Book Review: ‘1066 Turned Upside Down: Alternative Fiction Stories by Nine Authors’

1066 was a pivotal year for England: it brought the death of two kings and end of Anglo-Saxon rule, the Battle of Hastings, and the Norman Conquest. 

‘1066 Turned Upside Down’ is a collection of speculative historical fiction, presenting some very enjoyable reading and some really thought-provoking alternative histories. 

As a collection, the quality of the writing is exceptional and the variety of possible outcomes presented is truly fascinating. My personal favourites are the contributions by Annie Whitehead and Joanna Courtney, but I also really enjoyed Richard Dee’s story that highlights the power of teachers to inspire and mentor their students. 

It is not necessary to know the history of 1066 before reading: these stories will satisfy both curious minds and history buffs alike. The true historical context of each story serves as an introduction for the fictional account that follows. 

The stories are all quite believable, each one challenging the reader to question: what might have been if things had gone even just slightly differently? 

New Release: ‘Slick Filth’ by Erato

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed ’The Cut of the Clothes’ by Erato, it is a pleasure to be able to introduce the author’s new release. 

‘Slick Filth: A Story of Robert Walpole and Henry Giffard, to Which is Appended the Farce of The Golden Rump’ by Erato is a story of satire, assassination attempts, politics and censorship in 18th century England.

“Sir Robert had composed the most seditious, disgusting, obscene, shameful thing I had ever seen.”

It’s 1737 and England is on edge: someone has tried to assassinate the king at the theatre, and every stageplay is a satire of the royal family. Enter Prime Minister Robert Walpole with a cunning scheme that will grant him power to censor anything that goes on stage — by writing the filthiest play ever conceived. All he needs to pull it off is a patsy, which he finds in Henry Giffard, the proprietor of the theatre at Goodman’s Fields. But will Giffard cooperate with the Prime Minister’s plan, or will obscenity and satire be allowed to overrun the British stage?

Based on true events, Slick Filth includes a recreation of the notorious play The Golden Rump, which so offended Parliament that new censorship laws were enacted for the first time in England’s history. The book is typeset in historical fonts, making you feel like you’ve been pulled back in time to watch the drama unfold first-hand.

Available in hardcover only, this book is more than just a book but an art project of itself, set in 18th century type with added “errors” for the sake of both authenticity and humour. 

‘Highland Blood’ The Celtic Blood Book 2 by Melanie Karsak

In this excellent sequel to ‘Highland Raven’, Karsak continues the magical, mystical story of Gruoch as she continues to learn of her destiny amid the complexity of both worlds to which she belongs. 

Find your copy here.

As with the first book in this series, Gruoch’s story is so beautifully written  and expertly crafted that the reader becomes deeply invested in the events and characters of the story, sharing Gruoch’s fears, pain, and hopes as her life takes compelling twists and unpredictable turns. She is a complex and powerful woman, strong and admirable, and steadfast in the face of conflict and danger. Yet, she is never portrayed as perfect, never unrealistically good, and never so contrived as to not be believable. 

There are some lovely references to Shakespeare’s ’Macbeth’, woven seamlessly into the narrative. This establishes close ties between that story and this one, even though the events of this series thus far happen before those in the famous play.

The story delivers a fascinating blend of history, mystery, fantasy, romance, and adventure in an deeply engaging read that, once started, demands to be consumed. 

Book Review: ‘The America Ground’ by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

Morton Farrier, forensic genealogist, takes the reader on another fascinating journey into history as he investigates the story behind a mysterious portrait with connections to the present that are stronger and more significant than he first considers possible. 

Morton’s own family story progresses too, providing continuity from one book to the next and keeping readers of the story invested in his quest for his own personal truths. 

A perfect blend of historical fiction, murder mystery and crime fiction, this is yet another excellent installment in an outstanding series. 

Book Review: ‘The Old Gilt Clock’ by Paulette Mahurin

Find your copy here.

There are times, particularly in the face of conflict or adversity, in which one might be tempted to ask, “What can one person do?”

The story of Willem Arondeus is testament to the fact that one person can do a very great deal to oppose hatred or wrongdoing, both through their own efforts but also by inspiring and encouraging others to also stand against evil. 

 Willem’s life story is well written and makes compelling reading. A man well acquainted with prejudice and hatred, Willem has been brought to life by the author in a manner that is both realistic about his flaws and empathetic about his suffering, credibly portraying him as a very normal person with a profound commitment to doing what was right.

This book adds a personal dimension to history and confronts the reader with the sense of helplessness experienced by the Dutch people of the time, and with the anger and resentment they harboured toward the Nazis and those who dumped with them. It made me reflect on what I know of my own grandfather, who was also a member of the Dutch resistance during the German occupation of the Netherlands in WWII, and to feel.somehow even more strongly connected to Willem and his friends as a result.

