Caesar's Sword (III): Flame of the West

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Flame of the West!

My Caesar's Sword trilogy is now complete! 

Caesar's Sword (III) Flame of the West is now available on Amazon, and chronicles the third and final chapter in the adventures of Coel ap Amhar, grandson of the famous Arthur, War Leader of the Britons and Duke of Battles.

Take it away, Coel...

“Caesar’s Sword was nothing but a bane, sent by the Devil to drag all the men of my blood to ruin…” 

Amorica, 571 AD. From his cell in the Abbey of Rhuys, the dying Coel ap Ahmar writes the final chapter of his chronicle, describing his last years in the service of the
Roman Empire. Deprived of all that he loves, Coel writes of how he lost Caesar’s sword and his only son, Arthur. 

Thirty years previously, the
Roman Empire is locked in a battle to reclaim its Italian homeland from the Goths. Led by Belisarius, the Roman army wins victory after victory and marches within sight of the Gothic capital at Ravenna. As one of the few officers Belisarius can trust, Coel is dragged into a melting pot of treachery and politics, before suffering a final betrayal that all but destroys his loyalty to Rome. 

The discovery of his son forces the ageing Coel back into the army, and take part in a final effort to reconquer
Italy. From the sea-battle of Sena Gallica, to the slaughter of Taginae, Coel must fight like never before to save himself and his bloodline…" 

Thursday, 10 April 2014

The real Tyrion Lannister?

*Disclaimer* This is one for Game of Thrones fans, so apologies to those who have never read the books or watched the show...

While beavering away at the last installment of my Caesar's Sword trilogy, I was struck by the similarities between a certain historical character and Tyrion Lannister, one of the few likeable characters from Game of Thrones, the fantasy universe created by George R.R. Martin.

Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister
Martin is generally thought to have based his epic sex n'swords drama on The Wars of the Roses, with the rival Houses of Stark and Lannister as thinly disguised versions of the real-life Houses of York and Lancaster (though personally I think the Starks have a greater resemblance to the Percies, an equally rebellious and luckless family). The Seven Kingdoms of the books and HBO series do have more than a whiff of late medieval England, but I believe Martin drew his inspiration for Tyrion from somewhere else: namely, the Late Roman Empire of the mid-6th century AD.

The character I have in mind is Narses, a Roman courtier of Armenian descent who flourished at the lethal, glittering court of the Emperor Justinian I and his consort, the former prostitute-turned-Empress Theodora. The court of Justinian's time was a snakepit, every bit as deadly as the fictional court of King's Landing, where ambitious senators and aristocrats vied for imperial favour. One particularly nasty specimen, an official named John the Cappadocian, was rumoured to keep a set of dungeons under his private chambers in the Great Palace, where he spent his leisure hours torturing political rivals.

Narses, depicted on The Ravenna Mosaics
Little is known of Narses' background, or when he arrived at court, but he swiftly rose up the greasy ladder of power and ambition. Like Tyrion, he was said to be a dwarf, lean and deformed of body, but (as one chronicler describes him):

"He was a man of sound mind, and clever at adapting himself to the times. He was not versed in literature or practised in oratory, but made up for it with the fertility of his wits..."

Sound familiar? Quick-witted and able, Narses rose to become the Emperor's steward and high treasurer, responsible for dealing with his master's finances and payments from the imperial treasury. Eventually he become the commander of Justinian's bodyguard, Grand Chamberlain and Master of Soldiery, and was entrusted to lead Roman armies on campaign in Italy. Despite his physical disabilities and total lack of military training and experience, Narses proved to be a superb general, with a natural grasp of logistics, siege warfare and battlefield tactics.

Conleth Hill as Varys
I have left out one small (?) but significant detail: Narses was a eunuch. When or why he was deprived of his family jewels is unknown, but it didn't hinder him from enjoying a spectacular career.

Tyrion Lannister is no eunuch - quite the opposite - but another character from Martin's series springs to mind: Varys, nicknamed 'The Spider', a smooth politico and spymaster who spends much of his time in the shadows, scheming and plotting, while everyone else gets on with murdering each other. Like Narses, Varys is a eunuch, but doesn't let it bother him.

So there you have it - Tyrion Lannister, the Imp, is based on not one, but two charismatic imperial courtiers who flourished in the Late Roman Empire. Or that's why I think, anyway...

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Caesar's Sword (II): Siege of Rome

As promised, here is the shiny new cover for the second part of my trilogy set in the Late Roman Empire! I absolutely love it, and thanks go to the talented folks at More Visual Ltd for this one. 

Below is a link to the book on Amazon:

Caesar's Sword (II): Siege of Rome

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Caesar's Sword

Book One of my 'Caesar's Sword' trilogy - Caesar's Sword (I): The Red Death - will be available as a FREE download on Kindle from March 24th-26th:

Caesar's Sword (I): The Red Death on Amazon

I am also offering three paperback copies of the novel as prizes in a Goodreads competition. The competition runs for four weeks, beginning on April 1st, and I'll provide a link when it goes live. 

