Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Editorial Book Review: Oscar's Tale by Chris Bishop #Medieval #HistoricalFiction #EditorialReview #TheCoffeePotBookClub

*Editorial Book Review*


by Chris Bishop

The story of a Saxon boy who sets out to find and rescue his father who has been taken by Viking slavers.

Set in 877 as the people of Wessex are forced to fight not just for their very lives, but for their freedom, their religion and for their right to live as Saxons, Oscar relates all that which befalls him on his all but impossible quest. This is set against the backdrop of King Alfred’s desperate attempt to regain his kingdom which culminates in a victory at the Battle of Edington which is very much against the odds. 

But this is not just a story about bloody battles and fearsome warriors, it’s about a boy struggling to live up to his father’s reputation as a warrior and trying to find his place in a turbulent and uncertain world. For that, Oscar is forced to confront many dangers, earn the respect of others far above his station and even find love – albeit the cost to him is far higher than most men would have been willing to pay.

‘And remember, you engage the raiders only if you’re obliged to. There’s no merit in risking the lives of our men just for the sake of a few who have already allowed themselves to be taken,’ he said, looking directly at me. 
‘Thank you, my Lord,’ I said. ‘May I wait here until they return?’ 
‘Wait here?’ he stormed. ‘Why in God’s name would you wait here? You’re to go with them! After all, it’s your father they’re trying to save so you must play your part as well. Is that not fair?’ 
‘My Lord, I’ve never fought before,’ I stammered, not expecting that. 
‘Pah! What age have you, boy?’ he demanded.

‘My Lord, I’ve known but fifteen summers,’ I told him.

‘Then it’s time you learned!..’

Northumbria, East Anglia and Mercia had already fallen to the Norsemens’ swords, now Guthrum, the leader of the Viking army, has set his sights on Wessex.

Oscar had not been brought up as a warrior. Having witnessed an excessive amount of bloodshed, his father wished to spare his son from the gruesome realities of war. Nevertheless, when their farmstead is attacked by a Viking raiding party, Oscar recognises that the only means of defence is to retaliate with force. With unwavering resolve, he is determined to seek out the individuals responsible for burning his home and liberate his father from their malevolent clutches. Despite his mother’s plea not to go, Oscar travels forth to report what has happened to Ealdorman AEthelred.

But AEthelred, although sympathetic, will not risk the lives of his men for one soul. It will take more than pleading to convince AEthelred to change his mind. Oscar must use his wits and intelligence if he is ever to stand a chance of rescuing his father.

From a terrifying raid to the Battle of Edington, Oscar’s Tale by Chris Bishop is the unforgettable story of a young man’s journey from a farmer to a trusted advisor to a king.

Bishop consistently captures the essence of place and time in all of his books, and this one is no different. His dedication to historical accuracy is worthy of praise. The research that went into this story is apparent in the enthralling storyline and elegantly polished writing. Bishop’s storytelling prowess shines as he blends historical truth with imaginative storytelling, resulting in a captivating and compelling narrative. In Bishop’s books, history is vividly portrayed, with all its grandeur and calamities. In times gone past, it is with unwavering certainty that Bishop would have been greatly sought after in the Great Hall as a skilled Saxon scop.

Although not trained in warfare, Oscar has a skill that is both rare and extremely valuable. He can assess a given situation and quickly come up with the best course of action. His battle strategies are sound and his foresight is a great assist to AEthelred as well as King Alfred later on in the novel. However, he has no experience in warfare, other than the stories his father has told him, and the only weapon he knows how to use with confidence is his slingshot. He is experienced in driving away wild animals from the livestock of his father’s farm, but he has never faced a skilled and bloodthirsty Viking warrior before. But he is a quick study, and although he is far from being as qualified in weaponry and fighting as Wulfric and Rufus, he is determined to do all he can to rescue his father and to help King Alfred retake Chippenham and drive the invaders from Wessex once and for all.

Staying true to his writing style, Bishop thrusts the reader into the middle of the action, offering an intimate storytelling experience through the first-person narrative. Through Oscar’s perspective, the events unfold quickly, creating a fast-paced narrative that captivates the reader from the opening sentence and commands their attention to the final full stop.

Oscar is a very likeable character who is both honourable and kind. He knows his place in the world and is thus surprised when he finds himself as advisor to King Alfred. But he accepts the role and responsibility with humility.

The confusion that the Viking invasion caused is very evident throughout this novel. Is King Alfred alive? Is he dead? Does anyone know what is going on? Ealdorman AEthelred is a loyal subject to the Saxon king and therefore the lack of information about what happened to Alfred after the Battle of Chippenham is disturbing. But AEthelred has even more pressing matters. The Vikings are heading his way. Bishop depicts a Vill preparing for a siege. There is an urgency to make sure there is enough food and supplies, but AEthelred is a realist and he knows he and his men will not be able to hold the fort against a sizeable Viking force. AEthelred is a very honourable character who is prepared to die with his men and for that reason, he commands the reader’s respect.

Through AEthelred and in particular his daughter, Edwina, the reader witnesses the social inequalities of the era. And although Edwina only features in the story briefly she has a profound effect on Oscar. Edwina is incredibly brave and everyone acknowledges this, but by the end of the novel she has lost the privilege that should have been hers by right. If it were not for Oscar then Edwina’s fate would have been a lot different. Bishop’s depiction of Edwina shines a light on the complicated social structure of the era.

There are several supporting characters in this novel. In particular, Rufus and Wulfric. Wulfric is AEthelred’s head of the guards, and he has a life debt to Oscar’s father from years ago. Wulfric is a very wise leader of his men, and he is willing to die alongside them. Rufus is a hunter, not a soldier, but he is a skilled archer and tracker, and if it were not for him Oscar would probably not have made it to the end of the novel! Rufus, Wulfric and Oscar make a formidable team, and they are not so easily thwarted. The supporting characters play an integral role in the progression of the story, and they come across as very realistic. This novel will certainly appeal to fans of Bernard Cornwell’s, The Last Kingdom.

Oscar’s Tale by Chris Bishop is a superbly written novel whose characters will linger in the heart long after you have turned the last page. It is in all ways, a complete success.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde
The Coffee Pot Book Club

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Chris Bishop

Chris was born in London in 1951. After a successful career as a Chartered Surveyor, he retired to concentrate on writing, combining this with his lifelong interest in Anglo Saxon history.

His first novel, Blood and Destiny, was published in 2017 and his second, The Warrior with the Pierced Heart, in 2018, followed by The Final Reckoning in 2019 and Bloodlines in 2020. Together they form a series entitled The Shadow of the Raven, the fifth and final part of which - The Prodigal Son – was published in 2023.

Chris has also published numerous blogs about his work, including:-

1. Alfred and the Vikings – a four part series:-
a. Alfred’s troubled realm
b. So, who were the dreaded Vikings?
c. Why did the Vikings first invade England?
d. The (almost) forgotten battle
2. Warhorses – the use of horses in battle at the time of King Alfred the Great
3. Wareham’s past as a Saxon stronghold
4. Was King Alfred really the father of the English Navy?
5. So, did Alfred really burn the cakes?

His other interests include travel, windsurfing and fly fishing. 

Chris is a member of the Historical Writers Association.

Connect with Chris:

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