Thursday 18 March 2021

#BookReview - Bloodlines (The Shadow of the Raven, Book 4) by Chris Bishop #HistoricalFiction @CBishop_author

Publication Date: 11 February 2021
Publisher: RedDoor Press 
Page Length: 304 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction 

Your bloodline flows not from your heart but from the very core of your existence.

WESSEX 893 as King Alfred readies his defences against another Viking invasion.

Among his many concerns is the plight of Edward, his stable boy, who he believes to be the bastard son of Matthew, a renowned warrior who died fighting for the Saxon cause. If Edward’s heritage can be proved, Edward he would stand to inherit a vast fortune which Alfred fears would attract every fraudster in the realm. Worse still, given his noble lineage, the boy could well be used to usurp him as king. 

Alfred therefore sends Edward to the burh at Wareham on the pretext of having him train Fleet, a magnificent black stallion, so spirited it’s thought to be all but unrideable. The boy soon proves his skill with horses but is considered too puny to be a warrior. However when the fyrd find themselves outnumbered, isolated and confronting a Viking warband, Edward’s quick thinking and extraordinary courage leaves no doubt about his bloodline.

"So, is that Matthew’s legacy – secrets and suspicions?"

King Alfred had no choice. Until he was sure, he must keep his suspicions to himself. But he would keep young Edward close, safe from those who might use the boy to their own advantage. No one would expect a stableboy of being the heir to the second most noble and wealthiest family in Wessex. It was better for everyone, including Edward, not to know his true lineage. 

But Alfred would not be able to keep his secret forever. Every day, Edward looked more and more like his father. He also had the same gentle disposition. However, for now, the boy would remain a stableboy, and when the time was right, Alfred would restore to Edward what was rightfully his…

From a whispered prophecy to the truth behind the deception, Bloodlines by Chris Bishop is a lavish depiction of one of the most volatile times in British history. It is told, for the most part, from the viewpoint of a stableboy.

When I learnt there was to be another book in The Shadow of the Raven series, I could not be more excited, but I was also left wondering who would take Matthew’s place—the protagonist in the first three books. Of course, the title suggests this is story is about the children that Matthew would never see, nor hold, nor care for. It was initially slightly disconcerting to be back amongst the principal players of this story without Matthew being there, but the story takes a delightful turn as we discover that Matthew’s legacy lives on through his son.

Despite the vast and wonderfully portrayed historical backdrop, this novel focuses on the life of a humble stableboy who keeps his head down and does his best to avoid another beating. He has no idea who his father is, except that he was one of Alfred’s warriors, but he does know that his mother was a whore (although not from choice). Edward is an extremely gentle boy who has a gift when it comes to horses. He understands them and shows maturity beyond his age. Unbeknownst to him, this calming disposition and loving heart have been inherited by his father (whose story, as I have said, is told through the previous books in this series). And thus, Edward makes the best of his situation. He works hard because he enjoys his work, and he is as content as one could be in his situation.

Fate, or the genetic inheritance of the individual, certainly in the case of Edward and Coenred, is explored in explicit detail during the length of this novel. Both boys have similar backgrounds, both are orphans and both are stableboys, but that is as far as the similarities go. Edward’s gentleness and compassion mean that there can be no uncertainty that he is his father’s son, and it is his actions that convince King Alfred that he is Matthew’s heir. Whereas, Coenred, who has Viking blood running through his veins, is calculating and cruel. He delights in torment and torture. He deliberately provokes the stray dog that lives in the stable and the high-spirited horse that is worth a small fortune but is seemingly untamable. When he sees Edward succeeding, especially with the horse, where he has failed, his jealousy knows no bounds. Coenred is a direct contrast to Edward, and his deplorable actions mean the reader can summon very little sympathy for him. Coenred is the stereotypical Viking—he is violent, bloodthirsty and untrustworthy. Edward, on the other hand, has an almost angelic quality. He may not know his true ancestry, but his actions certainly ascertain his nobility.

At its essence, Bloodlines depicts the seemingly inevitable struggle between the good “Saxons” and the evil “Vikings”. The Vikings are unquestionably wicked and immoral, as well as being notably less noble than the Saxons. Unfortunately, they are just as brave and determined. But there is no sense that the Vikings are a worthy enemy. Their actions are barbaric, and they leave destruction in their wake. The fact that the Vikings are depicted in such a detrimental light is not surprising, considering this series is told from the Saxon perspective. The Vikings were the bane of King Alfred’s reign, and therefore they are portrayed as cruel and without mercy. However, King Alfred is not so arrogant that he does not see the threat posed by his own people. His hold on his throne may seem strong, but in truth, his tenacious grip could easily be challenged, which is the main reason why he keeps Edward’s parentage a secret until he has secured a small circle of trusted men to protect Edward from those who might manipulate him for their own gain.

The narrative structure is continually changing, which allows the reader to see the whole story told from several different, albeit Saxon, perspectives. We walk with King Alfred and his noble lords. We witness an inexperienced nobleman’s mistake in battle as he desperately tries to make a name for himself. There are twins whose prophecy must be fulfilled, and there is a bastard son who is unaware of just how noble his lineage is. I thought this approach worked really well. Bishop, by doing so, has given his story a rounded realism which would have been difficult to have achieved if the story had been told through only one perspective.

Another Viking invasion threat is a theme that runs throughout this novel, as it did during Alfred’s life. Alfred and his noble lords know that despite granting concessions and gifting land and money, the Vikings will only be appeased once they have toppled Alfred from his throne and seized Wessex. Therefore, it is imperative that all fortifications are strengthened. With the possibility of a war on all fronts, Alfred has to deploy his troops with military precision. The one thing that everyone fears is having a traitor in their midst, who will tell the enemy about not only a fort’s weakest areas but how to use this to their advantage. I thought this menacing threat brought home what a dangerous era this was to live through. The Viking raiders were merciless and were a very real threat to Wessex’s stability and the lives of her people.

Bloodlines by Chris Bishop demanded all of my attention, and its non-stop action meant that it was a real page-turner. If you enjoy The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell, then The Shadow of the Raven series must be on your to-read lists.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde
The Coffee Pot Book Club

Chris Bishop was born in London in 1951.  After a successful career as a Chartered Surveyor, he retired to concentrate on writing, combining this with his lifelong interest in history.  His first Novel, Blood and Destiny, was published in 2017 and his second, The Warrior with the Pierced Heart was released in July 2018.  Both form part of a series entitled The Shadow of the Raven.

Chris is a member of the Historical Writers’ Association as well as the Historical Novel Society.

Connect with Chris: Website BlogTwitterGoodreads.

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See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx