Review: Monsters – C.R. May

Monsters C R MaySeries: Sword of Woden III

My version: Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction Scandinavia
C.R. May
First published: 2013
Bought, signed

From the cover:

As the cataclysmic events unfold at Ravenswood, Beowulf lies locked in a death duel with the forces of Hel. Victorious, he gathers his war band, crossing the sea to Daneland, to fulfil his destiny.

But with the monster vanquished, Beowulf discovers that killing Grendel, was not his greatest test after all.

Woden has one more even more powerful fiend to confront, as the gods vie for ascendancy over Middle Earth.

“A reputation which would ring down through the ages for as long as men gathered together, regaling each other with tales of monsters and heroes.”

Monsters – and the whole of the Sword of Woden series – is a fully successful, convincing and thrilling blending of myth and legend into totally believable reality. Much more so than other recent efforts I’ve read – for instance, James Wilde’s recent Pendragon. And this one can be filed under Historical Fiction.

A rough map of the peoples involved

The tale of the maybe mythical Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Scandinavian warrior hero Beowulf, has been told as entertainment probably since since around the sixth century – when the events of the poem are set. The peoples of northern Germany and southern Denmark – maybe in so far as Sweden – had begun their migration to Britain in the wake of the collapse of the Roman administration of Britannia and, I’d say, brought the tales with them, as a reminder of who they were, where they came from, and that they could be like Beowulf and conquer the unknown lands, not matter how frightful the obstacles might be. Many of the events concern the area attributed to the Geatish tribes, and may have originated there, or with people who themselves originated there, as there are suggestions that Beowulf was actually composed in the 600s, in East Anglia. The poem, the story, the legend is steeped in history and mystery and there is no obvious separation of mythical and historical events. I think that the people hearing the tale, for the first or last time, would maybe hear it as an accurate story of actual events back home. Though there is historical and archaeological evidence that many figures in the poem actually existed, there is, unfortunately, no historical evidence – the poem apart – that Beowulf actually existed.

Beowulf manuscript
A page from the original Beowulf poem

But if he did exist, it surely would have been like this. What C.R. May has done is expand on what the original poem suggests, to shine a modern understanding light into this ‘dark’ age and in my opinion, create something equally as powerful for us now, as the original was for its audiences 1400 and more years ago.

All in all, it’s a big reputation to live up to, to create an equally vibrant, colourful, living breathing background and 21st Century interpretation of the legendary warrior’s story. So we are lucky to have one of our best Historical Fiction authors taking it on, and succeeding in such glorious style. Beowulf has been taken out of the dark ages, new light has been shone on him and his world and an incredible, magical, enriching journey back to birth of legends has been created. If there was a Beowulf, and if he did all the things the poem says he did, he did them like this.

Beowulf & Grendel film 2005From the Beowulf & Grendel film, 2005

He began, two books ago, as a young man, a warrior in the making, starting out and feeling his way into the role that would become his life. Here, he has achieved the maturity he promised earlier and become the Beowulf that inspired the legend. What C.R. May has done in Monsters, is brought his Beowulf tale around to the events that anyone who knows anything about Beowulf will know about – the battle with Grendel and the monster’s mother. Beowulf himself, in C.R. May’s hands has developed tremendously well, the character we meet here, is strong, kingly, a warrior and most of all, a man. He is someone to inspire his won men, someone to take on the dark forces of a new land and someone we would all like to have either beside us in dark times, or at our side in a shield-wall. Just as the poem is half myth and half truth, so is Monsters. The battle with Grendel, may be as pointed out earlier a memory of an ancient conflict between modern humans and Neanderthals – obviously embroidered somewhat by poets down the ages leading to the seventh century

Sutton Hoo helmet
The Sutton Hoo warrior helmet

– then the battle with Grendel’s mother is written in a way that mimics the style of the poem, blending supernatural, mystical, magical elements into a tale of a battle between – I think – the old, pre-Viking gods, and the even older forces of what was to the peoples of the Dark Ages, their ancient history. The new gods, striving to triumph against the old gods. (Go with me here) Conquering Grendel is conquering their world, Grendel’s mother is both the Earth Goddess of old and death. By defeating her, Beowulf makes himself an immortal hero. And in doing so, C.R. May makes his Beowulf Sword of Woden series absolutely essential Historical Fiction reading.

You can buy Monsters, the complete Sword of Woden series and all of C.R. May’s books, from Amazon

There is now a mighty Speesh Reads dedicated Pinterest Board for Monsters. Pictures and links and monsters, take a look – if you dare!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.