Category Archives: Historical Fiction

The House with the Golden Door by Elodie Harper

Head of Zeus | 2022 (12 May) | 400p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

The Roman city of Pompeii is enjoying its heydey and life is looking good for Amara, who once worked as a prostitute in the city’s most infamous and famous brother, the Wolf Den. She has been rescued by a wealthy man and he is now the only man she serves as one of Pompeii’s most glamorous courtesans. But she can’t leave her friends there behind. She is haunted by their continued suffering while being all too well that her own good fortune is transient. And so Amara sets out to help them, especially her closest friend Victoria, and that means she must go back into the wolf’s lair.

The Wolf Den was my favourite novel of 2021. It brought the streets and houses of Pompeii to life for me in a way no other book has done. I’ve visited the place often and I’ll never see it with the same eyes again thanks to the power of Elodie Harper’s prose and research. I was so pleased that there is more and so I couldn’t wait for The House with the Golden Door. Even before I started reading, I was stunned by the beauty of the cover. These are seriously gorgeous books!

The novels are set during the few years leading up to the eruption of Vesuvius. The fact that we know what lies in store adds such a sense of foreboding and I can’t help hoping that the author takes us right up to these events. But the novels don’t miss the drama of the eruption. Instead, the focus is on the daily lives of these damaged women, as well as on the men who own them, the men who love them and all of the other people who tread these streets as shop workers, slaves, business men, courtesans, inn keepers. I love it.

I think any novel is bound to suffer by comparison with The Wolf Den which, to my mind, is nigh on perfect. The fact that Amara has been removed from that awful brothel of the first novel, a major character in its own right, detracts a little from the power of the second. I also found the storyline involving Victoria difficult. Nevertheless, The House with the Golden Door is an excellent novel and once more it is filled with the details that make these novels stand out. There are so few good novels about Roman women or society in general. This was indeed a man’s world. And it is wonderful to immerse oneself in their stories, although everything about Amara’s life and her past is so hard. But there are moments of joy and happiness and I feel like we’re there with her for it all.

Once more, I should point out that these novels are not salacious or erotic. These might be courtesans and prostitutes but they’re also enslaved women living in a city full of life and colour as well as violence and threat. I can’t wait for the third book. I need to know what happens to Amara next. I’m hoping that in the meantime I can return to this incredible place in person myself.

Other review
The Wolf Den

The Capsarius by Simon Turney

Head of Zeus | 2022 (14 April) | 432p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

It 25 BC and Egypt is not what it once was. Pharaoh-less, it is ruled by Romans, hungry for its wealth and resources. The Queen of the Kush, far to the South, also has her eye on it and that means trouble. The 22nd legion is sent up the Nile to deal with the Queen’s army and raiders and among it is Titus Cervianus, an army medic and scientist who has the distinction of being both extremely talented at mending people while being incredibly unpopular and picked upon. It doesn’t help that he finds himself friends with one of the legion’s troublemakers, Ulyxes. As they travel deeper into Egypt, there is danger everywhere, from within the legion, from terrifying enemy fighters, and from the Nile itself, which thrashes with crocodiles.

I love a Roman military adventure and have read many of them over the years. The Capsarius is such a fine example for lots of reasons, not least its author, Simon Turney. What he doesn’t know about the Roman world and its military engine isn’t worth knowing. The amount of research he does for each of his books (fiction and non-fiction) is extraordinary and all of that means that you can enjoy his novels while also feeling that you’re learning something.

The setting of The Capsarius is fantastic and it is effectively a military tour up the Nile at a time with the wonders of ancient Egypt are fading but are still marvelled at and have a power to awe. Temples are described in beautiful detail that captures the enigma of Egyptian religion and architecture. I’ve visited many of these places myself on a leisurely cruise up the Nile and the novel brought back memories of the colour and heat of middle and southern Egypt.

