Leofric: Sword of the Angles
© 2015 S. J. Arnott
The days are dark for Angeln. Surrounded by enemies and increasingly depopulated as her people flee to more peaceful fields in Britain, her king has seen fit to enlist one-time enemies as allies against the Danes. The outlook for Leofric is especially grim; his father is missing on campaign, and himself so sickly that his grave has already been dug. When the entire folk gathers at the king’s city as a show of force to convince the Danes to keep their distance, matters grow far worse. A personal grudge leads to a bloodfeud, and Leofric finds himself kinless, destitute, and declared outlaw. His village burned, he must flee to the wilderness and find refuge among others left for dead. In time the sickly boy will find the courage and strength needed to claim vengeance for his murdered uncle and restore his family’s lands.
Leofric: Sword of the Angles is a hero’s-journey story set in dark-age Europe, at a time when Rome is dead but not buried, an age where the woods are dark and deep and home to monsters that require Beowulfs to slay them. War looms, though the combat of Leofric is almost strictly personal, limited to Leofric and a companion or two fleeing, fighting, or ambushing those who will not be happy until the young man is dead. Although the author acknowledges in his notes section that information on the Angles prior to their arrival in Britain is hard to come by, gaps are readily filled in by borrowing cultural references to the Franks and other Germanic tribes, and what details are available are worked in craftily; there is no awkward lecturing here, only a man pursuing his fate against a host of trouble. Some pieces of narrative are particularly mesmerizing, like the moment when Leofric’s “dragon” awakes. This is his blood-heat, a surge of adrenaline and battle rage that allows him evade death and turn it on his enemies. Although he triumphs in part by the end, some unfinished business –an enemy who escaped to Britain — begs for a sequel, and so do I. Considering that Bernard Cornwell’s Uhtred is on death’s door these days (hovering about in the doorframe, actually), I would welcome more Leofric!
Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories, especially #3, Lords of the North