Book Review: Pit of Vipers

pit-of-vipers-final-largePit of Vipers is the second book in the Sons of Kings trilogy written by Millie Thom. It continues the tale of Alfred of Wessex and Eadwulf of Mercia started in Book 1, Shadow of the Raven. The year is 864.

Alfred is now fifteen, and learning kingship at the successive courts of his older brothers.

Eadwulf,  the Mercian who had spent time as a Danish slave, has been back in his homeland now for four years. Though settled into married life in the household of his father-in-law, a Mercian ealdorman, he cannot shake off the memory of his lost love, Freydis. On top of this, he is frustrated by failed attempts to extract vengeance on his uncle. I’ll say no more about either of those worries.

Once again the author includes a handy The Characters page to help with the old names. Names which could easily grace the pages of a fantasy novel: Aethelberht, Heahmund, Wulfrida, Dryhtwald, Paega, Katato – to name just a few. You need your wits about you, but the well-written story does quickly place everyone in context and you are never left confused.

Handy maps in both print and digital versions place the positions of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in perspective.

map from Wikipedia

Large bands of  Scandinavian Vikings break the treaties, raiding Kent.  In 865, they are joined by more Norse and Danish invaders – dubbed The Great Heathen Army – landing on the coast of East Anglia.

While some historians believe the invasion was a natural progression from the increasing raids on the Anglo-Saxon kingdom, the author has chosen to present her story from the view put forth in the Norse Sagas.

Millie Thom says on her explanatory About Book Two page:

In this version, The Great Heathen Army is led by three of the sons of the notorious Ragnar Lodbrok in response to an incident that demands reprisal …

I love the way Millie Thomas imbues her characters with personal qualities. Alfred is a different Alfred than what I came to expect from reading other historical novels where he is portrayed as extremely pious. Here, he seems no more pious than normal in those days when ailments of the flesh were considered manifestations of sin. Alfred does marry and is able to satisfy his fleshly desires without all the guilt. His hemorrhoids seem to cause less trouble, but this bother is replaced by bouts of a mysterious debilitating illness which he bears with fortitude. He hopes he will not die of the same mysterious ailment which takes some of his family.

I don’t think Eadwulf plays as great a part in this novel, but again he is a well developed character and it’s a pleasure to track the life of the ordinary Mercian household from his view-point. His loyalty’s are divided, of course, since he has strong ties with the Danish friends he had to leave behind four years earlier. I expect unfolding events in Book 3 will severely test Eadwulf’s loyalties.

The Pit of Vipers closes in the year 871. Alfred is now King of the West Saxons, and Eadwulf is given an invitation by three Danes which I don’t think he can refuse.

Overall, the story has a lovely finished feel. While I’m eager for the next book of the trilogy to be written and published, I wasn’t left with that unresolvedness you sometimes get in trilogies.

If you love historical fiction of this era, and you don’t wish for seemingly endless blow-by-blow battles,  then you will enjoy Pit of Vipers.  I did.

NOTE:  I purchased the Pit of Vipers. I could have asked for a review copy, but I hold the standard of the author’s research and her writing in high regard and was only too happy to buy myself a copy as soon as I saw it available.

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon Australia

My review of Shadow of the Raven

Shadow of the Raven: Book Review

Shadow of the Raven: Book One, Sons of Kings
Shadow of the Raven: Book One, Sons of Kings

Shadow of the Raven is  beautifully written, edited and formatted. I received a free kindle copy  of this historical novel from the author, Millie Thom, in return for a review .  Shadow of the Raven is Book One of the Sons of Kings trilogy.

The story follows the early years of Alfred of Wessex and the fictitious Eadwulf of Mercia – the sons of kings.

The unfamiliar names are hard to grip at first, but ring with charm – Morwenna, Ocea, Aethelnoth, Thrydwulf, Burgred, Sigehelm, Beorhtwulf, Beornred, Aethelbald, Osbuh, and Aethelswith! The Old English for Alfred is Aelfred or Aefraed. I’m happy the author stuck with Alfred.  A handy cast of Characters helps you keep track.

The story opens in 851, at a time when the fierce Danes (Vikings) routinely plundered Western Europe. Betrayed by one of their own, the Mercians fall to the Danes. His father slain, young Eadwulf is taken away as a slave. Morwenna, his mother, is also captured. Much later, their brief reunion is one of the most poignant scenes in this tale.

