AK Blakemore wins Desmond Elliott prize for a ‘stunning’ debut novel

The Manningtree Witches takes the £10,000 first novel award

The author AK Blakemore has won the Desmond Elliott prize for best debut for her historical novel about the English witch trials in the 17th century. The Manningtree Witches was praised heavily by judges who called it a “stunning achievement”.

The novel follows the character of Rebecca West, a husbandless and fatherless woman who is only just tolerated by the villagers of Manningtree. The story showcases the fallout of events after a pious newcomer called Matthew Hopkins begins to ask villagers about the women on the margins of their society.

This is Blakemore’s first novel, although she does also have two published poetry collections under her belt.

“My dad lives in Manningtree so it was an area I knew quite well. The process of the writing began when I was in a fallow period of writing poetry. I was messing around with prose, just to have something to write, and the story just really sort of jumped out at me,” Blakemore said.

“I didn’t really have the intention of writing and completing a novel, it started as play. But coming at it from poetry, I had a decent sense in writing of aesthetics and a cinematic, graphic way of composing scenes in my mind. And something about having a story from history that already had a beginning, middle and end, was quite liberating in that sense.”

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The Manningtree Witches beat other shortlisted novels such as little scratch by Rebecca Watson and The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams. Blakemore will take home the £10,000 prize.

A previous winner of the prize, Lisa McInerney, was one of this year’s judges and said that Blakemore’s tale “takes limited historical detail and, with what seems like effortless grace and imagination, crafts a breathing, complex world full of wrenchingly human characters, and tells us their stories in language that bears endless rereading, so clever and unexpected and pleasurable it is”.

The author herself said that she was “really, really thrilled” to win. “And honoured – the shortlist was just full of amazing books.”

How is the idea of Good and Evil explored in Moby Dick?

Let’s explore how Herman Melville shows the differences between good and evil in his masterpiece Moby Dick

Moby Dick book cover

In Herman Melville’s masterpiece Moby Dick the author is eager to tell us a tale of good and evil. These two opposing forces are represented everywhere throughout his story, the vying battle between the two is the back bone of the entire novel. Good versus evil, love against hate, forgiveness or revenge, they are all explored throughout its many pages. This is one of the reasons for its enduring popularity amongst readers.

Some readers consider the great Moby Dick to be the character best placed to represent the evil force. Yet this whale, no matter how huge and scary is still simply that, a whale. He is an animal with no conscious ability to be rational, he is simply an animal living within his natural habitat.

So for me the obvious representation of evil is Captain Ahab. Ahab’s entire world is seeking out the whale that dismember him many years ago. He is a man consumed by one single goal, a goal to bring about death to a creature that has no understanding of what is happening. Captain Ahab is a man possessed by the idea of killing the great white whale, and he doesn’t care what happens as long as that end goal is achieved.

Yet Ahab is also not a one dimensional man, he is a tortured man. He is certainly not a cardboard figure of evil. “Once the captain throws his pipe overboard, he takes a turn for the worse,” here Melville is showing us that the Captain has become so overwhelmed with his need for revenge on Moby Dick that he no longer enjoys little acts, such as his pipe, as he once did.

Yet we must also remember that Captain Ahab leads his entire crew – baring Ishmael – to their death, for nothing more than petty vengeance. The true evil in this novel is the very human traits of stubbornness and obsession. A sentient and conscious man is willing to throw away everything to wreak his vengeance upon a creature who acted simply out of instinct and not malice.

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The presence of good is shown in the novel most clearly in the character of Queequeg, who was once a barbaric cannibal but who now embodies the ideals of ‘Christianly’ behaviour more than any of the other men aboard the Pequod.

While Ishamel and Queequeg’s relationship starts off with a brawl and attempted murder at the Spouter-Inn, it quickly turns into a beautiful friendship.

The reader gets to see the true heart of Queequeg for the first time when the two men fall asleep beside one another. When the two awaken the ‘savages’ arm lies draped across Ishmael in an affection manor, or as Melville describes it, as if Ishamel were “his wife”.

Queequeg also shows incredible modesty when dressing in the morning ing, even attempting to hide himself as he pulls on his boots. This moment shows the two sides of Queequeg, the savage and the civilised man: “if he were a savage he wouldn’t consider boots necessary, but if he were completely civilised he would realise there was no need to be modest when pulling on his boots”.

