Looking at History by R.J. Unstead
When I was a kid one of my older brothers had these four little books that were my first introduction history. They had, for the sixties when I was reading them, the coolest line drawing illustrations and colour plates. These books covered English history from the time of ‘cavemen’ until the ‘present day’. The present day was the early fifties.
Imagine how I felt when I discovered Airfix plastic models of Ancient Britons and Romans and was able to act out the history I was reading about. It was this book that hooked me into a lifetime interest in history and wargaming.
A few weeks ago we were out for a walk and while passing an an auction house I found this book in a pile of discarded items that were getting trashed. It was a combined edition of all four of the history books I so loved as a child. A little battered on the spine but otherwise in pretty good nick.
In the 1970s I discovered the Raven, Swordsmistress of Chaos books by Richard Kirk. Richard Kirk was actually two people – Angus Wells and Robert Holdstock. They wrote five books in this fantasy series, and I am somewhat disappointed that they didn’t finish it. When it comes to this series we are not talking about high brow literature here, but fairly good swashbuckling sword and sorcery. The main protagonist is Raven, a slave girl who is destined to be the ‘pivot upon which the world turns’ and the harbinger of Chaos. Exactly why I am not sure. She has a supporting cast of friends and lovers and they battle various alien, evil and nefarious schemes over the course of the five book series. A lot is made of the descriptions of sex but to be honest, perhaps I was desensitised by all the Penthouse Letters I read as a teenager because I found it pretty tame. That being said, Raven was ambidextrous and definitely played for both teams. One of the things I loved about the books were the covers by Chris Achilleos, one of the great fantasy and sci-fi artists of the last century.
Some of you may remember these images of Kate Bush that are based on the Achilleos artwork used on the book covers. She was a hotty then and still is.
Anyways, I always liked the world the series was set in. The World was dominate by the Worldheart Ocean. Around it were the various nations and lands of Raven’s world. Beyond the known lands were mountains, snow, ice and mist – which was never really explained. The known world was like a bubble and everything outside was chaos. The preeminent state was the Altanate, with it’s cities and gold. Sly is home to tribes of black skinned warriors, Ishkar to blonde hotties (this was Raven’s home after all ) and a rift full of lost cities, jungles and half-human beastmen. The South is characterised by deserts and grasslands. The land of Xandrone is where tribes herd and ride giant war cows called Xand. The Lost Lands is where you find your fairly traditional S&S barbarian and tribal states. The North is home to great craftsmen in metal in the land of Quwhon. The island of Kragg was a viking type culture. The mysterious Isles of Kharwhan is home to a cabal of sorcerers whose machinations seem to piss Raven off no end while she continues to do whatever it is that they want. If that sounds confusing it is because it is. All in all you find all the usual tropes required in good old fashioned Sword and Sorcery. If you want to spend an hour chilling out I still think these stories are fun. Just don’t take them seriously.
So here is my take on the map that was included in the Raven books.
When I was at school in the late 70s my school library had this entire set – well at least what was published up to that point. Published by Time Life Books, the series consisted of twenty-seven volumes that were released between 1973 and 1980. Each book covered a specific topic relating to the history and settlement of the West – The Cowboys, The Great Chiefs, etc. They were covered in a faux-tooled leather binding that I thought really captured the period. The entire series is listed here (from Wikipedia):
I found this advert for this series on Youtube.
Jump forward thirty years and I had become interested in Wild West Skirmish gaming. I had seen the odd one or ten of these books in second hand bookshops over the years and the thought that it would be nice to have the whole set had crossed my mind. Well one day I was browsing an internet auction site and saw the whole set for sale. I probably paid too much, but bid on and won the auction. One delivery man with a hernia later, I was in possession of my own set.
These are not mine but an internet pic I found. Mine are in better nick.
I cannot recommend these books enough as a resource. Now I am pretty sure that you wont learn anything that you didn’t already know but just for pure reading pleasure they are a treat. Reading The Townsmen gave me heaps of ideas for structures for my own burgeoning Wild West town. If you get a chance to read these – please do. You wont be disappointed.
I am currently working on British, Spanish and Portuguese forces for the Peninsular War. I have a few reference books around – the odd Osprey and old Blandford book and so forth. On Trademe the other day I spotted this book – which was rather serendipitous. I bid on and won it.
Military Dress of the Peninsular War 1808-1814 by Martin Windrow and Gerry Embleton (1974).
This is a fairly substantial reference work of 200 pages. There is a fairly standard historical overview of the Peninsular War – probably nothing that you have not already read. There are a number of black and white illustrations – historical and period paintings and maps for the most part. The best thing about this book is the one hundred colour portraits of various units that fought in the Peninsular Campaign. Each illustration is accompanied by a fairly substantial blurb referencing historical and known uniform information of the regiments depicted.
The colour illustrations are of a really high quality and have a grittiness about them that I find compelling. If you like ‘campaign dress’ you will love them too. I thoroughly recommend this book. I do not know if it is still in print or not, but if you can find a copy then get hold of it.