Oct 28, 2017

A Column Of Fire - Book Review

"We hanged him in front of Kingsbridge Cathedral. It is the usual place for executions. After all, if you can't kill a man in front of God's face you probably shouldn't kill him at all...

I was responsible for his death...

He was the last of many men I sent to hell, but he made me think of the first..." - Ned Willard, a spy in Elizabethan court.

I have read "The Pillars of the Earth" but not the second Kingsbridge series "World Without End" and this book "A Column Of Fire" the third series can be read as a standalone novel. 

What more drama can one need as the author Ken Follett has chosen turbulent 16th century England. The novel touches the rise of legendary Elizabeth Tudor, how she became the Queen and how she used the professional secret service to hold to her throne till her death. With the actual historical characters the author have used his imagination to create most lovable and most hate able fictional characters. I like to write about the 5 most important characters.

1. Ned Willard

A Kingsbridge resident and son of Alice who lost her fortune by the intervention of Catholic church. Then he witness the burning of a Protestant believer in Kingsbridge which made him emotional to choose Elizabeth, she promising religious tolerance. Ned wanted his country to be a place where Catholics and Protestants don't kill each other and for that he thought that Elizabeth Tudor should ascend the throne. A significant reason for Ned to join Elizabeth Tudor side first as an assistant to his patron Sir William Cecil and then to the spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham.

His life saw four essential women one his mother Alice, 2nd his lover Margery, 3rd his wife Sylvie Palot and 4th Queen Elizabeth. Unfortunately all his loved women predeceased him. Each character on their own, influences his life and his progress which we can grasp from the novel. And finally the author has made a question did Elizabeth was tolerant to Catholics? did she achieved what Ned thought off?

2. Sylvie Palot

Daughter of Giles Palot a printer in France. They belong to Protestant church and France Government killed Protestants without mercy. They secretly sell Protestant bibles. Sylvie falls in love with Pierre Aumande (an illegitimate son of Guise family) unknown to her that Pierre is spy sent by Francois the duke of Guise to know the whereabouts of protestants. On the day of their marriage Pierre betrays Sylvie's family, she loses her father and her fortune. Then she and her mother lives in a pathetic condition. I had to shed tears when I read that she was not having any money to buy food and she was tempted to become a whore. Penury drives her to that extent but God intervenes and saves her from the sin. She then becomes a seller of papers and ink in France. But her religious faith makes her to sell bibles. Sylvie a smart and daring girl she goes outside her country and orders bibles then she imports them into her country with necessary bribe. Her life makes a turn when she meets Ned Willard, knowing his past life she marries him. They make a great pair, unfortunately she cannot bear children and dies at the hands of Rollo, Margery's brother.

3. Margery

A girl from Fitzgerald household who loves Ned but political intervention makes her to marry Bart, son of Earl of Shiring. Later her father in law rapes her and she gets pregnant unknown to Bart. Even though she is Catholic she does not like her country to be with war with one another. During Ned's visits to Kingsbridge Margery loses her control and they make love. Again she becomes pregnant and bears a son resembling Ned. With her husband Bart she gives asylum to many Catholic priest sent by his brother Rollo who is also known as Jean Langlias a conspirator along with France and Spain help tires to assassinate Elizabeth. After Bart's death she marries her love of her life Ned. In later years she has to choose the side did she made a good choice? her decision becomes the pivotal point of the novel.

4. Pierre Aumande

The most loathsome character we will ever despise in A Column Of Fire. Born as an illegitimate he was not accepted by Guise family. He lives by deceiving others until he meets duke of Guise Francois. He asks him to penetrate the protestant group and get the address of the persons. Pierre finishes the task but he did not gets the due acknowledgement. After the death of Francois, Pierre acts fast and becomes the advisor to Henri, son of Francois Guise. His progress is halted by his marriage with a maid. Later he kills her. The author has picked up the interpretation of Jean-Louis Bourgeon, that the Guise family was behind the St. Bartholomew massacre. And Ken Follett cleverly uses Pierre and Henri characters in the massacre. Pierre does all the sins in name of God, at the end he gets the needed punishment.

5. Rollo Fitzgerald

Very cunning and intelligent antagonist of the novel, his involvement with Pierre increases the pace of the novel. A staunch catholic believer who despises Elizabeth and Ned Willard. The person who sacrifices his life for the cause and becomes Jean Langlias the most wanted criminal in England. He is the reason for not allowing Margery to marry Ned, conspires with Pierre to eliminate Queen Elizabeth, becomes the secret messenger for Mary Queen of Scots when she is in imprisoned in a castle, later a reason to her death, killing Sylvie Palot, burning protestants in Kingsbridge, cheating Alice, along with catholic church and the sin goes on. His final mission is to kill King James I in the parliament. Did he succeeded in his plan? The most elusive man hunted for many years and how he was caught are in the remaining pages of the story.

There are many more characters which adds pace to the story. One such is Ebrima Dabo first a farmer in West Africa, then a soldier, a prisoner of war, a slave in Seville, a soldier again in the Netherlands and at last a rich Antwerp iron maker.

I liked the vivid description given by the author on St. Bartholomew's day massacre, the conquest of Spanish Armada and the execution of Mary Queen of Scots. I also read the article about the cover design, the artist using the images of stacking burnt out papers and the symbol of Tudor in the center emphasizing the theme of the novel.

