The Devil’s Dice by Roz Watkins

HQ | 2018 (8 March) | 351p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Devil's Dice by Roz WatkinsLawyer Peter Hamilton is found dead, poisoned, in a cave in the Derbyshire Peaks. His isn’t the first body to be found inside this cave system. It’s a favourite place for suicides and its history is steeped in legend and superstition. To some, it is cursed and so, too, are those found within its shadows. But Hamilton’s death is not straightforward. Chiselled into the wall of the cave, close to the body, is a portrait of the Grim Reaper along with the dead man’s initials. These were carved over a century ago.

DI Meg Dalton is new to the job. She wants to start afresh, to leave behind a past that has left her with a limp but also phobias and fears. She’s found an ally in her partner DS Jai Sanghera but it isn’t easy to establish herself in this largely male team when she seems to be such a magnet for mishaps and troubles. It doesn’t help that she’s starting to feel paranoid, that perhaps someone is following her. But the main challenge comes from the family of Peter Hamilton and those of his colleagues. Everyone has their secrets, their alibis all too easily proved lies, there must be something behind it all, something other than the curse that everyone keeps talking about.

The Devil’s Dice is Roz Watkins’ debut novel and the first to feature DI Meg Dalton. It is absolutely fantastic. I read two thirds of it in one sitting. I gobbled it up and I now know that these books will go straight to the top of my reading pile in the future. It’s so exciting to discover a new favourite author!

This novel excels for all the right reasons, but firstly for Liz Watkins’ wonderful writing. This is the sort of prose that dances along so naturally. It’s full of little humorous asides, which poke fun at human nature. The dialogue sparkles. And then there’s the setting – the Derbyshire countryside provides such a stunning and dramatic backdrop. I love the portrayal of the Peak District in Stephen Booth’s novels and it works just as well here. The caves are terrifying. I could feel the claustrophobic panic levels rise. It’s a desperate place. The weight of the curse certainly adds to the mood. What a place to end up in.

The plot is brilliant. I was totally wrapped up in it. I didn’t guess how it would develop and I loved every step of the way.

And then there’s DI Meg Dalton. How I love Meg. I even love her cat. Meg is a superb creation, completely believable and extremely likeable. She might have her demons but she’s determined to get on with her life. She continually picks herself up and, if somebody gets at her, she’s more than happy to fight back. It’s not surprising that Jai likes her so much. She carries her burdens of guilt like many women and I really empathise with how she copes. Her relationships with her mother and grandmother are so beautifully and realistically portrayed. So we get some big themes but it is by no means all doom and gloom, on the contrary. Meg and Jai are great together, even when faced with the prospect of heading into the depths of a treacherous cave system.

I can’t praise The Devil’s Dice enough. It’s a marvellous, confident and assured debut and clearly heralds the start of a fantastic new series and a long career. I really enjoy reading debut authors – there’s always the chance that you’ll find a keeper. I certainly have with Roz Watkins.


Caligula by Simon Turney

Orion | 2018 (8 March) | 480p | Review copy | Buy the book

Caligula by Simon TurneyThere are few people in more danger in Tiberius’s Rome than the children of Germanicus. Germanicus, the nephew and adopted son of Tiberius, was Rome’s greatest general of the day, an emperor in waiting. But he is dead and his sons are Tiberius’s heirs while the daughters are pawns in marriage. To be an heir to Tiberius is a dangerous thing, especially with the emperor tucked away on his luxurious island retreat of Capri, having left the business of Rome’s protection to Sejanus, the Prefect of the Praetorian Guard, master of an army. Sejanus hates the children of Germanicus. He wishes them reduced in number. The youngest are sent to Capri to live under the nose of an insane emperor in his villa of games, superstitions and murder. There we meet the youngest child, Livilla, sister of Gaius, a boy known to friends and history alike as Caligula. And it’s Caligula’s story that Livilla tells.

Although the Roman senate stopped short of damning Caligula’s memory after his death, thanks to the influence of his uncle and successor Claudius, history has not been kind to Caligula and the stories of his dissolute life and rule have been hard for authors to resist (I’ll never forget John Hurt’s portrayal of Caligula in the TV adaptation of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius), but was Caligula really as mad as many would have it? And if he was a monster, was he born that way or was he another victim of Rome’s extraordinary imperial family and its ambitious generals and politicians? This is a topic that can’t fail in my eyes and, after a recent spate of novels re-examining or celebrating the monster that was Nero, it’s good news indeed to now find his uncle Caligula in the spotlight.

