Book Review – The Heroes

The Heroes – Joe Abercrombie


5 Stars out of 5


This book is f******g awesome!

The Heroes is one of those books that changed me. For the better, or for the worse, I’m not sure yet.
When I first picked this book up I was initially drawn to the cover – great artwork!

I began to read it in bed, on my phone, with white text on a black screen. This was for the express reason I wanted as little light as possible so I could fall asleep quickly.

Yeah, that didn’t work out! Within minutes I was bolt upright, light on, and disgusted.

Disgusted by the language. It was, it was, it was f******g awesome. I’m Irish, swearing is like Mother’s milk to us, we get our first dose early in life.

Now when I say it changed me, I mean that I had never before read a book that was so unapologetically real. As a writer myself, I was always brought up to believe that crude language would age, and would limit your book. Well, I think The Heroes takes these rules, and s***s all over them.

Now, we start this book with Curnden Craw, a Northman. We meet this secretly cowardly battler as he fumbles his way up a steep, grassy hillside in the Valley of Osrung. He’s making his way to the top where he will find an ancient ring of stones inhabited by other Northmen. Only these Northmen fight for the Union, which is South. Simple. Craw fights his way up the hill past the awesomely phrased ‘bullying wind’, and so begins the tug of war for this simple hill in the North.

The premise is so crushingly simple it hurts my tiny little mind. Two sides, three days, lots of bastards, they win some, they lose some. But what happens in the midst of all this swearing and sharp metal, is that we see Abercrombie weave a tapestry rich in characters so gleefully flawed, that it’s hard to care what happens to them one way or another, because no matter what happens to them, it’s bloody (BLOODY) entertaining. I take that back for Craw, I really gave a damn about him.

We meet some real dicks in this book. Prince Calder – the superbly realised Cock of the North. He’s such an amusing character that I snorted with laughter so loud at his first verbal assault of Broad Tenways, that I woke my wife. Needless to say, I didn’t explain in full florid detail Prince Calder’s choice words. He’s a prick, but you’ll love him.

There is also Bremer dan Gorst. A self-loathing, shrill voiced human-tank. I’ve read this book several times, and every time, I find myself liking Gorst less and less. This is brilliant as he is complex, layered, sympathetic and frankly terrifying. Not one to get stuck in a lift with.

Black Dow, the ‘King of the North’, a man so evil he’s killed ‘more men than winter’, is again, an evil bastard, yet I found myself quite amused by him, so good is the dialogue. His hand gestures made me laugh aloud aplenty also.

There is a supporting cast full of some of the most memorable and amusing characters about: Caul Shivers (actually, he’s the one you don’t want to be in a lift with), Whirrun of Bligh (wielder of the father of swords and inventor of the cheese trap), Wonderful, Beck (Red Beck to you), and my personal favourites, Corporal Tunny, and the ruthless pairing of comic gold that is Deep and Shallow.

If salty language does not offend you (let’s face it, if it did, you’d have stopped reading a while ago), and you are not queasy at the rendering of blood on a page, then this my friend, is the book for you!

Abercrombie stands a simple premise of a war of attrition on the shoulders of outstanding characterisation, heart-pounding real action, and dialogue that will have you s******g with laughter. You probably wont give a flying s**t for the lives for most of the cast though, they are all so corrupted that any potential demise is probably deserved, and let’s face it, they’ll probably do it in manner so blackly funny it will be worth it.

5 Stars is the least it deserves. Get the Audio book too – Steven Pacey was born to read The Heroes – he masters every character and gets the darkly comic tone perfectly.

Read this book. Not tomorrow, today.


Book Review – Blood Song

Blood Song – Raven’s Shadow Book 1

5 Stars out of 5 – Bloody Awesome


Bleak. Foreboding. Breathless.BS.JPG

I’ve read, listened to, read again, and re-listened to this book. It is excellent. I could just end my review there, and hells, you should read it, but I’ll go on…

When I started to read Blood Song for the first time, I was initially a little put off by the introduction. It features the initial sequence of an exchange between the lead, Vaelin and the Imperial Chronicler, Vernier. I think, perhaps, I was just not prepared to emotionally invest in a historian as the principle lead. “Hissboo”, you say, “what of Indiana Jones?” Technically, he was an archaeologist.

