Book review : Sworn Sword (The Bloody Aftermath of 1066, #1)

Sworn Sword (The Bloody Aftermath of 1066, #1)Sworn Sword by James Aitcheson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

As a keen reader of historical action fiction I REALLY wanted to like this book – it’s set in a pivotal time in British history & I’ve not really read anything set in this time period before.

However, as I started to read I found the prose to be slightly turgid and the storyline rather meandering with some sluggish and slightly odd character interactions. The main character, Tancred a Dinan – a knight in service of his Norman lord, seemed hard to like either way – not because he seemed flawed or a bad man but because the author seemed to give no reason to either admire or hate him. The characterisation of him , and the main characters, didn’t seem particularly strong. For a leader of a conroi of knights with 10+ years of hard fighting he seemed too sensitive about petty misunderstandings or disagreements with or amongst the other characters.

It was at this point (about a third of the way into the book) that I started to analyze my approach to this storyline to see why I was finding the book so unsatisfactory.

I am an avid reader of the historic fictions of Bernard Cornwell, Robert Fabbri, Conn Iggulden & Simon Scarrow. The central characters in these books are by and large ones of heroic infallibility. They are admired by the men they lead and by their peers. They’re towering, fearsome, presences on the battle field who ultimately know the “right thing to do” even when they are opposed by venal, smaller, meaner men who want to bring them down.

I’d approached this novel thinking that it was this type of heroic military genre that I would find in this book, but set in a post Norman conquest England.

Having realized that this was the baggage I’d brought to reading this new novel I then determined to set this aside and to see if this could possibly be a refreshingly new approach where we have our central character, Tancred a Dinan , who’s not so self assured; doesn’t (yet) particularly stand out from his contemporaries ; a more fallible and maybe more averagely human character of his time.

So I started again to try to see it through this new perspective. However the further I read into the book and the more background I got on Tancred’s military service and character the more I found myself returning to my initial conclusions and I felt again that there was some sort of contradiction between the obvious depth of his military experience and martial prowess and how he was behaving and interacting with the other characters.

A main character should inspire some feeling in the reader love/hate/admiration – anything – but not a sense of ambivalence- I returned again to my initial impression that he was too unsure of himself making too many bad judgements for someone who is supposed to be an experienced warrior. By the end of the book it was obvious that the author was trying to make Tancred into a hero in the Cornwell/Scarrow mold AND and some sort of new type of ‘insecure hero’. Whilst this type of characteristion is no doubt technically possible I don’t think it is achieved in this book*. The result is that the reader doesn’t seem to get to know him at all and feels slightly cheated either way.

*a theme I will come back too in Book 2 (yes despite my criticisms I intended to, and have , read book 2 in this series)

So in summary I’d say its an averagely good book but if you are fans of the type of historical fiction in the Cornwell/Fabbri/Scarrow/Iggulden mold then you will feel slightly dissappointed.

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Book Synopsis

‘Official’ Book Description

January 1069. Less than three years have passed since Hastings and the death of the usurper, Harold Godwineson. In the depths of winter, two thousand Normans march to subdue the troublesome province of Northumbria. Tancred a Dinant, an ambitious and oath-sworn knight and a proud leader of men, is among them, hungry for battle, for silver and for land.

But at Durham the Normans are ambushed in the streets by English rebels. In the battle that ensues, their army is slaughtered almost to a man. Badly wounded, Tancred barely escapes with his life. His lord is among those slain.

Soon the enemy are on the march, led by the dispossessed prince Eadgar, the last of the ancient Saxon line, who is determined to seize the realm he believes is his. Yet even as Tancred seeks vengeance for his lord’s murder, he finds himself caught up in secret dealings between a powerful Norman magnate and a shadow from the past.

As the Norman and English armies prepare to clash, Tancred begins to uncover a plot which harks back to the day of Hastings itself. A plot which, if allowed to succeed, threatens to undermine the entire Conquest. The fate of the Kingdom hangs in the balance …