Book Review and New Release Alert – Bright Helm by Christine Hancock – historical fiction

Here’s the blurb;

“Separated by anger and unanswered questions, Byrhtnoth and Saewynn are brought together by a tragic death.
Re-united, they set out on an epic voyage to discover the final truth about his father. 
The journey takes them far to the north, to Orkney, swathed in the mists of treachery, and to Dublin’s slave markets where Byrhtnoth faces a fateful decision.
How far will he go, to save those he cares for?” 

First things first, Bright Helm is book four in a tightly woven series about young Byrhtnoth, more famous for dying at the Battle of Maldon in AD991, than for anything else. But, he must have had a life before that fateful battle and the author has devised an intriguing and engaging story about his youth, weaving the tale through known historical ‘fact’ of the 940’s and 950’s in Early England.

This is a time period that I’ve also written about and studied, and I have been lucky enough to have early access to Bright Helm, as well as other books in the series. I’ve enjoyed arguing about plot developments and also taken fresh insight from decisions made for the characters. It’s strange to have ‘your’ characters in the hands of someone else, but hey, this is historical fiction, these characters belong only to themselves and the author who writes about them.

What I really enjoyed about Bright Helm was the journey Byrhtnoth has to make. Along the way, he encounters any number of ‘historical’ characters, and winds up visiting both the Orkney Islands and Ireland. I love the Orkney Islands, and I could ‘see’ everything that the author described in such detail.

The book really gather pace as it roars towards its end and I found myself, and this doesn’t often happen in books where I know so much of the back story, just relaxing and allowing the story to unfold without worrying that I might not like it. As I said to the author, I found that she really found ‘her stride’. The pacing was sound, the story thoroughly intriguing, and well, I’m just looking forward to the next book (which might be the last in the series) to find out how it all ends.

I highly recommend this book, and if you’ve not read the earlier books in the series, I believe you could jump in with Book 4, or enjoy starting at the very beginning.

You can find Christine Hancock here:@YoungByrhtnoth and at https://byrhtnoth.com

Bright Helm is released today, 15th October, and is available in ebook and paperback.

(Some links on this blog are Amazon affiliate links)

Odin’s Game – by Tom Hodkinson – historical fiction

Here’s the blurb;

“AD 915.

In the Orkney Isles, a young woman flees her home to save the life of her unborn child. Eighteen years later, a witch foretells that evil from her past is reaching out again to threaten her son.

Outlawed from his home in Iceland, Einar Unnsson is thrown on the mercy of his Uncle, the infamous Jarl Thorfinn ‘Skull Cleaver’ of Orkney. He joins forces with a Norse-Irish princess and a company of wolfskin-clad warriors to become a player in a deadly game for control of the Irish sea, where warriors are the pawns of kings and Jarls and the powerful are themselves mere game pieces on the tafl board of the Gods.

Together they embark on a quest where Einar must fight unimaginable foes, forge new friendships, and discover what it truly means to be a warrior.

As the clouds of war gather, betrayal follows betrayal and Einar realises the only person he can really trust is himself.

Not everyone will survive, but who will conquer all in Odin’s game?”

Odin’s Game by Tim Hodkinson begins with great promise. I hope, mirroring the writing style of the sagas, the story is simply told, occasionally a little monotonous, and yet, it’s Viking Age Iceland – the promise is there, all the time, expectant that finally there is a novel about the Icelandic way of life. Unfortunately, the novel moves away from Iceland quite quickly, and in doing so, becomes a more challenging read.

The characters are two dimensional, there is some jarringly ‘modern’ dialogue in there, as well as some that is stilted, and yet all mixed with what must be a great deal of research and commitment to telling a story in a ‘different way’ to much that is written about the Viking Age – journeying to Orkney and Ireland along the way, if as so often happens, staying with the Pagan/Christian storyline.

Einar, the main character, is never fully formed enough to elicit a great deal of sympathy from the reader, and his ‘talents’ appearing from nowhere (apart from his ability to tell a good story which he has been trained to do) are supposed to be gifts from Odin, but are, again, not fully explored enough to make the novel feel ‘well-rounded and finished.’

There is a huge amount of promise contained in this novel, but it slips away, never quite grasping the storyline firmly enough, and the ending is both rushed, and ultimately, unfulfilling. A true shame. Such an engaging idea, but a struggle to read. In the end, I willed myself to the end in the hope the ending would be as good as the beginning, only to be disappointed.

The three stars are for the promise of what could be a great novel.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

(Note – I am obsessed with Viking Age Iceland – it is my passion – it is the basis of my first fantasy series – this may, potentially, account for my disappointment!)

Odin’s Game is released today (20th June 2019), and is available from here: