Historical Fiction

At Drake’s Command

At Drake’s Command
Publisher:
Published: November 16, 2013
It was as fine a day to be whipped as any he’d ever seen but the good weather didn’t make Peregrine James any happier with the situation he was in. Unfairly convicted of a crime he had not committed, the young cook was strung from the whipping post on the Plymouth quayside when he caught the eye of the charismatic sea captain Francis Drake, who agreed to accept Perry among his crew despite the stripes of a thief on his back. Soon England was receding in their wake and Perry was serving an unsavory collection of sea dogs as the small fleet of fragile wood ships sailed across the deep brine. Their destination was secret, known to Drake alone. Few sailors believed the public avowal that the expedition was headed for Alexandria to trade in currants. Some men suspected Drake planned a raid across Panama to attack the Spanish in the Pacific. Others were sure the real plan was to round the Cape of Storms to break the Portuguese monopoly of the spice trade. The only thing Perry knew for certain was that they were bound for danger and that he must live by his wits if he were to survive serving at Drake’s command.

Reviewed by Katherine Ashe

At Drake’s Command, by David Wesley Hill, is a god-send to readers just embarking on maritime historical fiction or those boggled by Patrick O’Brian’s rich nautical vocabulary.

By making the narrator of his novel the young son of an innkeeper, innocent of all matters regarding the sea and learning at a leisurely pace, the reader is brought comfortably into the world of Elizabethan seamanship without the constant need of a diagram or a specialized dictionary. And there is quite sufficient action and period detail in this book to satisfy any reader who is not already a scholar of seafaring.

Mr. Hill is a writer of science fiction, for which he has won many awards. The particular virtue of the science fiction writer is his ability to create, down to the minutest detail, a world that exists only in his own imagination and has no external referents. This ability is brought to the subject of Francis Drake’s circumnavigation of the world. For young readers especially such attention to detail will be welcome. Readers knowledgeable in the period and in seafaring may become impatient with this painstaking approach. But there is good stuff here.

While following the records of Drake’s voyage, Hill is not at all averse to having his fictional young hero venture off on entertainingly imaginative yet thoroughly plausible adventures on his own.

And, once the author achieves comfort in this genre, he shows himself a writer of considerable skill and grace. If I have a complaint it’s the occasional lapse into anachronisms.

Finding a suitable language for characters in the past is one of the most delicate concerns of the historical novelist. In this Hill does reasonably well, keeping the speech easy for the modern reader yet with a sense of suitable distance. But when the central character utters the words, “I also relied on the tenderness of strangers,” he sounds startlingly like Blanche DuBois.

There are similar arresting instances. While such literary allusions might be amusing in science fiction, in historical novels, when they are far out of period they call attention to themselves in a way that yanks the reader out of the period the author should always be at pains to sustain.

Hill shows considerable interest in cookery, making the young hero’s background in an inn all the more plausible. But in describing some delectable Portuguese dishes the influence seems more 21 century haute cuisine than the healthful “four humours” that guided 16th century European cooks. While this may seem quibbling, readers of historical novels these days can be sticklers for period authenticity.

Apart from these minor issues, the tone of At Drake’s Command is highly refreshing. While Hill indulges in some colorful and heretical cussing for his mariners, his moral compass never fails, placing this work beside Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island for readability and clean adventure.

This volume does hardly more than begin the great voyage Drake achieved, so there will be further travels with Peregrine James, the youthful innkeeper’s son turned seafarer. Though it has taken perhaps an eighth of the book for the author to find his “sea legs” as a writer of maritime historical fiction, once he gains his stride he bowls along smartly and we can expect much delightful reading as the series sails onward.

The Broken Horizon

The Broken Horizon
Published: September 26, 2012
The year is 1906. There is no help out there and Chrissie Reid can’t take any more of her husband Jack's violence. She adds poison to his whisky and buries his body in the barn. But that was fourteen years ago. Today she got a letter, and it’s signed, with Love, Jack. The sins of her past have finally caught up with her…with tragic consequences. p.s. All books in this series are stand alone.

Reviewed by Awesome Indies

June 13, 2013

Brilliant and moving

Wow! What a book!  Ms Byrne has produced a fine work of historical fiction, a kind of  literary romance, underscored with mystery and a touch of terror. Its themes are domestic violence, the ravages of war and the role of society and its view of women in abusive marriages. These themes are treated with compassion and insight, and are never overdone.

The Broken Horizon is a moving portrayal of  woman’s life on a small island off the coast of Scotland early last century. It chronicles her marriage to a man who beats her and his disappearance on the night that Charlie, who cares deeply for her, finds her unconscious in the garden of her cottage. Christie thinks her husband Jack is dead, and she thinks she killed him. There is, after all, a body in the byre, in the shallow grave Jack meant for Charlie. Bit the book begins with her receiving a letter from Jack, saying that he is coming home. This sets the pall of mystery over the first two parts of the book. If Jack is alive, then where is he and who is the body in the barn?

We find some of the answers at the end of part two, but the tension doesn’t break with the mystery, because Jack is indeed back, and now we wonder whether he will kill Chrissie and the children. The tension mounts with Jack’s anger and the book races to a dramatic conclusion with a brief an unexpected metaphysical twist. Given the circumstances the book left our characters in, the epilogue was everything I hoped it would be. Healing can come from the most unexpected quarters.

Technically, I could not fault this book. The characters are very real, suited to their time period, well-fleshed and developed over time. I felt for Chrissie from the beginning, and even for her poor tormented husband. The plot is excellent, as is the pacing and dialogue, and the prose is excellent.

This is a brilliant book, but not the kind I actually enjoy, owing to my tendency to over identify with the characters and suffer their pain too acutely for comfort. There is a lot of fear and emotional pain in this story, including that of a serviceman returned from the First World War, and reading about it, especially when it is as sensitively written as this, tends to break my heart. It’s because real people suffer these very same things and I  feel for them.  If you wonder why I give it 5 stars then, it’s because it is quite simply an excellent book, and if you like books that make you feel deeply, then this is for you.

It is a pity about the cover, but if you all buy it, the author will be able to afford a better one!

Gang Territory

Gang Territory
Series:
Published: March 30, 2011
A wartime evacuee's tale of village gangs and first love: When a boy from London finds himself homeless after the orphanage where he lived is bombed during World War II, he is bundled off to the countryside to live with his only relative, a pious spinster aunt he barely knows. Her village of Widdlington would be a peaceful place to live; or so he imagined. The evacuee desperately seeks to understand his place in a bewildering, strife-filled world. He falls helplessly in love, but it's a passion that seems doomed, because the boy's aunt and the girl's parents are in bitterly opposing religious camps. He does, however, possess one treasure he's prepared to guard with his life; his go-cart.Lightning. He'd rather burn it than let it fall into the hands of the Nazis, should they invade, and he dares to wrest it back from a rival gang which has stolen it. Humorous yet thought-provoking, the Gang series explores the difficulties and rewards of forging relationships in violent times.

The Fire

The Fire
Published: September 1, 2013
When Kevin Johnson, 22, goes to Wallace, Idaho, days after his college graduation, he expects to find rest and relaxation as his family prepares his deceased grandfather's house for sale. Then he discovers a hidden diary and a time portal that can take him to 1910, the year of Halley's comet and the largest wildfire in U.S. history. Within hours, Kevin finds himself in the era of horse-drawn wagons, straw hats, and ankle-length dresses. Traveling repeatedly to the same time and place, he decides to make the portal his gateway to summer fun. The adventure takes a more serious turn, however, when the luckless-in-love science major falls for pretty English teacher Sarah Thompson and integrates himself in a community headed for disaster. Filled with humor, romance, and heartbreak, THE FIRE, the sequel to THE JOURNEY, follows a conflicted soul through a life-changing journey as he makes his mark on a world he was never meant to see.

Reviewed by Awesome Indies

October 21, 2014

While on a family trip to Wallace, Idaho, Kevin  finds a relative’s secret diary that explains the shed in the back yard is actually a time machine.  Being young and adventurous, Kevin decides to have a go and is transported to 1910.  He makes friends, develops a positive reputation within the town, and even lands a serendipitous position as a school teacher.  Kevin’s reason for staying in 1910 for as long as he did is a lovely lady named Sarah.  Additionally, he meets a second young lady (Sadie) who seems to have affections for him.

