Monday, June 14, 2021

Review: The Serpent King by Tim Hodkinson

The fight for vengeance has no victors...
The great warrior, Einar Unnsson, wants revenge. His mother's assassin has stolen her severed head and Einar is hungry for his blood. Only one thing holds him back. He is a newly sworn in Wolf Coat, and must accompany them on their latest quest.

The Wolf Coats are a band of fearsome bloodthirsty warriors, who roam the seas, killing any enemies who get in their way. Now they're determined to destroy their biggest enemy, King Eirik, as he attempts to take the throne of Norway.

Yet, for Einar, the urge to return to Iceland is growing every day. Only there, in his homeland, can he avenge his mother and salve his grief. But what Einar doesn't know is that this is where an old enemy lurks, and his thirst for vengeance equals Einar's...

This is a bloody brilliant series! And can I say that when we ever get to the end, I will be starting from the beginning in a self-indulgent binge session.

So, what's happening in Europe and Scandinavia in 936AD. In Iceland, what is referred to as the "age of settlement" was coming to its conclusion. The Landnámabók (“Book of the Settlements”, written c. 13th century) records how the first set of law codes was presented to the Athling (assembly of free men) in around 930AD. Communities tended to be a form of self-government, though often in co-operation with other nearby settlements; the bloodfeud was being replaced by a system of fines; and Christianity was decades away from yet taking foot.

Norway was still in thrall to Eirik Bloodaxe but not for much longer. Eirik's half-brother Haakon, who had been fostered by King Athelstan, as part of an agreement made by his father King Harald Farhair, was being fitted out with with ships and men for an expedition against his half-brother. Eirik was on the back foot and looking for allies. And it is to Orkney that Eirik looks, and where Einar's greatest foe - his own father Thorfinn Skull-Splitter - resides.

But do not for one moment suppose that medieval politics was in any way, shape or form, clear cut. Rulers and their followers formed alliances as and when it was prudent to do so; loyalty was bought and sold across the Kingdoms of Northumbria, Scotland, Dublin, Man, and Norway; kings were raised up and brought down with unnerving regularity. These leaders were often larger than life characters, who, had their deeds not been so readily documented, may have passed unremarked from the pages of history. This was the time of heroes and sagas; great battles and adventures; of an old world fighting to hold back the ever encroaching tide of the new.

It is back into this muddy whirlpool of politics, religion, loyalty and revenge that we once again find our motely band of Wolf Coats, as old enemies return and new ones are sent forth to distract and delay them at every turn. As Einar muses:" ... all the vipers are here .... I am right in the middle of a snakepit ..." Einar himself is still seeking out those responsible for his mother's murder and his journey will ultimately come full circle. Though what awaits him at its ends is quite unexpected.

Hodkinson once again draws the unaware reader ever deeper into the tale (or saga if you will) - like quicksand, once you have taken your first tentative steps, the ground falls away from under your feet, and you are carried along - in this instance, at the author's whim.  

At the end of every book, I constantly find myself asking what more can there be - how can Hodkinson keep the reader spellbound - and yet he somehow manages it, channeling the skalds of old as the words flow from pen to paper, with nary a dull moment in between.  If you haven't yet taken the journey down the Whale Road, it is high time you did.

About the author
Tim Hodkinson was born in 1971 in Northern Ireland. He studied Medieval English and Old Norse Literature at University with a subsidiary in Medieval European History. He has been writing all his life and has a strong interest in the historical, the mystical and the mysterious. After spending several happy years living in New Hampshire, USA, he has now returned to life in Northern Ireland with his wife Trudy and three lovely daughters in a village called Moira.

Tim is currently working on a series of viking novels for Aries Fiction, an imprint of Head of Zeus.

Buy links:
Google Play:

Follow Tim:
Twitter: @TimHodkinson

Follow Aries:
Twitter: @AriesFiction
Facebook: @AriesFiction

Sunday, June 13, 2021

‘It’s infuriating and shocking’: how medicine has failed women over time

Hippocrates, the founder of modern medicine, believed that women were controlled by their uteruses. The father of modern gynecology, James Marion Sims, in the mid-19th century experimented on enslaved black women without anesthesia, convinced that they felt less pain than white women. (Until its removal in 2018, his statue stood in New York’s Central Park for over a century.) Doctors claimed that women’s suffrage would cause injury to women’s fragile bodies and diminished minds. Such examples cast an abhorrent pall over “first, do no harm”.

The history of medicine is every bit as social and cultural as it is scientific, and male dominance is cemented in its foundations. But even the author Elinor Cleghorn, who spent the past year immersed in the history of women’s relationship to medicine, was surprised by “just how conscious and insidious it was”, she told the Guardian. “Biological theories about female bodies were used to reinforce and uphold constraining social ideas about women.”

Cleghorn’s new book, Unwell Women, enumerates a litany of ways in which women’s bodies and minds have been misunderstood and misdiagnosed through history. From the wandering womb of ancient Greece (the idea that a displaced uterus caused many of women’s illnesses) and the witch trials in medieval Europe, through the dawn of hysteria, to modern myths around menstruation, she lays bare the unbelievable and sometimes horrific treatment of women for millennia in the name of medicine.

read more here @ The Guardian

Chaucer scholar honored with prestigious Medieval Institute book prize

A scholar of medieval secular literature and history has won Western Michigan University's Otto Gründler Book Prize for her biography of medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer.

Dr. Marion Turner, professor of English literature at the University of Oxford, where she holds a Tutorial Fellowship at Jesus College, is the winner of the 2021 prize for "Chaucer: A European Life."

The award, which comes with a $1,000 cash prize, was announced at the 56th International Congress on Medieval Studies held virtually this year. It is named for the late longtime director of WMU's Medieval Institute and has been awarded annually since 1997. It recognizes a monographic book on a medieval subject that the selection committee determines has made an outstanding contribution to the field. Authors from any country are eligible, and nominations are accepted from readers and publishers.

Turner's biography about Chaucer recreates the cosmopolitan world in which he rose from being a wine merchant's son to becoming one of the most celebrated of all English poets. Uncovering important new information about Chaucer's travels, private life and the early circulation of his writings, this innovative biography documents a series of vivid episodes and, at the same time, offers a comprehensive exploration of Chaucer's writings.

"For Turner, the world of Chaucer is not limited; it looms large and vivid. The very importance of international trade, together with multilingual creativity and manuscript exchange, required her to craft a new approach for writing Chaucer's biography; and she has done so. 'Chaucer: A European Life' is informative, innovative and a delightful read," says Dr. Jana K. Schulman, director of WMU's Medieval Institute.

Published by Princeton University Press in 2019, Turner's book was chosen as the 2019 Book of the Year by England's The Times, The Sunday Times and The Times Literary Supplement as well as a best summer read by the Evening Standard and the TLS. It was also picked as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title of the Year.

Lady Molly of Scotland Yard by Baroness Orczy

Lady Molly of Scotland Yard is a collection of short stories about Molly Robertson-Kirk, an early fictional female detective. It was written by Baroness Orczy, who is best known as the creator of The Scarlet Pimpernel, but who also invented two turn-of-the-century detectives in The Old Man in the Corner and Lady Molly of Scotland Yard.

First published in 1910, Orczy's female detective was the precursor of the lay sleuth who relies on brains rather than brawn. The book soon became very popular, with three editions appearing in the first year. As well as being one of the first novels to feature a female detective as the main character, Orczy's outstandingly successful police officer preceded her real life female counterparts by a decade.

Lady Molly, like her fictional contemporaries, most often succeeded because she recognised domestic clues foreign to male experience. Her entry into the police is motivated by a desire to save her fiancé from a false accusation. Once her superior intuition has triumphed, Lady Molly marries and leaves the force. The book contains all twelve Lady Molly adventures and is narrated by Lady Molly's assistant Mary Granard.

read more here

Edward I and the Governance of England, 1272–1307 by Caroline Burt

This important exploration of the reign of Edward I – one of England's most lionised, feared and successful monarchs – presents his kingship in a radical new light. 

Through detailed case studies of Shropshire, Warwickshire and Kent, Caroline Burt examines how Edward's governance at a national level was reflected in different localities. She employs novel methodology to measure levels of disorder and the effects of government action, and uncovers a remarkably sophisticated approach to governance. 

This study combines an empirical examination of government with an understanding of developing political ideas and ideological motivation, and contributes towards a greater understanding of the development of local government and politics in England in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Edward emerges as a king with a coherent set of ideas about the governance of his realm, both intellectually and practically, whose achievements were even more remarkable than has previously been recognised.

