Book Review: Athena: The Warrior Queen of Yavdolo Volume 1

Athena novel

Parallels universes, alternate timelines, post-apocalyptic futures, and a light at the end of the tunnel. There is no shortage of sub-genres within science fiction and that is because science fiction offers us a world of endless possibilities!

But amidst all of the chaos that these sub-genres contain, a great number of them always contain a light at the end of the tunnel. And that is what this novel offers. Staring on a grim note, hundreds of years after the exiles of Earth fled their world which had once been a beacon of hope and freedom, the novel evolves into a tale of growth, love, and loss as we are introduced into an unforgettable heroine.
These themes remain universal and likely will until the end of time, or at least as long as mankind exists. And this is why this tale will resonate with everyone because more than being a simplistic tale of good and evil, it is a coming age of story about a woman who refuses to bend over against the obstacles put in her path.

Athena’s journey is far from over. With every step she takes, she grows stronger. Doubt doesn’t enter her mind because she keeps her focus on what truly matters. Her will power, the ferocity (which she shows to her enemies), and belief in herself are what make Athena into one of the strongest people her world has ever known.

Fantasy and science fiction lovers will fall in love with her character, rooting her until the very end. In this, Helen R. Davis, like fantasy giants, has created a new world full of wonders and mystique which will leave you have stepped into another realm that by the end of it, you won’t want to leave.

A highly recommendable read!

Advertisements

Book Review: The Beaufort Bride by Judith Arnopp

Beaufort Bride novel

A beautiful tale woven by a talented writer with a clear passion for the late medieval and early renaissance period. I have always maintained that a good novel and history book is a like a trip back through time. Margaret Beaufort has become everyone’s go-to-bogeyman as of late. She is either the villain who should be pitied but still condemned or just condemned. Judith Arnopp decides to depart from this narrative and instead give us a woman who was much a victim of circumstance as a product of her times. Her faith, pride, loyalty to her house, and love of her son are what keep her going.

This is not to say that the novel takes the other route and turns her into a martyr. Far from it. She is a woman who is hardened by loss and grief but never loses sight of what matters. Her loyalty for her house remains, but she sheds her idealism in favor of survival, believing that something of the Lancaster pride can remain through her and her offspring.

The story of Margaret Beaufort has not been told enough. It has been popularized as a dark fairy tale -and to some extent it was- but more than a tale of tragedy, it is a tale of endurance and perseverance.

There were some parts where I thought that Margaret was portrayed a little too cold but given what she has lived through, I could see how she could have taken on those aspects.

An entertaining and refreshing read about a young heroine in a place and time that seems almost too surreal to us.

Book Review: The House of Beaufort, the Bastard Line that Captured the Crown by Nathen Amin

House of Beaufort by Nathen Amin
This is a book every history buff needs to read if they are interested in finding out about the roots of one of the most infamous dynasties in world history, who will continue to fascinate us in decades to come.
I absolutely loved how descriptive this book was. From start to finish, I was hooked. And this is one of those books that I just had to re-read again because being a huge history buff, I wanted to see what important things I hadn’t highlighted. Turns out that with a book like this, everything is a highlight so you might as well be stuck taking notes and going back to the original source when you want to check something you might have missed.
Margaret_Beaufort,_by_follower_of_Maynard_Waynwyk;
Writing a biography is not easy, especially one that takes on the challenge of chronicling the life of a family that has been largely obscured by their most infamous and famous contemporaries. Nathen Amin begins with Henry Tudor’s ascension to the throne of England following Richard III’s defeat at the Battle of Bosworth. It is a tale that takes you back through time, to an era of deceit, love, loss, shifting loyalties and above all, survival.
When Margaret Beaufort watched her son being crowned, her confessor, later Bishop Fisher, said that they weren’t tears of joy but of fear. She was the only surviving member of the eldest son of John of Gaunt and his mistress (later wife) Kathryn Swynford. The fact that she had seen her family nearly fade into oblivion and lived through many reigns, was more than enough to worry about her son’s future.
But through it all, she like most of the first Beauforts persevered.
This is a tale of one’s family unlikely rise to power and whose descendants still sit on the throne of England. Those who are new to this era will learn a great deal about it from this book, and those who are already familiar with it won’t be disappointed either because unlike pop historians, the author was fairly objective, drawing his conclusions from reliable sources and forensic evidence.

