Summer Reads from Sharpe Books

Summer Reads from Sharpe Books' authors. Recommended history and historical fiction.
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Summer Reads from Sharpe Books

Simon Sebag Montefiore

Alan Bardos

Author of The Dardanelles Conspiracy

Gary Sheffield’s Forgotten Victory: The First World War: Myths and Realities, is an incredibly readable piece of historical analysis, that challenges the lions led by donkeys view of Haig and the First World War. Sheffield puts forward a compelling Revisionist case that the First World War was far from a futile war and presents a balanced warts and all portrait of Haig. Sheffield shows how Haig learnt from the failures of the Somme to develop a formidable fighting force which, ‘won the greatest series of victories in British military history.’ Overshadowed by the disastrous early offensives of the war, 1918 has become a forgotten victory paying poor tribute to the men who fought the last battles of the war.

Siege by Richard Foreman gives a change of pace, it is the first book of Foreman’s acclaimed First Crusade series and is set against the backdrop of the siege of Antioch in 1098. Trapped between the city and a fast approaching Saracen army the starving Crusader army must take the city or die. Their fate comes down to Edward Kemp, a grizzled English knight and Thomas Devin, a naive scribe. They are sent to find a way into the city and to succeed must overcome the internal power struggles of their own side. Foreman has captured the characters and events of the period so concisely that it gives this short book an epic feel. It is quite literally all killer and no filler.

Simon Sebag Montefiore

Hana Cole

Author of The Devil’s Crossing

I thoroughly enjoyed Maggie Richell-Davis’s super debut The Servant. Daily life of Georgian London is woven seamlessly into the tale of servant girl Hannah who takes up a job at a run down town house only to find herself thrown into the city’s sinister underbelly. With no means of escape, she must decide who her real friends are – and she cannot afford to make a mistake. The Servant vividly brings to life just how precarious was the lot of a servant girl in the 18th century, how dependent they were on the luck of finding a good household and how easily a situation could turn not just dangerous but deadly, with little or no recourse to justice. Inspired by a visit the Foundlings Hospital for deserted children in London, Richell-Davis has crafted a compelling thriller, full of fascinating detail and a protagonist whose journey you will follow to the end with baited breath.

Helen Fry

Jemahl Evans

Author of The Last Roundhead

The Dardanelles Conspiracy, by Alan Bardos. Johnny Swift is a diplomatic officer in the British embassy in Paris with a penchant for gambling and his superior’s wife (among others). Said superior, wanting Swift as far away from his wife as possible packs him off to investigate the Young Bosnians, a Serbian nationalist organisation agitating for independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. What follows is a breathless plunge into the last days of peace before the catastrophe begins. That coming war does hang over the book, and adds a real element of tragedy as events move inexorably to their murder. That tragedy balances really well with the lighter elements of the story.

Swift isn’t a mere shallow Flashman, he is far more reflective and likeable than Harry, and Bardos gives his hero a fleshed out personality that develops through the book. I think the third person narrative helps there. Don’t get me wrong, I adore George Macdonald Fraser but he was a colossus to follow, and Bardos manages it ably.  As far as writing humorous cads and bounders goes, I am not sure I want the competition…, but this is a brilliant book that kept me gripped to the end, and I bought the next one straight away to add to my tbr list.

Helen Fry


Author of Revolt

Indomitable, by Matthew Willis is one of my top reads of 2021. Following reluctant ACE pilot, Edmund Clydesdale as he battles both his own nature and the Axis forces during Operation Pedestal, it’s an edge of your seat read. The setting – WWII Malta – is perfectly realized and technical aviation terminology is rendered as smoothly as poetry so that even aviation neophytes like me cannot help but understand exactly what’s happening in the midst of an aerial dogfight. Start with book one (Harpoon) and make sure you have nothing important to do that afternoon which will interrupt you as devour the rest of the series.

Becket: Warrior, by Jemahl Evans transports you back to the High Medieval period and the intriguing early life of this well-known turbulent priest. A quick, fast paced read replete with bloody swords, politics and colourful characters. Perfect series for a short summer read.


