Review: Shadow of the Raven by Millie Thom

Shadow of the RavenThe real-life tales of 9th-century England are brought to life in Millie Thom’s book, Shadow of the Raven, the first book in the Sons of Kings trilogy. The book mixes fact and fiction, with the two main characters in rivalling kingdoms being true-life English royal Alfred of Wessex, son of ‘Aethelwulf The Great’ and the fictional Eadwulf of Mercia (although his father King Beorthwulf was a real-life King.)  These books are based on the roots of the English Kingdom, as two rival kings of Britain fight for their destiny: To defend Anglo-Saxon lands from invasion from vicious Danish raiders: fierce Pagan warriors who fight without morals against their Christian neighbors, plundering, razing and raping wherever they go. But the freezing winters of the British Isles are treacherous, and the boys’ journey into adulthood will be a long and hard path as attacks become more and more frequent.

This is an intricately detailed and fascinating read that brings history to life in a way that the reader can touch, smell and see clearly. As an expert on her subject, Thom draws a tight circle of imagination around fact, breathing personality, cultural detail and emotion into people that really lived hundreds of years ago. Politics and a real “game of thrones” takes place, with Thom weaving in Norse mythology to add magic to the already wildly exciting setting.

The book is a very intelligent and thoughtful novel that will be enjoyed by those interested in a more fulfilling read than the usual fantasy book offering, and is definitely, and thankfully, aimed at a higher comprehension reader than most, which is a wonderful and refreshing change. The author has relied on quality writing and her confidence in her thorough knowledge on her subject to sell her book and this really shines through from her cover to the first page and reels the reader into the epic adventure inside.

Details such as the necklaces of Thor’s Hammer hanging from the necks of the Danes as they travel by sea, hunting with arrows, and how societies are set up for weddings, births and rites of passage mean it’s difficult to put the book to one side as even if there’s a lull in the action, there’s learning to do in the descriptions of a past so long ago that it seems almost exotic to read and wallow in the tiniest observation. Words like “scramseax” and “jarl”  will have you poring over dictionaries and finding out all kinds of new things.

This is a rich book, traversing across Scandinavia and South Europe to show how many cities and towns were formed, with landmarks of varying importance and geographical significance mapped in for added interest, such as the now-replaced Old St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

In a nutshell, despite the barbaric behavior of some of the clans in the book, you will want desperately to go back in time and experience the landscapes for yourself as you are treated to starry skies devoid of artificial lights, or the Thames river in London with its greenery. Well worth the time to get full involved and certainly it’s good news that this is the first book of the trilogy. Recommended.

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