The Serpent Sword


Picked this up on a deal.

Set in 7th Century Britain, it follows a young man as he becomes a warrior in the retinue of various kings of Northumbria.

Although set well before it, the story reminded me greatly of The Last Kingdom. They feature similar locales (Bebbenburg makes several appearances) and a rising warrior as the protagonist. Where the latter focuses on the battle between Saxon and Dane, this looks at Saxon against the Welsh.

The difference here is the lack of a guiding hand. Where Uhtred has Alfred as his overlord, Beobrand lacks that presence and it gives the story a much narrower field of view and a less-cohesive backbone.

Not to say that this is bad — there’s plenty of action, it’s constantly moving, but there are lots of episodes which simply appear and are discarded without any real impact on the characters. It does feel like the author just wanted to throw obstacles in the way, and even that he didn’t want the protagonist to be happy for long stretches, as any time things look to be going well his fortunes are suddenly reversed.

I’m not sure I’d encountered the word ‘craven’ before, but the author takes to it with glee — it’s rolled out way too often during several chapters.

A solid enough story, if somewhat uninspiring, which gets better toward the end. A reasonable start to a series.

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Reviewed: 17th March 2020