Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Hannibal: Clouds of War, Ben Kane

Publishers: Preface

Pages: 448

Main Characters:

Hanno, Quintus, Aurelia

Based on Sicily, Hannibal: Clouds of War is the third book in Ben Kane's Hannibal series. After the catastrophic defeat at Cannae, the war in Italy lulls as Rome and Hannibal assess the damage to their armies and plot their next move.

The theater of war shifts to Sicily, where our three heroes become entangled on the island in the Roman effort to capture Syracuse from Hannibal's allies Hippocrates and his brother Epicydes.

Quintus is part of the disgraced Roman army exiled to Sicily and camped around the ancient city of Syracuse. After settling in to the life of a Hastati, Quintus's pride and arrogance get him into trouble with a new Centurion called Pera. Beating him in a horse race, Quintus has watch his back as he has another enemy in his own ranks. However, unlike Marcerio, the new Centurion has substantial power over Quintus's future.

Gaining glory in the war against Rome and proving he is the most mature of his two brothers, Hanno is handpicked by Hannibal for a secret and deadly mission. Hannibal wants Hanno to travel to Syracuse and advise the two sibling dictators ruling there to ensure that the city does not fall into Roman hands. However, spying does not come easily to Hanno and he must balance the two different personalities of the brothers to ensure that chaos does not arise in the Syracusian defence.

Aurelia is the matriarch of her own household and busies herself with the care of her young son Publius. Although her marriage to Melito is loveless, it nevertheless has been successful.

However, when news reaches her that Melito has been injured in the city of Rhegium, Aurelia rushes to be at her husband's side. She must make the journey through perilous waters and risk the wrath of the Carthaginian navy and the Sicilian slavers if her vessel is caught.

I have to admit that this book has been my least favourite in the series so far. I get a feeling that this was a sort of 'filler' novel in the series between the more famous battles Hannibal faces in Italy. This is because it was based around the siege of Syracuse, in which for a long time nothing really happens. Kane tries to make up for this by adding the intrigue of Quintus's enemy Pera and by trying to make Hanno an undercover spy; even though he doesn't seem to do much spying!

One of the defenses of Syracuse

I understand that this lull was true in history as the war moved to Sicily, with Hannibal hoping to ensure an easy route through the Mediterranean for his troops and supplies. However, I felt like this book was  purely written to set up something huge to come in the next couple of novels, such as the war in Hispania and Hannibal's eventual defeat (sorry for spoilers).

Nevertheless, as the saying goes 'the devil's in the detail' and as always Kane packs this novel with historical depth and description. I especially like this in his explanation of the Syracusian defences and of Archimedes’s machines of war. The deadly crossbows, catapults and sea hooks give a sense of the formidable task the Legionaries faced when scaling Syracuse's walls, whilst also being historically accurate which I especially liked!

Example of Archimedes Sea Hook/Claw

As I said above, this was my least favourite book in the series so far. However, that isn't to say it's a bad novel. The detail was amazing and the sub plots of Quintus and Centurion Pera did add a lot to this novel. Plus the story of the massacre of Enna was very entertaining. Nevertheless, it still felt that this book was a filler novel for later books in the series. If Kane had released it as a standalone story with different characters I think I would have enjoy it more. But in this series it didn't stand up to the first two novels (because they were so good!).

For author’s official website please click here.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Hannibal: Fields of Blood, Ben Kane

Publishers: Preface

Pages: 405

Main Characters:

Hanno, Quintus, Aurelia

I bought this book on the day of its release and was extremely eager to get stuck into it because the first book in the series, Hannibal: Enemy of Rome was so good!

However, two years later I still hadn’t started and became determined to get re-emerged in this series. Now that I work a pretty boring job, I found the time to be able to finally get through the novel and that was by downloading the audiobook. I’m extremely glad I did because I was gripped by this book from the very start and ended up finishing the 16 hour long audiobook in two days!
As I said above, this book is the second in Ben Kane’s Hannibal series and is set a few months after the end of the previous novel. The plot follows three main characters: Hanno a Carthaginian, Quintus a Roman Cavalryman and Aurelia, Quintus’s sister. Quintus is part of the defeated and quite frankly embarrassed Roman Army dogging the footstep of the infamous enemy of Rome- Hannibal.
After being overpowered at the River Trebia, the Roman Cavalry is licking its wounds and its hurt pride. After a stupid hunting incident, Quintus is ordered to return home by his father in shame. Being the patriotic Roman, Quintus decides to defy his father’s orders and enlist in the Roman infantry as a Velites, the lowest form of soldier in the army. Having been in the infantry a few hours, Quintus learns that it is not as easy or as civilised as the life of a cavalryman. Adjusting quickly to his new role and to new enemies, Quintus must prepare for the greatest battle in Roman history, the Battle of Cannae.

Painting of the carnage at Cannae
Hanno is an infantry officer in the Carthaginian army and is currently out of favour with his general Hannibal. After releasing his old friend Quintus at the River Trebia, Hanno is desperate to show his worth to his general. On a scouting expedition Hanno is captured and tortured by the Romans, igniting a flame of hatred for Carthage’s oldest enemy that can only be quenched by Roman blood. However, there is one Roman he would love to meet again and that is Quintus’s sister Aurelia. As the Carthaginian army passes Capua, a chance encounter with Aurelia causes Hanno to look at his life differently.
Missing her brother and father (and Hanno) terribly, Aurelia is in despair as news from the battle at Trebia is slow to reach her farm in the Italian countryside. Because of the lack of news, her father’s debtors come knocking and Aurelia is force to marry a rich Roman noble to pay the debts. After her meeting with Hanno she falls even deeper into depression, dreaming of a life that might have been if the war never happened.

Ben's video of the Cannae Battlefield
This book was great, even listening to the audiobook I was absolutely staggered at the amount of detail Kane puts into the book. His description of the hierarchy in the Roman army and the battlefield of Cannae make the events of the battle so real, making you feel the horror of the soldiers who were trapped so perfectly in Hannibal’s web. In addition, I loved the change of fate Quintus has in the book. If any of you have read my other reviews, you’ll know I love a zero-to-hero protagonist. Putting Quintus in the Velites fills that role perfectly for me as I didn’t find him that interesting of a character until then.
This was a great historical novel and I loved every minute of listening to Michael Praed read the story! I’d suggest this book to anyone who likes other authors such as Simon Scarrow and Anthony Riches. I just downloaded the audiobook for Hannibal: Clouds of War and can’t wait to listen to it!

For author’s official website click here.

Friday, 25 September 2015

The Liar's Key, Mark Lawrence

Publishers: Harper Voyager

Pages: 682

Main Characters:

Jal, Snorri, Tuttugu, Kara


The Liar’s Key is the second book in the Red Queen’s War series by epic fantasy author Mark Lawrence. The novel follows on from the tale in Prince of Fools as Jalan and his companion Snorri emerge from the Bitter Ice with Loki’s key, a key that can open any lock.
 With the murder of his family, Snorri plans to take the key and head south in the hopes of finding the door to Hell. With the magical key, Snorri plans to open Hell’s door and be reunited with his murdered loved ones. Jalan too is eager to head south but with very different goals to Snorri. Jal intends to take the key to his Grandmother the Queen of Red March and her Silent Sister. As usual, Jal is thinking of himself and hopes the gift of the key will raise him in his Grandmother’s esteem, possibly even to the position of becoming her heir. Plus with the cold, dour weather of the far north, Jal is keen to return to the luxuries of his palace and the many comforts of the women in his Grandmother’s Kingdom.
With the help of an apprentice Volva (witch) called Kara and one of Snorri’s old friends Tuttugu, the companions sail south to reach the great continent. However their passage is not easy. Their old enemy Edris Dean peruses them for the Dead King and tries to retrieve Loki’s key. The Dead King also craves the key to open Hell’s door and unleash his undead army into the Broken Empire to seize control and reign supreme. The friends must outthink Dean and stop themselves becoming too engrossed in the battle between the Light and the Dark to take the key and open Hell’s door.
The Liar’s Key was a very enjoyable read from one of my favourite authors. I especially liked that Lawrence is expanding the Broken Empire and taking us to places we have not yet visited with whole new characters. Places such as the banking capital of Florence with its mechanical soldiers and the eerie no-mans-land of the Wheel of Osheim expand his mythical and incredibly clever universe.
The Broken Empire... looks familiar don't you think?
In addition, I like how Jalan’s character is developing. Much like Jorg from Lawrence’s Broken Empire series, Jalan has some very deep and disturbing character flaws. However, where Jorg’s flaws became deeper and darker, Jalan’s seem to become much more humane. He starts to gain a conscience and think about other people’s feelings, even though it pains him to do so. I like that this distinguishes Jalan from Jorg because I was starting to feel that their stories were becoming a little similar. Both of their Mothers were killed when they were young and both of them seem to have issues with their siblings. Plus, both princes crave power but go about getting it in different ways.
Perhaps this is how Lawrence intends it to be and that these links will mean something very significant in future novels or series? However, at the start of The Liar’s Key it felt like the same protagonist with the same past, but with a different story and this disappointed me at first. Nevertheless, as the novel went on, Jalan's story and past became unique making me enjoy reading about him and want to know more about his family's past.
If you like Lawrence’s other novels definitely pick up The Liar’s Key because after a few chapters you won’t be able to put it down and the ending paragraph is hilarious! Though if you have not read any of his other books, I would suggest you start with the Prince of Thorns to get into the world of the Broken Empire. In addition, if you’re a fan of George R. R. Martin or of novels such as The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, you will love this book and Mark Lawrence.
For author's official website please click here.
Or for Mark's blog here.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Brothers in Blood, Simon Scarrow

Publishers: Headline

Pages: 384

Main Characters:

Marco, Cato


Brothers in Blood picks up the tale of our two heroes straight after the events of The Blood Crows. Marco and Cato have re-joined General Ostorious’s army and are hot on the heels of the infamous Briton leader Caratacus.  With defeat of Caratacus’s army looking imminent, Marco and Cato are sent North on a diplomatic mission to try and ensure the island’s most powerful tribe- the Brigantes, remain loyal to Rome.

