Friday, December 27, 2013

5 Things I Liked – And Didn’t Like – About The Desolation of Smaug

This past weekend, my daughter and I saw The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the second installment of Peter Jackson’s take on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit (you can read my review of the novel here). Unlike The Lord of the Rings, where each book in the trilogy fit nicely into its own 3-hour film, Jackson has stretched the single book of The Hobbit into three films. Here are my thoughts on part 2:



1.   Jackson Has Turned The Hobbit Into a True Prequel.


Tolkien wrote The Hobbit years before writing The Lord of the Rings, and it’s pretty clear that when he did so he didn’t have a sequel planned. It wasn’t until his publisher asked for a sequel that The Lord of the Rings was born. As a result, there is very little in The Hobbit that really sets the stage for the next three books. While it’s true that Bilbo finds the ring in the scene with Gollum, he uses it without any ill effects and with no hint that it’s one of the most evil artifacts ever created. In the film, however, Jackson has the ring already taking hold of Bilbo, and he offers more than enough hints as to the dark master who gave it its power. For example, in the Mirkwood scene with the spiders, Bilbo can only understand their speech with the ring on, and when he temporarily loses the ring, he almost loses his mind. This was very well done, and an improvement over the book (even Smaug refers to the ring as “precious,” which is a nice touch).

Also, while The Hobbit mentions a Necromancer that Gandalf must leave the expedition to go deal with, the book never covers those scenes and there’s really no hint that this necromancer is Sauron returning to Middle Earth. In the Appendix to The Lord of the Rings, however, Tolkien later makes it clear that this Necromancer of Dol Guldur was Sauron, and Jackson has drawn on this material to add an entire plotline to the movie – that of Gandalf and his fellow wizards dealing with this emerging threat. He even ties Smaug into the mix by showing that Gandalf’s whole purpose behind the dwarves’ mission is to prevent the immensely powerful dragon from falling under the control of a darker master.

The Necromancer scenes help make this a true prequel

2.  Orcs are everywhere, and there’s a bit too many of them.


One of the ways Jackson has stretched The Hobbit into three films is by adding an entire new plotline involving Azog, the “Pale Orc.” This character is referred to in just a single line of The Hobbit and never makes an appearance in the book. Jackson, by contrast, has Azog and his chief minion, Bolg, hunting down Thorin and Company wherever they go. He was used fairly well in the first film, especially by turning the tree scene with the wargs into a fitting ending to the first installment. This time, Azog is summoned by Sauron to protect Dol Guldur, and since this obviously hinders his plans to kill Thorin (the dwarf who cut off Azaog’s arm), he sends Bolg and his fellow orcs to do the job, and thereafter they infest nearly every scene in the film. The orcs are chasing the dwarves to Beorn’s house, they’re attacking the wood elves, they’re roaming the streets and rooftops of Lake-Town. They’re damn near everywhere. In fact, I was surprised they weren’t hanging out with the dragon. While some of these scenes were well done, I found the constant orc fights a bit tiring by the end.


3.  The barrel riding scene is tremendous!


That said, the scene where the dwarves escape from the wood elves in barrels was fantastic. There are water falls, rushing rivers, pursuing elves, and yes, more orcs. But this time all the action seemed to work. I cannot wait for the first amusement park to offer a simulation of this barrel ride. Seriously, someone needs to do this. It just looks too damn fun!

The end of the barrel ride offers its own reward as we’re introduced to Bard and Lake-Town. Imagine a dirty, ramshackle Venice and you’ll start to get the picture. The setting looked better than I had ever imagined after reading the book, kind of like Rivendale did when Peter Jackson brought it to life in The Lord of the Rings.

These elves are nice additions to the film!

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on the addition of Legolas and the Tauriel, a female Wood Elf played by Evangeline Lily (of LOST fame), who are involved in the barrel riding scene, as well as all the Wood Elf scenes in the film. I thought both characters worked. In the lore of The Lord of the Rings, Legolas (who is not mentioned in The Hobbit) is the son of the Wood Elf king Thranduil (who does appear in The Hobbit, and is great in the film), so he naturally would have been present when Bilbo and the dwarves entered the elves’ Mirkwood realm. Tauriel, on the other hand, was a character created by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh for the film. Yet without her, the film would have no female characters because I don't believe there are any in the book. That’s one of the book’s weaker points, so her appearance in the film is a plus in my view.

4.  The ending was too abrupt, and not what I was expecting.


I went into this film believing that it would cover the entire Smaug storyline and that the third film would consist of an extended version of the Battle of the Five Armies and the resolution of the Necromancer plotline. Boy was I wrong. Instead, we get an extended chase sequence with Smaug pursuing the dwarves all around the underground city of Erebor. While much of this was well done (even if it was nothing like the scene in the novel), it dragged on. Little did I know that this scene would be the movie’s climax, only to abruptly end with Smaug leaving Erebor for Lake-Town. So now we must wait a year to wrap up Smaug’s story, and I found that a tad disappointing.

The dragon is worth the price of admission!

5.  Smaug is amazing!


Regardless of how the movie ended, the rendition of the dragon is tremendous. From its voice, to its massive wings and flaming breath, I must say that Smaug is the most incredible dragon I’ve ever seen presented in film. The dragon alone is arguably worth the price of admission.

I’m sure I’ll see the movie again when it comes out on DVD, and I’m sure my opinions on the film will continue to evolve (I ended up liking the first movie much more after watching it again). Overall, however, I enjoyed The Desolation of Smaug, and look forward to finishing the series in 2014.

Speaking of the upcoming year, this marks my final blog post of 2013, but I’ll be back with another one just after the holiday. Until then, have a happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Enoch’s Device Is A Year Old – And On Sale!

December 22, 2012 marked the day Enoch’s Device was first published, so I'm celebrating its anniversary by putting the Kindle version on sale at Amazon for the next 7 days! In a recent review, Cate Peace of Indie Books R Us called it “a refreshing twist on the religious thriller, and one that will have you turning pages from cover to cover as fast as you can.” You can read her full review here. Here’s a link to the book’s Amazon page, followed by an image of the cover and a brief summary.


Nearly a thousand years after the birth of Christ, when all Europe fears that the world will soon end, an Irish monk, Brother Ciarán, discovers an ominous warning hidden in the illuminations of a religious tome. The cryptic prophecy speaks of Enoch’s device, an angelic weapon with the power to prevent the coming apocalypse.
Pursued by Frankish soldiers and supernatural forces, Ciarán and his freethinking mentor, Brother Dónall, journey to the heart of France in search of the device. There, they rescue the Lady Alais from a heretic-hunting bishop who insists mankind must suffer for its sins. Together the trio races across Europe to locate the device, which has left clues of its passage through history. But time is running out, and if they don’t find it soon, all that they love could perish at the End of Days.
Enoch’s Device is a fast-paced medieval adventure steeped in history, mythology, and mysteries from a dark and magical past.
Stephen Reynolds of SPR said Enoch's Device is a wonderfully imagined, vividly described, alternately lyrical and violent romp of a novel that should give lovers of historical fantasy just the kind of fix they're looking for.”

Marty Shaw of Reader Views wrote: “If you enjoy tales of magic and adventure that are perfectly blended with reality and history, ‘Enoch’s Device’ by Joseph Finley will be an exciting read for you.”
 
And (my personal favorite) author L. Marrick called it: “The most exciting book about monks I've read. ... The monks of Enoch’s Device run circles around any monk from Robin Hood. Stealing from the rich and giving to the poor? Child’s play. They’re working with ancient magical forces to thwart a corrupt, evil bishop. They’re rescuing beautiful women from being burned at the stake. They’re travelling across the medieval world to save the medieval world.”

Earlier this month I gave an interview to Ms. Peace, where I revealed a bit more about the upcoming sequel – you can read it here.  Also, you can read more about Enoch, the Fae, and the Paladins of Charlemagne in my interview with author Tyler Tichelaar here.

Happy holidays everyone!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

5 Things That Struck Me About Beowulf

When last I left my series on The Magic of Medieval Fiction, we were in the Sixth Century – the age of Beowulf, the subject of one of England’s most famous epic poems. The tale was the inspiration for Michael Crichton’s Eaters of the Dead, and has spawned numerous films, both live and animated. I recently re-read the story, and five things really struck me this time around.

My favorite Translation

1.  The Monsters Have Biblical Origins


Despite the story’s Norse-like setting, Beowulf’s author was obviously Christian, for he gave Grendel and his evil mother biblical origins. When I first encountered this, my hope was it would tie-in with Enochian myth. Perhaps Grendel and dear mom were Nephilim who survived the Great Flood and now lurked in the shadows? Alas, while the poem makes a reference to the giants (the “Nephilim” of Genesis 6:4), Grendel and his mother turn out to be descendants of Cain, banished in their monstrous form as divine punishment for the murder of Abel:
“Cain got no good from committing that murder because the Almighty made him anathema and out of the curse of his exile there sprang ogres and elves and evil phantoms and the giants who strove with God time and again until He gave them their reward.”
In retrospect, the odds that Beowulf’s author would have known about the Book of Enoch are slim to none because the Book of Enoch all but disappeared during the Middle Ages. (One of my characters in Enoch’s Device has a great conspiracy theory on the reason why :)

2.  Beowulf Is Foolhardy Brave


When the hero of the Geats arrives to help King Hrothgar rid his land of Grendel, he learns that Grendel scorns the use of weapons. So, being the badass that he is, Beowulf decides to forego weapons too and fight to the death in hand-to-hand combat. Of course, this foolish move works out in the end since it turns out that Grendel can’t be harmed by mortal weapons. Fortunately Beowulf is such a badass, he just tears off Grendel’s arm, which is pretty much all she wrote for the big baddie of this tale.

Who can forget Angelina Jolie as Grendel's Mum - she even wore high heels!*

3.  Grendel’s Mom Doesn’t Look Anything Like Angelina Jolie


In Robert Zemeckis’ 2007 film Beowulf, Grendel’s mom is pretty much a naked Angelina Jolie with a really long ponytail. In the actual poem, she’s a “tarn-hag” and a “swamp-thing from hell.” Oh well.

4.  There’s Always a Magic Weapon When You Need One


Like many good fantasy tales, it’s a magic weapon that allows Beowulf to defeat Grendel’s mother: “a sword in her armoury, an ancient heirloom from the days of the giants.” Even more, it’s “holy God” who allows him to find the magic sword, and then with one good chop, it’s off with her head. The notion of a magic weapon – particularly one given to the hero as a divine gift – is one of the archetypes of fantasy fiction (and old hero tales in general), so it’s only fitting that one of the oldest epic poems had one lying around.

We can thank Beowulf for giving us Smaug

5.  The Dragon At The End Is A Precursor to Smaug


Long after the story of Grendel and his mom is wrapped up, the poem contains a whole new story about a dragon. It takes place years after the first tale, when Beowulf is fifty and now the king of the Geats. Lo and behold, the dragon lives in a barrow, guarding a hoard of gold, and only comes out after a thief sneaks in and steals a gem-studded goblet. Sound familiar? J.R.R. Tolkien was a Beowulf expert and even gave a lecture in 1936 called “Beowulf: The Monsters and The Critics.” So I had to smile when I remembered that scene from The Hobbit where it’s Bilbo’s theft of a cup that awakens Smaug from his slumber. I haven’t seen The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug yet, but I’ve read that the dragon is amazing, and we can all ultimately thank the author of Beowulf for that!

Try reading Old English - I dare ya!

One last word on the tale: My favorite translation of the story is the bilingual edition by the late Seamus Heaney. The book has the translated verse side by side with the original Old English text, which makes you realize that modern English looks and sounds nothing like what they wrote in the Middle Ages. I always smile when some folks are critical of historical fiction set in the Middle Ages because the characters are speaking in “modern” English. Trust me, if the characters talked in Old English, you couldn’t understand a word they said, and Mr. Heaney’s translation proves this point. The translated verse, however, is easy to read, and quite beautiful in places. And it makes the story read like a novel instead of a thousand-year-old poem. It is very well done, and not surprising that Mr. Heaney’s version became a New York Times bestseller.

* Trailer photo from RottenTomatoes.com

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Gideon’s Angel – Historical Fantasy at Its Best!

Every once in a while I read a novel that reminds me why I adore historical fantasy. It starts with the historical setting, a window to a world in our past and a chance to learn a bit of history – a trait that all well written historical fiction shares. But add in a bit of the mystical and magical, particularly if it’s based on real-world religion or mythology, and the story can become something special, igniting the imagination in ways that only fantasy fiction can. Gideon’s Angel by Clifford Beal is a case in point.


I absolutely loved this novel. It’s set in the Seventeenth Century following the English Civil War. King Charles I has been executed, his son is in exile, and Oliver Cromwell has become the Lord Protector of England. The story’s protagonist is Colonel Richard Treadwell, a Royalist and veteran of many wars, who is exiled to France, working in the service of Cardinal Giulio Mazarin and his agent, Monsieur d’Artagnan (a real life character and the hero of The Three Musketeers). The cardinal has learned that someone in the English court is dabbling in the black arts, and may be preparing to unleash a great evil into the world. The cardinal believes Colonel Treadwell possesses “a skill for finding the Underworld like a pig finds truffles,” and wants him to discover this Satanist among the English court. But Treadwell, has other ideas, planning instead on joining a rebellion to overthrow Cromwell.


Treadwell travels to England, only to find the rebellion is being led by fools, but that the threat the cardinal warned of may be all too real. He soon earns the enmity of Major Gideon Fludd, a member of a secret society called the Fifth Monarchy. Fludd believes he can commune with an angel, and by doing the angel’s bidding, he will usher in the second coming of Christ, even if it will take the murder of Oliver Cromwell to make that happen. Suddenly, Treadwell finds himself on a quest to save Cromwell, the man he vowed to overthrow, and to stop Fludd and his supernatural minions to prevent the End of Days.

Treadwell is accompanied by an unlikely sidekick, a young rapscallion named Billy Chard who is so likeable he quickly became one of my favorite characters. Meanwhile, Treadwell’s Parisian mistress, Maggie, has followed him to England, accompanied by d’Artagnan, who is hell-bent on returning the rogue colonel to Cardinal Mazarin. Along the way, Treadwell is also aided by a mysterious gypsy, a group of Freemasons, and a Spanish rabbi, who is a scholar of Jewish mysticism.

The story’s “magic” is based that mysticism and includes some of its legendary artifacts, such as the Seal of Solomon and the Key of Solomon. There are abundant supernatural elements, including a host of demons – imagined in the truest medieval sense – and the “angel” that gives the book its title. All these magical elements work well together, blending seamlessly with a swashbuckling action and adventure tale that kept me turning the pages. I loved all of the religion and mysticism, and ended up really caring about the characters. Also, the well-developed historical setting made me feel as if I was roaming through Seventeenth Century London (especially London Bridge, where a lot of action occurs). In all, Gideon’s Angel is historical fantasy at its best, and I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

5 Things to Love About Sleepy Hollow

I came late Fox’s Sleepy Hollow. I read about it before the season aired, but thought it was merely a modern day retelling of the story that was already done to perfection by Tim Burton in his movie, Sleepy Hollow. So, I decided to pass. It wasn’t until the show started to pick up some serious media buzz that I took a second look. Fortunately, U-Verse on-demand helped me quickly catch up on the episodes I missed, because all the hype is well justified. This show is fantastic, and here are my top 5 reasons why:


1. The Apocalyptic Angle

Sleepy Hollow completely transforms the legend of the headless horseman. Instead of merely being some evil spirit (as in Burton’s version), this horseman is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, book of Revelation style. The show draws heavily from this biblical source (even if it takes some liberties with the material). The horseman’s goal is to find his head, and when he does, he’ll summon the remaining three horsemen and usher in the End of Days. I obviously love good fiction based on the biblical apocalypse. After all, I wrote an entire novel about it, albeit one set at the end of the Tenth Century instead of 2013.


The story’s protagonist, Ichabod Crane has been bound to the horseman since beheading him in 1781. Though the horseman dealt Ichabod a fatal blow, Ichabod’s wife, a benevolent witch named Katrina, used a spell that put him into a death-like sleep until the horseman rose from the dead. Now Ichabod and his partner, Sleepy Hollow Police Lt. Abbie Mills, must prevent the horseman from achieving his goal. The show portrays Ichabod and Abbie as the “two witnesses” referenced in Rev. 11:3, and even though scripture doesn’t have these two folks preventing the apocalypse, I’m certainly fond of this premise. (In many respects, they’re just like Ciarán and Dónall in Enoch’s Device, trying to prevent he End of Days!) Transforming the Legend of Sleepy Hollow into a race to save humanity from demonic forces that seek to bring about the apocalypse was a brilliant move, and one of the elements, I believe, that has made the show so successful.


2. The Historical Flashbacks

The fact that Ichabod is supposed to be the real Ichabod Crane, a Revolutionary War era soldier in the service of George Washington, was another brilliant move on the writers’ part. Not only does this lead to some of the best lines in the show (as an 18th Century Ichabod amusingly adapts to 21st Century life), but it allows frequent flashbacks to Revolutionary and pre-Revolutionary times. So far, we’ve had scenes with George Washington and Paul Revere, as well as a flashback to the Boston Tea Party. I love these flashbacks, and when they’re coupled with the supernatural storyline, they make portions of the show into wonderful historical fantasy.


3. The Secret History

Embedded into all of the historical flashbacks is the notion that against the backdrop of the Revolutionary War a secret war against good and evil was being waged to prevent the End of Days. General Washington was aware of this war, and Ichabod was one of his agents against evil (indeed, in the show, Ichabod organizes the Boston Tea Party as a diversion during an episode in this secret war). The Freemasons also play a role (Ichabod was a Freemason, and so was Washington), as do many arcane items from myth and legend, such as the Lesser Key of Solomon, a spell book containing secrets to control and ward against demons. Even Washington’s own bible supposedly contains clues to this secret history, which, much like the secrets in the X-Files, are a driving source of the intrigue and mystery that makes Sleepy Hollow work so brilliantly.



4. The Chemistry Between Ichabod and Abbie

All the secret histories and apocalyptic tie-ins are great, but the show wouldn’t be as good as it is without the tremendous on-screen chemistry between Ichabod and Abbie. It’s as good as Mulder and Scully, or Castle and Beckett. Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie could not have been better cast!


5. The Stakes

Ichabod and Abbie are fighting to save the world. Such high stakes are a staple of epic fiction, and by pitting the heroes against a diabolical enemy who seeks to bring about the end times, the show invokes one of the classic archetypes of fantasy fiction: the overwhelming ancient evil. You don’t get more classic good vs. evil when the big baddie of Revelation is involved! Great evil has been part of human history since the beginning of time, and events like 9/11 are merely reminders of this fact. Yet I believe one of the reasons folks enjoy fantasy fiction is to experience a story world where such evil can be vanquished. I know that end of the world plotlines have become a bit cliché, but when they’re done right, they’re worth it. And Sleepy Hollow is doing it all very right.

In October, Fox renewed the show for a second season, so it looks like the adventure of Ichabod, Abbie, and the horseman will continue, and from here on, I’ll be along every week for the ride!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving, 1621 Style!

I wrote this last year, but I think I'll repost it every year around this time. If you're curious, I've included my menu for this year's Thanksgiving at the end of this article.

Growing up, I never paid much attention to the origin of Thanksgiving. Other than what I may have learned from elementary school, all I ever recall knowing was that it was a big feast between the pilgrims and the Native Americans sometime after the English landed at Plymouth Rock. Only in the past few years did I become interested in what really happened at the first Thanksgiving. Like many an adventure, it all started with a few bottles of wine ...

Thanksgiving, 1621, Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Not that the pilgrims drank wine at the first Thanksgiving (at least by any accounts I’ve read, although they did have some beer), but the several bottles my friends and family drank a few years ago, after another gut-busting Thanksgiving dinner, inspired us to do some research into the origin of Thanksgiving. (That’s also how we discovered the role Squanto played in all of this, but more on him in a moment.)

Apparently there are only two written accounts of the first Thanksgiving, which was celebrated in 1621 as a harvest feast by the English colonists at Plymouth and the Wampanoag, a Native American tribe. Turkey, it turns out, was not the centerpiece of the meal, although one of the two written accounts referenced a “great store of wild turkeys.” The main course appeared to be venison, but there is also reference to waterfowl and “Indian corn.”

The interesting part of the meal is what was not eaten, at least according to an article in The Smithsonian Magazine. There were no potatoes or sweet potatoes, because white potatoes originated in South America and sweet potatoes came from the Caribbean, and neither had apparently made it to North America by 1621. The colonists also lacked butter and wheat flour, so there was no pumpkin pie. Among things they probably did eat were fish, eels, and shellfish (like lobster, clams, and mussels), which were staples for the Wampanoag and the colonists.

But this feast may never have occurred if it were not for a Patuxet Native American named Tisquantum, commonly known as Squanto. He served as an interpreter for the colonists, taught them how to grow corn, and showed them the best places to catch fish and eel, which helped them survive their first winter at Plymouth. He also helped negotiate a peace treaty between the colonists and the Wampanoag in March of 1621. Without this, I suspect there would not have been a first Thanksgiving.

A drawing of Squanto – I imagine he dressed more warmly in the winter of 1621!

Squanto’s backstory was less than idyllic. He was captured twice by the English and forced to leave behind his wife and child. During his first captivity in 1605, he was taken to England along with several other native Americans, where his captor, Capt. George Weymouth, wanted to display them for his financial backers, who were interested in seeing some natives from the New World. In England, Squanto learned the language and apparently became the consort of an English woman. By 1613, he was hired as a guide for an expedition to New England, and returned to the New World with the famous explorer John Smith.

This is the same John Smith who was saved by Pocahontas in 1607 and 1608.

But Squanto’s time back in Plymouth, where the Patuxet tribe lived, did not last long. Once Smith went north on another expedition, one of his lieutenants, a Capt. Thomas Hunt, decided to kidnap Squanto and twenty-six other Native Americans and sell them into slavery. Hunt sailed to Spain, where he hoped to sell his captives for twenty pounds each. When some local friars discovered Hunt’s plans, they rescued Squanto and his brethren, hoping to convert them to Christianity. Squanto ended up living with the friars until 1618, when he found his way back to London, and then to a ship headed to the New World.

Upon returning home, Squanto discovered that his entire Patuxet tribe had died from the plague (believed to be smallpox, a disease introduced to the New World by Europeans). Despite all of this mistreatment and misfortune, he stayed and helped the colonists until he died of fever in 1622. According to one account, the Massachusetts governor at the time called Squanto a “special instrument sent by God for their good beyond their expectations.”

So this Thanksgiving, my family and friends are going a bit more historical. There will be venison and some lobster, and turkey of course. (I suspect mashed potatoes will be in order too, only because my friends and family might never forgive me if I eliminate them for the sake of historical purity.) There will also be more wine, and probably a few mixed drinks – including a special concoction that we intend to dedicate to Squanto.

2013 Menu Update: Last year I did a multi-course meal for Thanksgiving, and this year will be no exception! (Each course will also be paired with a wine or cocktail :)

Course One: Watercress and endive salad with roasted hazelnuts and cranberries

Course Two: Baked cherrystone clam and fried lobster tail with horseradish crème fraiche sauce

Course Three: Pumpkin soup with fig quenelles and prosciutto

Course Four: Venison sausage with caramelized pear and cider

Course Five: Roast turkey with Irish Colcannon, sweet potatoes, and oyster dressing

Course Six: Banana pudding with meringue

Yes, I love cooking almost as much as I love writing! HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Narrative Viewpoint & The White Queen (plus a book review too!)

After finishing The White Queen on Starz, a show I really enjoyed, I picked up the novel by Philippa Gregory on which the show’s based. The Starz series stayed true to the novel, The White Queen, with a few significant exceptions, namely a very real difference in the stories’ narrative points of view.
The cover of my edition
Having read the novel after watching The White Queen on Starz, it’s difficult for me to comment on the book without drawing certain comparisons between the two. The novel is set during The War of the Roses and tells the story of Elizabeth Woodville, a widow and minor noblewoman, loyal to the House of Lancaster, who falls in love with the young York king Edward IV and improbably becomes queen of England. Her marriage to Edward ignites a bitter conflict with his mentor, the Earl of Warwick (known as the “Kingmaker,” since he put Edward on the throne), who feels betrayed after arranging Edward’s marriage to a French princess.

Edward’s brother George is none too happy about the situation either, and ultimately he joins forces with Warwick against the king. And then there’s Edward’s brother Richard—the famed number III of Shakespeare’s play—who also has a claim to the throne, and together, the three of them comprise the novel’s antagonists. While the events in the book track those of the show, the novel concludes a bit earlier, before the Battle of Bosworth Field between Henry Tudor and Richard III for England’s throne. 
Richard III - According to Shakespeare
The first thing that struck me is that the novel is written in the first person point-of-view. This means that (theoretically) every scene is supposed to be from Elizabeth’s viewpoint. So, unlike the show, there are no scenes from the viewpoint of Warwick’s daughters, Anne and Isabel Neville (though Ms. Gregory did write a separate novel about them called The Kingmaker’s Daughter). Nor are there any scenes from Margaret Beaufort’s point of view. In fact, Margaret is a bit character in the novel, and her most significant interaction is by way of a letter to Elizabeth near the story’s end (although Margaret also has her own book by Ms. Gregory, titled The Red Queen). 
Well cast - He's a threatening character in The White Queen!
Another downside to the use of first-person point-of-view is that most of the battles involving Edward are not scenes. All we get is news of the battle as it’s relayed to Elizabeth. One exception is Edward’s battle against Warwick, where the author jarringly switches to third person point-of-view, since Elizabeth is far away at Westminster Abbey. It’s as if the author realized halfway through that her chosen viewpoint was too limiting, so she just tossed out the rules on point-of-view and kept on going. I will say that the first-person viewpoint seriously enhanced the scenes where Elizabeth and her children are living in sanctuary at Westminster Abbey. In those scenes, the reader really feels Elizabeth’s tension and fear, especially as to Richard, who turns out to be a ruthless and threatening antagonist. Indeed, the sanctuary scenes during the time of the Princes in the Tower are so well written that I increased my rating of the novel.
The Poor Princes in the Tower
The second thing that struck me is that this novel, beyond any doubt, is a work of historical fantasy. Elizabeth, her mother, and her siblings are Burgundians who supposedly descended from the river goddess Melusina. In fact, in the novel, there are frequent intervals where Melusina’s story is told (she’s a figure of European folklore that seems to have inspired the tale of The Little Mermaid, as best I can tell, since she’s a half woman, half fish who becomes human for a man’s love). By calling upon the goddess’s power, Elizabeth and her mother (and later her daughter) are able to work magic, usually by conjuring violent storms that wreak havoc on their enemies and drive the outcome of major historical events. I adored this aspect of the book because I love historical fantasy that stays true to history, but isn’t afraid to add a bit of magic or mysticism too. 
This is why I love historical fantasy - and sometimes drink Dos Equis!
Overall, I found The White Queen to be every bit as good as the show, if not better in some respects. I’m glad I read it, and I’m curious to read more novels in The Cousins’ War series.

P.S. – If you liked the theme song to The White Queen series, it’s available on iTunes. (Yes, I’m a proud owner and frequent listener!) And as for Melusina, well, she’s apparently the inspiration for Starbuck’s logo. Yes, she may have influenced significant battles in The War of the Roses, but she also brews damn good Sumatra coffee!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Enoch’s Device – In The Seattle P-I!

Recently, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer re-ran an interview I gave to author Tyler Tichelaar about my novel, Enoch’s Device. I wasn’t expecting this, but what a great surprise! In the interview, I provide some insight into the meaning of the book’s title, the role played by the paladins of Charlemagne, and the sequel in the works. You can read the entire interview here, and some excerpts after this image of the book’s cover.


To begin, will you tell us a little about the basic premise of Enoch's Device?

It's about two Irish monks, Brother Ciarán and his mentor, Brother Dónall, who are trying to prevent the apocalypse at the end of the Tenth Century. Their quest is driven by a cryptic prophecy that speaks to the End of Days and an artifact called Enoch's device, which might have the power to prevent the apocalypse. Their journey leads them to a French village whose deceased lord and widowed lady have some mysterious connection to the device. There, they end up rescuing the lady Alais from a heretic hunting bishop, but are pursued by the bishop and seemingly supernatural forces as they race across Europe to locate the device before it's too late.

Are you able to tell us just what the device is, or is that part of the mystery?

I can't say too much without revealing some huge spoilers, but one of the novel's central mysteries centers around the questions: what is Enoch's device? And where is it? Early on in the story, it's revealed that the device is an ancient weapon with the power to prevent the apocalypse. The device has left clues of its passage through history, yet discovering exactly what the device is, and how it has influenced history, is a puzzle that both the characters and the reader must solve.

* * *

For readers who may not know, can you tell us what is significant about Enoch in the Bible, and also, what is significant about the Book of Enoch?

In the Bible, Enoch is very close to God. The book of Genesis says that Enoch walked with God until God took him, which many believe means that Enoch never died and was literally carried to heaven. The significance of the Book of Enoch is that it tells the whole story behind Genesis 6:1-4, where the "Sons of God" - who were angels - saw that the "daughters of men" were fair and took them as wives on earth, giving rise to the race of Nephilim. These events lead to the wickedness that convinces God to use the Great Flood to wipe out creation. The Book of Enoch goes into far more detail, explaining how the fallen angels taught men sorcery and revealed to them the eternal secrets before God dispatched the archangels Michael, Uriel, and Raphael to deal with the problem.

* * *
In the Book of Genesis, Enoch was one powerful dude!
Will you tell us about the main character, Ciarán, and how he becomes involved in trying to save the world?

Ciarán is a twenty-year-old Irish monk at the monastery of Derry whose world changes when his mentor, a senior monk named Brother Dónall, is accused by a bishop of heresy. In his attempt to prove Dónall's innocence, Ciarán discovers a series of warnings hidden in the illuminations of a copy of the book of Revelation. Those warnings reference a cryptic prophecy tied to the End of Days - and the unfortunate fact that the prophecy has already begun. So Ciarán not only has to save Dónall, but together, they need to decipher the prophecy to save the medieval world.

* * *

The story takes place largely in Ireland and France. Why did you choose those countries as your setting?

A good number of my ancestors were Irish, so when it came time to find a home for my two heroic monks, Ireland was the natural fit. Also, in doing research for the book, I read Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization, which further inspired me to make the two heroes of the novel Irish. As for France, a lot of the mysteries in the novel, including the cryptic prophecy, involve the writings of one of the paladins of Charlemagne named Maugis d'Aygremont. As a result, a good deal of the adventure takes place in France, but there's also a portion of the novel set in Moorish Spain, so I've always viewed the characters' journey as spanning much of Western Europe.

Can you tell us more about Maugis d'Aygremont? Are his writings real or did you make them up?

Maugis d'Aygremont was one of the legendary paladins of Charlemagne, although I've not seen any evidence from the eighth or ninth centuries that he actually existed. That said, he is a major character in the French "chansons de geste" written in the twelfth century. In those stories he's like a younger version of Merlin, although he's also a belted knight who adventures alongside Roland and the other paladins. So Maugis, like most of the paladins of Charlemagne, is similar to one of the Knights of the Round Table. He is historical in a legendary sense, but may not have been real. As for Maugis' writings, the "chansons de geste" are filled with references to his book of spells, which, according to one story, he learned from a Fae (or fairy) named Orionde. This spellbook inspired the Book of Maugis d'Aygremont in Enoch's Device.

What can you tell us about the fairies in the novel without giving away too much?

In the novel they're called the Fae and they are the same mysterious figures from many of the Celtic legends. The twist is that in Enoch's Device these beings are actually fallen angels who received clemency following the war in heaven and were allowed to remain on earth instead of being imprisoned in the underworld. The story of these fallen angels is a central topic of the Book of Enoch and is even hinted at in the Book of Genesis. One of the monks in Enoch's Device theorizes that this story became the origin of various legends and myths about the Fae and the pagan gods. The Fae of Enoch's Device have largely faded from the world, but they left behind some of their arcane secrets and entrusted a few of them to the paladins of Charlemagne.

* * *

Do you plan to write any more books, and can you tell us a little about them if you do?

I'm actually working on the sequel to Enoch's Device right now, which will pick up where the first book ends. It will also take the characters and the reader on another journey, this time to England, where the Vikings were a huge problem, and ultimately to Rome.

Might Ciaran's journey end here?
On a totally separate note, I was also recently featured in an "Author's Spotlight" on writer Mark Alford's blog (thanks Mark!). You can read his post here.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Book Review – The Scourge: Nostrum

I ripped through the second book in Roberto Calas’ The Scourge series, and I think that’s a testament to how engaging these books really are. I’ve tried hard to write a review that doesn’t contain too many *SPOILERS,* but if you’re inclined to read the first book in the series, you may want to stop now and return back after you’ve enjoyed The Scourge.


Nostrum begins immediately where The Scourge ended: the wife of Sir Edward of Bodiam is now one of the afflicted, which sets Edward on a quest for a cure for the disease that is turning the English population into zombie-like “plaguers.” There are rumors of an alchemist who’s invented a cure and lives in an island fortress. Leaving his afflicted wife imprisoned in the abbey of St. Edmund’s Bury, Edward sets out to find the alchemist, and one hell of an adventure ensues.

Edward is soon reunited with his best friend, Sir Tristan of Rye, as well as a new travelling companion, a beautiful nun named Belisencia who may not be all that she seems. Together, they search for the alchemist, encountering plaugers along the way, and even worse, humans afflicted by what Edward calls the “third plague” – a madness that has swept across England, inspiring many to do unthinkable things in the name of religion. There is a scene about midway in the novel involving the cult of a self-proclaimed “Hugh the Baptist” that embodies this madness to its fullest, and it’s one of the most memorable in the novel.

Overall, I found Nostrum to be even better than The Scourge. It’s less gritty and less grim, but more of a rollicking adventure tale, which I found even more fun to read. It’s rare when the sequel exceeds its predecessor, but I think Roberto Calas has accomplished that here. One of my favorite scenes in the book involves Edward and Tristan’s need to slay a dragon. Although this novel is a work of historical fantasy, Nostrum’s “dragon” is completely grounded in historical plausibility, a brilliant move by the author, who has a knack for imbedding as much real history as possible into a story about a medieval zombie apocalypse.
Might a medieval dragon look something like this?
Without giving much away, the ending is thrilling. An old enemy makes his return, and the madness of the third plague threatens everything Edward has fought for. The ending leaves room for a third book, and I really hope the author gets a chance to write it. It seems there is one more tale needed to complete Edward’s journey, and after the first two in this series, I’ll pick it up on my kindle the day it’s released!
 
You can buy a copy of Nostrum here.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Book Review: The Historian

I’m not a big fan of horror novels, but I’ve read my fair share of vampire fiction, everything from Bram Stoker’s Dracula to Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, and even Twilight, if for no other reason than to see what all the hype was about. This Halloween, however, has me thinking about one of the more unique and intriguing vampire-related novels I’ve read: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. My review follows after this image of the book’s cover.

 
The Historian takes Bran Stoker’s Dracula and links him to his historical inspiration: Vlad III, the fifteenth century prince of Wallachia, known as Vlad the Impaler. The narrator is a woman who, at age 16, stumbled across the journal of her father, the story’s protagonist, a former diplomat and professor named Paul. Most of the book is then told from Paul’s point-of-view, either from his journal or conversations with his daughter. It begins when Paul, as a graduate student, discovers a strange book that someone left on his desk in the university library: a small tome the size of a prayer missal with vellum pages that opened to the center, bearing the woodcut design of a winged dragon and a single word: “Drakulya.” The rest of the book’s pages are blank, but they reek of decay and the smell of corrupted flesh.

Paul shows the book to his friend and advisor, Prof. Rossi, who happens to possess a similar copy, both printed in Central Europe in about 1512. Rossi claims the copy was left on his desk as a graduate student, just like Paul’s, and it led him to conduct research on Vlad the Impaler, a tyrant and enemy of the Ottoman Turks. Rossi traveled all the way to Istanbul where he discovered a chilling truth: Vlad Dracula is still alive. 

Not long after this revelation, Rossi disappears and the implication is that Dracula, or one of his minions, has taken him. What ensues is Paul’s quest to find his mentor, and to do so, he must find the secret location of Dracula’s tomb. Paul is aided in his quest by a dark-haired beauty named Helen, who turns out to be Rossi’s daughter. Their relationship, and ultimately, lover affair, enriches the story, but it’s their attempt to unravel the historical mystery behind Dracula’s whereabouts that I enjoyed the most.
 
Paul and Helen’s journey takes them to communist Romania, Istanbul, and ultimately Bulgaria. It is a quest through libraries and ancient tomes, all grounded in the history of Vlad the Impaler and his enmity with the Ottoman Turks. These types of historical mysteries, steeped in religion and legend, are my cup of tea, and despite the novel’s considerable length (my paperback is 676 pages), it captivated me until the end. There are ample dollops of action and suspense, as the vampire’s minions are hunting the heroes, and the ominous threat of Dracula seems ever present. Eventually, the storyline of Paul’s daughter merges with the main storyline as she too gets drawn into the quest to find Dracula’s tomb. Overall, The Historian is a beautifully written novel, with much to offer for both history lovers and Dracula fans, and it stands among my favorites.

Friday, October 25, 2013

On This Day In History: Agincourt!

