Book Review: Spartacus: Swords and Ashes by J.M. Clements

Hi there!

Swords and sandals. Political intrigue. Betrayal. Each of these describes some quality of the common perception of the Roman Empire. Whether you buy into this popular perception or prefer the drier, more factual approach to nearly a millennium of history, Rome’s influence can be felt to the present day. Just ask the producers at Starz. Spartacus: Blood and Sand started in January 2010 on their pay cable network and was watched by an estimated 3 million viewers its premiere weekend. Since then it has aired two more seasons – a prequel Spartacus: Gods of the Arena in 2011, and Spartacus: Vengeance in 2012.

The success of the Spartacus series has spawned a new series of novels based in the hero’s world of Rome – Spartacus: Swords and Ashes by J.M. Clements is the first – which brings Spartacus to the funereal games in Neapolis for a friend of Batiatus named Pelorus. Pelorus was murdered by a slave in his own house, the tattooed Getae witch named Medea who must pay for her crimes. Batiatus soon finds himself in the middle of a political bout between Gaius Verres, the soon-to-be governor of Sicily and a young Cicero from home hot on the trail of new prophecies of Rome.

Honestly I wasn’t sure what to think of the book at first. I watched the first episode of Spartacus: Blood and Sand and quickly decided that the stylized blood and combat was not my cup of tea back in 2010. I was sad to hear of star Andy Whitfield‘s battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and the fact that he eventually lost the battle. The series has lived on however with Liam McIntyre in the lead role along with the rest of the cast – John Hannah (The Mummy) as Quintus Lentulus Batiatus, Lucy Lawless (TV’s Xena: Warrior Princess) as Lucretia his wife, Viva Bianca as Ilithyia, and many more.

Swords and Ashes captures some of the backhanded double-dealing I would expect in the Rome of “Et tu, Brute?” of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, as well as the foul treatment of slaves and the quickly-changing-fortunes of competitors in the arena. And once the second half of the book took off, it was a sprint to the finish. The first half was a bit of a slog for me, considering my lack of experience with the TV series itself, but Clements manages to keep things moving enough that even non-fans like myself can enjoy the book.

And it was really Clements’ imagery that kept me reading throughout… “The snow-covered ground became a clash of pinks and crimsons, darkening with the death of the day, not from the sunset, but from life-blood splashed in torrents. Warm steam rose from the ground, creating an unearthly mist, as if the surviving warriors were surrounded by the departed souls of their fellows.”

If you are a fan of Spartacus, the series, or simply looking to add a bit more swords-and-sandals to your reading pile, Spartacus: Swords and Ashes manages to capture a bit of the glory of Rome and the spectacle of the arena with words!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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Book Review: Krimson by Thomas Emson

Hi all…

Vampires. In popular media today, vampires are more about masquerading as human in a human world than ripping your throat out and guzzling blood directly from your jugular vein with no pretense of any remaining humanity. These days, the word “vampire” tends to evoke images of wan, whiny teenagers or Civil War-era Louisiana gentlemen more than “cold blooded killers.”

Author Thomas Emson is working to change that. First with Skarlet in 2009 and now with the follow-up Krimson, Emson is embracing the monster in the vampire myth and providing hooks to thousands of years of history. And like the majority of human history, not all the monsters are inhuman. Sometimes it takes power-mad humans to resurrect the past even if they don’t quite understand the consequences of their actions…

In Skarlet, we were introduced to a modern-day London, England on the brink of change. A small group of men and women with bloodlines stretching back thousands of years have brought a drug to London’s youth. Distributed at a dance club called Religion, those who take the drug die and are reborn as vampiric killing machines with an unquenchable thirst for blood. One man – Iraqi war vet Jake Lawton – working as a bouncer at the club is drawn into this nightmare nobody can accept and fights against the monsters with a few companions he gains along the way.

What I loved about the first book was the use of multiple story lines from different eras of history. Emson incorporates the conquering of Babylon by Alexander the Great and battles between the Ottoman Turks and the British army in the 1920s alongside the Iraq War we’re still trying to finish and the modern day. Weaving in an alternate history based on real events made this a much more tangible tale to dive into.

Now with Krimson, the second book in the Vampire Trinity series, the story picks up three years later after the events of Skarlet. Jake is still fighting the good fight, but he’s getting tired. You can only go so long without sleep. And those left alive in positions of power in England are hunting him day and night, so his paranoia isn’t just due to exhaustion. He and his warrior woman Aaliyah have done damage to the vampire cause, but it’s like putting fingers in a dam about to burst – it’s impossible to cover all the cracks.