We are given a glimpse of Alfred the Great’s early life. When we leave him,  he is barely nine years old but we see how a trip to the Holy City when he was only four shaped his beliefs.  Two years after his mother dies, young Alfred accompanies his father on a second voyage to Rome. Before they leave, King Aethelwulf splits Wessex in two, setting a son to rule each part in his absence. This abdication makes things difficult on his return in 856.

Earlier, in May 853, Alfred’s sister Aethelswith marries Burgred, now King of Mercia, sealing the liaison between the two kingdoms.

It is difficult to believe that Eadwulf of Mercia isn’t a real person telling his own tale – his new life of slavery in a bewildering Danish culture is so richly portrayed. Reviled by his first master’s wife, he finds himself befriended by a new master until he falls in love with the wrong girl. To save his life, Eadwulf must leave, and find his way home to Mercia. But first, there is a matter of revenge to be sorted. I wonder if his savage upbringing will have consequences on his return.

I loved Bernard Cornwell’s  Saxon Tales, and looked forward to Millie Thom’s Book Two, beginning in 864, confident she will give a stirring account of the next few years as portrayed in this map of the time.

512px-England_Great_Army_map.svgBy Hel-hama (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons   (Based on Stenton ‘Anglo-Saxon England’ chapter 8 and Hill ‘ An Atlas of Anglo-Saxon England’ p40-1)

Shadow of the Raven: Book One, Sons of Kings
Shadow of the Raven: Sons of Kings, Book One
Pit of Vipers Sons Of Kings, Book Two

Fortunately I did not have to wait long for Book Two! The Pit of Vipers has just been released.  I could have asked for a review copy, but I hold the standard of the author’s research and her writing in high regard and was only too happy to buy myself a copy as soon as I saw it available.

Millie Thom’s blog gives the prices and links to Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Both books are available on Amazon Australia Kindle.

Book Review: Arafura – Blood, the Wet and Tears

arafura 1My attention to this book resulted from visiting the author’s blog. I  followed up with a visit to  Amazon to take advantage of the  handy ‘look inside this book’ function.  Arafura – Blood, the Wet and Tears, written by Susan Lattwein, hooked me from the start.

Since I couldn’t leave this first Arafura novel unread, I eventually purchased myself a version, after I worked out how to get the Kindle for PC to work with the Linux on my laptop. I couldn’t think  of anything worse than trying to read a novel on the PC itself, though I have no trouble spending all day reading blogs!

This is the product description on Amazon …

Nobody said the build-up would be easy.
No body….

Sensible schoolteacher Kat is planning to marry when her long-term fiancé finds the time.
When the mysterious and damaged Adam arrives in town, Kat is jolted well out of her comfort zone. Despite her loyal intentions, a dead body and enough pre-monsoonal weather to strangle a Kat, she must wrestle with an instant attraction that is emotionally risky and absolutely, definitely fraught.
Arafura will appeal to female and male readers who enjoy quirky, witty suspense with dark edges.

Well, that seems a fairly apt description. The ‘build-up’ is the building up of the weather in the top-end of Australia. Apparently, it sends people crazy.  Add a dead body into the mix and things really heat up.

I do have to read this novel again, as some parts  went over the top of my head. Perhaps the foreshadowing was a bit too subtle: I was confused. I feel some of this will make more sense in Book 2. I felt the opening scene lead me to expect a different type of story, and it was only when the book ended that I found out the next scene was actually a dream sequence. When Kat woke up, I thought it another day ( I’m not sure it is the author’s fault.)  I’m still puzzling over the bikini top scene and wonder what the later scene in the petrol station was all about. I’m hoping the second reading will clear that up.

See, I couldn’t put it down and I read too fast. I devoured the 243 ‘real’ pages over two nights.  I shouldn’t keep reading when I’m tired.

Good points. It’s a great story, I love the romance triangle and the unresolved mystery, too. The main characters were believable, and that’s the main thing.

I am happy with the ending – another benchmark – and I love it enough to buy Arafura 2: Unfinished Business.


Edited later:
I’m a dill.  Pictured the second  Arafura up top, instead of the first. [blush]