Sunday, 4 November 2018

Review: Stalin: the Court of the Red Tsar, by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Wasn’t quite sure what to expect with this, as I knew the very basic outline of Stalin’s life but few details. Initially (the book has a loose opening focus centring on a key event some time before WWII) I found it a little difficult to get into. Stalin’s obviously the overarching figure but many others (Molotov, Beria etc) feature prominently.

After this opening, the biography falls into a more traditional, chronological, account of Stalin, from difficult childhood through early adulthood, eventually ending with his death some time after the conclusion of the Second World War. The author has clearly drawn on existing histories, testimonies (which he frequently acknowledges may be somewhat biased by those seeking to protect the reputation of themselves or their relatives), and diaries and other papers.

The result is a 600 page or so account of one of the critical men of the 20th century, which sheds new light in many areas due to the opening up of archives that were inaccessible previously, and personal interviews with the individuals (and relatives of those) who were present at the time.

The monstrous capriciousness of Stalin, toying with victims sadistically whilst feigning ignorance, and his bizarrely double-faced nature, ordering executions by quota yet helping a colleague’s daughter with her maths homework when she rang up and her father was absent, paints a picture of a chaotic, lethal maelstrom. The only constant was the rise and then supremacy of Stalin.

Those of you who have read 1984 or, perhaps even better, Animal Farm will recognise much of the horror: the religious, zealous devotion to the ideal of the Party, the blind, trusting devotion of many (reminiscent of Boxer the horse), and dissolving individuality in the acid of socialism.

The title itself is a signpost, with Stalin every bit the monarch a tsar, or king, or emperor, might be.

Although post-war there was a Terror against the Jews, before it the Soviet approach to massacre was completely different to the Nazi way. The Third Reich, of course, aimed for the extermination of the Jews. Stalin wanted to get rid of the inconvenient, cared little for human life, and created quotas for genocide. His underlings executed tens of thousands quite literally to make up the numbers. One might say he was, at that stage, an equal opportunities genocidal maniac.

The intelligence of Stalin, particularly as a master manipulator of those who were his colleagues and became his subordinates, is compelling, as is the wilful blindness he displayed towards Hitler’s betrayal and invasion of the USSR.

Beneath Stalin is a cast of characters that occasionally match his wickedness, and others who seem a little less brutal (it’s a difficult thing to try and assess people who would’ve destroyed themselves and their families if their words or actions had sought to save the persecuted innocent). Voroshilov, the personally brave and politically wimpish soldier; Budyonny, the likeable cavalryman with no appreciation of how tanks might be better than horses; Beria, the sadist, the rapist, the schemer.

This isn’t my period of history, but I still felt displeased by my own ignorance about someone so significant to recent events. Similar to the first time I learnt something about the Eastern Roman Empire, albeit with less ignorance and more recency.

However, having recently finished it, I’ve got to say I enjoyed the book a lot. It’s grim in many places, but engaging and enlightening. As I posted elsewhere, it’s baffling that a man who died within living memory and was responsible for the deaths of 20 million people (and the enslavement of a similar number) isn’t better understood. Even today, some idiots in the UK happily march under banners of a man every bit as evil as Hitler.

I strongly recommend this book.


Thursday, 1 November 2018

Through the Looking Glass

A while ago, there was some ‘controversy’ when Warhorse Studios, the chaps behind the game Kingdom Come Deliverance (set in Bohemia [roughly the Czech Republic] in 1403), were criticised because everyone in it was white. The game’s set in a small geographical area, and everyone being white then is realistic, which is the angle that’s strongly pushed at every level in KCD. Larger cities were more cosmopolitan, but there’s no equivalent of Prague or Vienna in the game. In my view, those wanting diversity were simply trying to impose modern standards on historical reality (which isn’t necessarily unreasonable if you have a fast and loose approach to history, but the whole KCD game was focused on being realistic).

But it did get me thinking. Sometimes, people want to impose modern social, moral norms on historical works of media, whether videogames, film, TV etc. But what if it happened in reverse? What if we had a roughly medieval mindset, and assessed modern works by that standard?

In Stargate: Atlantis, female cast members often have bare arms. That would be frowned upon. (Plunging cleavage, not a problem, but biceps? Titillating beyond acceptability). There’s also a lot of loose hair. Again, at some periods in history this was rather indicative of, er, prostitution (as were the bare arms). A medieval person, once having gotten over the witchcraft of television, would be bemused to see this.

In the West, there’s generally been a decrease in formality between higher and lower status people (thinking primarily of working relationships, but also in those wonderful countries that still benefit from the splendidness of monarchy). This lack of formality would seem quite odd to those of a medieval mindset, where one’s social superior (local lord, say) could be the man sitting in judgement on you one day, and it paid to show due deference.

Medieval attitudes to vegans would be interesting to observe. Animal cruelty was pretty widespread, yet meat wasn’t eaten on around half the days of the year (it was permanently banned on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, as well as being forbidden on certain holy days). Voluntarily not eating meat might be seen as indicative of religious devotion.

Sticking with food, being fat was seen as a sign of prosperity. In a world where one bad harvest can kill the frail and two bad harvests can destroy peasant villages, having sufficient food to not merely meet but exceed needs was proof of wealth. Paler skin was also indicative of high status, as more time was spent indoors rather than working the fields. Thinner people (generally but not always considered more attractive these days) were seen as less attractive because it was down to lack of food, rather than an aesthetic choice.

Despite certain glass-ceiling smashing memes, women have had leading roles in sci-fi for quite some time (Ripley, Janeway, Samantha Carter, etc). In a world where petty treason makes it a criminal offence for a wife to disobey her husband, and which could be successfully used by a woman ordered to commit a crime to escape legal punishment, this would probably be seen as really rather odd. That said, there were exceptions in medieval times (Black Agnes commanded a Scottish castle when her husband was away, defying English attempts to capture it, for example) but it’d still seem rather peculiar in medieval eyes.

The absence of references to God would be utterly perplexing. Excepting the odd expression (“Thank God for that” etc), most people hardly ever refer to God in day to day conversation. Obviously religious people do more often, but even that would be dramatically less than was usual for medieval England, which was steeped in Christianity.

Which brings us to an ugly aspect of medieval thinking: widespread dislike of the Jews. Jews came over with William the Conqueror in 1066, and suffered particularly during the reigns of John and Edward I. They were generally concentrated in a small number of urban centres, mostly London, and were pretty well-off due to usury (the forerunner of modern banking). However, this was against Christian teaching at the time, so, whilst economically beneficial for the Jews, and also more widely, the wealth was achieved through acts against Christian doctrine, by a minority. Sadly, the average medieval fellow watching TV showing anti-Jewish behaviour might be more likely to side with the bigot than the victim.

It’s almost as if imposing the moral and social attitudes of one time period on another, far removed, is a daft thing to do…


Tuesday, 30 October 2018

The Soviet Vacuum

I’m about two-thirds into Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Stalin: the Court of the Red Tsar. It’s not my usual time period, as regular readers will have noticed, but I’m finding it engaging, and grimly enthralling in parts.

And yet, there’s a nagging irritation. Not with the book. It’s well-written and well worth reading, but with my own vast ignorance. Consider Yezhov and Beria. I’d venture to guess most of you have never heard of them, yet have heard of Himmler, Eichmann and/or Heydrich, the architects of the Holocaust.

It’s entirely right and proper that we remember and continue to teach younger generations about the Holocaust. That only makes it more bizarre and inexplicable that, beside the vast ocean of Nazi, Hitler, and Holocaust dramas and histories, there is very, very little about the Terrors under Stalin.

We’re not talking small numbers of casualties. In total, millions were shot, or consigned to slave labour in gulags. In stark contrast to the Nazi approach of deliberately targeting Jews (and some other groups), the Stalinist way was simply to have a quota for executions and enslavement, and then for desperately enthusiastic underlings to exceed said quotas. People weren’t killed because of a racial hatred, but to make up the numbers.

Why isn’t more said about this? Why isn’t more of it taught in schools, or portrayed in dramas and histories?

There could be an element of embarrassment. After all, the West (most obviously the UK and US) were allied to Stalin’s Soviet Union in the latter half of the war. That was necessary, but it’s never comfortable allying with a genocidal tyrant. Yet, the USSR was an enemy at the war’s start, and afterwards, so I’m not sure that argument holds water.

I asked the question on Twitter (, specifically about dramas, and received a number of interesting answers, including one that the US (when the atrocities became known) didn’t want to see another McCarthy to arise and didn’t comment much on them. (For those interested, a couple of interesting suggestions were made, including Burnt By The Sun and Stalin (Robert Duvall), and the book All Stalin’s Men by Medvedev Roy Aleksandrovich).

Might it be because we never had a conclusive climax to a hot war? The Nazis were smashed, ultimately, in a decisive defeat against the Allied powers. The USSR collapsed in the latter years of the 20th century. It wasn’t conquered by external armies, and it didn’t surrender to the Allies.

Nevertheless, the lack of media programming is still a void, a gaping chasm that should be filled with histories and dramas. There are some fools in the UK today who actually march quite happily under banners of Lenin and Stalin, the hammer and sickle flying on red flags above them.

We would not see this without excoriation it if those on the right marched beneath swastikas and Hitler banners. And those comparisons are very apt. The atrocities were, to a large extent, concurrent (1930s and 1940s), and the numbers involved were comparable.

It’s a little depressing when people know nothing of the Western or Eastern Roman Empires, or are unfamiliar with even basic dates like 1066. But when they’re totally unaware of atrocities carried out within living memory it’s alarming. Our best hope of avoiding a repetition of the tragedies of the past is if we’re aware of them.


Friday, 26 October 2018

Advantages for Women in the Middle Ages

As a rule, life in the Middle Ages was rubbish. It was especially rubbish if you were poor, and even more rubbish if you were a poor woman. Often there was overt sexism (you were expected to obey your father, then your husband) and sometimes it was a bit more subtle (sometimes a guild would allow a woman to own a business but not be self-employed).

However, there were some upsides for women.

Petty treason had a few definitions, one of which was a woman refusing to obey her husband. That’s bad. But there’s a flip side. If a man and wife are found guilty of committing crime, the wife can say she was ordered by her husband to do bad things. What’s she expected to do? Disobedience would be treason. The man will hang, the wife will not.

Sticking with crime, there were a couple of special pleas available. One was to plead clergy, meaning one had to demonstrate the ability to read, and get shunted to a softer clerical court. The other was to plead pregnancy. A woman would be examined and, if considered to be pregnant, any sentence of death would be delayed until after the birth. There was always a chance that the sentence might just be dropped entirely.

There was quite a lot of war in the Middle Ages, including the Hundred Years’ War. Edward III (and others) called up huge armies to cross the Channel and introduce the French to the excitement of English archery. But those armies, risking death and injury in war, and pestilence in camp, were almost entirely men. Woman weren’t dragged on pain of hanging across the sea to wage war.

Domestic violence is not a good thing, yet it was broadly accepted in the Middle Ages. A man beating his wife was not unusual. But if he went too far neighbours and family might put a stop to it. A woman kicking the crap out of her husband, however, would lead not to sympathy and sorrow for him, but mockery and contempt.

Despite the low life expectancy, many kings lived long lives (Henry III, Edward I, and Edward III collectively reigned for 141 years). But there was a problem for them in particular, and men in general. Men were meant to be strong and vigorous, able to defend their home and kingdom (the king, of course, leading this). An old man was worn out and feeble, weak and decrepit, lingering with the mantle of power but lacking the frame to fill it. Old age was not good for men. It was good for women. Longevity gave them the reputation of wisdom, (hence ‘wise women’) as women did most of the healing and nursing, and older women had a great store of knowledge.

I certainly wouldn’t claim life was better for women than for men in the Middle Ages. Property law, inheritance, petty treason, risk of death in childbirth, all made things rather horrid, even without delving into general problems men faced too (high mortality, risk of famine every bad harvest etc). But, as with almost everything, it’s not entirely black and white, and it’s interesting to consider the nuances.


Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Snapshots Review 3: The Reviewening

For the uninitiated, snapshot reviews are when I take 4-6 samples (usually fantasy) and, er, review them. Hopefully it’s helpful for readers to find new books and authors.

Quite a mix amongst this half dozen, with sci-fi and fantasy, comedy and serious stuff.

The Copper Promise (Copper Cat Trilogy), by Jen Williams

The sample includes multiple perspectives, but manages to start tying them together before it ends (which is helpful for trying to assess how the plot might go forward). The opening chapter features a nobleman being surprisingly stoic under torture (nothing too graphic), as his jailers seek to prise from his lips information about his family’s wealth. Following on, there are chapters about separate but linked mercenaries delving into an ancient, haunted, subterranean place, with the latter pair of mercenaries hired by the previously mentioned nobleman (now in a state of some injury, following the torture). The sample ends as they approach the ruin. I enjoyed the writing style, and really liked the very different voices that the differing POVs had. A good test of this is to imagine dialogue without any tags, so the spoken words alone indicate the speaker, and this passes with flying colours. It’s an intriguing beginning.

