Cards on the table. I’m unashamedly biased in the following review. I love Roman epics and devour anything smelling even vaguely of sandals and red robes. I’m equally invested in Keith Nixon’s steamrolling writing career, which has been mainly focused on humorous, punchy, smart crime novels to date.
Keith’s attention to detail, laborious research and flowing narrative makes the follow-up to Eagle’s Shadow a triumphant return to the world he’s fleshing out in the most subtle, but immersing manner.
Writing a sequel comes with its own difficulties. Will the readers like where I take the story? Am I staying true to the characters but allowing their development? Is it as good as the first.
Yes. Absolutely. No, it’s much, much better.
In Eagle’s Blood, Keith stretches his literary legs and pushes his skills to new levels. Danger, intrigue, betrayal, Romans, brother-hood and battles. All are presented with the confidence of a writer who has found a new voice in Historical fiction, one that both compliments and surpasses his enviable skills in his more familiar crime/thriller genre. At times one would swear that Nixon has a window to the past.
Striding genre isn’t an easy skill for a writer to develop, few manage it effectively; even fewer make it appear effortless. Nixon’s return to Caradoc’s world screams of confidence and a refusal to be constrained by one writing style.
A wonderful novel reminiscent of the humour, passion, detail and scalding human stories that so pervaded the HBO series ‘Rome’.#
Eagle’s Blood is available now from Gladius Press.
The following excerpt comes from dEaDINBURGH: Alliances (Din Eidyn Corpus 2) by Mark Wilson.
Noticing light breaking through the gap in his curtains, Jack squinted at his Holo-
Screen, blinking the fog from his eyes. Seven a.m.
He’d been playing the dEaDINBURGH: Lair of The Ringed video game since
midnight, when the feed had been cut from the live show. He flicked his finger across
the air in front of him, causing the UKBC screen to pop up. The countdown until the feed
re-connected sat at 00:15. Just fifteen more minutes until they had the show back in full
High-Def Holo-Image. Jack saved his progress and kicked at the desk in front of him,
sending his ergonomic chair scooting backwards through the pile of empty energy drink
cans and takeaway boxes littered across the carpet of his living room.
Scratching at his crotch with his right hand, he lifted his left arm and sniffed at
his arm-pit, screwing his face up at the sourness. Should have time for a shower if I get a
Jack stood with a groan in protest at the crack of his knees. It’d been a while since
he’d had quite so long a session on the game. Scooping a handful of Cheesy-Puffs off the
desk and into his mouth, he headed to the apartment’s little shower cube.
As he sang from the shower, the dEaDINBURGH theme began blasting from the
surround-sound speakers, eliciting a whoop of delight from him as he barrelled from the
bathroom, not bothering to dry himself, body wobbling back into his still-warm chair.
Leaning forward he made a little gesture to enlarge the screen and scanned the
info-bar along the bottom of the page to catch any updates. There were too many to
read so Jack flicked a finger at the Holo-Screen, bringing up a highlights reel on a smaller
screen within the main one. Whilst the main screen flickered into life, he jerked his eyes
to the highlights feed, gleaning everything he could about what had happened to his
favourite Survivors during the feed-loss.
Suzy Wheels, Danny McGhee and Jennifer Shephard, his main characters, were all
more or less where they’d been when the feed had cut twelve hours earlier. Jack flicked
at the screen a few more times, bringing up images of one of the less popular and least-
covered Survivors he’d been following.
Joey MacLeod’s face filled the frame. Jack liked this kid. He’d begun to get a little
more airtime recently, mostly because he’d been in a few scraps with Zoms of late. Jack
remembered him fondly from the episodes where he’d left The Brotherhood a few years
back, with the old Padre. Those were amongst some of the most unexpected and
emotional scenes he’d ever watched and he’d replayed them many times in his mind’s
eye, lying in bed.
Padre Jock had been a favourite of Jack’s as a kid. As a Zom-Hunter and one of the
most colourful characters on the show. He’d had a huge chunk of airtime over the years
and had consistently been in the Survivors’ top ten chart for over twenty years. When
he’d been killed by Bracha, Jack had shed a few tears for the old man. For Jack’s generation, who’d grown up watching him, Padre Jock was as intricately tied to the
show as its theme tune.
Three years later, Jack still felt grief whenever he looked at one of the many
images of Jock on mugs, posters, T-shirts and other merchandise around his home. Jack
had a massive poster of Jock over his bed. It depicted a scene from the show with a
young Jock, blades flashing, silencing five Zombies. It bore the legend: Running rings
around The Ringed.
One of Jack’s online friends had a tattoo on his cheek in the shape of the
characteristic Ring o’ Roses rash of The Ringed. Despite being into its third decade of
transmission, dEaDINBURGH showed no signs of losing popularity, and if anything it
had gained more viewers than ever. In part this was because of Jock’s protégé Joey and
his best friend, Alys Shephard. Quite simply she was the most skilled combatant the
dead city had.
Many of Jock’s fans had now latched onto the eighteen year old he’d trained out
of the need for a connection to the familiarity of the Padre. Aside from that, they’d
grown to know and love Joey during his time with Padre Jock. Many more had chosen
Alys as their new prime Survivor because of her attachment to Joey and her own
considerable talents. The pair were fast becoming the definitive Survivors of their
The screen Jack scanned showed Joey and Alys, from behind, in a large open field.
Joey had his bow over his back and was following along behind Jennifer’s daughter.
Their body language suggested they were tired and were both covered in grey dust. Jack
watched as the cameras zoomed out, revealing a mass of Zoms spilling out into the field
from a cycle path and a little clearing in a woodland. From the trail in the long grass, it
was obvious that the teens had come from the Zom-infested area.
It was a beautiful shot, so much so that it moved Jack to click the little thumbs-up
icon at the corner of the screen. He was only the hundredth to do so. It made him feel a
part of something special that he was amongst the first to see the beauty in the
Wondering how the teens had survived the massive congregation of Zoms and
why the infected weren’t pursuing them, he whirled the highlights footage over to the
main screen and began searching through it, hoping that he hadn’t missed something
special. He looked at the view counter at the edge of the highlights screen.
A single viewer besides him.
Jack felt a thrill surge through him and clicked the thumbs-up icon, making
himself the second person to have done so. He watched amazed as Joey and Alys moved
like crowd-surfers along a mass of the dead. They seemed completely calm, so at ease as
they slipped through and over a swarm of the Ringed. Jack had never seen anything like
As the scene progressed, it was suddenly cut with footage from earlier in the day.
The pair had battled hundreds of the dead in that same clearing, Joey with an injured
foot in a tree firing arrows, and Alys a whirling, kicking and stabbing demon with her
twin Sai. The images were astounding and contrasted so sharply with the serenity of the
previous footage that Jack felt a prickle all over his skin.
He watched Joey and Alys’ Survivor ratings rocket from around ten thousand
straight to positions two and one, respectively. Realisation suddenly made him jerk in
his seat. He motioned at the screen and watched as his viewer rating appeared. Last
night he’d been somewhere close to the ten-million region. A respectable position for
someone in Kent. The total viewing figures worldwide for dEaDINBURGH were at
around four billion.
Due to his early support for Joey, and lifelong support of Jock, whom he’d voted
for and thumbed-up hundreds of times, maybe thousands, in his lifetime, Jack’s viewer
rating would receive a boost. Factor in his support of Alys by proxy of being a Jennifer
Shephard supporter, and combined with this morning’s early acknowledgement of both
the live-feed and the highlights package, and Jack’s viewer rating should be at an all-
time high, perhaps in the top one million.
Jack blinked in disbelief as he looked at the numbers.
His rating had been propelled into the Top 500, worldwide. Number 1 in Europe.
His Holo-Screen suddenly lit up with emails, messages and invitations regarding
interviews, expert analysis and insights he might be happy to offer. He was being lined
up for a series of appearances across some of the biggest shows on the network and a
clutch of major blogs and newsfeeds. Hell, a news-crew were on their way to his
apartment at that very moment.
Messages of congratulations from his network-family scrolled across his screen.
In an instant he’d gone from being another nobody – an above-average fan who spent a
little too much time watching the most-watched Holo-Programme on the planet and one
of those guys who haunted the thousands of fan sites and pages looking for insights and
extra-footage – to the hottest viewer-consultant in Europe.
Jack’s eyes glazed as he considered the possibilities. He’d always known that he
was someone special. Always felt that he was destined for something better than his
current station in life. Something more important. His great-grandmother had been an
exceptional woman, the first woman to become a true world leader. His own father,
Mark, was a world-famous author. Sure, Dad had ridden the coat-tails of his
grandmother too, but his books continued to sell well years since the old lady’s death.
Jack conjured up an image of his father, Mark, with his arm around him,
congratulating his son, expressing his pride. He watched his fiction-writing father and
himself plan interviews and write opinion pieces together. He teared-up as an image of
himself spoke to an audience of billions whilst his father stood at his side, beaming with
This was it. Finally.
Jack glanced down quickly at his mostly-naked wet body, edges of the towel
barely meeting around and under his belly. He gave a curt, decisive nod, to himself. Time
to get sorted. The first thing I’ll do is get that liposuction and skin removal. And my teeth.
Get my teeth fixed. Pectoral implants. The UKBC will pay for everything, they always do for
With the kudos and the money that’d be coming his way, it was time to get
Rising from his seat, he stopped for a second, lifted his right thigh a little and
expelled a cloud of gas before heading to his wardrobe. Drying off, he pulled on a pair of
clean sweatpants, figuring that he’d aim the Holo-Camera from the waist up. Best to be
Jack then pulled on an old dEaDINBURGH T-shirt his dad had given him on his
thirtieth birthday, with an image of Jock in full Plague-doctor outfit on the front. It felt a
little tight, but also felt familiar.
Striding back through to take his seat, he flicked open the Comm for his first
interview with an American news network, allowing himself to enjoy a moment of
satisfaction at finding his rightful place.
Jack Thatcher smiled warmly and connected his call.
End of excerpt
This excerpt comes from dEaDINBURGH: Alliances (Din Eidyn Corpus 2) by Mark Wilson.
So here’s the thing. I’m a huge fan of the vampire chronicles. Vampire Lestat, Queen of the Damned, Tale of the Body Thief, Memnoch; Blood and Gold, Pandora, Vittoria; God I love them and have read each several times over.
Then Ms Rice chucked her Mayfair people at the chronicles and fucking ruined them.
I was hoping for a return to the old chronicles, y’know when reading about these characters truly was like visiting an old friend.
Prince lestat is simply a journey along with an author as she disappears firmly and irreversibly up her own arse in a storm of over-descriptive, self-aware and self-impressed navel-gazing wankery.
Utter pish. So disappointed.
I’ve an image of a hirsute idiot-savant drooling down his chin and laughing as he watches his imaginary pals act out his fantasies in his minds-eye whilst his clumsy, hair-covered fingers work a chunky crayon describing their humiliation.
Och, they keep him happy enough, this hairy, sausage-fingered, piss-panted genius. His guardians throw him regular snacks (could do with cutting back on the burgers) and lavish praise on him for each dirty new jewel he unleashes.
The follow-up to the refreshingly-irreverent Paul Cart is a Dead Man is another magic bullet from the prolific Rain-Man Bracha.
A normal writer, with a fully-functioning set of senses would stick with what worked in the first Dead Man book. He’d reuse the wonderfully creative and engaging characters who propelled us through the dirty satire of Bracha’s dystopian New Britain and we’d be happy to play wingman on the trip.
Rather than stick to the plan, Bracha throws the least likeable character from the first book, Ben Turner, front and centre, accompanied by his wonderful new creation, Nat Sweeney.
Ben Turner not only continues the excitement and inventiveness of Paul Carter but builds on, and surpasses its predecessor.
The pace is relentless and the plot marvellously, tightly-chaotic.
