Review: The Raven and the Cross – C.R. May

The Raven and The Cross C.R. MaySeries: Erik Haraldsson II

My version: Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction Vikings
Publisher:
C.R. May
First published: 2018
Supplied by author


From the cover:

The North: 937AD

Three years have passed since the English king Athelstan bribed treacherous Jarls to take Erik’s half-brother as king in Norway.

Forced from his kingdom, Erik Bloodaxe returns to the Viking ways of his youth. Warlords are driven from Danish lands, Saxony burns and Dublin falls to a brutal assault before the prow beasts of Erik’s fleet turn south to stalk the seas off Al-Andalus.

As Erik’s reputation as a battle winner spreads, his sons grow to manhood, and together they carve a new kingdom to rule from the islands which gird Britain’s north-west-

But Bloodaxe is not alone in suffering the Imperial ambitions of the southern English, and when a half-remembered figure leads a Northumbrian deputation to the king’s Orkney fastness, events are set in motion which will lure Erik south to face his greatest test.

The Raven and the Cross continues the turbulent story of Erik Haraldsson, a legendary king of the Viking Age.


I have now added a Speesh Reads Pinterest Board for The Raven and the Cross with links and pictures of Erik Bloodaxe


Erik Bloodaxe coinThere are differing theories of where Eiríkr blóðøx, Eiríkr Haraldsson, Erik Bloodaxe, actually got the epithet Bloodaxe. Some believe it was because he killed his brothers while struggling to gain the Norwegian crown, some say it was because of his Viking ways. All go to illustrate that there isn’t a right lot we can be sure we know about Erik Haraldsson, there isn’t much in the undeniable historical record, that is. There are coins and brief mentions, but there are two Eriks in the sagas and contemporary records, some say they are two different Eriks, some say they are the same, run together by those contemporary sources. So, the field is ripe for a series like C.R. May’s Bloodaxe saga, and luckily for us, my interpretation is that he favours his violent reputation as the source of the famous epithet. Better than Fairhairsson, or Finehairsson anyway.

Erik Bloodaxe pic
Eric with a c, or Eirik with a k

The Raven and the Cross, as the book jacket hints, focusses on Erik’s journeys after his time as Norwegian King has been brought to a rather more abrupt end than he might have wished. He not so much returns to Viking ways, as never actually left them, and is so good at them, that he can’t help but have his ambitions stoked by his resulting successes. He, like all Vikings in Historical Fiction (I’m not well read enough to say with certain if that is from the Sagas, the histories or HF legend as yet), values reputation and honour almost above all else. He doesn’t want the sagas to tell of an Erik who couldn’t live up to, or be as successful as his family and especially father’s reputation, and he wants the sagas to remember HIS name as an equal to the best. That’s the force driving him on. He is portrayed here a little unusually too, from by scant knowledge of the field, as actually having sons who like him, trust him and aren’t from unfeasibly young ages trying to, or being used to try to, usurp him. Despite some sagas suggesting he had set an unfortunate precedent!

He is, as he notes himself, not getting any younger, and despite a return to his earlier favourite activity, maturity and the responsibilities that come with it, are never far away. He has grown as a character in C.R. May’s skilful hands, to a point where he can step back and see the big picture, and what is needed to not just win a particular battle, but the hearts and minds of the people he would rule as well. He’s not portrayed as a power mad tyrant

Erik Bloodaxe

in any way, but one trying, though some might argue that the Norns have made it inevitable, no matter what Joe Viking might do, fulfil the prophecy that was made about him being a King five times over. Seeing the big picture in the Viking Age, also means seeing the way the religious winds are blowing. I think Erik while not being too pessimistic about it, can see that the Old Gods cannot win against the new Christian’s one God. It is a theme often explored, or at least in the background of many Viking Age novels, but I’d venture it’s never been handled, with more subtlety or better than here. C.R. May seems to side with the theory that the clever old Norse went the sensible route and hedged their bets. The raven and the cross. A foot in each camp – baptism one day, sacrifice to Odin the next. Anything to get the result they wanted, and it could be ascribed to whichever god you like afterwards. Erik knows that doing the above is not just for him, his followers and his warriors need it too. As he says “They’re our people now.” Not meaning we own them, they’ll do what we tell them or die, meaning we’ve become a part of them. So their hopes are our hopes, our hopes are their hopes. Mirroring what Historians say about the Vikings moving into new areas and not kicking the original inhabitants out, like the pesky Saxons did. But mingling and merging and becoming apart of a joint, better than the sum of its parts, future.

The book is about responsibility, and that is something not even Erik can escape, no matter how much he might want to recapture his youth. Erik is learning that kingship is glittering prizes and endless compromises, which shatter the illusion – amongst some Norse – of integrity. But he knows, it’s about time marching on, having a family to be responsible for and a past and ancestors to live up to.

Phew!

Well, what a ride! I literally couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. The writing is clear and bright, uplifting, poignant and reflective in turns. All the way shot through with the level of historical authenticity which are a hallmark of C.R.’s books. If it happens in one of his books, you can be pretty darn sure it happened like that. It carries the reader away on an almost physical journey back to the heyday of Viking Age, and as I thought several times, it really felt quite strange to look up from its pages and find I’m not on a battlefield with Erik, or in a longhouse sleeping off the night before. If there’s currently a better writer of Historical Fiction than C.R. May, I haven’t read them.


You can buy The Raven and the Cross for Kindle or paperback, from Amazon

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