Book Review: A Mighty Dawn by Theodore Brun (historical fantasy)

Here’s the blurb:

“A gripping and brilliantly realized debut epic adventure set in eighth-century Denmark. This is the beginning of an ambitious new series in the vein of George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones.

Hakan, son of Haldan, chosen son of the Lord of the Northern Jutes, swears loyalty to his father in fire, in iron, and in blood. But there are always shadows that roam. When a terrible tragedy befalls Hakan’s household he is forced to leave his world behind. He must seek to pledge his sword to a new king. Nameless and alone, he embarks on a journey to escape the bonds of his past and fulfil his destiny as a great warrior.

Whispers of sinister forces in the north pull Hakan onwards to a kingdom plagued by mysterious and gruesome deaths. But does he have the strength to do battle with such dark foes? Or is death the only sane thing to seek in this world of blood and broken oaths?”

A Mighty Dawn by Theodore Brun is a, sometimes brutal, coming of age tale set in the Scandinavian lands of the middle to second part of the first millennium. Paganism is the worship of choice, and the threads of Norse Mythology mingle through the story, as is to be expected for a story set at this time. It is not a work of historical fiction, but rather historical fantasy, or just plain fantasy with its basis set in the past.

I would divide the novel into three main parts. The first third, when the reader is introduced to Hakon and Inga, is very, very well written. The plot develops in an almost predicatable well (until …. well you’ll have to read it), but the author weaves the plot incredibly well so that when the big reveal came, I was incredibly shocked. I had been expecting the outcome to be very, very different to what actually happened. While Hakon is not exactly the most likable of characters at this point, he is a bit difficult to like because his concern is only with himself, he is well portrayed and the reader understands his anguish, his love and his hatred of Konur, as well as his difficult relationship with his father. The story is mired in the old Norse legends.

The second part of the novel revolves around ‘Hakon’s journey’, after his betrayal, ever northwards, and again, is a well articulated part of the story. While Hakon is now quite glowering and bad tempered, the tone of the story is lightened by the addition of his companion, Kai. a younger man than Hakon and one with a silken tongue and very good cooking skills. The journey ever northwards still contains much of old Norse legends and, because it takes place on the cusp of winter, sees them battling terrible weather in order to reach their destination through an almost deserted landscape.

It is really from this part of the story onwards that I felt the tale faltered a little. It’s still well written but I had some problems with the more fantastical elements of the storyline and these detracted from my overall enjoyment of what had started out as a very entertaining read. I also felt that the author’s great skills in producing characters as engaging as Hakon and Kai faltered a little, relying more on stereotypes than previously.

With all that said, this is a very well articulated story. The author has a good style that means that although the book is quite long, it disappears under the reader’s eyes at a fast rate. I picked the book up to only read the beginning (and work out how long it was as I was reading on the kindle), but soon became embroiled in the storyline and was then unable to put the book down, reading it over one weekend.

I would recommend the book to fans of historical fantasy and look forward to the next book in the series.

And you can buy it here:

Book Review – Four Princes by John Julius Norwich (non-fiction)

Here’s the blurb;

‘Never before had the world seen four such giants co-existing. Sometimes friends, more often enemies, always rivals, these four men together held Europe in the hollow of their hands.’ 

Four great princes – Henry VIII of England, Francis I of France, Charles V of Spain and Suleiman the Magnificent – were born within a single decade. Each looms large in his country’s history and, in this book, John Julius Norwich broadens the scope and shows how, against the rich background of the Renaissance and destruction of the Reformation, their wary obsession with one another laid the foundations for modern Europe. Individually, each man could hardly have been more different ­- from the scandals of Henry’s six wives to Charles’s monasticism – but, together, they dominated the world stage.

From the Field of the Cloth of Gold, a pageant of jousting, feasting and general carousing so lavish that it nearly bankrupted both France and England, to Suleiman’s celebratory pyramid of 2,000 human heads (including those of seven Hungarian bishops) after the battle of Mohács; from Anne Boleyn’s six-fingered hand (a potential sign of witchcraft) that had the pious nervously crossing themselves to the real story of the Maltese falcon, Four Princes is history at its vivid, entertaining best.

With a cast list that extends from Leonardo da Vinci to Barbarossa, and from Joanna the Mad to le roi grand-nez, John Julius Norwich offers the perfect guide to the most colourful century the world has ever known and brings the past to unforgettable life.

I received a free E Arc from Netgalley of this book.

It’s been a long time since I read a non-fiction history book that wasn’t set in the Anglo-Saxon/Viking period, but the Tudor period – or rather Elizabeth I was my first great history crush and I was fascinated by the idea of this accounting of the first half of the sixteenth century. History books too often focus on one person, one event or one series of events, it’s high time that ‘history’ looked at the wider reach of events and this is exactly what the author tries to do.

