Tuesday, December 5, 2023

The Sea's Edge by Garth Pettersen -- #Review #HistoricalFiction #MedievalEngland @garpet011

The Sea's Edge tour banner


In 1030 C.E., Cnute, king of England, Denmark, and Norway, sends Harald, his middle son, to the Kingdom of Dublin to meet with his Norse-Irish allies. Harald’s mission is to coordinate an invasion of the northern Welsh kingdom of Gwynedd, to replace King Rhydderch who is growing too powerful on England’s borders. Harald is reluctant to be involved in affairs of state, but agrees to go, even though his beloved wife, Selia, is unwell. Harald tells Selia he will not have to take part in the fighting.

While she waits for Harald to return, Selia and her friend Gudrun befriend a young and attractive gleeman (poet-minstrel). When the gleeman is accused of a crime, Selia seeks witnesses in his defense.

Harald becomes involved in a conflict with Dublin’s neighbor, and to appease the king of Dublin, he commits to leading their combined forces in the attack on Wales. The plan is to replace King Rhydderch with Iago, the weaker King of Anglesey. The more Harald learns of these monarchs, the more his allegiance leans toward the man he has been sent to kill.

Will Harald unseat a strong and just ruler to carry out his father/king’s commands, or will he tread a more righteous road, which will destroy the life he and Selia have built in England?


King Iago sat upon an intricately carved throne, cushioned with a sheep fleece. I judged him to be of my height and gave him ten or fifteen more years above my own. He wore a jeweled gold circlet over dark brown hair grown long. His wispy beard had begun to show gray hairs among the brown. He wore a mail shirt over his tunic, which I thought to be odd. Either he distrusted his housecarls or he hoped to appear more warlike. It struck me that his clothing was of good quality—a tunic of red linen, belted with leather. He wore a cloak of beaver fur held by a brooch pin the size of my foot. There was no need to wear a cloak indoors, let alone one of imported fur and only one reason to fasten it with an enormous pin: King Iago wished to make a showing. I recognized him at once—a petty king with ambition for greatness.

At his right hand stood a regal woman whom I assumed was Iago’s wyf and queen. She wore a red dress of a shade similar to her husband’s garb, with an under tunic of light blue revealed in long sleeves and in the longer hem. A long head-covering of the same color swept over one shoulder. An embroidered headband held it in place. Her attractive face revealed a strong resolve and not a hint of kindness. I hoped my first impression would prove incorrect.

Iago stood to greet me, extending his weaponless hand. I gave him my own and we affirmed the peace between us. His hand was bonier than I expected. “Well met,” I said. Since he had spoken to me in Saxon English, I continued. “My friend and shield brother, Gwyn son of Emlyn.”

Iago again offered his hand.

Mawredd,” Gwyn said in greeting.

Iago replied in Welsh. The words escaped my understanding, but Iago’s stance and attitude was neither relaxed nor welcoming, as if my arriving with another Welshman was reason enough for him to be on his guard.

Without removing his gaze from us, he swept his arm to indicate his consort. “My queen, Madwen.”

Mistress,” I said, echoed by Gwyn.

Well come to our hall, Harald Atheling.” Queen Madwen’s green-eyed gaze displayed no shyness. I recognized the true power behind the crown.

The Sea's Edge book cover

Review by Lisabet Sarai

To write a compelling historical novel, an author must be archeologist, detective, surgeon and sculptor. Our knowledge of the past is always fragmentary. The novelist must dig deeply into original sources, excavating the shards of events and trying to sort them so that they make sense. The resulting structure will always be incomplete, and often conflicting or incoherent, raising as many questions as it answers. The author as sleuth needs to track down clues to fill in the gaps and resolve the inconsistencies. When research has yielded all that it can, it’s time to stitch the pieces together into a time-line, making guesses and assumptions to fill in the gaps. Finally, the artist takes over, shaping the raw event sequence into a narrative with heroes, villains, conflict and resolution.

Even before the author sits down to actually write the book, there’s an insane amount of effort involved. That work becomes progressively more difficult the more distant the historical period, because the records will be more incomplete. If only for this reason, I’m seriously impressed by Garth Pettersen’s Atheling Chronicles series, set in the eleventh century in Danish-ruled England.

