“Easter 1955. As Lilia Sugar scrapes the ice
from the inside of the windows and the rust from the locks in Sugar Hall, she
knows there are pasts she cannot erase. On the very edge of the English/Welsh
border, the red gardens of Sugar Hall hold a secret, and as Britain prepares
for its last hanging, Lilia and her children must confront a history that has
been buried but not forgotten.
Based on the stories of the slave boy that
surround Littledean Hall in the Forest of Dean.”
This is a ghost
story with some dark tones and some amazing psychological writing. When a boy
reports he can see a different boy with a collar around his neck, his mother
doesn't know how to respond other than to shrug it off as a childish notion.
Yet, as the story progresses, it isn't just her son who gets affected by the
Murray tells also the story of this mother, not an uninteresting one at that,
namely that of a girl coming to Britain from Germany via the Kindertransports
There is a stark contrast between the innocence and naivety of the young with
the chilling darkness of the ghost story. I'm not usually one for books with
such dark undertones but I found it very engaging, not least because of the
There are small
snippets of newspaper articles and other short material separating the chapters
that add to the richness and the layered texture of the novel. While not all of
them made perfect sense to me, some stayed with me for a long time, regardless.
Very engaging and gripping.
I confess - I
have a major weakness for Arthurian literature. I’ll read just about any
Arthurian story you put in my hands, whether it is told from a fantasy
perspective, full of magic and dragons and ladies in the lake, or whether it is
told from a quasi-historical perspective, full of soldiers and politics and
battles and not a whiff of magic anywhere. I’ll read it if it is feminist. I’ll
read it if it is thoroughly masculine. I’ll read it if it is painted purple
polka dotted and wearing feathers.
That said, I am
also highly selective in what I consider to be good Arthurian stories.
Those are very few and far between. So I was delighted to discover that Daughter
of Destiny is a fantastic, feminist, political story with just the right
sprinkling of magic added in as well.
begins with an 11-year-old Guinevere going off to the Isle of Avalon. She is unable
to control the Sight, and it is for that reason she is sent to Avalon. There,
she is tutored in the ways of the Goddess, her Druid training burning away the
soft and pampered noblewoman she had been to reveal a strong young woman.
Over the years,
she learns about herself as she struggles to understand her place in a world
that is changing from the old ways to the new religion of Christianity. Readers
are given a glimpse into her world, learn about her conflicts and bitter feud
with Morgan le Fey, and get to know her as her own person, separate from
I really loved
how this Guinevere had her own story and history. Of course she would - she is
a person as much as Arthur or Lancelot or Morgan, and yet she is often
relegated to the role of merely queen or mistress. Daughter of Destiny
shows readers that she had a whole life and love separate from the roles thrust
upon her in much of literature. The settings are vividly described and
believable as well, and I can easily see a woman with her background making
similar choices under the same circumstances. The characters all are well
developed and complex, even relatively minor ones, and I found myself caring
about them all. Even Morgan, who was odious in this version. I loved this book
so much that I went out and bought the second book in the trilogy. I eagerly
await the completion of the series. Highly recommended.
A fire-starter is
at the heart of this medieval tale of murder, mystery, treason and spies.
Emeline was about
to marry the earl’s eldest son, Peter Chetwynd, but following his death in a
fire, she finds herself betrothed to his younger brother Nicholas instead. He
is a cowardly wastrel and no one has a good word to say about him. Then fire
rages again on their wedding night with the marriage looking doomed almost before
it has started. Nicholas is rude and aggressive to his wife and prone to unexplained
disappearances. Having been brought up by a tyrannical father, Emma is aware
she must just 'do her duty' to her husband but is he quite all he seems? She learns
to think better of him, but then her father is killed in the arms of an unknown
mistress, their bodies burned in yet another fire.
At last the
family comes to realise that these deaths are connected with Nicholas becoming a
prime suspect. Then more suspects emerge with one in particular rising to the
fore. Meanwhile, Nicholas is off on another of his 'missions'…
Set in Richard
III’s brief kingship this entertaining tale rattles along, with dangers and
revelations throughout, punctuated by very likeable (and very dislikeable) characters. As with most mysteries, whether novels or TV, the plot does rely upon coincidences and appearances
at just the right moment, a common formula for this genre, but knowing this the trick is for the reader to spot the red-herrings which in a good novel is often not easy to do. And for this novel the ending
has enough of a surprise to be a very satisfying climax.