If this is not dangerous enough, an old acquaintance from Rome comes to Britannia to warn the duo of an assassin sent to kill them! As a rift between the Emperor’s two most powerful advisors widens, Marco and Cato must eliminate this agent before they disrupt the fragile peace between Rome and its Briton allies.

This was another great read from Scarrow. I didn’t like it as much as The Blood Crows but the plot was extremely thrilling and as usual, Scarrow portrays the sieges and battles in the book in all their grimy and bloody details. Another solid edition to the Eagles series and I can’t wait to see where the next novel takes our two heroes!

Of course I would suggest this book to anyone who has read any of the other Eagles novels. I’d also suggest it to fans of Ben Kane, Anthony Riches, Gordon Doherty and Nick Brown.

For author’s official website click here.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Master of Sanctity, Gav Thorpe

Publishers: Black Library

Pages: 411

Main Characters:

Annael, Telemenus, Master Sapphon

Asmodai, Astelan

Master of Sanctity is the second novel in Gav Thorpe’s epic The Legacy of Caliban trilogy. The book picks up after the first novel Ravenwing and follows the fate of three different Space Marines in the secretive Dark Angels chapter.
The first tale is that of Sapphon the newly chosen Master of Sanctity. Sapphon’s primary duty is to find and reform ‘The Fallen’, a group of ancient Space Marines that turned on their patriarch and their Emperor centuries before. Sapphon’s approach is unorthodox for a Dark Angels Chaplain as he uses his cunning to find and eliminate the traitor Space Marines. This is shown in his attempt to manipulate the 'Fallen' Astelan in the hopes of capturing even more powerful and corrupt soldiers. However, his task is made harder by his brother-in-arms Interrogator-Chaplain Asmodai whom contradicts Sapphon’s methods instead believing in older, more violent methods of manipulation.
Telemenus has being promoted high within the Dark Angels to the Death Squad, a group of elite Terminators who are the tip of the spear of the Dark Angels when hunting for Fallen. Telemenus has to adapt to his new armour and brothers as a member of the First Company of Dark Angels. As well as this, he has to overcome his own doubt in his abilities and his chapter to become the elite warrior everyone expects him to be. The new Terminator must do this quickly to assist the Master of Sanctity in his hunt for the fallen Space Marines!
I love the artwork from these books!

Finally, Annael was the prominent character in Ravenwing and at the start of this novel is also promoted to Black Knight in the infamous motor cycle detachment of the Dark Angels. Having been promoted, Annael is introduced to horrific secrets from the Dark Angels’ past and has to evolve into his new role as one of Master Sammael’s chosen warriors.
Much like Thorpe’s other Dark Angels novels, this book blew my mind! From the first page I was hooked on the hunt for the Fallen and absolutely loved the character of Sapphon. His cunning and ingenuity really distinguishes him from other characters in the book making him unique in comparison to other Space Marines who shoot first and ask questions later. For me, this made his story the most enjoyable to read because he has to use trickery, lies and deceit to win over his more traditional Brothers.
 As the reviewer from SFX states; Thorpe makes his characters ‘actually sound like real people’. I’d absolutely agree with this because he gives the Space Marines real problems like doubt and self-consciousness, which you wouldn’t expect a genetically modified super-soldier to have.
I thought Thorpe did an excellent job of describing the worlds on which the Space Marines visit, especially the world of Ulthor. However, I do kind of question why the story of Ulthor was in the book as it seemed to move away from the plot and in some respects seemed a little pointless. I thought what happens there was exciting and well written but if it hadn’t been in the book, I don’t think the story would be any worse off.
All in all this was a great read. Some people give a little giggle when you tell them you’re reading a Warhammer 40K novel. Nevertheless, I can honestly say they are some of my favourite Sci-fi reads and people who love Sci-fi should definitely check out The Legacy of Caliban trilogy!
For author's official website click here


Monday, 7 September 2015

Bravo Two Zero, Andy McNab

Publishers: Corgi

Pages: 416

Main Characters:

Andy McNab

After reading American Sniper I had a keen interest in military memoirs and really wanted to read more books from that genre. Being British, I wanted to see if there was a difference between the psyche of an American soldier and a British one. I knew that there are two really famous British army memoirs, one of which is The Bridge Over the River Kwai. Although I’d love to read this book, I wanted something a little more similar to American Sniper which left me with Bravo Two Zero by Andy McNab. I’m not going to say too much about the book because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but be assured it is an infectious read with a lot of sad and gruesome parts!

