Biographical Fiction /Family Drama / Military
early to mid 7th Century
The story of Penda of Mercia is retold here by a wonderful writer, Annie Whitehead. But it is not just Penda's story, but also of the many kings who vied for supremacy during the turbulent 7th Century.
I don't intend to say much of the plot here, for it is quite well known to those who like this period and details of Penda's life and works are easily found on the internet for those who don't. Ms Whitehead has not only recounted - very well - the true story but she has also captured perfectly the feel of the times, the hatred between brothers, the perfidy of kings and, most impressively, she manages to convey that even the ones you want to hate had their reasons for acting the way they did.
The pace fairly zips along and it is full of strong and thoroughly believable characters – led by Penda himself and closely followed by Edwin, Oswald and Oswii – backed up with good, solid research, atmospheric locations and with battle scenes which, though shorter than in similar books, are on an equal footing with Cornwell and Harffy together, with a love story between Penda and Derwena that put me in mind of Penman's Llewelyn the Great and Joanna. In this volume, too, the women are strong - especially Edwin's daughter, Hild - even when they have to accept their position in life.
It is a good idea to study the map and extremely helpful 'family trees' at the beginning of the book as relationships can get complicated and the cover, simplistic yet still one that stands out, would grace any bookshop and readers' shelves.
Ms Whitehead's previous two books, To Be A Queen and Alvar the Kingmaker are both award winners within the genre and I fully expect that Cometh The Hour will join them.
Very, very highly recommended.