I've just found a really thorough review by Lesley Mason on The Bookbag. I think it's quite excellent, and she's homed in on what (to me) are all the important things, including the concept of 'belonging to' the army.
Here's the summary, but I'd recommend visiting the site anyway - there are some highly incisive reviews there, and I've just been drawn into reading a load more...
'A rip-roaring retelling of the Charge of the Light Brigade and the battles that went on before and after. Harry Ryder is a maverick cavalryman with no time for incompetent commanders, but his partners in war come from more obedient stock. Thoroughly enjoyable.'
I'm staggered and delighted to find another review of 'Honour and the Sword' coming out - and especially honoured because it's another on the bard's nest blog, which gave me such a great write-up for 'Into the Valley of Death' below. Fortunately the writer seems to like the Chevalier series too (phew!) and here's an extract just for my own pleasure:
'The novel has something of a British flavour despite being set in France, but that never bothered me, and the characters themselves are universal in their appeal. Each and every one of them feels real, not least André, even though we only ever see him through others’ eyes'
Someone's noticed 'Into the Valley of Death' is out in paperback! Robin Vrywrn-Pierce of getreading gives a quick rundown on both this and another Crimean novel appearing at the same time - 'The Scarlet Thief' by Paul Fraser Collard. Since Robin says both books are 'excellent wartime adventures with plenty of action', it definitely looks as if I should give 'The Scarlet Thief' a read.
Another review for 'Into the Valley of Death' - and I'm especially pleased that this one is by Penelope Wright on one of my own favourite sites for historical fiction - Tudor Book Reviews. Here's an extract:
'This exciting spy story woven into the fabric of the history of the Crimean Campaign was fascinating, kept me guessing and wanting more. Berridge used her research to make this a believable reason for many of the poor leadership decisions.'
Still more reviews coming in for 'Into the Valley of Death'. There's a lovely one on The Bard's Nest blog, which is well worth browsing if you haven't already found it.
Picking out a couple of the best bits (naturally):
'One of the strongest points of the novel for me was the characterisation of these five; all well-rounded, all individuals with their own unique narrative voices, and with such realistic inner lives that it’s impossible not to empathise with them... A superbly told tale of the Crimean War with a twist of mystery – I’ll be looking out for the next'
Reviews still coming in for Into the Valley of Death. The latest is from Simon Appleby at Bookgeeks, who has reviewed both the Chevalier books as well. Here are a couple of extracts:
'Berridge has adopted a bevy of characters from across the rank and file of the British army, and replicated the multi-perspective narrative deployed to such good effect in her previous books: there are two cavalrymen, one Guardsman and one Highlander. This approach permits her to work her characters in to all the places in which the action was hottest during the crossing of the Alma and the Battles of Balaklava and Inkerman, which neatly gives an all-round sense of the action, while also providing a fascinating cross-section of the British army’s institutional life.'
'Into the Valley of Death is a hugely pleasurable slice of military history, laced liberally with skullduggery and derring-do: characters are captured, take part in desperate, confused actions in the Crimean fog and plot and scheme to unmask the traitor...
The fact that this book is billed as ‘Harry Ryder 1′ on Amazon makes clear that Ryder, one of the cavalrymen central to this adventure, an ex-officer from the British Indian Army, will ride again. I really can’t wait!'
One of my real literary heroes, author M.C. Scott, has reviewed Into the Valley of Death on Amazon, Goodreads, and Historical Fiction Online. You can read the whole thing here, but I've cherrypicked some of the best bits because I like them so much:
'Harry is a bad-boy with a reason to be bad and his progress down and up the ranks, his humanity, his love of the men and the horses... his loathing of the officer class and his ability to talk himself out of trouble - or not - is the bright, shining jewel that runs through this book. Chevalier de Roland was a great creation. Harry Ryder is magnificent and you miss him at your loss.