The Gorgon Bride, by Galen Surlark-Ramsey

An interesting change of pace here. I must admit, fantasy set in the real world tends not to my cup of tea, so when the sample opened with a real life setting hopes were not high. However, I do like Greek mythology, and that’s mingled with the modern world in this comedy-fantasy. The sample’s storyline follows the antics of Alexander Weiss, pianist, and Athena, goddess and taunter of Ares. The mortal soon meets his mortality and is destined to try and find love for Euryale, one of Medusa’s sisters and fellow gorgon. One nice aspect of comedy is that you can tell very quickly whether the style of the humour is to your taste which determines in large part whether you’ll like the book or not. I found it to be a light-hearted and entertaining read. Perhaps as helpfully (for me) it’s a stand alone, rather than part 1 of the Mega Long Fantastical Series.

Paternus: Rise of the Gods (the Paternus Trilogy book 1), by Dyrk Ashton

This is a weird one to review, because it has several things I dislike but it’s also very competently done (particularly the first chapter, of 4-5 or so complete in the sample) which is excellent. It’s set in the modern day real world, with a thrillerish writing style. Could be a blend of magic and technology, not quite clear. The story looks at various POVs, mostly from the perspective of Firstborn. They’re ancient godlike figures, often taken from historical myths. There seems to be some sort war brewing between Asuras (rebels against the ‘Father’ that created them) and Devas (Father loyalists) but how is not clear. I do think it’s interesting and well done, but, like celery, it’s just not for me.

The Sons of Thestian (the Harmatia Cycle book 1), by ME Vaughan

Much more my usual fare than the previous two samples, but I must admit it didn’t grab me. The prologue opens with Jionathan, a prince and would-be escapee from his own city, attempting to evade a nocturnal patrol of bloodthirsty and transmogrified mages, ‘aided’ by the mage Rufus (who appears to be in a stupor). Rufus gets hidden and the prince, as you might expect early on, gets caught and ends up back in his castle. Over the ensuing few chapters we learn the prince’s father is ill, and the Night Patrol is a new and odd addition to the city. Rufus has more POV time early on, but there’s a bit too much telling rather than showing. It’s not badly written, indeed, I found it very easy to read, but it just didn’t grab me.

Kingshold (Wildfire Cycle book 1), by DP Woolliscroft

Have to say I was almost immediately taken by this. It’s the story, seemingly, of a power transition from a terrible king and queen (who end up leaving their positions sooner than they expect, at the hands of a vengeful but probably righteous wizard) and the shift of a kingdom towards a republic/democracy. There are many POVs, indeed, it wasn’t until the last chapter in the sample that one recurred (I did wonder if the author might try, heroically/foolishly, to tell a whole story without repeating a single POV). Every one was engaging, the writing was effortless to read, and, at this early stage, I enjoyed the way the story was going. There’s a drunken minstrel, a precocious maid, a hardbitten mage, and so on. It’s an intriguing start.

Space Team (Volume 1), by Barry J Hutchison

Another comedy that begins in the real world, but this one is sci-fi. The sample’s a little shorter and doesn’t quite have time to set out the premise. It follows Cal Carver, who ends up in the wrong prison due to a bureaucratic error, just as all hell seems to break loose. He wakes up in space for reasons about to be revealed, when the sample ends. It’s very engaging and amusing, although the bodily fluid stuff isn’t my cup of tea. An advantage of comedy over other genres is that it’s very easy to tell early on if it’ll tickle your fancy, and, fluids aside, I found the sample of this quite entertaining.


Friday, 5 October 2018

Review: Silent Heroes, by Evelyn le Chene

Animals have a long history in warfare, and this book explores a number of contributions from our furry and feathered friends in more recent wars (I think the oldest mentioned is the Crimean). A plus side of the relatively modern scope is that there’s more evidence and less anecdote, and there are usually some nice photos (although I do now feel a bit inferior, given there was a collie who received multiple medals and completed various missions and parachute jumps with the SAS).

There are many wars featured, from Crimea to the Worlds Wars, and others around the world, and various different types of animal. Dogs feature heavily, as do pigeons, with the occasional cat and mule, and, perhaps most famous of modern soldier animals, Voytek the bear.

The book’s long enough to provide significant variety, with each chapter (usually focusing on one or two animals) sufficient to put the story in context without padding. I found the writing style to be easy to read, and the subject matter to be charming, if sometimes sad (to be expected, really).

I found it to be a very engaging book, and enjoyed it rather a lot.


Friday, 28 September 2018

Review: A History of the Second World War, by BH Liddell Hart

Yes, another shockingly modern ‘history’ (more current events, really). I reviewed a book about the First World War, by the same author, here.

The book begins a little prior to war breaking out and ends with a nice little epilogue that summarises the context and events of the war. The political matters during the war itself are only referenced insofar as they affect the military situation (such as German generals being unwilling to argue against Hitler, particularly in the latter stages). Similarly, things such as the impact of shortages due to wartime (both military priority and attempted strangleholds on supplies) are only considered in the light of logistical problems for the armed forces and, in extremis, a population becoming so demoralised it might have a material impact upon the body politic.

Necessarily, given the scope of the book, there can sometimes be a little less detail in certain areas (although there’s no shortage of books on the subject if anyone wants to delve more deeply into particular topics), but the general overview does convey things well, although the writing can sometimes be a little dry.

It is rather easier for a history of WWII to be more interesting than one for WWI, given the greater variety of theatres of war, and the fact the war itself was altogether more dynamic, being characterised by fast-paced tank actions rather than trench warfare. I particularly found the to and fro in North Africa interesting (it was also worth noting how often both leaders and army officers had their assumptions confounded by reality, and how some excellent officers were prevented from achieving more due to either their military or political superiors).

As with the author’s history of WWI, there are many maps, which is very useful given the widespread nature of the war.

I particularly enjoyed little insights from personal interviews with soldiers of either side, including one German officer whose spearhead attack had a pause when he was bewitched by a pretty blonde American nurse.

