I find myself being more and more drawn to stories set in Dark Age Britain. Possibly influenced by Bernard Cornwell and his Uhtred books, and I think in part because it seems like this mysterious hole in our history where no one seems entirely sure what was going on.
This leaves many an opportunity for the author, and in this novel, MJ Porter has grasped it in both hands. It’s a real coming of age story, centred around Icel, who begins the book as an unassuming and fearful lad. He has been raised by his uncle Cenfrith, a famed and feared warrior, though appears to have chosen a very different path for his future. His mother long dead, we know nothing of his father. He has a close friendship with Edwin, another youth in the court of Mercia, and together they are forced to flee for their lives with Cenfrith. For me this was a story of friendship as much as anything else, for when the boys are forced to run the main thing that stuck with me was their brotherly love for each other, a will to keep the other safe. It was endearing, and sucked me further into the story.
The plot itself is a good one. Icel must raise himself, become a man he thought he was never destined to be, possibly never wanted to be. He must face his fears and test his courage and endurance to the limit, as he battles his way through some of the most tumultuous battles in ninth century Britain. I’m in no way an expert on this period (or any, come to think of it) but MJ really brought it to life. Her Dark Age Britain is bright and colourful, the details she gives really bring the words to life, and make it easy to lose yourself in. One other thing I really liked was the present tense writing, something different and not often come upon. It just made it a bit more interesting for me – but that’s just a personal preference.
Would like to finish with a shout out to Sean Barrett the narrator, whose brilliant delivery made my daily commutes all the more enjoyable! Whether in paper or on audio, this is certainly a book not to be missed.