And like Skarlet, Emson does an amazing job of working an alternate history into the mix. This time it’s ancient Babylon and the time of Dracula in the mid-1400s. And though I wasn’t as surprised by the Babylon links this time around, I was very intrigued in how the Dracula myths were brought in. Again, the history set the stage for the events in the present day and was seamlessly integrated into what started in that first book.

After reading Zombie Brittanica, I was a bit concerned that Emson had lost his touch. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The first half of Krimson sets the stage and offers enough background that readers new to the series should have no problems diving in. For me, the action really didn’t get going until about the half-way mark. At that point it was as though a switch was thrown and we were in free fall to the end. All the characters of the first book are back and we start to see their individual threads get resolved one by one…

I can hardly wait for Kardinal, the conclusion of the trilogy, to be released in another year or two. Can Jake and his friends survive? Only Emson himself knows until the book is released!

If you want a taste of the book, be sure to check out the first three chapters at Thomas Emson’s website. Unfortunately US rights haven’t yet been sold, but you can order via Amazon and other retailers through international wholesalers!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up these books at Amazon below!

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Book Review: The President’s Vampire by Chrisopher Farnsworth

Hi again!

Have you ever wondered what’s at the root of some of those bizarre myths and legends you’ve read about in school or in popular fiction? It sometimes seems as though there may have been supernatural creatures and strange events down through the ages. But all those gods, monsters, ghosts and aliens are just stories, right?

But then again, what if they’re not? That brings into question everything we know as adults and doubts begin creeping in where they’re really not wanted. Paranoia sets in and soon we’re looking deeper into shadows to make sure there’s nothing there and the boogie men aren’t coming to get us.

In Blood Oath, Christopher Farnsworth introduced us to Nathaniel Cade. For more than 140 years, he’s been attached to the office of the President of the United States, protecting the nation against supernatural threats other agencies can’t hope to deal with. What makes Cade perfect for the job beyond his longevity? Well, he’s a vampire for one. And two, he swore a blood oath to the office of the President at the hands of a Voodoo priestess. He is compelled to fulfill his oath through thick and thin unless released by his death or the United States no longer exists.

We were introduced to Cade through his new handler Zach Burrows in the first book. Poor Zach was put through the wringer a few times, but managed to always creatively come through in the end. Either that or Cade has to save his bacon.

I loved Blood Oath – it presented a vampire story with deep roots in U.S. history and a style that was more 24 than Twilight. Beneath the surface of the world we live in is another world teeming with people, monsters, and worse – seeking to destroy us, eat us, or make us slaves. And personally I’m not too keen on any of those options.

Now Farnsworth is back with another tale of Nathaniel Cade saving the world in The President’s Vampire. And once again we catch glimpses of that secret supernatural history of the world behind the scenes. This time there’s some politics involved and shadow agencies devoted to reforming mankind for their own nefarious purposes. Can Cade stop them? Only time will tell. And of course, it’s not just humans causing trouble. There are monsters involved as well, but I’ll try not to spoil the fun too much.

I do have to provide a bit of a hint to a few people. Does the name “Innsmouth” mean anything to you? I thought it might.

Beyond the creatures in the book, I will say Farnsworth has also managed to slip in some great historical tidbits. Some related to 9/11, some earlier, like John Wilkes Booth, but each time one of these juicy tidbits from history came up, I nearly giggled out loud with glee. There’s just something more tangible about Cade simply because he’s walked the halls of a century and a half of history and survived.

My one criticism of the book is the opening. The first couple of chapters left me feeling a bit perplexed, wondering if Farnsworth had lost his touch. However, once things get rolling, there’s no stopping them. The President’s Vampire starts with a few tentative nibbles and then sinks its teeth into your jugular vein until it’s done. This was another book I could hardly bear to put down until I was done.

I can only wonder what’s next for Cade and Burrows. Can they continue to survive the battle between politics and the dark malevolent forces threatening the United States every moment? Only time will tell. But something tells me Cade will find a way to survive anything short of a nuclear bomb going off in his face.

If you like your thrillers with a bit of bite, look no further than The President’s Vampire that was just released this week. And if you haven’t read Blood Oath already, I’d encourage you to do so. These two books together will make a powerful one-two punch!

For more information about Christopher Farnsworth and his books, be sure to check out his website at ChrisFarnsworth.com. The partial chronology of events in Nathaniel Cade’s world is definitely worth checking out!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up these books below!

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