Overall, given it’s not my area, I’d say it’s a solid overview of the entire war, from a purely military perspective. If you’re after a military overview of the whole of World War Two, this book’s worth considering. If you want a social or political look at the Second World War, then you’d be better off looking elsewhere.


Thursday, 20 September 2018

Snapshots Review 2: Review Harder

The Snapshots Reviews are posts in which I review the samples of a small number (4-6) of books. Reviews are just of the samples, I haven’t read the full books of any of them, at the time of posting this. The first Snapshots Review was elsewhere, and can be found here. The books I’ve reviewed are all in the fantasy genre.

Dangerous to Know (Chronicles of Breed, book 1), by KT Davies

The first sample I read in this batch, and I have to admit, things really hit the ground running. The writing style was immersive and easy to read, the world is well-realised and portrayed without info-dumping (I never felt there was a slab of text outlining society etc, but by the end of the sample I knew a reasonable amount about the world), and there are even some light, humorous touches. The sample follows a half-breed mercenary, half-human, half-thoasa (a sort of war creature). She starts off in a bad situation (page one features being chased by a dragon) and it soon gets worse when Breed finds herself in an icy ruin with a demon her only hope for discovering the way out. Really good start to things.

The Rage of Dragons, by Evan Winter 

This sample is in two halves, with the first half being a sort of prologue, and the latter half (starting with Chapter One) occurring a century and a half-ish later. The prologue has a slightly unusual premise, which I like, of a queen leading her people on a sort of watery exodus, landing her ships on land to escape some unknown danger. However, the locals aren’t too happy and a bit of a war ensues. The latter part is on the claimed land but some time later, following Tau, a young chap aspiring to become a warrior. Unfortunately there is a lot of info-dumping and jargon, which gets in the way of both pace and clarity.

[A note on this: I couldn’t believe it got such a high rating on Amazon. One review I checked explained why. Apparently the start is pretty iffy but the latter half is fantastic, a bit like the Lies of Locke Lamora. Obviously, I’m just reviewing samples, and things can improve or worsen. Just thought I’d mention that].

Tree of Ages (the Tree of Ages series book 1), by Sara C Roethle

This one had an unusual premise. A tree stops being a tree, and becomes a young woman. Finn doesn’t know how, or why, and wants to return to being a tree. With the help of a kindly cottager, Finn sets out to reverse the transformation. I like a different premise, and enjoyed this sample a lot. Easy to read, low on action (there’s none) but highly engaging, as samples go it’s very good. The foundation of the story is laid, main characters introduced, and I found it very interesting.

The Thief Who Pulled On Trouble’s Braids (Amra Thetys Series book 1), by Michael McClung 

By chance, I happened to pick this and another winner of the excellent SPFBO contest. So, hopes were high as I began the sample. And met. The story follows Amra, a thief not quite world class but definitely a cut above the average, as her friend Corbin is trying to sort out a deal gone wrong. He leaves her a golden statuette and extricates a promise to look after his dog if anything goes wrong. And it does, of course. The writing style’s easy to read and and the world is effortlessly revealed through natural storytelling. It’s a charming book, which I suspect will be quite gritty.

The Grey Bastards (the Lot Lands), by Jonathan French

By weird coincidence, this is also an SPFBO contest winner. The sample follows Jackal, a half-orc, and his friends Oats and Fetching (also half-orcs) as they have something of a tangle with a group of human soldiers outside a brothel. The trio return to the Kiln, their headquarters, and their boss, Claymaster, holds a meeting which probably unveils the wider premise of the story (which may be hinted at in the brothel fight). Enjoyable to read, with grim humour and a plot/world that unfolds naturally, it’s yet another sample that could easily lead to me buying the book (this half-dozen of samples is something of an embarrassment of riches).

Darkmage (the Rhenwars Saga Volume 1), by ML Spencer

Darkmage’s sample largely follows Darien, a soldier returning from a front line in a classic high fantasy world, where the enemy are pressing strongly and he wants his mother (effectively head of state) to allow a pacific oath to be broken to win the war. Naturally, there’s quite a bit of tension there, not least because he’s returning to inherit arcane power and is expected to take the oath himself. But the enemy are closer than either of them think. The story’s premise works, but I did find the writing style to be a little more tell than show (for example, Darien courted a lady mage, against the rules, and that’s why he was away in the first place. Why not show that?). It’s not bad, but didn’t grab me.

I had planned to nominate just one as a recommendation, as per the first time, but there are a number of great samples well worth a look.


Friday, 7 September 2018

Review: Blood and Sand Trilogy, by Jon Kiln

Some time ago on The Wayfarer’s Rest* I had a little experiment, reading half a dozen or so samples from Kindle books. It was quite interesting, with some laden with info-dumping, others insufficient to let the premise unfold. Easily the best was the sample of the Blood and Sand Trilogy, by Jon Kiln, which I just finished reading.

The story follows Vekal, a Sin Eater (confessor meets martial artist), and opens as his city is being sacked by barbarians. After the engaging spot of initial action dies down, we encounter the central premise of the plot. Vekal’s forced to try and help the barbarian warlord’s daughter, who has a peculiar sickness, and finds himself possessed by a demonic spirit. But because he’s a Sin Eater, the devil is unable to totally control him, and the pair find themselves bickering and co-operating, sometimes doing what Vekal wants, sometimes doing what Ikrit wants.

The plot holds together well, and one aspect I liked was that whilst Ikrit is clearly not a good chap, he’s also not just a moustache-twirling blacker than black villain. That would’ve made things a bit flatter, and less interesting. By humanising him, to a degree at least, he’s somewhat sympathetic (whilst still more than happy to kill people in the way). The relationship between Vekal and Ikrit varies from antagonistic to co-operative, as their goals coincide or diverge. It’s a nice take on things.

Besides Vekal/Ikrit, clearly the main character(s), there are a number of others who get some POV time. Naturally, they aren’t fleshed out quite so much, but I liked that many secondary characters had some depth to them.

The world is well-realised, and there’s a pleasant absence of info-dumping. It hangs in the background, as it should, whilst the characters get on with their adventuring. The low magic (hardly any is used) works very well, as possession or fear thereof provides the main arcane aspect of the story and world.

I do think the book could’ve been slightly better proofread. Should stress it’s not riddled with errors, and I do expect some in a novel-sized book, but there are perhaps a few too many (and sometimes phrasing’s repeated in short order).

In terms of sex, violence etc, there’s no frisky time and quite a lot of bloodshed, but it’s not as grim as many books.

