Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Book Review: The Mongol Art of War by Timothy May

I have recently received five books for review, from Pen and Sword Books.

I have been fascinated by the rise of Chinggis Khan  (Genghis Khan) and the Mongol Empire for many years. I have watched many documentaries, read at least a couple of dozen books, and of course watched the few movies that have been made on the subject.

So when Pen and Sword asked me if I would consider reviewing some of their books I had a look through their website and noticed that they had several books relating to the Mongols and some of the other nomadic, steppe peoples. I found five in particular that interested me and asked them if I could possibly review one or two of those titles.

They very kindly sent me all five! So I have my work cut out. Over the next few months, I will be reading and then posting reviews of these five titles.

First up we have The Mongol Art of War by Timothy May. Currently available as an ebook, but soon to be published in paperback as well.

The book is subtitled Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Military System, and this sums up the book very well. For anyone who is interested, especially a wargamer, this book is an ideal introduction to the military side of the Mongol Empire. The first chapter gives a concise history of the rise and eventual fall of the Mongol empire, with examinations of the major campaigns and important battles.

After that, it moves on to a closer look at specific aspects of the Mongol war machine. Recruitment and Organisation, Training and Equipment, Logistics, Espionage, Tactics and Strategy etc. Finally, the book looks at the opposing forces and their strategies.

I found the book to be very well-written, easy to read and understand and very thorough in its scope and coverage. The book is not lavishly illustrated, having only a few black and white photos and then some line drawings showing battle strategies.
In the ebook format, this is more than adequate as Kindles are not great at showing images anyway (or at least, black and white ones like mine aren't).

Beyond my personal interest in the subject, I feel that this book would be an excellent reference for a wargamer wishing to start Mongol army. It covers the structure of the forces at some depth and also goes into detail about the relevant battlefield strategies.

I found the book so useful that I plan to buy the paperback edition to use for reference, to go along with the ebook that I have at present...

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Book Review: The City by Stella Gemmell

David Gemmell has been my favourite fantasy author since the early 1980s when I picked up his first book, Legend. When David Gemmell died a few years back I more or less gave up reading fantasy and have concentrated on Science Fiction, Steampunk and Spy thrillers since then. However I occasionally get the urge to dip my toe back into the fantasy genre and I am often disappointed when I do. So I had mixed feelings when I spotted The City by Stella Gemmell. The author is David Gemmell's widow and had worked with DG on several of his books, completing his last book after he died. So the connection was made, and I felt I wanted to see if there was anything of the quality of Mr Gemmell's writing in his wife's work.

The City is not your straightforward fantasy novel, in fact for much of the story their are very few hints of anything supernatural or indeed fantastic, about it... It reads more as a standard historical novel. Don't let that fool you, the fantastical elements are certainly there and they do have a pivotal role in the story, however many of the characters within the story, are not even aware of these elements. Quite a lot of the story takes place in the "under-city" a world of sewers, lost chambers, death and decay. Although the people that populate the underworld are the lost souls of the city, either hiding from the authorities or simply scrabbling to maintain an existence. It soon becomes clear that there is some twisted kind of comfort and safety to be found down there for many of the inhabitants. When the story switches to view the battle fields of the the many wars that the city is fighting, we soon miss the life in the under-city.

Through all of this colourful travelogue,  it soon becomes apparent that there are plots hatching, both from within the City walls and from those nations that are at war with it.

At times this is not an easy book to read. The tendency to jump from one story to another with very little warning, sometimes years later is disconcerting and can be quite jarring. However, in some ways it actually adds something to the book.

I am not certain I will follow Stella Gemmell's career the way I followed her husband, but I must say, this is an excellent first solo novel.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Book Review: The Iron Wolves by Andy Remic

Andy Remic's last fantasy trilogy was often touted as an homage to David Gemmell and it is fair to say, the comparisons were easily drawn. However, with The Iron Wolves he has taken it to the next level.

The story revolves around a group of veteran warriors (all heroes from wars fought over twenty years ago) who are drawn out of retirement to face a new evil that has arisen. Now if that doesn't sound like Gemmell, add in the fact that all of these warriors are flawed physiologically and have led less that saintly lives since their former glory has faded from memory and I think you will see that the comparisons are easily drawn. To top it all off an important part of the evil that has arisen is the use of creatures called the Splice, which are a magically fused combination of men and either horses, wolves or occasionally lions. Now if that isn't reminicent of Gemmell's Joinings, nothing is...

Ok, so from the tone of this so far it may sound like I am about to completely rip the book to shreds, but I'm not. It is well known that Gemmell was a big influence on Remic. So it is only natural that his fantasy novels fit in to a similar sub-genre of writing  (could this be a modern take on Sword and Sorcery, rather than the bland high fantasy that has been turned out in recent years). Obviously now that David Gemmell is no longer with us, fans of his work have to seek their fix elsewhere and with this new series Remic has made a worthy attempt to pick up the baton.

Around three quarters of the way through the book I did have a bit of trouble empathizing with any of the main characters, and in places it did feel a bit like Gemmell written while inhaling some rather dubious substances, but generally speaking, as we can't get any more David Gemmell fiction this is a worthy substitute.

I must say I am looking forward to the second book!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

I didn't know what to expect from this book when I started reading it, it seemed like something that might catch the attention of fans of the movie Gravity (not having seen it so I can't really compare them). However, it turned out to be the most compelling book I have read in several years. I literally could not put it down, and on the odd occasion I did have to do something else, I couldn't wait to get back to the story and find out the latest catastrophe that had befallen the main character, astronaut Mark Watney, and how he dealt with and over came it.

On the third manned mission to Mars, a dust storm forces the astronauts to abandon the mission and escape into space, ready to return to Earth. Unfortunately Mark Watney is left behind, presumed dead. He is however, very much alive and well aware that he is on his own... The only opportunity for rescue will be the next scheduled mission, due to arrive on Mars in four years time.

The story is rousing one where no-one gives up even though the odds seem completely insurmountable.

There is quite a lot of luck involved in the the story, that quite frankly is completely skimmed over, it is lucky that the astronaut left behind is both the engineer and the botanist on the crew. Several times is extremely lucky that plans work perfectly first time and that no major obstacles are encountered. However, it is easy to forgive these points and to just go with the flow of this heart pounding ride of a story.

I read and advance ebook copy of the book, and I must admit that the moment I finished reading it I got straight online and ordered a hardbacked copy, as I really want to own this book and read it again at some point in the near future!

Monday, 16 December 2013

Book Review: Robin Hood from Osprey Publishing

This book covers just about everything you could need when researching Robin Hood. It gives a  good general overview of most of the common legends and tales surrounding the Lincoln Green clad outlaw and his band of Merry Men. It also looks at the evolution of the legend, from it's earliest beginnings right through to the latest incarnations as seen in film and on TV.
The book is well written and easily consumed. To be honest there is not a lot more to say about it! If you are interested in learning a little more about Robin Hood, whether it be the original legends, the locations they took place in, or the recent TV appearances this book is a great place to start.

Monday, 21 October 2013

A - Z Book list Survey

I ruthlessly pinched this idea from another blog, Glue in the Carpet, who had already pinched it from another blog, so i don't feel quite so guilty...

Here is my A-Z book list survey:

Author you've read the most books from

David Gemmell, I have read all of his books, whether they be Gritty Fantasy, Post Apocalyptic or detective fiction (White Knight Black Swan written by Gemmell using the pen-name Ross Harding). I am happy to say that at least half of them are signed Mr Gemmell himself. I have read a lot of Terry Pratchett too, but I lost track of his books somewhere around Hogfather.

Best sequel ever:

The King Beyond The Gate, Gemmell's sequel to his first novel Legend. Mainly as it confirmed DG as more than a one hit wonder.

Currently reading:

Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis. A Weird War novel with superhuman Germans and British warlocks)
The Mongoliad Vol.1 by Neal Stephenson (amongst others). The story of a group of Knights fighting the Mongol invasion of Europe.

Drink of choice whilst reading

Decaf Tea with a splash of skimmed milk.

E-reader or physical book:

Both. I still love real books, both paperback and hardback, but I also have a Nook HD+ on which i use the Kindle app for most of my reading!

Fictional character you would probably have dated in high school:

Oh, I don't really know for that one...

Glad you gave this book a chance

Conan of Cimmeria.Bought in 1977 from a second-hand bookshop, while in full Star Wars fan mode. It changed my reading list completely...

Hidden book gem?

The Berlin Memorandum (Aka The Quiller Memorandum) by Adam Hall. Not so much of a hidden gem as a forgotten one. Spy fiction at it's best!

Important moment in your book life

Dune by Frank Herbert, my first serious Sci-Fi novel, the longest book that I had read at the time and I wolfed it down in less than a week.

Just finished:
Path of the Warrior by Gav Thorpe

Kind of book you won't read

I would say biographies of celebrities, as I have tried a couple recently that I should have enjoyed but I couldn't get into - Nerd Do Well by Simon Pegg for example, it just didn't click with me. However I have read a couple in the past that I enjoyed and just this morning I bought the kindle edition of a Horatio Nelson biography (OK probably more of a history book than a biography).

Longest book you've read

I imagine that this would be The Lord of the Rings, followed closely by a couple of Peter F. Hamilton's space operas.

Major book hangover because of

The Winds of Gath by E.C. Tubb, the book just end with no real conclusion, still at least it was a light read.

Number of bookcases you own:
One, most of my books are stored in boxes. I hope to correct this soon and gt a decent book case for the living room so that I can at least display some of my favourite books

One book you've read multiple times:

Dune by Frank Herbert and Legend by David Gemmell both read three times.

Preferred place to read:

I usually read as I commute, but my preferred place to read is in bed at night. I can't sleep without reading every night. Even if it is only half a page, before I drop the book!

Quote that inspires you/gives you all the feels from a book you've read

Not a clue on this one...

Reading regret

Not enough time to read all I want to, in fact probably not enough time to read all the books I own let alone the ones I would like to read...

Series you started and need to finish

Stephen Hunt's Jackelian steampunk fantasy series, I have all six so far and have read the first three, which i love. I really must read the rest soon.

Three of your all-time favourite books:

Dune by Frank Herbert, The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt, Reilly Ace of Spies by Robin Bruce Lockhart

Unapologetic fanboy for:

Robert E. Howard, David Gemmell, Stephen Hunt, Adam Hall and Jonathan Green

Very excited for this release:

Jonathan Green's next Pax Britannia novel

Worst bookish habit:

Buying books on a whim and then forgetting about them. I have many, many unread books because of that. (This is lifted from Glue in the Carpets list, but I can't really re-write it any differently).

X marks the spot - Start at the top left of your bookshelf and pick the 27th book:

I am not at home I am going for the 27th book in my Kindle account. The Blade Itself by Joe Abercombie. An aothur I have been meaning to try out for a couple of years now...

Your latest book purchase:

Horatio Nelson by Tom Pocock (Amazon 99p book of the day on Amazon today).

Zzz snatcher book (the last book that kept you up waay too late)

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
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