Review: Crusader (Richard the Lionheart #2)

Rating: 10/10

Synopsis:

KING. POLITICIAN. WARRIOR. CONQUEROR.

Crusader, Lionheart, Ben Kane, historical fiction, military fiction, action, adventure

1189. Richard the Lionheart’s long-awaited goal comes true as he is crowned King of England. Setting his own kingdom in order, he prepares to embark on a gruelling crusade to reclaim Jerusalem.

With him on every step of the journey is Ferdia, his loyal Irish follower. Together they travel from southern France to Italy, to the kingdom of Sicily and beyond.

Crusader, Lionheart, Ben Kane, historical fiction, military fiction, action, adventure

Finally poised to sail to the Holy Land, Richard finds a bitter two-year-long siege awaiting him. And with it, the iconic Saracen leader responsible for the loss of Jerusalem, Saladin.

No one can agree who should fill the empty throne of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and Saladin’s huge army shadows Richard’s every move. Conditions are brutal, the temperatures boiling, and on the dusty field of Arsuf, the Lionheart and his soldiers face their ultimate test…

Crusader, Lionheart, Ben Kane, historical fiction, military fiction, action, adventure

Review:

Crusader is a stunning historical epic. A historical epic that has riveting battle scenes, rip-roaring thumping action combined with the stories of legendary rulers and kings in a brutal yet one of the most famous eras of warfare. The Crusades. Ben Kane has done an outstanding job on the prose, the writing, the background, and the historical research. In many ways, the world of the Third Crusade comes alive. This is when Richard the Lionheart, King of England and ruler of many dukedoms, lead the third Crusade to take Jerusalem and defeat the Saracens, although the actual name, in reality, would be the Ayyubid Caliphate. The Third Crusade needs no actual spoilers: it was a legendary contest of two legendary rulers, Richard the Lionheart and Salah ad-Din (Or in our words which we know, he would be known as Saladin) trying to negotiate while trying to simultaneously attack each other. Brutality in this period is evident, and there is not much one can do about it but read on.

Ben Kane noted that many of the events in the book if you begin to study the Third Crusade, make for a Hollywood movie. There was one particular scene in history where Richard the Lionheart rode ahead to the Ayyubid encampment and shouted for anyone to challenge him. Ben Kane has produced this scene in such cinematic glory I have to commend him. He’s done a fabulous job on the historical research and the fruits of it are showing themselves when the world comes alive. Every character, major or minor, historical or not feels like a real world. Fantasy writers can take a cue from the worldbuilding because Ben Kane’s historical sources were plenty. Every three sources he found came from Christian sources, and every two came from Muslim sources of that time. Most of the events that happened in the Third Crusade were crazy. Things that would only belong in a Hollywood movie script. But it did happen as much as Ben Kane admitted.

This novel covers many historical events, and this is where I think the distinctions between the English and the French nobility begin to emerge along with the continuation of a rivalry where the English and French don’t trust each other. The French, according to the English viewpoint, was haughty and arrogant. To the French, the English under Richard the Lionheart went around looting and pillaging Sicily, Cyprus, and Acre. There is so much historical accuracy in this novel it oozes with it. I am impressed. This is a book that could easily have been a movie or a TV series. I enjoyed this. With regards to the criticism, some scenes did drag on, and I liked many of the characters which are too innumerable to name. Though I do say that Ferdia is having the time of his life in this novel along with Rhys. They are engaged in so many conflicts, so many battles, so many wars, it’s hilarious to think that the Third Crusade was bascially a gigantic boxing match. A lot of it could have been prevented. But of course, both Richard and Saladin faced domestic struggles in their courts which prevented them from fully facing each other in battle. Their rivalry reminded me of Hannibal and Scipio for that matter. And more or less, this is a book focused on Richard the Lionheart as much as it is focused on Ferdia acting as part of Richard’s retinue. You begin to see that Richard the Lionheart was a legendary King, a man that was born to be a legend. He is equal to Alexander, Achillies, Ceasar, Augustus in terms of wit, cunning, and strategy. His opponent, Saladin was equal to many of the great Generals of the Parthian Empire and many legendary Kings of his time. They were both larger than life, and I say this. Put Richard the Lionheart in any period, and he would have had men of many nations serving him. He was that charismatic.

The writing is fantastic. This is a stunning historical epic that you need to read. I would go into more detail but I think I’ll let the book do that for you. To produce such an amazing piece of work, to fully realize it, is astounding. I am in awe and this is a book you need to buy and read.

Review: Wraithblade (The Wraithblade Saga #1) by S.M Boyce

Rating: 10/10

Synopsis:

Connor Magnuson is going to conquer Death itself.

A penniless drifter, Connor has survived the last eight years alone in a cursed woodland teeming with monsters that eat grown men whole. Shunned, forgotten, and with nowhere else to go, he looks death in the eye every night and draws his sword to face it. The forest, after all, burned the fear out of him long ago.

Still, it hasn’t hardened the last shreds of his heart quite yet. When Connor hears a mysterious girl scream in the middle of nowhere, he ends up in a brutal battle that nearly costs him his life. His bravery does not go unrewarded, and in the aftermath of the fight, he finds himself bonded to the most infamous enchantment the world has ever seen: the Wraith King. The undead abomination grants him godlike power, but legendary magic always comes with a cost. Even as his fellow outcasts flock to him for help, Connor is branded as an outlaw. Kings and lords alike know where the wraith has gone, and they’ll slit his throat to take it from him. To them, a peasant like Connor is unworthy. He’s a mistake to be corrected, and nothing more.

But Connor is no ordinary man, and he’ll drag those hunters to hell with him if that’s what it takes to protect what is his.

Review

This review contains minor/major spoilers – you read at your own risk.

I received this book as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Wraithblade is one of those stories where you don’t get bored at all. The story’s blurb itself sets out the path for you. There’s a crazy King called Henry who uses the Wraith King for expansion, for greed, for conquest and as a result, ends up dying. The King loses himself, his self-being, and his sense of morality almost. And in comes Connor, a man that no one knows about but he is a peasant and he gets connected to the Wraith King. And in between all of this, he becomes entangled in a plot of myriad political conspiracies involving powerful families and a jealous lord named Ottwell who is a despicable man, a man that is for sure the puppeteer. Ottwell often drives the story forward, and when you read the book, you’ll see traces of his grand plan here and there, subtly or not. If it’s one thing Ottwell excels at, he’d make a really good disciple of Darth Vader. That’s for sure. Ottwell reminds me of those men in history who have only ever served their lords and masters until the time is right to betray them. I wouldn’t trust Ottwell with a stick. Ottwell is the type that will betray you for coin or sacrifice your ambitions for his. That’s how well written Lord Ottwell is written.

This story is vast, and it contains many character arcs that have some good ending’s in my opinion. My favorite character was the disgraced Blackguard Murdoc masquerading himself as one of those stubborn, highly arrogant actors from a play that thinks too highly of himself. Murdoc is one of those rogue-like characters that surprise you in the end. Murdoc was funny, witty and his reactions were very engaging. Many times I felt that if Murdoc hadn’t been there, well the story needed him. He felt real enough, and he is good as a device to make the story for you to guess often of what might happen next. The Wraith King was one of those characters that I didn’t expect to like, but I’ve grown attached to him. I have a nagging suspicion that the Wraith King could be Connor’s father, my reason for this is because sure, the Wraith King is a powerful lord that thirsts for war and power. But you’ll notice, he often keeps an eye on Connor as if he were a son to him. My theory could be false, and let it be so.