Overall, I found Blood and Sand to be an enjoyable read.


*For those wondering, I liked posting more frequently but just lacked the time to do so. I may resurrect TWR one of these days, but the irregular rambles and reviews on Thaddeus the Sixth won’t be going anywhere. Unless I get decapitated by a low-flying flamingo, obviously. Then my blogging will decline dramatically.

Thursday, 23 August 2018

The Curta Mechanical Calculator

And now for something completely different.

There was a time, children, when computers didn’t exist. And when they did exist (hello, Colossus) but were far from commonplace. People getting telephones at home, or even, gasp, televisions were new and exciting events. The radio was made of wood, and rather more listened to (perhaps due to the absence of TV, or because the people had better accents).

But what about calculators? Think of a calculator and you think of perhaps an app, or an electronic calculator, whether a simple everyday one or a swankier scientific version.

But what if those don’t exist? Well, you can work it out in your head.

Or you could use a mechanical calculator. The one pictured is the Curta, designed by Curt Herzstark. Born in 1902, he was an Austrian and son of a Jewish father. He’d completed the Curta’s design by 1938 but the Nazi annexation of Austria rather put the kibosh on production plans. He was ordered to make devices for the German army, until he was arrested in 1943 and sent to a concentration camp. Despite the less than ideal circumstances, Herzstark was able to redraw the designs from memory whilst in the concentration camp.

The mechanical calculator he created is similar in dimensions to a cylindrical deodorant can, albeit perhaps 2/3 the height and with a slightly larger diameter. It comes in an airtight two-part container.

I am not an engineer (the people who used the Curta perhaps the most), or a mathematician, but I must admit I found it to be not very intuitive (I’ve provided links to a few helpful Youtube videos at the end of this article). There is a series of movable switches running around the lower part of the cylinder. On the top is a handle that can be rotated either in the up or down position, with a separate ring that can be rotated (with the top part raised, this resets the device).

Turning the handle is curiously satisfying, like grinding a pepper mill full of numbers.

It turns out the switches on the lower part are for integers to add, subtract, multiply or divide. Turning the handle in the down position is for addition, in the raised position it subtracts. The number currently worked upon is indicated once an initial calculation (addition) has been made. So, the switches might be flipped to 1 0 2 4 at the bottom, the handle turned, and 1024 shows up on the top. A second turn adds the same again, yielding 2048. Multiplying small numbers is simply a matter of repeated additions.

For a larger multiplication, such as 2048 by 299, the upper part of the calculator is raised, and rotated so that the 2048 at the bottom (movable switches) is entered in the hundreds rather than units. This adds 204800 to 2048 (so, a multiplication by 101). Repeated twice is multiplication by 301. The top part is raised again and returned to the units, and the handle raised to the subtraction position. A double rotation removes 2048 twice, giving us 612352. As well as this, correct, answer, the multiplication factor (299) is shown on the upper part (in a silver rather than black area). [Experimentation reveals that if you subsequently alter the switches number, this is not taken account of. So, doubling to 4096 and adding once increases the count to 300].

Anyway, it’s an interesting little thingummyjig, and I thought people into engineering, history, or creative writing might be intrigued to learn about a calculator that doesn’t need any fancy electricity to get its business done.


Saturday, 18 August 2018

Review: A Brief History of Roman Britain, by Joan P Alcock

I found this book, which covers the entire period (and a little before) of Roman Britain to be rather interesting. It’s split into distinct halves, the former being a chronological account of Roman Britain (with a chapter on Celtic tribes beforehand) and the latter consisting of chapters focusing on individual topics, such as religion.

In that way it’s something of a mixture of Adrian Goldsworthy’s Fall of Carthage and Ian Mortimer’s Time Traveller mini-series.

The level of detail included is often very deep, particularly regarding food, and does help to put the reader in the shoes of, say, a 3rd century Briton, who might dislike the imported garum fish paste, love their new mosaic floor, and enjoy availing themselves of the public baths.

As the title indicates, the book is about Roman Britain, but to an extent it also functions as a microcosm of the rising and falling fate of the Western Empire more generally. Charting how the Empire won wars then won support from the Celtic leadership (and then lost it with greed and corruption, leading to Boudicca’s rebellion) is an interesting read but also functions as a template for how the Empire won over the people it had conquered. Similarly, declining resources partly due to increasingly frequent civil wars denuded the province(s) of military manpower, exposing them to barbarian attack and reducing economic activity as the well-paid soldiers left and suddenly merchants had lost a huge market. The benefits of city living through local bakers (removing the need to grind your own flour), baths et cetera was replaced by onerous burdens for local leaders (whose taxes and public duties increased as the Empire weakened), leading them to leave and reducing the urban population.

I was a little worried about the first chapter. It’s a little bit listy, not quite to the extent of The Iliad or the Bible, but thereafter the book’s much easier to read.

The writing style could be a little more fluid and little less matter of fact, but except for the first chapter on pre-Roman Celtic tribes, it’s a minor point.

There are one or two small errors that perhaps should’ve been caught. (I’m no longer a Grammar Nazi about this sort of thing, as some mistakes are almost certain in a full-sized book, but certain errors such as writing Julius rather than Julian can be a little confusing). There was also confusion over the name of Isis’ son (Hippocrates or Harpocrates, which might reflect a Greco-Roman divergence or simply be a homophonic typo).

However, those small quibbles apart, I found the book to be interesting, detailed (immensely so in some places), and enjoyable.


Thursday, 9 August 2018

Review: A History of the First World War, by BH Liddell Hart

A bit outside my usual area, but this military history seemed interesting, so I gave it a look. It charts the course of the war from beginning to end, including an introductory segment setting the scene.

Reminiscent of Dodge’s Napoleon biography (first volume), I actually found the political and military preamble to the war itself to be the most interesting part. Setting the scene with the Schlieffen plan and the varying states of readiness of the Great Powers was very nicely done.

The war was notable, amongst other things, for the rapid invention and development of new technology with battlefield implications. The radio, rail, aircraft, gas shells, and tanks were all either created for the first time, advanced swiftly or otherwise had great military significance. Machine guns had existed for a little while by this stage but this was the first war when they gave near total predominance to defence over attack (until the tank rolled up).

It was fascinating to read of how the Germans really could have won the war early on, but for Moltke buggering up the plan Schlieffen had put together some years earlier, denuding the powerful right of strength whilst reinforcing the centre.

