Buchan of the Month: Introducing Midwinter by John Buchan

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Midwinter is the fourth book in my John Buchan reading project, Buchan of the Month 2019.   You can find out more about the project and the books I read in 2018 here, and view my reading list for 2019 here.

MidwinterWhat follows is an introduction to Midwinter.  It is also an excuse to show a picture of my Nelson edition of the book with its charming dust jacket.  I will be posting my review of the book later in the month.

Midwinter was published in the UK on 6th September 1923 by Hodder & Stoughton and in the United States on 29th August 1923 by George H. Doran, Buchan’s American publisher.

It was begun in June 1921 at Elsfield Manor, the country house in Oxfordshire John Buchan had purchased in 1919 and which became his family home.  (You can find out more information about Elsfield and the Buchan family’s life there here.)

His first biographer, Janet Adam Smith, describes Midwinter as ‘the first fruit of Buchan’s love-affair with his new home, the record of his exploration of it in space and time’.   The book features what she calls ‘the greatest character from Elsfield’s story’, namely Dr. Samuel Johnson, who had walked out from Oxford to have tea with Mr. Francis Wise (a former owner of Elsfield) in the summer of 1754.

Janet Adam Smith characterises the book as ‘a brisk, exciting tale’ saying that its ‘spring and life come from Buchan’s delight in the Oxfordshire country and in the feeling about the past which they gave him’.  Kate MacDonald describes Midwinter as ‘a fine Buchan mystery thriller’ and comments that the character, the eponymous Midwinter, might be a grown-up Puck taken from Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill. David Daniell notes that Midwinter was widely admired, including by J. B. Priestley.  He describes its main tones as ‘zest and alertness’ and ‘an eager new response to countryside’.

In her new biography of her grandfather, Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps, Ursula Buchan quotes John Buchan’s own comments that in Midwinter he had attempted ‘to catch the spell of the great midland forests and the Old England which lay everywhere just beyond the highroads and the ploughlands’.  Indeed, Midwinter is subtitled ‘Certain Travellers in Old England’.

Midwinter, like all Buchan’s historical novels, was less commercially successful than his more well-known thrillers.  Janet Adam Smith reports that it sold 16,000 copies in its first year after publication and had combined sales by 1960 (for the Hodder & Stoughton edition and the later Nelson edition) of 112,000.    For comparison, The Thirty-Nine Steps had sold 355,000 copies by the same date.


Sources:

Ursula Buchan, Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps: A Life of John Buchan (Bloomsbury, 2019)

David Daniell, The Interpreter’s House: A Critical Assessment of the Work of John Buchan (Nelson, 1975)

Kate Macdonald, John Buchan: A Companion to the Mystery Fiction (McFarland, 2009)

Janet Adam Smith, John Buchan: A Biography (OUP, 1985 [1965])

Kenneth Hillier and Michael Ross, The First Editions of John Buchan: A Collector’s Illustrated Biography (Avonworld, 2008)

buchan of the month 2019

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Blog Tour/Book Review: The New Achilles by Christian Cameron

The New Achilles Blog tour

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for action-packed historical novel, The New Achilles by Christian Cameron. Thanks to Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers for inviting me to take part in the tour and to Orion Books and NetGalley for my review copy.  You can read my review below.


The New AchillesAbout the Book

Alexanor is a man who has seen too much blood. He has left the sword behind him to become a healer in the greatest sanctuary in Greece, turning his back on war.

But war has followed him to his refuge at Epidauros, and now a battle to end the freedom of Greece is all around him. The Mediterranean superpowers of Rome, Egypt and Macedon are waging their proxy wars on Hellenic soil, turning Greek farmers into slaves and mercenaries.

When wounded soldier Philopoemen is carried into his temple, Alexanor believes the man’s wounds are mortal but that he is not destined to die. Because he knows Philopoemen will become Greece’s champion. Its last hero. The new Achilles.

Format: Hardcover (pp.)    Publisher: Orion Books
Published: 18th April 2019 Genre: Historical Fiction

Pre-order/Purchase Links*
Amazon.co.uk  ǀ  Amazon.com  ǀ Hive.co.uk (supporting UK bookshops)
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find The New Achilles on Goodreads


My Review

The New Achilles is crammed full of action scenes (including a pirate attack in the very first chapter) that really come alive on the page.   It’s also full of detailed information about clothing, weaponry, armour, religious practices and social customs of the time that are obviously the result of extensive research.  (The glossary at the end of the book is much needed.) The detailed and often lengthy battle scenes, although undoubtedly exciting, were of less interest to me than the exploration of the interesting relationship between Alexanor and Philopoemen.  ‘We’ve boxed and we’ve argued.  Are we not brothers?’

Alexanor is variously doctor, therapist, confidante and sparring partner to Philopoemen, whom he accompanies on his journeys to different theatres of war from what we now know as the mainland of Greece to Crete and back again.  It’s a complex political situation with shifting allegiances and a multitude of city states and their leaders competing for power and influence – ‘the game of kings’, in fact.  In his Author’s Note, Christian Cameron likens Greece at the time to modern Syria with all the big players fighting over her.

Alexanor and Philopoemen are united by the trauma of loss in their personal lives but although both have chosen a life of action as the means to silence their demons, Alexanor has opted for priesthood and healing whilst Philopoemen has chosen success on the battlefield.

Philopoemen, the so-called ‘new Achilles’, is a charismatic leader, master tactician and accomplished, and seemingly tireless, fighter with miraculous powers of recovery.   As imagined by the author, he is somewhat of a radical visionary too, arguing the case for gender equality and an end to slavery among other things.  As he says, ‘I don’t want to conquer the world, I want to make it better.’ He’s a bit of a politician as well, keenly aware of what is required of a leader.  He states knowingly at one point ‘No one fancies a hard-working Achilles.  It has to appear effortless’.

The New Achilles is a book for readers who like their historical fiction to come with a soundtrack of the clash of swords, the thunder of hooves, the swish of arrows and javelins, the glugging of wine and the earthy language of soldiers in battle.

In his Author’s Note, Christian Cameron states, ‘This book is a novel, and a great deal of it, especially the details, is made up.  But Philopoemen really lived.  And he really was so great a man that everyone, friends and enemies, honoured him when he was dead.’ Fans of The New Achilles will be pleased to know that Philopoemen’s story doesn’t end here.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of publishers, Orion Books, and NetGalley.

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In three words: Detailed, dramatic, action-packed

Try something similar…The Last King of Lydia by Tim Leach


Christian Cameron 2About the Author

Christian Cameron is a writer and military historian. He participates in re-enacting and experimental archaeology, teaches armoured fighting and historical swordsmanship, and takes his vacations with his family visiting battlefields, castles and cathedrals. He lives in Toronto and is busy writing his next novel.  (Photo credit: Orion Books author page)

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