19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars
Gritty historical adventure, 24 April 2010
The Half-Slave is unusual for Dark Ages fiction in that it doesn't try to add yet another take to the Arthurian legend or wallow in nostalgia for some long-forgotten Celtic era. Bloom focuses on the clash between the Franks and the Saxons and for once the Romans are shown not as arrogant world-conquerors, but as weak and uncertain, desperately trying to hold onto a rapidly-disintegrating power.
We see the struggle between the Germanic tribes as the Roman empire stutters to an end, and between the Franks, led by a nervy and calculating young Clovis (a real historical figure), and the Saxons who Bloom depicts plausibly as the terrorists of the day. Clovis himself is wonderful, a terrific mix of edgy neuroticism and brutal ambition.
The half-slave is Ascha, son of a Saxon warlord and a Romano-British mother, a reluctant hero, torn by divided loyalties and ambivalent feelings towards his clan. He makes mistakes and is forced to live by his wits, despised by Romans, Franks and Saxons alike, but deep down he is determined to do what is right and that in my view is what a real hero is all about.
Essentially a quest novel, Ascha faces many enemies but he also has friends - Octha the wily Frisian merchant; Herrad the love-interest; Tchenguiz the Hun; Lucullus, an enslaved Roman aristocrat; Basinia, queen of the Franks; - a diverse band which Bloom uses deftly to illuminate the conflicting interests of the time.
An intelligent and well-researched historical adventure written in a gritty and pacy style. Well worth a look.