historical fiction

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.

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.

Frontier Justice: Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal

Frontier Justice: Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal
In 1875, Indian Territory, in what is now the state of Oklahoma, was a haven for thieves, swindlers, and murderers, all trying to escape the reach of the law. When President U.S. Grant appointed Judge Isaac Parker judge of the Western District of Arkansas, which included the territory, Parker was intent upon bringing fugitives to justice. He authorized U.S. Marshal James Fagan to hire 200 deputy marshals to help police the 4,500 square mile lawless territory. Among those deputies was Bass Reeves. Born a slave in 1838, Reeves had spent the Civil War as a runaway in Indian Territory, and spoke five tribal languages. He was an expert tracker and an accomplished marksman, and at 6’2” and 180 pounds in an era when the average male height was 5’6”, was an imposing figure. During his 32 year tenure as a deputy marshal, Reeves brought in over 3,000 fugitives. Unable to either read or write, he had someone read warrants to him and memorized every detail – never making a mistake.

Reviewed by Richard Bunning

5 Stars

This book is typical of Ray’s easy to read journalistic style. Writing is never effortless, though Ray leaves one feeling that it comes to him nearly as easily as breathing. This historical fiction about the legendary Deputy U.S. Marshall Bass Reeves is a delight, though I would have liked to have had more of the same to read. That we don’t is no doubt simply because Ray has no wish to stray far from the factual history. The conversations created to put the bones on the known story ring so true that I found myself on the dusty trail, spitting tobacco with the best and worst of those tough pioneers.
That a black man born to slavery, Bass Reeves, could do so well for himself and so soon after the emancipation that stemmed from the American Civil War is nothing less than astounding. Some of his success seems almost unbelievable, which makes it just as well that the real life author is every bit as big a picture as the man he portrays. I am sure that Charles and Bass would have got on very well if a time skipped century or so enabled a meeting.
It is impossible to say much without lacing my review with spoilers, though to be honest it is enough to say that this short-novel, or long novella, finishes far too quickly. Lone Ranger, eat your heart out, this is how ‘The West’ was really won.

South of Burnt Rocks – West of the Moon

South of Burnt Rocks – West of the Moon
Lavena, the last survivor of Rome's plundering destruction in ancient Spain, must survive to the next sunrise and then try to unite far-flung villages and oust the Roman menace. Based on real events and ancient She-Warriors who fought alongside their men. Mighty Rome plunders everything of value and destroys anything left standing in the beautiful and rich land south of Burnt Rocks. We know it as Spain. Lavena, the last child of the strongest tribal leader in the area, must grow up fast, must choose between marriage to her favorite young man and children, or the life of a She-Warrior fighting side-by-side with the male warriors of her tribe – or even fighting alone. The crush of an invading Roman army forces her choices. Guided by the spirits of the dead, by her father’s favorite dog, and the courage of those with nothing left to lose, she takes a last stand against the Roman menace. Roman scout, Marcus, is ordered to try to find answers to unseen but real threats pestering his Roman army – scouts who never return, dead soldiers, deadly traps in the ground, and slaughtered bullocks. More than any of his masters, Marcus begins to understand the havoc Lavena has wreaked, but deeper yearnings drive him to find her for other reasons, to be with her. Based on actual characters of that time and place, South of Burnt Rocks – West of The Moontells that mostly true story lost to the fog of history.

Reviewed for Awesome Indies by Elizabeth Jasper

The daughter of  tribe leader Sinorix, Lavena is expected to learn how to work the land, to develop strength and fortitude and, as a ferocious female warrior, to lead her people into battle against the Romans should it becomes necessary. When governor Piso is recalled to Rome and a new governor takes his place, the precarious peace between the Romans and Celts is broken and the Celts are forced to defend their village, to no avail.  Lavena escapes and seeks help from nearby villages, where she discovers the Roman army is once again on the move.

Written with an engrossing breadth of detail about the Celts and the Romans, with a sympathetic slant towards the people on both sides of the conflict, and with a depth of knowledge that he imparts effortlessly to the reader, G J Berger has written a compelling story of adventure, fortitude, revenge and love.  The main characters stand out against a supporting cast of well-drawn minor characters.  Pacing is superb, driving the reader onwards.  G J Berger’s writing style is direct and pared down, as befits a book of this nature.  Descriptive passages are moving and show very well how the landscape is used in Lavena’s fight against the invaders, and the animals – -horses and dogs, add an extra dimension to the story.

