The Half-Slave by Trevor Bloom
|The Half-Slave by Trevor Bloom|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Simon Regan|
|Summary: An appealingly pacy adventure set in a rarely attempted period of history, The Half-Slave excels in gritty atmosphere and believable characterisation, although at times the dialogue and prose style feel a little too modern.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 360||Date: February 2010|
|Publisher: Bookline and Thinker Ltd|
At Samarobriva in Roman Gaul, a raiding Saxon tribe meets its match in the form of a division of the Franks, who have suborned the Roman authorities and are establishing their control throughout the region. A mysterious meeting with the Frankish Overlord persuades the leader of the Saxons to sign a treaty that will forever alter the fate of his people. In return for Frankish silver, he hands over to them his youngest son, Ascha the half-slave, as a perpetual hostage to guarantee the peace. But in the frozen north new powers are rising, and Ascha will soon be drawn into a web of lies and ambition as two very different worlds come into conflict.
The Half-Slave is something of a novelty in historical fiction – an English-language work set during the early Dark Ages that doesn’t take as its inspiration the Arthurian cycle or other themes of the Celtic twilight. Instead, Trevor Bloom’s debut novel is based around the story of Clovis I, the uniter of the Frankish tribes who laid the foundation for what would become the Kingdom of France. The story is told for the most part from the perspective of the fictional Ascha, introduced as one of the Overlord’s royal hostages. Unable to engage fully with the Franks due to their prejudice against the Saxons, nor with his own people due to his half-slave status, he serves as a useful outsider through which we can be introduced to his world.
Bloom does a good job of creating a plausibly gritty atmosphere – neither the Saxons nor the Franks are presented as morally superior, although the villains on both sides are perhaps just a little too easy to pick out by their personal habits. All the major players have both political and personal motivations that drive their machinations: Clovis in particular receives excellent characterization – at once flamboyantly ambitious and cruelly calculating – though disappointingly he makes far fewer appearances in the narrative than one might be led to expect.
The author’s prose stylings are understated and contribute to a light, pacey feel which makes The Half-Slave an enjoyable first read. Some dialectal features are intermittently used to convey a sense of the Anglo-Saxon language: whether this proves evocative or annoying will depend on the reader’s personal sensitivity to such devices. In general the language is modern – possibly a little too modern in places, which can counteract the immersive quality of the rest of the writing.
As one might expect given the harsh era in which it is set, The Half-Slave contains a generous number of fight scenes, which are handled with just the right blend of swashbuckle and historical realism. The climactic battles are especially well handled, with the weapons and tactics of the time introduced in vivid and compelling style. That Ascha, raised as an unweaponed slave, is able in just a few years to rise to the level of swordsmanship depicted may be found a little implausible by some, but for the most part it’s possible to suspend one’s disbelief once the action starts, and Bloom is careful to ensure that the greatest obstacles his hero faces are ones that can’t be overcome with his franciska blade.
Ascha’s romantic attachments are handled sensitively, in-keeping with the mores of his time without rendering him an unsympathetic character. At least one relationship is left hanging in the course of the novel, which may irritate readers expecting a traditional happy ending to this subplot.
Bloom’s narrative is fairly conventional but lucid – despite the convoluted political intrigue of the novel, it remains clear throughout where the protagonists are headed and what is at stake. Perhaps the greatest challenge to the reader’s credulity is its hero’s mobility: Ascha’s journeys throughout Europe are not without their perils, but still seem suspiciously far-ranging for one man – frequently on foot – given the timescales involved.
There are a number of twists and revelations in the story, though because Bloom’s style gives the impression of putting all its cards on the table at any given time, it’s not always immediately obvious that there are questions he has left unanswered – sometimes resulting in carefully prepared surprises seeming a little superfluous. However, Bloom excels at introducing new information to us in the context of his protagonists’ everyday activities and doesn’t feel compelled to show off every turn of the plot, with the result that new developments feel natural and unforced.
In the final summation, The Half-Slave proves immensely enjoyable despite a number of unobtrusive flaws. Fans of historical fiction will appreciate Bloom’s well-researched and generally immersive take on a seldom-used period setting, whilst those seeking a traditional adventure will find his deftly-paced narrative and exciting fight sequences more than justify the entrance fee. As such, The Half-Slave comes highly recommended.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Half-Slave by Trevor Bloom at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Half-Slave by Trevor Bloom at Amazon.com.
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