Tancred a Dinant has followed his liege lord, Robert de Commines, since the tender age of fourteen. Now that King William the Conqueror has taken England, Tancred finds himself in the north defending against the Anglo-Saxons who would prefer not to bow to the Norman lord. After a disastrous battle, Tancred barely escapes with his life; one of the men lost is his lord. Anchorless, Tancred ends up in the service of another Frenchman, Malet, heading to London to protect Malet’s wife and daughter in the face of overwhelming odds. But on the way, he must escort an English priest to a nunnery, where he discovers a curious plot that indicates treachery from within Malet’s household.
Sworn Sword promises to be the first in a new series of historical fiction focusing on England just after the conquest. Starting out in January 1069, this series is going to focus on the difficulty that William the Conqueror had in keeping his throne through the eyes of Tancred. It’s a book very much in the vein of Bernard Cornwell, though; battle-focused fiction with a slight element of suspense and mystery.
The opening has a fair share of Tancred’s grief; he’s injured and he’s lost two important people in his life, his lord and his “woman”. In the latter case, he was just beginning to develop feelings for her, and he spends a lot of time beating himself up mentally for not protecting her, for trusting that she’d be safe. He outright mourns his lord, who he respected and cared for, and particularly now that he’s without someone to fight for. When he’s gravely injured and can barely raise his head, the situation is much worse.
Fortunately for Tancred, and for those reading this book, he quickly recovers and is on his way, and that’s when the book starts to get a little bit more interesting. A mystery unfolds in between a number of battles, and there is a fledgling romance slipped in at the same time. It’s a solid read, if you enjoy this sort of book, and I enjoyed the atmosphere. Aitcheson has done enough research to make most of his choice fit smoothly into the historical world, and a lengthy author’s note at the end explains what did and didn’t happen in the real timeline. That’s one part of a historical novel I always appreciate; I like to know where the author has drawn from the historical record and where they’ve filled in with their imagination.
Sworn Sword is a solid read, well worth it for fans who like their historical fiction somewhat bloody and atmospheric, particularly those who have already developed a taste for it via Bernard Cornwell or Ben Kane.
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