I’m proud to say, this is a great addition to my collection of favorite books and I am guessing you will feel the same way after you finish it. This is a reminder that the impossible often became possible and that there were no shortages of twists and turns, often due to kings and aristocrats’ excesses and their miscalculation and plain sheer luck, that led to these least likely outcomes.

 

Beaufort women torn apart by war collage 1

 

The story of the Beauforts is also the story of a family being torn apart by dynastic warfare which was initiated by one of their own’s spouses when his enmity to the queen forced him to take a route that would change the course of English history, and propel one of their own’s unlikely candidate to become King of England. Through it all, this family produced some of the most notable members who worked alongside their Lancastrian half-brother and cousins, and most of them remained loyal but others, such as the women, were forced to make difficult choices in order to survive.
Kathryn Swynford and John of  Gaunt’s only daughter, Joan was the mother of the formidable Duchess of York, Cecily Neville aka “Proud Cis”. Never fully able to shake the stain of bastardry despite Richard II legitmizing in 1399 but his successor,  Henry IV, instating a clause that took them from the line of succession, became a pious woman and that piety was passed on to her daughter who in turn pass it on to her daughters and granddaughters (most notably, Princesses Elizabeth and Bridget of York). Then there is also the story of another Joan Beaufort, who had to go through unimaginable tribulations to protect her son’s throne and her ambitions. Another married into the up and coming Neville clan, producing one of the most formidable women of the age, Cecily Neville, aka ‘Proud Cis’, who married Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, a man who’d become the founder of a separate branch of the Plantagenet dynasty and whose ambitions and enmity with the queen, led to the dynastic civil war that lasted over three decades.

 

Portcullis 2
Through it all, a family whose last name died when its last male heir was beheaded after the battle of Tewkesbury, their legacy survived through one of its last descendants, Henry Tudor who besides creating a new device that embodied his dynasty, also included reminders of the House that passed his claim unto him.

Book Review: The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Dynasty by G.J. Meyer

The Tudors GJ Meyer 2

I thoroughly enjoyed this book because there is nothing more I love than an author who approaches these controversial subjects in an objective way. Unfortunately, we are all humans and prone to our ow biases and G.J. Meyer wasn’t the exception. His intention was to dispel myths about the Tudor era and he did it brilliantly when it came to Mary I, the six wives (who’ve come to define Henry VIII’s reign), Mary, Queen of Scots and other important figures to some extent; but when it came to the perennial figures we keep hearing about, it seemed like he was more concerned about deconstructing them rather than presenting them as figures of their time. I also noticed how -for someone who claims to be doing the opposite of what propagandist have done to elevate these figures to hero status- he seemed to take secondary sources into account as opposed to primary ones when it suited his narrative.

The Tudors GJ Meyer 1

Granted, Elizabeth I, Henry VIII and for many decades Henry VII as well, have been seen as icons. You just have to look at how the first two are portrayed in the media to confirm this, or how historians fawn over them; but instead of addressing where they are wrong, G.J. Meyer swings the pendulum to the other side.

I adore Elizabeth I but I’m not blinded to her faults. She broke promises and made vague ones, and she treated her cousins awfully; and just like her sister, she could be both cruel and merciful. Addressing this shouldn’t be difficult. You can say Henry VIII was inventive, one of the most learned princes in Christendom who enjoyed sports and engaging in theological debate. He’d be angry when people let him win, and loved to be challenged. But something happened and that something happened is something that G.J. Meyer briefly addresses but not as much as I would’ve liked. This something happened to be his absence of a male heir. The Tudor Dynasty was new and the wars of the roses was still fresh on everyone’s memory, not to mention that people were wary of a female king. Even in places where there had been queen regnants, people were still not entirely receptive to the idea of being governed by a woman.
Times were changing however. This was not the medieval age when people believed more firmly that they could never be governed by a woman because women were supposed to be submissive, and due to their delicate nature, they couldn’t rely on them to make hard decisions or lead men into dangerous war. There was also the question of childbirth. What if she died in childbirth? Who would head her son’s regency, and what if she married the crown prince or king of another powerful country? Would that turn their country into a colony of that realm?
These were serious questions that Humanists and other scholars were debating at the time that Henry VIII sought to annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, not to mention that initially he sought a way to salvage her honor and their daughter’s status by proposing a settlement that would be agreeable to her. Some of her supporters even though that she should have given in and press Henry to keep his promise, as well as press the pope to do what he did for his sister, the Queen Dowager of Scotland, Margaret Tudor when she annulled her second marriage to Archibald Douglas. Her daughter should have been declared a bastard since under this arrangement, her parents were never legally married but thanks to the “good faith” clause, she remained legitimate.
But Katharine chose not to, and the rest as we know is history. There is another element to this story and that is Henry’s fatal injuries. He suffered a fall from his horse in the 1520s and another (more serious one) in 1536 and this, many historians agree, worsened his behavior.
The author also seemed to fall into the recent trend among many novelists which is to cast Richard III in a positive light, ignoring his obvious flaws and mismanagement, at the expense of Henry Tudor who comes off as the villain of this story. No one denies that Henry Tudor altered events, rewrote history to justify his reign. But this wasn’t exclusive to the Tudors, what could have been said is that what the Tudors did differently is that they did it so much more effectively with their methods being far more insidious.

As far as the Tudors go, they were complex individuals and history is not an exact science because no social science truly is. Nonetheless, this book tackled many important subjects and offered a new perspective on previously demonized or ignored figures.

If you are new to the Tudor age, this will be a good book to binge on that sheds light on the subject but I recommend that after you finish, you also read on other books that offer different perspectives so you can form a better opinion on this subject. If you are not new to this subject, this is still a good book to read for that same reason and the other reasons I previously pointed out.

Book Review: The Queen’s Mary by Sarah Gristwood

Mary Seaton historical fiction

Seldom are there books written from the point of view a minor historical character that manage to captivate my attention as this one did. It is engaging, from start to finish, and a great illustration of the period seen through the lens of one of Mary, Queen of Scots’ trusted ladies.

Sarah Gristwood is best known for her non-fiction, primarily her biographies focusing on the lives of European queens from the late medieval to the early modern period. This is no different, except that it is fiction and yet, it feels s if you are reading one of her biographies because she is very detailed when it comes to fashion, the type of garments that nobles, based on their status, bloodline, etc, would have used, and the foods they could afford, and other excess.

There is a part towards the end where it was harrowing to read, which I won’t spoil but those who already read this, probably know what I am talking about, and it is a testament to her talent about being able to put herself in her characters’ shoes, historical ones no doubt! And give them a voice that doesn’t feel out of place with the rest of the events.

Scotland in the sixteenth century was for lack of a better word, a mess. And this novel doesn’t shy away from showing the negative from every religious side, including its most prominent members who only cared about their self-interest.

We see the world through the lens of a little girl who learns from the get go that her life’s purpose is to serve the child-queen and protect her interests above all else. As she gets older, her faith in Her Grace is shaken. She goes from servant, to friend to confidant.
We watch the downfall of a woman whose future seemed bright, and who was determined to reclaim what she viewed was hers because of her blood. Unfortunately, the Scotland she left is not the same one she returned and the people are hungry for leadership, and the nobles will side with whoever keeps their family fortunes intact. Mary Stuart is cunning and ambitious, Mary Seaton sees that, and she is far more resilient than she is given credit to, but she can’t come to terms with the new political climate, one which is entirely hostile towards female kings and her faith.