I’ve read enough military history (admittedly, mostly classical) to know that some wars are notable for their brilliant strategy, and some are remarkable for surprising incompetence or plain bad luck. The latter was not unique to the First World War (we need only look for how the Romans repeatedly mishandled the Cimbri for evidence that strategic/tactical idiocy and generals infighting can endanger a national cause). World War One does have the slight mitigation that new technologies were not fully understood (aircraft could have been employed on a more aggressive basis, for example), and the exacerbating factor that the same mistakes were made repeatedly, at immense cost of human life.

The sheer numbers of people involved is also worthy of remark. Tens of thousands (or more) fell during the largest battles, millions of men lived in trenches.

I must admit I sometimes found things a little hard to follow, although the gist was never in doubt. (I maintain that military history is more interesting before the use of gunpowder became widespread). There is a good number of maps, with many chapters beginning with a map of the local situation. A nice addition, which was not present, would have been something along the lines of a trench cross-section or the odd diagram of a plane, machine gun or tank, but it would’ve been an extra rather than some necessary that is missing.

It should be firmly stressed that this is a military history, and politics, excepting the interesting preamble to war breaking out, is mentioned only in so far as it directly relates to the war. Russia vanishes after the revolution and peace is agreed between the Bolsheviks and Germany.

The author does comment on both military and moral failings of generals when it comes to mistakes made (some understandable, others perhaps less so), and also those of the ordinary soldier. Whilst rarer, instances of soldiers performing misdeeds (such as advancing well, then coming across quantities of alcohol and getting lashed as a ferret on Christmas Day) are mentioned. That said, the focus of the book is clearly on the military aspects, with morale (and morality) considered alongside ammunition, supply lines, and so forth as a military asset, or deficiency.

Overall, I found the book interesting, occasionally a bit tricky to follow. As I’ve said before, its sole interest is the military side of things, so those after something considering the political or social implications of the war will find it lacking. Those seeking to understand the strategic and tactical situation that unfolded from 1914 to 1918 will find it of significant use.


Thursday, 2 August 2018

Review: Game of Thrones, season six

It’s been a little while since I saw the fifth series of Game of Thrones, but I’ve got to say that the sixth was the televisual equivalent of fitting like a glove.

At this stage, and certainly by the end of the series, the TV show is ahead of the books, so if you’re waiting for the books then I’d advise you stop watching either at the end of the fourth or fifth series (the fifth is ahead of the books in at least one significant place but behind in many others). That said, there is some divergence between the media, so…

Naturally, there will be spoilers galore for the first five series. I shall keep spoilers of the sixth to the barest minimum reasonably possible. So if you want zero spoilers at all, stop reading now.


The three main prongs of the story are the ongoing power struggle in King’s Landing, the battle to rule the North, and Daenerys’ arc (which I shall not spoil but shall say is significantly better than the last few seasons of Meereen hum-drummery).

The High Sparrow’s storyline, the tale of insidious fanaticism, of the seemingly kind being amongst the most brutal (the benevolent dictatorship of stamping on your face, but only because it’s good for you) is absolutely fantastic.

The last two episodes, as is so often the case, were great, both wrapping up some storylines and promising future delights in others. The CGI remains very good but they aren’t over-egging it, using real actors, horses and practical effects well instead of simply relying on pixel magic all the time (and going for tiling of real images rather than making pretend ones where possible).

The general quality of acting is, as always, excellent. Jonathan Pryce as the High Sparrow deserves a special nod for his portrayal of the smiling, kind fanatic.

The story has one or two twists and turns that are predictable (one in particular is so lacking in surprise it did make me wonder how the unfortunate chap involved didn’t see it coming) but there’s a good share of cunning twists and fiendish plans. There’s a relatively strong focus on the three main plots I mentioned above.

Bran returns after an absence in the fifth series, and there are rather dramatic doings. He is not the only character to return (and I am not referring to he whom you might think I am referring to).

Downsides on the TV show itself are minimal. Dorne was a dog that didn’t bark, featuring but not nearly as heavily as I anticipated.

That said, keeping all the plates spinning with a show that has so many different threads is a difficult thing and, by and large, the showrunners have done a great job.

Weirdly, the case/packaging have changed a lot from the first five series, being significantly slimmer. I have mixed feelings as I don’t have that much room, but format changes within a series irk me.

As always, some commentaries are better than others. Sophie Turner and Kit Harrington (Sansa and Jon) were entertaining, and I enjoyed the quartet of chaps (particularly Dolorous Ed’s actor, Ben Crompton).

Whilst not a fan, as a rule, of behind the scenes stuff, the half hour (ish) look at the Paint Hall over 24 hours was quite fun because we get to see the cast and crew in their natural habitat. There’s also a behind the scenes look at a battle. Shan’t give details to avoid spoilers, but it was also pretty interesting.

By this stage, you pretty much know if you want to keep watching Game of Thrones or not. There are no clangers or woeful reasons not to watch, the general excellence is maintained, and if one or two plot twists are telegraphed, there are plenty more great moments to enjoy.


Monday, 9 July 2018

So, The Last Jedi [spoilers galore]

I am, it’s fair to say, rather late to this tap dance. However, I did recently see this film. And so I thought I’d ramble about it (this is my blog, after all, home of rambling about sci-fi and fantasy. And history).

For those who haven’t seen it yet, this ramble will be laden with spoilers, so if you don’t want them, stop reading now.

Sometimes in really grim/serious films (Batman Begins, for example) I wish they’d add a little levity. I don’t mean change the overall tone, but people crack jokes, even if just as a coping mechanism in terrible situations. In World War One, when soldiers were pinned down in trenches with dead friends, they’d prop the bodies up (mimicking a soldier on guard duty) and shake their hand when they walked past. It’s ok to have a joke now and then, even if it’s still pretty grim.

The Last Jedi is the opposite. It’s ok to be serious now and then. Impending evacuation under heavy fire, wildly outgunned? Better crack a joke then. Waking up from some sort of medically induced coma? Slapstick and leaking time.

Star Wars has always been (mostly) family friendly (very friendly if you include the incestuous kissing in Empire Strikes Back). That doesn’t mean it can’t take things seriously, just occasionally, when dealing with what is, essentially, war between good and evil. Darth Vader could crack a joke (as Captain Needa discovered), but he was still a serious character. Hux is practically comic relief.

