11 March 2017

The SCRIBE'S DAUGHTER by Stephanie Churchill

Amazon UK £3.20 £9.21
Amazon US $3.99 $14.99
Amazon CA $19.76 


Game of Thrones is Fantasy, there is no doubt of that, yet its connection with history – the comparison to Hadrian’s Wall, the Wars of the Roses et al is just too close to ignore. Occasionally other such novels crop up. They are not history: there is no historical setting, no historical time or place. Not even any historical characters, yet when reading, the narrative is so expertly written that it feels as if it should be historical. For The Scribe’s Daughter, this is one of the rare times when we here at Discovering Diamonds step away from our accepted genre and review a novel because it is too good to not review. 

The Scribe's Daughter is an incredible first novel, well polished and well presented, an excellent example of independent, self publishing. If only all Indies could be this good there would be no more quibbles about the, often sneered-at, status of being an indie author. It is also an example of why traditional publishing houses rarely pick this sort of book up - because it is too much of a 'round peg' to fit into the mainstream's somewhat narrow  marketing 'square peg'.

Kassia is living a hand-to-mouth existence with her sister in the capital city of a kingdom she calls home. A thief by necessity, Kassia just about manages to keep her landlord happy and her sister protected. But everything changes when a well-dressed stranger gives her an outlandish amount of money to undertake work that she cannot do. She is not such a thief that she takes the money without attempting to learn the skills she needs to do the work. And when an even more well-dressed stranger steps in and buys her a horse, her world will never be the same again.

The author of his novel struggles to place it in a genre but for me it sits nicely in Fantasy, accepting that fantasy is a very wide genre and not all fantasy has to include dragons and raising the dead. There is no Game of Thrones-style magic, but there is intrigue and plot aplenty. The reader is taken on a journey by Kassia and just as she is unsure of everything, so is the reader - not sure who is on which side, not sure even what the sides are, and nothing can be taken for granted.

The first person narrative flows beautifully, so beautifully that when reading it I forgot it was an indie book and I forgot it was a review book, and not one I picked up for myself. 

And the version I read included a piece of the sequel to this novel, and that in itself leaves one gasping for more - but no spoilers here except to say I can't wait to read it.

If you like George R.R. Martin and Sarah J. Maas, this is absolutely for you. Definitely a  brilliant diamond of a discovery!

© Nicky Galliers

second review:

Now and again, Discovering Diamonds chooses to review a book which is not strictly Historical Fiction, yet nevertheless has all the elements of the genre, such as Fantasy-based stories. And I'm glad that we do because otherwise I may not have come across The Scribe's Daughter by Stephanie Churchill.

Kassia and Irisa are sisters, orphans scrubbing a living in a big city. Irisa is the quiet one, but Kassia, whose story this is, is the loud and streetwise one, stealing food or money from the markets to supplement their meagre income making and selling trinkets. Until one day a rich man brings some bracelets he would like repaired. Kassia does not question why they should have been chosen: a substantial (to them) amount of money has been offered and taken. Unable to fulfil the request immediately, Kassia decides to travel to a nearby deserted mining town in search of a forge where she can do her work.

And here she meets Rem and his son, handsome Jack and the lives of the sisters changes forever.

This is a beautifully written book, with rich and powerful descriptions of people and places that make you feel that you are there; yet they do not intrude on the pace of the story but add to the tension as it build throughout the tale. I loved the way that Kassia gives nicknames to the people she meets when she does not know their names: Lackey Man, Smug Man and so on. Kassia is an admirable heroine – feisty, brave and very down-to-earth.

There are many facets to this story and I don't want to give too much away, but it is also one of political intrigue, many dangers for Kassia and her companions and an ending that you will not see coming and that leads neatly to a sequel – though this is demonstrably a stand alone in it's own right.

Very highly recommended

© Richard Tearle

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10 March 2017


Amazon UK £2.02 £6.99
Amazon US $2.50 $9.99
Amazon CA $12.91

Family Saga / Wars of the Roses
15th Century
Bearnshaw Series #1

'The Bearnshaw Series follows the changing fortunes of key members of the Bearnshaw family during the years of the Wars of the Roses, the reign of King Richard III and the Tudor dynasty.'

Drawing on characters from a Lancashire legend, Ms Rose has given them a substance that few could achieve. All the ingredients for a first-class read are present in this opening novel of the Bearnshaw series, The Legend of the Whyte Doe: a single-minded protagonist, an evil lord who desires her, and witchcraft. Not to mention sex, drugs and not quite ‘Rock’N’Roll’, but we do have a rock – Eagle Cragg, to be precise.

The story covers eleven years of Sibyl Bearnshaw’s life. Her mother is dead and her father dying. There is the modest – in aristocratic terms – estate to think of as well as her younger brother, Tom, who will eventually inherit everything.

Beyond the family’s story, Edward IV has just seized the throne and loyal Lancastrians are hiding the old King, Henry VI. Sibyl suspects that her unwanted and cruel husband-to-be, Lord William of Hapton, is involved in this and decides to appeal to the new king to find her a more suitable husband. This he does, and Sibyl marries John, Viscount Arnold of Aberthwaite. The marriage seems ideal, but unfortunately, ‘happy-ever-after’ is not to be.

No spoilers, but Sibyl has to return to Bearnshaw as things change once again in her life and the politics of England. Edward flees into exile and William triumphantly returns from court brandishing a document signed by Henry empowering him to marry Sibyl whether she likes it or not. This time, Sibyl cannot escape her fate and she finds solace in the 'powders' that she purchases from a local witch.

With excellent writing, blending fact and fiction with skilful panache, The Legend of the Whyte Doe is highly recommended and well deserving of a Diamond Review.