As I said above, this book is immensely well known in the UK and was first published in 1991 and has being republished many times since then. The memoir follows SAS (Special Air Service) soldier Andy McNab as he leads his team into an undercover, behind enemy lines operation in the First Gulf War against Iraq in 1990. Their mission is to cut an important communication line between Baghdad and Eastern Iraq where Saddam holds most of his infamous SCUD missiles.
Sean Bean playing McNab in TV show
The mission is clinically planned as every SAS mission is but when unusual weather and a lot of bad luck occur the team are compromised and have to escape Iraq into Syria. Unfortunately, Andy doesn’t make it and is captured by the Iraqis along with two of his friends. What follows is weeks of brutal torture and mistreatment at the hands of the Iraqis before the end of the war. Their job is to break the British soldiers and make them reveal their secrets. But with rigorous training and a strong sense of will, how long can the British soldiers last before their nightmare becomes too much?

This was a vastly interesting book telling an awful but very inspirational story. It gives an insight into the very secretive SAS, Britain’s most highly trained and famous part of the army. I especially liked how honest McNab was about his ordeal and how he doesn’t let his torture define him. As he says, this is what he is paid to do and what he trains for. This comforting though helps give him the will to get through the weeks he spent in an Iraqi jail.

I did enjoy Bravo Two Zero more than American Sniper. I know most of you will say it’s biased because I’m British (and I guess I kind of am!) but the nature of the SAS means that even people who have left the force must remain anonymous which means McNab does not reveal too much about his personal life. Whereas in American Sniper I believe the publisher tried to make Chris Kyle a hero by not just revealing his deeds in Iraq, but by telling more of his personal story and making him the guy everyone would love to buy a beer and pat on the back.  

Another great military memoir, the next one I read will definitely be Marcus Luttrell’s Lone Survivor!
For author's official website please click here.



Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Moxie's Problem, Hank Quense

Publishers: Strange World Publishing

Pages: 306

Main Characters:

Moxie, Perc, Artie, Lancelot, Merlin

Hank Quense is back with another hysterical Strange Worlds novel! In this latest addition, Hank uses his wit and humour to tell the story of some of England’s most famous folk tales. Stories such as the Knights of the Round Table and Robin Hood feature heavily in this very tongue-in-cheek parody.

The book follows three main stories which all become intertwined. The lead story is that of Moxie, a Princess of a minor Kingdom. Sadly unlike most fairy tale princesses, Moxie was not blessed with good looks or charm. Her father is desperate to get her married so she can produce an heir but because of her looks he is unable to find a suitor. Luckily, a petty Count from the north of England agrees to marry Moxie and her Father organises a patrol of Knights from the famous Knights of the Round Table (KRT) to accompany her on her travels.

The second tale is that of Percivale, Gareth and Bors. The trio have just graduated from the Heroes Guild and have landed their dream position of being apprentice Knights of the Round Table. They can’t wait to make their fortune by saving maidens and slaying dragons. However, to start with they must accompany Princess Moxie on her journey to her new husband. The Knights believe this task to be easy but the stubborn and unfriendly nature of Moxie means their work is cut out for them.

Finally, King Artie has managed to carve out a Kingdom for himself on the southern shores of England. After pushing marauding Saxons back into the sea, his small Kingdom of Camelot has become extremely prosperous and his Knights of the Round Table are renowned throughout Britain. However, Artie did not win his Kingdom through epic battles with the Saxons but instead through epic football games against them. Artie knows as spring approaches the Saxons will return for another go at the Brits. With his Knights drinking and sleeping most of the winter, Artie must come up with a new tactic to beat the Saxons once and for all on the football pitch!
King 'Artie'

I really enjoyed this novel. It was an extremely fun and tongue-in-cheek twist on many of England’s famous fairy-tales and folk stories. I loved the fact the armies didn’t fight battles against each other but played games of football instead on the ‘field of honour’. I thought this was a great twist Quense used to redefine these age old stories and fit them into the unusualness of his Strange World series.

Though I did enjoy the book, I did have one issue with it.  I thought that Hank switched between the stories a little too often. One example of this was that he tells the story of Artie and Lancelot in the present tense and then tells a very similar story about them from 435 C.E. (15 years before). I sometimes found it very confusing to distinguish which tale I was reading about!

All in all, I really liked this book and read it in a couple of days! If you like the Discworld novels by Terry Practhett I think you’d really like this novel and the others in Hank’s Strange World series. I think both authors get the same amount of silliness and strangeness in their books which for me makes them a joy to read!
For author's official website click here.

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