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Review: Paths of Exile, by Carla Nayland

Pages: 221

Original date of publication: 2009

My edition: 2009 (Quaestor)

Why I decided to read: it’s April’s book of the month on HFO (follow the discussion here)

How I acquired my copy:

There’s a dearth of novels based on the early middle ages—probably because it’s such a hard period to research and then recreate. Very little is known about England prior to the Viking invasions, but Carla Nayland’s wonderful novel about early 7th century Eboracum (York) and Deira (Yorkshire) successfully fills the gap nicely.

This is the story of Eadwine, a prince of Deira whose lands are invaded and conquered by Aetheferth, king of a neighboring tribe. After a devastating battle, Eadwine goes into exile with some of his followers. They stop at a farmhouse occupied by three women, one of whom is Severa, a healing woman of sorts and their leader. Most of the story follows Eadwine, biding his time as he waits for the opportunity to reclaim his lands and betrothed (who has a surprise waiting for him at home). Meanwhile, there’s a fair bit of tension going on between Eadwine and Severa…

This is an excellent book that effortlessly combines fiction with the relatively little that’s known about this period in English history. Therefore, recreating this period must have been challenging for the author, but you wouldn’t know it from reading this novel. According to the author’s note at the end, Eadwine and many of the other major characters are based up real people (Nayland used Bede’s account of the 7th century as the basis for her research); and apparently, this is only the beginning of the story. In fact, the ending of this book leads me to hope that there will be a sequel.

The author is especially skilled at dialogue, and developing her characters, although this book takes place over a short period of time. The characters too are very believable; each (with the exception of Severa, who seems a bit too perfect sometimes), is fallible. It’s because of people’s faults (and strength) that a reader gets emotionally invested in a story, and that’s especially true of the characters in the novels, who seem as though they lived and breathed yesterday and not 1400 years ago! Highly recommended if you’re looking for an excellent novel about the early middle ages. Of note, however, the font size in this edition is very tiny.


Kathleen said…
I'd love to read something set in this time period. I'm adding this one to my list.

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