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Saturday, 8 July 2017

A Book Review: Jean Lafitte, The Pirate Who Saved America

As a cousin of Jean Lafitte, I'm always interested in publications that detail his life and I thought I might find this book interesting.

Alas, neither the description, nor any of the reviews, prepared me for the reality, though one or two reviews might have hinted at it.

This is a book for children.



The actual "story" is only forty pages long and many of them are nothing more than full page pictures. The other pages are, primarily, pictures accompanied by writing, usually only one or two paragraphs. In short, it doesn't take very long to read.

While it does tell the basics, any details are sorely lacking. I would recommend the book for your children, but any adult interested in the "real" story, accompanied by the details, should look elsewhere.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

A Book Review: Knight of Jerusalem

Another spellbinding tale by Professor Helena P. Schrader. This one is the first book in the trilogy about Balian of Ibelin. This is another man of whom we have scant information for as a youth. As with Leonidas of Sparta, he was the younger son and thus, not expected to inherit, so who would have thought he'd rise to such great heights?



We know about his father, his mother and his brothers, as each had played fairly important parts in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. We know that Balian and his brother played "prominent roles" at the battle of Montgisard, though the chronicles are not specific about details. We also don't have details about the exact nature of Balian's relationship with the King, Baldwin IV either, but we do know that the King granted Balian two distinct marks of favor; permitting Balian's marriage to a very important Dowager Queen and his allowing Balian -- and not another important male relative -- to carry his heir, Baldwin V, to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for the royal ceremony.

Using these facts, along with others found here and there, Professor Schrader spins an intriguing tale of Balian's life and accomplishments, right up to his marriage to Maria Zoe Comnena and the birth of their first child. That's where this first book ends.

There's murder, intrigue, backstabbing, plotting, fight scenes and family arguments, along with more touching scenes to tug at one's emotions. I would have read this book completely through -- as I did her book, "A Boy of the Agoge" -- but this books was thicker, so I was forced to "wait until tomorrow" to find out what happened. LOL

Another excellent treatise that I hardily recommend to anyone interested in the real Balian, rather than the fictional Balian of Ridley Scott. The man makes an excellent movie, but he's just a bit weak on his facts. The real Balian is even more interesting and rose to great heights.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

A Book Review: "A Boy of the Agoge"

Riveting.

I received my books from Amazon yesterday afternoon, about 3 pm. I chose to start with "A Boy of the Agoge," by Professor Helena P. Schrader. I started reading about 6 pm, I finished at about 2:45 am. Yes, I grew sleepy, Yes, my eyes grew tired and red. No, I didn't want to "wait until tomorrow" to see what happened next.



Professor Schrader has a Ph.D. in History from the University of Hamburg. She has several blogs, but is most well known for her contributions to Real Crusades History, found here. At least, that's where I met her and where I "see" her most often. In that vein, she has written a trilogy of Balian of Ibelin; the real Balian, not the Ridley Scott Balian. But a discussion of that trilogy is for another review.



"A Boy of the Agoge" is the first book in a trilogy telling the story of Leonidas of Sparta. Yes, he of "the three hundred" fame, he of the Thermopylae fame. But as Professor Schrader points out in her book's Introduction, very little is known of his boyhood. There are, in her words, "tantalizing tidbits," but no detailed records.

Leonidas was the fourth son -- being the second born of twins -- of King Anaxandridas II. As such, he was little noteworthy to historians during his early life. Not surprising when one considers how unlikely it was that, as the fourth son, he would ever inherit the throne. Thus, not much attention was paid to him during this period by writers. Since he was not the heir apparent, the Agoge was his destination, as it was for all Spartan boys.

We do know about the tumultuous relationship he had with his brothers and they with each other. His eldest brother -- Cleomenes -- became king and his second brother -- Dorieus -- vied with Cleomenes for the throne. We have details like these and from these, Professor Schrader has postulated what Leonidas' early life might have been like and woven an enthralling story from it.

While the events of Leonidas' early life are the "fiction" part of the story, the rest of this "historical novel" is not. Professor Schrader gives us wonderful descriptions of what Sparta was like during this period and what life there would have been life; the temples, the government, the Agoge, the courses taught there, the dances and theater, a brief account of the wars with Messenia and the end relationship between Sparta and Messenia.

