When I was first sent the first two books in The Northumbrian Thrones trilogy I'll admit I had a slight hesitation. It is not a time that I will naturally choose to read about, however I am pleased to say I was pleasantly surprised.
Edwin: High King of Britain is the first in the trilogy, telling the first part of the story. I was very kindly sent both as I had no knowledge of either book, although I ran out of time to finish Edwin properly, and had to move straight on to Oswald (I plan to go back and read Edwin very soon!).
Set in Britain, after the fall of the Roman Empire, Edoardo paints a picture of a land, and people fighting amongst themselves in the darkness left behind. The pagan gods of old clash with Christianity as one king after another sets to raise himself to the level of the now defeated Edwin. It is here that we meet Oswald, who with some reluctance takes up the fight to reclaim his birth right, and become high king.
After witnessing his father slain by his own uncle - Edwin, Oswald's mother fled with her children to the safety of the holy Isle of Iona, where Oswald became attracted to the Monastic life. After receiving news of his uncle's death, and no one to claim the throne from his usurper Oswald, along with his brother Oswiu begin a journey fraught with danger and intrigue awaiting at every turn.
Against impossible odds, Oswald is able to raise his claim above all others, and seeks to bring peace, unity and the new religion to a much divided Britain.
I enjoyed Edoardo's writing style very much, and his characterisations. Oswiu became a fast favourite of mine from the beginning and I look forward to seeing his story told further in the last instalment of the series. Edoardo admits he was inspired by Tolkien's tales, and the title of this book is a nod and tribute to his work. I like how he based Oswald on Aargorn, Oswald is a likeable character, and I enjoyed his development, although I would have liked to have seen more development in his role as king over the 8 years that he was in power.
There were parts, that while necessary I found did not hold my attention, such as the character of Coifi - a formerly pagan priest. He vies between his despair at the old gods abandoning him of the sight, to raving visions. His inconsistency was frustrating, although I suppose this would be an element of the character the writer was seeking. For me it made me very disinterested in him for his faith seemed fickle, and all over the place. Perhaps it was the displacement of the old gods, and a loss of confidence in his abilities to read the signs correctly that should be accredited to his behaviour throughout the novel. It is food for thought, and I think I will need to reread it to decide for sure.
Another stand out character for me was King Sigeberht, and the notion that many once powerful men sought the peace and quiet of the monastic life after years of bloodshed. Sigeberht's fate is interwoven with Oswald, unable to escape the ties laid upon him, which I found to be tragic.
Bran the raven was also a stand out for me. I am especially fond of ravens, and animal sidekicks in any form. Bran is a faithful companion to Oswald, with an almost cat like attitude to life.
What struck me the most was how changeable the time was. When you invest in a character like Oswald you are always hoping he will be the exception, that he will not meet the fate of treachery and betrayal like all those who came before him, but as Edoardo says himself, 'It was a brutal and bloody business, and not one of the kings of Bernicia and Deira before Oswald died in his bed.'
Oswald is a fine example of the shifting power plays of the time, of alliances formed and broken. Of the bond between brothers, and how power can blind anyone to what is really happening around you. Of the power of blood-ties, and the love and respect of a King and his men, who will fight his cause until their very last breath.
It has been cited as leaving the reader wanting more, and it really does. I cannot wait to see what tale Oswiu: King of Kings weave.
If you have a love of tumultuous history and are seeking something new to bring your imagination blazing to life I would recommend you give this trilogy a go. I couldn't put it down from start to finish. With thanks to Rhonda at Lion Hudson for supplying me with the books, and Edoardo Albert for his captivating tale. Published 15th May 2015 by Lion Fiction.