The Sea’s Edge is the fourth volume in this series, which follows the adventures of Harald (the atheling), second son of the canny and powerful King Cnute. Harald is a historical figure, but relatively little is known about him. Garth Pettersen has turned him into a true hero, not just a brave and skilled warrior, but also a thoughtful, decent, level-headed man with a strong sense of morality. Unlike his siblings, Harald is not interested in the throne. His heart’s desire is to live on and farm his steading in Mercia, with his beloved wyf Selia at his side.

When you’re a king’s son, however, you cannot always choose your own path. Both duty and self-preservation require that Harald do his father’s bidding. In The Sea’s Edge, this means participating in Cnute’s conquest of Gwynned in Wales, first as an emissary, then as leader of the war party tasked with defeating formidable Welsh king Rhydderch.

This installment of the series contains a lot of blood and battles. I found the war, including the political machinations behind it, less interesting than the vivid pictures Mr. Pettersen paints of daily life in eleventh century England. English society in 1030 was far less primitive than one might suppose. Tradition, law and community exercised a strong influence on how people behaved. Agriculture, artisanry and commerce played major roles in people’s lives. Each ruler had his own private band of warriors, but the popular trope of fierce, blood-crazed Viking hordes laying waste to population centers doesn’t seem to have been a typical occurrence.

People in every time period look back to earlier events and see themselves as modern and up-to-date. Many historical novels fail to convey this reality; the characters are antiques. In The Sea’s Edge, the main characters, especially Selia, have a contemporary feel about their emotions and reactions that I found convincing. I didn’t notice any anachronisms (also a problem in writing historical fiction); it’s just that Harald and Selia are living in their own here and now. The reader can sometimes forget that this was more than a thousand years ago.

One of the most fascinating scenes in the book (though rather loosely linked to the main plot) depicts a hundred-moot, a community court for dispensing local justice. Though the Norse kings held the ultimate power, the populace of England were in no sense slaves.

Also, the novel seems to contradict the picture I’ve always had, regarding the influence of the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages. In Harald’s world, at least, religion has little importance. He does periodically thank Alweada (the almighty or all-father), but it’s not clear whether this is addressed to Christ or Odin. Perhaps both. In this novel, England is in transition between the old religion and the new. It seemed that individuals might often subscribe simultaneously to both sets of beliefs.

Overall, I very much enjoyed The Sea’s Edge. The glossary at the beginning and the historical notes at the end were much appreciated. Sometimes I felt that Harald was a bit too good to be true. He’s so admirable and likable, though – especially in his devotion to Selia – that you can’t help being on his side.

About the Author

Garth Pettersen photo

Garth Pettersen is a Canadian writer living in the Fraser Valley near Vancouver, BC. When he's not writing, he is riding horses or working on his acreage. Garth's short stories have appeared in a number of anthologies and in journals such as Blank Spaces, The Spadina Literary Review, and The Opening Line Literary 'Zine. His story, River's Rising, was awarded an Honourable Mention for the Short Story America 2017 Prize, and his fantasy novella River Born, was one of two runners-up for the Windsor Editions (UK) Short Fiction Prize. Garth Pettersen's historical fiction series, The Atheling Chronicles is published by Tirgearr Publishing and books one, two, and three are available at most online outlets (The Swan's Road, The Dane Law, and The Cold Hearth). The fourth book, The Sea’s Edge, will be released in November, 2023.

Buy Links







Apple: https://books.apple.com/us/author/garth-pettersen/id1292516225

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ie/en/series/the-atheling-chronicles

Nook: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/Garth%20Pettersen

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/gpettersen

Website: https://www.garthpettersen.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/writeandride/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/garpet011

Garth Pettersen will be awarding a $25 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Goddess Fish Promotions said...

Thank you for hosting and reviewing today.

Lisabet Sarai said...

Welcome back to Beyond Romance, Garth. I am in awe of the amount of work you must have done in order to create this series.

Garth Pettersen said...

Thank you for hosting again, Lisabet, and thank you for the fine review. Your appreciation for Harald and Selia's world and their characters is gratifying.

Sherry said...

This sounds really interesting.

Michael Law said...

This looks like a great read. Thanks for hosting this giveaway.

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