This is a great age for historical fiction, and it's good to welcome another writer of the genre, and a really promising one. V M Whitworth has chosen a fascinating period, when the old certainties of Anglo-Saxon England - Northumbria, Mercia, Wessex - had been thrown into confusion by the Danes, but (in the period immediately after the death of Alfred) when the Danes too were changing, some still in the old ways, some feeling their way towards a future settled state in England, even perhaps as Christians, or as prosaic traders and farmers. The quest on which the sub-deacon Wulfgar embarks takes him from Worcester, still Mercian, to Leicester, now a border town, and on into the wild East, to Lincoln and beyond. The settings are very skillfully drawn, suggesting a precise period. The touchy relationship between intact Wessex (where Wulfgar comes from originally, and his heroine the Lady of the Mercians), and the rump of Mercia, is at the core of the book and fascinating to this reader who's recently come to live just west of Worcester. The book invites comparison with Ellis Peters's first Cadfael novel, also about a quest to remove relics to a new shrine, and I have to say that Whitworth feels more authentic and less sentimental. No soppy romances either between pin-up noble lads and emerald eyed maidens! The characters, from bishops and rulers to the most humble folk of town and country, feel genuine. Wulfgar sets out with one companion on his quest, and acquires two more - and he grows up on the journey as heroes often fail to. I shall certainly hope to hear more of him during the years when the lady and her brother King Edward of Wessex brought all England south of the Humber under Anglo-Saxon control again. Charles Gordon Clark, Bromyard.