While I expected Kevin, as the main character, to be the only point of view, the story was built through multiple points of view, some even being minor characters.  The author was kind enough to announce these changes at the beginning of each chapter.  As three-fourths of the novel was from Kevin’s perspective, it felt like a lazy way of telling the reader about a character.  The point of view changes were distracting, especially when Sarah or Sadie took the stage.  It allowed for redundant reflections that the reader knew from previous interactions told from Kevin’s perspective.  Instead of adding a sense of romance or heartache, it slowed down the progression of the, otherwise engaging , narrative.  The love story plays out rather unpredictably through charming dialogue.

The premise of the novel was unique and Heldt’s research on the time period shows.  His description of the town of Wallace and the nuances of life lived in 1910 bring the reader back in time with Kevin and create a wistful desire to return to simpler times.  The year itself acts as a character and creates a tension in the back of our mind since we readers (and Kevin) know about the forest fire that will occur in August of 1910.

While The Fire is billed as a historical romance, let it be known that the novel breaches two genres: historical romance and science fiction.  The novel also champions the subjects of science and history by casually mentioning the importance of both during dialogue and internal reflections of the characters.  An excellent starter for sci-fi fans wishing to branch out.

 

Caged (Baal’s Heart Book 1)

Caged (Baal’s Heart Book 1)
Sheltered and lonely, Jon’s life changes drastically when a strange ship sails into the harbour of his small port town one day. Trapped between the possessive pirate captain and his murderous first mate, he must learn to adapt or he will lose himself completely. An epic tale of love and jealousy, treachery and revelation, this first installment of the Baal’s Heart trilogy brings you into the lives of three men so bound together by jealousy and lies that they must sail to the very ends of the earth to find forgiveness. Deckard’s first novel is a masterful portrayal of sorrow, hope, and passion, with a narrative that twists the reader through a world set in the Golden Age of Piracy.

Reviewed

4 stars

Caged follows the story of Jon, a meek young man who possesses an unusual ability to read people. Pirates kidnap him from his hometown in the hopes of utilising his abilities in their business deals. This plot is quickly sidelined as he soon becomes enmeshed in a love triangle with Captain Baltsaros and his first mate Tom.

Caged is a decent erotic fantasy with characters and story that are more developed than usual for the genre, but it’s not extraordinary. There are extremely frequent and graphic sex scenes between the main characters that often involve bondage.

The prose is passable, but some passages are overwritten. When I came to “pearls of desire” I snickered. Caged kind of reminds me of the trashy novels I used to filch from my stepmother when I was too young to be reading such stuff. Although the sex in them was straight, not gay, the descriptions pretty much followed the same pattern, and the tone was the same, emotional and romantic.

Structurally, I didn’t feel that there was much of a plot. Rather a collection of small events happened with no clear goal and no obvious antagonist until 80% of the way through. I found the pacing very slow, but the focus is on the erotica. The scenes tended to jump around in time, which I sometimes found confusing.

Reviewed by Starr

5 Stars

The first two books of the Baal’s Heart series are in my all-favorite list. Bey is a fabulous writer. I could feel myself seeing this world. I could feel what the characters were dealing with. This is not dime-store erotica. This is a deeply emotional dive into the human psyche. The characters are well fleshed out. I love all the main characters, but Tom… How I wish I could bring that man to life. This book is sexy… even for someone like me who doesn’t even read erotica. I can just imagine the genius it takes to create an entirely new world and such beautiful characters… such a beautiful story. Bey is a force to be reckoned with.

 

 

The Dry Lands

The Dry Lands
3,000 years BCE, in Africa’s Rift Valley: isolated by a changing climate, hemmed in by arid wasteland, a prehistoric tribe fights for survival. A prehistoric tribe fights for survival Isolated by a changing climate, hemmed in by arid wasteland, a band of prehistoric humans faces extinction. There are too many mouths to feed – the tribes have grown too large, they’ve hunted too fiercely and the animals are gone. The waterholes are dry, the rains don’t come. Their world has changed, and they need a way out. As the young men of the Koriba go in search of a new home, Temfe, the chief’s son, must learn to lead his clansmen before they betray him. To survive in a harsh world, surrounded by enemies he must gather new allies, discover new weapons and learn new ways of seeing the world. In the African rift valley, 43,000 years BCE, a spark of consciousness flares into life. The dawn of human culture, the fire that will reshape the world.

Reviewed by Awesome Indies

At the dawn of human culture, 43,000 years before the birth of Christ, the Kariba live in a region of East Africa that was once teeming with game, lush forests, and water, that is now an arid wasteland. Temfe, the 17-year-old son of Beru, chief of the Kariba, is a cripple, his foot mangled by the buffalo that killed his brother. Betrothed to Yamba, he must contend with Kofu, the tribe’s chief hunter and warrior, who not only wants to be chief, but wants Yamba.

The Dry Lands by Simon J. Townley is the story of Temfe’s effort to find new lands for his tribe. He must find a place for them to go or watch his people die. His only ally is his friend Ngoh, a young man of the same age. When Beru sends the hunters out to find new lands, he places Temfe in command, but along with having to cope with his handicap and the deadly, unfamiliar desert, he has to deal with Kofu’s treachery.

Not since Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear has there been a novel set in prehistoric times that does such a good job of bringing this era to life. Townley’s straight forward prose and rich descriptions of the land, wildlife, and the people put the reader smack in the middle of action that resonates with anyone who loves history. This might seem a contradiction in terms, considering the story is about what we modern people call ‘pre-history,’ but a close reading will reveal parallels with life as we know it today. What the author shows us is that human emotions haven’t evolved all that much in the millennia since man arose in East Africa.

Temfe is the prototype of every modern hero or explorer – the men and women who have struck out into the unknown to expand the range of human understanding. The action is well framed, the dialogue realistic, and the settings colorful. This might be fiction, but it’s a good history lesson as well.

Highly recommended reading for all ages.

The Butcher’s Block

480 The Butcher's Block
Publisher:
Published: August 1, 2017
During a routine patrol, police arrest two men in possession of human body parts intended for sale to the dissecting rooms of a London teaching hospital. Bow Street Runner and amateur pugilist Dan Foster makes the grisly discovery that they are the remains of fellow officer George Kean. The arrested men are charged with Kean’s murder, but Dan is not convinced that they are the killers. In pursuit of the real murderer, he investigates the unhallowed activities of the resurrection men – bodysnatchers. The bodysnatching racket soon leads Dan to something bigger and much more dangerous. In a treacherous underworld of vicious pugilists, ruthless murderers, British spymasters and French agents, Dan must tread carefully…or meet the same terrible fate as Kean. 'The Butcher’s Block' is the second Dan Foster Mystery. 'Bloodie Bones', the first in the series, was joint winner of the Historical Novel Society Indie Award 2016.

The Fatal Coin

The Fatal Coin
Published: May 16, 2017
Missing treasure. Murder. One ruthless criminal. And one Bow Street Runner determined to stop him. In the winter of 1794 Bow Street Runner and amateur pugilist Dan Foster is assigned to guard a Royal Mail coach. The mission ends in tragedy when a young constable is shot dead by a highwayman calling himself Colonel Pepper. Dan is determined to bring Pepper to justice, but the trail runs cold. Four months later Dan is sent to Staffordshire to recover a recently excavated hoard of Roman gold which has gone missing. Here he unexpectedly encounters Colonel Pepper again. The hunt is back on, and this time Dan will risk his life to bring down Pepper and his gang. 'The Fatal Coin' is a prequel to 'Bloodie Bones', the first Dan Foster Mystery, which was joint winner of the Historical Novel Society Indie Award 2016.

