20 November 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of Shadows Of Hemlock by K M Pohlkamp

" T
his is the sequel to Apricots and Wolfsbane and Ms Pohlkamp has lost none of her ability to produce a good story."


Fictional Saga / Thriller / Alternative
16th Century
Gaulshire, a mythical shire in Tudor England

Set in a mythical English county in the 1520s Tudor-type England, Aselin Gavrell had once been the apprentice to assassin, Lavinia Maud. Now she is the Master. To gain the confidence in her abilities as well as the patronage of an important client, she must commit four murders. But more important to Aselin is her acceptance as a Fellow into the Guild as they will not accept her credentials on the recommendation of her former Master. They set her a task: find an antidote to hemlock, Aselin's preferred method of assassination. And she has just four months to achieve this.

Aselin has learned well from Lavinia but, if anything, is more arrogant and cynical than her predecessor. More calculating, too. She uses people without conscience until, that is, she realises that she has been used in turn. She is willing to 'use her feminine whiles' to achieve her short term goals whereas Lavinia looked down upon that ploy. 

What follows is a dangerous adventure in which Aselin confronts her own demons, is betrayed and betrays in return as she moves to achieve her goals.

This is the sequel to Apricots and Wolfsbane and Ms Pohlkamp has lost none of her ability to produce a good story, although it is not history in the strict sense of the word, and there are some very un-Tudorish anachronisms and phrases,
 but then, this novel is not, I assume,  actually set in Tudor England, just a sort of mirror-image alternative version of the period and places. I spotted some typos in the pre-published file I read, but these have been corrected for the final version.

My only criticism – and it is a personal one – is the invention of the English Shires that feature in both books, a real Shire would have done no harm to the tale telling, and brought in an extended feeling of realism. 

Shadows of Hemlock can easily be read as a stand alone novel, but I would really recommend reading the previous volume first, not only for the deliciously evil manner of the protagonist, but because the first chapters of this book is a spoiler for the stark and dramatic ending of the first.

© Richard Tearle

Pre-publication PDF ARC edition reviewed

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18 November 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of Farewell My Life by Cynthia Sally Haggard

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"Ms Haggard's writing is exquisite. Her characters are vibrant with life and colour"



family drama
1920s / 1930s
US / Berlin

"A Cinderella-ish tale with not-so-charming princes in the edgy setting of 1920s and 1930s Berlin during the rise of the Nazis, Farewell My Life spins an operatic tale of dangerous love, obsession and loss; of crumbling, dissolving and nothingness, that revolves around Grace, a shy 17-year-old whose fabulous talent for the violin promises a shimmering career."

Set between the two wars of WWI and WWII, the novel starts in Washington DC where single mother Angelina has a tough life bringing up her two children, but Nicholas Russell is to enter the scene.  A promising career with the violin for the youngest daughter, Grace, takes  us to Berlin. Not the best of places in the late 1930s.

Ms Haggard's writing is exquisite. Her characters are vibrant with life and colour, whilst the storyline is engrossing and in places very moving. The research of actual historical events, neatly woven into the fictional ones, is well done. I felt for this family, eager to read on to find out what happened next - although it is a somewhat large tome at not far off 600 pages.

My only slight reserve is the ending, which I personally found to be a little abrupt. But no spoilers, so I will say no more. Even so, a very good read.

© Anne Holt

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15 November 2019

Heir Apparent by Susan Grossey

shortlisted for Book Of The Month

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"From Sam himself, through his adorable wife, Martha, to William Wilson and his new young bride, Alice - and even the baby, young George - each character brings the life of London in the 1800s superbly to life."

(The Sam Plank Mysteries Book 6)

murder mystery

"A young man returns to London from the family plantation in the Caribbean after an absence of six years to be at his father’s deathbed – and to inherit his estate. But is the new arrival who he says he is, or an impostor? Anyone who doubts his identity seems to meet an untimely end, but his sister swears that he is her beloved brother.With their investigations leading them into the complicated world of inheritance law and due process after death, Constable Sam Plank and his loyal lieutenant William Wilson come face to face with the death trade and those who profit from it – legally or otherwise. Among them is an old enemy who has used his cunning and ruthlessness to rise through the ranks of London’s criminal world. And, in this sixth novel in the series, it’s now 1829: as plans progress for a new police force for the metropolis, Sam and his wife Martha look to the future."

I so enjoyed this novel! Apart from the attention to detail, the mystery of 'is  he the heir or isn't he?' and outguessing the author throughout with 'who done it?' (I was wrong), Ms Grossey's characters are so utterly delightful. From Sam himself, through his adorable wife, Martha, to William Wilson and his new young bride, Alice - and even the baby, young George - each character brings the life of London in the 1800s superbly to life. I felt as if I was actually walking with Sam and William along Oxford Street, or entering a coffee house or tavern with them. And as for Martha Plank's apple pie... sadly the one I made the day after reading this novel was nowhere as good as hers. (It comes to something when reading that you can actually smell and taste the food described because the atmosphere of each scene is so brilliantly written!)

It was good, also, to meet with old friends - and enemies. Not to mention the well-thought-out plot! What I especially enjoy about this entire series is the ordinariness of the 'behind the scenes' scenes. The story progresses in 'real time' not as often seems on TV cop shows where the murder happens and the cop/s solve the crime within, apparently, a few days (after several red herrings and while dealing with the trauma of a difficult personal life.) Constable Plank, however, treads a more realistic policeman's beat, doggedly pursuing clues and crimes as they arise (fortified by Martha's cooking),  through  a period of weeks and months. These are not action mysteries, but they are absorbing, thoroughly engrossing and a huge pleasure to read. I have said before, and am happy to say again - Sam, Martha and Constable Wilson are ideal material for a darn good TV cop show with a difference!

Very highly recommended.

© Helen Hollick

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13 November 2019

Katherine Tudor Duchess by Tony Riches

Shortlisted for Book of the Month

"The characters are wonderfully drawn. From king to queen to servant, each were brought vividly to life, whether you liked or loathed them."

Historical biography

“She stands up for what she believes in...but such courage has consequences. Attractive, wealthy and influential, Katherine Willoughby is one of the most unusual ladies of the Tudor court. A favourite of King Henry VIII, Katherine knows all his six wives, his daughters Mary and Elizabeth, and his son Edward, as well as being related by marriage to Lady Jane Grey. When her father dies, Katherine becomes the ward of Tudor knight, Sir Charles Brandon. Her Spanish mother, Maria de Salinas, is Queen Catherine of Aragon’s lady in waiting, so it is a challenging time for them all when King Henry marries the enigmatic Anne Boleyn. Following Anne’s dramatic downfall, Katherine marries Charles Brandon, and becomes Duchess of Suffolk at the age of fourteen. After the short reign of young Catherine Howard, and the tragic death of Jane Seymour, Katherine and Brandon are chosen to welcome Anna of Cleves as she arrives in England. When the royal marriage is annulled, Katherine’s good friend, Catherine Parr becomes the king’s sixth wife, and they work to promote religious reform. Katherine’s young sons are tutored with the future king, Prince Edward, but when Edward dies his Catholic sister Mary is crowned queen. Katherine’s Protestant faith puts her family in great danger - from which there seems no escape.”

I am not, usually, a Tudor fan.  I often think that publishers do not realise that there are quite a few other periods for authors to write about, but I had heard quite a buzz on social media  about this particular author, Tony Riches, and as this novel seemed to be a little different from the norm I offered to read it.

And how glad I am that I did!

This is a totally engrossing novel of someone I didn’t even know had  existed. Katherine Willoughby’s story is that of a remarkable woman who faced danger and hostility when the balance of power changed – and changed again – and depended on whoever wore the crown, or which person (in the case of Henry VIII, which wife) was in or out of favour. Life and survival, which God to worship, Catholic or Protestant, depended on the whim of royal preference. Free will was an unknown quantity during these turbulent times of Tudor kings and queens. (To be fair, during the reigns of several of the Stuarts as well.)

