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Master of Shadows by Neil Oliver

We have gathered all the fantastic reviews our Book Club Members have sent us this month.

Click on each name to read the review. If you would like to become part of the Viking Book Club, sign up here >>

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Sue Emlyn-Jones

I was quite surprised by just how easily this book flowed. It does have quite a complicated plot with intertwining characters that does take a little work to follow, but Neil Oliver draws you into a fascinating time, with twists and turns that are quite ingenious. It is certainly one book that I have found myself more than happy to pick up day after day, always wondering where the story would take me during that session.

Judith Smith

I have not read any of Neil Oliver's non-fiction books but have watched his wonderfully presented TV programmes and been impressed by his style of portraying historic people and events. Master of Shadows is his first work of fiction, an epic book that covers a very violent period in history. It is set in the fifteenth century and covers action starting in Scotland and continuing all the way to Constantinople. The characters, some based on known historical persons and some fictional, are very well written and you are drawn into their stories and feel for their safety. There is also religious zeal, love, great friendships and a touch of the mystical. I am now a complete convert to Neil Oliver's fictional writing and hope that he writes more. In the meantime, I am drawn to trying some of his non-fiction books. This is not my normal choice but I now feel that I might be missing out on learning something about history in greater depth written by an author that has great descriptive powers and has such feeling for his subject.

Susan Dowsing

An epic story of the fall of Constantinople written by the TV historian Neil Oliver. Throughout the book, my inner ear could hear the author's rich Scottish voice. Although the story was based on fictional characters, the sense of realism came from meticulous research and Oliver's understanding of the importance of place in a novel. I did find that some of the unusual sentence construction led the narrative losing its flow occasionally and the switching of time and place confusing. If you usually enjoy a historical novel, this could be one for you to try.

Carolyn Steppler

I enjoyed this book. It had a "keep reading into the night" quality, fast paced and good twists of plot to keep the reader wondering what would happen next. Although set in a particular time and place (the siege of Constantinople in 1453, with a beginning in Oliver's native Scotland), this book has the character of a fantasy adventure: a hero with special powers, strong female characters, and a noble warrior, all fighting the Turkish besiegers and the lawless Scots. Take this book on your next Viking cruise but don't start it just before the first excursion - you won't want to leave the ship!

Yvonne Woolven

Neil Oliver brings history to life as a TV presenter, but with this book I struggled to get into the narrative. The book tells us about the life and journey of John Grant, a little known Scot who travelled miles from home to help defend Constantinople at its fall in 1453. Other characters, central to John Grant’s life, were woven into the narrative along the way, some of whom were a tad unbelievable in their abilities. The story was verbose in places and for me it took a long time to get to Constantinople. Overall, this book wasn’t my cup of tea.

Pam McDonald

An intriguing if somewhat confusing read at times. Neil Oliver's use of descriptive language as evidenced in the opening chapter had me spellbound, which compensated for some of the repeat reading I had to do as the story zigzagged between Scotland and Constantinople, covering a generation of time slots. The period of history the 15th century Byzantine Empire, is one I am unfamiliar with, but it is brought to life with the sometimes graphic descriptions of love and war, which centre on the main character John Grant. I found his connection with Joan of Arc improbable but enjoyed the story line nevertheless. Badr Khassan is also a dominant character through much of the book. Even after his death he influences the outcome and his presence can be felt to the very end. Happiness is achieved in the final chapter but at great cost. The fate of John Grant becomes the cliff hanger that perhaps leaves the way open to a sequel and leaves you wanting more. Would I have selected this book of my own accord? Probably not, but I am glad I read it and towards the end found that I could not put it down.

Shelagh Payne

It starts off good, a historical fiction novel with some actual facts and then a story woven around them. The book is split into four main parts, the first part concerning John Grant’s early life in Scotland and introducing various characters then as the story moves into the second it all becomes a little too far-fetched for me! Also l can cope with timelines going back and forth, but then timelines within timelines became a little confusing - working out dates etc - it became not so easy to absorb the storyline. The final two parts then took us to the real story which for a first novel was ok. I found the text in parts too wordy and sadly could see where the plot/story was leading, l had guessed how too many of the characters and the parts they would play were involved. Only one surprise or twist happened in nearly two hundred pages. I have read worst novels but did finish the book, early promise but flat middle and end, was hoping for better.

Anne Chilton

I don’t like historical novels so when Master of Shadows arrived my heart sank. What should I do? Pretend it hadn’t arrived or send it back unopened. Well that seemed a bit churlish, so, as I had a long train journey coming up from Scotland to London thought I may as well take it with me and just have a flick through. And this is how I ended not so much eating my words as devouring Neil Oliver’s. The miles and chapters sped by as the gripping story and wonderfully rounded people drew me in. Lives and events intertwining, never sure where it will end however, always the underlying feeling that the main characters whilst miles apart will at some point find their paths and lives crossing. Master of Shadows is a thoroughly absorbing five star read from a wonderful story teller. So, if like me you ‘don’t like’ historical novels don’t pass this one by, it might change your mind as well.

Laura Alegra

The story had me hooked from the beginning. An unusual view of a special talent and the gradual introduction of known historical figures drew me in and had me wondering what the outcome would be.

Patricia Myers

Having followed Neil Oliver's BBC television series and enjoyed his way of bringing history to life, it was good to see that he could turn this to his writing too. The story of the siege of Constantinople seen through John Grant and his companions' eyes brought a part of history that I had never covered before to reality. Each new character is woven into the story smoothly. A thoroughly good read, full of adventure and even romance and the ending ensures interest for the next book in the series whilst completing this first epic story.