Review: Wræcca – C.R. May

Wræcca C.R. MaySeries: Sword of Woden II

My version: Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction Beowulf, Anglo Saxon
Self published
First published: 2013
Supplied by author, signed

From the cover:

Geatland, late summer 517 AD

Fresh from the desperate defence of the northern borders of the kingdom, Beowulf is appointed by King Hythcyn, to lead the greatest ship army in the history of his people, carrying fire and sword to the ‘black heart’ of their enemies.

But all is not as it seems.

Hythcyn’s actions have thrust a flaming brand into the delicate balance of power in the Scandinavian lands, setting a series of events in motion which quicly spiral out of control.

In a tale of brutal battles, love and betrayal, Beowulf and his closest kin are swept up in a storm and scattered to the winds. From the mountainous rollers of the North Atlantic, to the frozen forests of Swede Land and the bloody temple at Uppsala, Beowulf and his fellow exiles prepare to confront King Hythcyn in the final battle for Geatland.

BeowulfIf you ask me, I reckon to the peoples of Scandinavia (and later their cousins, children and ancestors in England), when the poem Beowulf was first told – only later written down – it was as real as today’s news. It was as real as a relative, friend or a fellow warrior telling you of what they, personally, had seen and heard. It is only nowadays, with our insatiable, cynical deconstruction of what our ancestors saw as magic all around us, and our search for the ‘real’ truth behind legends that our ancestors for generation upon generation took as the truthful reporting of actual events, that we say “well, that couldn’t have happened!” What if it was, as the peoples of Scandinavia and Britain of the 5th to 10th Centuries surely believed, all true? How would it be presented to their descendants alive today? Like this. Like Sorrow Hill and like Wræcca. That’s what this superb series of books is about, making true, the legend.

The Speesh Reads Medieval Fact Dept reports: Wræcca is an Old English, Anglo Saxon word that means – amongst other things – one driven from his own lands, a wanderer in foreign (to him) lands, an exile, a stranger, a pilgrim.

It did take a chapter or two to get into, but then suddenly, from the edges of my vision, I began to ‘see‘ Beowulf, Finn, Cola, Gunnar, Hrothgar, Heardred and all the other characters materialising from the mists of the centuries around me. The reader is then thrown and thrust deep into the tumultuous 6th Century world of the early Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Geats, Danes, Wulfings, Swedes. Proto-Vikings all.

Wræcca, as with Sorrow Hill before it, follows a real(istic) imagining of the Beowulf legend. The part that isn’t in the original heroic poem, but is hinted at: the earlier life, forming and adventures of a pre-monster, Grendel, Beowulf. His transformation from Royal fostered son, to young war leader, to fully fulfilled legendary hero. Tough, as uncompromising, as you’d expect a legendary hero to be, C.R. May’s Beowulf is this timeless legend made real living, loving, breathing, dreaming, fighting flesh. He leaps from the pages, stealing every scene, as a true leading man should.

C.R. May has though, through all his wonderful imaginings, remained the epic qualities of the original legend and its poem. Its formation from the mists of history, the dark places, the frightening places we fear to know and go. It is primal and elemental, a legend. Beowulf is so elemental, so much a part of who we are, so much a tale of human nature, of the imagination run wild and the fear of the unknown, that it surely appeals to us, as it did to the Scandinavian peoples back then. It is the classic fireside tale told late at night, to frighten children and warriors alike, about them, out there. It surely requires a very brave writer to take it on and a very good writer to make it their own. Luckily for us, C.R. May is just such a writer and has done just that. Sword of Woden (Wræecca, as with Sorrow Hill – and very likely Monsters (Sword of Woden III), has become a must-read series for me, an exceptionally well-written, provocatively interesting and incredibly enjoyable read, put together by someone who clearly thoroughly understands the Dark Age of Europe period and can impart the respect for it in the most entertaining way.

“Beowulf has thought of a plan to protect our coast, make the men rich and fulfil our original mission. It must be something in the porridge!”
He leaned forward, spooned another dollop into his bowl and leaned back.
“Luckily for me, I got the good looks in the family!”

As the Sword of Woden series is proving, the tale of Beowulf is as exciting and as powerfully enthralling today as it was back when it was first told round the hearth-fires in hushed halls, late at night. It still has the magical quality to mix the real with the darker recesses of the unconscious mind and capture generation after generation. The video below, is from 2017, a two-man theatre version, in Danish (the poem’s original-ish language and setting), on a wind-swept headland, here in Aarhus (Viking times’ Aros), captivating the next generation of Danish school children,

Regarding Beowulf’s battle with a ‘nest’ of Trolls in Wræcca.

C.R. May, is in agreement with Michael Crichton’s thoughts in his book Eaters of the Dead.

“One of Beowulf’s boasts in Heorot, is that he raided a Trolls nest. I chose to base the Trolls on Neanderthals…it made sense to me that they would have retreated northwards with the ice sheets under increasing pressure from populations of ‘modern humans.’ Perhaps evidence for their survival in Northern Scandinavia still awaits discovery?”

Well, circumstantial evidence is perhaps there. In Eaters of the Dead, Michael Crichton says thus:

From here, it is a short step to what some anthropologists already believe: that Neanderthal man, as an anatomical variant of modern man, has never disappeared at all, but is still with us. 
The general reassessment of Neanderthal man coincides with the rediscovery of Ibn Fadlan’s contact with the “mist monsters;” his description of these creatures is suggestive of Neanderthal anatomy and raises the question of whether the Neanderthal form did, infact, disappear from the earth thousands of years ago, or whether these early men persisted into historic times.
Geoffrey Wrightwood, of Oxford University, writing in 1971, said: “The account of Ibn Fadlan provides us with a perfectly serviceable description of Neanderthal man…objectively, there is no a priori reason to deny that a group of Neanderthals might have survived very late in an isolated region of Scandinavia. In any case, this assumption best fits the Arabic text.”

You can buy Wræcca (and the other books in the series, from Amazon

There is now a, independently verified and found to be really quite brilliant Pinterest Board on Speesh Reads’ Pinterest for Wræcca. Packed with images and links to help you better enjoy this excellent book.

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