'What a tangled web we weave, when we practice to deceive' this
famous quotation would certainly suit the story of Joan the Fair Maid of
At the age of fourteen, Joan enters into a secret marriage with a
soldier of no account, Thomas Holand. He promptly goes off to the Holy Land to
make his fortune but promises he will return. But her family have arranged a
marriage with William Montagu, heir to Earl of Salisbury and he keeps her
secret from everybody but her mother who convinces Joanne that the marriage was
not valid as no priest was present.
The marriage is a cold one but begins to improve – until Thomas returns
with, not exactly a fortune, but enough to appeal to Rome to restore his wife
to him. To complicate matters, Joanne is cousin to King Edward III and she not
only has an affair with him, but also with his son, Edward, the Black Prince.
Wanton, or innocent victim of men's manipulation and desires in an age
when women were exploited? The reader will doubtless form their own opinion.
Ms Newark handles this situation very well indeed and follows the true
story faithfully with just one piece of speculation regarding the fate of a
former king. Well written, with convincing dialogue and backed up with solid
There were about four very minor typos in my copy and one unfortunate case
of 'eyes being dropped'. This, and similar ‘eyes ran round the room’ cliché is
a turn of phrase which sounds fine when spoken but somewhat absurd when written,
but a common occurrence among writers, indie or established. The only reason I
mention it is for the benefit of other writers and would-be writers to take
I first made the acquaintance of Calumny
Spinks in The Bitter Trade, a book set in the late 17th
century London. At the time, Calumny was a redheaded, somewhat ugly and unloved
adolescent, who couldn’t quite understand why his father was so secretive about
his past — or why his own father seemed determined to set Calumny up to fail.
While I would warmly recommend that the prospective reader starts with The
Bitter Trade – if nothing else because it’s a great read – Scatterwood
stands perfectly well on its own, with enough of the relevant backstory
This time round, Calumny is no longer an
adolescent. Yes, he is still very young, yes he is still as redheaded as ever,
but his experiences have made him wise beyond his years, and he is doing his
best to keep himself and his little family afloat in a London defined by
religious intolerance and the constant fear of a Jacobite counterrevolution,
thereby toppling Dutch William from the throne.
Calumny has made some mistakes in his previous
life, and this time round it is payback time, which is why Calumny is tricked
by people whom he trusts into undertaking a dangerous undercover mission in
Jamaica. Mind you, no one tells him just how dangerous his mission is, or that
it will involve huge amounts of physical pain and humiliation. Or that his best
friend will be an active participant in inflicting said pain, thereby proving
that some friends are far worse than your enemies.
His new taskmasters have Calumny over a
barrel. Unless he delivers, his Irish woman and her little daughter will be
separated from each other and transported to the New World as indentures, there
work and die. For now, they languish in the Tower, and only if Calumny delivers
do they go free.
And there, dear readers, is the background to
this fast-paced adventure through the heat-infested landscape of 17th
century Jamaica, all the way from decadent Port Royal, through endless fields
of sugarcane to the jungles that clamber up Jamaica’s Blue Mountains. Mr
Alexander delivers a vivid description of his setting and complements this with
a colourful set of characters, all the way from escaped slaves to world-weary
whores who can’t be bothered to advertise their wares beyond hitching up their
skirts to reveal their privates to the blasé passer-bys.
Jamaica is home to many a determined Jacobite,
some of whom are rich enough to pose a real threat to William, and Mr Alexander
skilfully guides the readers through this tangled web of loyalties and
treachery, where it becomes more and more apparent that almost everyone, no
matter whose side they’re on, is there to look after number one. Well, with
the exception of Calumny, who has no choice but to try and finish his mission
as otherwise his woman and stepchild will suffer for it.
Calumny Spinks is a wonderful creation: he is
young, he is brave, he stays true to those he loves—and has a heart big enough
to add to that little group as he tumbles through life. There are several
occasions when said tumbles come close to costing Calumny his life, which makes
it difficult to put this book down. Add to Calumny a diverse and well-developed
set of supporting characters, and this is a novel that pulsates with life. And
blood. And death.
In Scatterwood, Mr Alexander has
wrought an intricate tale. With an effortless prose, crisp dialogue and
beautiful descriptive writing, he has created a window into the turbulent world
of 17th century Jamaica, complete with everything from the stench of rotting
carcasses to the sheer joie-de-vivre that once defined Port Royal.
Bravo, Mr Alexander. Bravo!