Reviewed by Awesome Indies' Assessor

06 December 2017

5 Stars

Going into The Fatal Coin by Lucienne Boyce, I had not read any of the other Dan Foster mysteries and was meeting the character for the first time. I'm happy to say that this appears to be a series where a reader can jump in at any point and quickly catch up to what's going on. The protagonist is a likable, if rough-around-the-edges, detective who gives as much guff as he gets. Even without having the context which I'm sure the previous installment provided, Dan is the kind of character you will feel like you have met before, if not relate directly to yourself.

 

The story takes place in 1794 England and the historical atmosphere of the book is another highlight of this work. The author has a gift for painting beautiful set pieces that jump to life in the readers' imagination - and those who aren't already well-versed on 18th century England will also learn a few interesting facts. The world in which Dan inhabits complements him perfectly, and it's easy to imagine him emerging from the fog, ready to engage in fisticuffs with whomever opposes him.

 

As this is a novella, the book is very digestible, but the author does not sacrifice detail or rush the plot. While the story overall is short and will likely leave you hungry for more, there are other Dan Foster mysteries to satiate you. The adventure we're taken on reaches a satisfying conclusion while leaving clues for later works, and accomplishes the goal of making you interested in reading of Foster's other experiences. I give The Fatal Coin 5 stars and recommend it for inclusion in Awesome Indies.

Bloodie Bones

Bloodie Bones
Publisher:
Published: May 11, 2015
In 1796 Bow Street Runner and amateur pugilist Dan Foster is sent to Somerset to infiltrate a poaching gang suspected of murdering Lord Oldfield’s gamekeeper, Josh Castle. Dan has walked into a volatile situation: the locals are up in arms against Lord Oldfield for enclosing Barcombe Forest and depriving them of their rights to gather fuel and food. Against a background of vandalism, arson and riot, Dan discovers that there were others with a grudge against Josh. However, Lord Oldfield orders him to arrest the poachers. When Dan learns that Josh had a claim to the Oldfield estate his suspicions focus on Lord Oldfield. Before he can confront him, rioters attack Oldfield Hall protesting against the arrests. During the fight, Dan finds himself at the mercy of the local doctor and realises that he and Josh were rivals in love. Dan narrowly escapes death and arrests the murderer: Doctor Russell.  

Reviewed by Awesome Indies' Assessor

May 18, 2014

 

When Lord Oldfields, a magistrate and wealthy landowner, asks for assistance to determine who murdered his gamekeeper, Josh Castle, Foster’s superior dispatches him to the small village. Disguising himself as a wandering itinerant, Foster becomes part of the gang of poachers who are Lord Oldfields’ real targets. In the process, he uncovers deeds from the past, some so evil that their perpetrators will do anything—including murder—to keep them hidden.

Lucienne is a masterful storyteller, skillfully weaving history, culture, and the social customs of the period into the story in a natural manner that not only piques the reader’s interest, but helps the reader with a watchful eye and attentive mind to figure out whodunit.

This story has a profound theme. The injustices perpetrated upon the poor by the privileged, how people react to events over which they have little or no control, and the importance of integrity and empathy in alleviating the human condition.

Not one word in this story is wasted, and it is told in a manner that both entertains and educates—the true sign of a master wordsmith. Extremely well edited, I could not find one comma or semicolon out of place, and unlike books by some of today’s bestsellers, no misspellings or grammatical glitches—nary a one.

Unlike many books I read, which are good stories, but contain a few formatting or other errors, making it impossible for me to give them a top rating in all honesty, I found nothing here that gives me pause; and, I re-read several passages just to make sure. Actually, I have to get personal here and say that I re-read several passages because I found the prose so entertaining, I just wanted to go back over it to enjoy reading truly great writing.

I found everything about this book engrossing, from a cover that conveyed in stark symbolism the theme of the story, to passages that glistened with brilliance. The characters were magnificently portrayed. Dan Foster, the protagonist, is totally captivating—from his willingness to face his own weaknesses, to his devotion to right and justice, but most compelling, his sense of honor and decency. Even the secondary characters were fully fleshed and well-rounded, creating a setting that made me feel that I was there. I could see, hear, and smell the surroundings, and sense what characters were thinking and feeling in a story that was impossible to put down once I started reading.

An easy five stars.