Captain Phasma and her rubbishness returns. Cool armour, lame turn of events. And then there’s Snoke (daft name), the pale imitation of Emperor Palpatine. But what really annoyed me about Snoke was how damned contrived and clunky the dialogue was when he ‘read Kylo Ren’s mind’ and saw him turn the lightsabre (yes, Americans, sabre is spelt this way in England) and kill his ‘true enemy’. … Decent twist to have him kill Snoke but the lumbering awkwardness of the dialogue and the mental hoops to jump through detracted from it.

In the same way JJ Abrams doesn’t understand the basic concept of space being big, it seems Rian Johnson didn’t understand the first thing about Star Wars. Or, if he did, he wanted to ‘interpret’ it (ie damn internal consistency) in the same way that Russell T Davies buggered up Davros’ character in New Who*. Luke, the hopeful hero who believed he could turn Darth Vader, apparently now thinks about killing his own student whilst he sleeps, and attempts it in such an incompetent way he accidentally turns said student evil. And is also capable of being defeated by same student.


Not only that, Luke apparently knows how to speak Wookie less well than Rey, who helpfully translates what Luke’s close friend Chewbacca has to say.

The plot wasn’t hugely engaging. Star Wars does get knocked for rehashing the Death Star story (although it’s worth noting that The Empire Strikes Back had nothing to do with that and is the best film by a mile), but this effort did make me wish there was a superweapon on the loose.

The storyline is that they need fuel after evacuating. The First Order is chasing down the tiny remnants of the Rebellion. Rightyho. Not the most engaging plot ever.

I do disagree with some criticism I’ve read. Rose wasn’t my favourite character but she wasn’t terrible.

Some have criticised the revelation that Rey’s parents were not especially significant, but I don’t think that was a problem at all. Not everyone has to be related. Plus, the weird relationship she develops with Kylo Ren would’ve been, er, a bit weirder if they’d been related and she *had* been Luke’s daughter.

I think Luke appearing effectively as an astral projection to Kylo Ren was fine (that’s a new power rather than one which contradicts previous rules of the universe), although his inexplicable death afterwards was both nonsensical and a very stupid way of killing one of the franchise’s key characters.

It was absolutely irrational that Admiral Holdo decided to ram, at hyperspeed, Snoke’s ship. And that it worked. Yes, noble self-sacrifice, etc. But it doesn’t actually make any bloody sense at all. The premise was that the Rebel cruiser was the only ship that could be tracked and therefore the smaller escaping ships would be safe as all First Order attention would be on the cruiser Holdo was piloting. She was drawing it away and would be killed (the plan was foiled when the First Order was able to fire on the smaller ships after all).

So why not ram Snoke’s ship to start with? If you’re certain to die and the options are to die alone or take down a huge ship and thousands of enemies, why wouldn’t the latter be your first option? For that matter, why wasn’t that approach used with the Death Stars? Or the Starkiller base? You don’t even need a human aboard, just get a droid to pilot a large, empty ship. I’m really not a fan of plot ‘twists’ that don’t actually make any sense.

I’d quite like to watch Phantom Menace again to have a side-by-side view of the films. I suspect the prequel would look good by way of comparison.

The flaws with The Last Jedi, besides an uninspiring story, is that it contradicts what’s been previously established, most obviously with Luke’s character. It also has a lot of stuff that just feels unrealistic (yes, it’s sci-fi and gets to break rules on faster than light travel, but even fantastical stories have to maintain their own rules and have some semblance of contextual realism. Otherwise Snoke could just snap the Rebel ships in two using the power of his mind).

I tend not to do film rambles/reviews, so didn’t post about this before, but I thought Rogue One was pretty good. Had weak spots, of course, but I liked the sense of certain doom, loved the ending, and, although some better characters would’ve been good (likewise if the pointless monks had been axed) it was a decent film.

The Last Jedi is the weakest of the Star Wars films I’ve seen (all except Solo). I do think the reaction has been over the top. Whilst not a great film, it’s still just a film. Pouring abuse over people is not limited to those who hate The Last Jedi, but it’s depressing to see (videogame developers, politicians, almost anyone in the public eye can get dogpiled with venom, sadly).

I’ve seen a little of the fallout from the film. Boycott for Solo, hate for Rian Johnson and the actress who plays Rose and so on. Disliking a film is fine but personalising hatred online is just wrong. It’s like complaining the well water is brackish and pouring in poison.

Anyway, those are my rambling thoughts on The Last Jedi.


*Spoilers for Doctor Who:

Davros’ whole character arc was creating the daleks, being betrayed by them and then trying to (and eventually succeeding) in reasserting control. Then in New Who, he actually agrees to be the compliant captive of the dalek leader. Utter tosh. Tosh, I tell you!

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Medea and Other Plays, by Euripides

I read this some time ago (maybe 15 years now) and reacquainted myself with this excellent little book recently. My edition is the Penguin version, translated by Philip Vellacott. The plays included are Medea, Hecabe, Electra, and Heracles.

Each play is a tragedy, the collective lesson of which appears to be that fate is cruel and you’re probably going to be vengefully murdered by a close friend or relative.

The plays are all very short. Despite there being four included, the page count (including the introduction and endnotes) is scarcely above 200 pages. This makes each play more or less a premise developed within a scene. However, this is done in an excellent fashion.

Euripides is extremely good at eliciting sympathy for someone’s unjustified plight, and then making one wonder whether the consequences of their anger are worse than the causes (to paraphrase Marcus Aurelius). The sense of human tragedy is not eroded one iota by the long time that has passed since the playwright’s lifetime in the 5th century BC. If anything, that prolonged period highlights the unchanging essence of human nature, of tragedy, cruelty, the will to revenge and the irresistible twisting of fate.

The plays all feature characters of some note in Greek myths, but for anyone not up on that the premise is clearly laid out so foreknowledge is not required.

I tend to go for history over literature, but this is a very good quartet of plays. If I didn’t already have a to-read pile I’d probably be looking at buying some more of Euripides’ works.

Downsides are few but clear. Endnotes remain the work of Satan, and they’re (rather oddly) not even flagged up in the text with small numbers or asterisks.

All in all, an excellent book.


Friday, 29 June 2018

Review: Musashi, by Eiji Yoshikawa

Musashi is the tale of the eponymous historical figure’s early life, beginning with the aftermath of the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. This was the tail end of the Warring States period in Japan, which saw the Ashikaga shogunate totter and fall beneath the widespread warfare between daimyo (powerful noblemen). Sekigahara saw the forces of two of these, the Houses of Tokugawa and Toyotomi, clash. Tokugawa won and claimed supremacy, although the remnant forces of Toyotomi holed up at Osaka and dreamt of returning to glory.