Bottom line: If you like Sharpe, you'll love these. I'm not a great Sharpe fan, but I loved this anyway. One of the outstanding books of 2012, and one that should break through the genre barriers.'
There's also a very helpful and detailed review up on The Eloquent Page, which the author (who goes by the intriguing name of 'pablocheesecake') has also put up on Goodreads, Amazon, and Historical Fiction Online - along with a very generous five stars (phew). What I like best about this one is 'Pablo''s appreciation of character as well as the distinctions of society. Here are a couple of extracts:
'From the initial badly executed troop landings through to the ill-fated charge and its bloody aftermath, Berridge’s writing deftly captures the frenetic chaos of the entire Battle of Balaklava. During the build up there are numerous scenes where the tension is almost unbearable. I particularly enjoyed the moment where Harry and his comrades find themselves trapped in a ravine in the midst of a Mexican standoff with their opponents....
Berridge also manages to explore some insightful social commentary regarding the differences between the classes and their attitudes to the war. Some officers have an almost clinical approach to proceedings, while others consider the war little more than a game. Meanwhile, the regular soldiers are driven by much stronger bonds of friendship and loyalty to one another.'
I've had a good browse on this site, and there are some really excellent reviews there - definitely a cut above much of what we see in the blogosphere. It's definitely worth a
May 30th - Reviews still coming in on Into the Valley of Death!
A lovely one from the Falcata Times - though I'm not quite sure why I've suddenly become 'Alison'!
'The prose is sharp with a galloping pace and when added to Alison’s unique writing style and voice alongside wonderfully detailed research, give the reader a story that will stay with them for quite some time. All in this was a marvellous read all round and one that for me demonstrates that she is here to stay.'
It IS me he's talking about - honest! You can see the whole review here.
May 24th - More reviews for Into the Valley of Death!
An interview with review by Melanie Dakin in in the St Albans and Harpendon Review, which describes the book as 'A thrilling tale of incredible courage':
'Incredibly detailed and informative, the book is also a thrilling read with characters you’d gladly lay down your life for.'
The book even has a tiny feature as a June 'On the Bookshelf' pick in the print edition of Choice magazine:
'With strong characters and a likeable hero, it's fast-moving and carefully researched.'
May 2012 - First reviews of Into the Valley of Death are in!
It's Editor's Choice at the Historical Novel Society!
Here's an extract from the review by the fabulous Mike Ashworth:
'The novel opens at a cracking pace and accelerates. The battles of the Alma, Inkerman and the Charge of the Light Brigade are described in heart-thumping, exciting and exhilarating detail. The author’s detailed research and eye for detail bring alive the Crimean War in an outstanding piece of historical fiction. A. L. Berridge has done it again – quite simply superb. This is one for the bookshelf. Highly recommended.'
I really do love this man...
Here's another from the frighteningly authoritative Parmenion Books:
'...I really must learn to trust great authors like AL Berridge, this book is a real triumph, anyone who can get me to not only read about the Crimean war but enjoy it has achieved a
Where Chevalier de Roland books are more of a slow burn and introduction to fantastic characters of huge depth, this book explodes into action at a fantastic pace and just seems to keep going from there... The Whole battle book, army everything just explodes into life drama and action on every page. This truly is an outstanding book.'
A brilliantly thorough analysis on Edi's Book Lighthouse, of which this is only a snippet:
'Absorbing , intelligent and brutally honest story telling. Into the Valley of Death is definitely a hit!'
May 2012 - and another review for In the Name of the King!
Edi's Book Lighthouse has given a wonderfully long and generous review, which finishes like this:
'You look for a cloak-and-sword adventure including a lot swashbuckling rapier combat in the tradition of Alexandre Dumas including emotional depths and packed with unobtrusive
presentation of historical details?
Then I highly recommend you read the The Chevalier Series by A. L. Berridge.'
There's far too much to quote here, but Edi goes into great detail, and if you want to know more about the book this is the place to go!