There can be few who know nothing about the reign of Henry VIII and his two ‘frenemies’ Charles V and Francis I of France, but by offering an account of the interactions of these three men, and adding Suleiman the Magnificent into the mix, a far richer landscape of Europe at this time is revealed. It was a time of great change, and all four of these men strove for something different, but all of them wanted, perhaps, to earn the biggest reputation for themselves, and they all seemed determined to bankrupt themselves in order to do so.

The author treats each king in a similar way; he might not agree with their actions but he can at least offer an explanation for their actions, and, with not a little humour, he’s able to find their achiles heel – for Suleiman it seems to have been the weather, for Charles V his unambitious son, the later Philip II, for Francis I his hatred of Charles V and we all know about Henry VIII and his need for a son and heir. And yet these men all dealt with far greater issues as well and I couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for Charles V who seemed to face some sort of disaster from everywhere simultaneously.

I would have liked more information about Suleiman as I know so little about him, but the purpose of the book precludes that – indeed I think some understanding of the period is needed beforehand in order to appreciate all that the author has to offer.

Overall, this is a very readable account of the time period – the Papacy looms large, as to be expected, as do some of Suleiman’s piratical allies, but each king is given his own space and time and I thoroughly enjoyed the writing and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading history books.

Four Princes is already available in hardback and for the Kindle, and you can buy it here;

Book Review – Blood and Blade by Matthew Harffy

Here’s the blurb from the book

“635AD. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and third instalment in The Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell. 

Oswald is now King of Northumbria. However, his plans for further alliances and conquests are quickly thrown into disarray when his wedding to a princess of Wessex is interrupted by news of a Pictish uprising.

Rushing north, Oswald leaves Beobrand to escort the young queen to her new home. Their path is fraught with danger and uncertainty, Beobrand must try to unravel secrets and lies if they are to survive.

Meanwhile, old enemies are closing in, seeking brutal revenge. Beobrand will give his blood and blade in service to his king, but will that be enough to avert disaster and save his kith and kin from the evil forces that surround them?”

Blood and Blade by Matthew Harffy is the third book in his Bernicia Chronicles following the exploits of his, quite frankly, bad-tempered warrior, Beobrand. He’s no hero – he’s too self-involved, grumpy and lacks any likeable characteristics, even though the author is at pains to explain this away due to the tragedies that have befallen him in Book 2.

However, these do not excuse the foul natured monster that Beobrand has become, and I did struggle to understand why any man, or woman, would want to spend any time with him or rely on him in his guise as a warrior or a lover. He is, quite simply, lacking in any likeable qualities, without even the spark of any humour to soften his harshness, no matter how often Athelstan tries to recount his exploits in the mead hall and make them appear heroic, it simply does not work for me.

The constant shifts in point of view in chapters is annoying, but this is something that I personally don’t understand or like in any novel so it’s not a particular complaint about this author. I’m always left feeling that if the chapter needs a shift in POV then it’s either not a chapter and needs splitting, or the author needs to approach this part of the novel in a different way – give the voice of the story to a different member of the cast.

The storyline of Blood and Blade is somewhat simplistic, and you do reach a certain part of the novel and know exactly what has to happen before it reaches its end. Nothing unexpected happens to bring the novel to its conclusion. This is somewhat of a shame. I would have liked even the idea of a different ending.

The author is at pains to show society, as he perceives it, at this time, and the insistence on the small details is repetitive, as is the constant recounting of Beobrand’s aches and pains, recovering wounds and new ones that he receives.

I would reiterate, Beobrand is no hero, but neither is he an anti-hero. He’s been thrust into a time in history that is very exciting, and yet it seems that with his constant moaning and complaining, that he has no appreciation of this and is never likely to. For a young man, he often appears to be about 100 years old.

On a final note. I still do not like the way the author treats women of this period. They are either witches, bed companions, or someone else’s bed companions, and they are presented as petty and mean to each other. This might be a novel about a (very) grumpy warrior, but Anglo-Saxon women were and should be, given the place in society that they earned and deserved. Much of this is, obviously, to do with the author’s interpretation of this time period, and I suppose, it is worth remembering that it is a work of fiction and not fact. Still, this is also a shame and I hope, something, that is corrected in later books to allow the author to reach a wider fan base.

Overall, the novel was enjoyable to read and you can buy it here;

 

 

Book Review – Ravenspur by Conn Iggulden

Ravenspur, by Conn Iggulden, the fourth book in a series about the Rise of the Tudors, suffers, from the very beginning, with pacing issues, and an apparent unease from the author to actually tell the story of the battles of the War of the Roses, even though this novel ‘hooks’ itself onto the important battles of the period, ending with the Battle of Bosworth Field. The author goes to a great deal of trouble to set up each and every battle, and the reader is left wanting greater details of the battle, only for the author to almost gloss over the entire thing and move onto the next chapter in the long-running civil war.

