Thursday, September 7, 2017

Book Review: 'Shadow of the Raven' by Millie Thom

British author Millie Thom earned a degree in Geology, served as a former geography and history teacher, and maintains a passion for the Anglo-Saxon and Viking period – a factor that influences her chosen genre of historical fiction writing. Originally from Lancashire, she is a mother of six grown up children and now lives with her husband in a small village in Nottinghamshire.

In a very generous gesture Millie offers a commentary about he historical aspects of her Book 1 in this SONS OF KINGS series. ‘SHADOW OF THE RAVEN is an historical novel that follows the early years of Alfred of Wessex and Eadwulf of Mercia (whose character is fictional, although his father is not). Their stories unfold during the tumultuous events of the mid-ninth century, when Danish raids render Western Europe in a state of panic and dread. The Danes were fierce, pagan warriors, whose moral codes and barbaric rites defied the laws of their Christian neighbours. Driven by what they deemed the demands of their gods they plundered more affluent lands than their own, showing no mercy to those who stood in their way – as well as those who did not. And yet, their home life and customs reveal a different picture. Documentary evidence from the time maintains that the earliest raids on the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms began with that on Lindisfarne, over fifty years prior to the start of this tale. Continuing sporadically, primarily along the coasts of Northumbria and Wessex during the next fifty odd years, by the 850’s attacks had become frequent enough to be a real cause for concern. This situation called for cooperation between the formerly rival kingdoms, who found difficulty in seeing each other as anything other than bitter enemies. The first step towards unity was made between King Beorhtwulf of Mercia and King Aethelwulf of Wessex (father of Alfred, who later gained the title, ‘The Great’). The transference of a small section of Mercia to neighbouring Wessex around 848 is seen as the first mark of unity and friendship between them. The area transferred became the new Wessex shire of Berkshire, where Alfred was born at Wantage in 849. This novel is about the sons of those two kings and their different stories as they grow. Although their lives take different routes and are set in different lands, they are inextricably linked through their families: links that will, one day, draw them together. It follows chronological events of the time, although, when it comes to Norse mythology, well, mythology it is!’

Millie then lists a complete list of characters from each of the four lands in which the story blossoms as well as maps of the countries described – a very useful in informed adjunct to her story’s clarity. Her writing style is both erudite and rich in fine prose – for example, ‘Being the son of a king could be so boring at times, Eadwulf decided, cursing the need to spend so much time at his studies, when his friends were outside, having fun in the snow. Reading was one thing; he was good at that. And he loved the stories his tutor told him. But writing...! His fingers ached from gripping his quill and his mind would not stay focused. To make matters worse, the snows were now determinedly thawing, icicles along the eaves beginning to drip. Soon the Mercian Court would leave for Buckingham. Yet here he was, in this dreary hall, staring at mind-numbing letters, willing the morning meal to be ready soon. Then he’d get even with Aethelnoth for yesterday.’

Excellent journey into little known historical concepts told by a lady who is already a master storyteller. Recommended. Grady Harp, July 17

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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