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Suzanne Johnson: The Devil’s Diadem

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So I was excited to get The Devil’s Diadem by Sara Douglass. First, it’s a standalone fantasy, so I knew I could read it without feeling lost. Second, there’s not a single weirdly apostrophe’d, unpronounceable name. Third, it has to do with medieval plagues and alleged witchcraft and demons and all those historical British things that make my eyes light up like my terrier’s when she sees a new bag of chicken jerky coming into the house. *Nod to Shane O’Mac the Irish Terror Terrier.*

Great characters, crisp writing, and a story that leaves you guessing as it takes twists and turns…all makes for a great read. It’s kind of a sad, thoughtful book despite moments of lightness, but I loved it anyway.


©2011 Suzanne Johnson. Suzanne Johnson is a fantasy author published by Tor in the USA. To read the full review on the Suzanne Johnson’s old blog please click on this link. You can find out more about Suzanne and her work on her official website.

Click here to see more reviews of books by Sara Douglass!

Geeks of Doom: The Devil’s Diadem

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Sara Douglass is a master of foreshadowing. The tension is palpable in the very first scene when Maeb meets the Earl of Pengraic, a gruff, most unwelcoming man who immediately regards Maeb with disdain and suspicion, possibly because he walks in on her meeting his devastatingly handsome son, Lord Stephen, while the two are making goo-goo eyes at each other.

A truly gifted storyteller, Douglass paints such lush, vivid descriptions of every scene that intimately connect the reader to the time, place, and people from beginning to end with zero lag time in between. The Devil’s Diadem is exceedingly well-written and extremely hard to put down.

The characters are all richly drawn and endearing, even the background ones, including Maeb’s horse, Dulcette. It’s a magical story with more plot twists and complex mysteries than the Coney Island Cyclone has clackity wooden slats, both being equal in the sheer force of their creation. From one page to the next, you never see what’s coming. While complex and action-packed, Douglass takes great care that the reader never gets lost in the tumult. It’s a true edge-of-your-seat kind of read.


©2011 The Book Slave / Geeks of Doom. To read the full review on the Geeks of Doom website please click on this link.

Click here to see more reviews of books by Sara Douglass!

Ranting Dragon: The Devil’s Diadem

2011-devilsdiadem-us-coverThe Devil’s Diadem, the latest offering by popular Australian author and historian Sara Douglass, is a stand-alone historical fantasy set in mid-twelfth century England. Douglass has described The Devil’s Diadem as “everything she always wanted to put in a fantasy novel but never did”. She has also stated that it could quite possibly be her last ever book. If this is indeed the case, many fans will be eager to know whether it is a worthy farewell from such a great writer. The answer, in my opinion, is a resounding yes.

Why should you read this book?
Overall, The Devil’s Diadem is thoroughly enjoyable saga of love, loss, political maneuverings, friendship and betrayal that successfully combines believable characters, historical detail and romance with aspects of myth and horror. I found it to be well plotted, intelligent and enjoyable and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys good, character driven fantasy. Additionally, if you have ever read and loved any of Douglass’s work in the past, as I have, perhaps we owe it to her to at least try the one book she “always wanted to write”.


©2011 Michelle / The Ranting Dragon. To read the full review on the The Ranting Dragon website please click on this link.

Click here to see more reviews of books by Sara Douglass!

Karen Brooks: The Devil’s Diadem

2011-devilsdiadem-au-coverDouglass’ latest book, a historical fantasy set in mid Twelfth Century England is a fabulously woven, intricately plotted tale of love, loss, familial relationships, courtly politics, religion and faith. Powerful, moving and surprising, it unfurls slowly, almost languidly, steeping the reader in the period and the life of the heroine, the astoundingly lovely Maeb who, when her father returns from the Crusades and dies, leaving her with nothing more than a few rags and her good name, is forced to join the household of the most powerful noble in the land, the Earl of Pengraic, Raife.

Incredibly beautiful, frank and quite feckless in many ways, Maeb is content to serve her kind mistress, Adelie, and care for her sweet children, only when a dreadful plague from Europe sweeps the country, forcing the family to flee to Pengraic castle in the Welsh borderlands, Maeb quickly discovers that someone or something else has other, much bigger plans for her and those she loves.

What follows is an adventure like no other, filled with real characters, heart-ache, beauty, humour and disaster, all against a background of an emerging London, the kingship of Edmond and deadly tensions between the aristocrats, the Church, the Old People and the sacred and profane.

Told in the first-person, this is a hard book to put down – frankly, I couldn’t bear to set it aside. It sweeps you into the past and the lives of the central characters. It’s filled with fascinating factual and imaginative recreations of life in that period (Douglass is also a renown historian), never mind being a rollicking good tale.

As a stand alone, it’s a tour de force for Douglass, as an addition to an already remarkable canon, it’s a triumph.

I know that I could be accused of bias as the book is dedicated to me – a privilege I am so humbled by I honestly cannot express how I feel – but I could not ask for or wish for a greater gift from a wonderful, loving and beloved friend.

Read The Devil’s Diadem and share the experience. You won’t regret it!


©2011 Karen Brooks, reproduced with permission. This review originally appeared on Karen Brook’s blog.

Click here to see more reviews of books by Sara Douglass!

Fantasy Book Review: BattleAxe

There was a time in my life where I felt that nothing good would ever come out of Australian entertainment. I was right, and I’ll always be right, as long as I continue to ensure that “Australian entertainment” doesn’t refer to Australian literature. That’s not to say that Australian literature isn’t entertaining, but more to ensure that I am once again right.

That being said, over the past 12 months I have come across several brilliantly talented Australian fantasy authors who really know how to write. If nothing else, it bodes well for me, an aspiring author, that my country can produce fantastical literary talent.

Of those Australian writers one of my favorites is Sara Douglass. Born in South Australia, Sara Douglass was born Sara Warneke, but probably assumed that Warneke wasn’t a name you wanted on the front cover of a book. Her first foray into fantasy was Battleaxe, published in 1995, and the beginning of the Axis Trilogy.

Douglass manages to keep your attention all through the book, despite jumping perspectives every chapter or so. We are introduced to an intricate cast of characters, one part mortal one part mythical and fated. Characters that you think are nothing more than passing attractions soon become imperative not only to the story itself, but to you. Lesser characters, as is always the case for me at least, make up the large majority of my favorites.

BattleAxe is very much part one of three books, and you are left suitable anticipating the next book. Thankfully, for us at least, the entire trilogy (and sextet) is on shelves somewhere.

Picking up these books is definitely recommended. The writing is easy to follow, and though not as refined as the likes of Hobb and Barclay, is measurably excusable in her first literary outing and normally not distracting.

Rating: 7.6/10 – Douglass manages to keep your attention all through despite jumping perspectives every chapter or so.

*note* in the USA and most European countries, the Axis Trilogy and the following Wayfarer Redemption trilogy are one six book series. Not so in Australia though, where they are kept in their original separate trilogy status, but obviously linked in content. *note*


©2007 Joshua S Hill / Fantasy Book Review. To read the full review on the Fantasy Book Review website please click on this link.

Anniki’s Bookcase: Beyond The Hanging Wall

beyond_the_hanging_wall_aus-rereleaseDeep beneath the seas of Escator lie the Veins – rich gloam mines worked by men sentenced to die in the darkness.

Garth Baxtor, an apprentice physician, accompanies his father on Joseph′s annual journey to the Veins to tend the barely remembered miners. He knows that these doomed men have experienced unimaginable despair and pain, but nothing could prepare him for what he encounters.In the dark tunnels of the mines, Garth discovers a dangerous secret when he heals a desolate criminal with a mysterious mark on his arm. Is it truly possible that the answer to Escator′s greatest mystery is hidden beneath the hanging wall? Could the fate of the lost Prince Maximilian finally be discovered?

The “hanging wall” is a miner’s reference to the ceiling of a horizontal shaft – the wall that hangs above them. The incomparable Sara Douglass heard this phrase during visits to the Central Deborah Gold Mine in Bendigo, and it formed the basis to Beyond the Hanging Wall.

While Escator inhabits the same world as that of the Axis Trilogy, the Wayfarer Redemption or Darkglass Mountain, and is tied to that last trilogy, this is a stand-alone novel. It is not a sweeping saga of war and upheaval, of events and changes on a grand scale. It is a simple story of a lost prince and the party that search for him, of one boy’s growth into manhood and another man’s search for his identity. This is an intimate story, and by far my favourite of her books.


©2013 Anniki / Anniki’s Bookcase. To read the full review on the Anniki’s Bookcase website please click on this link.

Mostly Fiction: Hades Daughter

Hades-Daughter-1sted-usa“Cornelia was born and raised and fed by the evil that crawled out of Hades’ Underworld down the river to Mesopotama,” Membricus said. “She is Hades’ daughter, not Pandrasus’, even though he might have given her flesh. Thank the gods we have to endure only a few more months of her.” He paused. “For otherwise, my friend, if she continued to draw breath, then I think –I know — she has the power to destroy your entire world.”

Hades’ Daughter by Sara Douglass

In an interview, Douglass mentions that the Troy game is something that she’s read about in different periods in history. The idea of the existence of a real Troy Game makes this even more intriguing of a concept. She sells me on the book’s concepts completely, combining rich historical possibility with facts, creating not only a plausible and beautiful ancient world, but also making an excellent argument for the indelible connection that past events have on history as a whole.


©2003 Cindy Lynn Speer / Mostly Fiction Book Reviews. To read the full review on the Mostly Fiction website please click on this link.

OzLit: The Nameless Day

the-nameless-day-1steditionThe Nameless Day, book one of The Crucible, introduces readers, not only to a new trilogy by Australia’s leading fantasy writer, Sara Douglass, but represents a slight change of direction for the prolific wordsmith as well.

In a former life, Douglass was an academic – a medieval historian – and there is no doubt she has used the knowledge and insights gained in this period to endow this book with an authenticity and richness that is often lacking in historical novels. This, however, is not only an historical novel. In The Nameless Day, Douglass has employed a type of historical faction – that is, a narrative that interweaves historical “fact” with fiction. Drawing on well-known figures in Western history such as John of Gaunt, the Black Prince, Joan of Arc and Hal Bolingbroke and painstakingly recreating old London, and pre-Renaissance Europe, Douglass locates her novel in a parallel medieval earth that is at once familiar and wonderfully strange. History buffs will note the compression of time and characters while fantasy fans will appreciate the otherworldiness and magic that creeps into the story.

In this world, a place and time where church law governs and the inquisition has deftly inscripted its presence, good and evil are at loggerheads. But, rather than drawing a picture of these events in a way Michelangelo might, Douglass ignores binary oppositions and locates herself firmly in the surrealist school. Angels and their voices are not the product of a psychotic mind, but are the lucid mentors of select individuals. Furthermore, demons walk the earth – sometimes wearing an all too familiar shape. As in the past, good and evil are not simply esoteric terms but significant theological and secular realities that are explored through real characters and significant debates and beliefs of a bygone era. And, as Douglass’ fans have come to expect, the resulting story is an uncompromising tale of passion, lust, brutal machinations and humour.

The book opens with the interestingly named friar, Wynkn de Worde (an actual historical figure no less (the appellation is a gift for fantasy writers!), undertaking what can only be described as devilish work. When he meets an untimely end, the archangel Michael is appalled and rapidly ensures the procreation of his successor. The rest of the novel, set in the late fourteenth century, explores the spiritual and profane journey of Brother Thomas Neville.

Thomas Neville is a cold, unforgiving holy prat – there are no other words to describe him. He is a goody-two-shoes with a holier-than-kingdom-come attitude that, as a reader, you just know has to shift. And, as the narrative progresses and glimpses of his unsavoury past begin to surface, sympathy for this misunderstood and cold creature is evoked. In the character of Neville, Douglass has created a flawed yet endearing (yes, even though he is all of the above) anti-hero whose transformation is both longed for and always-in-process. His wanderings around Europe and England take him to many places and involve him in many encounters sexual and otherwise. Colourful characters are sewn into the fabric of Neville’s life and as his perspective widens so too does his attitude to God, man and woman start to change.

Where the book will challenge many readers is in its conception of good and evil. Douglass, using the schism that occurred in cultural and religious thought around the fourteenth century, holds spiritual beliefs and notions of the church, God and humankind up to a mirror and, in the ensuing examination, the reader is invited to look through a glass darkly. There are angels condoning the abuse and use of women, ordering death to newborns while those cast in the role of demons advocate for human rights and the sanctity of home and hearth. The earth is transformed into a literal Manichean battleground and, as the book progresses, what were once clear boundaries, with apparent allegiances, shift and slide. For Thomas Neville and those who believe in the role of the church, what constitutes good and right is no longer so clear cut.