My only criticism comes for the time jumps. The first one felt necessary but towards the end, many things felt unnecesarily rushed. But I would have liked more flashbacks. However, I can look past it because as I previously mentioned, the plot moved along nicely thanks to brilliant dialogue.
Through her eyes we also get to see her wins and losses, and her personal struggles as she is forced to decide between her family and her queen, her family and her faith, or between her desires and her sworn duty to stand by her queen’s side no matter what.
It is an emotional roller coaster and a book that every history buff will quickly binge on. I greatly enjoy it and if you are new to this period, this is a good novel to start that will get you interested in finding more about the lives of these extraordinary and tragic women.

Book Review of ‘The Most Happy’ by Helen R. Davis

Anne Boleyn helen davis 2

The Most Happy is an alternative history, in short it asks the important question of ‘what if?’ What would have happened if Anne Boleyn had not been executed and she would have had more than one child. All this and more is explored in this book.

While historical fiction seeks to fill in the gaps in the historical records and to make the story more enticing to its target audience, alternative history delves further by rewriting it. And while it may seem as the two have nothing in common, I beg to differ and I suspect you will too once you read the book.

Novelists take this genre seriously, and it wasn’t surprising to find many things from this era come alive in Davis’ book.  I remember when I read her other book, that is also alternative history, Cleopatra Unconquered and felt like I was transported to Ancient Egypt. That is the feeling I got when I read ‘The Most Happy’. From start to finish, the intrigues that history buffs are used to reading about the Tudor court, don’t stop. This book perfectly captures the dangerous time period that Anne Boleyn lived in, and how high the stakes were, not just for her, but for her enemies as well.

This was a period of great change. The Renaissance was not all that different from the medieval era, but there were many aspects of it that were still the same, one of it being the violence and fanaticism (now emboldened with the religious wars); throw in a dynasty that is not well-established and a queen whose religious affiliation is not with Rome -and is not recognized by the Vatican as such- and you have almost absolutely chaos. And I say almost because the protagonist doesn’t come off as a victim or a villain, but rather as a strong, intelligent woman who is determined to make things work.

Anne grows in her new role as Queen and mother to England’s future king. She is not afraid to take charge, or shy away from enforcing the rule of law when needed. She’s also proud, and can be vindictive but this behavior can be understood given the circumstances of her situation.

Fans of Tudor History and Historical fiction who are worried with how the iconic Tudor queen is portrayed in the media will love this novel. This is the one that has come the closest to capturing Anne Boleyn’s spirit in the past decade without the author shying away from her flaws or sugar-coating the complexities of this period. If this is your first time trying alternative history, you won’t be disappointed.

Cleopatra Unconquered

Cleopatra Unconquered book cover

When I delve into historical fiction, I tend to be very picky but will push aside certain liberties as long as the authors are honest about it. When it comes with alternative history, I am even pickier so take my word for it when I say that this is a good book that every history buff and lover of ancient Egyptian history will enjoy!

Cleopatra Unconquered is a good book that expands on the question of what if Cleopatra’s forces had won against Octavian’s forces. It is an entertaining, well researched book with very well-rounded characterizations of the historical people involved here that doesn’t make them seem as if they are out of place, but rather people of their times -holding the same prejudices and core-beliefs as you would expect from people born into those societies.

Helen  R. Davis weaves as beautiful tale of love, hate, and deception to give us a convincing tale on how Cleopatra VII would have won against the armies of her rival, Octavian, and the consequences thereafter. This is the first book in a series that will explore more on how much history has changed, not just during the remainder of her reign, but after it.

Cleopatra comes out as a strong-willed queen, who is committed to remain in power and do what is best for her people, and as many pharaohs did back then, believes that she is being divinely guided by the gods, specifically Isis.

