Book Review: Distant Echoes: Richard III Speaks! by Joanne R. Larner

In the time following the discovery, beneath a Leicester parking lot, of the remains of Richard III, the last Plantagenet king, the medieval monarch has indeed gained a wider audience as we learn more details about the find. For example, it was announced that he was not, after all, the scary neighborhood hunchback; rather, he suffered from scoliosis, which actually makes him more of a boss, given his accomplishments, as reported even by his enemies.

Much material continues to be released, and many people, even those not previously inclined toward history, have started seeking out all things Richard. Publishers give it to them too, though the nature of these offerings is sober; they tend to be serious reads of medical and martial material with, really, no happy ending—at least not for the Richard of 1485. Alas, Bosworth still is soaked in blood, and Richard still falls. In fairness, it’s not really a walk in the park to spin that into something cheerful.

Author Joanne Larner has long lamented the same, so she set out to shake up the playing field a bit with her debut novel, Richard Liveth Yet. A more lighthearted look into the latter Wars of the Roses era by way of time travel, she also brings Richard Plantaganet to modern England and we get a glimpse into his perceptions of us, rather than only the standard fare of vice versa. With her latest, Distant Echoes: Richard III Speaks!, Larner takes time travel to a different level—dimension—by way of innovative software and science that teams up a subject’s DNA with technology to track voice vibrations, even those that occurred over 500 years ago.

Stepping back for a moment, it is worth giving attention to the book’s epigraph, song lines from “Sheriff Hutton” by the Legendary Ten Seconds: “Where distant echoes still resound/That which is lost may still be found.” Capturing the attention of readers of a genre whose very nature evokes images, events, perhaps even portions of collective memory, echoes from the past, it further stimulates the need to positively identify all this and wonder if we really could experience history and, amongst other events, hear the speaking voice of a medieval king.

Larner opens the novel with protagonist Eve experiencing the end of a romantic relationship and moves forward with her signature chapter titles named after songs. A medium that transcends time, music of some sort appeals to just about every human; it seems to be coded into our DNA to like it, nay, need it. For this I can’t help thinking Richard would have appreciated Larner’s creative idea; even if he didn’t always love some lyrics, he would recognize that most messages are those that touch someone, somewhere, and the relatable forms they take can promote unity.

It was with a similar unity that, even amongst differences and a mixture of complex personalities, Eve’s professional team moves forward with their project and echoes of the past filter into the modern lives of these Future Tech employees. Larner also puts a bit of a twist into the sessions in that not everyone experiences them the same way, which, in reality, makes great sense as individual perspective and changing variables play into it all.

Eve’s colleagues possess different levels of understanding when it comes to history, and Larner cleverly utilizes this to determine what and how much information is communicated between characters and, as a result, readers, many of whom might also maintain differing degrees of awareness. Of course, everyone, reader and fictional researcher alike, wants to know about the ultimate medieval mystery: What happened to the princes in the tower? It is with great dexterity that Larner manages the range of perspectives, historical knowledge and “eavesdropping” abilities of her cast as each individual keenly looks forward to the moment of truth. Amongst the chaos, intrigue and dangerous, unknown loyalties of 1485, and those that develop in Eve’s own time, will they find it?

One of the best elements of Larner’s novel relates to the manner in which the narrative moves forward. Alternately giving us glimpses into Eve’s private life, already wracked by the grief of losing an important relationship, we also witness her discovery into other areas, how she copes with learning and what she does with her new understanding. This parallel plot does make for a more meaty tale, but it doesn’t just simmer near the first. Instead, they both marinate, the two forming a deliciously satisfying whole impossible to forget.

Really quite innovative, Larner’s novel demonstrates her richly developed sense of Richard Plantagenet, and two thoughts come to mind: one, that hopefully this author’s amazing imagination continues to give us wonderful stories of the king and; two, that the science doesn’t actually exist shouldn’t preclude Distant Echoes! from gaining a wide (and wider) audience, as it doesn’t seem these days to surprise very many, though it does intrigue, when once wild ideas are developed. Larner not only has her finger on this pulse, but also presents it in an accessible, smoothly flowing work, reminiscent of Daughter of Time, that allows historical players to tell their own tale.

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Before a few tweaks, this review first appeared at Murray and Blue.

About the Author

Joanne Larner was born in London and moved to Rayleigh in Essex (UK) in 2001. She had wanted to write a novel since the age of thirteen and finally managed it in 2015. She was helped by two things: National Novel Writing Month and Richard III. Richard was her inspiration and she became fascinated by him when she saw the Channel 4 documentary The King in the Car Park in February 2013. She researched his life and times and read countless novels, but became fed up because they all ended the same way – with his death at the Battle of Bosworth.

So she decided to write a different type of Richard story and added a time travel element. The rest is (literally) history. She found his character seemed to write itself and with NaNoWriMo giving her the impetus to actually DO it, she succeeded. After she began writing the story that was in her head, she found that there was far too much material for one book and, in fact, it finally turned into a trilogy consisting of Richard Liveth Yet: A Historical Novel Set in the Present DayRichard Liveth Yet (Book II): A Foreign Country and Richard Liveth Yet (Book III): Hearts Never Change. Book II takes place mainly in Richard’s time and Joanne found that many actual historical elements seemed to match serendipitously with her requirements. For example, the characters who were contemporary to Richard, the date of Joana’s death, the fact that Lorenzo’s wife, Clarice, had twins that didn’t survive the birth, etc.

The idea for Distant Echoes began when Joanne listened to Sheriff Hutton by The Legendary Ten Seconds and it reminded her of a sci-fi novel she had read as a teenager, where friendly aliens could see the ‘echoes’ of events after they had occurred. She wanted to write about the real Richard III, telling of acts of his that, though documented fact, are not known by the average reader, his good laws and fair judgments being eclipsed by the presumed and unproven murder of his nephews. The idea lent itself to ‘eavesdropping’ on Richard, using his own words where possible, and Distant Echoes was born.

For more about the author and her books, sign up or follow her at FacebookTwitter and her blogDistant Echoes: Richard III Speaks!, the books mentioned above and more are available at Amazon and Amazon UK.

Updates: Growth Spurts, Graduation and Gloucester

The Lascaux Cave paintings came up for discussion & we talked deep into the night.

Not too long ago, my son asked as he surveyed his Blu Ray collection of over 500: “Remember when I opened my desk drawer and said, ‘This is where I’ll keep my DVDs’?” Indeed, at the time he had just a few DVDs, and I suppose we both didn’t think beyond the point when what he owned would no longer fit in that drawer. Since then, the collection grew, and one day he decided the DVD was a reviled thing of the past. “Dirty Vile Disks,” he called them. He set out to replace every single DVD he owned with the Blu Ray version, while simultaneously growing that collection. He now has difficulty fitting them in his room, though in my opinion this is because his shelving is inefficient.

But who am I to talk? I’ve shifted furniture every so often for his entire life and between my ideas and his, we’ve found some pretty clever ways to create more storage, especially for books. And yet I’m still running out of space. We both have a lot of books. His most recent purchase was John Green’s The Anthropocene Reviewed.* Mine was How to Be a Tudor by Ruth Goodman, and Digging for Richard and…well, never mind, we don’t have to get all into that. At least not now. The point is, I, uh, well, I’m in the market for an additional bookshelf, as of last Sunday at about noon when I left the library book sale a few dollars poorer and a lot of books heavier. I’ll just leave it at three boxes – some of them might have been super fat books, hey?

I’m not quite ready to divulge how much I spent, or exactly how many books I came home with. Let’s just say I had a bit of a growth spurt. Keep an eye out for more details.

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A couple of weeks ago my son graduated from high school. I’m not exactly sure how this happened, because twenty minutes ago I was standing in the kitchen holding his little face as it peered up at me, telling him I won’t be able to do that much longer. He refused to believe me, but here we are, him towering over me and laughing because I can’t get my Swiffer to reach the top of the wall. Hey, it’s a cathedral ceiling! No matter, he still demands hugs, and that works.

Here is what I wrote the night he walked:

I am severely overdue for this: gratitude of the day.

I am so grateful for my son: a fine young man at eighteen, he always tries to do the right thing. He is smart, sensitive, hard-working and likes to move in sport. He has always enjoyed reading, is very into film history and can solve a Rubik’s cube without blinking, the latter portion of it with his hands literally behind his back. He has chosen at various times to immerse himself in lots of different learning: languages (Spanish & German), music (baritone & tuba), oceanography, studies of Ancient Rome and history of the Americas, theater, trigonometry, African literature, was “Swedish for a day,” loves animals and children (and is compassionate, playful and wonderful with both), attempts to understand politics thoughtfully and honestly, loves to bicycle and play basketball. We often reminisce about a research project he did in first grade about otters – he is still quite proud of that experience. He earned over $5,000.00 one summer for a trip to Europe and continued to hold down that job – in which he got a promotion within the first month – through the rest of high school, which he just graduated from with honors and as part of two honor societies, one of which he volunteered for on numerous occasions. He has written two books (one for very small children, the other young adult) and self studies techniques and other about film making. His friends are terrific and I am so happy for him that they’ve all met and shared as much as they did.

