The Mark of the Horse Lord – Review

The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff

Illustrations by Felix Miall

Published in 1965; 2017 Edition by The Folio Society

Pages: 288

Genre: Historical fiction, children’s literature

 

Disclaimer: This review will be different from the norm in that it is split into two parts: a standard, albeit shorter, book review and a specific review of this Folio Society edition. I am endorsing this product through my own volition and belief in its high quality.

 

Part I: The Story

“In the long cavern of the changing-room, the light of the fat-oil lamps cast jumping shadows on the walls; skeleton shadows of the spear-stacked arms-racks, giant shadows of the men who crowded the benches or moved about still busy with their weapons and gear; here and there the stallion shadow of a plume-crested helmet.”

The above sentence describes a scene that could most likely have been taken from a historical account of a gladiator’s life. The Mark of the Horse Lord, by Rosemary Sutcliff, follows one such gladiator from gaining his freedom to becoming a central figure in a conspiracy to reclaim a tribal throne in Northern Scotland. Filled with swordplay, interesting characters, and intricate descriptions that cause the reader to become immersed in this ancient world, The Mark of the Horse Lord is entertaining in its character driven storytelling. Continue reading “The Mark of the Horse Lord – Review”

Fire from Heaven – Review

Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault

Published in 1969

Pages: 370

Genre: Historical fiction

“The child was wakened by the knotting of the snake’s coils about his waist.”

Those familiar with the myth of Heracles will notice its connection to the opening line of Fire from Heaven, by Mary Renault. Hera, jealous of Zeus’s infidelity, sent two snakes in Heracles’ crib in order to kill him. In this tale about the childhood of Alexander the Great, however, the snake is a friendly creature owned by his mother. Connections between the strongest of Greek heroes and Alexander abound in the novel and, as the young prince grows into his glory, the hero becomes a sort of patron god for the young conqueror whose greatness was apparent from childhood. Continue reading “Fire from Heaven – Review”

The Voyage of the Narwhal – Review

The Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barrett

Published in 1998

Pages: 394

Genre: Historical fiction, maritime fiction

“He was standing on the wharf, peering down at the Delaware River while the sun beat on his shoulders.”

Befitting a story that has water and maritime exploration at its heart, the first lines of The Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barrett place the reader along the Delaware River. We then set sail with the crew of the Narwhal toward glory and fame in the endeavor to recover a lost explorer. Unfortunately, despite the book’s premise and promise of a tale of adventure, what follows is lackluster execution marred by missed opportunities for genuine tension. Continue reading “The Voyage of the Narwhal – Review”

River God – Review

River God by Wilbur Smith

Published in 1993

Pages: 530

Genre: Historical fiction

“The river lay heavily upon the desert, bright as a spill of molten metal from a furnace.”

As the title and first line suggest, River God, by Wilbur Smith, is centered around the life giving force of the Nile in ancient Egypt. What the book concerns, however, is the lives of those who subsist and thrive along that great running serpent of water. Violence, betrayal, intrigue, and love all take the stage in an epic that is as fulfilling as it is enticing. Continue reading “River God – Review”

Sundown at Sunrise – Review

Sundown at Sunrise by Marty Seifert

Published in 2016

Pages: 366

Genre: True crime, historical fiction

“Henry Petrie was a proper Episcopalian who was prominent and well known in western Redwood County, a large rural county in southwestern Minnesota.”

Intimate and accurate details are absolutely integral to creating realism within fiction; Sundown at Sunrise by Marty Seifert, however, places all of these details in all the wrong places. The novel tells the fictionalized account of a real ax murder in 1917 rural Minnesota, but what promises to be a thrilling story of love and murder serves better as an instruction manual for early 20th century mechanisms and courting practices. Continue reading “Sundown at Sunrise – Review”

A Tale of Two Cities – Review

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Published in 1859

Pages: 372

Genre: Historical fiction

“It was the best of times, it was the worse of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

This is arguably one of the most famous opening lines in all of Western literature. At least, the first twelve words are well known. An impressive tome of intimidating reputation, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens spans years, chronicles the growth of its characters, and weaves a narrative through a truly tumultuous time. The French Revolution serves as the setting for this tale of love, betrayal, and the clash between social classes. Continue reading “A Tale of Two Cities – Review”

The Long Ships – Review

Röde Orm by Frans G. Bengtsson

Published in 1941 and 1945, first published in English in 1943 as The Long Ships

Michael Meyer translation

Pages: 503

Genre: Adventure saga

“Along the coast the people lived together in villages, partly to be sure of food, that they might not depend entirely on the luck of their own catch, and partly for the greater security; for ships rounding the Skanian peninsula often sent marauding parties ashore, both in the spring, to replenish cheaply their stock of fresh meat for the westward voyage, and in the winter, if they were returning empty-handed from unsuccessful wars.”

The Long Ships is an epic that would feel welcome on a mahogany bookshelf sitting between Beowulf and The Odyssey. At least, that’s my understanding. I’ve never read Beowulf and it has been years since I read The Odyssey so I kind of have to take people at their word as far as that comparison goes. I also arrange my bookshelf by author and when there are multiple books, by date of publication.

Anyway, The Long Ships focuses on the tale of Orm, who comes to be known as “Red” Orm due to his red hair (clever, no?) and his temper (racist). Orm finds himself the reluctant hero in that the story begins with him being captured by a group of Vikings. His village is attacked and he runs out to fend off the assailants, only to be knocked unconscious and taken prisoner. Not a great start, but he proves himself to his captors and so begins a journey that spans the remainder of his life and a little over 500 pages. Continue reading “The Long Ships – Review”