Other developments include a brand new shiny cover for Book Two: Siege of Rome, which I shall hopefully reveal next week, and work in progress on the third and final book in the series, provisionally titled Caesar's Sword (III): Flame of the West. 

As a reminder, here is the plot summary for Book One:

It is the year 568 AD. From his monastic refuge in Brittany, King Arthur’s aged grandson, Coel, begins to write the incredible story of his life. Now a monk, he is determined to complete his chronicle before death overtakes him. 

His tale begins shortly after the death of his famous grandfather at the Battle of Camlann. Britain is plunged into chaos, and Coel and his mother are forced to flee their homeland. They take with them Arthur’s famous sword, Caledfwlch, once possessed by Julius Caesar. Known to the Romans as The Red Death, it is said to possess unearthly powers. 

When he grows to adulthood, Cleo enlists in the Roman army under General Flavius Belisarius, the most famous soldier of the age, and serves in the Roman invasion of Africa. He makes an enemy of the corrupt Empress of the East, Theodora, and falls into the clutches of Gelimer, the mad King of the Vandals. 

Caesar's Sword (I): The Red Death follows the adventures of a British warrior of famous descent in the glittering, lethal world of the Late Roman Empire. From the riotous streets of Constantinople, to the racetrack of the Hippodrome and the bloodstained deserts of North Africa, he must fight to recover his birthright and his pride...

Thursday, 13 March 2014

The wonder of Troy

I'm back from my twelve-day break in Turkey, complete with a surfeit of amazing memories and a nasty cough that is proving very difficult to shake off.

Rather than bore readers of this blog with a 'What I did on my holidays'-style post, I would like to talk a little about one of the many incredible historical sites I visited - namely Troy, or the ruins in northwest Anatolia generally (but not conclusively) identified as the site of the historical city made famous in Homer's Iliad.

It is strangely difficult to describe my feelings when I visited the site. I had read the Iliad at university, and have been generally aware of the story of Hector and Achilles, Helen and Paris etc for as long as I can remember. The story itself has never filled me with any great passion - for instance, I always wanted Hector to beat the crap out of Achilles - and the 2004 film Troy, starring Brad Pitt, struck me as a campy load of nonsense.

That said, Homer's epic is deathless, and I was filled with a strange sense of awe while exploring its ruins: it was a bit like being informed that here was the historical Camelot, and over there were the remains of the Round Table, and over there was where Queen Guinevere used to take her bath...etcetera. I wandered about in a kind of daze, patting the ancient walls and trying to listen intently to the guide as he explained the site's complex history.

More than just a pile of rubble

Anyone visiting the site and expecting to find the vast, glittering city of Homer's imagination is doomed to disappointment. Compared with the ruins of other settlements in the region, such as the great Roman hilltop city of Pergamon, Troy was never very big, and at its peak probably never housed more than 7000 people. Some of my companions were dismayed by this, but for me it only made the place seem more genuine and exciting: the Camelot of the historical Arthur, assuming he ever existed, would have most likely been a rough timber hill fort rather than the splendid medieval palace described in Malory and Tennyson.

There is no space here to describe every stage of the city's existence, but I'll attempt a quick summary. Troy was founded in roughly 3000 BC, and flourished thanks to its control of the Dardanelles, through which merchant vessels had to pass. A series of migrations and earthquakes took their toll, and at some point early Troy appears to have been burned to the ground. It is possible that the story of the 'Wooden Horse of Troy' was inspired by some natural disaster hitting the city: the horse was apparently one of the symbols of Poseidon, god of the sea.

Ancient ramp leading to the royal hall of early Troy
The Trojans were a resilient bunch, and kept rebuilding their walls almost as quickly as they fell over. Troy VII, as the archeologists term it, is reckoned to be the one immortalised in the Iliad. This version of the city flourished from about the mid-13th century BC to around 1184, when it was all but destroyed by war and fire. Exactly who was fighting who and why is a bit unclear, but it seems most likely that the Greeks wanted to break the Trojan stranglehold on the Dardanelles (nothing to do with abducted princesses, sadly), while the Trojans were supported by peoples like the Hittites. Whether any of Homer's characters existed is also unclear, but there are debatable references in ancient accounts to various kings of Troy, one of whom is called 'Priamos' (possibly the King Priam of the Iliad).

Despite various disasters, Troy continued to endure into the classical Roman period, when it benefited from the patronage of figures such as Sulla, Pompey, Julius Caesar, Augustus and Hadrian. This extremely long and complicated history means that the surviving ruins are a mosaic of different eras: the remains of Hadrian's odeon sit beside a roofless council chamber probably used by Bronze Age Trojan kings and their councillors; the stump of a fortified tower built in 1300 BC overlooks a wide ramp leading up to the foundations of a royal hall dating from a thousand years earlier. And so on. The only false note is struck by the massive wooden horse erected outside the grounds for the benefit of tourists, though it was fun to climb around inside.