I know I’ve left a lot out, but even just that small bit above is more than I accomplished at his age, and I am so blessed, truly blessed that he is in my life. I am so excited to see where he goes! ~

I know I used which a lot at one point in there, but bear with me. I’ve got something in my eye.

You know what else is about to graduate? One of my wips is soon to be published in an anthology. It’s a short story about Richard III and you probably remember me mentioning it here. I’ve contributed to another anthology in the past, so I guess I could already call myself an author, but it wasn’t original work in the sense this is. Of course this draws on established history, but what historical fiction doesn’t? Here I create a character – or she brought herself to my attention would likely be more accurate, informing me in a rather dignified manner that she would be telling the story from here on out, thank you very much. She discovers something she wants to talk about, and ohhh is she talking. I suppose I should be grateful because when I was first recruited for this project, I recall thinking, “Sh**! I don’t think I can do a battle scene justice!” I don’t know why my first anxiety went to the need to write a battle scene, but Persephone sort of rescued me because now she does the heavy lifting. I just have to type it all!

There have been a lot of great things about this project, and the tip top is the group of people I assembled with. Scholars and researchers of many levels, they share information as opposed to hoard it, and are encouraging; they celebrate each other’s successes. Our team leader, author Joanne Larner, also lucky for me, is inclined to appreciate even the very teensy details of things like punctuation and grammar, and she both accepts and dispenses constructive criticism with grace. The project definitely lives up to the stereotype (or should I call it the reality?) that every time you look at your manuscript, you’ll find something else wrong with it, so it’s good that in my experience with this fabulous group, everyone’s attitude seems to be “it is what it is” as we plod on. Now we’ve plodded a lot together and the book awaits the completed foreword by Matthew Lewis, Chairman of the Richard III Society. Our book too has experienced its own share of growth spurts, as it went from idea to reality to contents bulging and soon – July 6, to be precise, it will be released.

The updated cover for our anthology, as presented by Joanne Larner, with Riikka Nikko’s illustration. I love everything about this cover!!! Mwah!!!!!

It’s good that my first published work of historical fiction is a short story. I mean it makes the process a little less painful because it’s a smaller sum total to have to weave together, and I suppose it’s good practice for a longer tale, which I actually had been working on before I put it down for this. I don’t regret it, though, because it was sort of overwhelming before, and now I have a better idea of where to go with all the details and ideas swimming in my head. Swimming is said to exercise every muscle in the body, so hopefully that will help me pull it all together more effectively as my storytelling grows, in spots and spurts, and see where it takes me from there.

*You may recall Green from his video included in my blog post about

The Catcher in the Rye.

The Road Not Travelled may be pre-ordered from Amazon and Amazon UK. Paperback option to be added.

Book Release Announcement – The Road Not Travelled: Alternative Tales of the Wars of the Roses

It is a simply beautiful day outside and I’m even happier than that because I have a fabulous announcement to make.

I am so proud and humbled to be part of a fantastic group of writers recruited by author Joanne Larner to contribute to an alternative historical fiction short story anthology set in the Wars of the Roses era. Each author looks at a specific moment in this period of time and explores circumstances had they been altered a bit, or had some historical figure made a choice different to what they actually did in history. 

Joanne provides a great example: “[W]hat if Richard’s father, Richard Duke of York, had not been killed at Wakefield but had defeated Margaret of Anjou’s army and claimed the throne (HE would have then become Richard III).” 

She named the book The Road Not Travelled, a nod to the times in life when a fork in the road appears and remains unchosen. In our stories, that side of the various branches are traveled, and we see what might have happened had time marched forward on those bifurcations. One single decision, one momentary happenstance can transform someone’s entire life and that life, history. How might history had played out if we spoke of Richard III, formerly the Duke of York, and his Queen Cecily? We might never have heard much of the younger Richard Plantagenet, or he might have risen to great heights indeed. Would he have been influential in laws to benefit English society that later informed our own? Would the United States even have been founded? Would there be a Shakespeare? 

