestral home of Bebbanburg from his uncle. To reclaim his land, he needs money and soldiers, and after seeing the the defenses of Bebbanburg, he decides to journey across the sea to Scandinavia to steal the treasure of local lord. The local lord is the former husband of a Danish woman who joins Uhtred’s company, at the disapproval of many of Uhtred’s men who claim she is a witch.

Uhtred returns to Northumbria with a small treasure, and there he rejoins with his life-long friend Ragnar, son of Ragnar, the man who captured Uhtred as a boy and raised him as his own son. Uhtred and Ragnar make plans to attack Bebbanburg, but the Norns who determine the fates of men have other plans for Uhtred.

Once again, Uhtred is pulled south by his oath, not his oath to Alfred but rather his oath to Alfred’s daughter, Ethelflaed.

As usual, Cornwell does a a fantastic job with depicting battle scenes, and his dialogue is gritty, sharp, and earthy. He is an excellent storyteller, always on point with his historical research (with a bit of artistic liberty taken here and there) and recreation of the medieval setting. He also does a nice job of keeping the reader guessing where the story is going next.

Where he has taken criticism in the past has been his use of women characters and their lack of development in his stories. Most of his women characters come off as being fairly flat. Personally, I felt in The Burning Land, Cornwell did some of his best work in developing characters like Ethelflaed and Skade, to make you love the one and hate the other. Ethelflaed is in my opinion one of his best female characters, and I hope he continues to flesh her out more in the next novel in the series, Death of Kings, which is supposedly coming out this year.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars