Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Hallowed: A Unique Start to Arthur’s Tale!

I’ve been looking forward to The Hallowed by author L. Marrick for a long time. It’s considered Arthurian fiction, but takes place during the early years of the Fifth Century near the end of the Roman Empire. This had me intrigued. After all, the legends of Arthur place him at the end of the Fifth Century or beginning of the Sixth Century, so I wondered how the author was going to pull all this together. Suffice to say, she does—and does it well—creating a unique prequel to King Arthur’s tale.

The Hallowed is set during the siege of Arelate (now Arles in France’s Rhone Valley) in the year 411 A.D. Holed up in the city is the Roman co-emperor Constantine III and his army of Goths and Franks, while the army of his besieger and former general Gerontius waits outside. Meanwhile, supplies are running short within the walls, and religious strife between the Arians and Catholics threatens whatever peace remains in Arelate. Given this set up, it’s not immediately clear how this book concerns the destiny of King Arthur until we’re introduced to Constantine’s nephew, Julian, a seventeen-year-old prince who has strange dreams about his British homeland and a spirit who is haunting him—a sorcerer named Merlin.

It’s soon revealed that Julian is “Hallowed,” meaning he possesses ancient druidic powers that allow him to open doorways between this world and the Otherworld. Merlin is one of the spirits pulled through this doorway—and it’s a doorway that goes both ways—leading to a number of dream scenes where Julian’s spirit stands alongside Merlin during another siege involving a young prince Arthur and the hostile King Lot.

The Merlin of The Hallowed is nothing like this ancient chap!
These dream sequences are just a small part of the story, however. The central focus is on the siege of Arelate, Julian’s relationship with his uncle Constantine, and Julian’s struggle to understand his strange new powers amid the growing threat the city will fall. Constantine turned out to be my favorite character; he’s a classic mentor and both a heroic and tragic historical figure (he was High King of Britain before he became co-emperor, and his late wife held the title “Lady of the Lake,” so you can begin to see the Arthurian connection). Fortunately, the author gives us a number of scenes narrated by Constantine about his rise to power and his relationship with Gerontius, one of the story’s central antagonists and the man who would betray him. As a history buff, I really enjoyed these.
Roman ruins in Arles*
In addition to Constantine, two other characters are worth mentioning. The first is a Catholic monk named Hugo (and, I’ll confess, I’ve always been fond of monks). Not only does he help illustrate the religious strife of the times, but he also proves to be a courageous sidekick for Julian. The second is Guntilde, a Frankish warrior and the woman Julian has secretly loved since they were children. She’s also married to another Frank, so her relationship with Julian is a bit complicated, but the novel is richer for it. 

The various connections between Julian and Merlin, as well as early Fifth Century Rome and late Fifth Century Britain, are not fully revealed until the novel’s end. While a few parts were predictable, much of the ending was not, and it turned out to be more spiritual and thought-provoking than I expected. In all, The Hallowed is a well-written and well-crafted tale, with ample drama, lots of tension, and many tender moments between its characters in between. I have no idea where the next novel in this series will go, but I’ll definitely be along for the ride!

Lastly, for those who want to read more about Constantine III, author L. Marrick is offering a series called Usurper (a name by which Constantine was known) for free on her website You can read it here.

* Photo courtesy of Craig Patik, Creative Commons attribution

Monday, January 27, 2014

Black Sails: a Stunning Prequel to Treasure Island

I’ve been looking forward to the early 18th Century pirate drama Black Sails for months now, and I was both surprised and excited to learn that it promises to be a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island!

If you’ve watched the first episode of Black Sails, you already know that the production values are top notch. In fact, this one looks to be Game of Thrones good! But on top of that, the writers chose to make the main character Captain Flint – the fictional captain whose treasure becomes the object of desire in Treasure Island – and they added in all the major pirates as well, including Billy Bones and Long John Silver, as a young man no less, who’s already gone a scheming! (You can read my review of Treasure Island here).
Captain Flint and Billy Bones of Treasure Island fame!
The writers also chose to tie in a rival band of buccaneers based on historical pirates, namely Charles Vane, a notorious English pirate who sailed a ship called the Ranger, and his infamous crew. And, on top that, they chose a plot focused on a Spanish treasure ship that reminds me a ton of Michael Crichton’s Pirate Latitudes (you can read my review of that novel here). So, basically, Starz has put together a high-end series focused on the only two pirate novels I’ve ever read – and it promises to be amazing!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Images from Enoch’s Device are on Pinterest!

I came late to Pinterest, and probably still am not utilizing all of its features, but I've found it to be a wonderful place to collect pictures. In researching the sequel to Enoch’s Device, I started using it to store images of historical sites around Rome (where much of the new novel is set), and found it convenient to pop onto Pinterest whenever I wanted to look at some setting I was writing about.

I soon realized I could do the same thing for Enoch’s Device so readers could see some of the sights and settings in the novel. Hence, a new Pinterest board was born! You can view it here to see images of Ireland, the corbelled huts of Brother Ciaran and his brethren, pictures of Poitiers and Paris, settlings from around Cordoba, and even the ruins of Castle Brosse.

The Great Mosque of Cordoba is the site of a thrilling scene in the novel.

And, if you’re curious, you can see some of the images and settings from the sequel to Enoch’s Device (click here). I’ll be adding to this board as I write the next novel, so feel free to check it every once in a while for updates, or just follow my boards on Pinterest.

One of the players in the "Corpse Synod" plays a BIG role in the sequel!

Hope you enjoy the pictures, and if you have questions about any of them, just leave me a comment on the blog!

Friday, January 17, 2014

More Monkish Humor!

It's been a wild work week, so there was not much time for writing on the blog. But I can share a little bit of monkish humor on the Friday before a three-day weekend, thanks to the talented folks at Horrible Histories!

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Game of Thrones Season 4 Trailer is Out!

The trailer for Season 4 of HBO's Game of Thrones looks amazing! It will be hard to wait until April 6th!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Some Saxon Humor to Start the New Year!

Well, 2014 has started with a flurry (and not just of the winter variety), which means I’m quite busy with both work and writing. So for this week’s post, here’s a little Saxon humor of the divine/pagan variety to get the New Year off to a good start, all thanks to the talented folks at Horrible Histories – Enjoy!

Happy Wodnesday!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Inferno Offers Another Puzzle-Like Plot

The things I’ve always enjoyed about Dan Brown’s books have been the historical/religious elements, the European settings, and the puzzle-like plots. I know a lot of literary critics and book reviewers are critical of Dan Brown’s writing style (here’s a great example), but I don’t get too wrapped up in that. I generally find the books entertaining and each chapter keeps me turning the pages, making them quick reads. I just finished Dan Brown’s Inferno, and while it was not my favorite Robert Langdon novel, here are my thoughts.

Inferno probably had the fewest religious themes of any of the Robert Langdon books. The focus this time, at least superficially, is Dante and his Divine Comedy (particularly Inferno), but the book doesn’t delve too deeply into the intricacies of Dante’s masterpiece. Instead it focus more on art and scientific theories such as transhumanism and overpopulation. The story begins in Florence where Harvard professor Robert Langdon awakes in a hospital with amnesia. All he knows is that an assassin is trying to kill him, and the only person who can help him is Dr. Sienna Brooks, his treating physician. Langdon soon discovers he’s in possession of a message created by a madman and Dante enthusiast who is threatening to unleash “Inferno,” a bioengineered virus that will replicate the effects of the Black Death to purportedly “save” the world from overpopulation.

Botticelli's "Map of Hell" plays a big role in the novel.

Like all the Robert Langdon novels, Inferno contains a good puzzle-like plot that’s fun to try to solve. Most of the puzzles involve some connection to Dante (or artwork based on the poem), though there is a good historical element to the puzzle as well. At one point, there’s a riddle written by the madman that truly had me thinking – it’s very well done. I also loved the Italian settings. The first half of the book takes place in Florence, and it made me want to go back there (I’ve been once, but clearly didn’t explore enough of it). Another quarter of the book takes place in Venice, one of my favorite places. Then there’s the story’s fast pace and the cliffhanger endings at each chapter. Some readers don’t like all the historical exposition and research Brown dumps into his novels, but I’m a history nut, so I don’t mind it at all and I don’t think it affects the pace. I found myself looking up all kind of facts about Florence and other topics just to see how accurate his research was. I like it when a book makes me think beyond its pages.

Dante's vision of Purgatory plays a role in the book too.

Here is what I was less crazy about: like all Langdon novels, there’s a twist, and the one in Inferno is bigger than any of his previous books. The problem is that Brown has to use so much misdirection to make this work that, as a reader, I almost felt too deceived. After the twist occurred, I went back and re-read large portions of the book just to see how honest the author was being. And while most of it was “honest” misdirection and sleight of hand, I’m still not sure the first three quarters of the book make complete sense after the big reveal.

The other thing I was bit annoyed about was that every character seemed to buy into the theory of an overpopulation crisis – a notion that within a generation or two humankind will kill itself off due to massive population growth. After doing a little research on the subject, however, it’s clear that a lot of folks believe this is a myth, and certainly reasonable minds can disagree. Since the entire premise of Inferno is based on the overpopulation issue, it would have been nice if at least one character might be skeptical about the theory so the debate could be more fully explored.

All that said, the villain’s views on overpopulation, coupled with his obsession with Dante and the Black Death, makes for a chilling adversary and gives a real urgency to the catastrophe Langdon and Dr. Brooks are racing to prevent. In the end, the story entertained, and, to me, that’s one of the most important aspects of good genre fiction.