Imperial Fire by Robert Lyndon
|Imperial Fire by Robert Lyndon|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: More action-packed than his first novel and more accomplished than most hist fict writers, Robert Lyndon brings us thrills and the authentic dangers of an expedition to 11th century China plus the return of Vallon the Frank. 'Epic!' yells the book blurb and it's not wrong.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 528||Date: January 2014|
Nine years after his return from the perilous trek to the Middle East, Frankish mercenary Vallon is now a general in the Byzantine army. He leads the 'Outlanders', a Babel of a mercenary force from every corner of the known world fighting those threatening the Empire. However, The Emperor has plans for them. On hearing about the Hawk Quest expedition, the Emperor wants to send Vallon and his men on a more challenging trip: to bring a new wonder weapon back from far off China. The good news is that this 'fire drug' is more destructive than anything they already have. The bad news is that they could be away for at least 3 years and that Lucas, a young stranger accompanying them, has a secret that could prove as dangerous as the journey.
Historian and bird of prey enthusiast Robert Lyndon has once again translated his passion into a novel. Only this time there's even more action than in his acclaimed debut as he gives the surviving cast another outing.
The not-so-hard-boiled-as-first-sight Vallon, the scholarly (and more confident than was) Hero, Englishman Wayland and Saxon Wulfstan struggle with internal forces as much as marauding strangers. (In Hero's case, very internal forces.) However we aren't limited to old faces; Robert widens the clique to introduce us to new, younger blood. Lucas steals the focus regularly (with good reason) as his secret and adversarial relationship with Aiken brings the tension to boiling point.
In fact, figuratively, tension is this novel's middle name. Although the great historical facts are as evident as in Robert's last book, the writing seems tighter and the action becomes a roller coaster we can't get off, even if we wanted to (which I didn't!). There seems little chance to catch our breath as, in places, one breath-taking escapade follows the next. By the way, have tissues handy - not everyone makes it to the last page.
Bird of prey fans will be happy to know that Wayland the hawker isn't without a bird on his hand for long (feathered or otherwise). Whereas those who enjoy Tolkien length (and very memorable) cast lists will revel in the various people our travellers collect and discard along the way. Speaking personally, I especially enjoyed Hauken the Viking and Yonden the Buddhist monk. (Speaking of religion, there's also a fascinating Christian theory raised in passing too.)
Someone somewhere will accuse the novel of using women just to warm beds and cause trouble but for me that goes with the territory, timing and types of chap we encounter here. It doesn't feel like a misogynistic novel, just men banding together against insurmountable odds combined with their cultural/historic view of us females. Also I put down to modesty the fact that Vallon carried out a comprehensive discussion (including colloquialisms) in a language of which he claimed to have a poor grasp but, even if you're more cynical than me, it's not going to ruin anything for you.
By the way, this sequel works without having read Hawk Quest but it contains spoilers that you may regret knowing if you read them the wrong way round.
There is much talk of this author being another Bernard Cornwell and after the last book I'd have agreed. However as Imperial Fire crescendos into a climax more explosive than the Chinese weapon they seek, I get the feeling that Mr Lyndon is in a class of his own. You never know, this may even be the sort of book that Bernard Cornwell wishes he'd written.
I'd like to thank Sphere for providing us with a copy for review.
Further Reading: If you've enjoyed this, we definitely recommend Hawk Quest. If you've already read it and would like to delve further into Byzantium, perhaps try either The Sheen on the Silk by Anne Perry or The Empress by Meg Clothier.
You can read more book reviews or buy Imperial Fire by Robert Lyndon at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Imperial Fire by Robert Lyndon at Amazon.com.
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