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The Scathing: Volume 3 (King's Bane) Paperback – 10 Jun 2017
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This is a frontier world, contested between the Welsh kingdoms of Powys, under their king Cynlas Goch, in the west, the kingdom of the peaks to the north ruled by Sawyl Penuchel, and the Anglo-Welsh Lindisware to the north west. Powys is eager to expand its power and territory at the expense of English settlers and the Kingdom of the Peaks. The long established Lindisware should be a natural ally to the English, but harbours doubts over the ability of the English to weather the approaching storm from Powys and fears retaliation, should they openly declare for Anglia.
To the south are Saxons, newly arrived Germanic immigrants like the English. Although they have a shared culture and tongue they have always been rivals and the Saxons are keen to keep on good terms with Powys, offering their services as Mercenaries as the Germanic newcomers have done since Roman times.
Recent studies and genetic mapping seems to indicate that there was far more of a racial fusion between the Germanic incomers and the native British than the previously supposed ethnic cleansing. Indeed this is borne out in many English place names that carry show both Brythonic and Germanic roots. The Scathing mirrors this; this isn’t a case of Welsh versus English, the reality is far more fluid and complex than that. This is a world where a warlord (whether he be Briton or Angle) can carve out a kingdom and perhaps found a dynasty.
As a stand alone book this novel offers superb characterisation and in its creation of the dark age world. As book three of the series, it builds upon all that has gone before, as we see the birth of Mercia, what will become the English heartland. Eofer, his hearth troop, and his British allies under Ioan the rustler, will be instrumental in bringing this new kingdom into the world. Robbed of their snacca (ships) by geography, Eofer and his duguth take to horseback to mount weakening raids and reconnoitre deep into disputed territory, while Icel gathers his forces for the decisive clash of arms that must surely fall between him and Cynlas. In the midst of his campaign Eofer receives word from his brother-in-law, Heardred, king of the Geats, requesting help. Adventure overseas beckons but first he must serve his lord, Icel.
As ever the author gently introduces Anglo-Saxon terms into the story, words whose meaning quickly becomes known to the reader. The result is that the reader becomes utterly immersed in this honourable, yet savage, world, where fickle gods are all too real and omens can’t be easily ignored. Now that we are in Britain of course, Mr May introduces a Welsh Brythonic element into the mix.
The result is an absolute treat and a joy to read. We meet the historical figure of Gildas along the way, the British priest famous for his accounts of the time and his dislike of the invader. It just might be that we discover the reason for his animosity within these pages! The wind-ups and drunken banter between warriors is very amusing, proving as ever that people don’t really change. I don’t think I’ll think of beer as just beer ever again, after enjoying Mr May's prose!
The ale was weaving its spell. Soon the father of the gods would enter their minds and the giddinesss would be upon them. Rank and seniority would be forgotten, and Eofer would discover the true feelings of his men.
To my mind The Scathing must surely cement Mr May’s reputation as one of the premier authors of this fascinating period of history. His skill in bringing this time period to life is second to none, being easily on a par, if not arguably superior, to some of his better known contemporaries. Within these pages you sense the exhilaration and fear of the shield wall, see the world through the claustrophobic eyeholes of the warrior’s grimhelm, smell the metallic tang of spilled blood and taste the thirst quenching ale enjoyed by the victors. In actual fact I would go further; such is the author's skill that when you read this, you begin to think of the world like one of his protagonists; was there meaning in that crow's call? Was there meaning in that distant rumble of thunder?
All too soon Snarly Yowl - Blaecce Shucca - heralds change and brings the tale to its end as threads are cut by the Norns, the old girls overlooking men’s fates. Be warned, unlike some authors, Mr May is fearless and unpredictable in this regard. Yet threads remain in the warp and weft of this series with which to weave another tale; this reader waits expectantly. Brilliant work Mr May!
The novel itself is set in the 6th century, the Romans were gone and England had yet to define itself as a singular nation. Smaller kingdoms were the power if the day. Briton, Angle and Saxon made for uneasy neighbours. It is within the unease that the author weaves his craft. The characters are sculptured with skill, Eofer is an absolute delight. The plot fits perfectly with what I would imagine 6th century would be. This is not a hack and slash book, its a measured and thoughtful plotline but keep an eye out for the battle towards the end...very skilful writing. All in all its a superb novel that the author has skilfully used his imagination to fill in the blanks of the time.
Robert Southworth ( Author of the Spartacus Chronicles and Ripper Legacies)