While this theme of friendship becomes less prominent once the Pequod unfurls its sails Queequeg does still save Ishmael’s life, albeit indirectly. Yet he also saves two other men from drowning while acting as harpooner aboard the vessel.

Queequeg’s presence within the novel slips as it draws towards the great climax as Melville begins to darken the tone and focus upon the aggression and hatred of the captain. However, his greatest action occurs at the novel’s finale.

While suffering from a fever Queequeg believes he is at deaths door and asks the ship’s carpenter to construct him a coffin in the form of a canoe to remind him of home. The coffin is not needed however as Queequeg makes a full recovery, it therefore becomes the ships new life-boat, which in turn is the only thing that allows Ishmael to survive Moby Dick’s attack and the Pequod’s demise.

Melville also shows us how good and evil can manifest itself through the journey of ones life. For instance Queequeg lived a life of bliss on the island of Kokovoko where he was the son of a King, yet he hated the life of idleness and insisted instead on becoming a whaler and exploring the world, the pampered life was not for him. Ishmael similarly wanted to see the rest of the world, not to escape idleness but instead to combat the early stages of a creeping depression. All of this is in stark contrast to Captain Ahab who’s sole reason for the journey was revenge, cruel and selfish revenge. Ahab is swept up in his manic desire to kill Moby Dick and the end result is a grizzly and unnecessary demise for his whole crew.

Overall Melville does well to give us good and evil characters with layers and depth. Captain Ahab has all the characteristics of a tragic hero, he has a great heart but tragic flaws. Yet it is his final actions and manic obsession with revenge that destroys his heart and leaves him simply as a flawed and hate filled villain. Queequeg on the other hand may appear to be a savage but his heart stays pure and he has a truly noble spirit.

Melville shows us that we cannot simply judge a person by their appearance, that titles and riches do not matter, it is only the heart that can be judged to show ones true self.

Hilary Mantel repeats Walter Scott Prize success

The author takes top prize for the grand finale of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy

Cover of The Mirror and the Light

Hilary Mantel has managed to bag herself the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction for a second time.

The novelist won the award for her novel The Mirror and the Light, the final instalment in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, the first book in the series, Wolf Hall won her the first award 11 years ago.

The author said she was “amazed and delighted2 to once again win the £25,000 prize.

Mantel will also be taking part in the Borders Book Festival later this year to celebrate her win and mark the 250th anniversary of Walter Scott’s birth.

The Walter Scott award was set up in 2010 when Ms Mantel won the inaugural award for her brilliant novel Wolf Hall.

The award is normally announced at the Borders Book Festival in June however that has been moved back to November in the hopes that it will be able to go ahead with fewer Covid restrictions.

Judges said that Mantel had “achieved the almost unachievable” with a novel which closed a trilogy but could also stand “magnificently alone”.

“With consummate technical skill married to the keenest ear for dialogue and the sharpest eye for rich and telling detail, Hilary Mantel resettles the reader at Thomas Cromwell’s shoulder for a psychodrama that begins and ends with a blade,” they said.

“The finale is both well-known and inevitable and yet – as the judges long pondered with astonished admiration – the suspense never fades.”

The author said that the prize will bring “great hope” to historical fiction authors.

“I’m so happy personally that The Mirror and the Light has won this recognition,” she said.

“It was certainly the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I know the author isn’t always the best person to judge, but it seems to me to be the strongest of my trilogy of novels about Thomas Cromwell.

“It launched the trilogy in fine style when the first volume Wolf Hall won the Walter Scott Prize, and now this rounds off the many years of effort.”

The Tower by Valerio Massimo Manfredi Review

Wow, this is a bad book, I need to get that out of the way first of all, this is not on my recommended list in any way shape or form, unless as a means of torture I suppose.

I had high hopes for The Tower, it teases a mythical millenia long secret that has impacted human society from the Roman Empire to present day. That should be interesting, and yet Manfredi butchers the execution so inexplicably that I wonder how this even came to print.

But let’s do an overview first before I get into it.

At the begining of the book we are told how an American archaeologist by the name of Desmond Garret disappeared in the Sahara desert some ten years ago. This disappearance it turns out is just the most recent in a string of mysterious incidents in the area over the previous two thousand years. Myths about the area are abound, including one that tales the tale of thousands of Roman soldiers who were killed by a mythological race of headless men known as the Blemmyae.