The story spans from March 1528 to March 1557, so there is a lot of ground for Mr Riches to cover – and goodness he does so in style! It is the detail of the writing that impressed me: in the opening paragraph, for instance, where young Katherine is shocked to discover that her recently widowed mother has arranged her marriage,  the line, ‘The leather seat still held the round shape of him [Katherine’s deceased father] as if he had been sitting there only that morning’. It is lines like this that bring the story to a such high standard – the background, the incidentals are so superbly painted.

The characters, too, are wonderfully drawn. From king to queen to servant, each were brought vividly to life, whether you liked or loathed them.

So often reviewers praise a novel for being a ‘page turner’… well, this one certainly is, even if you are not a Tudor fan.

© Anne Holt

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11 November 2019

The Horizon by Douglas Reeman

A Good Read Revisited - a novel selected for UK Armistice Day


"Reeman wrote with natural style. In every scene there are vivid portrayals of life and love, death and tragedy, of hope, glory, fear, desperation... the depiction of Reality, with a capital 'R'. Stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things."


Family Saga / Nautical
Blackwood saga #3

"1914-1918.For three generations, members of the Blackwood family served the Royal Marines with distinction. With the outbreak of World War I, at last comes Jonathan Blackwood's turn to carry the family name into battle. But as the young marines embark for the Dardanelles, and a new kind of warfare, it dawns on them that the days of scarlet coats and an unchanging tradition of honour and glory have gone forever. First in Gallipoli, and two years later at Flanders, comes their horrifying initiation into a wholesale slaughter for which no training could ever have prepared them. Caught up in the savagery of a conflict beyond any officer's control, Blackwood's future rests on the 'horizon' - the dark lip of the trench which was the last fateful sight for so many."

I have read all of Mr Reeman's 'Bolitho' novels, which he wrote under the name of Alexander Kent, but not being a 'World War' fan I'd not explored his wartime stories. I have obviously very much missed out on some marvellous books! 

Reeman wrote with natural style (alas he is no longer with us, a great loss to the literary world, and his fans). In every scene there are vivid portrayals of life and love, death and tragedy, of hope, glory, fear, desperation... the depiction of Reality, with a capital 'R', about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and yet, Douglas Reeman had the gift of detailing a scene without being gratuitous, be it regarding the horrors and violence of war, language or sex. He convinces with natural ease; an author, a gentleman, who wrote with knowledge and passion but a writer who could convey exactly what was happening where, why and how, without resorting to gore, titillation or deliberate sensationalism. 

Above all Reeman, with incredible sensitivity, brings out the pride of these people who fought for their country and for what they believed in. Yes, they are fictional characters, but they are all based on the Tom, Dick and Harrys who fought and lived or died during the two wars, all the more poignant in this particular story for the tragedies of WWI, outside of the more well known Trenches of Ypres, Flanders, and maybe Gallipoli, are all but now forgotten. 

All of which put together make for one heck of a cracking good read.

Poppies, Flowers, Poppy, Red, Nature

© Helen Hollick

Please do visit two relevant posts today as part of Kimberley Jordan Reeman's online tour. 
Kim is Douglas's widow.

Kim Reeman: "Still" and "Carry On"
Helen Hollick: The Horizon

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10 November 2019


A New Literary Website Developed by Carol M. Cram

I write historical novels about women in the arts—medieval painting in The Towers of Tuscany, classical music in A Woman of Note and late Georgian theatre in The Muse of Fire. My love for the arts and of fiction inspired by the arts led me to develop a database of similarly-themed novels.

 I’ve called my new venture Art In Fiction (www.artinfiction.com).
I’ve designed Art In Fiction to be a literary oasis that lists novels inspired by the arts—a comfortable, laid-back, friendly place where readers can browse hundreds of curated titles. Almost every genre is included—historical, thriller, mystery, literary, and even a smattering of sci-fi and romance—across a wide range of subjects, from architecture to dance to ... knitting!  Yes, knit-lit is, I've discovered, a very robust niche.

Here are the ten arts categories of novels listed on Art in Fiction: Architecture, Dance, Decorative Arts, Film, Literature, Music, Photography, Textile Arts, Theatre, Visual Arts. I’ve even included an “Other” category for novels that have an arts focus but don’t fit into any of the categories.

With over 1,000 novels to choose from, and more titles being added daily, Art In Fiction is a one-stop shop for arts-inspired novels. And best of all, membership in the Art In Fiction community is free for readers and authors.

In addition to book listings, Art In Fiction offers blog posts on topics related to the arts and fiction and to cultural travel, guest posts from authors listed on the site, book reviews written by the Art In Fiction team and guest reviewers, and periodic mailouts. Authors with novels listed on Art In Fiction can join the site and have their novels included in a mailout. There’s even a podcast in the works.

Some of the blogs posted on Art In Fiction include:
A Music-Lover’s Guide to Vienna
Gift Guide: Art Mysteries for the Art Lover On Your List
Photo Finish: Snap Happy Novels Inspired by Photography
To Dance, To Dream: Novels about Ballet
Vivid & Vibrant Vivaldi Novels
Yarns About Yarn
Novels Inspired by Jane Austen
Riveting Tales of Hollywood's Silver Screen
Guest Post: The Story Behind Berthe Morisot's "At The Ball"

That’s just a taste. New posts are added almost daily with many more cultural tourism posts (A Jane Austen Guide to England, Best Places to Enjoy Modern Art in France, Top Ten Not-to-Miss Masterpieces in Tuscany, etc.) to come.

I invite readers and authors to visit www.artinfiction.com to discover hundreds of wonderful novels. I’m also interested in receiving blog posts and guest reviews related to novels listed on the website (reposts are fine). 

Art In Fiction is a celebration of the many ways in which authors are inspired by the arts. I’ve been amazed and fascinated by the range of novels I’ve discovered as a result of building the Art in Fiction database. 
I’m so thrilled to share these titles with readers.

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Carol M. Cram (www.carolcram.com) is a multi-award-winning author of historical fiction (The Towers of Tuscany, A Woman of Note, The Muse of Fire), president of New Arcadia Publishing, and founder of Art In Fiction

She lives on Bowen Island near Vancouver on the west coast of British Columbia in Canada with her husband, artist Gregg Simpson (www.greggsimpsonart.com). 

© Carol M Cram

8 November 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of Seven Aprils, by Eileen Charbonneau

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"I enjoyed the balance between the romance and the grim reality of seeing the [US] Civil War through an army hospital."


Family drama

Tess is a crack shot, far better in skill than her father or brothers. Living in Virginia before the onset of the Civil War, her skills help to provide for her family. During one hunting session, Tess finds herself farther away from her home range and ends up saving a stranger from a panther attack. Before the man loses consciousness, he calls her Diana after the Greek goddess of the hunt. The encounter changes both their lives, even though at that moment, they don’t realize it. 

Tess has other pressing worries. Her father, a lazy man, who drove his wife to her grave, is determined to marry off his only daughter to a local merchant for his own comfort. The merchant has a poor reputation in their small community, and he makes Tess’s skin crawl. Knowing if she didn’t take matters in hand she’d end up like her mother, Tess manages to escape.  

Once more her path crosses with that of the stranger she had saved, but this time Tess has disguised herself as a young man named Thomas to pass unnoticed. Ryder Cole is a physician on his way to Washington to serve in the Union as an army surgeon and Tess agrees to join him as his assistant. 

Over the course of the Civil War, Tess develops her skill as a surgeon’s assistant while being careful to preserve her identity as the resourceful Thomas. Through war and hardship, her feelings for Ryder deepens to love, but do they have any future when she can’t ever let him know who she really is, especially when their main concern is surviving the bloody civil war? 

I had read about women who had dressed as men to enlist and serve their country while managing to keep their secret for years. This is what intrigued me about this story. I also enjoyed the balance between the romance and the grim reality of seeing the civil war through an army hospital. Tess and Ryder’s relationship developed out of friendship and a shared purpose while Tess was in her Thomas personae, and more intimately when she came to him as a mysterious woman. Both characters are well-drawn, and I especially loved Tess’s grit. 

Having said that, there were a couple of niggles. I felt that the way Tess manages to keep her identity a secret from Ryder during those times when she appears to him as his mistress felt like a stretch. Also, there were one or two military actions which directly involved the characters that we were told about after the event. I would have preferred to have had these scenes on the page. 

Aside from these minor quibbles, Seven Aprils is an enjoyable read with good characterization and authentic period details that make the reader feel they have stepped back into the Civil War era. Recommended for readers who enjoy a romantic story set in a rich but challenging historical setting. 

©Cryssa Bazos

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6 November 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Lost Queen by Signe Pike

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"The tensions between the old ways and the new religion are vividly depicted"


Arthurian/ historical fantasy
6th Century

In 6th century Scotland, twins are born to Morkan, a petty king of Cadzow. Languoreth and her brother Lailoken lived in a time when the old ways are being destroyed by Christianity, and the result is political instability and conflict. Although Languoreth wants nothing more than to become a Wisdom Keeper (Pike’s term for Druid), it is Lailoken who is chosen for that path. Languoreth is married to Rhydderch, a son of the High King Tutgual who is sympathetic to Christian interests. Rhydderch adheres to the old ways but his fairly tyrannical father has converted. Languoreth’s duty to her people is to act as their emissary, protecting and preserving the old ways as best she can. Through politics, strategic marriage, and ties of loyalty, Languoreth fights for her beliefs. Alongside Languoreth are Maelgwn, a Dragon Soldier for Emrys Pendragon and her lover; her foster brother Gwenddolau, later called the Other Pendragon, or Uther; and her brother Lailoken, who the common people began calling Mad Man - Myrddin, known to history as Merlin. 

Languoreth of Strathclyde was a historical woman, mostly forgotten by history. Thus, the ‘lost’ queen. Fantasy that is based in reality is the best kind, in my opinion, because it takes a beloved story and turns it into something that might actually have happened. No matter how much we suspend our disbelief for the sake of entertainment, it is hard to imagine that a boy really did pull a sword out of a stone and that magic forged the historical foundation of Britain. It is thrilling, though, to find real evidence of men and women on whom the legends are based. Signe Pike has done an absolutely stellar job in creating a believable and complex novel on the basis of bits of information. 

The politics in this novel are detailed and readers feel the stress, uncertainty, and fear produced by it. The tensions between the old ways and the new religion are vividly depicted and reflect an awareness of modern social issues as well as ancient. 

The creation of this world and the characters who will eventually become the well-known figures of Arthurian is intricately drawn out. It is not always a fast-paced novel, so for people who want all action, all the time, this may not be the book for you. For me, though, I’ve finally found a book that can replace The Mists of Avalon as a book I can recommend. 

I had initially skimmed an ARC of this from Netgalley and left a brief review. However, I enjoyed it so much that I bought both the hard copy and audio version. I have to say, the narrator, Toni Frutin, is amazing. I don’t know why she hasn’t narrated more audiobooks, because she absolutely ought to. I also liked hearing the way some of the words are pronounced. 

There were some things I wanted more of; for example, Ariane needed more time in the story. However, this is just part one of a trilogy, so I am hopeful she will make another appearance in the later books. Maybe she will wind up being the Lady of the Lake or something. 

I am looking forward to reading the next installment. 

© Kristen McQuinn

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4 November 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of Cathedral of Bones by J G Lewis

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"There is no doubt that Ms Lewis is passionate about her era and characters, she has done a pretty good job of examining the politics of the time and she particularly excels at conjuring the religious fervour of the period"


England, Salisbury

It is 1226 and Ela Longspee, countess of Salisbury, has barely started to grieve for her husband William when she is called to a murder. A girl has been found in the river, revealed only when the ice thawed. Ela would much rather return to her castle and mourn her loss, but the girl deserves justice, and as she has insisted on taking on the duties of her husband as sheriff of Wiltshire, the investigation falls to her. Ela has no idea where to start, has not even an identity, but when it is discovered the girl was pregnant, solving her mystery becomes more urgent. 

The story takes place in a Salisbury that is undergoing a transformation. The new soaring cathedral has just been completed and around it, a new town is springing up. King John is dead but his son, Henry III, is a somewhat shadowy presence in the story. More vibrant is Hubert de Burgh the chief justiciar of the kingdom and right-hand man of the young king, and Ela's mortal enemy.

There is no doubt that Ms Lewis is passionate about her era and characters, she has done a pretty good job of examining the politics of the time and she particularly excels at conjuring the religious fervour of the period, bringing that aspect into sharp focus, probably better than any other author I have read. However, that has to be tempered with the anachronisms that rather spoil the overall effect, muddling the sense of time. These and the several typos do detract from the overall reading experience.

To be honest, though, for most readers these make little difference and they probably wouldn't notice them, but a prolific historical fiction reader will. Perhaps the author would consider another quick edit? This will give that final polish to what, otherwise, is a thoroughly entertaining, comfortable read with enough tension to keep one guessing to the end.

© Nicky Galliers

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3 November 2019

Cover and Book of the Month for October's Reviews

click here for the 2017 - 2018 Archive

designer Cathy Helms of www.avalongraphics.org
with fellow designer Tamian Wood of www.beyonddesigninternational.com
will select the Cover of the Month
with all winners going forward for Cover of the Year in December 2019
(honourable mentions going forward for Honourable Mention Runner-up)
Note: where UK and US covers differ only one version will be selected

Cover of the Month October's Reviews
Book design by Nicole LaRoche
read our review
Honourable Mention Runner Up 

Cover design by John H. Matthews
read our review

River of Teeth
Cover design by Christine Foltzer
read our review
click here for the 2017 - 2018 Archive
Hard to decide again this month - 
both my choices were enjoyable reads: 
From our October Reviews
A moving tale, superbly written

Book of the Month 
I not only enjoyed this novel - but the entire series!

read our review

1 November 2019

Sorcery in Alpara by Judith Starkston

Shortlisted for Book of the Month

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"Hattu’s people, the Hitolians, are based on the ancient Hittites. Starkston does a masterful job weaving in elements of their culture and religious practices throughout her writing."

Book two of a series

Historical fantasy
1300s BCE
Alpara (modern Turkey)

This second novel in Starkston’s Tesha series picks up right where the first story, Priestess of Ishana, left off. Tesha and Hattu are newly married and traveling to Alpara, his capitol city. Tesha is to be crowned as Hattu’s queen and rule beside him. Instead, as they travel through hostile lands, a dark force attacks Hattu and his army. Tesha frees the army through the use of her skills as a priestess of Ishana, but at a steep price. Tesha is drained of her strength and power, unable to move or speak. As she gradually recovers, under the care of her sister Daniti, it becomes clear to Tesha that Hattu has been overcome by the same dark force. Tesha must struggle against betrayals that take everything she holds dear from her, save Hattu and her new kingdom, without sacrificing herself in the process. 

Second novels in a trilogy often struggle with a sluggish plot in some odd sort of literary ‘middle child syndrome.’ Sorcery in Alpara definitely does not suffer from this problem. From the start, it is full of action and magic, love and despair. Readers get several gut-punches as Tesha fights to save those she loves, even while being unjustly accused of a crime she didn’t commit. 

A major subplot of the novel involves Tesha’s older sister, Daniti, who was taken captive by a faction of Hattu’s enemies. Daniti uses all her considerable skills to delay her captors from carrying out their plans. Helping her is Marak, Hattu’s second-in-command, who had allowed himself to be taken hostage to protect Daniti. Their whole story, while not quite as fraught as Tesha and Hattu’s, is intriguing and highlights some of the facets of being disabled in the ancient world. Daniti’s blindness doesn’t hinder her ability to be a formidable ally to Tesha and fierce enemy to Paskans and others who would overthrow her brother-in-law. 

Hattu’s people, the Hitolians, are based on the ancient Hittites. Starkston does a masterful job weaving in elements of their culture and religious practices throughout her writing. The religious rituals lend themselves extraordinarily well to creating the magic spells Tesha and other priestesses use in this series. Using historically accurate details to turn them to one’s own purpose in a story really helps create a richer reading experience. Starkston has this practice well in hand and she uses her impeccable research on the Hittite culture to modify and implement magic rites within the world she has built around Tesha, who is herself based on a real life Hittite queen, Puduhepa. 

In short, this is an excellent addition to the Tesha series. Strongly recommended to anyone who loves historical fantasy, or who has an appreciation for well-researched books with a seriously fun plot. 

© Kristen McQuinn

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