But this is a dangerous place for Cervianus, not least because his fellow soldiers keep wanting to kill him while the officers in charge make reckless decisions about their mission. Cervianus seems to reel from one disaster to the next, while all of the time the legion is plagued by attack, the hostile environment, the heat, and then there are the crocodiles. I’m rather glad there were none of those on my cruise. Unfortunately, the crocodiles seem to like nothing better than the taste of a sweaty Roman soldier.

Cervianus’ medical knowledge is called upon with alarming regularity and the detail of his progressive methods is both fascinating and, I have to say, gory. But there is something really appealing about Cervianus. He is an entertaining and true companion, loyal, very unlucky and clever. Despite being widely unliked, he does find friends in strange places, including among the native Egyptian auxiliaries, who are fascinating in their own right.

I thoroughly enjoyed this tale of an unusual man and his exploits on the trail of the Kush queen’s army. The descriptions of the Nile and the legacy of its pharaonic past are wonderful as the army moves further and further away from Alexandria ad the familiar. Simon Turney knows his stuff and the fascinating detail and insight makes this novel stand out. If you love Romans and the ancient world, you’ll love this.

Other reviews (also writes as S.J.A. Turney)
Caligula
Commodus
Marius’ Mules I: The Invasion of Gaul
Marius’ Mules II: The Belgae
Writing historical locations – a guest post
With Gordon Doherty – Sons of Rome

A Sunlit Weapon by Jacqueline Winspear

Allison & Busby | 2022 (22 March) | 375p | Review copy | Buy the book

It is 1942 and the Americans have joined the war. With many men away from home, American GIs are helping out in English fields, keeping things going, making friends, falling in love. Women are working alongside them, including female pilots who collect and deliver planes across the country. One of them has a shock when she realises that there is someone on the ground firing at her plane from a barn. When she goes to investigate, she finds a terrified tied-up black American GI who says he had not been kept alone. His friend, a white man, had been taken away, probably to be shot. The army immediately judge him a guilty man. It is up to private detective Maisie Dobbs to discover the truth and clear the soldier’s name before he is transported back to the US. Maisie, married to an American, is better aware than most of the differences between the two nations and of the paramount importance that nothing destroys the relationship between them. Not everyone, it seems, agrees with that.

I am a huge fan of the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. A Sunlit Weapon is the seventeenth in the series. I haven’t read them all yet (I discovered them relatively recently, about 3 years ago) but I have enjoyed reading them whenever I can and I think I’ve now read about ten of them. So, while I don’t think you need to have read them all to enjoy A Sunlit Weapon, I would recommend that you read one or two, just so that you have a bit of an understanding of Maisie’s unusual background and her relationships, particularly with her assistant, with her husband and with her adopted daughter. Maisie’s been through some adventures over the last twenty years. She’s known tragedy and she’s also experienced the worst of mankind. But there is also love.

I am so fond of Maisie. She is practical, busy, helpful and loving. There is also an obstinacy to her. She will fight for what is right and she will persevere. She spends half of her time in London and the other half in the country, with her daughter Anna. But there are signs that this cannot continue indefinitely. Anna needs her. She is different from her schoolfriends and teachers. This is not a good time to be different. This is made more than apparent when Maisie takes on the case of the African-American GI.

I enjoy the spy element of these novels. Maisie has, in the past, gone undercover to complete some lethal missions. Those days are gone but she is still involved with individuals from the government, while her husband Mark is an important, somewhat shadowy figure at the American Embassy in London. His role now is to prepare the ground for the First Lady who is determined to visit England and encourage the GIs in person. There is a potential for disaster.

This isn’t fast crime fiction. In a way, it’s more of a saga, a leisurely investigation over multiple novels into the impact of the First World War, the rise of fascism and the Second World War on Maisie Dobbs and those she loves. It’s historical fiction more than crime and there are some fascinating glimpses into life in the early 1940s. The female pilots are especially admirable and charismatic. You can see why Maisie would be drawn to them. Discrimination is a clear theme of the series, whether it’s against women, foreigners or those of a different colour. This novel also provides an appealing portrait of the transformation of London by war but also by the influx of foreigners and new attitudes.