Garrett, we are told, was searching for the Tower of Solitude, the final mystery of a long dead civilisation. Garrett’s son, Philip, is now heading towards the tower in the hopes of finding his father.

Then we are introduced to Garrett’s old enemy, the completely copy and pasted evil villain Selznick.

The story also occurs in Vatican City where priests are monitoring a space borne signal hitting an unknown receiver. Of course the receiver and The Tower of Solitude are the same thing.

This should be a good book right? It has an interesting premise with potentially huge payoff. Its like Indiana Jone had a love child with the Da Vinci Code, its not going to be a masterpiece but its going to be a thrilling ride.

Except no.

Manfredi is a decent writer, his use of prose and ability for description is above average, it’s his plotting and oversaturation of action and inflated plotlines that leave an awful lot to be desired.

Within this book not only do we have a son searching for his father, an evil villain and nervous Catholic priests, we also have a member of the French Foreign Legion, a spy network, a love triangle, another love triangle, a lost individual, a desert princess, kidnap, lots of fighting, and well I’m bored now. There’s lots more going on here that should be mentioned but I don’t want to type up any more.

This is less of a story and more of Manfredi simply vomiting up everything and anything he can think of and somehow believing it makes a good story, it doesn’t, it really really doesn’t.

And it seems he knew that because the book kind of ended, pointlessly and without any conclusion. Nothing changes, nothing happens, and no answers are given. None of the characters have an arc, none of them change as a person.

Its like Manfredi gave up part way through and just ended the novel, how this got published I do not know, his other work is far better than this.

Let’s just say avoid this one.

Rating

Rating: 1 out of 10.

If you think this is the kind of book for you you can find it on Amazon.

Trillium by Margaret Lindsay Holton Review

Trillium by Margaret Lindsay Holton is an epic multi-generational saga that spans 250 years and is set around the shores of Lake Ontario.

We are first introduced to 19 year old soldier Tom as he struggles to cross the raging Niagara River. Tom eventually becomes the patriarch of the Hartford family, and it is with him that the saga begins, a saga that explores human behaviour across distinct cultures and generations.

This epic tale begins by looking into the history of the indigenous populations and their struggles against the new settlements and buildings being erected across Southern Ontario and the Niagara River.

While Tom may be our first protagonist he is by no means our last. This saga takes us through three very distinct families all of whom seek out land in Canada to make their fortune.

This is a book that celebrates the rich history of its gorgeous setting, as well as the beginning of its famous ice wine industry. But it does so much more than that too, it explores the influx of migrants from Mexico and Italy, it deals with a man struggling with his sexual identity, and it deals with con men and hedonists.

This is a novel packed with a cornucopia of different characters and personalities, each as vivid and cultivated as the one before them. This is a masterpiece of interweaving stories that span over two centuries of Canadian history. But it’s also a little confusing. There are a lot of stories and people to remember here, and sometimes I found myself a little lost at what was going on, but I think that’s part and parcel for this kind of work. It’s also a shame that we don’t get to spend more time with each family as the narrative whisks off to another place in time.

On the other hand this does make our short time with each character that little bit more precious, and I found myself more captivated by characters like Anna because of the short time I would get to know her.

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There is also a lot of attention paid to the farmhouse, and its transformation over the many years. Details like the introduction of indoor plumbing and double pane windows are not missed out or glossed over here, and while that may sound boring it is actually fascinating to visualise the house changing as new families come and go. In many ways the house is the central character, it is the one constant in an ever changing sea of characters.

The main problem I had with the story was it’s pacing, a lot of the first half of the book is a slow burn, very slow in fact, most of the action gets going towards the end and while it’s a decent payoff I did force myself through a fair bit of the opening.

Holton has achieved a rich and varied novel filled with beauty and wonder as well as revulsion and shock. Her use of language to create unrivalled imagery is akin to a painting on a canvas, this is a rich and imaginative world she has created but it’s the characters she has given form to that are the standout gem to be found here.

Rating

Rating: 8 out of 10.

If you’d like to check out Trillium for yourself you can find it on Amazon.

