Tag Archives: spyfiction

Death in Ravenna – Description

September 618 AD

The Byzantine Empire is losing its war with Persia. Syria and Egypt are occupied. The Balkans are lost. Italy is going, one bite at a time, to the Lombards. The Catholic Church is already an independent power.

At 15, Rodi is the youngest agent in the Byzantine secret service.

He’s in Ravenna to find dirt on an Exarch suspected of having his hand in the till.

His mission goes exactly to plan – until a freak accident leads to murder and the uncovering of a plot no one in Constantinople had thought possible.

Who are the men who killed the Exarch’s secretary?

Why are they openly at large in Ravenna?

What is the encrypted letter Rodi found in the Exarch’s office?

Why is every one of the rival courts on the Italian peninsula so eager to lay hands on it?

And can Rodi manage to stay alive in the snake pit of Italian politics…?

This is a story of blood and espionage that takes you from the canals and squares of mediaeval Ravenna, to the Lombard capital in Pavia, where the distinction between barbarian and Roman seems to be blurring by the day into a common Italian nationhood.

Death in Ravenna is a thrilling historical novella, perfect for fans of Simon Scarrow, Bernard Cornwell and Conn Iggulden. It follows on from ‘Game of Empires’.

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Death of Rome Saga 2 – Description

Volumes 4-6 of author Richard Blake’s brilliant Death of Rome saga.

Three page-turning, exhilarating thrillers from Richard Blake: The Sword of Damascus, The Ghost of Athens and The Curse of Babylon. Available together as a digital-only package for the first time.

Other details

ISBN: 9781473628168
Publication date: 09 Jul 2015
Page count: 1200
Imprint: Hodder & Stoughton

From the Reviews

Fascinating to read, very well written, an intriguing plot and I enjoyed it very much. — Derek Jacobi on Conspiracies of Rome

As always, Blake writes with immense historical and classical erudition, while displaying an ability to render 1500-year-old conversations in realistically colloquial English. — C4SS on The Blood of Alexandria

[Blake’s] plotting can seem off-puttingly anarchic until the penny drops that everyone is simultaneously embroiled in multiple, often conflicting, scams. Aelric’s survival among the last knockings of empire in Constantinople depends not on deducing who wants him dead, but who wants him dead at any given moment. — Daily Telegraph on The Terror of Constantinople

[Blake] knows how to deliver a fast-paced story and his grasp of the period is impressively detailed — Mail on Sunday on The Terror of Constantinople

I can’t resist recommending this first volume of a promised trilogy. Set during the last pangs of Imperial Rome, with a vivid account of the machinations of the early Church, it is well-informed, atmospheric and beautifully written. — Literary Review on Conspiracies of Rome

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Death of Rome Saga 1 – Description

Volumes 1-3 of author Richard Blake’s brilliant Death of Rome saga.

Three page-turning, exhilarating thrillers from Richard Blake: Conspiracies of Rome, The Terror of Constantinople and The Blood of Alexandria. Available together as a digital-only package for the first time.

Other details

ISBN: 9781473628151
Publication date: 09 Jul 2015
Page count: 1600
Imprint: Hodder Paperbacks

From the Reviews

Fascinating to read, very well written, an intriguing plot and I enjoyed it very much. — Derek Jacobi on Conspiracies of Rome

As always, Blake writes with immense historical and classical erudition, while displaying an ability to render 1500-year-old conversations in realistically colloquial English. — C4SS on The Blood of Alexandria

[Blake’s] plotting can seem off-puttingly anarchic until the penny drops that everyone is simultaneously embroiled in multiple, often conflicting, scams. Aelric’s survival among the last knockings of empire in Constantinople depends not on deducing who wants him dead, but who wants him dead at any given moment. — Daily Telegraph on The Terror of Constantinople

[Blake] knows how to deliver a fast-paced story and his grasp of the period is impressively detailed — Mail on Sunday on The Terror of Constantinople

I can’t resist recommending this first volume of a promised trilogy. Set during the last pangs of Imperial Rome, with a vivid account of the machinations of the early Church, it is well-informed, atmospheric and beautifully written. — Literary Review on Conspiracies of Rome

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Game of Empires, Reviewed by Matt Hinds

This review refers to a novella by Richard Blake/Dr.Sean Gabb, Game of Empires. It continues the series of novels starting with Conspiracies of Rome and falls in time after the last one Curse of Babylon but can be read alone. This is a short spy story. It comes from someone with a definite point of view (British libertarian and secular) yet he has a deep understanding of the period More understanding than other novelists and most professional historians. Set during the ghastly war between the Roman Empire and the Persian it is an important period (early 600's) to know something about. You see the fighting weakened both empires and allowed the religion of Islam to take over the Middle-East. You will find it easy to read with the characters speaking in a modern vernacular. Some would fault the whole thought processes of the characters as being "too modern," I do not. The spy-craft is fascinating. It doesn't have the detailed tapestry that the full novels have, perhaps this is the core of a novel which is yet to be published?

Also I find some problem with the treatment of religion. This was a devout age by all accounts. The Christian faith was central to life in ways we would find hard to fathom. You don't gather every color of marble imaginable to build a church or seek to kill your opponent in obscure doctrinal differences without really really really believing. Yet the few devout characters in the story are depicted as starry-eyed fools or worse. Perhaps the author intends to say religion wasn't as important in the era as we think?

In the earlier novels some have objected to the violence, drug use, necrophilia, sexuality, torture, a too early introduction of the Thematic System and other things. I'm uncomfortable occasionally but the plots & characters are plausible. The author also clearly believes the Emperor Heraclius was incompetent and gives the reigns successes to his underlings fictional Aelric and real Priscus and Patriarch Sergius. Given our present knowledge that's a stretch. But we won't be digging anytime soon in Syria or any other Islamic country to find out. Overall this novella like the other novels before it are very well worth reading.

Published on Amazon on the 29th June 2015

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Game of Empires, Reviewed by Michael Barry

The seventh century AD was a dangerous place: the remnant of the Roman empire, with its capital in Constantinople, was under threat. The Persian empire was attacking from the east, while on the western border barbarian hordes were pushing hard. While ramshackle empires were crashing into each other, like doomed galaxies, faiths and heresies were equally engaged in passionate and violent struggles.

Game of Empires is a story which tells at high speed the story of Rodi a fourteen-year old boy who we meet in a condemned cell in Constantinople. This young barbarian’s talent as a master forger is spotted by Alaric, the emperor’s Lord Treasurer and effective ruler of the empire on behalf of his master. Saving him from death, Alaric has Rodi trained in the necessary tradecraft of a spy and sends him to the Balkans to see what the tribes there are up to. As cover, Rodi choses to travel with Cosmas, a kind but naïve missionary – rather like an evangelical Pickwick – who is intent on converting the heathen hordes.

Richard Blake makes full use of his period setting to create the perfect backdrop for his amoral hero who kills who he must, and sleeps with whoever he has to, in order to survive in his brutal chaotic world. The parallels with our own world are at times evident and disturbing. But, more than just an ancient James Bond, Rodi manages to balance pity for the innocent missionary with his own ruthless focus, as he tries to find out for his masters what the enemies of the emperor have in mind.

Blake has a telling eye for detail. In one memorable scene, Rodi evades trip wires to steal a document from inside a messenger’s baton, read it by the light of fire-flies, before escaping and closing inside bolts behind him by means of twine and mutton fat.

This story has sex, violence, a rapid page-turning pace, and a very powerful sense of the competing ancient cultures. Rodi faces death in many ways, including possible sacrifice before a pagan idol, before extricating himself. It is not too much of a spoiler to say the hero survives. I eagerly await his next exploits in the dangerous world of the collapsing Roman empire.

Published on Amazon.co.uk on the 13th June 2015

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Game of Empires, Reviewed by Nanci Gilliver

Game of Empires is an incredibly vivid and immersive novel.

Despite the history being quite daunting, the narrative is told consistently clearily and is extremely fast paced and engaging. The opening, for example, is immediately intriguing and Rodi, as a hero character, is well rounded and believable despite the fast pace of the novel. Even the side characters who are only fleetingly mentioned are interesting.

The world is told very clearly, each introduction to a new setting or character making the plot easy to follow, and the writing down to earth as well as being poignant at times.

There are many moments of anguish, and the constant trials that Rodi has to face keeps you completely engaged. It's a real page turner. 

Published on Amazon.co.uk on the 12th June 2015

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Game of Empires, Reviewed in The Sandusky Register


New book from historical novelist Richard Blake
Tom Jackson in The Sandusky Register
May 20, 2015

 

One of my favorite historical novelists, Richard Blake, has just published a new novel, "Game of Empires," set in the time of the early Byzantine Empire. It's a spinoff of his acclaimed "Aelric" series, about an English youth who finds himself in the violent world of the Mediterranean, after the fall of Rome.

From the publisher's blurb: "Chained up in a condemned cell, Rodi thinks it’s the last day of his life. It becomes the first. Though only thirteen, his brains and skill at forgery make him too valuable to the Byzantine [Roman] Empire for wasting in a public execution. 

"The Lord Treasurer Alaric recruits him into a top secret security agency – his job, once trained, to turn the tables in the Empire’s war with the so far victorious Persians.
 
"This is a story that takes you from the glittering palaces and sordid streets and brothels of the Imperial City, to the barbarian-ravaged provinces, to high mountain tops fringed with pine. Here, with no one to help but a naïve Christian missionary, Rodi must prove himself in a contest with the devotees of an obscene and bloody idol and a Persian spy."
 
And you think YOU had problems!
 
Disclosure: I know Richard Blake, aka Sean Gabb, and he offered to send me a review copy. Fuller disclosure: I said no, and bought one instead, putting my money where my mouth is. It's only $2.99 for Amazon Kindle.
 
 
Sandusky Register reporter Tom Jackson reviews and recommends local and national reading opportunities. You can read the other blog posts and follow this blog on Twitter.

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Game of Empires, Reviewed by Sianlover

A fast-paced, well-written novel. As with Blake’s other books, it's set in the 7th century Byzantine Empire. Unlike those, it's shorter and told in the third person.