The figure of Caligula is undoubtedly a gift to an author but it must be done right. And Simon Turney has done a magnificent job of stripping away the infamy and propaganda to reassemble a fresh image of Caligula, as seen through the eyes of an innocent child, his adoring youngest sister Livilla. But that is just the beginning. We meet Caligula as a boy, living at the edge of a lethal court, in daily risk of exile or execution, but with an innate and ingenious talent for survival. The boy we meet at the beginning is not the man we leave at the end and it’s this transformation which is so immensely gripping and fascinating, and original.

It’s easy to focus on Caligula because he is a tour de force throughout this novel, an exceedingly charismatic and gifted individual, who, at least in the early days, is very easy to like. It’s spellbinding watching him grow. But there are other people to watch here, too, including Livilla who herself is altered by events. Her story is every bit as compelling as her brother’s and it made me weep. We grow particularly close to Livilla because she is our eyes and ears. She is often a secret witness, hiding in gardens, behind curtains, around corners. Little escapes Livilla. It’s what she must do with the knowledge she learns that causes her the most pain.

Another character who instantly grabbed is Agrippina, sister to Livilla and Caligula, and perhaps as notorious to history as her brother. This is Nero’s mother in waiting and we all know what happened to her. She is shocking! There’s no rewriting of history here – Agrippina is a nasty piece of work and there can be no excuses. She is, as a result, a page stealer.

Caligula is a beautifully structured and developed novel. I must say that I was surprised that the author picked a female voice for his narrator but he has done a wonderful job in making her feel real and it was an inspired idea to reveal Caligula through her eyes. This is a Caligula I can believe in. It’s a fine psychological portrait of a damaged man, someone who could have been great, who wanted to be great, but instead became a devil. But it also paints a fabulous picture of Rome and Capri. It’s both beautiful and terrifying and Capri in particular is absolutely horrifying, the stuff of nightmares. It’s hardly surprising that Caligula corrupts in such an appalling and hideous manner. It’s a mesmerising, haunting and disturbing transformation and it literally gave me nightmares.

Caligula is an enormous achievement and most definitely one to be proud of. And what a beautiful cover! It’s great news to learn that this is the first in a series and it has a fantastic title – The Damned Emperors! Irresistible! I can’t wait to see who is next for the Turney treatment.

Other reviews and features
Marius’ Mules I: The Invasion of Gaul
Marius’ Mules II: The Belgae
‘Writing historical locations’ – a guest post

The Throne of Caesar by Steven Saylor

Constable | 2018 (2 March) | 392p | Review copy | Buy the book

Julius Caesar, recently awarded the title of Dictator of Rome for life, is shortly to leave Rome to fight the Parthian Empire. Surely this will be a campaign every bit as glorious as the one he led in Gaul. Caesar intends to leave Rome tightly bound to him and so he will hold a grand session in the Senate on the Ides of March. More Senators and officials will be sworn in before they all proceed to vote in favour of a series of laws that Caesar is determined to introduce. But Caesar’s wife Calpurnia and her soothsayer are desperate for him to stay away from the Senate. They have foreseen that Caesar is in terrible danger. But from what?

The grand orator Cicero likewise thinks that something may be afoot. He calls in his old friend Gordianus the Finder to investigate. Gordianus, now in his sixties, has retired from a life of solving murder and crime but this is no time to rest. Caesar tells him that Gordianus is to be made one of the new Senators on the Ides of March. Gordianus has just four days to uncover a conspiracy that threatens to rip the head from the body of Rome.

I have enjoyed Steven Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa Gordianus the Finder series for over 25 years and now with The Throne of Caesar the series draws to a close. When a well-loved series ends, it inevitably causes conflicted feelings. I was so glad to see another book – it’s been a fair old while since The Triumph of Caesar, the last of the series (if you exclude the three recent prequels exploring Gordianus’ adventures and travels as a young man), and The Throne of Caesar was most welcome. Though there is a sadness at saying goodbye. But, if Gordianus has to retire, then he’s picked the right case with which to close an illustrious career – the most infamous murder in Roman history.

Of course, we all know what happened on the Ides of March in 44 BC. But that takes away nothing from this very clever and beautifully-written novel. Steven Saylor presents events day by day from 10 March until the end of the month. He uses his imminent Senatorial promotion as an excuse to meet with some of Rome’s most powerful men, ostensibly to ask them where he should buy the necessary toga, and the result is a thoroughly gripping and insightful portrait of Roman politics and society during these portentous days.