In this world, there were many masterless samurai, called ronin, and Musashi was one of them. Early on he’s little more than a strong and energetic fighter, but over the course of the book he dedicates himself to the Way of the Sword and mastering himself. His wandering takes him from place to place, and the book’s POV sometimes switches to other significant characters, such as Matahachi (his comrade-in-arms at Sekigahara), and Otsu (a childhood friend from the same village). Various places are visited, including Kyoto, Osaka, and the rapidly expanding city of Edo. Coupled with smaller villages, this presents the reader with an interesting cultural backdrop including schools of swordsmanship, pleasure houses, and temples.

The book is large at 970 pages, but I read it faster than most things because I found the plot intriguing and the writing style easy to read. It perhaps also helped that the world of early 17th century Japan was interesting to read about.

The cast is not as large as might be expected of such a big book, but the author’s style of drawing together and then dispersing clusters of characters, interweaving their own personal stories so that every character has different relationships with one another was very well done. It led to natural conflicts, allies of convenience, and explains how Musashi, despite doing his best to act honourably, managed to accrue quite a number of enemies over the years.

Other characters are three-dimensional, not merely reacting to Musashi’s own doings as background to his tale, but striving to achieve their own goals, whether that’s revenge or achieving success for oneself.

I tried to think of downsides, but it wasn’t especially easy. The size may put some people off. There is occasional sexual content but it’s the haziest of hazy watercolours you can imagine. Violence is a feature, of course, but far less frequent or visceral than in, say, Outlaws of the Marsh.

It’s a very enjoyable book, in short.


Thursday, 14 June 2018

Review: Red Sister, by Mark Lawrence

I nabbed this during a discount for just 99p, having previously enjoyed the author’s Broken Empire trilogy. It’s first entry in a new series, the Book of the Ancestor, set in a different post-Apocalyptic world.

It took me a fair while to read, not due to being badly written or anything, I just incurred some moderate pestilence which, at times, stopped me from reading.

The book follows the difficult and bloody childhood of Nona, who ends up in a convent where, alongside spirituality, the novices are also taught delights such as combat skills and how to poison people.

She’s rescued into the nunnery by Abbess Glass, who saves her from hanging for crossing a powerful nobleman (who thoroughly deserved it). Whether or not the convent will prove sufficient protection from said noble family’s wrath remains to be seen, but it’s certainly safer than not being there.

Alongside Nona are a number of friends/rivals, my favourite being Hessa, a lame girl nicknamed Hop Along who is perhaps Nona’s truest friend. Besides the novices there are several sisters of importance, and I enjoyed the Poisoner quite a lot, due to her mixture of mischief and toxins. Giving girls a truth serum then asking them who they have a crush on was entertaining.

The classroom politics and scheming blends nicely with wider conspiracies aimed at disrupting life in the nunnery, with Nona sometimes struggling to know who to trust. In terms of writing style, it’s easy to read and quite moreish. It’s not a soft book but it’s not as brutal as Prince of Thorns either.

In the middle there could perhaps have been a touch more pace. Shan’t spoil the ending, of course, but I liked the late twists and the conclusion of the story.

Overall, I enjoyed Red Sister a lot, and definitely felt invested in the story’s end. I’ll probably buy Grey Sister (the sequel) when it’s on sale, as the current Kindle price is £9.99. Which is more than the listed (currently unreleased) paperback, and barely less than the hardback.


Sunday, 10 June 2018

Three drawings: two gingers and a dragon

Suddenly struck me that the two (coloured) drawings of cartoon characters I really liked from my childhood (Tygra from Thundercats and Maid Marian from the animated Robin Hood) were both gingers. Maybe I’m a closet gingophile.

Anyway, I have done some drawings. It was really surprising how quickly I did my attempts at Tygra/Maid Marian (each pencil sketch was begun and done in one session, often it takes me a lot longer). Colouring naturally took longer, and I brightened the Marian colours (the scene from which the screenshot I used was at night so everything was subdued).

Fairly pleased with both of them although there’s still many things to improve. One that might not be obvious with the Tygra drawing is that I started it too high up on the page, so the forehead/hair aren’t quite as high as they should be, which has the knock-on effect of pushing the stripes closer together.

For Marian, the headgear is too high. I also found her eyes very tricky (pleased with his the fur turned out, though, especially as I haven’t done much of that).

Both drawings, as indicated, were just me copying screenshots.

The dragon, currently uncoloured/unshaded, is a different kettle of monkeys. It’s part of a lesson included in Steve Beaumont’s How To Draw Fantasy Worlds, which is perhaps a little above my head. The scan I’ve posted is not the end of the lesson but I wanted to get it scanned at this stage, before any shading occurs (I haven’t done much shading and I’d be loath to bugger up a drawing that, at this stage, looks mostly ok).

I haven’t drawn many monsters/animals, so this was an interesting challenge. I didn’t stick completely to Beaumont’s guidance (I’ve made the wings folded, added a small number of spiky bits, and not included the skull at the foot of the page). Whilst mostly happy with it at this stage, it’s clear my eye/hand is a bit lacking when it comes to fine detail, and I find the male figure a bit tricky. The dragon’s head looks reasonable although I got the proportions a bit wrong (it’s meant to be a little longer/more crocodilian).

Unlike the ginger cartoon characters, it took me a long time to get to the current stage of the dragon drawing. Have to see how the shading turns out.


Monday, 4 June 2018

Sir Edric and the Tale of the Discounted Book

Good news!

The Adventures of Sir Edric, the first book about the eponymous knight, which is replete with five star ratings, has been cut to just 99p for a week or so.

It’s a cracking good read, a rollicking adventure that mines heartily at the rich seam of British comedy. Aided by Dog, the world’s trustiest manservant, Sir Edric embarks somewhat reluctantly on perilous quests, alongside companions ranging from a foxy elven sorceress to a ten foot cyclopian nun.

Reviewers (UK and US Amazon) say:

"I can only recommend that everyone who likes British humour and fantasy buys this"

"Spewed Coffee on the Screen I Laughed so Hard" [note: the author accepts no liability for hardware costs incurred thusly]

"this book is ideal for both fantasy fans and booklovers in general looking who are looking for something different"

Take advantage of this fantastic offer to get yourself a fast-paced and witty book for less than the cost of a cup of coffee.