Let’s discuss how Harriet Jacobs challenged the pro-slavery ideals of her time through her writing

Front cover of Incidents in the life of a slave girl

Slave narratives were a powerful tool in abolishing the slave trade and were significant in creating a voice for the slaves and showing the human experience of slavery. An important slave narrative is that of Linda Brent synonym Harriet Jacobs: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

She was a slave who struggled for years against her oppressive master and bravely ensured both her own and her children’s freedom. Within this slave narrative Harriet challenges conceived notions of the importance and justification of slavery and pro-slavery ideas. She challenges the religious morality of the slave-owners, their view that slaves were inhuman and the treatment of female slaves.

Harriet and her fellow slaves are represented as the subaltern subject, a group suppressed by a dominant other, ‘in the context of colonial production, the subaltern has no history, and cannot speak, the subaltern as female is even more deeply in shadow’ (Spivak 1988: 28). Harriet is fighting against her oppressors so as to ensure her freedom and save other slaves from the ‘grasp of demon slavery’ (Jacobs 1861: 27).

A key pro-slavery idea challenged by Harriet Jacobs is that of religion and the slave-owners belief in their religious superiority.

When colonising America in the 17th century the colonists felt themselves to be morally superior to that of the natives and justified colonisation by saying the natives were heathens due to their lack of religion, and so it was the colonists’ duty to teach the natives their religion as they were viewed as immoral.

This view was still held by the slave-owners and whites in South America in the 19th century. This act of controlling the subaltern subject through religion is known as hegemony. ‘Hegemonic means of social control, whereby marginalised and suppressed peoples are encouraged to accept the ideas and values of the dominant classes’ (Ransome 1992).

However as shown by Harriet Jacob’s the business of slavery was a contradiction to religious teachings, ‘slaveholders pride themselves on being honourable men… to hear the enormous lies they tell their slaves you would have small respect for their veracity’ (Jacobs 1861: 21). Jacobs talks about how the slave-owners justify their actions by demonising the slaves and seeing them as ‘merely a piece of property’ (Jacobs 1861: 3).

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Yet it is the slave-owners who are represented as morally corrupt and how religion is a mere chore to them, ‘she was a member of the church; but partaking of the lord’s supper did not seem to put her in a Christian frame of mind… she could sit in her easy chair and see a woman whipped, till the blood trickled from every stroke of the lash’ (Jacobs 1861: 4).

This shows the hypocrisy of slave-owners that they preach to others that they must be Christian and yet so casually disregard it themselves. The roles between the slaves and the colonists/slave-owners have now reversed, the slave-owners are now viewed as the beasts and the slaves are shown to have more Christian feeling, ‘It was a beautiful faith coming from a mother who could not call her children her own’ (Jacobs 1861: 7).

The use of sarcasm is rife within Harriet’s narrative as she challenges the lies surrounding the religious superiority of the slave-owners and their families, ‘The honour of a slaveholder to a slave!’ (Jacobs 1861: 1) she feels there is no honour on the side of the slave-owner who is more concerned with money that the treatment of fellow human beings.

Harriet Jacobs

Another pro-slavery idea challenged by Harriet Jacobs is the idea that the slaves were inhuman. It was believed they were beneath the human race and so the slave-owners felt it morally acceptable and even encouraged to treat them in such a barbaric way, ‘regard such children as property, as marketable as pigs on the plantation’ (Jacobs 1861: 17).

The slave owners felt that the slaves were incapable of human emotion and so therefore they should have no human rights. Jacob’s challenges this idea and states the slave-owners to be the violent ones, they are the ones who lack human emotion and by showing both her own and her fellow slaves human emotions through her writing she contradicts this belief, ‘this poor creature had witnessed the sale of her children… without any hopes of ever seeing them again’ (Jacobs 1861: 68).

By showing the pain and emotion of the slaves Jacob’s tries to break through the curtain of lies that shroud slavery, ‘the secrets of slavery are concealed like those of the inquisition’ (Jacobs 1861: 17), and to gain sympathy from the reader and support for abolition. ‘What mockery it is for a slave mother to try to pray back her dying child to life! Death is better than slavery’ (Jacobs 1861: 31) this shows the sheer desperation of the slaves, that they would rather their child die than live through the pain they suffer.

The stereotypes of the slaves and the supposed ‘superior race’ have once again been reversed with the slave-owners exposed to be the ones who are inhuman. Jacobs refers to the lack of humanity and emotion showed by the slave-owners towards the slaves, ‘I would shoot him, as I would a dog’ (Jacobs 1861: 20), exposing how through their prejudices they have become blind to the basic rules of humanity and the respect you should have for a fellow being.