Furthermore, the desire of the author to get to the Battle of Bosworth in this novel means that the novel is uneven – 80% of the novel takes place over the space of a single year, and to all intents and purposes, looks as though it will stop there, only for it to leap forward eleven or twelve years and continue telling its story. It would perhaps have been better to split this novel into two books and allow Richard III a little more time on the throne.

The characters of the period are told with little flare and with absolutely no sympathy for their plight. The main women in the story – Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville barely have any pages to themselves and when they do appear it is more often that not only as objects for the male characters of the story to complain about or belittle. And this continues with Richard III’s poor wife.

The male characters of the story are equally presented with little or no understanding of their characters and not a single one of them elicited any sort of emotional response. Edward IV is a swaggering idiot (and fat for quite a bit of it), Earl Warwick is indecisive and stupid, Richard III (or Gloucester) is a simpleton following his brother where ever he takes him and then turning into some sort of possessed maniac, and poor old Edward, son of Margaret of Anjou, just gets to look pretty and make a fool of himself in battle.

Overall, the story moves very slowly, and without any emotional connection with the characters, it is a slog to get to the end, which many will already know. And that’s another problem. With good historical fiction, even the inevitable conclusion is often presented as only one possible outcome, with this novel there is never any (apart from briefly before the Battle of Barnet) moment where I wondered if the author had managed to present a possible alternative, which would ultimately fail, but would still give a little bit of hope to the reader and the characters in the story both. Sadly, I was disappointed with such a drab retelling of the end of the War of the Roses.

Does Edmund deserve the title of the Second English King?

England, Wales, Scotland, the smaller kingdoms of Mercia, Wessex, Northumbria, East Anglia, Kent, Powys, Gwynedd, Dal Riada – for the uninitiated (including myself) the sheer number of kingdoms and kings that peopled the period in British history before 1066 can appear as a bewildering display of names, places, times and events, and perhaps never more so than when a historian is trying to sell a book and so makes a statement in their title that applies to that particular king.

Phrases such ‘the Golden Age of Northumbria’, ‘the Mercian hegemony’, ‘the rise of Wessex’, they all mask so many events that I find the phrases very unhelpful and perhaps worse, misleading.

So why have I chosen to entitle my most recent release, “The Second English King?” Quite simply because I think that Athelstan and his younger half brother, Edmund, probably deserve their titles as Kings of the English. And it’s not just my opinion either. There was, according to Sarah Foot in her book on Athelstan, a concerted effort by the king and his bishops to have him stand apart from his predecessors – to be something ‘different’ to them. They named him king of the English, not king of Mercia (a post he held briefly before another of his younger brothers died) and not king of Wessex, for all that he was both of those things.

They changed his title, they crowned him with a crown, not a helmet. They wanted Athelstan to be something other than his grandfather, King Alfred, and his father, King Edward. It was a bold statement to make, and one they continued when Athelstan died too young and his half-brother, Edmund replaced him. He too was crowned using, it must be supposed, the same Coronation service. (For full details have a peek at Sarah Foot’s book on Athelstan – or read the first few chapters of Brunanburh as the service appears in it as well).

So why the change? Essentially the old Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, for all that they were preserved in the naming of the earls/ealdormens designations, had been swept aside by the Vikings. The old kingdoms had become a handy label to apply to certain geographic areas, and the kings of Wessex, whilst keen to hold onto their hereditary titles because of the permanence their own royal line had managed to acquire, were equally as keen to do away with regional boundaries. There was, it can’t be denied, a concerted and almost unrelenting urge to drive any Viking or Dane or Norwegian from British soil, and this is what Athelstan and then Edmund were tasked with doing.

Yet the idea of ‘English’ wasn’t a new concept. Why else would Bede have called his great piece of religious historical writing “The Ecclesiastical history of the English people’, if there hadn’t been a shared consciousness that the people in England, all be it in their separate kingdoms, didn’t have a shared heritage? Why the idea suddenly took flight under King Athelstan could be attributed to a new sense of confidence in Wessex and Mercia at the time. They were confident that they could beat the Vikings and they were convinced that England belonged to them.

Or perhaps it was more than that? The destruction wrought by the Vikings on the separate kingdoms must have been a stark reminder of just how insular the kingdoms had become, and the Vikings showed everyone just how easy it was to run roughshod over the individual kingdoms. Only in unity could the Saxon kingdoms of England survive another onslaught; only with unity could the Saxons hold onto their kingdoms they’d claimed about 500 years before.