This is often an uncomfortable read, but it is an important one. Because stories like this are told, our generation is reminded to be vigilant against evil, to stand with the oppressed, and to ‘do some good ‘.

Book Review: ‘Ambrosius: Last of the Romans’ by Tim Walker

Find your copy here.

Sequel to ‘Abandoned’ and the second book in Walker’s ‘A Light In The Dark Ages’ series, this book brings to life Ambrosius Aurelianus, the man who united the Britons and became their king after the withdrawal of the Romans, and who led them in the defence of Britain against the invading Angles and Saxons. 

The story is dynamic and interesting, full of action, political strategy and war, reflecting the turbulent nature of a time dominated by tribal loyalties and vigorous competition for control of the land that the Romans left behind. 

Walker breathes life into characters that, while they existed in history, are often only shadowy figures known for particular feats of war or achievements in government. That the reader can visualize them, become familiar with them, take an interest in their personal well-being and success, and feel loyalty to them is testament to the talent and skill of the author in recreating places, scenes and events from the past.

Audiobook Review: ‘The Binding’ by Bridget Collins

Find your copy here.

’The Binding’ is a tragic and compelling historical fantasy story of unlikely alliances, forbidden love, and the power of memories. The writing is beautiful and the story is superbly crafted. The narration by Carl Prekopp is a joy to listen to, as he gives life and voice to the characters and enchants the listener into feeling as though they are actually there as the events unfold. 

The story explores timeless themes including patriarchy and the abuse of power, particularly in terms of social class but also when it comes to the way society as a whole viewed same-sex relationships in the past. Because all of those prejudices still exist in society today, albeit to a lesser extent, the story is powerfully relevant. 

The characters, particularly Emmet and Alta, are developed so fully that the audience feels as though they know them intimately, which creates an emotional investment in their lives. This depth of feeling heightens the tensions of the complications and challenges they face, and makes the twists and revelations of the story more impactful. 

‘The Binding’ is available in ebook and novel as well as audio.

Book Review: ‘A Man’s Word’ by Martin Jensen

The third book in Martin Jensen’s ‘King’s Hounds’ medieval historical mystery series, ‘A Man’s Word’ is an intriguing murder mystery set in the village of Thetford. The mystery is complex and challenging, presenting a variety of possible suspects and motives which are further obscured by the transient population visiting the town for the court sessions and the markets. 

Like ‘The King’s Hounds’ and ‘Oathbreaker’, the narrative is enriched with local colour and characters who add further dimensions to the story, and with historical detail that brings the context and setting of the story to life. Being immersed in the story causes the reader to consider the  facts and develop theories about investigation, which increases their engagement and investment in the plot while Winston, Alfalfa and Halfdan conduct their inquiries and develop and test their theories.

This is a most enjoyable and satisfying mystery read.

Book Review: ‘The Hood Game: Rise Of The Greenwood King’ by J.P. Reedman

This is a captivating historical fantasy retelling of the story of Robin Hood and his outlaw band, set during the traditional time period of the reign of the largely absent Richard I, the Lionheart. 

The characters of legend are brought to life again, their backstories and antics told anew in a well-crafted, exciting narrative. The imagery and the action of the story immerse the reader in the company of outlaws, creating a sense of familiarity and bonding with Robyn and his companions. 

In addition to being a great story, this book serves as a vivid reminder of how hard life really was for the common folk in 12th century England, especially those who were excluded from society because of circumstances that were often beyond their control. It is easy to see why figures like Prince John, the Sheriff of Nottingham and Guy of Gisbourne were resented and despised by so many, and why men like Robin Hood became the stuff of English legend. 

Audiobook Review: ‘The Lady Of The Tower’ by Elizabeth St John

A work of historical fiction, although based on the life story of one of the author’s forebears, this is an interesting story that is probably quite realistic about the prospects of a younger daughter of a prominent family during the early years of the reign of James I. 

I confess I almost stopped listening as early as the prologue, in which a man speaking as though he were present when the young Princess Elizabeth was taken into the Tower of London was still alive as its Keeper in 1617. I returned to the beginning and listened again, decided the way in which that section was phrased was ambiguous, and continued with the story. 

The main character, Lucy, seems at times to be almost too virtuous to be quite believable, although she does have her moments where her flaws and human nature are revealed, in which she seems more relatable. For some readers, her tale will evoke deep sympathy, while others may feel she spends too much time engaging in self-pity and decrying her lot in life as the victim of the selfishness and vanity of various other people.

The most believable characters are the hateful ones: Lucy’s sister Barbara, Aunt Joan, and Frances Howard. These characters exemplify the worst of human nature, along with a certain young man who is fickle at best and heartless at worst. It is in disliking these characters that the reader feels the most empathy with Lucy. 

The narration is most enjoyable, with lively expression and very good use of tone, voice and accent to bring the characters to life. 

Overall, it is a fairly good story, expertly narrated. 

Also available as a novel and an ebook.