Bloodline by Katy Moran

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Bloodline by Katy Moran

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A wonderfully evocative debut novel set in the Dark Ages. It's without the tiniest trace of anachronism and has great attention to detail, right down to the diction. A subtle fantasy element lends magical depth to a powerful narrative.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 312 Date: March 2008
Publisher: Walker Books
ISBN: 1406309389

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Dark Ages Britain, after King Arthur and before Bede. Essa travels with his father Cai, a bard and some say a spy. They live an itinerant existence, never stopping for long in one place. Cai refuses to accept another man's ring, saying that the traditional system of honour binding and loyalty would be a chain around his neck. And yet one night, Cai abandons Essa. He leaves his son at a Wolf Clan settlement and simply rides away.

Several years later, the lonely marsh village is in danger. King Penda's Mercian warriors threaten the Wixna of East Anglia and Essa's settlement is the first in line to be sacked by this vicious king. The Wixna's own king, Seobert, is a pious Christian, and he's holed up in a monastery, refusing to fight. Essa has a part to play in this conflict; it's where his destiny lies, and in a way, only his father - Cai of the dark, pooling, elfin eyes - could truly understand. But Cai isn't there...

Bloodline follows Essa through the mists of Britain's Dark Ages adding flesh to the scant skeleton of surviving source material. Bede writes of King Penda of the Mercians and his victory over Edwin of Northumbria, and of the Wolf Clan king who rode into battle against him armed only with Christian faith. But we don't know much. Katy Moran's story, though, comes to us fully-formed, credible, and utterly absorbing. It's without the tiniest trace of anachronism and has great attention to detail, right down to the diction.

There's something very different about Essa. His blood is part Saxon, part British and although he and his father are Christians, the village he is left in still follows the pagan ways. In many ways, Essa is more at home with the old pantheon. He can communicate with animals and sometimes, he can even inhabit their bodies. This supernatural element is a subtle strand running through Bloodline. It doesn't take centre stage, although it does occur at pivotal moments. Rather than taking the book away from credible and intelligent historical fiction and into the realms of fantasy, though, it seems actually to root the narrative into its time and place; a superstitious, animistic time in which unearthly powers are believed not only possible but likely.

Despite this ability, Essa is a very normal boy. He's impulsive and quick to anger. He resents his father for leaving. He falls in love. He has a desperate desire to belong. And the supporting characters with whom he interacts are equally credible - Hild, the head woman of the village, Lark, the tomboy maiden warrior, Wulf, the Mercian boy with whom Essa makes a connection and tries to work for peace.

And it's such an evocative book. I was completely immersed in this old British world, so different from today. It's perfectly paced and the character dynamics are deep and complex, but never so difficult to follow that they detract from the narrative progression. It's an amazingly confident and powerful first novel, and its quality is such that it will appeal to a wide range of ages - any fan of historical fiction will love it, from those only just capable of reading 300 pages right up to those in the last years of school. Highly recommended.

My thanks to the good people at Walker for sending the book.

Readers interested in this period might also enjoy Slave Girl by Jackie French - based on the Viking Groenlendinga Saga or I Am The Blade by J P Buxton. Older readers might enjoy Daughter of the Wolf by Victoria Whitworth.

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