April 2012 - First pre-publication reviews for Into the Valley of Death!
The wonderful Conn Iggulden has kindly given a quotation about the book:
"This is fast moving, exciting historical fiction. Berridge switches effortlessly between the major actions and the individual characters, bringing the Crimea back to life, with all its savage disasters and soaring triumphs. It's pitch-perfect, breakneck writing. I hope it's not just the start of a trilogy. I want it to be the first of a dozen or more."
I'm not surprised Penguin have used an extract from this for the front cover of the novel! Huge and many thanks to Conn for taking the trouble to read and
review so generously.
Yet in a way I'm even more pleased by a review to appear in April's The War Correspondent, the Journal of the Crimean War Research Society. This may have a smaller readership, but these are all genuine experts on the Crimea, people who've been studying it for anything up to fifty years, and theirs is the judgment I have feared most. You can imagine my relief at reading the very kind review I have in fact been given by Major Colin Robins OBE, Editor Emeritus of The War Correspondent, which is reproduced below:
There's even a little tiny review in Skirmish Magazine. It doesn't tell the reader very much, but naturally the emphasis is on whether it's a useful book for the Living History and Re-enactment community.
Skirmish is even running a giveaway for my two Chevalier books along with a subscription offer.
November 2011 - In the Name of the King is an Editor's Pick at the Historical Novel Society!
A lovely review from Mike Ashworth:
'Well researched and written, the plot is fast paced and exciting. The action is virtually nonstop, while the battle scenes are realistic and compelling. You can read and enjoy this novel without having read Honour, but it will help if you have. This is one to keep and enjoy over and over again. Highly recommended.'
Here's another wonderful piece from my hero Simon Appleby at Bookgeeks. The review itself is beautifully and wittily written, but it's possible I'm biased because of the content... Here's a sample:
'Of course, Berridge uses her normal wide cast of characters, all with their own distinct voices, and introduces some wonderful new characters including the salt-of-the-earth Albert Grimauld and the feisty love interest for Jacques, Bernadette Fournier. The action spreads far and wide, including a sally in to Spain itself, facing up to old foes. Through it all, Anne may be the bravest character of all for the charade she is forced to mount in order to learn the true intentions of the conspirators.
In the Name of the King is a very enjoyable and action-packed adventure that will be enjoyed by a wide spectrum of historical fiction fans, with a central hero whose honour and heroism, for all that they may cause him many problems, is a true paragon of principle in a time even more murky and unprincipled than our own.'
September 2011 - Reviews are STILL coming in for 'Honour and the Sword'. There's a wonderfully detailed one here on Edi's Book Lighthouse, which is a terrific book-blog, especially if you like fantasy and science fiction too. The writer doesn't just limit himself to comment on story, but discusses theme, characterization and style as well. Unsurprisingly (and not being at all biased, of course!) I think he's extraordinarily perceptive. Here's an extract:
'The result is on the one hand a matchless view of André de Roland and on the other hand the opportunity to witness the story through the eyes of different and unique people. It does not take
long to identify the current narrator without reading the chapter header. A L Berridge inhales every narrating character a unique personality. There
is the caring and suffering (with André) Jaques, the tough Stefan and more.
The writing is emotional and stirring with a rhythm which gives you once a while the opportunity to breathe.'
We like this guy. A lot...
August 2011 - the first reviews for 'In the Name of the King'!
Thank you very much to Gareth Wilson of the Falcata Times for this one:
'What you get in the second title is a story that's gripping, great pace and an adventure that satisfies from the first page to the last. Add to this, great prose, wonderfully formed characters and the readers have ideal material to get them in the mood for Paul WS Anderson's forthcoming Three Musketeer's film.'
and to Parmenion Books for this one:
'...the style was some what different to what I expected and what im used to.
But that's the genius of it, it dares to be different both in style and effect. The characters are impeccable and in really do live in the spirit of Alexandre Dumas and his indomitable three musketeers. But both Honour and the sword and In the name of the king bring a new sense or realism and lift the language to the modern level so its easier for the current audience to enjoy.