It was a message that was learned quickly and taken to heart. Athelstan worked to reunite more of the Saxon kingdoms with the growing ‘England’, and he tried to do so by both diplomacy and through war. Yet, the Vikings hadn’t finished with England, and nor were they her only enemies. This also lies at the heart of Athelstan’s ‘masterplan’ his treaty of Eamont (if it truly happened – Benjamin Hudson in his Celtic Scotland is not convinced). Athelstan wanted to be a mighty king, but he also wanted England, and the wider Britain (also a concept already understood otherwise why else would that cantankerous monk – Gildas – have called his even earlier work than Bede’s “On the Ruin of Britain?”) to be united in their attempts to repel the Vikings. He was a man with a keen vision of the future and it was a vision that his brother continued, with slightly different direction and results.

The ‘English Kings” saw safety in unity, and of course, an increase in the power they held went hand-in-hand with that.

Yet at no point during the Anglo-Saxon period can it be said that the emergence of ‘England’ as we know it, was a given certainty. Throughout the period other great kings had tried to claim sovereignty over other kingdoms, but never with any permanence. The earlier, regional kings, were powerful within their own lifetimes and within their own regions. Few, if any, were able to pass on their patrimony complete upon their death. This was a time of personal kingship, and it was only under Athelstan and Edmund that the leap was taken away from this to a more permanent power base.

Not that it was a smooth transition and it did have the side-effect of allowing other men, those not related to the royal family, to evolve their own individual power bases in the old saxon kingdoms. The ‘English’ kings had to do more than just rule their own kingdom, they had to rule their ealdormen and earls, their warriors and their bishops and archbishops. The number of names of kings might start to deplete in the after math of Athelstan and Edmund’s kingship, but in their place spring up more and more powerful men, men that these English kings  had to rely on.

Becoming King of the English was very much a mixed blessing, bringing with it new and greater responsibilities and more, it brought with it the need to expand personal government further, to have a greater persona to broadcast.

Did Edmund do this when he became king? I think he was hard-pressed at the beginning, but achieved it in the end, but perhaps more so because Athelstan had done so much to make the idea appealing to the men and women he ruled. The march of progression had been set in place by Athelstan. Edmund simply needed to maintain it. If he could.

(The Second English King is released as both an ebook and a print paperback on 11th March  2016. http://www.amazon.com/Second-English-King-Chronicles-Book-ebook/dp/B019QTBI4M/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1457698918&sr=8-4&keywords=M+J+Porter)Second English with text

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle Entry for 1016

Primary sources are never without problems. They hold bias, they hold perceived bias, they often hold government bias (which I think is one of the most damning of all) but they are, more often than not, an insight into how people perceived an event as soon after it as details are available to the modern historian.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, with it’s many recensions (editions for the modern speaker) is a fantastic source, but riddled with problems which can, quite often be clearly seen precisely because it survives in different versions.

For the true student, it’s worth investigating the bias of the different ASC’s and taking note of them. Over the years a number of approaches have been taken to the ASC starting from when it was just accepted as the source for Anglo-Saxon England. This means that for a time all the different recensions were amalgamated. Now, the individuality of each recension is truly appreciated, because as with all early sources, quite often, what isn’t said is just as important as what is said.

(The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle also benefits from a latinised version that was written by Ealdorman Aethelweard at the end of the tenth century and this can likewise be used in a similar way as the English recensions.)

Yet, for the sake of not infringing anyone’s copyright, when publishing my books and listing information on my websites, I have to rely on the older translations of the ASC as these are the ones I can use freely. Whilst this isn’t ideal, it does allow me to still make a very valid point, and that is this, the entry for the year 1016 (the year Cnut claimed the English kingdom) is vast, and I mean vast. Compared to previous year’s, 1016 is massive. (I’ve copied it below from http://omacl.org/Anglo/part4.html if you want to take a look). Not until AD 1023 does an entry even half as long as this appear, and I’m starting to wonder if this was all a lot of political rhetoric and whether, the entries for previous years have been purposefully shortened, or amended to show the inevitability of Cnut’s accession to the kingdom of the English. I need to do far more research, but as 2015 roles round to 2016, I can’t see a better time to more fully study the time period and this I plan to do next year.