Happy St. Crispin’s Day! On 25 October 1415, the English army of King Henry V won the Battle of Agincourt, one of the most significant battles against the French in the One Hundred Years’ War. The battle is the subject of one of my favorite Bernard Cornwell novels, aptly titled Agincourt, which I reviewed here two years ago. This year, I’m honoring the anniversary with a bit of humor, thanks to the talented folks at Horrible Histories – Enjoy!


(You can watch it here too.)

Incidentally, the victory at Agincourt crippled the French, and allowed king Henry to marry the French king’s daughter, Catherine of Valois. Their son, Henry VI, became the English monarch at the forefront of the War of the Roses, the setting for The White Queen, which just wrapped up on Starz and is based on Philippa Gregory’s novel of the same name. Funny how in history, one war always seems to lead to another . . .

The Morning of the Battle of Agincourt 25 October 1415


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fin Gall - A Novel of Viking Age Ireland

This week I’m featuring another guest review from Bill Brockman. I was fortunate a few months ago to feature Bill’s review of Hawk Quest by Robert Lyndon, which you can read here. This week, Bill is reviewing Fin Gall – A Novel of Viking Age Ireland by James L. Nelson, and it sounds like another fantastic read! Bill's review begins after this image of the book's cover.


James L. Nelson is a former professional mariner and has authored 17 books of fiction and non-fiction before writing Fin Gall. This novel marks a significant departure for Nelson, who heretofore has written novels with a naval setting covering age of sail pirates, the American Revolution, and the American Civil War. He has also written non-fiction works covering much of the same periods, and recently wrote of the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Now he has ventured to Viking Age Ireland, the year 852 in particular, when Vikings were ravaging Ireland, much as they had Britain before. Norwegians by way of Scotland founded a longphort, or ship fort on the River Liffey. The settlement came to be named after a pond formed where the River Poodle met the Liffey, which was called Black Pool, or, in Gaelic, Dubh-Linn. The Norwegians, called fin gall (white strangers) by the Irish, were later driven out by Danish Vikings, called dubh gall (black strangers for the darkness of their mail armor). This is the way things stand in eastern Ireland when our novel begins.

Our protagonist, Thorgrim Ulfsson, also called Thorgrim Night Wolf, is from the Vik region of Norway. An excellent warrior and poet, Thorgrim has been raised to high rank by his Jarl, Ornolf Hrafnsson. He has been honored to marry Ornolf’s daughter Hallbera– a happy marriage until Hallbera’s death in childbirth. Now, called once again by Ornolf to go a-viking, he is sailing to Ireland in the longship Red Dragon. Along is Thorgrim’s strong 15 year old second son Harald, much beloved. Ornolf is old, fat, usually drunk and long past his prime and Thorgrim commands in all but name. None on board know that Dubh-Linn is now in the hand of Danes, who bear no love for their Norwegian cousins.

While battling a raging storm off the eastern coast of Ireland, the Red Dragons spot another ship. The smart thing to do would be to continue sailing in such conditions, but these are Vikings and plundering other ships is what they do. They manage to catch the loaded curragh, but this is no simple trader and is filled with a score of armed and armored warriors. Throwing caution to the wind, the Red Dragons grapple their prey and the bitter fight ends with all the Irish dead, valiantly falling to five-to-one odds. In the aftermath, Thorgrim discovers the treasure the Irish have died to protect. This is something far more important than Thorgrim can imagine, and later he will learn it was being borne to Irish King Mael Sechnaill mac Ruanaid, who wants it desperately to further his power. So does the Danish ruler of Dubh-Linn, Orm, for quite opposite reasons, and several other would be rulers – Dane and Irish. Thorgrim will have to use all his warrior’s skill, his thinking powers, and maybe even his ability to prowl the night in the guise of a wolf to bring himself, Harald, and at least some of the crew through alive. Along the way, the fin gall will encounter Morrigan, who seems to be just a simple Irish thrall with some healing arts and Brigit, the beautiful and strong willed daughter of Mael Sechnaill.

Well written with an appealing – and appalling – cast of characters both Viking and Irish, Fin Gall will take the reader to a time and place long gone, but no less real for that. This volume is planned to be the first of a series and I look forward to the next installment. Highly recommended.

Thanks, Bill, for the great review! It inspired me to pick up a copy of Fin Gall for my kindle, available here.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Magic of Medieval Fiction: The Sixth Century

It’s been a few months since my last post in this series, largely due to a crazy summer work schedule. But as life returns to normal, I’m trying to get this series back on track. I had left it at The Age of Arthur in the late Fifth Century, including posts on The Hallows of Ireland & Britain, Tristan & Iseult, and an attempt to answer the question: Who Was King Arthur? The Sixth Century is a bit more obscure than its predecessor, but it still inspired some well-known historical fiction.


We’ll start with the legendary king of the Geats, the North Germanic folk who now inhabit Sweden. Before he became king, he was the warrior-hero Beowulf, and the story of how he saved King Hrothgar of the Danes from the monster Grendel and his fiendish mother inspired the famous Old English poem. My favorite translation is the 2000 New York Times bestseller Beowulf by Seamus Heaney. I also enjoyed the 2007 movie rendition featuring Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s mother, even if the movie deviated from the poem and went way over the top with some of its scenes. Beowulf has inspired numerous other works, including Michael Crichton’s Eaters of the Dead. Even the monster has his own version of the tale, as told in John Gardner’s Grendel.


In Ireland, the followers of St. Patrick continued to found monasteries and spread Christianity across the Emerald Isle. This was the age of the great Irish saints like Columcille (who is referenced often in my own novel, Enoch’s Device) and Brendan the Navigator, the subject of Morgan Llywelyn’s novel, Brendan, which I reviewed here. One of my all-time favorite non-fiction works, How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill, explores this fascinating part of history – for those, of course, who care about Western Civilization.


Meanwhile, in the east, Constantinople supplanted fallen Rome as an empire. This was the time of Justinian, a man born to a peasant family in Thrace who rose in station to become one of the most famous Byzantine emperors. Justinian rebuilt the city after a violent uprising called the Nika riots nearly burned it to the ground. The riots actually broke out at the Hippodrome during a chariot race between supporters of rival teams, making it officially the worst soccer riot in the history of the world. The Hagia Sofia, which went up in flames during the chaos, is the most famous of the architectural marvels reconstructed during Justinian’s reign. 


Justinian also tried to recapture portions of the old Roman Empire that had been lost to the Vandals and the Ostrogoths, although these expeditions fared a bit less well than his reconstruction of Constantinople. While I’ve not read any historical fiction about Justinian (though I imagine some must exist), Guy Gavriel Kay used the Justinian's reign as the basis for Sailing to Sarantium and his Sarantine Mosaic series. Those remain on my to-read list, but if they’re anywhere near as good as The Lions of Al-Rassan, they’ll be well worth it.