I feel so lucky to be part of such a fabulous writing group of individuals from so many walks of life and various parts of the world, all with this one passion in common, to put together such an anthology. I’m also absolutely chuffed—as the English like to say—to have had my story copyread by two skilled editors with fantastic observations and wonderful constructive criticism to help make it the best it can be. I’m really grateful to them both, as well as to Jo, under whose eagle eye it will pass for a final exam. 

To think I never would have begun this journey had I not chosen one particular pathway—out of sheer curiosity, mind you—by reading a book about Richard III, one I had no intention of following up on. I did, in fact, do just that, owing to my great surprise at the outright bias plaguing the entire piece of work, frequently finding myself re-surprised at why it even mattered to me – and yet it did. Once I knew more about Richard, I understood he cared about the people whom he served as king, and I believe, despite his tragic end all too soon, echoes of this consideration passed down through time, perhaps even touching our own age.

I recall feeling awe and admiration at his fighting abilities and the courage he displayed, even when he might have experienced intense pain from the scoliosis he’d suffered from since, probably, adolescence. While such a condition never affected me personally, I did know someone in elementary school who’d had to wear a back brace to correct her own curvature. Of course, this means nothing to my own situations in life, but it left some sort of imprint on me, I suppose, given that I remember my classmate’s struggle. Other contributing factors were the back issues I had following injuries sustained in a car accident, an experience of my own that later enabled me to thoughtfully consider Richard’s experience. On some days I struggled to stand up in the morning; Richard took it to a battlefield and fought for his country. 

So it is with great pleasure to also say here that the book will be sold in aid of the Scoliosis Association UK

The publishing aim is July 6, the 538th anniversary of Richard III’s coronation. Also hoped for is the ability to pre-order very soon – watch this space because I will most definitely be announcing news as I receive it!

Oh! My story is called “Episodes in the Life of King Richard III,” and I hope you will enjoy it – and the others – come July.

Click here for a sneak peak at the cover for

The Road Not Travelled,

drawn by talented artist Riikka Nikko.

Cover Crush: Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

Several years ago, a friend recommended Company of Liars to me and I loved it. I was quite taken with the cover as well, and in recent months it has been on my mind. It is tantalizingly adept at evoking images of the medieval; the author or publisher could probably have left off the subtitle and the cover would still retain its draw.* The red of the lettering and a lone cross provides a beautiful contrast to the background yellow, an easy yellow somewhat a mixture of the soft color people today refer to as “powdery” and the low light sometimes seen coming from windows at night. As the gaze moves over the page, it recognizes subtle spots of light brown, a shading that spreads as we come closer to the binding, and we half expect the aged page to crinkle were we to touch it.

Against this backdrop is illustrated the head of a wolf, a most fearsome creature to medieval people, this one in particular given its long, serpentine tongue, stretching from a mouth open wide enough to reveal fearsome sharp teeth on top and bottom. Here is where it gets slightly tricky as I have forgotten a few details about the book, though some generalities may be accurate when we look plainly. We cannot see his eye in this profile, yet there is almost a sense that he is laughing. At what? The people’s fear of him? Or how exaggerated it is because of their lack of real knowledge of him?

Continue reading “Cover Crush: Company of Liars by Karen Maitland”

Month of Mary Stewart: A Walk in Wolf Wood

A Walk in Wolf Wood: A Tale of Fantasy and Magic

by Mary Stewart

The cover for the copy of A Walk in Wolf Wood I read as a child
The cover for the copy of A Walk in Wolf Wood I read as a child

A Walk in Wolf Wood came my way owing to what my mother called “a great pairing”: medieval fantasy and child protagonists matched to my love for the era of Merlin and my then newly-minted Mary Stewart fangirl status. As young adult literature it also suited my age, and I was pleased to see magic wrapped up in the entire package as well. Even for children, Stewart knew how to present intrigue.

Our story opens to the setting of Schwartzwald, Germany’s Black Forest, just outside of which brother and sister John and Margaret are picnicking with their parents, who shortly afterward fall into a post-lunch slumber. As the heat settles around the party, lulling even the afternoon to sleep, the children see a man approach and then pass them, weeping, as his tears “poured down his face and dripped onto the faded red velvet of his coat.” The intuitive pair notice the unusual clothing, naturally, but in discussing it, reject the idea that he is a re-enactor or some other sort of role player. John has difficulty articulating his instinctive understanding that the dancers they’d seen at St. Johann’s were “just dressing up” and that the weeping man seemed to be accustomed to what he wore.

As readers of fantasy are aware, children are intrepid creatures and it doesn’t occur to them to simply watch events pass by—of course these two have to run after the weeping man and see what his story is! It’s practically a requirement—“It’s in the script,” my mother used to say—and the entire experience is better off for of it, especially today when children are much more regulated and corralled than they were in the not-so-distant past. Stewart couldn’t have foreseen the downside of mixing children with Internet, but she presents to them, and all of us for that matter, the magic of imagination and not just where it can take you, but also when.


“It’s not turkey. It’s swan. And that bit’s peacock. Meg, you should just see the way they do them up, all the feathers and tail, the lot! They’re fixing them up now in the kitchens, ready for supper. Just wait till I have time to tell you everything! But we’d better exchange news first. No, no one suspects me. I really came down to get out of joining the boys’ games in the courtyard!” He made a face. You should see them! Black eyes and broken noses are the least of it! It’s all war games, of course, mock fights and tilting at the quintain—that’a sort of tournament practice—and they really do hammer at it. The master-at-arms is in charge, and he’s really tough type. I don’t think I’d have lasted very long there!”


As it turns out, their imaginings and urge to follow the man lead John and Margaret to a house in the forest, where they eventually befriend the one they come to know as Mardian. Though he once had been servant and close friend of Duke Otho, an evil sorcerer called Almeric has placed a spell on him, and he is fated to a shapeshifting existence while the sorcerer has assumed Mardian’s identity at court. The real Mardian helplessly watches Almeric’s takeover plan successfully move from step to step toward its ultimate conclusion, a palace coup that would not only unseat the duke, but also eliminate him and his son, Prince Crispin, entirely. Only John and Margaret can change the course of this wicked plan, though to do so they must enter the castle and place themselves in Almeric’s very path.

While I have never been attracted to werewolf stories, for a reader with my preferences this one nevertheless works well because Stewart focuses on how the spell robs Mardian of his full life and forces him into a destructive existence that eats at his will to overcome it.

“[F]or a year and more I have been as I am now. By day I am still Mardian, but the night, as you have seen, forces the wolf-shape on me, and with it the wolf’s appetite and lust for blood. With sunrise the bloodlust goes, and my man’s shape and mind return, but the memories and the shame remain.”

 Throughout the novel Stewart also weaves an aura of enchantment that occasionally manifests itself in the children’s self-awareness and their conclusion that everything they are experiencing must certainly be a dream. How else could they have walked only a short distance into another time? Moreover, how is it they are able to communicate with Mardian, whose language is different to theirs? For this they conclude they in reality are asleep near to their parents, and they speak a “dream language” that enables communication.

Stewart provides answer for these questions, cleverly inverting the notion that we in the modern era are the sensible, cleverer people, and Mardian’s fourteenth century is populated by the backward and superstitious. Yearning for some explanation for their experiences, the children opt for the ages-old technique of finding an explanation, no matter how illogical, for their experiences and ascribing them to it, whereas Mardian directly faces the truth, counseling them that

“spell it is … and no dream, my dears, as you had hoped. This is real, as your own time is real, and there is suffering to be won or escaped from. It is for you to choose. Choice is man’s right, and for that I leave you free.”

 In this scenario, twentieth-century children seek to escape the possibility of sorcery and imagine an alternate reality to account for it, whereas Mardian explains it quite matter-of-factly, even hinting in rather modern fashion that the choice to remain in the state they have concocted or move away from is their own. It is he, not they, who is unafraid of the idea of mixing time, and he who references their native time without including their own travel within the realm of evil.

A magical cover image: flags flying at the castle, looking a bit Hansl and Gretl-like, getting friendly with the wolf. Stewart is a master at turning the familiar a bit inside out.

As a fantasy tale, A Walk in Wolf Wood more than stands on its own, for it also encompasses time travel and a sense of history, and speaks to the themes of royal life, treasonous activity and the bonds of true friendship. A young adult novel, it attracts grown-up readers as well with its rich descriptions and the storytelling magic fans of Stewart are accustomed to. Simple but not simplistic, it is an engaging read with just the right recipe to charm readers of various ages as they follow John and Margaret and where the enchantment will take all of them.

Click title to see the series intro, “The World of Mary Stewart.”

“Month of Mary Stewart” continues later today with “Image of the Week” and concludes next week with a review for The Prince and the Pilgrim.

A lovely blog in honor of the late Mary Stewart.

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This post has been updated to include links to related entries.