Book Review – Oswald: Return of the Kingby Edoardo Albert (historical fiction)

Here’s the blurb:

“The exiled family of King Aethelfrith of Northumbria arrive, after much hardship, on the island of Iona, where the monastery founded by St Columba has become a centre of worship and learning. Young Oswald becomes firm friends with a novice, Aidan. When Aidan professes his final vows, Oswald and his little brother Oswy are received into the church. As befits a young prince, Oswald learns to fight. However, Aidan’s example attacts him and he is on the point of deciding to become a monk when news reaches Iona that his half brother, Eanfrith, has been killed by Cadwallon, the king who defeated Edwin. Oswald sails back to Northumbria and meets Cadwallon in battle, defeating and killing him. Oswald, now undisputed king of Northumbria, gives Aidan the island of Lindisfarne as his base. But Penda, the last great pagan king in England, is raising troops against him.”

I received a free E-Arc from Netgalley.

Oswald, Return of the King is the first book I’ve read by the author.

Oswald is, unfortunately, a dense read that suffers with some pacing issues, but more than anything, is plagued by unnecessary and near constant Bible quotations. It would perhaps, have been better if the novel had been named after the monks of Lindisfarne or Iona, because the focus of the novel is not actually Oswald. The author has made great use of the work of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, (as must everyone who writes and studies about this time period), and I couldn’t help thinking that Bede would have been overjoyed by the author’s firm adherence to his ideas – to write a history of the Church – and not a history of the people throughout this period, but for myself, I felt that this detracted from what should have been an exiting read and instead descended into a long and tedious story about a highly fictionalised accounting of how Christianity was introduced to the Saxons of England. Christianity was a weapon, just like a warrior’s sword, shield and spear, but the author, writing for a Christian Press, makes no reference to the political nature of the imposition of Christianity.

As to the story itself, Oswald does not become King of Bernicia until 48% of the book has passed, and then there is some definite fudging of events and dates which takes the reader to the final battle – or should I say ‘finally a battle’. Until this point much has been made of the amassing of troops – but the Battle of Heavenfield, where Oswald gains his kingdom, is a disappointing fight between two men in a quarry, an amassing of troops at York slithers away as a truce is called, and Maserfield is the only battle that gets any ink – even the supposed overthrow of the Gododdin earns no more than the recall of a messenger reporting to his king.

This period of history is defined by its battles and its warriors, but this is a novel of saints and Christianity, and needs to be read with a clear understanding of what it is, and not what it could have been, or what a reader might well expect it to be.

The cover is, however, stunning!

And you can buy it here:

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