Gordianus the Finder is a great observer of human nature and the personalities he’s confronted with here couldn’t be more charismatic and fascinating. Caesar himself is a dominant presence and I loved the times we spend with him. This is just a snapshot, we’re only given a few days, but the power of his personality, even when at home in Rome or in the garden of a visiting Cleopatra, shines through. As Gordianus moves from house to house, we observe so much about Roman elite society quite apart from its politics, including the arts, philosophy, families and religion. I was completely immersed in every aspect of the novel, including the moments when Caesar and his companions listen gripped to poets reading their latest verse.

I also really enjoyed the moments spent with Gordianus’ own family. He regularly reflects on how he has the most happy and harmonious of homes and this is so good to learn. We want nothing but good in the life of Gordianus and his wonderful wife.

The climax of the novel is, not surprisingly, the Ides of March, and the events of that day and its immediate aftermath are brilliantly depicted. We are spared none of the horror and the desperation, and the overpowering sense felt by all that these are moments that will live through all history. But this is a Gordianus the Finder novel and therefore there are surprises in store. Not everything is as it seems.

Although The Throne of Caesar is the thirteenth and last of the series, it actually stands alone very well indeed. So if you haven’t read the others, this won’t matter, but afterwards you may well want to go back and see what else Gordianus got up to in the world of Caesar, Pompey, Cleopatra and Cicero.

I think it’s quite possible that The Throne of Caesar is the best of all Steven Saylor’s novels and I can’t imagine a better ending for the Rome Sub Rosa series. We’re given hints that other members of the family may be following in Gordianus’ investigative footsteps but whether those are pursued in other novels or not The Throne of Caesar celebrates the end of the glorious career of Gordianus the Finder. The novel also depicts so brilliantly this most significant event in Rome’s history. Rome will never be the same again.

Other review
Wrath of the Furies

‘History and The Hunger’ – guest post by Alma Katsu, author of The Hunger

This week, G.P. Putnam’s Sons publishes the US edition of The Hunger by Alma Katsu. While I’m looking forward to posting a review of the novel for its publication in the UK in early April, I’m delighted to join in the celebrations for the American publication with a guest post by Alma Katsu on the historical background and inspiration for this remarkable and terrifying tale of the Donner Party, based on a true story.

But first a bit of what the novel is about:

Evil is invisible, and it is everywhere.

Tamsen Donner must be a witch. That is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the wagon train known as the Donner Party. Depleted rations, bitter quarrels, and the mysterious death of a little boy have driven the pioneers to the brink of madness. They cannot escape the feeling that someone–or something–is stalking them. Whether it was a curse from the beautiful Tamsen, the choice to follow a disastrous experimental route West, or just plain bad luck–the 90 men, women, and children of the Donner Party are at the brink of one of the deadliest and most disastrous western adventures in American history.

While the ill-fated group struggles to survive in the treacherous mountain conditions–searing heat that turns the sand into bubbling stew; snows that freeze the oxen where they stand–evil begins to grow around them, and within them. As members of the party begin to disappear, they must ask themselves “What if there is something waiting in the mountains? Something disturbing and diseased…and very hungry?”

‘History and The Hunger‘ by Alma Katsu

I love writing historical fiction. Marrying fact and fiction makes for something especially pleasing to read, I think, something that melds the familiar and comforting to the spicy and unknown.

There’s a challenge there, though. It’s difficult to know how familiar your readers are with the historical event in question. You don’t want to bore readers by telling them what they already know, but you don’t want to assume too much and risk frustrating the reader.

When I first started working on THE HUNGER, I wasn’t sure how much was generally known about the Donner Party. These are the basic facts: two families, the Donners and the Reeds, set out from Springfield, Illinois on April 15, 1846, heading to Independence, Missouri, the “jumping off” point for the trip west. They travel with a much larger party until the split in the trail known as the “parting of the ways” where the Donners and Reeds opt to take the new Hastings Cut-off that promises to shave 300 miles off the trip. They have no way of knowing that the cut-off is little more than a notion in the mind of Lansford Hastings, or that Hastings is a bit of a charlatan, trying to lure settlers to California in order to wrestle the territory away from Mexico.

The Donner Party decides to try their luck. They would not have made this choice if they knew there are over a thousand inhospitable miles ahead. They know the mountain passes will close off once the snow starts, and snow comes early at the higher elevations.