Robin Hood: The First Arrow, by David Pilling proves that there are aspects to the Outlaw of Sherwood legend you haven’t considered. With it’s quicksilver, Reynadine-esque main character and sharply observed historical detail, this is high adventure meeting medieval fiction at its finest.


The Devil’s Crossing, by Hana Cole allows you travel from France to Cairo without breaking any Covid19 restrictions this summer. Part mystery novel, part exploration of human nature grappling with right and wrong, this is an intelligent, gripping novel with a full cast of well-rounded characters.


Porphyry and Ash, by Peter Sandham allows the reader to ride pillion as jaded Scottish mercenary, John Grant, witnesses the crumbling of the Eastern Roman Empire. Clever, well plotted and richly wrought in terms of world building and historical detail, this is one not to miss.



Jerusalem, by Richard Foreman concludes the epic trilogy which shows the very human and unholy side of a holy war. Start with Book 1, Siege, and prepare to be enthralled by the fast paced action as the war for the Holy Land rages on, testing friendships and pitting the deadliest of foes against one another.

Helen Fry

Richard James

Author of Head in the Ice

As a reader, perhaps this year more than ever, I crave escape. Two recent novels have given me just that.

Hana Cole’s descriptive powers take us to Cairo in search of a shepherd’s boy in The Devil’s Crossing. Etienne, looking for adventure in the Crusades, finds himself in the hands of thirteenth century people traffickers and spirited away from his French home. The boy’s relationship with his father, although they spend a good deal of the book apart, is central to the narrative and beautifully drawn. Hana Cole shines a light on a corner of history not generally known and the parallels with modern times are stark. We learn to care deeply for Gui and the search for his son, but also for the supporting characters, particularly his beloved Agnes, a falsely-accused heretic.

Philip Gooden gives us a more fantastical tale in his Chaucer and The Legend Of Good Women. The premise rests upon the notion that Geoffrey Chaucer, as well as being a teller of tales, was subject to a few adventures of his own. The death of a Florentine craftsman sees Chaucer, who happens to be in town raising funds for the English King, plunged into a complex mystery. I really enjoyed the author’s sense of place and felt, by the book’s conclusion, that I could draw a map of early medieval Florence on a napkin. The characters, too, are well fleshed out; from the lovelorn Bartolomeo to the graspingly jealous Lorenzo Lipari. Chaucer makes for an engaging protagonist and, through him, Gooden leads us through the winding Italian streets and alleys in pursuit of the truth.

Keith Lowe


Author of A Gentle Axe

SuccessionSuccession, by Steven Veerapen. Queen Elizabeth I is dying. The transition of power to her successor is uncertain. Plots and conspiracies abound. Enter Ned Savage, courier of manuscripts, thief, and secret agent. When we first make Savage’s acquaintance he is locked up in the Clink. Normally, this wouldn’t worry him, as he sometimes deliberately gets himself arrested to gather information for his powerful patron. But this is not a planned arrest. Savage is a superb anti-hero, living off his wits and improvising his way from one scrape to another. The action grips right from the start, the characters leap to unruly life off the page, and the writing is consummate.

Deliverance, by John Pilkington. It is a genuine pleasure to be reacquainted with John Pilkington’s headstrong protagonist, the former Justice, Robert Belstrang. As soon as he made his appearance on the page, I felt like I was meeting up with an old friend. Belstrang does not have a high opinion of his sovereign, James I. And with good reason: as the story gets underway, he hears that it is the king’s intention to relieve him of his home and bestow it on the royal favourite, Buckingham. The plot concerns a treasonous conspiracy, which Belstrang unravels at considerable risk to himself, despite his personal dislike of the king. Here is another writer who wears his erudition lightly. His firm grasp of the historical moment is always at the service of the story, which is never less than gripping, at times almost unbearably tense, and ultimately, genuinely moving.