To explain any more of the story would be to destroy the suspense of the plot. It is a tight, well-conceived tale that will sometimes surprise the reader, especially when a well-known figure from the pages of history is revealed warts and all. But that is part of the delight of reading this book. History is popularised – returned to the reader in an immensely enjoyable and palatable form. The two-dimensional people from history books and documentaries are transformed into three-dimensional characters who live, breath, love, shit and fart. Overall, I found this book a joy to read. Douglass has breathed life and light into an otherwise dark age and come up with an wild and uncanny explanation as to why Western culture underwent this huge fluctuation in comprehension around the 1300s. For her old fantasy fans, there is so much in this book to satisfy generic expectations – but there is much, much more as well. Hopefully, it is these extras that will introduce a wider audience to Douglass’ work who will also come to appreciate the quality of her imagination. The Nameless Day is without doubt Douglass’ best book yet. History has never been so picturesque and quirky and fantasy has never been quite so wondrous!


©2000 Dr Karen Brooks, Department of Popular Culture and Media Studies, Arts Faculty University of the Sunshine Coast. Reproduced in full with permission from Dr Brooks.

SF Site: The Nameless Day

the-nameless-day-us-1stedWith The Nameless Day, Sara Douglass has ventured well beyond the mummery of Tolkien found in her Axis and The Wayfarer’s Redemption books, while still retaining the basic garb of high fantasy. And, considering the usual expectations of readers evident in sales figures for this genre, some might suggest the author is treading risky ground.

At its most basic, this is an alternate history, set within the conflicts of the Hundred Years’ War amidst the divisions within the Church between the political papacies of Rome and Avignon. Broad, at times detailed scholarship of the period is evident, and few of the historical figures for the mid-14th century have not assumed a role as characters, up to and including Chaucer. Using the epic scope of the conflict, one that gripped most of Europe within a morass of political and military upheaval and intrigue the equal of any to be found in fiction, Douglass has interposed into that struggle a largely unseen battle waged between angels and demons for control over mankind’s future, of which the earthly conflicts are but a mortal reflection.

Rather boldly, the author has chosen to use heavily and emotionally freighted topics and symbols perceived primarily through the eyes of a man more villain than hero, and has done so in a manner that continues to mask her ultimate motives. This is somewhat a gutsy move on the part of the author, as previously mentioned, the novel reading more as if a traditional historical fantasy than metaphor, with “heroes” such as Thomas and the religious overtones borrowed from Christianity unlikely to attract the casual fantasy reader, let alone the majority of those who comfortably embraced the largely romantic and heroic escapism found in Axis or The Wayfarer’s Redemption. Yet for those willing to bank that there is more going on here than meets the eye, and that many of the characters’ actions may well serve allegorical ends appearing poised by book’s end to become turned upon themselves, there looks to be rewards awaiting further development in successive volumes for what is admittedly a slow, not always clearly evolving story. However, the author’s reluctance to rush her story need not necessarily be seen as just another example of conformance to the demands of door-stopper fantasy.

But this appears a far more serious and ambitious work than her previous novels, and one where the author seems overall in control of her craft. Further, it looks as if Douglass is intentionally allowing her plots and themes to simmer, intending to bring her narrative slowly to a boil. For that reason, those seeking mere action to drive along the story will likely want to look elsewhere, as will those desiring a repeat of Axis and The Wayfarer’s Redemption. However, if the understated hints provided in this work are any indication of the author’s future intent for her use of allegory and symbolism, all of which appear but masks to deeper themes and issues, mimicking their borrowed traditions but subtly being altered to serve a very different purpose, then her strategy for gradually letting her story reveal itself may in the end prove well suited. This waits to be seen: on its own, this novel is not entirely successful. But as an introduction to a larger vision, one that is attempting to incorporate themes at the core of human existence, both within the context of past and present, this may yet signal in the books to come the announcement of a singular work in progress, deserving of further and greater notice.


©2002 William Thompson / SFsite.com. To read the full review on the SF website please click on this link.

Book Loons: Sinner

sinner-usedition-book4This fourth episode in The Wayfarer Redemption (following Battleaxe, Enchanter and Starman) introduces a whole new generation of actors onto the Tencendor stage. Axis and Azhure have been promoted to be (mostly offstage) deities – ‘God of Song’ and ‘Goddess of Moon’ – leaving their offspring to inherit an empire.

Caelum SunSoar is now Supreme Ruler of Tencendor, with Askam and Zared (son of Rivkah and Magariz) as Princes of humans in the West and North, respectively. The Icarii are ruled by FreeFall, and the Avar by Faraday’s son Isfrael.

As usual, Sara Douglass paints in Sinner a series of soap operatic scenes on a grand epic fantasy canvas, deftly blending together many different textures of story. And, as always, her characters can be relied upon to be neither black nor white, but shades of all the colors of the rainbow.


©2004 Hilary Williamson / Book Loons. To read the full review on the Book Loons website please click on this link.