Which is how they come to find themselves stranded on the wrong side of the mountain pass when the snow starts falling and refuses to stop. They try to make it up to the pass but are immobilized. Snow is piled over their heads, over the roofs of their makeshift cabins. They have almost no supplies. Only a few head of livestock survived the punishing trip. There will be no escape until the spring thaw but no one knows when that will be.

There were 90 pioneers at Truckee Lake and Alder Creek when the snow started falling; only 50 will survive.

But there’s a bigger historical context that I tried to capture in The Hunger. In many ways, the story of those pioneers is the story of America. The Donner Party’s story is one of immigrants, of people looking for a better life. But it’s also the story of America’s restless expansionist spirit, the country’s willingness to leave homes and kin, uproot themselves, load their possessions into a wagon, and head into the unknown. Americans had been migrating to the west since the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, but travel to California was not yet at the epic levels of the Gold Rush and the West was largely uncharted territory. Today, we can only marvel at their confidence, traveling under these conditions with babies and children, the elderly and the sick. They let nothing stop them: some were in poor health, others traveled without wagon or oxen. Some had nothing more than a mule, a few even expected to make the two thousand-mile journey completely on foot.

Americans made the perilous journey because they believed in Manifest Destiny, the idea that Americans were an exceptional people who were ordained by God to occupy the territory clear to the Pacific Ocean. By settling the West, Americans felt they were fulfilling a long-promised destiny. But it’s not as though this territory was free for the taking. That’s the darker side of America’s expansionist aspirations. Texas’ war for independence emboldened some Americans to think that California, too, could be prized away from Mexico. This was the real reason Lansford Hastings zealously promoted his cut-off: to lure more American settlers to the Mexican-owned territory and, eventually, force America to defend the interests of its citizens. And the darkness doesn’t stop there: trails cut through the middle of Indian Territory. You can’t discuss the Westward Migration without looking at the devastating effect it had on the Native American tribes residing in the Indian Territory. And lastly, it’s also the story of religious freedom. Mormons were starting to look West to build a community after violence had driven them out of Missouri and Illinois.

The Hunger is meant to be a cautionary tale. There are reasons nearly half the wagon party died, lessons we shouldn’t ignore. Some aspects were outside their control—the horrendous weather that winter, for one—but the group let themselves be divided by pettiness and class differences. They let themselves be fooled by businessmen who valued personal profit over human lives. They selected the wrong man to be their leader and refused to listen to the people among them who knew better. They paid for their hubris, yes, but you only need to look around to realize that things haven’t changed that much today, 170 years later.

And this is the true lesson of the Donner Party.

US edition by G.P. Putnam’s Sons (published 6 March)
UK edition by Bantam Press (published 5 April)

Alma Katsu: Before she started writing novels, Alma Katsu was both a music journalist and an analyst for the likes of CIA and RAND. She has pounded the halls of the Pentagon, been in the West Wing of the White House, and interviewed rock stars. Her novels—The Taker, The Reckoning, and The Descent (which, oddly enough, have nothing to do with music or national security)—have been published in more than a dozen languages.

The Liar’s Girl by Catherine Ryan Howard

Corvus | 2018 (1 March) | 336p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Liar's Girl by Catherine Ryan HowardWhen 19-year-old Alison and her best friend Liz won places to study at St John’s College, Dublin’s most elite college, they couldn’t have been more thrilled. This was the start of a whole new adventure, free of parents, curfews and childhood itself. But it was all to go wrong within just one year. Alison fled Dublin, turning her back on Ireland and her studies altogether, settling in the Netherlands where she built a new life for herself and did her best to forget the past. But the past will not let go of Alison.

Ten years later, when a young girl is found murdered in Dublin, pushed into the canal, Irish police journey to the Netherlands to collect Alison. They need her to speak to Will Hurley. He is refusing to speak to anyone but her and he has very little to lose. Will was imprisoned a decade ago, the serial killer murderer of five girls. But now all these years later this new girl has been murdered in exactly the same way. Could Will have had an accomplice? Is this a copycat killer? Or is Will innocent, after all? That possibility could be the hardest of all for Alison to accept because Will was her boyfriend, the man she loved.

The Liar’s Girl is an engrossing novel and a big reason for that is that this is a crime novel driven more by character than by twists. I really liked that. This isn’t to say that the book has no surprises along the way because it does. In fact, there are moments that stopped me in my tracks, not for twists but for shocks. I love Catherine Ryan Howard’s writing – she builds suspense so well and sets scenes brilliantly.