I was engrossed by A Sunlit Weapon and soon fell back into the cosy yet thoughtful world in which the author immerses the reader. I will always read these novels and, once more, look forward to Maisie’s return.

Other reviews
The American Agent
The Consequences of Fear

The Man in the Bunker by Rory Clements

Zaffre | 2022 (20 January) | 476p | Review copy | Buy the book

The war is over and it is time for the guilty to pay for their atrocities. While the Nazis are rounded up, ready for trial and punishment, their leader is believed dead. He committed suicide in his bunker under Berlin’s bombed streets, his body burned. But did Hitler really die in the bunker. The American and British secret service suspect he escaped, their suspicions supported by a trail of strange and violent deaths in Germany. It is time once more for Tom Wilde, an American Professor of History at Cambridge University and reluctant spy, to head to Germany and follow the clues and trace the witnesses to the truth. But Wilde is not alone. He is paired with Dutch soldier Mozes Heck, who has his own agenda and it could get both of them killed.

The Tom Wilde series is one of the very best being written today and I have been a huge fan of it from its beginning. Rory Clements is an excellent writer who has written both Tudor and World War Two thrillers. Interestingly, Wilde is an expert in Elizabethan history. There is a wider perspective to these novels, a strong sense that intrigue and deception are timeless and that the past can repeat itself. I like that. The Man in the Bunker is the sixth novel in a series that has taken us from the troubled, ominous years just before the war, through the war and now to its immediate aftermath when the concentration camps are being liberated and the true horror of the war is revealed. Berlin at this time is such a fascinating setting for a thriller that is enthralling from start to finish.

I think that The Man in the Bunker stands well alone as it very much focuses on the matter at hand, removing Wilde from his life and family in Cambridge. It is apart from the earlier novels. But I really recommend reading them all. Wilde is a fantastic character, an intellectual and a man of action. He has his hands full here, though, thanks to Heck, who holds his own against Wilde and adds a real edge of danger and menace to the story, while being a constant reminder of the personal motivation of many to bring the Nazis to justice. The two men uncover multiple stories of suffering and endurance. This is a powerful, disturbing novel.

Wilde and Heck interview several of the people who knew Hitler most, adding to the mystery element of the novel while also providing a chilling picture of Hitler and those closest to him during the last days of the Reich.

The Man in the Bunker is thoroughly exciting, ingenious and page-turning. Now that the war is over I wonder what the future holds for Tom Wilde but I really hope we haven’t seen the last of him and his wife, Lydia. This has been a great series from the beginning but I think that this, the sixth, is my favourite.

Other reviews
Holy Spy
Corpus
Nucleus

Nemesis
Hitler’s Secret
A Prince and a Spy

The Queen’s Lady by Joanna Hickson

HarperCollins | 2022 (20 January) | 464p | Review copy | Buy the book

It is 1502 and Henry VII and his queen Elizabeth desperately mourn the loss of their son and firstborn heir, Prince Arthur, so newly married to Katherine of Aragon. It is Lady Joan Guildford’s task to console the Queen, while comforting the remaining precocious royal children, to whom she is Mother Guildford. Her son Hal is Prince Henry’s closest friend and Joan’s life is interconnected with the royal family in so many ways but all that will change when the damaged, insecure King suspects so many of his courtiers of corruption, including Joan’s husband. Joan finds comfort in her home and household, in teaching English to Princess Katherine. She discovers that she can love again and with the accession of Henry, a Renaissance prince, to the throne, everything will change once more for this remarkable and well-loved woman.

The Queen’s Lady follows on from Joanna Hickson’s The Lady of the Ravens, which presents a marvellous introduction to Joan, a young woman who forged such a deep relationship with Elizabeth of York during the later years of the Wars of the Roses and spent her free time looking after the ravens at the Tower of London. The two novels form a complete whole and I would heartily recommend you read them both but The Queen’s Lady also stands well on its own, especially as it enters into a new era – the decline of Henry VII and the emergence of Henry VIII. It’s worth mentioning that the novel doesn’t venture into the well-trodden divorce/remarriage years of Henry VIII’s reign and that is something to be thankful for!

I love Joanna Hickson’s novels. She writes beautifully and the studies are full of emotion and feeling as she places the lives of women at the centre of history. Here we have not only Joan but also Elizabeth of York, Margaret Beaufort (Henry VII’s incredible mother), Joan’s maid, Katherine of Aragon, the Princesses Margaret and Mary as well as many other mothers, wives and daughters. They might not fight on the battlefield (although Katherine has a yearning to do this) or have official roles in government but they provide such a fascinating perspective on key events, such as the disintegration of Henry VII or the Field of the Cloth of Gold. And childbirth is shown to be every bit as dangerous as anything a man may face in war.

The Queen’s Lady is without doubt one of my favourite novels by Joanna Hickson. I love the historical setting with Henry VII’s increasingly strange and paranoid behaviour, removing him so far from his stature as triumphant warrior on Bosworth Field. The impact of this on Joan’s husband, Sir Richard, is really tragic and moving, and pathetic in the true sense of the word. Joan is cut adrift and we watch how she deals with it. There is romance but it isn’t sentimental. Joan is not a sentimental woman. She’s practical, busy and warm, a natural teacher and protector. I really like her. She’s a true historical figure and the author breathes life into her.

The scenes set at court are wonderful, with all of the feasting, jousts and games, the complicated system of living quarters, the etiquette surrounding the royal family. I also enjoyed the sections in which Joan accompanies the princesses to their royal husbands – of Scotland and of France. There is so much going on and I was thoroughly engrossed from start to finish, in the quiet moments and in the times of drama.

The Queen’s Lady completes Joan’s story and what a story it is! I cannot wait for the next novel from this fabulous author.

Other reviews
The Agincourt Bride
The Tudor Bride
Red Rose, White Rose
An interview
First of the Tudors
Guest post – What’s In a Name?
The Tudor Crown
The Lady of the Ravens

The Honour of Rome by Simon Scarrow

Headline | 2021 (11 November) | 431p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Honour of Rome by Simon ScarrowIt is AD 58 and retired Praetorian Centurion Macro has arrived in Londinium, Britannia, with his new wife Petronella. It wasn’t plain sailing getting there, to put it mildly, and, now that she’s seen the place, Petronella isn’t impressed. But the plan is to spend Macro’s retirement running the inn and brothel that he co-owns with his formidable mother Portia while also managing a farm in the veteran’s colony of Camulodunum.

If only matters ever went to plan for Macro. It isn’t long before Macro discovers that Londinium is a lawless place, run by gangsters, and he’s managed to get himself noticed by rival gangs after barely a day in this backwater. There will be trouble. And it’s not all plain sailing in Camulodunum either, where the veterans find themselves called up to deal with some hostile tribe members. Petronella’s increasing fears about the safety of Britannia seem well-founded. If only Cato were around to help Macro.

The Honour of Rome is the twentieth (wow!) novel in Simon Scarrow’s ever-popular Eagle series featuring the exploits of best friends and colleagues Centurion Macro and Prefect Cato. The two names go together as well as fish and chips and salt and vinegar (I’m clearly hungry) but this state of affairs has shifted thanks to Macro’s reluctant retirement from the Roman army. The last novel, The Emperor’s Exile, mainly focused on Cato and his troubles in Sardinia, with Macro making an occasional appearance, and this time we’re with Macro, his wife and mother in Britannia, with Cato turning up later on. I must admit that it’s when the two are together that I’m at my happiest. We’ll have to see how that works out in future novels although I think the signs are good.

Nobody attracts trouble like Macro and he’s up to his neck in it almost by the end of page one, as if he wasn’t scarred enough already. You can just imagine Petronella rolling her eyes at him as he gets into one scrape after another. Macro has a formidable foe in this novel in the shape of the gangsters running the local protection rackets. He also joins a force to tackle unrest among the local tribes near Camulodunum. It’s difficult to know which is more deadly.