For any reader who loves to sink into the distant past, this is a story that will not disappoint.

The Lupane Legacy

Lupane Legacy, The
A story of international intrigue, of the ghosts of Africa’s history, of tangled family ties, of betrayal, revenge, and redemption, and of two people finding a new start. In 1983 Patrick Khumalo, a five-year-old boy out gathering firewood for his mother in rural Zimbabwe, is the only survivor of one of Robert Mugabe’s notorious Gukurahundi massacres. White Rhodesian settlers who live nearby take the traumatized child in and raise him with their own children. In 2012, Patrick is an archivist for Robert Mugabe’s government. Everyone knows him as the ideal public servant, removed from politics and passion. But Patrick has a secret life, into which he draws Constance, the impulsive, idealistic girl he grew up with, now a classical violinist living in Austria. On the other side of the world, in Washington, D.C., ex-Marine Joshua Denham is trying to find his feet in civilian life as a newly wealthy man with political aspirations. At an Austrian Embassy concert where his cousin Constance is performing, a woman who’s been haunting him for the past year—a private banker he last saw in Kyrgyzstan—sits down at the end of his row. Perhaps he’s found what he was looking for . . . but Devon isn’t quite what she seems. Constance is acting strangely, too. After she leaves abruptly for the airport, Joshua gets a desperate call from her estranged father, Roger: Constance is in trouble. Joshua flies to meet Roger in South Africa, only to find that Roger has his own dark secret. Devon finds herself drawn after them to an abandoned farmhouse in Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland District, and an explosive reckoning with the ghosts of the Rhodesian Bush War. The Lupane Legacy, the first in a series of novels of international suspense and intrigue, is a thriller for the thinking reader, a nuanced exploration of the history of postcolonial Africa as well as of Beltway politics and diplomacy. It’s a story of tangled family ties, of betrayal, revenge, and redemption, and of two people finding their way toward each other, and a new beginning.

Reviewed by Tahlia Newland
October 14, 2014

As a writer, I was told to keep a nice balance between narrative, description and dialogue. That including a lot of the former, along with a lot of backstory, really drags the reader through the experience and slows the pace down to nothing.

And yet here we are giving the Lupane Legacy five stars.

The Lupane Legacy begins with a brutal village massacre somewhere in the depths of Zimbabwe, just after it had stopped being named Rhodesia. A small boy, Patrick Khumalo, remains the lone survivor of the ordeal. Across the world, in Washington DC, Joshua Denham attends a concert held by the Austrian embassy where his cousin, Constance Traun is a renowned violinist. There, he again meets none other than Devon Kerr, a banker who first met him in Afghanistan, during his tour with the Marines. Patrick, now in Zimbabwean Intelligence years and years later, one day receives the package he has been waiting his whole life for: a film reel of what happened in his village when he was five.

The book continues thus, with two parallel lines on two different continents, until out of the blue Patrick calls Constance; they must meet in person.

The Lupane Legacy carries the reader along smoothly, a page-turner that kept me up nights trying to figure out just how everything would play out. The narrative reveals a lot about the author’s education, it’s full of choice imagery, the vocabulary is lush and full, and expects the reader to read between the lines often. Slow as narrative generally goes, this book hits a good stride and doesn’t let up even after the explosive climax.

Readers of thrillers and mysteries beware: while this book is an excellent one, in terms of historical fiction and even literary fiction, there isn’t as much action as one would expect. Most of the book is building characters and explaining the political situations of the present and the past for various different countries. The characters are real, the dialogue never trite or cardboard, and the description is handled with the same effortlessness as the narrative, though one could ask for a tad more in some places.

If there was one gripe about the book, it was that it sailed over my head in a few places. Movie, music and literature references expect the reader to be familiar with a lot of classics, and for a vast majority of readers, that simply won’t be the case. It was possible to surge past this, but I felt certain that my enjoyment and experience with the story was lacking something in not understanding these.

In addition, this book contains a preview of the second book in the series, the Pyin Protocol. I’m definitely keen to read further adventures of Joshua and Devon, to see what’s in store further down the road.

Thank you for the read, Darby.