Possibly not the original wooden horse...
So what at first looks like a scattered and not terribly impressive pile of rubble is really one of the most fascinating sites anyone could hope to see. Thank God - or the gods - that I was lucky enough to do so...

Monday, 24 February 2014

The Hooded Man

This will be my last post for a few weeks before I go on holiday - huzzah! Before I go, here is the latest instalment of my Robin Hood serial, The Hooded Man. It is available on Kindle and will be on *FREE* download from March 1st-3rd.

Robin has been gone a while, and he returns to England to find all not as it was...

Summer, 1242 AD. King Henry III of England is locked in a disastrous war with his rival, the King of France, and about to engage the French army at Taillebourg.

Serving in the English army is a captain of archers named Robin Hood. Forced to leave his homeland, Robin has spent fourteen years in exile, serving as a soldier in various garrisons and embracing the heresy of the Cathars.

After the English army suffers a catastrophic defeat, Robin obtains a royal pardon from the King and makes his way back to England, hoping to see his beloved Matilda again. In his long absence, the legend of Robin Hood, the Hooded Man, has spread and flourished. Robin finds he has become a legend in his own lifetime, and inspired other men to take up the fight against Norman tyranny.

Most of his old followers are dead or scattered. Those who survive are leading quiet, honest lives, desperate to avoid the notice of the law. Driven by his heretical faith and a desire to strike one last blow against injustice, Robin attempts to bring the survivors together again in Sherwood, and spark a rebellion that will drive the Norman oppressors into the sea.

Unwilling to accept that his time is past, Robin risks all to bring England to the verge of civil war, even the lives of those he loves. War and death loom on the horizon as Robin’s enemies prepare for the return of the Hooded Man...

Monday, 17 February 2014


Recently I've been nose-deep in the dark and bloody history of the Cathars, one of the most popular and widespread 'heretical' groups of medieval Europe, and as such doomed to a horrible fate at the hands of the established church. 

The Castle of Queribus in Southern France, a Cathar stronghold
The Cathar religion is a fascinating subject, steeped in ancient mysticism and consisting of beliefs that seem downright insane to the modern mind. It was a dualist faith, effectively believing in not one God but two: a God of light and goodness, and a God of evil and darkness. Unlike the Christian religion, which believes that the forces of good are superior to evil, the Cathars placed evil on an equal footing.

Put simply, they were obsessed with evil, and saw it everywhere, in all living things. To a Cathar, all physical matter was by its nature corrupt, and goodness could only be achieved via the spirit. This meant that Jesus Christ had never taken physical form in the world, and the stories of his crucifixion and resurrection were lies invented by the Church. Christ had only ever existed as pure spirit, and the souls of the dead would join him once the corrupted matter of their bodies had ceased to breathe. Essentially, they believed in reincarnation.

Doesn't sound too bad, you might think, and vaguely reminiscent of Buddhism in some respects. But the Cathars didn't deal in mere theory. Since all earthly flesh was sinful and generally rotten, they considered sex an abomination, and marriage as a form of prostitution. Their goal was to obtain purity and become 'parfaits'. These parfaits served as unofficial priests of the religion, preaching to their followers and demanding they abstain from meat, sexual pleasure, and generally as much physical expression and interaction as possible.

Medieval depiction of the persecution of Cathars

The Pope hurled his military forces against the Cathars
The Cathars were largely based in the Langudeoc in the South of France, where they found much support among peasants and nobles alike. The Counts of Toulouse, who owned large tracts of the south, were rather more forward-looking than their peers in the rest of the country, and permitted the Cathar faith to spread in the early 1200s.

Initially the Pope and the Catholic church attempted to mediate with the Cathars, but then in 1208 a papal legate was murdered by an agent of the Count of Toulouse, and all Hell (which the Cathars didn't believe in, incidentally) broke loose. The Pope flexed his military might, hurling army after army at the Cathars and declaring successive Crusades against them.

The Cathars had a problem in that their faith forbade them from taking up arms. However, despite their rejection of the trappings of wealth and power, they did enjoy the support of wealthy patrons, and so hired mercenaries to do the fighting. For over forty years, they stubbornly held out in one remote fortress after another, the dramatic ruins of which can still be seen scattered about Provence and the Languedoc.

Appalling massacres were committed by the papal Inquisition, set up during the mid-1220s to root out the Cathars and other heretical groups. I don't intend to go into the sickening details of the punishments inflicted by the Inquisition: even at a distance of 700 years, it is enough to turn the stomach. Suffice to say that by the 1240s, the remaining Cathars had been driven from their last refuge, though they lingered on into the next century. The last known Cathar, Guillaume BĂ©libaste, was burned alive in 1321.

And now I shall look for some lighter reading matter...