Thursday, 10 August 2017

Vasa - the ship that wasn't

In many ways, Gustavus Adolphus (or Gustav II Adolf) was a great king. Together with his High Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna, he modernised the Swedish government, education and military, as well as earned the respect and adoration of the common man. But he has often been said to be the cause of the catastrophe that met the greatest ship of the era: Vasa. However, when we visited the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, we picked up a book by Fred Hocker that states that the king should not be blamed for what happened. As today marks the 389th anniversary of the disaster, I share the following with you:

Monday, 24 April 2017

Review: The First Sir Percy by Baroness Orczy

It's been a while since I reviewed Emmuska Orczy's The Laughing Cavalier. The First Sir Percy is a sequel that picks up the events very soon after the end of the first volume. Set in March, 1624, it explores the events that surrounded the Spanish invasion of that year, although this serves mostly as a setting and most of the action is based on a single location.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Review: The First Musketeer (2014)

The First Musketeer is a 6-part mini web series created in 2014 with the help of an Indiegogo funding campaign. It is a prequel story to Dumas' The Three Musketeers and introduces Athos and Porthos as somewhat younger men when they engage in their first shared adventure.

The story begins with an innkeeper who hires two guardsmen to toss out an unwanted drunk visitor, a young man who turns out to be Athos. The guardsmen and Athos soon become friends and have time to meet with another familiar hero, Porthos, before they are all drawn into an adventure.

The actors are surprisingly good for such a low budget series. There are some bouts of overacting and somewhat ill-paced or stiff dialogue, but these issues do not get in the way of the fun. The costumes are a mix of fantasy and 17th century, but more tasteful than the leather outfits we saw in BBC's The Musketeers. The swordfights are more about dramatic, backlit postures than realistic bloody conflicts, but they are entertaining to watch. The indoor sets are sometimes clumsy, especially when we are supposed to believe that some of the scenes are taking place in the Louvre, but this is compensated by the outdoor scenes that are filmed in actual southern France locations.

The episodes are short, ten minute chapters, which makes the whole series about 60 minutes in length. There's not much room for story, especially as the writers spend most of the first two to three episodes introducing the characters. But there are swordfights and lighthearted humour enough to keep you entertained for the entire length of the "season" and the end leaves the door open for season two. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be happening - a pity, since the cast and crew show promise and a second season would surely have improved from the first.

For a Dumas fan, this series is a must watch, especially since it is freely available on Youtube.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

The Memoirs of the Count De Rochefort by Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras

Comte de Rochefort is one of the most memorable secondary characters in Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers and Twenty Years After. But Dumas did not make up the character himself. He got it from an earlier novel written by Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras in 1678 (translated into English in 1696). In Dumas' handling, Comte de Rochefort was a cunning antagonist and later a friend to titular character d'Artagnan, as well as a loyal servant to Cardinal Richelieu. Because of my enthusiasm with the 17th century, I was more than eager to read fiction both set in the era and written during it.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Review: The Brethren by Robert Merle

When an author comes with the praise of being the Alexandre Dumas of the 20th century, a sworn fan of Alexandre Dumas is pretty much forced to pick up a book and start reading. Robert Merle is a French author and his Fortunes of France series tells the story of a Huguenot family from around 1550 to 1660. The first three parts have been translated in to English and the first of them is The Brethren.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Review: Comic adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - with a title like that, you know perfectly well what you are going to get. Especially if you have, like me, read Seth Grahame-Smith's previous Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and know his knack with mixing horror themes with older, historical or fictional, stories in which you'd never have expected to encounter zombies or vampires. However, instead of reading the original novel, I'm taking a look at the comic book adaptation by Tony Lee and illustrated by Cliff Richards.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Review: Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini

Captain Blood is probably a character known to many through the numerous film adaptations. Errol Flynn's ever-grinning face is the way I knew him for decades before I finally picked up the original novel by Rafael Sabatini and delved into the actual story. And, as always, it proved deeper and more interesting than any of the adaptations.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

My Top Five Reads of 2016

Another year gone and another pile of books read. In fact, I find that I read about 80 books last year, a good portion of them graphic novels, to be sure, amounting to c. 19500 pages. Picking the five best reads from this pile is not easy. Actually it would be, if I was willing to fill the entire list with Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels. But since that would make for a dull list, I will only give one spot of the five to that, most excellent of novel series.