Yes, Bracha is kept in a small room, walls covered in Kim Kardashian and Bungle from Rainbow wallpaper splashed with the products of his self-abuse, but he’s happy, well-fed and by God he’s been busy.
Throughout dEaDINBURGH: Book 2 I’ve placed interludes, following the development of Stephanie, Alys Shephard’s cousin, and how she deals with the vents of Book 1. In this scene, Steph- after months of hard combat and survival training with her aunt- has decided to leave The Gardens.
*The following excerpt is pre-edit and contains Book 1 Spoilers*
This is how it feels to be Stephanie.
My cousin, Alys and my friend Joey MacLeod have returned from the south. They found no cure and almost killed the madman who took my eye. Almost….. Such a small, limiting word with such infinite potential. Alys, tired from her journey and debriefing, is asleep in another tent. Joey went to seek help from a friend. Lying surrounded by dozens of strong, highly trained women I’ve known my whole life, I’ve never felt so desperately separate. But I feel good too.
I feel alert, clear.
My legs are swift and strong as I slip silently from my tent. My mother lies sleeping soundlessly, confident in the security of her home, The Gardens. These delusions of contentment she taught me, that made me so weak. I’m done with them.
I crouch in the darkness of the early winter hours. Closing my eye, I increase my awareness of every little sound in The Gardens. Joey taught me to do this.
Focus on one sense at a time, close off the others and the one you need amplifies the world. I’ll never have the innate skill Joey has. He forged his senses over a decade and a half living in the infinite blackness of Mary King’s Close. I do well enough though.
I listen to the guards patrol their regular routes around the fences and gates. The rattle of the East gate tells me where Magda is. A crunch at the bottom of the North slope gives Helen away. Five other Ranger Guards broadcast their presence to me. I open my eyes and move silently on the balls of my feet, dancing between their sounds in the arms of the winter wind. Slipping through a gap between Helen and Samantha, I spider-crawl, low and quietly, my strong core muscles flexing and stretching, keeping me tight and able to stop on a hair if needed.
As I wait for two Rangers to pass by ten feet below me on the grassy slope, I smile a fraction of a smile, allowing myself to enjoy my hard-earned skills. I close my eye one more time, checking for trace movement or any guards I’ve missed.
I’m entirely certain and infinitely confident in my assessment and use the three seconds I have to vault silently over the spiked iron fences, landing cat-like on Princes Street.
On the street I say a silent prayer of thanks that The Ringed are almost entirely absent, having been drawn North by a metallic giant collapsing. I feel, smooth, in control, powerful and strong, but I need more. More than I can have here.
End of Excerpt
* dEaDINBURGH: Vantage (Din Eidyn Corpus Book 1) is also available now on Kindle and as a paperback.
Undercover by Gerard Brennan.
I’m not a crime-thriller sort of reader and find them to be generally fairly formulaic; but having devoured Gerard Brennan’s ‘Wee Rockets’ and ‘Wee Danny’ back to back, I picked up Undercover, confident that Brennan’s writing would see me through.
Pacey, smart and entirely driven by Brennan’s skilful narrative style and insightful characterisation, Undercover has more heart than a butcher’s window and the makings of a great series of novels in its main Character, Cormac Kelly.
Harbouring none of the clichéd mannerisms, foibles or ghosts of his pulp-noir peers, Kelly (whilst engaging and very much the focus of the story) is used (wisely) sparingly at times by Brenan, who carefully switches narrative perspective and allows his story’s ‘victims’ to come to the fore. This allows the potentially minor characters to show all their own strengths and weaknesses and truly affect the outcome of the relentless tale. Each is given time to develop and show their courage and cowardice, fears and strengths; and drive Kelly through the narrative.
Lydia, Rory, and young Mattie are all given central roles in the story and fully-fleshed characters. The ‘supporting cast’ are very much driving Kelly through their world, rather than being utilized as mechanisms for placing Kelly in various perils. I found this refreshing.
I’m a convert to Brennan’s style of crime novel and can’t recommend this book highly enough.
Undercover is published by Blasted Heath.