Not only an enjoyable read, but an educational one as well, especially for anyone interested int hat period of history, of which I am one. Her prose, spelling, punctuation? I found nothing that distracted me from the story itself. It flowed smoothly, without bumps, or hiccups and at a nice, steady pace. She did not race through the story, nor did she stumble upon any spots that might mire the reader down. As I said, I sat through it in one, non-stop, reading session.

A thoroughly good read, a thoroughly enjoyable read, that I would recommend to anyone.

If you want to learn more about Sparta, you might want to visit her blog, Sparta Reconsidered, found here.

Trying to post a review

I'm trying to post a book review here, but something weird on going on. Parts of the post end up missing, while others seem to end up high-lighted.

Wish I knew more about this sort of thing. Guess I'll try again after I clean the computer.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

The Smuggler's Inn; Part One


Lily sighed heavily. "This really is the hind end of nowhere, isn't it?"

The companions continued their journey to the northeast, their horses plodding along at a steady pace. They were traveling a dirt road, which ran under a canopy of trees. The weather was good, mostly sunny, though it was beginning to grow colder. It had been three days since they left Paco and his salt mine. The village Paco had pointed them too hadn't been much, but they had been informed there of a larger town further along the road and the friends were headed for it.

Erlik shrugged. "Depends; There are villages and hamlets about, even some towns. You've seen the map."

"Perhaps, but they're not New Harbor, are they?" Lily asked longingly.

"Missing the 'big city,' are you?" queried Erlik.

It was the rogue's turn to shrug. "I miss the hustle and bustle. I'd go crazy living in a village like that last one."

"An' da ale!" Huthgar chimed in. "Sum o' da stuff tha' be servin' tis nay fit fer any self respectin' dwarf."

"Not much choice in brews, that's for sure," agreed Samuel. "It's really bad when you consider that drinking is the only thing to do in some of these places."

"Well, except for further research in its libraries, New Harbor was played out, for me anyway," said Erlik. "That's why I felt the need to travel." He waved his hand, indicating the country before them. "Out there is all that remains of the once great Valardeem Empire. Many of its cities are covered over now, buried and forgotten, but there are still riches and ancient knowledge to be found . . . by those willing to look."

Samuel nodded. "So you said, why do you think I'm here."

"Aye!" agreed the dwarf. "Twern't fer ya gud looks tha' I cum 'long."

Lily laughed. "Thank Dalt for small kindnesses." She looked at the wizard. "Still, I expected, well . . . more." She pointed ahead. "If there was once a great empire out here . . . where is it?" She shrugged in perplexity.

"The Frozen Steppes now cover much of it," Erlik informed her. "The Great Forest covers still more. Any ruins we find out on the steppes, are likely to be remnants of the old empire and will be worth exploring. We may even find a few such as we traverse the forest."

"Aiyee!" Huthgar's pony stumbled and the dwarf desperately clung to his saddle horn. "Blast'd beastie! Ye'll be da death o' me yet!"

Lily chuckled. "Dwarves are terrible riders."

"Twer dwarves meant ta ride, we'd nae be havin' legs!" Huthgar replied.

"Still, you think they'd be some more obvious signs of this empire," Samuel interjected, ignoring Huthgar's plight. "Especially if it was as big as you say."

"Nature reclaims the land must faster than you might think," Erlik informed the fighter. "And it's been centuries since the Valardeem Empire fell."

"So, what happened to it?" the fighter pressed.

"The same thing that happens to every human kingdom; war, famine, pestilence, the weather," Erlik replied.

"The weather?" Samuel asked, incredulous. "You mean rain . . . snow?"

"Certainly," Erlik shrugged. "You don't think the Frozen Steppes were always frozen, do you? Who would attempt to build an empire in such a land? The weather patterns changed; the climate grew colder and inhospitable. People live where they can obtain food. When the weather changed in these lands, food production dropped and people were forced to leave the area . . . or starve."

"That's where the 'famine' part comes in," observed Lily.

Erlik nodded. "Yes."

"So, where did they go?" Samuel asked.

"South, to warmer climes, naturally," answered Erlik. "Where do you think Bethmoora and the other southern cities come from?"

"Bethmoora be par' o' dis empire ya speak of?" asked Huthgar.

The wizard shrugged. "Can't rightly say, but Bethmoora's been around for some seven hundred years, maybe longer. I'm sure that much of its early population stems from the empire's people fleeing south."

"I imagine you'll be exploring the libraries of Bethmoora for information," Lily said.

Erlik looked at her. "Perhaps, though I have no particular intention of being obvious about it."

"What's the secret?" asked Samuel.

"Secret? There's no secret," Erlik told him. "But about one hundred years ago a battle took place in the city between powerful factions of mages vying for control of the place. The city suffered considerable damage and many people lost their lives. These days, magic users are carefully watched and mistrusted. Needless to say, I don't plan on announcing my presence."

"Whoa!" Samuel threw up his hand as he halted his horse. "Hold up. There's a trail leading off into the forest here." He pointed. Turning in his saddle to look at Erlik, he asked. "Shall we take a look?"

"Does the trail look used?" the wizard asked.

"Nope," came the reply. "It looks like it's not been used in many a year . . . but it's there, nonetheless."

Erlik moved  his horse forward. "It's unlikely to be something from the old empire; the forest would have reclaimed it long ago." He shrugged again. "Still, it might be worth investigating."

"Den wha ar' we waitin' fer?" asked Huthgar. "Les 'vestigate."

Erlik looked from the dwarf to the fighter, then nodded. "By all means, let's investigate."

Samuel lead the way through the trees and onto the pathway.

"I hope there's something worthwhile in there," said Lily. "It would be nice if this started turning into a more profitable venture." She urged her horse forward, following the others unto the unused path.

The trail meandered through the forest for a couple of miles, then abruptly ended . . . at a cliff. Samuel dismounted and the others followed suit. The fighter studied the ground along the edge of the cliff and pointed.

Down below the companions could see a lake with what appeared to be two docks on opposite sides. Some kind of building appeared to be built into the cliff on one side, while a trail lead off into a canyon on the other.

"There seems to have been a trail leading down from here . . . once upon a time," Samuel informed his friends. "But it's long gone. Whatever that building is, it seems you can only access it by boat." He pointed. "That trail leading off; that's the only way to get to it."

"Well, whatever it is, it isn't ancient and -- judging from the smoke rising up -- it isn't abandoned," noted Erlik

"Looks like all we can do is go back to the main road and see if we can find that trail further along," offered Lily.

"Aye, 'dat 'bout sums 'er up," agreed Huthgar.




Friday, 15 July 2016

Introducing Helen Hollick


Recently, I've come into contact with Ms Helen Hollick, the most recent Reader of my blog. Naturally, I googled her.

It turns out that Ms Hollick is the author of numerous published novels. Needless to say I was flattered that she should choose to peruse my humble writings. She has just released the fifth volume of her Pirate Code series, starring Captain Jesamiah Acorne and his ship, the Sea Witch. It's a mixture of realism fiction with elements of fantasy, as is evidenced by a ghost, a witch and . . . the Nightman.

Having just discovered this, I have yet to read the books myself, but I did start hunting them up on Amazon and other locations. They seem to be quite popular and the blurbs are excellent. I'm now determined to get the books.

I've also added her blog -- Let Us Talk of Many Things -- to my list of favorites. You can find it over in the right hand column. Please give her blog a perusal and -- if seventeenth century high seas hi-jinks are your thing -- I suggest you check out her books.

She also has her own webpage -- Welcome to Helen Hollick's World of Books -- where you can find all of her publications; well into the teens now. Well, I count eighteen covers, at any rate.

So, that's my "discovery" for this week. Ms Hollick has been kind enough to chat with me and I'm finding her delightful and I know you will too. Giving her a "shout out" is something I just had to do.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Another 'Zine


My friend, Christian, of Destination Unknown fame, started a new one page Zine some months back, which I seem to have missed the beginning of. I need to make up for that and so I'm shamelessly giving him a plug.

Christian also created a new blog called The Tolling of the Great BlackBell, where he post short video vignettes about the zine. He's on a Planescape kick at the moment, though he also does other things; like Baldur's Gate.

He's also got a mad composer running around the streets of Seattle at present, loosing demon summoning music upon unsuspecting musicians . . . bastard. The poor souls are lost forever . . . maybe.

Christian's a good guy with a love for the game, so give his new blog a quick look, won't you? Thanks guys!