Edwin: High King of Britain
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|Edwin: High King of Britain
by Edoardo Albert
Series: The Northumbrian Thrones (Book 1)
Publisher: Lion Fiction
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MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
Followers of this blog know my enthusiasm for Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories and the key periods for the making of Great Britain. So this is a delight to present another historical novel focused on some earlier events, the 7th century, by another author who does also a great job.
Even though admittedly, no one in my opinion can beat master Cornwell, let me tell you what’s great about Edwin: High King of Britain.
The book opens with Edwin already in exile for twelve years in East Anglia. When he prepares to remarry, to the Christian Æthelburh, some unexpected events will change a former friend into an enemy and start a whole chain of actions threatening the king and his family. How will Edwin deal with these threats? Will he overcome them and save his family and kingdom? Edwin is indeed convinced that only when the whole island is under one king, himself, will they all be safe from invaders.
As you read the book to discover the answers, you will discover fascinating times that helped make England what it is today, or at least let’s say what it was at the beginning of the 20th century. For with Æthelburh of Kent come two Italian missionaries, James and the famous Paulinus.
There are excellent passages comparing the pagan and the Christian faiths, for instance in conflicts between Paulinus and the pagan priest Coifi.
You also find differences of approaches when Edwin discovers for instance that the Christian God exhorts to loving one’s enemies, something totally foreign to his pagan laws. The passages showing his reactions as he discovers these new values are very well done, I think.
It is also during that time that the first Christian Church is built in stone in York, and massive crowds are baptized after Edwin and his household decide to take this dramatic decision for themselves.
It is actually in York that Constantine the Great was proclaimed Emperor, back in 306. I was appalled I had totally forgotten these Western elements in his life!
And although the priest’s breath was no more than a sigh, Edwin felt as if a spring wind, clean and wholesome and rich with the promise of summer, had blown up from the south as the first portent of the ending of winter.
I thought it was also neat to see Edwin’s reaction to the art and marvel of writing, as before most messages were conveyed there orally.
Apart from the religious dimension, essential to understand the dynamics of the time, the conflicts and relationships between all the different smaller kingdoms of the island were very well explained and illustrated, with their good measure of revenge and jealousy.
Advice: before jumping into reading, familiarize yourself with the very helpful map found at the beginning of the book, and draw for yourself genealogy trees thanks to the list of characters also provided by the author. We are no longer used to British names of the time, and they may at first sound too much alike and confusing. It is essential to the full understanding of the novel I think, to know who is where on the map.
VERDICT: England’s history did not wait for the Tudors to be full of intrigues and conflicts. This book is a wonderful entry to 7th century England, where pagan and Christian values clashed as small kingdoms fought to take prominence. Highly recommended to all lovers of history and historical fiction.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
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.[provided by HFVBT]
Chapter 1 Audio Excerpt
Read by the author’s wife, Harriet Whitbread, with music from Flos Harmonicus.
Praise for Edwin: High King of Britain
“In the first installment of the Northumbrian Thrones, a new historical fiction series, Albert launches readers into the tumultuous world of 7th century Northumbria. Edwin, the deposed king of the region, forges political alliances, is betrayed, and fights critical battles that form the arc of his rise and fall as High King of Britain. As he ages, he fears for the future of his kingdom, and war has simply become a necessary evil. His shifting worldview leads to conversion to the Christian faith—a slow process given special attention by Albert. But it is not a clear path, and sometimes Edwin and his subordinates doubt the validity and the power of the Christian God, as opposed to the pagan deities they have left behind. Albert’s focus on the religious element does not detract from the political and dramatic aspects of the history he is portraying. Rather, it lends an extra dimension of psychological turmoil, because characters must deal with the problem of not only individual identity but also the beginnings of a national identity related to religion. Albert’s offering is a highly entertaining and refreshing work of historical fiction thanks to his emphasis on the precarious intersection of religion and identity.” –Publishers Weekly
“A splendid novel that leaves the reader wanting more.” –Bernard Cornwell, New York Times bestselling author
“A fast-paced and gripping tale of the great Northumbrian King Edwin, reclaiming one of our great national figures from the shadows of history.” –Justin Hill, author of Shieldwall
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Edoardo Albert is a writer of Sri Lankan and Italian extraction
based in London.
The best response to his writing
was when he reduced a friend to helpless, hysterical,
the writing in question was a lonely hearts ad.
He hopes to produce similar results in readers,
without inadvertently acquiring another wife.
For more information, please visit Edoardo Albert’s website.
You can also connect on Facebook and Twitter.
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This one looks and sounds both enlightening and fun.
I had to smile as I thought that I was the only one who thinks that maps and genealogy tables enhance a book!
for such a confusing period, these tools are definitely helpful, I love those!
Thanks for the tip about studying the map, although I don’t think I’d have the patience for the genealogy trees. From your review I gather that the author nailed the 7th century England theme which is key in a good Historical IMO. Wonderful review!
thanks! it only took me a few minutes to start the tree, with the info given at the beginning of the book, and I completed it as I read along. for me it’s easier to see with a graph who is related to whom than on a simple list.
Yes accurate and spot on portrait of 7th England
The Seventh Trumpet, a novel which takes place during the 7th century.Thanks for this fascinating giveaway.
thanks! a friend also recently recommended to me the Sister Fidelma series!
Thank you very much for your review! I’m delighted you enjoyed Edwin; the next volume in The Northumbrian Thrones trilogy, Oswald: Return of the King, should be out early next summer.
thanks for your feedback. Looking forward to seeing more of Oswald. Keep me informed
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I haven’t read any other books in this time frame that I can think of! I think this would be very interesting to read about!
that’s indeed a fascinating period
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I’m very interested in this novel. Thank you for your review and other comments. I’m adding the book to my “WannaRead” list.
Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)
great move! if you like or want to discover this period, this is definitely a book to read, very well written. can’t wait for vol 2
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This one sounds especially good to me and fits well with my interest in the conversion of Iceland and Scandinavia a few centuries later. Great tips about maps and genealogy tree. You are right that Saxon names are unfamiliar to our latter day ears. They sound strangely beautiful! I will listen to audio clip to get me started on them. Merci!
so then you should definitely start with book 1