(Cover picture courtesy of A Well-Watered Garden.)
Debut historical fiction series vividly recreating the rise of the Christian kings of Northumbria, England
In 604 AD, Edwin, the deposed king of Northumbria, seeks refuge at the court of King Raedwald of East Anglia. But Raedwald is urged to kill his guest by Aethelfrith, Edwin’s usurper. As Edwin walks by the shore, alone and at bay, he is confronted by a mysterious figure–the missionary Paulinus– who prophesies that he will become High King of Britain. It is a turning point.
Through battles and astute political alliances Edwin rises to power, in the process marrying the Kentish princess Aethelburh. As part of the marriage contract the princess is allowed to retain her Christian faith. But, in these times, to be a king is not a recipe for a long life.
This turbulent and tormented period in British history sees the conversion of the Anglo-Saxon settlers who have forced their way on to British shores over previous centuries, arriving first to pillage, then to farm and trade–and to come to terms with the faith of the Celtic tribes they have driven out.
The dramatic story of Northumbria’s Christian kings helped give birth to England as a nation, English as a language, and the adoption of Christianity as the faith of the English.
[Full disclosure: I received a free paperback copy in conjunction with the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]
I was actually pleasantly surprised with Edwin. The first page left me a little bit skeptical because of the strange setting and all of the strange names, but by the time we get to the mysterious stranger on the beach that helps Edwin I was hooked. Edoardo Albert has a very interesting writing style: he describes things quite well for the modern reader and yet he keeps an air of authenticity about his writing. He really does stay true to the period in the words and actions of his characters but at the same time he doesn’t leave his readers confused either. I’m very new to the period being discussed and yet I came out of the book not feeling confused at all.
Edwin is not your typical hero in modern tales. He’s dark and broody and occasionally prone to wartime atrocities. At the same time, he’s a good man in that he cares for his children tenderly and is always there for his friends (especially the ones that were with him in exile). Essentially, he’s a man of contradictions because his actions hardly make him a hero but neither do they make him a villain. Edoardo Albert does this balancing act extremely well and you’re left with the feeling that even though you may not exactly sympathize with him, you do understand him.
For historical fiction of this magnitude and scope, Edwin is surprisingly fast-paced. We are swept along through Edwin’s victories that lead him to declare himself High King of Britain and eventually through his conversion to Christianity. Hardly anything seems to go his way at first, but through sheer force of will Edwin eventually succeeds. Whether he actually can hold onto his power is another story, what with all of the back-stabbing rivals who aren’t happy with his self-proclaimed authority over the whole island. The ending was sad, but not entirely unexpected considering the fact that kings in the early years were far from long-lived.
Like I said, I was pretty skeptical about Edwin: High King of Britain but by the end of the book I have to say that I’m a fan. I honestly can’t wait for the rest of The Northumbrian Thrones!
I give this book 5/5 stars.