Thursday, September 17, 2015

Book Review: The Shadow of the Norman Arrow

The adventure starts again with the next trip into history for twins Joe and Jemima, their best friend and neighbour Charlie, and their talking Tonkinese cat Max. The twins are determined to find their parents, who are not dead, as everyone assumes, but merely lost in the pages of history. With the help of their ancient book and a magic key to open it, the kids have had quite a few forays back into some of history’s most significant and dangerous moments. This adventure is no less hazardous but the kids are up to it and Max, who totally eschews danger, violence and in fact anything uncomfortable, is not going to let Jemima get into trouble without him by her side to rescue her. The kids live with their Uncle Richard, a scholarly man who really needs a girlfriend. Things have been developing in the romance department between Uncle Richard and Charlie’s mum Ellen. Their relationship has progressed to the point of a family holiday in Normandy, France. Any history buff who knows their dates will think of 1066, the Battle of Hastings, King Harold, William the Conqueror, and the Bayeux tapestry.  Well, that’s exactly what the kids thought and that’s where they went in The Shadow of the Norman Arrow.

This time, however, Max is prepared for any danger or feats of derring-do he might be required to perform. He insists on wearing his chain mail and horned helmet especially made for him by the blacksmith in Camelot on their last adventure (The Shadow of Camelot). Will they be welcomed by King Harold and his men or will they be considered Norman spies, especially since, when questioned, the young strangers and their weirdly dressed animal seem to know far too much about events taking place right there and then, and even about the king’s family members? Events unfold filled with the kind of stuff young readers will love. The kids enter a forest to kill a dragon and bring back its blood (renowned for magical properties) for King Harold. Instead they meet a nadder (that’s right, not an adder; a nadder) and some wonderful word play ensues. There are a few heart stopping moments and some very scary moments as the story unfolds. I enjoyed how the kids saw their home city changed into what it would have looked like so many centuries ago and also the names of places and how these had changed, although not so much as to be unrecognisable. Charlie really shines in this tale because of his interest in history, and sometimes being a swot or know-it-all is very useful.

Once again author Wendy Leighton-Porter infuses historical facts with realism and a sense of ‘now’ for young readers. History can be cruel and many times was, but she does not shy away from hardships, decisions, warfare, and the kinds of things we, as modern readers, only discover in the pages of a book. One wonders how things would have turned out if the other side had won, if something had turned the tide in an event, and the kids learn once more that one cannot tweak history to make any changes. The title of the book, The Shadow of the Norman Arrow, is significant in relation to the death of King Harold on the battlefield and I enjoyed that subtle reference. History comes alive under the author’s skilled pen and any young reader will be drawn right into the magicality of history populated by characters that are not dry as dust mentions or mere names in the pages of a boring book, but are real people with dreams and ambitions.
For anyone who has seen the Bayeux tapestry, they may or may not have noticed a strange heraldic looking beast among the characters featured; an animal actually, rather resembling Max wearing chain mail and a helmet …
Could that possibly be Max in the bottom left hand image?
If you’re looking for more adventures, then please visit The Quest Books, where Middle Grade authors Cheryl Carpinello, Wendy Leighton-Porter and I have teamed up to offer readers an array of exciting quests. Sign up for our monthly newsletter with exciting exclusive material and get your choice of any e-book on the site FREE!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Merlin the Magician: Real or Invented?


Said to be the image of Merlin: pic by Peter Herring
Research opens all sorts of doors into the past, and my research for The Search for the Stone of Excalibur uncovered some fascinating characters. One wonders if Merlin, the famous magician in the Arthurian legends, was a real person. Apparently, Merlin, like Arthur, has his roots in history.
He was born circa AD 400, the illegitimate son of a monastic royal princess of Dyfed. The lady’s father, however, King Meurig ap Maredydd ap Rhain, is not found in the traditional pedigrees of this kingdom and was probably a sub-king of the region bordering on Ceredigion. Merlin’s traditional biography casts him as a cambion: born of a mortal woman, sired by an incubus, the non-human wellspring from which he inherits his supernatural powers and abilities. The name of Merlin’s mother is not usually stated, but is given as Adhan in the oldest version of the Prose Brut (a mediaeval legendary and historical chronicle of England named after its first hero, Brutus, a descendent of Aeneas and the epic founder of Britain). The original story may have been invented to save his mother from the scandal which would have occurred had her liaison with one Morfyn Frych (the Freckled), a minor prince of the House of Coel, been made public knowledge.

Legend then tells us that after the Roman withdrawal from Britain and the usurpation of the throne from the rightful heirs, Vortigern was in flight from the Saxon attacks and went to Snowdonia, in Wales, in hopes of constructing a mountain fortress at Dinas Emrys where he might be safe. Unfortunately, the building kept collapsing and Vortigern's house wizards told him that a human sacrifice of a fatherless child would solve the problem. One small difficulty was that such children are rather hard to find. Fortunately for Vortigern's fortress, Merlin was known to have no human father and happened to be available.

Before the sacrifice could take place, Merlin used his great visionary powers and attributed the structural problem to a subterranean pool in which lived a red and a white dragon. The meaning of this, according to Merlin, was that the red dragon represented the Britons, and the white dragon, the Saxons. The dragons fought, with the white dragon having the best of it, at first, but then the red dragon drove the white one back. The meaning was clear. Merlin prophesied that Vortigern would be slain and followed on the throne by Ambrosius Aurelianus, then Uther, then a greater leader, Arthur. It would fall to him to push the Saxons back.

