Book Review: Powers and Thrones by Dan Jones (four stars)

Book Review: Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages by Dan Jones (four stars)

‘That all this can still be traced back to the machinations of powerful men in the seventh century a.d. may seem astonishing—but as so often proves the case, the Middle Ages remain with us today.’

Excellent overview of the trends and influences of that epoch of history roughly between the fifth and sixteenth centuries. Thematically developed with attention to inventions, economics, trade, religion, and exploration. Ties many streams together to promote understanding.

‘For generations, historians have been trying to fight the idea that the medieval Crusades were at root a “clash of civilizations” between the Christian and Islamic worlds. For one thing, such a stark and binary reading of medieval history plays uncomfortably into the narratives of extremist factions today.’

Readable and engaging prose. Like a novelist, Jones starts chapters in the middle of that topic and backtracks to develop his tale. Occasionally confusing. Ties historic and contemporary events, occasionally padding with personal opinion and bias.

‘My aim with all my books is to entertain as well as inform. If this one does a little bit of both, I shall consider it a blessing.’

Book Review: Sword of Kings by Bernard Cornwell (three stars)

Book Review: Sword of Kings (The Last Kingdom #12) by Bernard Cornwell (three stars)

“War seemed cleaner then.” “No, we were younger then, that’s all.” 

A competent addition to Cornwell’s lengthy historical fiction about transforming Wessex into England. Good, clean Dark Ages fun. New readers advised to start at The Last Kingdom.

“Why would I kill them?” I asked.
“They’re enemies.”
“They’re helpless enemies,” I said, “and I don’t kill the helpless.”
“And what about the priests you killed?”
I wanted to kill [him] at that moment. “Anger leads to savagery and to stupidity.” 

Honestly, disappointing. Formulaic. Poor Uhtred has outlived his friends and his enemies, but not his usefulness. Uber bad guy manipulated by evil superiors. Everything that can go wrong does, until it doesn’t. (One to go: War Lord)

Wars are not only won on the battlefield, but in the practice yard of fortresses. 

Book Review: The Flame Bearer by Bernard Cornwell (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Flame Bearer (Saxon Stories #10) by Bernard Cornwell

Four Stars

“When a man cannot fight he should curse. The gods like to feel needed.”

Read this book. I can’t imagine anyone starting a series with the tenth installment, but if you’ve read a few and slacked off this is a good place to jump back in. Classic Uhtred.

“… and stroked a stone down a sword already as sharp as the shear wielded by the three fates.”

Cornwell is a master of historical fiction, though he admits that he’s run out of history and in this story, “Just about everything is invention.”

“We’re outnumbered and they have the high ground. Does that mean we’re attacking?” “Of course, it does.”

The battle scenes are gory, the coincidences monumental, and the stakes are higher than ever. Leaven with just a touch of humor.

“You’re an idiot.” “Men often tell me I’m like you, Father.”

“Men see what they want to see.”