Fearless and unapologetic, Cleopatra VII is also ruthless and like other famous female regents and pharaohs before her, will go to great lengths to protect what is hers and show the world that she is not anyone’s puppet.

Book review: Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters by Wendy J. Dunn.

COA novel falling pomegranate

Falling Pomegranate Seeds: the Duty of Daughters is a fantastic novel written by Wendy J. Dunn, it is the first in her series on Katharine of Aragon. As a result, this focuses primarily on her formative years in Spain.  Without vilifying or whitewashing her, Wendy J. Dunn weaves an intricate tale of hope, passion, and self-growth as Katharine prepares for the epic journey that awaits her.

Katharine of Aragon was Henry VIII’s first wife, and before that, his brother’s wife, and the daughter of two of the most prestigious monarchs in Christendom. Born and raised to do her duty, she was also among the most learned women of her times. Wendy J. Dunn doesn’t brush past this fact; it is a key component of her book. The book opens up with Beatriz Galindo, known as “La Latina” for her scholarship, being questioned by the Queen of Castile about her youngest daughter’s education. Beatriz is delighted to be charged with such a task, and dedicates most of her time to Catalina, ensuring that she will grow up to be a learned queen.

It is refreshing to see a historical fiction devote so much time to Katharine’s formative year, and set the stage for the next books in her Katharine of Aragon series.

Her Katharine is how I picture she was in real life. She starts as an assertive and curious child who is determined to become Queen of England because she believes that is her destiny, and as the story progresses, even when we know how it is going to end, we are still rooting for her as she sets sail to her new home. The emotions run high near the end, it plays like a farewell scene but it is not. One chapter of her life has ended and another will begin and we are left eagerly waiting for that.

Wendy J. Dunn brings out the best and worst aspects of her character, something that is much needed in a figure that often gets put on a pedestal or easily disregarded as the ‘boring one.’ Katharine is mischievous, she plays, she is everything you would expect in a child, but she is also curious and intuitive with a mind of her own -which becomes more evident when she is in her teens- and like her mother, she is very proud and grounded in her beliefs that she’s unwilling to compromise when that compromise goes against her moral view of the world.

I recommend this book to all history buffs and those of you who like me, are very passionate about Tudor history.

The Witches: Salem, 1692 Review

11148722_908858349182242_4170488079227511986_n

This is one of the best books of 2015. It is so vivid and well researched that you are transported back to 1692 and beyond. The books is more than just about the witches and warlocks that plagued the poor, young victims of Salem, but about the justice system and the beliefs that were involved in the proceedings. Nearly a century later, one of the founding fathers (John Adams) would refer to the incident as one of the most shameful chapters in American history, and others would look back and scoff at it. And yet -as Schiff points out- the belief in witchcraft remained a constant all the way to the twentieth century. Gone were the days of spectral evidence (as used in the Salem trials) but people could still be shamed or judged based on the belief that they had something to do with the devil or they were witches. Nowadays the town of Salem is a safe haven for Wiccans. I have been there. It is one of the best places to visit, there is a lot of history, old houses, museums and everyone is very friendly. But the stigma of what happened there remains, and as one contemporary (Brattle) wrote -when he as so many saw that things were going too far- something of that magnitude isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.

The reason why is not so much the number of people that were hung (19), pressed to death (1) and the animals that were also killed; but the court procedures. I don’t want to make this review political but I feel I have to because reading this biography, you see a lot of these attitudes going on today. These people really believed in the devil, and they really hated authority.
They didn’t rebel against King and country because they believed in democracy or wanted to establish a Republic, neither did they believe that everyone should learn to read and write so people could think for themselves. On the contrary, these staunch Protestants firmly believed that God had chosen them for salvation. They believed (without a glimmer of doubt) that the Devil was in Salem and the more the Devil attacked them, the more special they were.
Cotton Mather was a Harvard educated young man, son of another educated man, who had the nerve to say that nothing was wrong with the trials (except when it came to spectral evidence which was somewhat hypocritical of him when he agreed with Stoughton view that it should be allowed as ‘evidence’) and continued on to incite others to accuse their neighbors if they believe that they were witches.
This contradicts the statement that knowledge is everything. Knowledge can be everything, when it is used for good and to open minds instead of closing them like so many well-educated men acting as jurors and consultants in the trials did.