I think the greatest achievement is the way Berridge captures the true nature of the young boys/ men especially André de Roland who clearly is the modern embodiment of at least two of the more rash musketeers and the honour bound D'Artagnan.'
July 2011, and the latest review for 'Honour and the Sword' is from Simon Appleby at bookgeeks. I wish I could quote every word of it, but here's the best bit for me:
'Stirringly written by Berridge in the finest tradition of rebels and freedom fighters from Robin Hood to Rob Roy, Honour and the Sword has many high points as Jacques, Andre and their fighters grow more accomplished and the fortunes of war finally raise the prospect of relief from Spanish occupation, but the highest is the breathtaking final mission to distract the Spanish garrison. Roland will ride again later this summer in In The Name of the King, and I for one can’t wait.'
Fortunately he won't have to, as 'In The Name of the King' is due out 4th August!
May 2011 and reviews are still coming in!
There's a nice one here by Scott Wilson from The Fringe Magazine:
'Honour and the Sword by A L Berridge was a uniquely written book with the story being told by many view points and characters. I enjoyed the action and thrills that Berridge took the reader on over the course of the book.'
And another from 'Dan' at Goodreads:
'A really good read! Well written and characters well developed. Only drawback for me was the book was narrated by several characters and I found it difficult to engage in the story through the eyes of the main character because of this. This was a compelling read however and I look forward to reading more of the authors work.'
Perhaps my favourite is David Sugden's Blog Review because of his endearing misspelling of my name!
'This is Lousie Berridge's first novel http://www.louiseberridge.com/ but it's a humdinger of a read... I also like the fact that she's English, has obviously been to France and spells words like honour with a 'u', and not a 'gotten' to be found...'
First Batch of Reviews for Honour and the Sword
In these online days nothing still quite replaces the wonder of a print review you can hold in your hands. If it’s a bad one it hits the recycling box with a smack you can hear in Streatham, but anything less abusive than a death threat is still something to be treasured. It’s in a newspaper. I’m news.
So I make no apology for scanning in the very first I received, even if a) it’s harder to read that way, and b) it gives me seriously Sad Credentials. It made me very happy.
Online reviews are still easier to access, so here are a few others you can go to directly. I’ve quoted the best bits, of course, but the links are there to stop me cheating.
(Review by Sian Norris)
'This was my first venture into the male-dominated swashbucking genre (I am generally found with my head buried in a Philippa Gregory) and I was suitably impressed. A L Berridge has a knack for setting the scene and her deft use of description puts you right in the centre of the action, until you can feel the sweat, blood and fear that permeates her pages.
'The stereotype of course goes that women can’t write male characters, (although of course, no one complains about D H Lawrence and his insistence of writing about female sexuality!) and Berridge profoundly smashes this stereotype. She gives life and voices to these characters, she profoundly expresses the rivalries, angers and camaraderie between the men in the rebel army.'
(Review by Maggie Craig)
‘This meticulously-researched historical novel is a swashbuckling tale set during the Thirty Years’ War, which raged from 1618-1648, and is described here as “one of the bloodiest and most destructive conflicts Europe has ever seen.”’
‘As Louise Berridge, the author worked for many years in television, as a script editor and executive producer of Eastenders, BBC TV’s long-running soap opera. Her experience with stories and the creation and development of characters shows. This is an extremely well-written book from an author clearly steeped in the period about which she has chosen to write.’
'FORMER EastEnders producer Louise Berridge makes an impressively confident debut in the world of fiction with this highly-readable historical story....
'As Roland slowly marshals a small force of resistance, Berridge plunges them into a series of dramatic actions, which are considerably enhanced by her impressive depth of historical knowledge.'