A.D. 1016. This year came King Knute with a marine force of one hundred and sixty ships, and Alderman Edric with him, over the Thames into Mercia at Cricklade; whence they proceeded to Warwickshire, during the middle of the winter, and plundered therein, and burned, and slew all they met. Then began Edmund the etheling to gather an army, which, when it was collected, could avail him nothing, unless the king were there and they had the assistance of the citizens of London. The expedition therefore was frustrated, and each man betook himself home. After this. an army was again ordered, under full penalties, that every person, however distant, should go forth; and they sent to the king in London, and besought him to come to meet the army with the aid that he could collect. When they were all assembled, it succeeded nothing better than it often did before; and, when it was told the king, that those persons would betray him who ought to assist him, then forsook he the army, and returned again to London. Then rode Edmund the etheling to Earl Utred in Northumbria; and every man supposed that they would collect an army King Knute; but they went into Stafforddhire, and to Shrewsbury, and to Chester; and they plundered on their parts, and Knute on his. He went out through Buckinghamshire to Bedfordshire; thence to Huntingdonshire, and so into Northamptonshire along the fens to Stamford. Thence into Lincolnshire. Thence to Nottinghamshire; and so into Northumbria toward York. When Utred understood this, he ceased from plundering, and hastened northward, and submitted for need, and all the Northumbrians with him; but, though he gave hostages, he was nevertheless slain by the advice of Alderman Edric, and Thurkytel, the son of Nafan, with him. After this, King Knute appointed Eric earl over Northumbria, as Utred was; and then went southward another way, all by west, till the whole army came, before Easter, to the ships. Meantime Edmund Etheling went to London to his father: and after Easter went King Knute with all his ships toward London; but it happened that King Ethelred died ere the ships came. He ended his days on St. George’s day; having held his kingdom in much tribulation and difficulty as long as his life continued. After his decease, all the peers that were in London, and the citizens, chose Edmund king; who bravely defended his kingdom while his time was. Then came the ships to Greenwich, about the gang-days, and within a short interval went to London; where they sunk a deep ditch on the south side, and dragged their ships to the west side of the bridge. Afterwards they trenched the city without, so that no man could go in or out, and often fought against it: but the citizens bravely withstood them. King Edmund had ere this gone out, and invaded the West-Saxons, who all submitted to him; and soon afterward he fought with the enemy at Pen near Gillingham. A second battle he fought, after midsummer, at Sherston; where much slaughter was made on either side, and the leaders themselves came together in the fight. Alderman Edric and Aylmer the darling were assisting the army against King Edmund. Then collected he his force the third time, and went to London, all by north of the Thames, and so out through Clayhanger, and relieved the citizens, driving the enemy to their ships. It was within two nights after that the king went over at Brentford; where he fought with the enemy, and put them to flight: but there many of the English were drowned, from their own carelessness; who went before the main army with a design to plunder. After this the king went into Wessex, and collected his army; but the enemy soon returned to London, and beset the city without, and fought strongly against it both by water and land. But the almighty God delivered them. The enemy went afterward from London with their ships into the Orwell; where they went up and proceeded into Mercia, slaying and burning whatsoever they overtook, as their custom is; and, having provided themselves with meat, they drove their ships and their herds into the Medway. Then assembled King Edmund the fourth time all the English nation, and forded over the Thames at Brentford; whence he proceeded into Kent. The enemy fled before him with their horses into the Isle of Shepey; and the king slew as many of them as he could overtake. Alderman Edric then went to meet the king at Aylesford; than which no measure could be more ill-advised. The enemy, meanwhile, returned into Essex, and advanced into Mercia, destroying all that he overtook. When the king understood that the army was up, then collected he the fifth time all the English nation, and went behind them, and overtook them in Essex, on the down called Assingdon; where they fiercely came together. Then did Alderman Edric as he often did before — he first began the flight with the Maisevethians, and so betrayed his natural lord and all the people of England. There had Knute the victory, though all England fought against him! There was then slain Bishop Ednoth, and Abbot Wulsy, and Alderman Elfric, and Alderman Godwin of Lindsey, and Ulfkytel of East-Anglia, and Ethelward, the son of Alderman Ethelsy (59). And all the nobility of the English nation was there undone! After this fight went King Knute up with his army into Glocestershire, where he heard say that King Edmund was. Then advised Alderman Edric, and the counsellors that were there assembled, that the kings should make peace with each other, and produce hostages. Then both the kings met together at Olney, south of Deerhurst, and became allies and sworn brothers. There they confirmed their friendship both with pledges and with oaths, and settled the pay of the army. With this covenant they parted: King Edmund took to Wessex, and Knute to Mercia and the northern district. The army then went to their ships with the things they had taken; and the people of London made peace with them, and purchased their security, whereupon they brought their ships to London, and provided themselves winter-quarters therein. On the feast of St. Andrew died King Edmund; and he is buried with his grandfather Edgar at Gastonbury. In the same year died Wulfgar, Abbot of Abingdon; and Ethelsy took to the abbacy.

It could be as simple as many events taking place in one year but I harbour the feeling that Cnut might have wanted to portray Edmund as a great warrior to make his own triumphs that little bit greater. After all, Aethelred receives no treatment as detailed as Edmund throughout his 30 years on the throne and Edmund rules for a matter of months, and whilst Edmund is still shown as being unable to take decisive military action against Cnut, he fares much better than poor old Aethelred! Perhaps I should count the words Edmund receives compared to Cnut as a really basic indicator of the bias of the entry?