As always, I am curious to know: Have you read any great fiction set in the Sixth Century, especially any books about Constantinople under Justinian’s reign?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

More Medieval Humor

My work week shows no sign of slowing down, but I do have time for some more medieval humor. It’s another video from Horrible Histories exposing a rash of cheating in medieval tournaments.

(You can view it here too)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Book Review: The Scourge

Last week I finished reading The Scourge by Roberto Calas, and boy was it a gripping read! I ended up sacrificing the better part of a good night’s sleep to finish the final twelve chapters, and I’ve already started the second book in the series, Nostrum. My review follows this image of the book’s cover.

The Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse?
The Scourge is a compelling work of historical fantasy and alternate history that depicts Fourteenth Century England during a plague far worse than the Black Death. Believed by the priests and bishops to be a scourge from God, the plague transforms those afflicted into bloodthirsty zombies called “plaguers.” Imagine mixing a Bernard Cornwell novel with the zombie apocalypse, and thanks to Roberto Calas’ considerable research and attention to historical detail, it really works.

The novel’s premise is straightforward: Sir Edward of Bodiam seeks to return to St. Edmund’s Bury in East Anglia to save his wife from the plague sweeping across the kingdom. He travels with his companions, Sir Morgan, a devout knight and former priest who views the plague (and perhaps its cure) from a deeply religious point of view, and Sir Tristan, a skeptic with a witty sense of humor. Along with the more pragmatic and conflicted Edward, these three characters provide a spectrum of viewpoints – both religious and non – about the scourge and its origins.

This was the original cover when I bought it - both look good!
The knights’ religious bent, as well as that of most of the supporting cast, naturally plays a big role in the story since religion was a huge part of medieval life. There is even a Muslim point of view via a Moorish character who appears about halfway through the tale, and the novel is richer for it. One of my favorite aspects of the story was its focus on relics. Christians in the Middle Ages were obsessed with the bones and other remnants of dead saints, and the author cleverly plays on this obsession in the novel.

As one would expect from a story like this, the book is chock-full of action and suspense. The author has a knack for imagining just how bad a particular situation could be for the characters – and then makes it a whole lot worse. Suffice it to say, the numerous plot twists and cliffhangers kept me turning the pages to the very end. The author also has a talent for battle scenes and an appreciation for medieval weaponry, including the earliest firearms which began to emerge in the later Middle Ages and play a role in the story. The novel ends in a way that begs for a sequel, and fortunately the author has given us one. I truly enjoyed The Scourge and look forward to finishing the next book in the series.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

An Oktoberfest Giveaway for Enoch’s Device!

The 180th Oktoberfest celebration is currently underway, and while Irish monks never celebrated this German holiday, they did brew great beer! So in honor of Oktoberfest (and I’ll admit, I’m a huge fan of great German beer), I’ll be running a three day giveaway for Enoch’s Device on Amazon from September 25 through September 27! You can pick it up *free* on Amazon here.
Irish monks would have loved Oktoberfest!
In other news, Enoch’s Device recently received a 5-star review on Compulsionreads! You can read the entire review here, but here are some excerpts after this image of the book’s cover:


Enoch’s Device is a historical fiction novel that combines action, adventure, romance and fantasy elements to create an epic tale. The reader is instantly pulled into the life of a monk in 998 A.D. when political unrest and the battle for power between church and state created a chaotic climate where one wrong look could lead you onto a pyre.
My hat goes off to author Joseph Finley for all of the time he invested into researching not only the habits of monks thousands of years ago, but also other religions of that time and historical events which allowed him to create an authentic story line. Finley was so careful with his efforts to stay true to the social mores that even his metaphors and slang reflected the time period.
There are a lot of strong themes in this book, but one of my favorite themes was destiny. While it’s common in quest style stories for the hero to accept his fate, Finley allowed his characters to choose to go down their destined path. The reader gets to watch as the characters battle with their choices and accept the consequences of their decisions. These scenes added to realism of the story and allowed me to connect more deeply with the characters.
Enoch’s Device has a little something for everyone, making it a great book for book clubs or to just share amongst friends. Either way, I would encourage you to join the adventure.
A monk double-fisting beer and wine, all in the spirit of Oktoberfest!
I also did an author interview for the site. The full interview is re-posted below:
What was your inspiration for writing this book?
I love historical fiction set in the Middle Ages, and I also adore stories with religious mysteries that need to be solved. But my primary inspiration had to be Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. It led me to wonder what might have happened if the apocalyptic clues the main characters encountered were signs of the actual apocalypse instead of evidence left by some mortal killer? And what if by solving the mystery, the monks could prevent the End of Days? Over time, those questions evolved into the premise of Enoch’s Device.
Who is your favorite character in this book and why? How did you come up with this character?
It has to be Brother Dónall mac Taidg. He’s a gruff, older monk with a fiery temper and a scholarly mind. But he’s also an enlightened thinker with a big heart. His backstory is central to one of the book’s early mysteries and it reveals Dónall’s need to exorcise some of the demons from his past.
What was the hardest part about writing this book? Were there any specific scenes, characters or plot points that you really struggled with?
Without a doubt, it was the research. There’s not a lot of material readily available about the late Tenth Century, let alone what places like Poitiers or Derry were like back then. So I had to spend a ton of time in the medieval section of my university library to hunt down many of the details that made it into the book.
How did you come up with the title of your book?
Enoch is a reference to the biblical Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah. He is also the alleged author of the Book of Enoch, an apocryphal text that features prominently in the novel. The Book of Enoch was well known to first-century Jews, but then it all but disappeared for more than a thousand years until it was rediscovered in 1773 by the Scottish explorer James Bruce during his travels in Abyssinia. Incidentally, a copy of the Book of Enoch was also discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls, and it happens to mention a great and glorious “device” at the ends of the earth. This mysterious object helped inspire Enoch’s Device.
What’s next for you? Are you working on a follow-up or a new book? If so, can you tell us a little bit of what it’s about?
I’m working on the sequel right now, which will pick up where the first book ends. It will also take the characters and the reader on another journey, this time to England, where the Vikings were a huge problem, and ultimately to medieval Rome.
You can also read the interview here at Compulsionreads!
 
* Monk images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons