25 April 2019

RINGSIDE AT THE CIRCUS OF THE FALLEN by Roy M. Griffis

By the Hands of Men, Book Six:  Ringside at the Circus of the Fallen


"Mr Griffis is a highly accomplished writer indeed; he is able to convey thoughts and personalities very well and hold the reader's attention. "


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(Book 6 of 'By The Hands of Men')

Epic / Fictional Saga 

1924 - 1938
Wyoming and Hollywood, United States

First an explanation; when I first met the characters Robert Fitzgerald and Charlotte Braninov it was in the first two books of a trilogy under the umbrella title of 'By the Hands of Men'. That was about two years ago and since then, the author has 're-branded' the series and split the original two books into five. They are, however, essentially the same, and this is the final volume of whichever version of the series you choose to read. And I do urge you to read the previous volumes, for this one doesn't sit too well as a standalone individual tale. Any back story supplied by the author in this volume is fairly sparse and may be a little confusing in places to the new reader as a place to start the series.


So, a very brief 'catch up'. Robert Fitzgerald was a young Lieutenant at the trenches in WWI, Charlotte Braninov nursed him back to health after he was wounded, they fell in love. But Robert was sent back to England, found himself assigned to Singapore and made his way to Africa where he became a veterinary surgeon; Charlotte also went to England, but returned to her native Russia where she suffered greatly at the hands of the Bolsheviks. She eventually escaped, along with a young child, Zlata.


At the beginning of this final volume, Robert is preparing to leave Africa with his friends Orlando and Deidre Pyle, Their intention is to take up an old offer of employment from Marion Hurst, daughter of William Randolph Hearst. But they are unable to make contact and, stranded in Hollywood, they take odd jobs where they can, Robert finding himself helping out at a failing zoo that supplies animals for motion pictures. Along the way he becomes friends with David Niven and, principally, Errol Flynn.


Meanwhile, Charlotte and Zlata have also come to America, by virtue of Charlotte's continued friendship with one of her nursing colleagues, Kathleen, who has married her American farmer boyfriend, Hector. There they stay for a few years before poor harvests and the Depression see them moving to Hollywood where Zlata has become a stunt rider for one of the major studios. Robert and Charlotte meet for the first time in a couple of decades on the set of The Charge of the Light Brigade.


Mr Griffis is a highly accomplished writer indeed; he is able to convey thoughts and personalities very well and hold the reader's attention. I was particularly impressed with the way he handled that very awkward first meeting proper between Robert and Charlotte.  Some readers may find his frequent habit of using parentheses a little off-putting, but I found them to fit in well with his conversational style and, in some cases, almost conspiratorial.


This is a large book and it is almost inevitable that some typographical errors would creep in. There were rather a few more than I would have liked to have seen and some of those occurred in the italicised sections where an 'a' seems to have been inserted instead of a 'd' on a few occasions.  This should not reflect on the author, but perhaps on either the editor or the typesetter.


I have no hesitation in recommending this book but with the proviso that it is advisable to read the previous volumes first.



© Richard Tearle





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24 April 2019

The Garden of Earthly Delights by Robert Dodds


"Dodds’ writing is exceptional: he draws in his reader gently, almost subtly, and I found myself reading on long after I should have put the book down each evening."

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Biographical Fiction

15th century


In the year 1490, Brother Jacomo of Seville is sent to Brabant as a Papal Inquisitor. He loses no time in condemning a man to be burned alive in the main square of Den Bosch. It is a public warning: be sure your sins will find you out. But who is without sin in Den Bosch? Not the local abbess, nor the local artist, Jerome (known to us as Hieronymus Bosch), nor his wife and best friend, who share a mortal sin, nor his serving maid. Nor, as it turns out, the Inquisitor himself, who takes far too much pleasure in devising hideous torture devices, which he insists the local blacksmith makes against his will.

Writing in the present tense, Robert Dodds has taken the creation of a triptych depicting Man’s Fall from Grace for his canvas and created in turn a compelling read. Each character is real, each has his or her good points and weaknesses. Even the foul-minded Inquisitor has a backstory to suggest how and why he has become the man to disrupt and ruin forever the convivial peace of a provincial town.

The setting is Hieronymus Bosch’s home town, but it could be any small town in Northern Europe, for this is the late 15th century when ordinary folk believe utterly in heaven and hell, and that they must do all they can to lighten their burden for the Day of Judgement. The story opens and unfolds in a quiet fashion befitting the location, yet it is a page-turner, and by no means predictable. The artist’s wife and friend and servant share a not uncommon secret, but even that does not play out as one might expect. 

Dodds’ writing is exceptional: he draws in his reader gently, almost subtly, and I found myself reading on long after I should have put the book down each evening.


The Garden of Earthly Delights is skilfully crafted, well-written, informative and enjoyable: it is in every way a Discovered Diamond.



© J.G. Harlond


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23 April 2019

Gates of Stone by Angus Macallan





"The story is told from the points of view of several characters and builds until they all start to brush against each other, and then the fun begins."

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fantasy / alternative


This is one of the rare books we review that isn't historical but is just a step or two away, and will be of interest to readers who enjoy novels set in the Far East. It is somewhere between fantasy and alternative history as it is set in a land that is very familiar if you know south-east Asia. 


The Gates of Stone referred to in the title of the book are two fortresses opposite each other across a strait which allows access to the Laut Besar, an area of land and a wide sea that is approximately where south-east Asia is today. The northern-most fortress sits at the tip of Manchatka, or the Malay Peninsula, and the southern fort is on what would be Sumatra, or Sumbu in Macallan's world. Yawa to the south is Java, with Taman being Bali, more Indonesian islands and Borneo. You get the picture, and if you don't, Macallan supplies a useful map.


The story is told from the points of view of several characters and builds until they all start to brush against each other, and then the fun begins.


Katerina is a dispossessed, ambitious queen who is seeking to regain her Ice Bear throne by taking over the Laut Besar. Farhan is aboard a ship captained by his friend doing as he's told in return for a reward that will pay off his vast debts. Mangku seeks the Seven Keys in an attempt to re-establish the native people of the Laut Besar and destroy the interlopers, who have been there for centuries. And Jun just wants to return to the home that was destroyed when the sorcerer Mangku stole his father's magic sword. None of their plans goes quite as they expected and each faces challenges they could never have imagined.


This is a triumph of a novel. It is fast-paced and perfectly judged, the kind that pits someone you can't like against someone worse and then messes with your sympathies. There are characters you want to disdain but can't and moments you want to shout 'Yes!' even if to yourself on public transport. 


Macallan has created a world of myths and legend, religions that seem familiar and others that are strange, a fantasy with one foot in the real world, a world where guns and swords overlap and blades are far from obsolete. Fresh and different because of the setting and the blending of Japanese, Malay, Chinese and Indonesian cultures into something new, this novel is very definitely a novel and without the set boundaries of history, the author is flying.



© Nicky Galliers



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