Mary Prince, a fellow slave writer also conveys a sense of pain in her narrative and urges with the readers in England to no longer be ignorant to slavery and to help the abolitionists to free the slaves, ‘Oh the horrors of slavery!–How the thought of it pains my heart! But the truth ought to be told of it; and what my eyes have seen I think it is my duty to relate; for few people in England know what slavery is. I have been a slave–I have felt what a slave feels, and I know what a slave knows; and I would have all the good people in England to know it too, that they may break our chains, and set us free (Prince 1831: 11).

Slave-owners were viewed as the honourable sect of society who maintained the hierarchy of race by controlling those who they saw as beneath them. They hid behind this disguise of honour whilst promoting the business of slavery. However this idea of honour is laid bare in Jacobs’s narrative as she exposes the truth, ‘my master began to whisper foul words in my ear’ (Jacobs 1861: 13) and the true treatment of slave girls at the hands of their so called upstanding masters is revealed.

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In the 19th century women were viewed as delicate beings that needed to be sheltered and protected, a stark contradiction to the treatment of slave girls, ‘women were seen as needing social and moral protection from male tyranny. This was not compatible with the ‘physical brutalization of females and…[the] disregard for black motherhood and maternity’ (Beckles, 2000: 173), ‘women are considered of no value, unless they continually increase their owners stock. They are put on a par of animals’ (Jacobs 1861: 24).

Female slaves suffered from the double negative of black race and female gender which only created more issues with how the readers viewed her credibility, ‘the reception of Incidents arrested to the continuing difficulty of Jacob’s, or any black woman writer’s, gaining an audience: faced with the “double negative” of black race and female gender’ (Garfield, Zafar 1996: 4).

The “double negative” also contributed to the treatment she suffered at the hands of her masters, ‘slavery is terrible for men; but it is more terrible for women’ (Jacobs 1861: 39). The slave-owners would often berate their slaves and justify their actions by claiming the slaves to be beasts and yet they were the ones who abused their slaves in a beastly manner, ‘peopled my young mind with unclean images, such as only a vile monster could think of’ (Jacobs 1861: 13).

Jacobs states how slavery is not a positive influence on the white race as the slave-owners would have them believe, but is instead a curse, ‘I can testify from my own experience… that slavery is a curse to the whites as well as the blacks’ (Jacobs 1861: 26), slavery is turning them into monsters who disregard their religion and their humanity, ‘the white-faced, black-hearted brother’ (Jacobs 1861: 36).

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It is also spoken of how the slave-owners treat their own children who are conceived out of their disgrace, if the child has a slave mother then it must ‘follow the condition of the mother’ (Jacobs 1861: 21) and be ‘reared for the market’ (Jacobs 1861: 26). Showing a distinct lack of feelings towards their own flesh and blood on the part of the slave-owner. However the rule that the child follows the ‘condition of the mother’ only applies if the mother is a slave because if the mother is white and the father is a slave then ‘the infant is smothered, or sent where it is never seen’ (Jacobs 1861: 26) showing a complete disregard for the commandment thou shalt not kill.

Most female slaves were not even allowed to act like mothers to their own children, ‘I longed to be entirely free to act a mother’s part towards my children’ (Jacobs 1861: 86), and there was indignation on behalf of the slave-owners wives that slaves should be allowed to do so, ‘considered it alright and honourable for her, or her future husband, to steal my children; but she did not understand how anybody could hold up their heads in respectable society, after they had purchased their own children’ (Jacobs 1861: 72).

This represents how warped the minds of the slave-owners and their families had become when they felt they had more right to own another being than for them to be with their families, a basic human right.

Harriet Jacobs’s narrative challenges fundamental pro-slavery ideas and aims to abolish the business of slavery. Her narrative however can be viewed as subjective and therefore biased causing the readers at the time it was published to question its authenticity.

At the time of the publication of slave narratives there was a stigma that slave writers were melodramatic in their accounts and so the readers often failed to believe them continuing their support for slavery ‘Jacobs.. had to contend with a sceptical readership that said her work could not be “genuine” because of her emphasis on the domestic, her “melodramatic” style and her unwillingness to depict herself as an avatar of self-reliance’ (Garfield, Zafar 1996: 4).