I’m not a particular fan of novels about gangsters and I discovered with The Honour of Rome that this also extends to Roman gangsters but I really enjoyed the descriptions of Londinium, a city in its earliest days. Barely any time at all has passed since the conquest – which involved Cato and Macro – and there is a real feel of the wild west about the place. It’s also mid Winter, which doesn’t help the feeling of desolation. The reader will be well aware that Boudica’s revolt looms at the time in which this novel is set and so there is extra interest in the references to Macro’s old friend, Boudica herself.

The Honour of Rome is full of action, fighting, military skirmishes and camaraderie between old soldiers. It’s difficult not to be carried along by Macro as he immerses himself in this new environment and finds his place. There is, to be warned, violence and cussing. I liked how this masculine world is also offset a little by the inclusion of the very likeable Petronella and the indomitable Portia.

I did find The Honour of Rome very entertaining as always. While not being my favourite of the series, it is always good to spend time with Macro and Cato, and the clues are there that make me want to read the next novel very much indeed.

Other reviews
The Blood Crows
Brothers in Blood
Britannia
Invictus
Day of the Caesars

The Blood of Rome
Traitors of Rome
The Emperor’s Exile
With T.J. Andrews – Invader
Blackout

The Spirit Engineer by AJ West

Duckworth | 2021 | 304p | Bought copy | Buy the book | Listen to the audiobook

Belfast, 1914 and it is two years since the Titanic sank, taking with it to the cold dark depths William Jackson Crawford’s brother-in-law Arthur. William’s wife Elizabeth looks for comfort from medium Kathleen Goligher, who claims that restless spirits can speak through her. But William is a sceptic and a scientist who is determined to prove Kathleen a liar and fraud. But, when he attends an event to expose her, he hears voices that he cannot explain, intensified after further tragic events. Could it be that the rational scientist and teacher is himself haunted? William Jackson Crawford must know and his obsessive investigations attracts celebrity attention. But then William, the famous Spirit Engineer, begins his own experiments and enters the darkness.

I’m a big fan of historical gothic novels and The Spirit Engineer is a novel I couldn’t wait to read. I actually listened to the audiobook, which is wonderfully read by Dickon Farmar. This is a story that really lends itself to that format and gave it an extra creepy atmosphere. Excellent. The novel begins with tragedy and the reader is well aware that soon, this being 1914, there will be many more restless souls, people dying before their time on the battlefields of northern Europe. But, for Belfast, the loss of the Titanic is an immediate source of grief and questions about the nature of life and death. William Jackson Crawford, a real person and Professor of Engineering, can’t reconcile his wife’s need to commune with the dead with his own scientific query for fact. But then he hadn’t suffered his own tragedy quite yet.

This is an extremely atmospheric and pretty disturbing novel. It begins in normality, with William suspecting his wife of having an affair, thanks to some strange letters from their former maid who left in mysterious circumstances. But the more William becomes obsessed, the darker the book becomes. And it’s then that you start to take notice of the shadows in the room.

There are moments of surreal lightness, such as when William attracts the attention of celebrities of the day, such as Arthur Conan Doyle and Houdini, but we’re entering the world of the macabre and gothic melodrama as we descend deeper into William’s mind. My one stumbling block in the novel was how absolutely despicable William Jackson Crawford is and being in his mind is not a pleasant place to be as the novel and his madness progress. His cruelty and the distress he causes are upsetting. But The Spirit Engineer is a powerful novel and it presents a compelling portrait of a man’s spiral into darkness.

The Spirit Engineer is a genuinely frightening novel, steeped in atmosphere, with a witty edge. The author’s achievement is even more incredible when you realise that this is a true story. AJ West finds the heart of it. Perfect reading or listening for these winter nights.

The Mitford Vanishing by Jessica Fellowes

Sphere | 2021 (4 November) | 416p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

It is 1937 and Europe is marching towards war, with Civil War already raging in Spain. Idealists on both sides – Communist and Fascist – are drawn to the conflict in Spain, perhaps not realising the horrors they will face there. The Mitford family is as divided as Europe but they come together when they realise that Communist sister Jessica (nicknamed Decca) has eloped to France and believed to be heading for Spain. Their former maid Louisa now runs a private detective agency with her ex-policeman husband Guy and the two of them are surprised when novelist Nancy Mitford hires them to track down Decca and her unsuitable lover. Scandal, war, ruination face the young woman if she cannot be found in time.

