Deposed: David Barbaree

★★★½

A remote prison in the scrubland outside Rome, 68 AD. The kind of place that you’re sent when the world wants to forget that you even exist. One afternoon, as young Marcus runs errands at the jail, he sees a new prisoner brought in. A man who has been blinded and brutalised, whom the guards treat with scorn as they leave, who has been brought here to be forgotten. A man named Nero. Eleven years later, Rome has settled into the rule of Vespasian, though the struggles of rival would-be emperors are fresh enough to make life difficult for his son Titus, who has taken charge of keeping the peace. Old factions die hard in Rome. And then, one day, news comes of a new arrival in the city. A senator from distant Spain, unknown to anyone. A blind man, with a young man named Marcus at his side, who has come with a great fortune to play his part in Rome’s future.

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False Lights: K.J. Whittaker

★★★★

I always love getting recommendations. Honestly, it brightens up my day every time. When RT enthused to me about this book, I realised it was already in my TBR pile and promptly moved it to the top of the list. And I’ve devoured it at high speed. It opens in 1817, two years since Napoleon scraped a narrow victory at Waterloo and placed his brother Jérôme on the English throne. Now English curfews are enforced by French troops and English patriots executed by French guillotines, and discontent is rising. We follow three characters into the heart of this powder-keg: Kitto Helford, an aristocratic fourteen-year-old with patriotic ambitions; his older brother Crow, the laconic Earl of Lamorna, whose withering arrogance hides a soul traumatised by war; and Hester Harewood, the resourceful daughter of a dashing (black) naval officer.

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Through Darkest Europe: Harry Turtledove

★★★

The civilised world has been rocked by a sudden surge of terrorism. Extremism has proliferated even in the countries in the shores of the Mediterranean, which are meant to be that bit more sophisticated than their hinterlands. Suicide bombers spread terror in the streets of previously buzzing cities. Ashen-faced religious leaders condemn horrific acts committed in the name of their faith. Sound familiar? But this isn’t the world as we know it. Harry Turtledove takes us into an alternate reality in which Islam, not Christianity, became the dominant religion of the world in the medieval period. Now, progressive, modern and comfortable Muslim nations look warily at their Christian neighbours, and two brilliant investigators are dispatched to the dangerous streets of Italy in an effort to nip the terrorist threat of the Aquinists in the bud.

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And I Darken: Kiersten White

★★★½

The Conqueror’s Trilogy: Book I

Finding myself without a book to read on Halloween, I tracked down something with appropriately dark credentials. This recent novel, set in 15th-century Wallachia and the Ottoman capital Edirne, promised to do the trick. Aimed at a young-adult audience, it’s a surprisingly enjoyable alternative history, full of harem intrigue, scheming pashas and unspoken desires. And, at its heart, is a plain, vengeful, vicious girl named Ladislav or Lada Dragwlya. In another universe (our own), where Lada was born a boy, she was named after her father Vlad and grew up to become known as the Impaler and to spawn a whole genre of blood-soaked legends. Based on this first novel in a planned trilogy, Lada herself looks set to make an equally indelible impression.

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Children of Earth and Sky: Guy Gavriel Kay

★★★★

It’s been three long years since River of Stars, Guy Gavriel Kay’s last novel, so the publication of Children of Earth and Sky is quite an event and a cause for some celebration. From a personal point of view, the new book is made even more exciting by its setting. While Under Heaven and River of Stars took me out of my historical comfort zone – unfolding in the alternate-universe empire of Kitai, which drew on the dynastic splendour of medieval China – Children plunged me into the knotty political world of my very favourite period: the Renaissance.

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The Lions of Al-Rassan: Guy Gavriel Kay

★★★★★

There are some books which leave you sitting in silence after you’ve finished them, staring into space. This is one of them. You may remember that I’ve mentioned it before: it’s one of my favourites; and so, when I heard that Helen was planning to read it for the first time, I asked if she would mind me re-reading it along with her. It hasn’t lost any of its impact. Poignant and powerful, it’s a sweeping medieval epic, tempered with nostalgia for two lost worlds: a glorious civilisation already on its deathbed; and a utopia of religious tolerance, which perhaps only ever existed in the imagination.

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River of Stars: Guy Gavriel Kay

★★★★

Looking back now, it’s hard to believe that I only became aware of Guy Gavriel Kay’s books two years ago. In that time I’ve devoured several of them and two shot immediately to the top of my ‘favourites’ list. This means, however, that River of Stars is the first book that Kay has released since I became an aficionado; and the anticipation has been almost unbearable. Hard copies of the book haven’t yet been released in the UK – the British release date is in the summer – but Harper Collins have compassionately made the e-book available at the same time as those in other territories, so that we don’t all go completely mad. Looking on the bright side, this means that we Britishers get double the excitement of the release, first in e-book form and then in hard copy.

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A Song for Arbonne: Guy Gavriel Kay

★★★★

This is the sixth book I’ve read by Guy Gavriel Kay and it is once again set in his distinctive parallel world with its single sun and twin moons – white and blue – though the names of the countries and the gods aren’t the same as in his other books.  Like the vast majority of his novels, A Song for Arbonne takes place in a context closely mirroring a historical period from our own world: in this case, Southern France in the age of the troubadours.

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