I’ve been reading fantasy for the best part of twenty-five years, and so, I’ve read a lot of good, bad, and ugly. What really defines a quality book, in my opinion, is how much do I care for the characters.

In Blood Song, we are treated to outstanding cast of well realised characters, and some fantastic, original plot work to boot. After an initial way-laying by Vernier (he is well worth his place), we are introduced to a sullen young boy, ‘abandoned’ as he sees it, to a militaristic institution by his famous warlord Father. Amidst the cold, cruel and frankly brutal college-for-killers, our lead gradually finds his fortitude, friends, ferocity, and female interest. It is in this journey to manhood that Ryan fantastically weaves a story rich in characters and mystic (and threat, oh so importantly, threat) that readers cannot help but become deeply invested in the characters. And I mean all of them. There are poor bedraggled souls amongst his tight-knit group of comrades that may (or may not – no spoilers here) make it back from the various tests of The Order. It is testament to great writing that we end up caring for these bit part players.

The landscape of the world is vivid: the description of ghostly woodlands, cold, briny rivers, and isolated mountainous lands is superb, and they really help to bring the dark and foreboding plot to life. You can almost smell the mossy, rotting woodland of the Urlish as young Vaelin struggles through his Test of the Wild.

The threats arising from the manipulations of the King, Janus, and the Void, as well as the fractious relationships between the six orders, keep the tension and unease bubbling along nicely. All the while you are wondering, “why is Vaelin sat on a ship, in chains, with a historian? And who or what is ‘The Hope’?”

I have not, for a long time, felt so connected to characters. Not since in David Eddings’ awesome The Elenium Trilogy, have I been so worried about the well-being of the cast! Anthony Ryan manages to weave a fantastic, rip-roaring story amidst the growth of characters who’s moral and physical constitution you will be breathlessly concerned for.

Absolutely worthy of 5 stars.

And if you haven’t already, check out the Audio Book version – Steven Brand’s narration is moody, gritty, and brings the bleak excellence of the book to life.

Book Review – Night Falls on Ardnamurchan

Goodreads review


“Night Falls on Ardnamurchan: The Twilight of a Crofting Family”
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is truly a hidden gem of Scottish writing. The poet, Alasdair Maclean, writes with such emotion and description that it almost feels like music rather than a deep, personal story. Ardnamurchan is the most Westerly point in mainland Britain. Located in Scotland, about halfway up and all the way West, it is a stunningly beautiful, remote, and wild place. I picked up this book at the Ardnamurchan lighthouse shop when spending a week near the little township of Portuairk, near Sanna Bay. It was early June, and the weather was stunning. I read this little book on Sanna Bay, in the dunes, along the cliffs and whilst bobbing in the sea on my packraft.

Portuairk Sunset.JPG

Maclean describes the history of Ardnamurchan, the people, and the way of life as a crofter living in such a remote and isolated place. As an accomplished (though little known) poet, Maclean delivers writing that will make you laugh out loud, and even in places, bring a tear to your eye.

Ardnamurchan is a part of the world everyone should visit, and they should read this book when they are there! You will be intoxicated by them both, and afterwards, as you walk the streets in whatever urban landscape you occupy, you will not help but smell the summer honeysuckle, hear the crash of the Sanna waves, or smell the briny air.

A truly beautiful, personal, and educating read.

Author Interview

Well, this is awkward…

So, I’ve just published Red Season Rising through Smashwords, making it available through iBooks, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble. As part of the process, there is an ‘interview’ process designed to allow readers to get to know the author. So, without further preamble, here is the result of the awkward self ‘interview’ from Smashwords!