There are many events planned for the anniversary of Cnut’s accession to the English kingdom, and I know that much will be said and written about the event. Maybe by this time next year, there might be many, many theories abounding about the ASC but for now, I’m happy to be questioning the information I have, or don’t have, and raising the interesting questions of just how much the people of Anglo-Saxon/Anglo-Danish England used propaganda? It’s certainly not a new tool and it’s one the people of England understood a thousand year’s ago just as well as they do now. Cnut’s Queen, Emma/Aelfgifu had a book commissioned about Cnut shortly after his death, and the latinised version of the ASC that I mentioned above, was also a political statement by it’s author.

Be wary of what is accepted as fact, just because someone took the time to a) write it down and b) ensure it survived to modern times!

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the final release of the year is … Cnut: The Conqueror, an Earls of Mercia side story

It’s been a busy year and only quite recently, I realized that next year is the millennial anniversary of Cnut’s accession to the English kingdom. This occasioned some quick rethinking as to my writing for the end of the year and, unsurprisingly, it’s not been quite as smooth a ride as I’d hoped. Originally planned as a mere 50000 word novella and side story to the Earls of Mercia story, he’s blossomed to a monumental 105000, the second longest in the Earls of Mercia series.

Not that I’m complaining. Too much story is always far better than too little, and it’s given me the perfect opportunity to turn the focus away from the Ealdorman of the Hwicce’s family and look at the wider events taking place. I’m not entirely convinced that this will be the last time I write about the events from 1014-1016 but for now it is, and it’s time to move on. Only not for my lucky readers, they still have the chance to enjoy Cnut and so, prior to the release on 24th December, I’m attaching a little snippet below.

Chapter 1 – Cnut – February 1014

Outside it was as black as night could get. No lights showed anywhere along the coast. It was a night to be alone with his thoughts, and Cnut didn’t want that. He tried to shake the worries away, but there was little point in even that small movement.

It was cold and chill, frozen more than likely further inland, and nothing would detract from the knowledge that his father was dead and with it the family’s hopes of bringing England within their sphere of power.

He was angry and lonely and unsure, and not one of the emotions did he like to feel. He glared up at the overcast sky, thick with heavy black clouds, and he wondered what the weather had in store for him now. He almost taunted the heavens but he knew better.

His God had forsaken him in his time of need, quickly followed by the English men of the Witan, or so they called it. The only supporters he had slept now on their ships rocking in the gentle current, and on board his own ship, his father’s heavy coffin making the ship ride low in the sea.

It was a doleful night and one that seemed to hold no hope for the next day, the next week, or even the next year. Everything he’d had was lost to him now.

For now.

He had his men, and they’d proclaimed him as the king of their fleet of forty-five ships, but even he wasn’t foolish enough to think that he’d keep that position when he returned to Denmark. It would be his brother who succeeded his father in Denmark, just as his father had always wanted. That was why he’d attacked England in the end for so long and with such determination, both for his own gain and also to give his younger son the kingdom he deserved to rule, one that would have hopefully, and with time, proved easier to rule than any of the small states of Norway and Sweden.

Pity he’d died doing just that.

The movement of the sea caused gurgling sounds to surround his ship, but it was nothing he wasn’t used to. He sometimes wondered if he’d been born on a ship. He had few memories of any long spells on land. There had been the time he’d been a hostage for the king of England, Aethelred for Thorkell’s good behavior when he’d claimed Oxford, and the time Thorkell and he had attacked the English in East Anglia, but little more than that.

It was a pity that Swein had failed to kill the King Aethelred, settling instead for his exile in Normandy, the home of his second, and much younger wife. If was a pity more that he still lived and would be recalled by his ealdormen. A great pity indeed.

If he wanted what his father had gained, he was going to have to fight for it, and fight hard. He knew it with certainty and it tired him and filled him with a firm resolve doubly. To win England he much fight for it, and he’d only just finished doing so.

It was almost as though the last few years of his life had come to mean nothing, standing for nothing.

If his father had only killed Aethelred instead of negotiating his banishment from England, and then killed his sons as well, then perhaps the English would have been happier to see Cnut as their king. It would have been a great many deaths to get what he wanted but Cnut knew that if he resolved to retake England, as his father wished him to, he would need to kill those same men. The thought didn’t fill him with revulsion. He was a practical man. He knew that in another’s death, his success would be guaranteed.

He sighed deeply. His thoughts were dark, his men leaving him to stew and work out a way to fulfill his father’s wishes. He knew they expected him to bury his father at Gainsborough, reunite with his wife, and then somehow, and this was the part he found the most difficult to fathom out, reclaim England for himself.

Aelfgifu would be disappointed with him and he suddenly thought he dreaded seeing her face most of all. When he’d left her to ride with his father, her expression had been one of tolerance and love. She’d wanted him and his father to succeed, her hatred for King Aethelred a mighty thing. Her detestation of Eadric so immense that Cnut thrilled to watch the play of emotions over her face whenever she spoke of him.

He must remember to never incite the hatred of a vengeful woman. They were more cunning and deceitful than men.

His thoughts turned to her now and her wishes that she be married to king of England, or at least the king of England’s acknowledged heir, as he had been whilst his father had lived. How could he accomplish what she wanted now?

He could kill his brother and take Denmark and rule there instead; only he loved his brother and thought he had just as much right to rule in their father’s stead as he did. Alternatively he could kill the English king, Aethelred, and all of his sons, and there were almost as many of them as he had sisters.

He sighed once more. He was tired, bereft and lonely. All his years he’d been surrounded by strong men, his father, Thorkell and even the English king when he’d been in exile at Aethelred’s court, but now he was alone with his future. His for the taking if he could only decide what he wanted to take.

No, he reconsidered. He knew what he wanted. He wanted England.

 

Intrigued? Preorder now, or remember to buy it over the Christmas holidays.

Here http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cnut-Conqueror-Earls-Mercia-Book-ebook/dp/B015R35BUI/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1450013387&sr=8-8&keywords=M+J+Porter

And look out for many events celebrating Cnut next year.

 

 

 

 

1016 and all that!

Now, I might be the only person who hasn’t quite realised the significance of next year in terms of the history I write about – but well, it’s better to be late than miss it all together.

2016 is the millennial anniversary of a fair few major events that take place at the end of King Aethelred II’s reign. The much maligned Aethelred meets his death on 23rd April, Cnut is busy causing ‘bother’ throughout, well almost everywhere if you believe the Anglo Saxon Chronicle – in Mercia, around London, there are battles at Penselwood and Sheraton, the great battle of Assandun takes place on 16th October, ‘another’ battle possibly takes place quite soon afterwards, and after all that there’s the Ola’s Island Accord/Peace of Olney which splits England between Edmund (Aethelred’s second oldest son) and Cnut with Cnut taking Mercia and more than likely Northumbria, and Edmund keeping hold of the family lands in Wessex, and that’s just from a brief read through of my own timeline that I’ve been constructing as I research.

People more astute than I am have been arranging a number of historical conferences up and down the country in the UK. To date I know of one in London, one in Cambridge (in fact a series in Cambridge where one has taken place, one is due in September and then another next year), one in Nottingham and now one in Edinburgh as well (and I know of at least one other, but I’ve mislaid the details). The only real problem I can foresee is that at some point I might need to go to work in 2016!!

10th March – 13th March http://www.nmmc.co.uk/index.php?/what…

June 9th-10th
http://www.anglosaxons2016.net/about….

June 27th- July 2nd
https://nottingham.ac.uk/research/gro…

6th-9th July https://www.ucl.ac.uk/cnut-conference

As I find more links I’ll share them, but if you know of any please let me know. I also know from a quick ‘google’ that it’s not only conferences in the UK that are planned so never fear if you live elsewhere.

And for historical fiction fans there’s also the Historical Novel Society conference taking place in Oxford at the beginning of September.

It’s going to be a busy year!

Northumberlandia – a short story

I couldn’t resist entering the competition to devise a new legend for the Northumberlandia structure when someone pointed it out to me, and now I’m able to share it with you. Enjoy and let me know what you think. And if you don’t know what Northumberlandia is, I’ve added a link to the bottom.

I am a thing of stillness, silence, peace. Above my eyes clouds scud by and I wish I could turn my head and see them when they dissipate over the coast, fade into nothingness, a little like myself.

But as I say, I am thing of motionlessness, muteness, carved into this landscape. I’m a part of it now, nothing more with no power to sway what happens to my land, to my people, to my animals.

I wasn’t always like this. Once I was a giant of this land, it’s protector and also on occasion, its enemy. I can admit that. In my anger I did some terrible things.

But then from the land in the south came a beast of fire and light, smoke and death and I thought to turn it to my will. I little guessed it’s true intentions, to sneak it’s way across my own land and trap me here, not dead as I’m immortal and immortal things can not die, but neither alive. Not now.

I once walked across my land in steps that numbered only in the hundreds, east to west and south to north, not even mountains or rivers standing in my way but now I can do nothing but call to the small animals of my land, ensure it’s safety through their deeds and actions.

That dragon. I thought it was my inferior, all fragile wings and gleaming teeth; a thing that looked deadly but nothing more.

I summoned it to me, in my palace of nature amongst the hills, from where I could keep my eyes firmly fixed on all four borders of my land; keep the enemy from breaching the defenses. It came, deferentially and with honeyed words that slipped from it’s forked tongue and made me feel as though I was a being of beauty and light, love and desire.

It charmed me with stories of my renown, undermined my resolve to possess it and then, when I was at my weakest, it opened it’s mouth and let loose steam so hot it aburnt my hands, my face and my feet, caused me to depart from my palace with all haste to get away from the stinging agony of its touch.