As for the girls, many historians have tried to figure out what ailed them. Some have said it could have been a case of infected grain, or a virus. Schiff makes a great case saying it was likely hysteria, pointing out the studies that were done at the end of the nineteenth century and that are still being conducted today. In short, it was nothing more than mass delusion and the fact that the girls were the product of a highly patriarchal system that allowed them little freedom. The puritan maiden could not say or do anything without her guardian’s permission (which consisted of the male head of the household), and most were not raised by their parents but instead were sent elsewhere to learn good manners. This happened to boys as well, however when they grew up and married and made a life of their own, they were free to act as they pleased so long as they didn’t offend the church. Girls couldn’t have that luxury. As wives, their lives were more restricted and filled with hardship. And the Indian attacks left a lot of children without parents, some of these were girls. So for them to see how much freedom their ‘afflictions’ earned them, was like a Godsend. They were no longer required to do house chores, nor to sit still during Mass, or behave properly. This by no means condones them, but it explains most of their actions. And they might have also deluded themselves into believing that the Devil was causing them (so they could have a clean conscience and not feel guilty of the people they send to jail and to their deaths). Puritans’ religious fervor was extreme when it came to women. The way they were educated, they believed that anything they did was their fault, or not good enough for their men.

The last three chapters are tragic. The victims never got closure, some tried to move on but most of them could not get the stigma of being related to witches off them. Two of the victims didn’t get their names cleared until 2001, and only one of the afflicted girls admitted that it was a lie brought about because of the devil. And as for the judges, some paid a high price but the most important and well-educated went on to be elected. Why? Because despite many holding grudges against them, belief triumphed over reason. And that is the ultimate lesson of this book and the Salem Witch Trials: when belief triumphs over reason.

Henry V: The Warrior King of 1415 Review

12191885_904687102932700_7832816082396810907_n

This books focuses solely on the year 1415 and gives extensive background on the events that led to the battle of Agincourt. 600 years after the battle, he continues to be revered and hailed as one of the greatest monarchs that ever lived, but behind the legend is a darker person that Mortimer exposes in this book. I would have given it four stars where it not because of the great details and everything that I learned about this book. It is a day by day account that illustrates not just the events in England and France, but in the rest of Europe as well and how these related to Henry’s actions. Henry could be your best friend, but he could also be your worst enemy. On the one hand he was very pious and used the bible to condone his actions against the Lollards, and in France, but on the other hand, he was not above violating his holy laws to achieve his means. In an era where kings believed they were semi-divine, Henry V would have used any means at his disposal, if he believed he enjoyed divine favor. However the author spends too much time giving examples of how different (and more terrible) he was from other monarch who, ironically, did the same thing but for some reason he believes they can be excused because they weren’t as determined to conquer the kingdom of France as Henry V was.
The battles are explained in great detail, as well as the reasons why Henry V scored a big battle against the French that day, and what propelled him to order the killing of many of his French captives afterwards.

Unlike most books which have a short epilogue of five pages of most, and an Appendix, Mortimer includes very long notes where he explains how he came about in his conclusions. Although he says he doesn’t write this book with the intention to convince anyone, he spends a great amount of time stressing how he is right and Henry V is the complete opposite of what Shakespeare portrayed him as in his plays. And I partly agree. He wasn’t the great hero of Shakespeare, but going to the other extreme does no one any favors either. He was a monarch of his times, who could be capable of great things, but also of great cruelty and indeed, some of his acts with the Lollards, the French captive demonstrate that and these actions were criticized by some of his contemporaries.