It's a tall enough order to write a convincing historical novel, but add an m/m romance on top and the task could be seen as a highly risky undertaking....I'm delighted to say that Harper Fox has managed this incredibly well and made for a compelling and beautiful read.
The north east coast of England in 687 AD where Christianity was still in its infancy and struggling against the ever increasing viking raids terrorising the villagers and monks alike. It is where we start with Cai who is the son of a local chieftan and turns his back on the whoring and looting ways of his father and joins the monastery. The current Abbot, Theodosius is one of tolerance, learning and understanding and under him the priory flourishes. However, one night during a viking raid, Theodosieus is slain along with his lover Leof, but before he dies Theo entrusts Cai with a secret that will bring the raids to end. In his grief for Theo and his former lover Leof, Cai doesn't take the old Abbot's words for serious and arms the monks to defend themselves for the next viking raid. A prophecy tells Cai that he will meet a viking Wolf and will tame him.
This story has many threads running through it, but also a lot of meaning and messages are carried. The new Abbot from Canterbury is full of hell fire and damnation. Here we get a glimpse into the direction the early church is going, throwing everyone into ignorance, darkenss and unacceptance through its teachings. Cai struggles against this whilst trying to bridge the divide between religious ludicrousy and keeping the brothers together. Here Harper draws an excellent historical comparison of the conflicts in this period between having to remain practical, but a religion that was poisoning the minds of lesser folk by keeping them stupid.
In early Christianity there is always space for local folklore and the mystic. Harper only hints at the mystic. I found this neatly done as it was a time where the old druid ways were gradually fading into a long lost memory and the new Christian mysticism was gathering strength.
Cai and Fen should never really have been lovers, two people on opposing sides, however through all the internal struggle and doubt of torn loyalties, they remain faithful in their love for each other and manage to bring the viking raids to an end after discovering Theo's secret.
The historical aspect of this book is very well written and Harper has obvioulsy done a lot of research on this time and era to give the reader an authentic feeling. This is a must for historical novels. Combine this with her strong lyrical writing and once again the reader is swept off to another time and place. I did feel however that when writing about the fighting and the raids it could have been a little more gutsy and had a little more substance, but this is only a small criticism for a wonderfully written book. Her descrptions are vivid and as soon as I started reading my mind drifted off to the Holy Island of Lindasfarne (Fara) off the coast of Northumbria in the UK. A magical place steeped in history and rooted to its very core in ealry christianity. Brothers of the Wild North Sea "It seemed so strange to me that the waters divided us for so long, I had to come and look at them. Maybe there is an earthly bridge as well as the rainbow one into Valhalla. Maybe the moon creates it, and allows men’s souls to know one another before they meet in the flesh. Even… Even if they never do.""Beyond all of those places, here they would be. He pressed tighter into Fen’s embrace. This place had forever in it. Time couldn’t end it, nor even the limits of life. Not distance—not even the wastes of the wild North Sea."