The dragons fighting: image courtesy of Wikipedia.
True to the prophecy, Vortigern was slain and Ambrosius took the throne. Later, Merlin appears to have inherited his grandfather’s little kingdom, but abandoned his lands in favour of the more mysterious life for which he has become so well known. After AD 460 British nobles were massacred at a peace conference, as a result of Saxon trickery. Ambrosius consulted Merlin about erecting a suitable memorial to them. Merlin, along with Uther, led an expedition to Ireland to procure the stones of the Chorea Gigantum, the Giant’s Ring. Merlin, by the use of his extraordinary powers, brought the stones back to a site, just west of Amesbury, and re-erected them around the mass grave of the British nobles. We now call this place Stonehenge.

Stonehenge: image courtesy of Wikipedia
After his death, Ambrosius was succeeded by his brother, Uther, who, during his pursuit of Gorlois and his beautiful wife, Ygraine, back to their lands in Cornwall, was aided by Merlin. As a result of Merlin’s powers of deception, Uther was transformed into the image of Gorlois. He entered their castle and managed to fool Ygraine into thinking he was her husband. Ygraine conceived a child, Arthur. Gorlois, not knowing what was going on, went out to meet Uther in combat, but instead was slain by Uther’s troops.

After Arthur’s birth, Merlin became the young boy’s tutor, while he grew up with his foster-father, Sir Ector (alias Cynyr Ceinfarfog (the Fair Bearded)). In the defining moment of Arthur’s career, Merlin arranged for the sword-in-the-stone contest by which Arthur became king. Later, the magician met the mystic Lady of the Lake at the Fountain of Barenton (in Brittany, France) and persuaded her to present the king with the magical sword Excalibur.
In the 12th Century romances, Merlin is the creator of the Round Table, and is closely involved in aiding and directing the events of the king and kingdom of Camelot. He is pictured by Geoffrey of Monmouth at the end of Arthur’s life accompanying the wounded Arthur to the Isle of Avalon for the healing of his wounds. Others tell how having fallen deeply in love with the Lady of the Lake, Merlin agreed to teach her all his mystical powers. She became so powerful that her magical skills outshone even Merlin’s abilities. Determined not to be enslaved by him, she imprisoned the old man in a glass tower, a cave, or similarly suitable prison. Thus his absence from the Battle of Camlann was ultimately responsible for Arthur’s demise.

If you’re looking for more adventures, then please visit The Quest Books, where Middle Grade authors Cheryl Carpinello, Wendy Leighton-Porter and I have teamed up to offer readers an array of exciting quests. Sign up for our monthly newsletter with exciting exclusive material and get your choice of any e-book on the site FREE!


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Book Review: Frankie Dupont and the Mystery of Enderby Manor

Meet Frankie Dupont, budding detective in Frankie Dupont and The Mystery of Enderby Manor by children’s author Julie Anne Grasso. The mystery surrounding Enderby Manor starts right away with the disappearance of budding detective Frankie Dupont’s cousin Kat. In fact it all began with Kat’s abundance of pet geckos. The last straw was when Kat’s dad found a gecko in his cereal. He put his foot down and the family checked into Enderby Manor while their home was degeckoed. That was when Kat disappeared from her room, her parents went into hysterics, and the mystery began. It’s up to her cousin Frankie, budding detective, to solve the case. Unfortunately his efforts are hampered by the bumbling Inspector Cluesome, who treats Frankie like a kid. Undeterred, Frankie continues his investigations, heeding his dad’s advice: follow the evidence trail and go with his instincts.
The plot thickens as Frankie meets a cast of characters who are very suspicious in their activities and seem to be hiding something. Nevertheless, Frankie presses on, using his detective devices such as an Evidence Sampler, Fingerprint Fixing Spray, and a Fingerprint Diagnostic Device. But creepy Enderby Manor itself (the perfect setting for a mystery) doesn’t make things any easier. Frankie had never heard of it and it doesn’t show up on satellite images! Does it even exist, and if not, where could Kat be? The clues are in Enderby Manor’s past and the death of its owner years ago, but can Frankie solve the mystery and find Kat before he runs out of time? Can Frankie solve the world’s first inter-dimensional mystery?
Young readers and fledgling detectives will absolutely adore this mystery. Frankie is clever, scientifically minded, and undeterred by Inspector Cluesome’s efforts to put him down. The supporting characters are hilarious and memorable: the chef Simon le Mont and his sous-chef, the parrot Igor who is full of rude comments; receptionist Madame Mercure, who is more interested in her manicure and make-up than a missing guest; and gardener Gerome Genome a … well … garden gnome! I really loved the black and white illustrations by David Blackwell and Samantha Yallope. They added to reader enjoyment and are perfect to help a young reader get immersed in Frankie’s activities and the story. The science part of the investigation will also appeal to kids, especially the wild and weird things that might happen … with Kat’s fate teetering in the balance. What a wonderful, action packed, five-star adventure sure to appeal to girls and boys. This is Book One in the series so be sure to follow Frankie’s future adventures.
Visit Julie’s site for the latest news on her book titles and social media details.