Not even the frigid sea off my coast line could deaden the pain and my fury grew to be something magnificent to see and I vowed my revenge on the creature, making myself small and invisible whilst I plotted my revenge.

I turned my back on my land and my people, tending only to my burning anger and slowly but surely, the enemy over ran my land, their ships descending on my shores as the people forgot who I was and worshipped another instead.

I could feel the rumbling laughter of the dragon from my old lair in the mountains and with each rumble my fury grew and grew, and only the dragon’s inability to find me resolved me to stay small and alone.

One day I knew I’d have the opportunity to have my revenge, but I never guessed how my land suffered. I didn’t see the burning fields, or smell the flesh of my people. I was blinded by my fury and my grief.

Then one day, the depravations that the dragon allowed to happen became so severe that even I knew of them, my loyal animals and birds rushing to me to tell me of men in shining metal, on horses not from my land, who planned great destruction on us all.

My rage knew no bounds, and I called on all the power I’d hoarded to myself over the long centuries of my hiding and I stepped from my sanctuary, massive once more, and with only a few steps I was once more at my palace in the mountains, and the dragon, grown massive and bloated in my absence, cackled to see me in my fury, my face marked by his flames, my hands covered in bloody welts that had never healed. I screamed at him, called on my animals and my birds, and even tried to call on those few people who remembered me from half a millennia before, but we were too few.

The creature took to the air. It’s massive wings spanning the whole land, from the east to the west, the south to the north and I knew fear as I never had before and my fear made me foolish.

I lashed out with my secret weapon, a massive sword forged from the heat of the earth and the chill of the sea, tempered with salt, and bloated with precious gems from the soil and the unimaginable happened.

I missed.

The dragon roared with delight and it slowly settled over me, it’s great weight forcing me first to bow low, and then to my knees and finally, to prostrate myself backwards on the ground before it.

It’s joy at my capture rippled through me and I screamed and fought with all I had but it was to no avail, none at all. It let forth a below of smoke and fire and it burnt my entire body, melding me to the ground, my hands outstretched before me, my feet dangling uselessly below me, a captive to the earth and the soil.

I wanted to beg, plead for my life, but the beast’s eyes flashed red and hollow and I knew then that it was more terrifying that I, more malignant and far more devious.

Around me the ground shook and slowly, my eyes wide open in disbelief, the only part of me that could still move, the earth around me tumbled to cover me from head to foot, nothing but my eyes still visible and my body weighed down by the very power of the earth I had once controlled.

I was nothing.

I was but eyes to watch my land crumble and recover, atrophy and renew.

Until now.

Now I am uncovered and I will win my freedom.

Northumberlandia, the Lady of the North.

Going backwards, not forwards. What’s that all about!

So many of you might be wondering just what exactly I’m playing at with my insistence on going backwards in time as opposed to forwards. With the Earls of Mercia series I started covering the time period at the end of the tenth century and intended (and will do) to go to 1066 and slightly beyond. But then, well, a friend mentioned the time period after Alfred the Great and so Brunanburh (Chronicles of the English Book 1) was born and then because I enjoyed that project so much I back-tracked to the beginning of Aethelred II’s reign as well in Wulfstan, And now, well now, it’s just become silly and I find myself back in 632. So, what’s it all about!?

Well to be honest, it’s just pure happenstance. I began writing Ealdorman in 2010 because I was researching the time period for my MA and also because I was a little fed up with my fantasy novels not being overly popular. I started it, I tried to get an agent, and then I stopped it, and only returned to the delightful thing in 2013 after a trip to the Orkney Islands inspired me to finish the story (and I FINALLY worked out which set of islands was Shetland and which Orkney). When it became successful, I immediately started Ealdormen and from there it has all become quite crazy and because I always intended to write about the end of Anglo-Saxon (or Anglo-Danish) England, I’ve had no choice but to go backwards. And it needs to be remembered, the Anglo-Saxon age covers over 600 years. That’s a lot of different characters to become embroiled with and there are many excellent stories to tell which only need a quirk here and there from my imagination to make them into interesting books. There’s also characters who dip in and out of Anglo-Saxon England who have great back stories in the rest of the Viking world at that time, but I don’t want to give too much away about my current project.

I feel as though I’ve been gifted with an arena filled with stories for me to pick and choose. It’s exciting and daunting all at the same time. After all, it’s the way I view the time period that I’m portraying, and not necessarily the accepted ‘norm’. I also (and this is the nerdy bit) love all the research. I enjoy nothing more than spending hours sifting through information on the internet, or through old notes from Uni so that I can find the information I need to write my books.

So, all the backwards, forwards and occasionally side by side stuff isn’t about to stop anytime soon.

I’d apologise but I think everyone who reads it enjoys it as much as I do!

So now, from 632, I find myself in 999 although I really should be in 942. But that’s beside the point.