The Mitford Vanishing is the fifth novel in Jessica Fellowes’ wonderful series, which follows the lives of this extraordinary,  glamorous and controversial family. Each one tends to look at a different sister and so you can pick them up easily but I’d really recommend reading the series from the beginning as then you’ll know more about Louisa and Guy. Louisa is the star of these novels however shiny the sisters are. One thing’s for sure, they all attract trouble and they have kept Louisa’s investigative skills busy since the day she first met them.

This time we’re on the trail of Decca but, as she remains elusive for much of the novel, the focus is on the people that Louisa and Guy meet on their travels across France. The war in Spain looms over events and the details about that are fascinating. Louisa, though, has other matters on her mind and spends much of the novel investigating another case in London of a missing woman while Guy chases clues on the continent.

The novel mixes fact and fiction very well and the scenes in France are particularly compelling. I wasn’t convinced as much by the London missing person case or its conclusion but Decca’s mysterious disappearance is thoroughly entertaining and a great device through which to look at the rise of fascism and the Spanish Civil War.

Louisa is a fabulous main character and I’ve enjoyed following her over the years. Her husband Guy plays a much bigger role than usual and he is improved for it. The two now feel like an equal partnership and they work so well together.

I listened to the audiobook, which was well-read but I think the treebook would be better due to the many brief chapters.

We are running out of Mitford sisters now but arguably the strangest of them all remains – Unity. I really, really hope Jessica Fellowes tackles her next!

Other reviews
The Mitford Murders catch up (The Mitford Murders and Bright Young Dead)
The Mitford Scandal
The Mitford Trial

Vengeance by Anthony Riches

Hodder & Stoughton | 2021 (11 November) | 321p | Bought copy | Buy the book

It is December AD 192 and Marcus Aquila, known and loved by many in his disguise as Marcus Corvus, has returned to Rome, his identity once more hidden. He has a mission and it is a deadly one. The mentor of Marcus’s commander Scaurus has plans. His name is Pertinax. He is a respected and honoured member of the Senate and he and many like him have had more than enough of the megalomaniac gladiator emperor Commodus. The news that Commodus intends to murder Pertinax and many of his colleagues on New Year’s Day is the final desperate straw. But to kill Commodus, a man of Herculean strength, protected by his Praetorians, will take a soldier like no other. But Marcus Aquila is no ordinary man. His swordfighting skills in the arena and on the battlefield are legendary and his hatred and hunger for vengeance against Commodus are unequalled. The soldiers and politicians of Rome wait and watch in the wings. Each has an agenda and each will be merciless.

Where to start with my love of this series, Empire, by Anthony Riches…. This is the twelfth in the series and it continues the run of enthralling, hugely entertaining and involving action thrillers set during the reign of one of Rome’s most bonkers emperors (which is saying something). You don’t need to have read them all to enjoy Vengeance but, if you have, you’ll have more of an idea of why Marcus and Scaurus are prepared to embark on what is surely a suicide mission. The world of the early books in the series was kinder to Marcus in some ways – he had a family to support him in his exile. Now his world is smaller, focused and he is supported by his old comrades, Britons, Tungrians, Syrians, Greeks – many of whom are built like an ox. They all adore Marcus. Now they’re going to step into the lion’s den to keep him safe.

Vengeance is a thriller from start to finish. It is so exciting! It’s full of underhand trickery, plotting, rather dim and bitter Praetorians, gladiatorial combat, lascivious feasting, senate pomposity, palace politics, and it is all brilliantly done. Anthony Riches knows his stuff and I love how this book is set in Rome, some of it even in the palace, above and below stairs. It’s full of fascinating details – such as how people can access certain areas of the palace and how Commodus was fed his daily feast of gladiators to fight. We see what life was like as a servant in the palace, as a mistress, as a soldier. And, what I find completely fascinating, how a conspiracy comes into shape and how ideals and greed just don’t get along. Rome as a society and power seems both knowable and totally alien. I love it.

