Thursday, November 16, 2023

Historical Fiction Review: The Mark of the Salamander by Justin Newland

Today,  I have a historical fiction novel  in our book review spotlight.  Check out The Mark of the Salamander, learn about author Justin Newland, read a guest post and my thoughts on the book & be sure to enter for a chance to win a prize in the book tour giveaway at the end of this post.

​Book Title:  The Mark of the Salamander by Justin Newland
Category:  Adult Fiction (18 +),  246 pages
GenreHistorical Fiction and Magical Realism 
Publisher:  The Book Guild
Release date:  September 2023
Content Rating: PG-13 +M. Mild sex and cruelty. Mature themes.


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About the Book



Nelan Michaels is a young Flemish man fleeing religious persecution in the Spanish Netherlands. Settling in Mortlake outside London, he studies under Queen Elizabeth’s court astrologer, conjuring a bright future – until he’s wrongly accused of murder. Forced into the life of a fugitive, Nelan hides in London, before he is dramatically pressed into the crew of the Golden Hind. Thrust into a strange new world on board Francis Drake’s vessel, Nelan sails the seas on a voyage to discover discovery itself. Encountering mutiny, ancient tribes and hordes of treasure, Nelan must explore and master his own mystical powers – including the Mark of the Salamander, the mysterious spirit of fire.

THE MARK OF THE SALAMANDER is the first in The Island of Angels series: a two-book saga that tells the epic story and secret history of England’s coming of age during the Elizabethan era.
My Review

The Mark of the Salamander is a Wonderful Blend of Historical Fiction and Magical Fantasy. It took me a bit to settle into the period and fall into sync with the author's writing style and the flow of the storyline. I was not very familiar with Francis Drake, so initially, much of this novel read like a historical fantasy for me--but, once I did a little research into the character's history, the book took on a much greater depth. Once I settled into the time, I was very impressed by the author's setting development, attention to detail, and the historical accuracy of the scenes and storyline. The historical fiction aspect is strong, but the realistic fantasy plays very well into the story and is quite engaging and entertaining.


Strong, Interesting Characters and an Engaging Storyline Hold Readers' Interest from Beginning to End--and Beyond. The author does a beautiful job creating well-developed, well-rounded, and realistic characters. I found Nelan very relatable and engaging as he discovered more about the world around him, navigating his time at sea and coming of age a bit with his magical powers and his life purpose. While I didn't know much about Francis Drake, I found his character interesting and believable as well. Once I settled into the storyline, the author's writing style pulled me along on a journey to a faraway time and place. It kept me so invested in the characters that I was sad to see this book end, and I look forward to following the story in the second book of the series.

Would I Recommend The Mark of the Salamander by Justin Newland? If you enjoy historical fiction and historical fantasies, this novel is well written, with characters to love and a setting that does not disappoint. This novel is not a light read but holds well-formed dialogue and well-developed characters and scenes. I would definitely recommend this novel to readers who prefer realistic fantasy and relatable characters. I look forward to reading the second book in this series and following Nelan's journey ahead. 

Guest Post
by author Justin Newland


My latest historical fiction novel, The Mark of the Salamander, is hot off the press. It’s the first title in a two-book series, The Island of Angels, which tells the epic story and secret history of England’s coming of age during the Elizabethan era.

This blog relates the true story of a slave who have a profound impact on the life of Sir Francis Drake, a story which features in the novel.

Diego—his surname is not known—was an African enslaved by the Spanish and transported to Panama. He escaped and banded together with other Cimarrons, runaway Africans who established their own settlements in the Panama hinterlands.

This image shows perhaps an idealised version of what he may have looked and dressed like.

At the time, the Spanish pilfered much of their wealth from the Aztec temples and dug it out of the ground in places like the silver and gold Pitosi mine in Peru. Every year, this huge yield was shipped up the Pacific coast of South America to Panama, where it was loaded on a mule train and hauled across the Isthmus to Nombre de Dios on the Atlantic side, before being shipped to Spain on the annual treasure ship.

When the English buccaneer Francis Drake and his company attacked the port of Nombre de Dios in 1572, Diego bravely ran through a hail of bullets and persuaded the English to let him join them. Deigo then helped the English combine with the local Cimarrons to launch a successful attack on the annual Spanish mule train. After that escapade, Diego then returned to Plymouth with Drake.

Diego’s knowledge of the geography of the Isthmus of Panama was, in a strange way, instrumental in changing the fortunes of Drake, as well as of England, and in some ways, the world.

Because during the 1572 escapade, Diego took Drake to a unique hill. He climbed a tree, and made his way to a rickety platform that had been assembled there. Drake stood on it, and was perhaps the first Englishmen to see the panorama that spread out before him. Because looking east, he saw the vast expanse of the Pacific, but turning west, and gazing across the narrow Isthmus, he glimpsed the Atlantic. Both oceans at the same time! This was a vision that he never forgot, and Drake promised himself that one day he would sail in the Pacific Ocean, and one day he did. 

On 15 November 1577, Diego joined nearly 170 men to set sail with Drake on his vessel The Pelican from Plymouth to sail around the world. On board ship, Diego acted as Drake’s personal manservant, preparing his clothing and serving his meals. Diego had experience of long sea voyages, and was fluent in Spanish and now English, which made him an valuable interpreter. Like the rest of the crew, Diego was paid wages.

In April 1578, the fleet reached Brazil, sailed south along the coast of South America before crossing the Magellan straits. By the time Drake rounded Cape Horn, his was the only ship of the fleet remaining. That was when it was renamed The Golden Hind.

On 25 November 1578, Drake and his crew landed on Mocha Isle off the coast of Chile. After their horrendous passage across the straits, they were desperate for fresh water and food. To their delight, the island’s inhabitants gave them food, and told them to return the next day for drinking water. That night, they enjoyed a welcome feast.

The next morning, Diego, Drake and ten other men set out for the island. This time they were met not with friendship, but with a flurry of arrows. The natives’ sudden change of heart seems to have been caused by a misunderstanding over the translation of a word. Whatever it was, arrows rained down on the boat. Men died. Drake was hit in the face. Diego received more than 20 wounds.

Francis Drake’s ship, the Golden Hind, the first English vessel to sail around the globe.

Despite his multiple wounds, Diego survived for nearly another year, and died as the Golden Hind passed the Indonesian Moluccas on the way home.

This was a sad end to an extraordinary life that started in Africa, took him to South America, England, Brazil and Peru.

In my novel, I imagine the relationship between Drake and Diego in which Drake learns some of the arcane arts of seamanship from Diego, who also told the crew some of the extraordinary myths of his African people.

Long live Diego the Cimarron, the runaway, who didn’t run away and turned and faced his enslavers.

Justin Newland

6th October, 2023


Diego the Cimarron 

Map of the Isthmus of Panama

Sir Francis Drake’s The Golden Hind 


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Meet the Author

JUSTIN NEWLAND’s novels represent an innovative blend of genres from historical adventure to supernatural thriller and magical realism. His stories explore the themes of war and religion, and speculate on the human’s spiritual place in the universe.

Undeterred by the award of a Doctorate in Mathematics from Imperial College, London, he conceived his debut novel, The Genes of Isis (Matador, 2018), an epic fantasy set under Ancient Egyptian skies.

The historical thriller, The Old Dragon’s Head (Matador, 2018), is set in Ming Dynasty China in the shadows of the Great Wall.

The Coronation (Matador, 2019) was another historical adventure and speculates on the genesis of the most important event in the modern world – the Industrial Revolution.

The Abdication (Matador, 2021) is a mystery thriller in which a young woman confronts her faith in a higher purpose and what it means to abdicate that faith.

The Mark of the Salamander (Book Guild, 2023) is the first in a two-book series, The Island of Angels. Set in the Elizabethan era, it’s an epic tale of England’s coming of age.

His work in progress is the second in the series, The Midnight of Eights, the charting of the uncanny coincidences that led to the repulse of the Spanish Armada.

Author, speaker and broadcaster, Justin appears on LitFest panels, gives talks to historical associations and libraries and enjoys giving radio interviews and making podcasts. Born three days before the end of 1953, he lives with his partner in plain sight of the Mendip Hills in Somerset, England.

connect with the author: 
website twitter ~ facebook instagram pinterest bookbub goodreads
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