The hero, Rodi, is only fourteen, when Alaric rescues him from the condemned cell. He’s recruited into a top-secret intelligence agency and trained to become a sort of Byzantine James Bond.

Though the plot moves rapidly, the characters are more than adequately developed. They include Cosmas, a naive monk with a heart of gold, and Synesius, a suspicious maths teacher. There's also Miro, a Slavic princeling, and a villain that Ian Fleming would have envied.

People and places are described well. I particularly enjoyed the description of the forest-ringed mountain top where the last part of the novel is set. Even as you are reading of it, you feel that you are really there.

Reviewed on Amazon, 219th May 2015

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Game of Empires – Chapter One

Part One: Constantinople, Wednesday 14th September 617 AD

I

Hungry, cold, stiff from lying too long on the bare stone, Rodi opened his eyes.

It was the Old Woman who’d prodded him awake. Hers wasn’t the last face he’d see. But this was the last time he’d know the grey light of dawn. Reflected through an iron grille, it came from overhead. The sounds he heard were behind the door of the cell.

‘Christ have Mercy, child!’ she whispered. ‘They’ve come for us early.’

Rodi sat up. He tried to shrug. Two days from arrest to sentence. Seven days more till execution. It was supposed to be seven days for repentance. It had been nine days of increasingly numb despair. It was too late for shrugging – too late for any gesture to remind him or anyone else he’d once been other than a beast awaiting slaughter. Besides, the iron collar had settled on one of the few remaining spots where its chafing didn’t hurt like a branding iron.

‘It doesn’t matter,’ he said. It didn’t matter. He knew the drill. The prison was close by the big church of St Andrew. From here to the Hippodrome was just over two miles. Whether their procession through the streets of Constantinople began at dawn, or when the sun was risen, made no difference to how things would end. There’d still be no breakfast.

The others in the long cell were waking. The sex killer just across from Rodi was awake. He made another snatch at the boy’s feet. His last try was no better than his first. The only blessing Rodi was able to count was that, if a torment to him, the eighteen inches of chain securing every collar to the wall kept the others away from him. The Old Woman could reach him. But she was no problem. She didn’t want to kill him, or to rape him.

With a rattling of keys and a long groan, the door swung open. No priest to nag them this time. No shambling halfwit to ladle out just enough swill to keep them from dying before they could be killed. It was someone he hadn’t seen before – someone who, from the way he put a cloth over his mouth, hadn’t been them before, or any like them.

The fat man stepped into the cell. He looked about. Cautiously, he took the cloth away. Nervous, he put up a hand to touch his bright orange wig. He cleared his throat. ‘Which one of you is Roderic of Aquileia?’ As if fighting off the urge to vomit, he paused. Then he repeated himself in Latin.

Rodi said nothing. The fat man spoke again. Rodi looked at the shackles that kept his hands from reaching up to adjust his collar. He knew if he still said nothing, the fat man wouldn’t go away. But why make it easy for him?

The guard stepped forward. ‘Here’s the one you’re looking for,’ he laughed. He kicked at the boy’s stomach. Rodi went into his best imitation of a scared hedgehog. Not much curling up to be done, though, with that iron band about his neck, or with the iron bar that connected manacled hands to manacled feet. Even so, he twisted enough for the blow to fall on his ribcage.

‘They’ve come to burn you first!’ the sex killer chattered. ‘The fire’s already hot!’ The others in the cell went into a shrill chorus of laughter and of prayers. Every chain rattled at once. The fat man spoke to the guard. The guard’s face darkened. The fat man nodded, and pressed both wrists together. He looked a moment longer at Rodi, before stepping backwards from the cell.

There were two guards now. One stood with drawn sword. The other leaned over Rodi. He set about the back of the collar with the tool that had been used to put it on. He pulled the boy to his feet. ‘Don’t try anything,’ he snarled. Rodi looked down at his feet. It seemed that, if he moved them not more than three inches at a time, he should be able to shuffle forward. For the moment, it was all he could do to keep from falling over. When threats did nothing, the guard lifted him in one arm and carried him out.

‘God go with you, child!’ the old woman cried.

It was dark in the corridor – dark and cold. Once the crash of the closed cell door had ceased echoing, it was very quiet.

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Game of Empires – Description

Chained in a condemned cell, Rodi thinks it’s the last day of his life. It becomes the first.

Though only fourteen, his brains and skill at forgery make him too valuable to the Byzantine Empire for wasting in a public execution.

The Lord Treasurer Alaric recruits him into a top secret security agency – his job, once trained, to turn the tables in the Empire’s war with the so far victorious Persians.

This is a story that takes you from the glittering palaces and sordid streets and brothels of the Imperial City, to the barbarian-ravaged provinces, to high mountain tops fringed with pine. Here, with no one to help but a naïve old monk, Rodi must prove himself in a contest with the devotees of an obscene and bloody idol and a Persian spy.

Can young Rodi survive and come out on top in this ruthless and secret Game of Empires?

Read Chapter One
Read the reviews

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