Summary (Warning: mild spoilers):
After the Roman Empire has withdrawn her presence from much of Europe, the chaos of competing fiefdoms and the rise of powerful families set the stage for political tensions and invasion. This overwhelmingly beautiful and well-researched novel by Francis Williams realistically depicts fictional representations of the lives of real and imagined historical figures otherwise shrouded in mystery.
Tracing back the history of the British Isles and seafaring families of greater Europe, we are introduced to the ever-present issue of early, corrupt Christianity plotting for power. In the time of popes known for their infidelity and rather not Christ-like behaviors, the Bishop Germanus acts as an ever-present villain manipulating the weak king, Ceneus ap Coel of Ebrauc (modern-day Northern England). The king calls on his merchant friend, Hall. He strikes a deal to have Hall and the village he helps to lead in modern-day Bourdeaux relocate and provide him the military advantages of a navy and experience. Once resettled, the king hopes that Hall will lead an army in the kingdom’s name on a quest north of Hadrian’s Wall.
Concurrently, Colgrin plots to overthrow a syphilitic king and requests for his brother in law, Jorrit, to get captured by the Britons to gather intelligence. Colgrin hopes to embark on a journey to invade and overthrow an area to establish his own kingdom. Jorrit sails off to be captured and ends up in the new settlement provided to Hall and his crew.
Upon capture, Hall and Drysten learn from Jorrit that their village was raided by a known slaver, and the surviving wives, children, and elders left behind were captured. In a heartbreaking scene, Drysten realizes that among those imprisoned includes his lover, fiance, and future mother of his child, Isolde. With the promise of release upon finding their loved ones, Jorrit accompanies Drysten on his fairytale-esque quest to save Isolde and free the rest of their family members.
Hall and Bors, the Elder, must then embark North with Prince Ambrosius Aurelianus of Powys and the cowardly, vile son of King Ceneus ap Coel, Prince Eidion. By befriending the estranged brother of King Ceneus ap Coel, the Prince Ambrosius and Hall gain enough force to take the stronghold requested by the king. However, as the pieces fall into place, questions arise as to the quality of the king being served.
In this engaging, thrilling, and emotionally dynamic first book of the “Thrones and Soldiers” series, the reader experiences the life of an early European after the fall of the Roman Empire. Giving a new spin on the minimally understood history of the foundations for a unified kingdom of Britons, “Honor” enlightens readers and demonstrates the power of combining research and imagination.
My Overall Response:
Williams went above and beyond my expectations of what a good historical fiction novel is. The amount of research involved that synergistically applied to be this book must be astounding. I had the pleasure of contacting the author about the research and being shown pictures of a single page of notes that pertained to one of the thousands of scenes depicted.
I am reminded of “Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett in terms of the attention paid to detail and the storytelling style seamlessly blending into the backdrop of history. The details engaged my brain, and each chapter ended with the excitement of wishing there were more. With twists and turns, characters are rounded out.
Additionally, the question of how mental illness was perceived through the lens of spirituality in the early history of Europe makes for a thought-provoking subject reasonably included. Instead of dismissing the stories of witches and godly visitations, the story legitimizes these experiences. It shows how they can be both helpful and harmful.
It was an honor to read and review this book. I hope anyone reading this considers providing themselves the same intellectual pleasure found in its pages.
I believe that attitudes of characters are reflective of what is known to have been the cultural standard of the time. That said, I would not recommend this book for an LGBTQA reading list.
Assuming the industry standard is 1 spelling error per 10,000 words, then “Honor” more than meets the standard. The only “errors” involve inconsistency in punctuation that does not interfere with the reader’s experience and is likely to be completely unnoticed by the average reader.
Twilight Zone Moment:
Every book has at least one. These are the moments that don’t quite add up and throw a reader rolling down into the uncanny valley for a moment in an otherwise brilliant scene.
I honestly struggled with finding a solid “Twilight Zone Moment.” At the end of the book, there is a character named Argyle that engages in the following exchange:
‘Drysten glanced toward the stairway as the last light from his captor’s torch faded away. “What kind of criminal desires to be in a place like this?”
“Simple,” Argyle said through thick laughter, “the sort who desired to be captured.”‘ (page 352)
This exchange brought me back to Colgrin’s original goal of sending out scouts with the intent to be captured. Still, I am unsure as to if this is related, and perhaps this will be resolved in the next book.