'Readers are always looking for something a little different in the Historical Fiction genre. Whilst many will delve into Roman or the Norse what AL brings to the fore is a novel with the daring do of the Musketeers, in a modern tale that contains touches of Dumas with combat that could easily have been written by Gemmell or Cornwell. Its addictive, its beautifully researched and a tale that you’ll have a hard time to put down. Add to the mix characters that have a touch of Flashman alongside discovering that the author plays for keeps and its an offering to shout from the rooftops.'
And in the interests of balance, here’s a review which is decidedly less enthusiastic:
(Review by James Crumly)
'The story is easy to read and thanks to the diary/oral accounts style the characters became more engaging as you read on. The book is clearly a well-researched piece of historical fiction and tackles interesting social and class issues in 17th Century France.'
(It gets worse after that, honest)
Some reviews aren’t available at all online, so here’s another by courtesy of my trusty scanner. This one’s particularly important, as it’s from the Historical Novels Review, which is the trade publication of The Historical Novel Society. These guys are my peers, and I read it with considerable trepidation:
Mike Ashworth is definitely going on my Christmas card list...
Yet in many ways the reviews that give me most satisfaction are those from the ‘amateurs’, the people who read the book just for fun – because those are who I really wrote for. I’m hugely grateful to those of you who’ve written to me personally via this site, and also to the lovely, kind people who’ve left nice reviews on Amazon. I should add in the interests of integrity that I definitely know one of these reviewers personally, and have a sneaking suspicion it might even be two. To the reviewer calling him/herself ‘Arcadia’, I have to say “Is that you, Cathie? If it is, PLEASE get in touch by this website because I’ve lost your address and it’s been far too many years." If it’s not Cathie, then please forgive me – and thank you very much for a nice review!
Forum and blog posts also give me more pleasure than almost anything, though I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before a really foul one turns up. But if you write online reviews you may not know that the author is almost bound to find them through the dubious wonders of the Google Alert, and that (speaking for myself) I’m always profoundly grateful. There’s no way I can get in touch with someone like ‘Ollie’ who writes to The Spectator with his Christmas reading suggestion:
'If you like historical fiction Fraser, then try Honour & the Sword by A.L Berridge. It's utterly brilliant.'
But I’d like to. I want to say a huge ‘thank you’ to all of you. To you it’s a book – which is how it should be. You mustn’t think of the author in such things, you must write what you genuinely think and feel. At the same time, I just want to say that we’re not cold, book-writing machines, we’re ordinary people who can’t but react to responses from the very people we work for – and whoever ‘Ollie’ is, he just gave me the best Christmas present a writer could ask for.
I can’t possibly quote all of these, but just to prove readers really don’t think who the author might be, here’s one of my very favourites from the last months. I have no idea who this guy is, but he’s just become one of my heroes:
Honour and the Sword...
As you lot probably guess, I read a lot of historical fiction given my propernsity for spending long weeks in B&Bs for work, Just finished this one by a bloke called A.L. Berridge and it is a cracker. http://www.louiseberridge.com/the-chevalier-series/ the link includes a video trailer, which is odd for a book.... Still, set in Picardy during the Spanish invasion during the Thirty Years War - and centred around the civilian resistance to it. Not a period of history I know well, but it seems accurate enough. The story is a cracking good one, and is told in flashback via the remembrances of those involved, which is interesting as obviously different people remember things differently. Currently only in hardback, but definitely one to look out for.
Whoever you are, ‘bangorstu’, I really, really appreciate your review – and you’re the first person in print to point out the importance of the way the narrators remember things differently. It’s people like you I write for. Thank you for taking the time and trouble to write this.
That last goes for everyone. I want to thank every single person who’s taken time to pass on their thoughts – good, bad, or indifferent. Every writer values feedback. We don’t write in a vacuum, we write with that ‘other’ in our minds all the time – the listener, the reader, the person we’re telling a story to. You. When you talk back it becomes a conversation and the whole damn thing becomes worthwhile.
Thank you. And please – keep it coming.