Monday 18 May 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Shadow of Fenrir by Peter Fox

Fictional Saga
Anglo Saxon

The Shadow of Fenrir is the first volume in the historical adventure series The Wolves of Dumnonia. Inspired by events recorded in the early mediaeval Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Wolves of Dumnonia saga recounts the twilight years of one of the last great British kingdoms: Dumnonia.

This first story in Peter Fox’s Dumnonia Saga opens with an exciting scene off the coast of southwest England. A skiff carrying two young brothers to safety collides with a Viking longship in the mist. One of the Norsemen, Thorvald, insists on rescuing a woman clinging to the skiff’s wreckage. She has a baby clutched to her chest. The other, older boy and his companions are left to drown. The woman and child are then taken back to Thorvald’s fjord settlement in Norway. Here, the child is re-named Rathulf and grows up believing he is Thorvald’s slave-born foster son. This is not the case: he is a noble-born Briton and the woman was his wet-nurse. 

Rathulf does not learn about this until he is nearly sixteen and approaching his maturity test, a rite of passage named ‘the leap’. The truth is kept from him by a blood pact between the men who witnessed his rescue. One of Rathulf’s young companions, however, overhears a conversation between Sigvald (who was on the longship) and his feisty wife, Helga. The blood pact includes a secret trunk containing objects that define Rathulf’s real identity as a British prince named Caelin ap Cadwyr. Alrick decides keeping this from his friend is wrong and sets about finding the trunk, thereby setting in motion a series of adventures and catastrophes that put his and other boys’ lives in danger, and keep the reader turning pages until late in the night: will Rathulf learn his true identity, and if so, what will he choose to do?

Author Peter Fox knows his epoch and describes the setting so well I could smell the damp peat smoke in the windowless homes and sense the ice-cold fjord water churning beneath the rowers’ oars. Characters come to life with sharp and amusing dialogue. At its heart, this is a terrific adventure story for boys, complete with blood-thirsty action and dollops of toilet humour. 

All in all, this is an enjoyable action/adventure and well worth the read, although it is perhaps somewhat over-long. A few judicious cuts would have avoided unnecessary repetition. At one point, a boy retells in detail events that are described – in detail – in a previous chapter. I also shuddered at various inappropriate modern expressions. Would a woman living on a ninth-century Norse farming settlement really have gone on a shopping spree? Would young Norse boys have understood the phrase ‘you’ll have to clean up your act’? This type of vocabulary jars because the historical context is otherwise so accurate. I strongly suggest that the author seeks a good technical editor to go through the next book/s in the series.

The Shadow of Fenrir introduces a brave and compassionate young hero and I look forward to reading his further adventures. Well recommended as both adult and y.a. reading, especially for boys.

© John Darling
 e-version reviewed

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