I loved the development of Alison’s character and the growth of her relationships with Liz, Will, her parents and with the two Irish policeman. These are all given time to evolve and they drive this novel on perfectly. I think the character of Will is particularly well drawn.

The narrative works so well at pushing the novel along while building up suspense and pace. We move between the present day and events of ten year before. The chapters are simply named ‘Alison, then’ and ‘Alison, now’, but there are other perspectives presented, nameless ones, and these take us into the shadows.

I am a little tired of thrillers that rely on shocks to end a novel with a bang. It’s almost as if the characters and plot are there simply to serve the twist. Instead, here we have a thoroughly involving mystery thriller with a completely satisfactory conclusion that works. We spend much of the novel inside Alison’s head, we feel her pain, guilt and anxiety. There were moments in The Liar’s Girl that made me sit up with a shock but it’s the characters who make this crime thriller rather special. I loved the previous novel Distress Signals and so the excellence of The Liar’s Girl came as no surprise to me at all.

Other review
Distress Signals

‘The Recent Boom in Space Opera’ – guest post by Gareth L. Powell, author of Embers of War

Embers of War by Gareth L PowellOn 20 February, Titan Books published Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell, a brand new space opera that ticks all of the right boxes. You can read my review here and buy it here. To celebrate the publication, I’m delighted to host a guest post from Gareth in which he discusses the recent boom in space opera. As someone who loves space opera more than chips (how I need my books on spaceships and alien artefacts…), I couldn’t be more thrilled by the prospect of a boom and the next novel in Gareth’s series can’t come soon enough for me.

The Recent Boom In Space Opera

Like it or loathe it, space opera’s always been an important part of science fiction. Maybe even the heart of the genre. Whatever else may be going on, there have always been books about big spaceships, colossal alien artifacts, and vast interstellar wars.

As a sub-genre, space opera went through a bit of a renaissance in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with books by Alastair Reynolds, M. John Harrison, Stephen Baxter, Gwyneth Jones and others. Now, as we approach 2020 (itself an almost unbelievably futuristic-sounding date to those of us raised in the 1980s), it seems to be undergoing another dramatic resurgence.

In 2014, Ann Leckie’s debut novel, Ancillary Justice, won the Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke, Locus and BSFA awards—the only novel ever to have achieved such a clean sweep. The sequels Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy, and the related novel Provenance have followed it. The fact these books feature dark-skinned main characters in a gender-neutral society seems to have touched a nerve in ways not seen since Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels brought left wing politics into space opera back in the 1980s and 1990s, and opened the way for more diversity in the genre, both in term of subjects and authors.

Becky Chambers’ delightful 2014 novel, The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet, explores the complex relationships between a diverse human and non-human starship crew, including love between man and computer, an interspecies lesbian fling, and a creature caught in a symbiotic relationship with a parasitical virus. The sequel A Closed And Common Orbit continues to expand on these themes, and a new book is on its way.

In 2016, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children Of Time won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for its portrayal of the struggle between a starship carrying the last survivors of the human race and a civilisation of uplifted, intelligent spiders. Spanning thousands of years and following the development of spider civilisation, and the rise-and-fall of various human societies, the book has the epic feel of the very best space opera coupled with a visionary examination of what it means to be truly civilised.

Kameron Hurley’s dark and disturbing 2017 novel, The Stars Are Legion, has been jokingly described by its author as, ‘lesbians in space.’ In reality, it’s a savage, epic tale of tragic love, brutal war and revenge set amid a cloud of decaying organic world-ships, in which an amnesiac soldier sets out on a desperate mission that will either save or destroy the fleet.

Mathematician Yoon Ha Lee received the 2017 Locus Award, as well as Hugo, Nebula and Clarke nominations for his novel Ninefox Gambit, which follows the fortunes of a young military officer and the ghost of a disgraced, long-dead commander as they participate in inter-factional conflict in an Empire whose technologies and tactics are determined by consensual acceptance of the Imperial Calendar.

Since the publication in 2011 of Leviathan Wakes, James SA Corey’s ‘Expanse’ series — now on its seventh volume, Persepolis Rising (2017) — has been charting humanity’s rocky progress from being an interplanetary society centered on Earth, Mars and the asteroid belt, to an interstellar society of colonies scattered among fifteen hundred worlds. We see the upheaval through the eyes of the crew of the independent frigate Rocinante. They are drawn from various squabbling planets and ethnicities, but stay together because of the love they have for each other and the ship on which they live.

