Shadow of the Raven
Sons of Kings: Sons of Kings #1
By Millie Thom
Thunder claps roar and Odin’s ravens fly. Dragonships set sail – and the kingdoms of Western Europe hold their breath. Warriors of Thor are on the move.
By the mid ninth century, Danish raids on Anglo-Saxon kingdoms have escalated. Several bands even dare to overwinter on the coastal islands, particularly those at the mouth of the Thames, where the kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia border each other.
The kings of these lands must put past enmity aside and take the first steps towards unity; steps they see as vital in the face of this newfound threat to their lands . . .
Alfred of Wessex and Eadwulf of Mercia are the sons of kings, whose futures have been determined since birth. But the turbulent events in their childhood years change the natural progression of things – and shape the characters of the men they will become. Their roads to manhood follow vastly different routes, but both learn crucial lessons along the way: lessons that will serve them well in future years.
Discovering that they enemy is not always a stranger is a harsh lesson indeed; the realisation that a trusted kinsman can turn traitor is the harshest lesson of all.
The story takes us from the kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex to the Norse lands stretching north from Denmark to the Arctic Circle and east to the Baltic Sea. We glimpse the Court of Charles the Bald of West Francia and journey to the holy city of Rome. Through it all, the two boys move ever closer to their destinies.
The dead cannot talk, but the living remember…
The Danes were coming. Beorhtwulf, the King of Mercia, knew about the Danish threat and he had made preparations. But what he had not been prepared for was his brother’s gross betrayal.
Eadwulf of Mercia was just a child when his uncle betrayed his father. Now he finds himself in a Norse slave market, waiting to be sold. Eadwulf has two choices. He can let his grief and his circumstances destroy him, or he can grow stronger because of it.
Alfred of Wessex is the youngest son of the great King Aethelwulf. He is a long way from the throne, but Aethelwulf can see that his youngest son has a gift and there is no doubt that Alfred is favoured by God. Only time will tell what God has intended for Alfred.
From the coldness of a Mercia winter morning to the horror of the slave market in Hedeby, Shadow of the Raven: Sons of Kings Book #1 by Millie Thom is the story of two boys, whose lives are irrevocably changed by events that were out of their control.
Thom has brought us not only a wonderfully compelling story but also one that has been so obviously painstakingly researched. The richness of the narrative and the exquisite attention to detail draws the reader into the mid-9th Century world that Thom has created. This story is so vivid in the telling that it was like watching the images flicker in front of my eyes. I could feel the coldness of the snow against my skin, the rocking of the boat as it sailed across the ocean towards a destination unknown. I could see the gilded buildings in Rome just as well as I could envisage the Hall of Ragnar Lothbrok and the Court of Charles the Bald. However, more importantly, I felt Eadwulf’s despair, his anger and his hate, but also his hope. Thom has a gift for bringing not only a time gone by but also the people who lived there, back to life.
There is a large cast of historical characters in this book, but this story is focused primarily on the two young protagonists — Eadwulf and Alfred. Eadwulf has to grow up very quickly. However, he is the son of a king, and although he finds himself in a terrible situation, he never gives up on the dream that one day he will find his way home. He does, however, have moments of doubt. He was born a Mercian, but grew up as a Dane. Eadwulf struggles terribly with his identity. He knows who he is, he just isn’t as sure as to where he belongs. I thought Eadwulf’s portrayal was outstanding. He matures in both body and attitude as the story progresses. At the beginning of the tale he thinks like a child, but by the end of this book he is most definitely a man. Alfred, on the other hand, experiences none of the horrors that Eadwulf faces, but he too has his share of death and grief. Alfred’s childhood portrays the kind of king that he will become. He is watchful, very clever, and he shows great empathy to everyone he comes into contact with. I thought both protagonists were wonderfully drawn and more importantly believable.
In Shadows of the Raven, we meet some historical characters who many readers will be familiar with thanks to Michael Hirst’s fabulous Vikings series. Due to circumstance, Eadwulf finds himself in the domain of Ragnar Lothbrok. It is Eadwulf’s relationship with Bjorn Ironside, Ragnar’s eldest son, where Eadwulf's story really comes into its own. Bjorn may well be a secondary character in this book, but I thought he was fabulously portrayed. He is a warrior, but he is also compassionate and understanding of Eadwulf desire to be free and to avenge the people he loved.
Thom has not romanticised this era at all. The Viking raids are brutal as are some of their sacrifices. However, Shadows of a Raven is not all blood and gore. Thom has a gift for describing everyday things, such as collecting water from the river, and the beauty of falling in love. I thought this book was masterfully written and I was utterly captivated from the beginning to the end.
Shadow of a Raven is impossible to put down. Thom has created an enthrallingly epic saga. It is thoroughly enjoyable, filled with battle scenes, family politics, love, and religion — what is not to like?
I Highly Recommend.The Coffee Pot Book Club.
Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
Millie Thom is a former geography and history teacher with a degree in geology and a particular passion for the Anglo-Saxon and Viking period. Originally from Lancashire she is a mother of six grown up children and now lives with her husband in a small village in Nottinghamshire, midway between the town of Newark and the lovely old city of Lincoln. When not writing, Millie enjoys long walks and is a serious fossil hunter. She is also an avid traveller, swimmer and baker of cakes!