DRM-free Find: Much Secret Sorrow

L. J. Hutton's novel tells an alternative tale of Guy of Gisborne and Robin Hood.

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This isn't a review, but a look at what I'm reading at the moment and how shopping for DRM-free books can introduce you to exciting new titles.

I tend to have a number of books on the go at the same time. What I choose to read will usually depend on my mood or how much I'm enjoying a particular title. If a book has really grabbed me, I'll devour it as quickly as I can; snatching every moment of my commute or struggling to stay awake while reading in bed. A strong story will consume my imagination and allow me to embed myself in the world of the novel. And yes, that's what's happened with Much Secret Sorrow by L. J. Hutton.

The book's description, from Smashwords:

Robin Hood: you know the stories, you know the hero - or do you? How did he elude so many sheriffs? Overcome so many adversaries? Alone... or was there a man on the inside? History paints Sir Guy of Gisborne blacker than black, the enemy of a great English hero, but on his death-bed Guy reveals to his confessor the secrets of his double life - as spy and covert enemy of the very sheriffs he served.

An Awkward Start

The opening chapter of L. J. Hutton's alternative history novel isn't great. The e-book is poorly formatted and would benefit from following the Smashwords Style Guide more closely. It's awkwardly written at first, needs a violent and bloodthirsty edit and makes a bad first impression. I was reading a free sample from Smashwords, so I was willing to wade through and see if it improved. And it did improve. It improved a great deal, in fact.

The Decision Point

What started as a difficult, if intriguing, slog soon picked up. I was pulled into a richly detailed 12th Century world of politicking lords, dangerous Welsh border raids and a likeable protagonist in the form of Guy of Maebury. A careful, steady feed of recognisable, but not yet legendary, characters topped it all off.

The 133-page free sample of Much Secret Sorrow just happened to finish on a cliff-hanger and I spent a good portion of the District Line desperately trying to avoid starting a different book. I didn't want to interrupt my reading experience. I wanted to buy this one and carry on.

I bought the book that lunchtime. It took me until late evening, though, before I could return to Guy's adventures, but now I'm firmly entrenched and loving every minute. I'm seeing a character develop and plot lines converge to set up the stuff of later legend. The slow build-up is worth it and does contribute to a much livelier, fuller world and more meaningful character motivations.


Watching the Smashwords homepage is a revelatory experience. With every refresh you see new books being born. It's the online maternity ward for e-books.

That's how I came across Much Secret Sorrow; I was checking Smashwords one day and stumbled across this little gem. The cover grabbed me: armour, knight, sword, gotcha! The synopsis was ropey, but provided just enough information to convince me to download the sample, and that's all it took. The book was on my Reader and I'd started to read it.

The founder of Smashwords, Mark Coker, has produced a number of reports and much detailed analysis of how cover, title and price all converge to influence the sale of an e-book. He's produced chart-filled videos on the subject and releases Annual Reports, filled with insight into the factors that impact on book discoverability and sales. But, he also mentions one very important thing: it has to have a good, well-written story.

Hutton almost lost me with her first chapter, but the kernel of a great story was there. I recognised something I liked in Much Secret Sorrow and carried on reading. I'm very glad I did. If it carries on in its current vein, I'd be interested in reading more by this author.

The author recently renamed The Guy of Gisborne series to Guy of Gisborne & Robin Hood. You can buy the re-titled first book, Crusades from Smashwords today!


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