Book Review: Eadric the Grasper: Sons of Mercia, Vol. 1 by Jayden Woods

Hey there…

Historical fiction is not one of those areas I usually dabble in when looking for a book to read. Quite honestly, I’m more apt to find an actual history book than read fiction based on a historical figure or period. But I have to admit that Jayden Woods’ debut novel – Eadric the Grasper: Sons of Mercia, Vol. 1 – puts an interesting spin on a figure I had never heard of.

Apparently Eadric (or Edric, depending on the source) Streona was a Saxon who gained the ear of King Ethelred II early in the 11th century. Though a commoner by birth, it is claimed that he worked his way up the noble tree by assassinating the King’s opponents. Beyond that, he may have also acted as a go-between between the Saxons and the Danes, who had been attacking the Saxon coast. Eadric supported paying off the invading forces, while others supported attacking them outright.

The upshot of all of this was that Eadric was suspected of many crimes during his time… from suggesting the assassination of a group of Danes peacefully living in England to murdering several other nobles in Ethelred’s court.

Woods proposes a different view of this vilified character in English history. Instead of acting with truly villainous intent, she paints Eadric as a person trying to do what he thought was right to keep the peace between the Danes and his countrymen. He goes from a swineherd to an advisor to King Ethelred after a chance meeting and things snowball from there as the King began to rely more and more on his counsel.

Eventually he marries the King’s daughter, Eadgyth, which further aids his rise to power. She turns out to have secrets of her own and seems to be tied somehow to The Golden Cross, a mysterious figure providing battle plans to Saxon leaders to aid in fighting back against the continual Danish invasions.

Though this is her first book, I have to admit that it worked really well. Her style involves the use of a great amount of detail, which bogged me down a bit, but the story is engrossing enough to keep things moving along fairly quickly. The constant political intrigue, backstabbing, and mixing of people of both noble and common birth kept me going to the end.

The other thing that I really enjoyed was her attention to the little crunchy details about medieval life. Describing the conditions of a desperate famine early in the book, she says “Men and women from across the land came to Eadric and bowed thei rheads, offering their loyalty and servitude in exchange for a loaf of bread. When the grain stocks were low, Eadric ordered that acors, peas, bark, and beans be ground into subsidiary flour. He saw that the hedgerows were well tended, so that if all else failed, his servants could pick off herbs, roots, grasses, and nettles to cushion their empty bellies…” In the modern world, I can hardly imagine such a thing happening today in the United States, but suspect that it’s still happening far too often in the Third World or even in severely depressed areas.

I think Woods has a bright future in historical or fantasy fiction and she’s already been hard at work on two sequels – volume 2 is Godric the Kingslayer and volume 3 looks like it will be Edric the Wild. And if that’s not enough, she also has a book of short stories set in the world of the Sons of Mercia called Lost Tales of Mercia.

If you’re a fan of historically-based fiction, I’d definitely recommend that you give Eadric the Grasper: Sons of Mercia, Vol. 1 a read. Also be sure to check out Jayden Woods’ website for additional details!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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Book Review: Voices Under Berlin by T.H.E. Hill

Hey all…

For me, historical fiction all too often falls into one of two camps. It’s either so detailed that you get lost in the details and don’t get much in the way of story. Or it focuses almost entirely on story and doesn’t provide enough detail to set the stage. Voices Under Berlin is like the Baby Bear’s bowl of porridge in the Three Bears. It provides just the right amount of details to enhance the already gripping story.

Voices Under Berlin is a novel about the Berlin Spy Tunnel started by the American military and intelligence forces in the American Sector of Berlin after World War II. Work on the tunnel began in February 1954 and American forces operated it until April 1956 when it was finally discovered by the Russians.

The Berlin Spy Tunnel was a joint operation between the American CIA and the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). They dug a tunnel below the border between the Western sector of Berlin and the Soviet sector to tap into Russian communications between the Soviet spy masters in Berlin and their leaders in Moscow.

The story, amid the history, is about Kevin and a small number of soldiers who constructed the tunnel, administered the wiretaps, and translated the calls made by their Russian counterparts.

Though Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) has been around for as long as there have been signals to intercept, it’s amazing to see the type, depth, and breadth of information gathered and used during the two years the tunnel was operational. The soldiers involved were privy to private phone calls between Berlin and Moscow, which provided details about operations by the Russian intelligence agents in Berlin as well as amazing insight into Russian politics as viewed by those Russian agents in Berlin.

The transcripts included to provide the Russian side of the equation not only were a major part of the story (it’s what the men were there to do), but it was part of the give and take of the times. We learned to like some of these Soviet spies that the guys were listening to. It was a glimpse into the human side of intelligence gathering that’s tough to get across. I thought Hill handled it masterfully.

Hill also managed to bring the human element into the novel, allowing us to watch relationships develop among the men and some of the local women in Berlin, some of whom were spying on them. Each of the main characters – Kevin, Fast Eddie, Sheerluck, and others – gave us glimpses into a segregated Berlin after World War II. There were many difficulties and challenges of living in a city separated into the American, British, Russian, and French sectors.

And amid the day to day drudgery and danger of working as spies in post-war Berlin, Hill also brought a great deal of humor seamlessly into the story. It’s the humor of military life and the quirks of people forced to work together under pressure. These pranksters and tricksters born of boredom and spite came up with some great ways to even the score between enlisted men and officers.

What’s even more interesting to me is that Berlin was segregated from the end of World War II until 1990 when the Berlin Wall came down. Nearly 40 years of a city and country divided in one way or another.

If you’re a fan of historical fiction, spy novels, or just looking for a great story – Voices Under Berlin has a little bit for everyone. It’s a quick, enjoyable, and educational read.

Be sure to check it out!

–Fitz

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