My version: Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction Medieval Wales, Ireland
Publisher: Accent Press
First published: 2016
Supplied by publisher
From the cover:
It is 1170 – a tumultuous time for the people of Wales, England and Ireland. Raymond de Carew is in love, but the woman he desires is an earl’s daughter and so far above his station, that he has no hope of ever winning her.
However, Raymond’s lord has a mission for him: one that if it succeeds will put an Irish king back on his throne and prove Raymond worthy – for in Norman society, a man can rise as high as his skill with a sword can take him.
With only a hundred men at his side, Raymond must cross the ocean to Ireland ahead of his mercenary lord’s invasion. There he will face the full might of the Viking city of Waterford…and either his deeds will become legend, or he will be trampled into dust.
The second instalment in Ruadh Butler’s Invader Series, The Sea Castle is a simple tale of betrayal, ambition, greed, treachery, lust, all the other seven deadly sins, love, passion, violence, revenge, love lost, love found, planning, scheming, Normans, Vikings, Irish Kings, IrishVikings, Danish Vikings, and exciting story telling.
From the title to the final word, this is a superb book. One that has you thinking and guessing all the way through, as to which way things might go – and after. More intricate, character-driven.
It was different from how I expected it might be after reading #1, Swordland. We leave FitzStephen back there in Ireland forging his own path to glory, and travel back to the Lord Strongbow’s stronghold in Wales. His own plans and thirst for land and the accompanying power are being thwarted and he sees no hope of, despite following him around Europe, persuading the King to let him go, willingly, over to try and carve out his won piece of the action in Ireland. The king is, maybe understandably, reluctant to give him the chance to become within binocular vision of being a possible threat to his own power. Ireland is seen as a mixture of the final frontier, the edge of the world, and so strife riven, that it is a ripe apple, just waiting for Strongbow to pluck it. Strongbow himself isn’t that charismatic a leader, and seems to have got where he is through having been born into and moving in the right Norman circles. He does though, in Swordland and here, seem to have the knack for surrounding himself with the right people.
In The Sea Castle, the main man, Raymond de Carew, is plagued with the epithet ‘the fat’ but is – to the reader anyway – sympathetically likeable. Or at least as likeable as Normans ever get. He is one to get things done and something of a tactical and planning genius. The story builds and builds, a satisfyingly slow-burner, gathering in all the information you need to understand the motives of the characters on both sides. It is largely about the preparations, in Wales but especially once they have established a beach head of sorts in Ireland, for the conflict that both sides know is going to have to come. The Normans want in to Ireland, the Irish (naturally) and especially the Irish-icised Vikings who were there first (and second), want them out. Kind of like the changing of the guard, I think, with the Normans’ ever widening expansion, threatening to overwhelm their own ancestors, the Vikings, own power in Ireland. The difference here being that the Normans aim is to conquer and subdue to rule, the Vikings now have gone past just raiding and running, they never really aimed to conquer, they were looking for living space in areas where trade could had the most promising conditions. The individual Norman is looking to overtake land, forcibly, with half an eye on building up a power base to one day use it to recapture what they think is theirs’ back on the mainland. Though the ones the stories have concentrated on so far, have shown more willingness to integrate and understand those they shall move amongst. Both FitzStephen in Sword Land and Raymond here actually seem to like and more importantly, show their respect for the people they find around them in Wales and Ireland. It is the other Normans who create the problems. And the Vikings, and again, the Invader Series is noteworthy for nothing else than turning everyone’s favourite warriors – the Vikings – into the enemy, that is a note to be proud of.
The Invader series is turning out to be a rewardingly refreshing change to the Historical Fiction of the established names. It opens up a finely crafted, thoroughly convincing world of local strife and politics in a part of the Medieval 12th Century world that I not only knew next to nothing about, but hadn’t even considered. It’s an absolute gem, don’t let it be a hidden one.
There are, as you may have noted, always three to a trilogy and so, as a character in the book says; “We must prepare for the coming of Strongbow…”