Book Review: Kings & Queens of Great Britain: A Very Peculiar History

Book Review: Kings & Queens of Great Britain: A Very Peculiar History by Antony Mason

For about 12 centuries, the English have been ruled by monarchs, and eventually this form of government spread to all of the British Empire.  That’s a lot of history, and many kings and queens to take account of.  This small volume with cartoony illustrations gives the reader an overview of those people and what they did.

Kings & Queens of Great Britain: A Very Peculiar History

There’s a brief discussion of monarchs before the official first king of the majority of England, Alfred the Great, starting in 871 C.E.  This includes the legendary King Arthur who may or may not have been based on an actual person.  After that is a chronological listing of English kings and queens, with a paragraph or page for each, with chapters cutting away to the Scottish monarchs.  (The Irish kings do not get the same courtesy.)  With King James I & VI, the lines are consolidated, and after that they’re all British kings and queens.

This is very much a highlights-only history book, with only the most famous bits of each reign mentioned for most of the monarchs.  There are, however, frequent sidebars on such subjects as palaces, revolutions, jewels, the Magna Carta and mistresses.  The serious scholar of British history is unlikely to learn anything new.  The book finishes up with a glossary, timeline, and index to make it easier to find the particular monarch you’re looking for.  It’s current as of January 2015.

Due to some salacious subject matter, I’d rate this as suitable for senior high students on up.  (There’s also a lot of violence; many of these people left the throne via murder.)  This would make a nice gift for your Anglophilic friend or relative, or Game of Thrones fans who have somehow never read the history that show is loosely based on.



Manga Review: Vinland Saga, Book Two

Manga Review: Vinland Saga, Book Two by Makoto Yukimura

To recap for those of you who haven’t read the review of Book One, Vinland Saga is set in the early 12th Century, the time of the Vikings.  Our protagonist is Thorfinn, son of Thors, who serves in the war band of Askeladd.  Askeladd murdered Thors, and Thorfinn serves the wily warrior for the sole purpose of one day getting revenge in a fair duel.

Vinland Saga, Book Two

In this volume, the action shifts to the British Isles, and the war of King Sweyn Forkbeard against King Ethelred the Unready.  While Ethelred himself has fled, the city of London stands fast, largely due to the presence of Thorkell the Tall on their side.  Thorkell is a mighty man who hopes to perish in battle against a truly worthy foe, so that he might enter Valhalla with honor.  He switched sides to fight against the Northmen, because they were the tougher opponents!

Askeladd sends the relatively tiny lad Thorfinn in to kill Thorkell, and although it doesn’t work, Thorkell is impressed enough to want to fight Thorfinn again.  Sweyn decides to consolidate his rule over the rest of the country, and appoints his sickly son Canute (who’s the blond on the cover) to handle London’s siege.

Things don’t go as planned for just about everyone, and soon Askeladd’s band is in possession of Canute, and being chased by Thorkell’s warriors across the countryside.  Askeladd is forced to resort to one of the aces up his sleeve, a shocking secret from his past.

There’s a bonus story about Thorfinn’s sister Ylva dealing with the loss of her brother and father, and a chapter of “For Our Farewell Is Near”, about a samurai dying of illness .

There’s plenty of action and violence in this volume, and Askeladd’s idea of “mercy” is a cruel one by modern standards.  Some readers may also be turned off by the alcoholic priest who is not very good at explaining theology.  And probably the real Canute wasn’t that pretty.

However, it’s got good art, interesting characters and a setting that appeals to me, so I recommend this to fans of Viking stories, and students of English history.

Movie Review: Hammer of the Gods

Movie Review: Hammer of the Gods (2013)

It is the 8th Century C.E. and the Viking invaders are struggling with the Saxons in middle England.  King Bagsecg was given a slow but fatal wound in the last battle, so it’s time for him to choose a successor.    Prince Steinar is a good warrior, but has turned his back on religion of all kinds, including the Norse gods, since the loss of his mother.   Prince Harald is (comparatively speaking) a fop, and the youngest son Vali is kind of a wimp.    No, King Bagsecg decides it’s time to call back his oldest son, the long-exiled Hakan.  So he sends Steinar to fetch Hakan.

Hammer of the Gods

Steinar and a small band of warriors set out on this quest, though all signs are against the successful completion of this mission.   Each step of the journey brings them further into darkness and treachery.

This is a higher-budget film than the last one I reviewed, and a much slicker production.   This is not always a plus–Steinar and his main warrior companions are introduced with metallic “boss titles” which is a touch over the top.

The Vikings, protagonists though they may be, tend towards the ruthless end of the scale, as evidenced by an early scene where a “rescue the captive woman” scene goes seriously off-script.  Steinar’s struggle with his lack of faith amid the warring religions of the age are a large theme.  He no longer believes, but holds on to a charm of his mother’s.  (The film never comes down on one side or the other–everything in it could be explained naturally, but there are some odd coincidences.)

The movie is rated “R” in the US for bloody violence, lots of (non-period) foul language and female toplessness.  Trigger warnings: talk of rape, implied incest.

The main female characters seem to have been cast for the pretty rather than acting skills; most of the other actors manage fair to good.

There are strong resemblances to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness; the ending is rather different.

I would only recommend this to fans of violent movies with fairly strong stomachs.   I got it as a free rental from Redbox so got my money’s worth.

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