Friday, May 1, 2015

The Winter Family - Reviewed

The Winter FamilyThe Winter Family by Clifford Jackman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This review was originally written for the Historical Novel Review.

August Winter is the leader of a hardened band of killers, men he picked up during his service in the Union army and his banditry afterwards. Among them are psychopaths, rapists, an ex-slave, and a tortured Indian. These men terrorize the countryside and urban streets, from Sherman’s March to the Sea, to the brutal streets of Chicago, to the deserts of Arizona and Mexico. Spanning three decades, their story is one of tremendous violence, immorality, and carnage.

Jackman’s writing is mesmerizing, and very well done. He sets you deep in the world of the 1860s through the 1880s – the American West as it was opening up to modernity with the advance of steam engines, railroads, and brutal politics. It isn’t the rosy picture so often depicted in Hollywood, at least from yesteryear. Rather, this is the story of the American West from the perspective of the killers and criminals that were so often at the forefront of civilization’s advance.

To call this novel a dark and gritty Western would be a tremendous understatement. We spend its entirety with the worst of men, and Jackman seems to revel in their cruelty and evil. There’s no redemption, little in the way of justice, and nothing good to hold on to. There’s no silver lining, no ray of hope. Just despair and evil. Though I admire Jackman’s storytelling, I couldn’t stomach the graphic violence and seemingly endless wanton brutality.

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By the Sword - Reviewed

By the Sword (Spoils of Olympus, #1)By the Sword by Christian Kachel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I originally reviewed this for the Historical Novel Review.

It is 322 BC and the Macedonian Empire is reeling in the wake of Alexander’s death. Civil war looms as his generals and heirs position themselves to replace their God King – or tear off a piece of the empire for themselves.

Andrikos, a young, fatherless man, faces troubles of his own. He is lured into the seedy underworld of his Ionian hometown, and in his first foray into criminal life he finds himself in far deeper waters than he ever expected. Worse, his family is at risk because of his actions. His only recourse is to join the army, leaving one set of dangers for the larger ones rocking the empire.

After weeks of brutal training – and even worse self-recrimination – he catches the eye of an agent who is part of a secret brotherhood dedicated to the preservation of Alexander’s heirs and legacy. Though he is reluctant to leave his new mates, Andrikos is soon immersed in a clandestine world more secretive than the criminal world he fled and far more deadly than the life as a phalangite offers. And this time, his own contribution could affect the fate of the empire itself.

In this debut novel, Kachel brings the reader on a gritty and powerful foray into Macedon’s conquered realm. It is thoroughly researched, and it has the undeniable authenticity of a soldier (Kachel) writing of a soldier’s life. Andrikos makes for a very sympathetic character, as a young man overwhelmed by his circumstances but eager to rise to the challenge. Recommended, but with a content warning: graphic violence, torture and sexual content. The formatting and cover were well done, and the scattered typos did little to kick this reviewer out of the story.

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Spider and the Stone - Reviewed

The Spider and the Stone: A Novel of Scotland's Black DouglasThe Spider and the Stone: A Novel of Scotland's Black Douglas by Glen Craney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Craney brings Black Douglas to life in The Spider and the Stone. Brutal and epic in scope, this novel gives new insights into the personalities of the Scottish War for Independence. Douglas is a sympathetic character, a principled and aggressive man who must work to keep his wavering would-be king on the throne. Yet, must he sacrifice his love for Isabel to do so? It's a compelling read, one which will stick with you for a long time. Highly recommended.

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