© Richard Tearle

9 March 2017

A Discovering Diamonds Review of EDITH FAIR AS A SWAN by James M. Hockey

AMAZON UK £2.37   

11th Century /Norman Conquest / 1600s

Although part of a series, this novel is an entire stand-alone tale. 
Bowdyn the Gleeman, is a storyteller. We meet him in a small village in 1687 telling his tales of hope and encouragement, and this tale of his is of Edith, the hand-fast wife to King Harold II, he of 1066 fame.

Bowdy tells his story, however, through the cripple, Edmund, whose village was destroyed by the Normans. Edmund escaped and met with Edith, who in turn is being sought by King William because he needs to know where she buried King Harold, her husband, in secret, having duped William on the battlefield by not identifying the correct body to him.

The pair of them, Edith and Edmund, flee into Wales, north to York and then to Ely, where Hereward helps them escape to Scandinavia. Our Gleeman’s - and the author’s – story is beautifully descriptive and partially based on fact. Edith did, indeed, disappear after that famous battle at Hastings, and her daughter, Gytha, who also appears in this tale, did marry a Prince in Eastern Europe and the certainty of King Harold’s actual burial place remains an unsolved mystery to this day. I would query whether Edith was called Queen, however, as she was not Harold’s ‘official’ wife. I also think more striking covers would compliment this series, even so, these small nit-picks do not detract from an excellent story - or an excellent series.

© Helen Hollick

8 March 2017

The Axe, the Shield and the Triton, by James M. Hockey

Amazon UK £5.99 £7.95
Amazon US $7.52  $12.95

462 AD / 1685  
Tales of Bowdyn #1

As soon as I read the first sentence of The Axe the Shield and the Triton, `When I was a child I loved the hill, for I knew nothing then of its blood-drenched soil. It was my playground and my playfellow,' I knew I would like the writing. Style, to me, is as important as the story itself. I like being led gently, not dropped, into the action. This one begins in 1685 AD, during the Monmouth Rebellion in England. Immediately, you felt the stench of poverty, the desperation of a family, and I hoped for the boy and his kin to meet better times.

The escape from their daily grind comes via Master Bowdyn Galan's tales of faraway places. Through them, we are swept back to AD 462, to the old Germania and Creodoa, the Hun's tale. The chapters switch back and forth between the two stories; while enjoying one, I became eager to know what would happen in the other, and so kept turning the pages in anticipation. I was not disappointed with either.

This is not fiction for the impatient. It is a book for people who enjoy reading. And while it is indeed fiction, I was sneaky enough to Google a few items and found the facts are, indeed, factual. This is a cut diamond of a story, with perfect facets.

© Inge H. Borg

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7 March 2017

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The ASHES of HEAVEN'S PILLAR by Kim Rendfeld

Amazon UK £4.80 $9.99
Amazon US $5.99 $14.99
Amazon CA $19.52

Inspirational / Christian Faith
8th Century / Charlemagne

Kim Rendfeld has written an inspirational story told through the viewpoint of ordinary, everyday folk: a Saxon family, in particular a devout mother, devastated by the effects of war, betrayal, and enforcement into slavery. Reminding me of a folk-tale sort of story, being plot-driven more than character development, with circumstances providing a path forward rather than the characters themselves, this is a story of love, loyalty, faith, personal honour, endurance and survival through hardship, and sexual assault. 

Possibly a more professional-looking cover would enhance the book, but that is a personal view.

I was initially confused by a host of characters, and the pace slowed a little in places. I know nothing of Charlemagne, but did battles in the eighth century continue for prolonged periods? I therefore cannot verify the historical accuracy, but as a story of forgiveness and steadfast faith, with everything resolved, bad people punished and decent ones rewarded in good Christian tradition, this is a rewarding read for those with a strong religious faith of their own.

© Ellen Hill
Note: this novel may appear to be incorrectly formatted on some e-reader devices
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6 March 2017

THE LADY OF THE TOWER by Elizabeth St John

Amazon UK £1.99 £10.99
Amazon US $2.49 $12.99 
Amazon CA $17.09

Biographical Fiction
1609 James I

Orphaned Lucy St. John, described as "the most beautiful of all," defies English society by carving her own path through the decadent Stuart court. In 1609, the early days of the rule of James I are a time of glittering pageantry and cutthroat ambition, when the most dangerous thing one can do is fall in love . . . or make an enemy of Frances Howard, the reigning court beauty.’

…The kept must have their keepers…

The era of King James I of England is often, apart from the Gunpowder Plot, a neglected period of history where novels are concerned. It is a period of transition from Tudor to Stuart where pageantry rides alongside sexual ‘entertainment’ and the difficulty of keeping your head, virginity and sanity are all as difficult as each other to accomplish. Suitable marriages were all that concerned the women, and woe betide them if they failed their goal.

Written from the viewpoint of Lucy St John - and yes the name is the same, she was an ancestor of the author. Lucy is an intelligent woman with a knowledge of plants and herbs, giving her access to the medications of the time so that she soon makes a name for herself. We follow her life through romance at Court and her subsequent marriage to Sir Allen Aspley, Constable of the Tower, and the Royal Navy’s chief quartermaster. One of his duties is the care and feeding of the prisoners. We also meet the real-life characters of Walter Raleigh, George Villiers and Frances Howard, who variously appear as courtiers or ‘King’s guests’ within the Tower.

Elizabeth St John brings these years of Stuart England to the fore, bringing the known facts of her ancestor’s life together with richly imagined scenes creating in the process a believable heroine, an intriguing plot and an enjoyable novel. 

© Anne Holt

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