To try to connect with the reader and to convince them of her narratives authenticity Jacobs speaks directly to the reader, ‘I am telling you the plain truth’ (Jacobs 1861: 17) and states that ‘I do not say there are no humane slaveholders. But they are like angels visits- few and far between’ (Jacobs 1861: 25), showing she is not biased against all slaveholders just those who violate the very core of humanity.

Harriet writes that she knows the readers will not believe what she says, ‘the wrongs, the vices, that grow out of slavery, are more than I can describe…greater than you would willingly believe’ (Jacobs 1861: 13) she states they will not believe her as they cannot possibly know what it is like to be a slave, ‘O virtuous reader! You never know what it is to be a slave; laws reduce you to the condition of chattel… subject to the will of another’ (Jacobs 1861: 28).

Jacobs also questions the authenticity of pro-slavery writings, she speaks of how their writing is deceptive and do not show the true reality of the life of a slave, ‘men go to see slave-owners and encounter favourite slaves in comfortable huts’ and they complain of the ‘exaggerations of abolitionists… what does he know of… girls dragged down into moral filth? Of pools of blood around the whipping post?’ (Jacobs 1861: 38).

She shows herself to be in contrast to pro-slavery writers to be writing a stark and truthful account of the barbaric nature of slavery, not shying away too much from topics such as rape which was not something women were supposed to mention in the 19th century regardless of their status, ‘for the female slave to give a first-hand account of her personal experiences was to contradict nineteenth-century ideas regarding the ‘privacy of “woman”’ (Fisch, 2007: 232).

There is also in parts a lack of evidence such as letters which had been sent to Harriet from her master which were lost but this lack of evidence could of discouraged belief in Harriet’s narrative, ‘absence of materials, may be due to the highly contested theoretical and methodological problems relating to the study of the subaltern subject – problems that are further exacerbated when the subaltern is female’ (Morton 2012).

The editors comments at the end of the narrative also tries to provide Harriet with credibility helping to show the readers that her account is honest and not a fabrication, ‘the author of this book is my highly- esteemed friend’ (Child 1861: 304) showing that she has trust in the writer and therefore so should the reader.

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This is also the case with the narrative of Mary Prince, for whom the issue of authenticity was also a problem with many not believing her account, likely due to the fact that she like Harriet was a female slave writer. The editor therefore states that, ‘the narrative was taken down from Mary’s own lips… no fact of importance has been omitted, and not a single circumstance or sentiment has been added.

It is essentially her own, without any material alteration farther than was requisite to exclude redundancies and gross grammatical errors, so as to render it clearly intelligible Pringle 1831: i).

Slave narratives like that of Harriet Jacobs were used as a tool by abolitionists in their campaign for abolition and were used to reveal the experiences of the slaves, ‘the narratives quickly became the movement’s most essential texts, providing eyewitness accounts of slavery’s brutal reality’ (Fisch 2007: 28).

Jacob’s not only challenges pro-slavery ideas such as religious superiority, the dehumanisation of slaves and the treatment of female slaves, but she also challenges the very principals of the slave-owners and their complete lack of humanity.

The Eagle’s Conquest by Simon Scarrow Review

This is the second book in Scarrow’s Eagles of the Empire series, you can check out our review on the first book here.

The Eagle’s Conquest is an all-round tighter and more succinct novel than it’s predecessor. Scarrow still mixes in his gripping heart pounding battle scenes with the more sedate and slightly boring political intrigue but at least this time around the focus is most definitely on the grand battles of the legions.

Our two heroes, Cato and Macro, continue advancing with their Second Legion into the heartlands of Britannia. But there is a dangerous foe awaiting them. The warlord Caratacus has united many of the local tribes together under one banner for the first time and he will stop at nothing to drive the Roman’s from the shores.

This book takes the men the men of the legions into a number of large scale battles. From the banks of the river Tamis (Thames) to the capital city of Camulodunum (Colchester) the Romans are faced with overwhelming numbers again and again, the only thing they have in their advantage is training, discipline, and of course Macro and Cato.

Our heroes are in the thick of the fighting throughout this adventure. They are bogged down in marshland, they wade across the Tamis to fight and forge a beachhead on the shingle of the enemy bank and they kill many an enemy in the name of their Emperor.