And then there’s Commodus. We may know him from Gladiator but there’s much more to him here. Not long before the Pandemic hit, I went to Rome and I saw the astonishing statue of the emperor as Hercules. What a beautiful statue. Here we see the madness behind it unveiled. I love how Anthony Riches does that. He takes the known facts, buildings and dates and builds such an enthralling story around them.

Vengeance is, with no doubt at all, one of my favourites of this fabulous series. It’s such a good self-contained story in its own right that I think anyone would enjoy it. You’d then, no doubt, fill your shelves with the other eleven books in the series, so you can see what life was like in those long ago days when the young Marcus found himself on the front line in Britannia serving alongside a bunch of terrifying warriors that we have now come to love so much. More, please!

Other reviews
Empire I: Wounds of Honour
Empire II: Arrows of Fury
Empire III: Fortress of Spears
Empire IV: The Leopard Sword
Empire V: The Wolf’s Gold
Empire VI: The Eagle’s Vengeance
Empire VII: The Emperor’s Knives
Empire VIII: Thunder of the Gods
Empire X: The Scorpion’s Strike
Empire IX: Altar of Blood
Empire X: The Scorpion’s Strike
Empire XI: River of Gold
Betrayal: The Centurions I
Onslaught: The Centurions II
Retribution – The Centurions III

An interview for The Eagle’s Vengeance
An interview for The Emperor’s Knives

Commander by Paul Fraser Collard

I must start this review with a bit of an apology. I’ve fallen behind with reviews because I’m currently unwell, with orders to rest, walk a lot and eat a lot, so the upshot is that I’m now daunted by the reviewing task ahead of me! Not helped, of course, by the fact that I’m reading like a reading ninja. So I hope you’ll forgive me if I do a series of short reviews. There are some books I really want you to read and I don’t want to hold you up!

Commander by Paul Fraser Collard

Headline | 2021 (28 October) | 386p | Review copy | Buy the book

Commander by Paul Fraser CollardEgypt, 1869. Jack Lark is working as an official agent for the Consul-General but he is bored. The chance for adventure and purpose comes when he meets the famous explorer Sir Samuel White Baker, who has been engaged by the Pasha of Egypt to lead an expedition into the Sudan to eradicate the slave trade and open the area to commerce. It will be an arduous journey. The danger posed by smugglers and slavers will be more than equalled by the horrendous conditions of travelling up the crocodile-infested Nile into deepest Africa with the water levels dropping by the day. Jack Lark cannot wait.

Commander is the tenth novel by Paul Fraser Collard to feature Jack Lark, an enigmatic man of inscrutable feelings, with a taste for disguise, a need to protect his heart, and a great skill with the rifle and sword. He is a born leader, despite the London slums of his birth. But Jack is getting on in years. There are more aches and pains than there used to be. He should take it easy. But he really doesn’t want to do that. Although the tenth, there’s no actual need to go back to the beginning if you haven’t met Jack before, other than that you would be in for a treat.

This is a novel full of adventure and excitement, whether that’s because of the scenes of hand to hand combat, or from the drama of Lark, his men and the crew trying to inch the expedition vessels through the clogged up, narrow Nile, watched by reptile eyes. There is also violence and there were scenes I had to skim over. I am rather squeamish. As usual, there is also female interest but these women have no need of Jack Lark. They have their own role to play in the story.

Jack Lark is one of my favourite fictional heroes and it’s good to see him back. I loved the Nile setting and for me that’s the stand out feature of this excellent addition to the series.

Other reviews
The Scarlet Thief
The Maharajah’s General
The Devil’s Assassin
The Lone Warrior
The Last Legionnaire

The True Soldier
The Rebel Killer
Fugitive
Guest post: ‘I am a writer with a plan’
Guest post – ‘Commute writing’