Helen Fry

Maggie Richell-Davies

Author of The Servant

The Devil’s Crossing, by Hana Cole. I thought I knew my history, but the Children’s Crusade, where thousands of shepherd and country boys left their homes in France and Italy in the thirteenth century with the dream of liberating the Holy Land, was new to me. From this tragic story – with many of them exploited and sold into slavery – Hana Cole has fashioned a page-turner rich with the ingredients we look for in a historical thriller. There is a falsely accused heretic, forbidden love, and a son unaware of his father’s identity. The Church does not come well out of this, nor does the French aristocracy: from the cruel Inquisitor, Bernard de Nogent, ‘with his avian eyes’, to the murderous Amaury, Lord of Maintenon.

The characters are well-fleshed. We have a young priest so overcome by pity and desire that he forgets to ink the nib of his quill, and subsequently begins to question his faith. There are strong heroines, two of good birth and another obliged to sell her body to survive, who stand their ground despite the imbalance of power between men and women. There is also, unusually, a child hero. I really felt for young Etienne in his physical and mental journey, from innocence, to awareness, to a determination to escape life as a slave. Add to this exciting mix a vivid sense of setting, from the unbearable heat of the Cairo slave markets to the gothic horror of a French crypt full of murdered girls, and you have a thought-provoking and gripping read.

Keith Lowe

Jacquie Rogers

Author of The Governor’s Man

Death and the Dreadnought, by Robert Wilton. Britain and Germany are racing for naval armaments superiority. Into the pre-war powder keg plunges Sir Henry Delamere, impoverished baronet and Boer War veteran. He’s the ultimate British imperial hero, muscles packed into designer tweeds, with an eye often cast over the ladies. This taut spy thriller is set against the well-researched backdrop of the tensions leading to WW1. Beginning with a jolting murder in the Dreadnought dockyard, the witty writing rushes us from one scene of danger to another. Framed for that first death, Delamere dodges and weaves his way between more bodies towards revelation, narrowly escaping time after time. The baddies are satisfyingly Machiavellian, and live up to their evil reputations with growing body counts. A pacy thrilling read, and great fun.

The Servant, by Maggie Richell-Davies. Young servant girl Hannah Hubert, hungry for books and cultured company, is sent at age 15 to manage the down-at-heel London household of the threatening Mrs Chalke and her debauched husband. It is a house of secrets and threats, and Hannah soon finds the jaws of a trap closing about her. As she uncovers the truth about her employers, Hannah knows she must get away. But who can help her? The Servant is a book of immersive world-building, and beautifully written. Maggie Richell-Davies has done her research immaculately, but the book wears scholarship lightly as we see everything through the eyes of her young heroine. The Servant holds up a stark mirror to the viler sides of Georgian life. Hannah is plunged into utter despair and destitution, and only her strong friendships with other women keep her going. But there’s also kindness and beauty, and the love of a good man, if Hannah is brave enough to grasp them. A heart-wrenching read that casts a searching light on 18th century London.

Helen Fry

Michael Ward

Author of The Wrecking Storm

If you’re looking for holiday reading, I strongly recommend The Queen’s Gold, Steven Veerapen’s engaging Tudor spy thriller. It’s an achievement for a book to stand out in this popular genre and Veerapen hits the mark because his novel is both ingenious and finely crafted. And in Christopher – ‘call me Kit’ – Marlowe, he has created an enduring hero who, during his pursuit of The Queen’s Gold, develops an unlikely partnership with fellow Cambridge student Thomas Lewgar that promises many adventures to come. The premise for the story is straightforward. The wreck of Sir Francis Drake’s treasure ship The Sparrowhawk is found stranded on rocks years after it sunk reportedly with a full load of Spanish gold. How has the ship now re-appeared above water, and why are its holds empty?

Veerapen uses this simple dramatic proposition to tell an intriguing tale, populated by flawed characters who grow before our eyes, with a satisfying number of misdirections and twists to confound the reader. It’s well written, with plenty of pace and a strong sense of time and place, thanks to the author’s immaculate research married to strong storytelling skills. He’s not afraid to use well-known historical figures as characters. In my experience this can lead to stilted narrative but in Veerapen’s hands Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh live and breathe as does Marlowe himself who enjoyed a relatively short and dramatic existence as a famous playwright and alleged spy. It will be fascinating to see how Steven Veerapen interweaves his hero’s future adventures with the rich material provided by his actual life. Watch this space.

Summer Reads from Sharpe Books.