Book Review: The Pale Horseman, by Bernard Cornwell

This was the August pick of my Goodreads Book Club. It is the second in Cornwell’s Saxon Tales (also called The Last Kingdom) series.
I had some difficulty finding the right version. It looked like there might be different versions. When I looked for it on Audible, there was one version that was about 14 hours, and another about 5 and a half hours. In book listings, there were three different covers, one of which was meant to tie in with the TV series on BBC America, but they are the same book. The short version on Audible is the abridged version. When I knew I had the right book, I started reading.

I was a little worried at first, because the POV character (Uhtred) kept telling how every relationship would progress in the future. Fortunately, he stopped doing that. It’s more fun when you see relationships turn and threats emerge without being forewarned. So once the author focused on each scene as it was happening, I really liked it.

A fascinating story that takes us behind the scenes of one of the most important battles in the history of Britain. I always liked characters who are outsiders like Uhtred. Born a Saxon, raised among Danes, he’s not sure where his loyalties lie. Even when he commits to King Alfred, his paganism still makes things difficult for him. The Saxons don’t completely trust him, Alfred tries to convert him, and it causes tension with his wife. He is brash and sometimes stokes flames of ill will into roaring infernos. But his familiarity with the Danes allows him to gather vital intelligence for Alfred. That and his prowess as a warrior make him indispensable to the Saxons and their emerging king. There are exciting fight scenes and lesser battles, tension and intrigue, loss and heartbreak, leading up to the climactic battle at the end.

As a historical fiction reader, this has everything I could want. I imagine it will appeal more to men than women. Action oriented but with character development. You get an idea of why medieval history was such a rich source of inspiration for George R. R. Martin.

Reblog: “Clean Fiction” as Evangelical White Magic

Great post from Mike Duran, “Clean Fiction” as Evangelical White Magic.

This is a point I’m trying to make about my fiction and Biblical fiction in general. If Philippians 4:8 means to only watch, read, consume, or create media that is “clean,” i.e., devoid of violence, gore, nudity, profanity, sex, and other types of immorality, why does the Bible contain stories with all these elements?

So how do you consume or create material with immorality and not be corrupted by it? The same way you do when you encounter it in the Bible, by exercising discernment. And such “unclean” elements exist in media for the same reason they exist in the Bible. Because they exist in the world, and telling the truth sometimes requires we make that plain.

Review: Arms of Nemesis, by Steven Saylor

I read this as part of my online book club on Goodreads. I remember reading a collection of short stories around Gordianus the Finder and thinking it was pretty good. This, however, I really liked. I guess this means for me, the characters and stories work better as a novel than short stories. It’s interesting how that works sometimes. In writing a novel versus short story, Saylor was able to do more to develop the characters and ratchet up the tension.

This is the first novel I’ve read in the Roma sub Rosa series (featuring Gordianus the Finder), though the second in the series. I want to go back and read the first one – not because I think I missed anything from not having read it first but because I enjoyed this one so much. It appears you don’t necessarily have to read the series in order.

It is set in the late Republic, the time of Cicero, Pompey, and Crassus. It’s not the same period I write in, so I was not sure if I wanted to invest myself in the series. Now, I definitely want to go back and read more.

In Arms of Nemesis, Marcus Crassus – the richest man in Rome – hires Gordianus to solve the murder of his cousin, Lucius Licinius, at his villa at Baiae. Crassus believes he already knows who killed his cousin – two runaway slaves who were inspired to join Spartacus in his slave revolt. He plans to kill every slave in the household to set an example for other slaves in the area who may get the same idea. However, at the request (more like cajoling) of Lucius’s wife, Gelina, he agrees to wait until after the funeral to execute his plan. Roman custom has the funeral a week after the death, but even with the fastest ship available, it takes five days for Gordianus to reach Baiae from Rome, giving him and his mute son, Eco, only two days to A) find out if the two slaves really are the murderers, B) if not them, who?, and C) be able to prove it to Crassus’s satisfaction.

Baiae is one of the favorite vacation spots for Rome’s wealthiest and most elite. The case puts Gordianus and Eco in the middle of their circles, the skeletons they hide (figuratively and literally), the slaves that run the household (and who are depending on him to save their lives), the cave of the Sybil, and the reputed entrance to Hades.

It’s a great story with interesting characters popping up throughout. I did not give it five stars because, well, this is a pet peeve of mine, there were too many conversations of the type I call, “As you know, Bob.” These are the type of conversations where someone says something to another character that they both already know in order to give the reader some background information. It is tricky to be able to supply necessary back story without it breaking the flow of the story. But that kind of conversation always looks contrived.

That being said, I wish there were a way to give it a four-and-a-half star rating, because it’s not really worth dropping a full star for that.