I’ve finished this. I put it down. I’m stunned. I have something in my eye, that’s why it’s watering honestly…Maybe some dust, that’s all… But, I’m thinking “Wow! THAT was incredible! When’s the next one?!”
At first, I thought it was slow to get going, it seemed to take a couple of chapters to settle down in my mind. Then I figured it out, now I know better. I just had to let my mind be transported back with Mr May and his time machine and relate to the characters as they would be in their time, not from the point of view of my conceptions. What I mean is, like this: They call themselves ‘English‘ but they’re clearly not from what we know as England. They believe in the Nordic gods, but wait, isn’t this before the Viking age, and anyway, why do they call him Woden? It’s Odin, isn’t it? I’ve read a lot of books about the Romans, the Romans in Britannia, and uncountable numbers of books about Vikings. But this, you and I must remember, is in between. This is when the soon-to-be Vikings, were still called ‘Danes’ to the people’s of the lands they ‘visited’ and, before Denmark was all it is today. This is, therefore, still ‘Britannia,’ the people ‘Britons’ and the peoples we’re reading about here, are the English. Who, with the Saxons and the Jutes, are beginning to move over to the east coast of Britannia.
Once I and the characters had got our bearings, I was completely swept away, carried along by the enveloping and thrilling storytelling, the great, often poignant writing and the multitude of thoughts it will send running around in your head. Interestingly, it reminded me of another recently released, soon to be classic, James Aitcheson’s superb The Harrowing. It’s all about the style of a writer who immerses his story and then his readers so deeply in the period, it feels like he’s just describing what he actually sees, what’s going on around him (time travel?).
It’s perhaps a more reflective piece than book one, and there is a lot of ground to cover, literally. The English, before they can re-join the first of their countrymen and women in their new home in Britannia, must first sort out the Danes. They launch fake attacks to the west of the approaching Danes, before shock troops attack from behind their lines. Once this is accomplished, the main forces can travel west and make the hazardous crossing to (east) Anglia and a new life. If you’ve read any of the newer non-fiction books covering this period, you’ll be aware, that thinking nowadays is not that the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes attacked at one time, like the Vikings after them, but came gradually over a period of time, until the original occupants went on to be called ‘strangers’ (Wælisc), in their own lands. Many were possibly mercenaries or recruits from the Germanic lands, used by the Romans, who, after the Romans left, decided to stay. This turbulent period is, it seems to me, becoming increasingly attractive to Historical Fiction writers, who, I would say, normally stick to the Romans and the Vikings, which sell books, avoiding the period in between, which clearly hasn’t, until now. C.R. May’s books – along with those of Matthew Harffyand E S Moxon are coming as long-awaited rain on my particular parched patch of knowledge.
As an aside, one of the (many) really interesting aspects of reading these books, is seeing where many of the names I grew up with (English), and those I use today (Danish), possibly came from. (Here, of course, I’m trusting Mr May’s research!). Now living in Denmark, and being fluent in Danish, I may have an advantage over the average reader, but trust me, as far as I can see, it’s all well-founded.
There are battles and sword-play and the hacking and the surviving, then fighting and raiding again, enough to keep all those who read for that more than happy. However, I think books like this and The Harrowing are doing something else within the genre. Can I suggest that? I think I can. Shaking it up a bit, looking at life in the dark ages, a little differently. Yes, you are knocked a little out of your Hist Fic comfort zone at the start – of both books – until your mind’s time travel trip is completed and you get used to the ‘new’ names, the different names and the unusual concept that the ‘English’ and ‘England’ is to the south of the Jutland (Jylland, to me) peninsula. And where they want to settle, is Anglia, in the east of Britannia. Once you are attuned, the story will transport you, almost physically. The characters will come to glorious life in your head and ultimately, you’ll get much more pleasure out of books like Gods of War, than you will from 99% of ‘Historical Fiction’ there is out there. No doubt in my mind, this is already a book, a series, that will stay with me as long as I read books.
If you like your Historical Fiction raw, real, soaked in history and bursting with new life – and death – that weaves its way in and wraps itself around your mind, until you can see, hear, touch and almost taste the dark ages, ‘Gods of War’ (as with ‘Fire & Steel’ before it), is a book you cannot ignore. A book that from the cover, from the first page, to the last word on the last page, bursts with quality, daring, ideas and with an extra layer of fascination – then ‘King’s Bane’ is a series you have to get into. I can not recommend this series highly enough. “How highly?” “Higher! Higher than that!”
You can, and should, buy Gods of War from Amazon