The White Chariot, Richard Denning

The White Chariot, Richard Denning

This is book four in a series of historical novels set amongst the warring kingdoms of early seventh century Britain, a period when the Britons still held large areas of what would become the West Midlands and north-western England, while the Anglo-Saxons were still split into a large number of kingdoms. We follow the exploits of a pair of Northumbria half-brothers, who end up on different sides in the endless dynastic clashes between the two Northumbrian kingdoms of Deira and Bernicia.

This story differs from the previous entries I’ve read in that the two main characters only rarely interact, taking part in the same storyline once, and operating in different parts of Britain and different conflicts for most of the time. In addition I’d say the more villainous of the brothers is mellowing. We thus get one narrator on each side of the evolving series of fairly temporary alliances that dominated this period, which helps us to follow the diplomacy of the period. To a certain extent this entry feels like it is building up to the next major developments – the wars that see the exiled Northumbrian princes the main character supports attempt to return to power – but there is more than enough going here to keep us entertained.

This is an interesting period to have chosen, coming at about the point where we start to get slightly more details about British history (mainly because this is the period when the Anglo-Saxons began to convert to Christianity, so many of the key figures in place when the series began are obscure, while those who become prominent during it are much better documented (in this volume we meet the young Cadwallon, one of the most famous of the early kings of Gwynedd). Many of the key locations mentioned in this series are of uncertain location  - in this case a possible capital of Powys, which the author places at Shrewsbury.

I rather like the way the author summons up the image of a world in which the Anglo-Saxons are living alongside the crumbling remains of Roman Britain – these stories are set only 200 years after the Legions left, and many of the towns and villas would have remained in use for some time after that, but we are fairly sure that the Anglo-Saxons didn’t use them. The image here is of ghostly semi-ruined cities, with partly intact walls, abandoned forts and villas dotted across the landscape, and of course the famous Roman roads still in fairly good condition. 


Author: Richard Denning
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 366
Publisher: Mercia Books
Year: 2016

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