Monday 14 March 2022

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Blood of the Iutes by James Calbraith

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Fictional Drama /Military
AD 458
Post Roman Britain

"It's not easy being the son of a king. Octa never wanted to be a mighty warrior, or a great ruler of men – he'd much rather be a clerk or a priest - but he's resigned to his destiny as the son and heir of the first king of the Iutes. There is only one problem: under his father's peaceful reign, there aren't many opportunities for a youth to gain experience in combat and leadership. 
So when a Roman legate arrives in Britannia, for the first time in a generation, bringing dire news from across the Narrow Sea and requesting help in the coming clash between rival Imperators, Octa jumps on the chance to prove himself before his friends and his father - no matter the consequences...What follows is an epic journey across Frankia and Gaul in the twilight of the Empire, filled with battles, intrigues and romance."

AD 458. Post-Roman Britain is often described as a ’dark’ period as verified records of this period are non-existent. From accounts written later (Gildas, Bede, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) we have stories probably handed down orally and then written down, copied and re-copied. Archaeology gives us concrete if tantalising clues of the people who settled in southern Britain; this was a period of transition and fusion as well as incursion.

Into this intriguing period steps James Calbraith. Blood of the Iutes begins a second series – The Song of Octa – in an overarching series, The Song of Britain. The thread running through this book is complexity: shifting alliances, old and new religions, the culture clash between the remnant of Romano-Britons living in glorious ruins and vital, hungry, self-reliant Germanic settlers consolidating their place in Britain and internecine tribal rivalries. Set into this is the eighteen-year-old Octa, half-Briton, half-Jute who yearns for his books, speaks imperial Latin and gathers a motley group of friends around him who feel as on the edge of society as he does. 

His adventures in Gaul transform him, and this is well-handled as, step-by-step, he reconciles his quest for adventure with the realities of the growing power of the Franks, the interventions of the Saxons and the determination of the by now half-barbarian Roman Empire under Majorian to continue to exist. Detailed descriptions of weapons, battles, logistics and landscapes are woven well into a story with many twists and turns so that the reader learns as well as being entertained. 

Action is fast and tense – the characters are never under any illusion that they are safe – although there are balancing moments of relief. Octa’s character is well-written as are his close companions; even the briefest encounters with historical figures are deftly drawn. The only one who jarred was Basina who, while capable, tough and fiery was exaggerated on her sensuous side.

The author gives us a note of the main events that occurred in the preceding series, The Song of Ash, where the hero was Octa’s father, so for this reviewer, there was no need to have read it.  The Blood of the Iutes works well as a standalone, although I disliked the cliffhanger in the last chapter, something that tends to be off-putting as an incentive to buy the next book.

A list of characters and town names and a glossary of Latin and Frankish/Saxon terms is extremely useful as these are used extensively throughout this well-crafted novel. The Latin-speakers called Octa’s people Iuti or Iutae. Other possibilities are Jyder (Danish), Jótar (Old Norse), Ēotas (Old English). Although we are used to calling them Jutes, Iutes in the title reminds us nicely of the transitional nature of the time.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Alison Morton
 e-version reviewed

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