Interview with Dominick Murray

When did you first start writing?
I first started writing in Primary school. I guess I would have been about six or seven years old. I used to try and replicate little story books my Father would make for my older brother involving tanks in World War II. The first time I really ‘got the bug’ of creative writing would have been when I was about nine years old, when I entered story competitions under various obscure themes such as: ‘If stones could speak’; and, ‘The right to hope.’ I would normally write about some medieval occasion, such as Vikings raiding monasteries in Ireland, or, character studies set during the troubles in Northern Ireland.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
The necessity to write and be read. I have always dreamed of being a writer, and have been working to become a better writer for many years. Initially, I would always have felt that I could only feel validation by seeing my work published via traditional means, however, the market growth for Indies in recent years has been phenomenal and very exciting. I love the idea of having creative control, and although there is much more work to do in self-promotion, etc., it is still very rewarding to be published. I’m getting feedback from readers every day now, and it is a lovely feeling. Much of my understanding of the Indie publishing scene can be attributed to the excellent podcasts and books out at the moment! If anyone is thinking about it, check out The Creative Penn and Self Publishing Podcast!
What’s the story behind your latest book?

The story behind my latest book, on a meta level, is about revenge and redemption.

The element of revenge is at a high level, between nations, and between Gods. The element of redemption deals largely with the principle POV character, Kalfinar, and his journey towards undoing all the wrongs of his recent life on a personal and spiritual level.

What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The greatest joy of writing must be the feeling when a plot problem is finally solved (normally when I’m in the shower, or driving). I also love the moments when I’m in the flow to such an extent that time just slips by and the word count grows and grows. Also, amongst the greatest joy for me is battle scenes, or other heavily emotional scenes. I tend to turn off (most of) the lights, put on some suitably themed music (Last of the Mohicans soundtrack for battles) and tap away at the keyboard!
Who are your favorite authors?
As a child I loved Rosemary Sutcliff, and as a young teenager I found my way toward Tolkien. Following the entire consumption of J.R.R.’s work, I moved on to David Eddings and Raymond E.Feist, all of which I loved, and still love. In more recent years I have read a lot of other fantastic novels, but for me the stand out work of late has to belong to Joe Abercrombie and Anthony Ryan.
What are you working on next?

I’m currently working on the second instalment of the Red Season Series. I intend to plot this out by the start of October, after which I will be targeting approximately 5,000 words a week until April. Following the achievement of the target word count (on time), there will be approximately 2 month of ‘post-production’ and then finally publishing in June 2017.

This is obviously my principle project, however I will also be working on a shorter piece, of a more literary nature. It’s not one to hold the breath over!

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
When I’m not writing I am more than likely working in my ‘day job’ (in the Renewable Energy sector). Outside of writing and work, I enjoy spending time with my wife and dog, ideally in the remote West Coast of Scotland. I love sea kayaking and canoeing, hill walking and wood work. Keeping fit is a passion, but largely restricted by a) persistent and niggling injuries, and b) lacking the motivation to get up from the laptop to haul my creaking carcass out for a run.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
This is going to sound terrible, but a good cover helps! The saying ‘never judge a book by its cover’ is a nonsense! It helps to have a good set of reviews and of course, the chance to sample the first few chapters helps.
What is your writing process?

I try and write from 19:00-21:00 most nights, normally aiming for a minimum target of 1,000 words.

I find that I am much more productive if I have at least an outline scene structure to work from, and so it is important to do some work at this before starting a story. I have done plenty of ‘pantsing’ before, and it can be a slow, painful process. Sometimes it is incredible, but you always run the risk of killing a character you didn’t mean to…

How do you approach cover design?
I think I’ve got a reasonable eye for design, however, I do not have the tools to realise the vision I may have. I tend to prepare and outline of what I’m looking for, generally showing covers I like to the designer I’m working with and discussing the mood and themes of the book.
Describe your desk

An absolute abomination.

A writer needs a tidy desk to work at. Currently, I’m writing at the kitchen table…

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Northern Ireland. I spent a lot of time around ancient monuments and areas in Ireland associated with Myths and Legends. I feel this childhood left me no option but to get into Mythology and Fantasy!
What do your fans mean to you?
I’m only really starting out as an author, with Red Season Rising being my first published work. At this point, I would think I don’t have too many fans! The readers who have contacted me to date, however, have been so encouraging and full of excellent feedback. It is always nice to get feedback, and the single greatest fuel to keep on writing is the encouragement of those who have read and enjoyed what nonsense has tumbled from my mind onto the page.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
The dog nudging me to take him for a walk is all the inspiration I need!