We get to learn more about the aristocrats commanding the legions this time around, notably Legate Vespasian. We learn about his marriage, his lineage and his annoying children. It is this exploration of Vespasian and his family that opens up the political conspiracy and intrigue that furthers the shadowy aspects of this books plot. It is a more well rounded intrigue this time around and is more of a supporting player to the main action than it was in the first book where it was much more of an annoyance.

Under the Eagle Review

I am a huge fan of historical fiction, especially the kind set in the fascinating world of ancient Rome. There’s something about the inherent intrigue and ruthlessness of the Empire at its height that appeals to the reader within me. Which is why Simon Scarrows‘ Under the Eagle and it’s subsequent series is a firm … Continue reading “Under the Eagle Review”

Once again Cato and Macro are both wildly different but equally enjoyable characters, especially Cato, he’s almost like a modern geek in the Roman army and it somehow works where really it probably shouldn’t.

I would like to see more development given to Macro though in the next book to flesh him out from being a simple veteran soldier with a grim but amusing outlook on the world of the legions into a complex man with more than one layer.

The worst part about this book though is the quite poor love story that seems forced into the pages as an after thought. It seems ultimately pointless and seems to have been added simply to tick off a checklist that either the author or publisher had for what needed to be contained within. It’s not a major issue on the whole it’s just a shame that Scarrow created a well balanced book between action and intrigue and threw that off with something so poorly executed.

Rating

Rating: 8 out of 10.

You can grab a copy of this adventure for yourself on Amazon.

Under the Eagle Review

I am a huge fan of historical fiction, especially the kind set in the fascinating world of ancient Rome. There’s something about the inherent intrigue and ruthlessness of the Empire at its height that appeals to the reader within me.

Which is why Simon Scarrows‘ Under the Eagle and it’s subsequent series is a firm favourite of mine.

The series as a whole sheds light on a brutal society that saw its place above everyone else, a place they gained and maintained with ruthless efficiency thanks to the unwavering discipline and prowess of their legions, and it is those legions that form the basis for this novel.

This is not a book about honourable heroes, or emperors calling upon the Gods to give them back their legions, this is a book about the crude common soldier, the kind of men with few scruples and even fewer morals, well except for one of them. This is about the men who shed their blood for the glorious ideal of Rome.

In this first book of the series we are introduced to our two main characters, we have the battle scarred veteran in Centurion Macro and the intelligent and bookish former imperial slave Cato who gets given his freedom if he joins the army.

This books covers the events of Cato’s initial legionary training and the Roman invasion of Britannia in 43 AD.

The books plot is essentially that, Cato must adapt to the roughness of army life and overcome bullies and earn the respect of his commanding officer, Centurion Macro. As the invasion of Britain marches off the two men are dispatched on a secret mission to recover a chest of lost Gold that Julius Caesar had buried when his invasion many decades prior had been forced to retreat to Gaul.

There a umber of subplots woven throughout the story, including romance and imperial espionage, all of which intermix with little surprises and twists as the story progresses.

Some of these subplots are given too much attention however. Cato seemingly skips from a pampered city boy into a somewhat competent solider without really undergoing enough development on the intervening plot lines as the writers attention drifts to one subplot after another. This takes away from Cato’s development somewhat and at times his new found soldierly abilities feel unconvincing. Yet those subplots pay off nicely and I didn’t resent them all that much when the final pages gave them real purpose, plus many of them are elaborated on over the entire series so they do have a place here.

My favourite parts of Under the Eagle are when it ditches the grand overarching view of a continent spanning plot and instead focuses in tightly upon the daily life of the legionaries. Here the narrative pace is quicker and the excitement Scarrow immerses us in is strongest. When the men of the legion have to fed off Germanic hordes of barbarians while hoping vainly for relief is Scarrow at his absolute best, and it’s here that our two heroes get to take centre stage.

But this is not a novel where our heroes see off a horde of enemies on their own, they won’t suddenly become a Hercules and slay a hundred men, this is a novel about the realities of the Roman Empire and her armies. And that’s why it’s best when it’s focused in on the individual, on the man on the battlefield, and that’s why it’s a shame it spends so much of its time looking at big picture events and conspiracies.

Those larger events may be more important as the series progresses but it does take away something from what is otherwise a very good book.

Rating

Rating: 9 out of 10.

If you’d like to check out Under the Eagle for yourself you can get a copy on Amazon.