4 Stars Out Of 5
A historian's delight.....
September 10, 2014
Since reading The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, a famous work of history by the eighth century monk named Bede as a teenager I have been captivated by Edwin of Northumbrias story. When I discovered a novel about him from a well-known Christian publisher I snapped it up. Mr Albert has written his story magnificently, though I long dreamed about writing one myself and he has beaten me to it.
It is the mark of a good writer indeed that I enjoyed this book so much despite knowing what happened to Edwin already from Bede.
What makes it so enjoyable? In part perhaps the beautiful description of an ancient landscape, and vivid detail revealing a strong sense of the period, and and familiarity withe the culture, customs and beliefs of the early Saxon people.
Warriors, feasting in the hall, listening to a bard singing tales of the gods and heroes of old, bound by promise of gold- and sometimes bonds of loyalty to their lord. Kings, the chief of warriors, givers of gold to the men who stood beside them on the shield-wall- on whose loyalty their very lives and kingdoms may depend.
In was in this world that Edwin rose to High King of Britain, conquering or gaining the fealty of most of the Kings and Kingdoms around him with the strength of the sword, marriage or diplomacy. Yet Edwin does not act entirely out of a desire for glory and fame, but a wish to unite his people. He and his fellows are well-drawn and believable characters, coming to terms with a changing world in which they were in many ways behind.
The Christian content and its impact on the lives of the people was well-woven in with the characters of the Kings young wife her Roman priest Paulinus, and his companion James. With a will of Iron, and a pair of woollen drawers to ward off the freezing Northern temperatures Paulinus preaches the gospel amongst the pagan men.
Though it takes many years, Edwin eventually converts alongside his family, many of his people, and his pagan priest. Paulinus preached the gospel in a way that the Saxons would understand, speaking of the apostles as thegns for instance (and Old English word meaning a companion, servant or fighting man bound by loyalty to his lord), and the characters' response is not clichd or contrived.
In fact, some do rather confuse Christian teachings and concepts- Edwin thinks that the Christian god created the old gods, for example. Though I think such confusion would be inevitable in a culture in which Christianity was totally unknown.
My only other complaints were some descriptions of the great fortress of Bamburgh which spoke of a garderobe and spiral staircase more at home in a twelfth century castle then a seventh century fortress, and some language that was a little too modern. There is violence, as it was a violent age- but no sex, which is a real plus considering many secular novels of this genre. Christian readers may wish to note that there is some description of the pagan priest having convulsions, cursing people, and other manifestations. I believe though that such things were known in ancient pagan religions, and are clearly regarded by the Christians as false and demonic. Nor are the character perfect the Christians do lie on a couple of occasions, which was not good, and they sometimes struggle to understand God's will- which of us does not at times?
Recommended for all those interested in the medieval period, the Vikings, the Anglo-Saxons, and Conversion period, and accurate, evocative historical fiction in general.I received an electronic copy of this book free from Netgalley for review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.