The Langobards before the Frankish Conquest

The Langobards or Lombards were the last Germanic group to invade the Roman Mediterranean, crossing the Alps into Italy in 568-9. They were nonetheless one of the longest-lasting, for their state survived Charlemagne's conquest in 774, and was the core of the medieval kingdom of Italy. The incompleteness of their conquest of Italy was also one of the root causes of Italian division for over 1300 years after their arrival. 

But they present a challenge to the historian, for most of the evidence for them dates to the last half-century of their independence, up to 774, a period in which Langobard Italy was a coherent and apparently tightly-governed state by early medieval standards. How they reached this from the incoherent and disorganised situation visible in late sixth-century Italy is still a matter of debate.

The historians and archaeologists who contribute to this volume discuss Langobard archaeology and material culture both before and after their invasion, Langobard language, political organisation, the church, social structures, family structures, and urban economy. It is thus an important and up to date starting point for future research on early medieval Italy.

Editors: Giorgio Ausenda, Paolo Delogu and Chris Wickham

The Brus Family in England and Scotland 1100-1295 by Ruth Blakely

Robert de Brus, the "conquisitor of Cleveland, Hartness and Annandale", who came into England among the followers of Henry I, was also a close companion and mentor of David I, king of Scots. The lands he acquired from bothkings were divided between his sons, from whom two lines descended: the lords of Skelton, influential Northerners who played an active part during the baronial troubles in the reigns of John and Henry III, and the prominent cross-Border lords of Annandale, co-heirs of the substantial Chester and Huntingdon estates and progenitors of King Robert Bruce.

This study takes a fresh approach to the Brus family by assessing the achievements of the two lines in parallel while examining the extent of their power and the development of their lordships; it highlights the inter-relations between the barons of England and Scotland during two hundred years of comparative peace between the kingdoms. Of additional interest is the appendix of an extensive handlist of charters of the Brus family of both lines. It will be a welcome addition to the existing body of works on English baronial families and on Anglo-Scottish cross-Border lords of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Blog Tour - The Serpent King by Tim Hodkinson

Yes again I am on the blog tour for the new instalment in Tim Hodkinson's "Whale Road Chronicles". Book four - The Serpent King - is due our shortly and is the next in the continuing saga of Einar and the motley band of Wolf Coats.

Come back and check out my review when the tours passes this way! In the meantime, if you haven't already, dip into the first three!

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Review: The Grey Men by Ralph Hope

Synopsis: In 1990 the Berlin Wall fell and the East German security service folded. By that time, they had amassed over a billion pages of manilla files detailing the lives of their citizens. Overnight, almost a hundred thousand Stasi employees, many of them experienced officers with access to highly personal information, found themselves unemployed. This is the story of what they did next.

Former FBI Agent Ralph Hope uses critical insider knowledge and access to Stasi records to track and expose ex-officers working everywhere from the Russian energy sector to the police and even the government department tasked with prosecuting Stasi crimes. He examines why the key players have never been called to account and, in doing so, asks whether we have really learned from the past at all.

The Grey Men comes as an urgent warning from the past at a time when governments the world over are building an unprecedented network of surveillance over their citizens.

I was drawn to this for the simple reason, that I, like many others, wanted to know what happened after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which, if you can believe it, was the result of a slip of the tongue and a shrug of the shoulders.

Having read about the years of the dictatorship and other books wherein survivors tell their own personal stories, I was interested to hear how the 90000 odd members of the Stasi washed up. Curiously, that the fact that of the 90000 members, 182 were charges, 87 convicted and 1 sentenced to prison! Surely these stats were wrong! But no, having weathered the initial storm, the Stasi were still there, albeit under another name, another identity, working for another government, working for themselves, shielded by strict privacy laws which prevented the world from knowing who they actually were or are.

Hope, a former FBI agent, obviously had greater access to information and people than the average author, so the stories of survivors and the information garnered was eye-opening to say the least.

It is as we draw ever further away from post-war East Germany that Hope draws upon what he deems are the similarities between the Stasi and some of today's politically active groups, with what he terms the "decomposition of the individual" wherein social media now becomes the anonymous bogeyman to espouse ideas once shunned and to attack those who dare to speak out.

It is interesting reading for those interested.