Book Review: EDWIN, HIGH KING OF BRITAIN by Edoardo Albert

Title in white on navy blue with a red line drawing of a leaping boar made of swirling knots
Genre: Historical
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 1.5 stars
Series: yes - first book in trilogy

Synopsis:

Book cover for EDWIN HIGH KING OF BRITAIN: a stylised line drawing of a boar above the title

In 604 AD, Edwin, the deposed king of Northumbria, seeks refuge at the court of King Raedwald of East Anglia. But Raedwald is urged to kill his guest by Aethelfrith, Edwin’s usurper. As Edwin walks by the shore, alone and at bay, he is confronted by a mysterious figure–the missionary Paulinus– who prophesies that he will become High King of Britain. It is a turning point.

Through battles and astute political alliances Edwin rises to power, in the process marrying the Kentish princess Aethelburh. As part of the marriage contract the princess is allowed to retain her Christian faith. But, in these times, to be a king is not a recipe for a long life.

This turbulent and tormented period in British history sees the conversion of the Anglo-Saxon settlers who have forced their way on to British shores over previous centuries, arriving first to pillage, then to farm and trade–and to come to terms with the faith of the Celtic tribes they have driven out.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


Review:

To say this is not my normal fare would be something of an understatement. I went through a phase, about five years back, of reading a lot of historical fiction, and then rather fell out of love with it. Even when I was reading it, I mostly read medieval and Georgian – never anything this far back. We don’t really learn anything about British history before 1066 at school. This was part of the reason I picked it up.

There are some nice details in the setting, from the construction of wooden buildings to the custom of arm rings. Unfortunately, as interesting as the time period is, it was not enough to carry this book. I debated DNF’ing it a few times, but it was short so persevered to the end.

There is no emotion in this book. The many battle scenes are lifeless exchange of blows, without a sense of danger or stakes. They could have been omitted entirely and it would have felt exactly the same – no loss of tension or pacing.

I think the main reasons are the lack of emotive language and the lack of depth. The word choice is evocative, like being read a shopping list, and the characters aren’t explored. Random characters will narrate a section, but the reader never gets into their head. Edwin wants to be High King – but why? There was no motivation behind anything he did. There was nothing to connect me to him as I couldn’t see a need driving his goal. He wanted a throne… because?

This lack of emotional connection holds true all the way to the ending, and so it is very unsatisfactory. As true as it may be, the lack of emotion in the book and dearth in the final fight means it falls flat. There’s no resolution, no sense of payoff. I turned the page as was expecting more, only to find that was the end.

*SPOILERS BELOW for the ending*

It’s just another battle, except this time the main character dies. When the main character dies, there should be an emotional gut wrench, to see the hero brought low. It could have been played as a tragedy, or a heroic last stand. It could have been tense and fraught with peril.

It was not.

Like the rest of the book, it was so matter of fact, made worse by the fact that it never felt necessary. Then his family flee, equally unemotional, and it ends.

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