But when you see a shrouded skeleton hovering over you and talking to you intensely, I wonder if some secrets need to be revealed. As for Connor, our main character, I felt his personality didn’t shine enough because this is the first book. In the first book of any fantasy series, I’ve come to accept that the main character doesn’t always need to be compelling within the first few pages. It takes time for us humans to express our personalities given in a new environment and we won’t be perfect right off the bat. Within the next 2-3 books, you will see his personality shine through. Because Connor is a perfect example of an interrogator crossed with a good man’s principles. Connor is a truth-seeker. He can expose the truth out of anyone. He’s dangerous. He’s forewarned a lot of people not to mess with him. This is why we have Murdoc and Sophia. Sophia is an elegant, beautiful woman who has also been involved in the arts of necromancy. She’s brash, she’s opinionated and she often is a loyal friend. She has loyalty, something which is rare in a world full of monsters and creatures trying to eat each other. Murdoc and Sophia balance Connor perfectly, and I think this chemistry will expand on into the second book.

There were some particularly favorite moments in the book. There was a scene in particular where Ethan the burly carpenter had helped Connor so to say and arrives in an Inn. A couple arrives saying they were attacked by fearsome beasts. Then comes a mysterious rumor of a ‘shade’. A hero that helps people. Ethan bursts out in embarrassment when drinking his ale. That scene made me laugh. Ethan and his family were really good characters and I want to see them in the second book. There are many such scenes in this book, involving some really powerful characters. Quinn was also good with her large fearsome pet, Blaze. I liked how she reacted to the world around her and she’s not stupid. I like that in a character. But there’s a lot more of her that I won’t discuss about because you’ll figure it out.

Aside from this, I have immense respect for the author and her ability to write fighting scenes in elaborate detail, and her ability to write good prose. Good prose is hard to come by. She often balances the prose between elaborate details of grand buildings and contrasts that with the uniforms of soldiers, nobles and guards. This is a good detail. However, sometimes I felt the story became too bogged down with those elaborate details when it wasn’t needed. As a nitpick, I sometimes found this to become almost too technical. For example, some scenes had too much detail of sword-fighting, and while I don’t mind that, it slowed the pace down for me a lot. The sword fighting was realistic and accurate. It didn’t feel to me that it was some elaborate battle design set-piece with fancy moves. Connor’s ability to become powerful helps from his connection to the Wraith King. The story often picks up when certain truths are exposed. Connor, Murdoc, and Sophia are all holding truths that they don’t want to reveal. 

My criticism of this that sometimes it went into the niche of well we have characters that are brooding, and I’ve read in other fantasy novels characters that are brooding all the time. My only suggestion is to have Connor and Murdoc have their personalities shine more in the second book. I want them to start enjoying life a little more, I want them to laugh at a comedy play or something like that. And the book does that well, but I’d also want way more interaction between Murdoc and the Wraith King. That really would be a fun and plentiful exchange and would be a delight to read. Sometimes there was a lot of telling vs showing which is inevitable because, in a 700-page book, you can’t get everything right. There were some errors with the spacing of full stops in the quotation marks when I read on my kindle fire. Some scenes were slow-paced and I think that dragged the story down. Some scenes weren’t needed in my opinion. It doesn’t detract from the wonderful story that it is, but it feels like another round of editing would have gone away with some filler scenes here and there.

I feel that in the end, writing a 700-page book is not easy, and the author has done a wonderful job. The story was strong enough to come across the pages, confident of its elaborate worldbuilding. My criticism is that there wasn’t a map provided and that there was talk of a world beyond a desert. I do hope the author will add some fantasy Arabian/Indian style kingdoms or empires, or even an Ottoman Inspired empire. I would like to see something like that. But that is only a wish, not a suggestion. I believe that in the end, this story is thoroughly worth reading. It’s a fun fantasy read at the end of the day. I also listened to some ambience music: Pillars of Eternity Ambience which if you search on YouTube you’ll find. It’s a really good story and I recommend it.

You can get the book from the author’s site: https://smboyce.com/books/wraithblade-saga-book-1-wraithblade/

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