Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Sword of Neamha by Stephen England

In Stephen England’s the Sword of Neamha, Cadwalador of the Aeudi tribe sets out from northern Gaul with his beleaguered people, fleeing from certain annihilation by other tribes. Life takes him on an unexpected adventure. He makes fateful choices that determine his destiny and ensure the fate of his people.

Cadwalador is a young man in the service of a Gallic chieftain, who is heir to the leader of the Aeudi. The tribe is under siege and flees their shores, intent on conquering the land of Erain (Ireland), with stops along the way on the island of tin (the future Britain). Cadwalador’s chieftain inspires others to flow his banner, with two fatal weaknesses: his love of strong drink and his ruthless ambitions. He is a dangerous man, made even more so when he is drunk. He earns the enmity of one of the mercenaries in his service, Cavarillos, after an ill-advised attack on a village sees scores of Aeudi die needlessly. Cadwalador counted Cavarillos among his friends, but the two have a bitter parting when the young man chooses his chieftain’s life over helping his friend. It is a decision that will shape Cadwalador’s life. He pays a heavy price for his loyalty and, in the end, loses more than he expected. He also helps forge a powerful legend across the land, but with ruthless enemies closing in on all sides, it’s not always certain that legend will be enough to win the day.  

Several elements stood out in this story. Despite the foreign and often un-pronounceable Celtic names, there were familiar themes. There is the flush of first victory and first love, as well as bitter treachery and defeat, enough to entertain historical fans who like gritty action. The scenes are visceral. There’s blood and guts everywhere. The action never stops, even in what should be quiet family moments for Cadwalador. Of all the things I admired about Mr. England’s style, it was the way in which he creates sympathy for his characters, especially those who at the outset don’t seem to deserve it. Even his villains have justifiable reasons for their murderous nature. The Sword of Neamha is a fascinating read for anyone who like historical fiction set in the Celtic or early Britannic period, or those who enjoy epic battle scenes and action that propels the characters through upheaval and triumph.        
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