As I mentioned already what more drama is needed for the historical fiction buffs like me. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. A big thanks to Ken Follett for making me  to read, rejoice and live with the 16th Century characters for the past one month.

Oct 20, 2017

Review: Ivan the Terrible: A Life From Beginning to End

Ivan the Terrible: A Life From Beginning to End Ivan the Terrible: A Life From Beginning to End by Hourly History
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is very handy to know about Ivan IV also known as Ivan the Terrible. Ivan's grand father managed to free Russia from the Mongol horde. When Ivan was 3 years old he became the Grand Prince of Moscow.

Though he became the King at very young age, the country was ruled his regents. He was made to starve by them. After attaining the rightful age Ivan punished those who tortured him.

Much information is provided how Ivan came to known as Ivan the Terrible.

A good book recommended for history buffs.

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Oct 9, 2017

Review: Mayan Civilization: A History From Beginning to End

Mayan Civilization: A History From Beginning to End Mayan Civilization: A History From Beginning to End by Hourly History
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Less information about the Maya's. The book is good at getting basics about the birth of this civilization. Not much is given about the kings also.

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Oct 3, 2017

Fallen Eagle - Book Review

First of all I have to thank Thistle publishing and Net Galley for giving me a copy to read and review this superb book written by Robin Cross. 

The book has an exhaustive account about the last days of the Third Reich. From the reading we can understand how much the author has took pain in collecting the relevant information of the Second World War, the heroes & zeros of the war, types of war machines used and in depth detail to the Corps level. 

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress (daylight bombing) picture comment from Wikipedia, B-17 Flying Fortresses from the 398th Bombardment Group fly a bombing run to Neumunster, Germany, on April 13, 1945, less than one month before the German surrender on May 8

The author's description about Hitlers status is riveting "In the summer of 1942, Hitler had sat at the centre of a vast communications web stretching from the Atlantic coast to the Caucasus. Now his links with the outside world had dwindled to a switchboard of the size required to run a modest hotel, one radio transmitter, and one radiotelephone link with the OKW headquarters at Zossen, fifteen miles south of Berlin".

Avro Lancaster RAF bomber (most successful of the night bombers in World War II)

The author has cleverly placed journal entries, letters and documents, which gives an authenticated look but sometimes they might turn a bit odd and feels us to skip. I like to quote one account given by Janina Bauman, who had escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943 and was living on a farm when a German soldier was hiding in her farm.

…. Just before dusk I went out to fetch some wood. In the semi-dark shed, crammed with logs and tools, something stirred. I sensed a human presence. I pushed the door wide open to let more light. Only then did I notice a flap of field-grey military coat sticking out from the between two logs. Calmly, I locked the shed and ran back to the cottage. In the kitchen, Mrs.Pietrzyk, tired and worn after the restless night, was busy cooking. Gasping for breath, I told her what I had seen. But she was not surprised. She already knew. Staring full in my face with her ancient, all knowing eyes, she said, as if quoting from a holy book, 'Whoever comes under my roof seeking shelter, no matter who he is, no matter what he believe in, he will be safe with me'. In a flash I understood. Shocked, I watched her fill a tin bowl with hot dumplings and pour pork fat over it. 'Hold it child', she screeched in her usual way. "Take it to him'. As if mesmerized, I blindly obeyed and went back to the shed. It seemed as deserted as before, even the field-grey flap had disappeared. I stood benumbed, the hot dish burning my fingers and filling the air with a strong smell of food. There was a brief commotion behind the pile of logs and unkempt head suddenly popped out. I saw the pale face of the German, a boy rather than a man, staring at me in terror. He grabbed the steaming bowl from my hands and fell on the food with unspeakable greed. He was still trembling from hunger and fear. For a long while I watched him blankly. I felt no pity, no hatred, no joy. 

The author Robin Cross has given vivid account on the rivalry between Zhukov and Ivan Konev and how Stalin utilized their rivalry for his goal. 

Zhukov: In World War II he participated in multiple battles, ultimately commanding the 1st Belorussian Front in the Battle of Berlin, which resulted in the defeat of Nazi Germany, and the end of the War in Europe.

Ivan Konev : He was a Soviet military commander who led Red Army forces on the Eastern Front during World War II, retook much of Eastern Europe from occupation by the Axis Powers, and helped in the capture of Germany's capital, Berlin.

Cemetery Heidefriedhof in Dresden

A soul stirring account of the bombing of 7th largest city in Germany, Dresden, was provided in the book. The author has mentions the people behind the operation and ends that chapter with quotes from cemetery Heidefriedhof in Dresden:

"How many died? Who knows the count?; In your wounds one sees the ordeal; Of the nameless who in here were conflagrated; In the hellfire made by hands of man".

North American P-51 Mustang picture comment P-51D of 374th Fighter Squadron, with under wing drop tanks.

The book ends at 88% and the remaining 12% is about Appendix 1 Key Items of Weaponry, Appendix 2 Notes on Personalities (which is more important as some might find difficultly in finding who the person the author mentions about) and select Bibliography.  

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, with 500 pages this book is must for World War II enthusiasts.