Taken together, these excellent books show that we’re currently living in something of a golden age for progressive, inclusive space opera. And it’s against this background that I launch my own series, starting with Embers of War, which was published by Titan Books on 20 February.

Embers follows the adventures of the former warship Trouble Dog, and her misfit crew of war veterans and cadets, as they race to rescue a liner that’s been downed in a politically sensitive star system. Featuring strong female leads, ancient alien mysteries, and some full-on space combat, I hope Embers of War can take its place alongside the books I’ve listed above, as part of the recent boom in space opera.

Embers of War by Gareth L Powell is published by Titan Books. You can find Gareth on Twitter @garethlpowell.

For further stops on the blog tour, please do take a look at the poster below.

Embers of War blog tour_Final

Templar Silks by Elizabeth Chadwick

Sphere | 2018 (1 March) | 496p | Review copy | Buy the book

It is April 1219 and William Marshal, England’s greatest knight, is nearing the end of his long and eventful life. As he lies in his home, surrounded by his family, William sends one of his knights to his property in Wales to retrieve the silks that he brought home from pilgrimage to Jerusalem many years before. William always intended to be buried in them. And so now his thoughts drift to that adventure, to his pilgrimage which was conducted as a promise to, and in the name of, William’s master – Henry, the Young King and eldest son and heir of Henry II, who died with a stain on his soul. Only William could wipe it clean.

In 1183 William Marshal was in his prime, celebrated for his military prowess and lauded for his chivalric values – a true and great knight indeed. But he was still a landless knight, dependent on the patronage of others, especially the family of Henry II and the imprisoned queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. When the Young King makes William swear an oath to undertake the pilgrimage to Jerusalem on his behalf, to lie his cloak before Christ’s tomb, there is nothing to stop William from leaving England behind. And what an adventure it was.

Elizabeth Chadwick’s The Greatest Knight is one of my all time favourite novels – it is the perfect tale of a medieval knight and none were greater than William Marshal. And nobody in my opinion brings the medieval world to life in full colour like Elizabeth Chadwick. I was so pleased to hear that she was returning to William’s story. This time, though, the focus is on the three years that William spent on pilgrimage. And, apart from the fact that he went, very little is known about this period of his life, which gives Elizabeth Chadwick free rein to use her imagination drawing on her enormous insight and knowledge of the medieval period. The result is a gloriously exciting depiction of some of medieval Europe’s dangerspots, where peril lay around almost every corner and in every town, and most particularly in Constantinople and Jerusalem. The chapters set in Constantinople are such a traumatic highlight of the novel!

The Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem was extraordinary, alive with the most astonishing and disturbing personalities, all a gift to fiction, especially the Leper King Baldwin, Guy de Lusignan, the Patriarch and his mistress, the beautiful and charismatic Paschia de Rivieri. It’s wonderful watching William Marshal interacting with all of these people, a witness to the danger of the times, the threat of Saladin, the deception and the plotting. Marshal throws himself into the heart of it all, as you’d expect, and has experiences to last a lifetime. Much of this is speculation, but the result is a grand romance of chivalry, intrigue, violence and passion.

The relationship that I probably enjoyed the most here is that between William and his younger brother Ancel. Little is known about Ancel but Elizabeth Chadwick brings him to such life. I loved these sections. Despite their military prowess, both brothers are shown to be sensitive and refined, the model of knightly values, and so it’s extremely easy to fall in love with them. But we know how this novel must end – it’s set on William’s deathbed after all – and so there are also scenes of great tenderness between William and his wife, children and grandchildren. Expect emotion.

Elizabeth Chadwick has such a gift in the way she surrounds her reader in the past. All the little details of daily life in the Middle Ages are made solid. This is more of a romance than the other William Marshal novels. Much of it is set in an exotic, strange land so far from home and this adds an air of something that touches on fantasy. But, in my favourite sections, it is grounded with these extraordinary historical figures – the story of the Leper King is incredible and extremely distressing. His court’s political intrigue is so fascinating, made even more dangerous because we know Saladin is just waiting for his moment to seize the Holy City. It’s a great setting for William Marshal, who begins as an observer but is soon at the centre of affairs. There’s a strong sense that this is William’s last fling before he returns to England, marriage and ennoblement. He’s determined to make the most of it as he’s let off the historical leash by an author who understands inside out this best of men and the age in which he lived.

Other reviews
Lady of the English
The Summer Queen
The Winter Crown
The Autumn Throne
The Greatest Knight
The Scarlet Lion
The Time of Singing