Review: Fire & Steel – C.R. May

Fire & Steel (large)6 out of 5 gods

Series: King’s Bane 1

My version:
Historical Fiction The Dark Ages
Self Published
Sent by author

523 A.D. Arthur is dead.

As Britannia burns a small tribe clings to its colony of Anglia.

Across the German Sea powerful enemies covet Engeln itself.

But the English are not easily cowed.

As Spear-Danes threaten the homeland a hero returns, leading the fightback with ferocity and guile…

There are some book covers that you see and think I just got to read me some of that! For me, this is one of them. However, the real test, is can Fire & Steel deliver on the undoubted high promise of its cover? Oh yes, it can. And then some.

Fire & Steel is an absolutely magnificent, thrilling, poignant, invigorating and inspiring book. The first thing you note, is the quality of the writing. Rich and rewarding, clear and engaging, full of nuance and an eye for the telling detail, whether it be in the landscape, actions, or conversation. It is books of this calibre that will elevate Historical Fiction up to the literary level it deserves to be at. My first encounter with C. R. May, but not the last, that I can promise you.

First, a word of warning: It will pay you to study the map at the front a while before you start the reading. Or have it bookmarked for quick reference. Might even be an idea to print it out to refer to now and again. Why? Well, that’s because while the book is based on real history, from a real historical period, he has kept/used the original place names. And ‘original place names’ means, as far as I can grasp, the names as they were known to the people of the areas involved in his story, at the time. Allowing for the changes in language and alphabet, etc, of course. So, for example, thanks to having lived myself in Denmark for close on 12 years now(!), I had to get the map out a couple of times to make sure when I read Harrow, I thought ‘Fyn’ (and it’s not pronounced anything like how you’ve just ‘heard’ it in your head). It is sometimes a little confusing and I wondered (mostly to myself) if he hadn’t made a mistake in doing it like this. However, further thought revealed, no, it isn’t a mistake. Why? Because the places and their names we know them by now, didn’t exist in the form we now know them, even from the history books, at the time he is writing of. So, doing it this way, is absolutely spot on and even a genius stroke, once you get used to it. I’m guessing that what he’s saying, by calling them ‘English’ and – while we’re in their original homeland of what is now southern Denmark, northern Germany – mentioning similar-sounding place names and other words, is, that these people brought much of what is seen as English culture, over to what was at the time Britannia, with them.

The story concerns, as I say, the people of Engeln, their king and the hero of this book, Eofer King’s Bane (thanks to him killing a king up Sweden way). He has been over in Britannia, travelling around Britannia, looking at where they are thinking of moving their people to, the east, what is now East Anglia (think about it). However, it won’t be as easy as just packing up and moving lock stock and floating barrel over the North Sea, to a warm welcome from the inhabitants. There are those who are already resident in Britannia who would dispute, who are disputing, the English’s right to be there. However, that would seem to be for a future story, as this one moves back with Eofer to Engeln and concerns itself with their dispute with the Jutes and, especially, the Danes. The English can see which way the wind is blowing in the future and are taking a pragmatic decision to move over, however, there are certain matters that need sorting with the Danes before they can think about moving their peoples out of harm’s way.

As I said above, this is Historical Fiction of the very highest standard – an absolute all-enveloping pleasure to read and learn from. The period in which it is set can be a little tricky at first, I think. I’m guessing that most people who read books of this genre, will be reasonably well up on the Vikings, from the tv series, if nothing else. So, as with the other books I’ve read recently set in this period and concerning these peoples (Wulfsuna by E. S. Moxon and the first two in The Bernicia Chronicles by Matthew Harffy), talk of the gods, Woden, Thunor, the Allfather, spirits and heroes that you thought were the Vikings’ exclusive property, can cause some head-scratching. Until…you realise, what CRM, ESM and MH are saying and showing very well, is that this is, these are the peoples, who brought believe in those gods and spirits and heroes both to Scandinavia and Britain. To develop the learning-curve thought, that in a way was how it was with reading this book. A little like my confused historical mist clearing and the story coming through. The added tantalising confusion for me, in the early stages at least, was the fact that Fire & Steel mostly takes place on continental Europe, rather than in Britain, as were Wulfsuna and The Serpent Sword.

I cannot overstate how wonderful Fire & Steel is, or what an indecently good pleasure it was to read. Quite possibly the most enjoyment you can have with your clothes on. If he says he’s invented time-travel and been back to 500-odd, I for one, will believe him.

What else can I say?

It’s going to be a long time before I read another book set in a similar era and not picture the landscape and characters and world C. R. May has created here. There are going to be a lot more well-known Historical Fiction authors taking a look at this book and be wishing they’d written it. And if they don’t, they should do. This is a book the likes of friends Cornwall, Kristian and Low, would give their eye-teeth to have written. I can not praise this book highly enough, and I cannot imagine I will read a better written, more involving, more inspiring, more everything, Historical Fiction book this year. These many years, probably. Not until the next in the series comes out maybe? Need to go lie down now. Do what you can or must to get hold of this book, you won’t regret it.

Buy Fire & Steel at Amazon (only ’cause I can’t find it elsewhere)

Related reviews:

WulfsunaThe Serpent SwordThe Pagan LordOdin's WolvesThe Prow Beast





Me, on Goodreads

3 thoughts on “Review: Fire & Steel – C.R. May

  1. Hi Steve, the book’s finally out there, hooray. As you are a collector but don’t use the big A, I wondered if you would be interested in a paperback by way of thanks for the tremendous review? I have a copy at home which I can dedicate or I can send one directly to you from Createspace if you are interested (I won’t tell anyone). if you are ever interested in any of my previous books let me know and I will send you the file, you can see them on my website, here: Thanks again, have a good weekend, Cliff. >


    1. Hej Cliff. I try and avoid Amazon, since they got rid of the free post to Denmark and in protest over the non-paying of tax (I’m sure they noticed…). I tend to use The Book Depository (and yes, I know they are owned by Amazon, but I feel better about using them – and you get a free bookmark!). Otherwise, the appallingly named ‘Awesome Books’ or Waterstones Marketplace and Abe Books for the harder to get stuff. Signed first editions and whathaveyou, I get from Goldsboro. On the Kindle front, they aren’t available to us in Denmark. There are ways around it, but I tend not to worry too much.
      Yes, a physical version would go down very well indeed. I much prefer holding a book in my hands over the iPhone/iPad. So, if you have smelling salts available after you have seen the postage costs, send away. Signed, dated and first lined, if it isn’t too much trouble. I’ll send my address to the email I’ve got for you. Thanks!


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