26 September 2017

The Lost King by Devorah Fox

Amazon UK £0.99 £9.99
Amazon US $1.29 $15.85
Amazon CA $20.89


This is one of those novels that steps away from Discovering Diamonds' core genre and dips its toe in the realm of fantasy. But it is enough of a gem to include here, if only for some of the detail and the mindset explored in the story.

Bewilliam finds himself in a field full of cows with no recollection of how he got there. We are as in the dark as he is as the story progresses from there and as his personal story is revealed to him, it is revealed to us. He chooses to call himself Robin to avoid suspicion as he becomes aware that he is in fact a king, but of a kingdom he can't find. What he does then and how to rediscover his past is the content of the novel.

This story is about loss and discovery. It is also about resilience. The character of Robin losses everything and has to find a way to survive before he can start to find out who he is and where he is going in life. Memories tug at him, but he doesn't have the luxury of despondency. He is a fantastic character for his inventiveness and his positivity in the face of adversity. And despite his knowledge that he is a king, he has an endearing humility and vulnerability. You can't help but like him.

However, the true triumph of this novel lies not in the character but in the level of detail added by Ms Fox. If for no other reason, read this novel to learn how to make a sword. Ms Fox weaves into her story the full sword-making process and yet it doesn't feel out of place, clunky or at all like a block to prevent the story from progressing. They say that if you want to know how to put on armour, read Bernard Cornwell. Well, if you want to know about swords, read this.

There is another aspect to this novel that makes it of great use to the writer, or reader, of historical fiction. Robin doesn't know where he is. He doesn't know where the places he visits are in relation to his own kingdom. He struggles to find the first place he visited from the third. He doesn't have a map and he knows little of the world beyond his own realm. This level of realism for anyone who lived before the advent of the railway and accurate cartography, is something of a revelation. He has  not got Google Maps, so he is lost. It makes perfect sense. And yet I don't recall reading in a historical fiction anyone ever getting lost or not knowing how to get to where they want to go. It is so obvious when you think about it –  what did you do before maps or sat navs wers available?

Production-wise, the cover is initially less than attractive, once you start to read it sort of makes sense, but a better cover would certainly serve this book well.  There is plenty in the novel to inspire better imagery.

So, not our #DDRevs traditional genre, but Ms Fox deserves to be a Discovered Diamond because of the thought and the skill in which she has created her novel. There is so much in here that is of value to a budding author of historical fiction, and so much to please the reader.
Well done.

© Nicky Galliers

(shortlisted for DDRevs September Book of the Month.)

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25 September 2017

Half Sick of Shadows by Richard Abbott

AMAZON UK £1.49 / £5.99
AMAZON US $1.99 / $7.49
AMAZON CA $2.49 / $10.10

Medieval / Arthurian
13th Century

It is no secret, to those who know me well, that I am a sucker for Arthurian legends. I will read them in any form I can get. I requested to review this book based on the title alone, figuring it would be about the Lady of Shalott. I had no idea that it would end up being one of the most utterly unique re-imaginings of the tale that I have ever encountered.

The story begins, as one might expect, in the tower. The Lady, who remains nameless throughout the novel, has awoken to her surroundings, an Eden-like setting filled with beauty and flowers and a mysterious Mirror which seems to direct her days and her education. As she learns, the Mirror adjusts its lessons to suit her needs. She goes through several cycles of hibernation of sorts, during which ages pass in the mortal realm. During these times, her body also changes, sometimes drastically and other times less so, although readers are left to wonder what exactly the Lady looks like as we are never given a detailed picture of her.

In each age, the Lady finds people outside her tower to associate with in some way, to ward off her loneliness, to teach her about the world she inhabits, and who in some way often worship her as some kind of divine being. She learns the precarious nature of her position and the pain of power, real or otherwise. She also discovers cultures and people throughout the ages, bonding with some as best she can from within her tower.

Seeing the people and culture change over the centuries allows for a very interesting twist on the Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot triangle later, once the Lady comes to know them.

For a story that has almost no dialogue and very few characters beyond an inanimate Mirror and a handful of people with whom the Lady can never fully interact, this book was thoroughly engaging. The language was descriptive and lush without becoming overwrought or melodramatic, the imagery is lovely right from the very first paragraph, and the overall story of the Lady of Shalott is entirely original. I loved it, especially the end. It hit on all of my favourite genres in one, and was just a lovely way of revisiting one of my favourite and often overlooked Arthurian legends.

© Kristen McQuinn

(shortlisted for DDRevs September Book of the Month.)

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22 September 2017

A Discovering Diamonds review of: Echo in the Wind by Regan Walker

 Amazon UK £3.11 £9.83
Amazon US $4.04 $12.68
 Amazon CA $17.08

Romance /Nautical adventure
England / France

Unlike many of women of the ton, Lady Joanna West has vowed to never marry, even though at twenty-five, her brother the earl believes it is high time she wed. She also refuses to stand idly by why the villagers of Chichester starve from lack of work and the inability to pay high taxes. To that end she begins delivering food baskets to the poor, but now oversees the delivery of smuggled tea and brandy and makes sure the goods reach their proper destinations without alerting the revenue agents.

One night in April 1784, her men row her out to meet a new partner, a stranger who could be a free trader or a spy.

Captain Jean Donet silently watches from the shadows as his new partner inspects the merchandise and haggles with his quartermaster. Before the Englishman departs, Jean suspects the stranger is actually a woman in disguise. But that possibility intrigues, rather than discourages him, for he, too, is more than he appears to be. Disowned by his father, he is a French spy, was a privateer for Benjamin Franklin during the American Revolution, and is now a successful smuggler with a fleet of vessels. He is also the comte de Saintonge, a title inherited after the untimely death of his father and older brother. He must finally return to the estate he left years ago, but first he must attend several events leading up to the christening of his new grandson.

Since her brother has yet to marry, Joanna serves as his hostess at a party honouring the new prime minister, who is determined to put an end to the smuggling that plagues England. Two other gentlemen in attendance also catch her attention, but for different reasons. One commands the sloop of war responsible for hunting down vessels engaged in this illegal trade. The other is a forty-year-old Frenchman who seems taken with her younger sister, who has just come of age. Joanna will do whatever is necessary to keep Tillie from becoming a sacrificial lamb… 

Echo in the Wind is the second book in the Donet Trilogy and takes place five years before the storming of the Bastille and the start of the French Revolution. As in the previous title, To Tame the Wind, Walker opens with a list of “Characters of Note” so readers can acquaint themselves with who’s who before the story begins. Aside from Chichester and London, she whisks readers back to eighteenth-century Lorient, Saintonge, and Paris to experience first hand the discontent of the people and the callow disregard of the nobility. Walker also includes an author’s note where she discusses the history behind the novel.
Chapter one places readers in the midst of the action and shows great promise of suspense, but the pace slows thereafter and doesn’t pick up again until after page 100. Those pages focus more on character development, with only minor hints of possible adventure and misadventure. Yet stalwart readers who brave the trials and tribulations that they and the characters experience will be richly rewarded with a wonderful love story.

© 2017 Cindy Vallar

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21 September 2017

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Acre's Bastard by Wayne Turmel

Part One of the Lucca le Pou Stories

Amazon UK £4.07 / £11.99
Amazon US $5.27 / $14.26
Amazon CA £20.22

Fictional Saga / Young adult
Middle East  

Salah-adin is poised to conquer the Kingdom of Jerusalem. For ten-year-old Lucca "the Louse," it's life as normal. The streets of Acre - the wickedest city in the world - are his playground. But when a violent act of betrayal leaves him homeless and alone, he is drawn into a terrifying web of violence, espionage, and holy war.

Acre’s Bastard is written in the first person from the viewpoint of a streetwise child. Lucca tells the story of how he survives as a defenceless boy on the streets of one of the most dangerous cities of the 12th century. I loved the way Lucca interacts with other characters. His relationships with the adults work really well, and there are some tender moments that remind you that he is a vulnerable child, despite being able to take care of himself. But his vulnerability makes it easy for him to fall prey to wickedness. 

It would have been good to have seen more depth to the other characters, perhaps in their interactions with Lucca, on the other hand, we are seeing events through the eyes of a child and he sees the characters as a child would see them, without really knowing who they are. The people that populate Lucca’s world are superficial.

Acre’s Bastard endeared itself to me in the way that books did in my childhood. 
The author brings a lot of dry humour into the telling of the story. Lucca’s sense of the ridiculous is highlighted in the narrative. And Lucca’s self-deprecation at times had me chuckling to myself. I’m looking forward to finding out what will happen to Lucca and his friends in the next book.

It has been my pleasure to review this book and am grateful for the opportunity and wholly recommend it.

© Paula Lofting.

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20 September 2017

COMETH THE HOUR by Annie Whitehead

Amazon UK £1.99 £7.99
Amazon US £2.58 $14.95
Amazon CA $18.08

Biographical Fiction /Family Drama / Military
early to mid 7th Century
Settings: England

The story of Penda of Mercia is retold here by a wonderful writer, Annie Whitehead. But it is not just Penda's story, but also of the many kings who vied for supremacy during the turbulent 7th Century.

I don't intend to say much of the plot here, for it is quite well known to those who like this period and details of Penda's life and works are easily found on the internet for those who don't. Ms Whitehead has not only recounted - very well - the true story but she has also captured perfectly the feel of the times, the hatred between brothers, the perfidy of kings and, most impressively, she manages to convey that even the ones you want to hate had their reasons for acting the way they did.

The pace fairly zips along and it is full of strong and thoroughly believable characters – led by Penda himself and closely followed by Edwin, Oswald and Oswii – backed up with good, solid research, atmospheric locations and with battle scenes which, though shorter than in similar books, are on an equal footing with Cornwell and Harffy together, with a love story between Penda and Derwena that put me in mind of Penman's Llewelyn the Great and Joanna. In this volume, too, the women are strong - especially Edwin's daughter, Hild - even when they have to accept their position in life.

It is a good idea to study the map and extremely helpful 'family trees' at the beginning of the book as relationships can get complicated and the cover, simplistic yet still one that stands out, would grace any bookshop and readers' shelves.

Ms Whitehead's previous two books, To Be A Queen and Alvar the Kingmaker are both award winners within the genre and I fully expect that Cometh The Hour will join them.

Very, very highly recommended.

© Richard Tearle

shortlisted for Book of the Month

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