Saturday, August 7, 2010

The King's Arrow by Michael Cadnum

Historical fiction is one genre that is hard to write well and because of this it often does not appeal to young adults. Michael Cadnum makes a good effort at a long ago event - the mysterious death of William the Conqueror in 1100 AD in his book, The King's Arrow.

It is 1100 AD and feelings are still high after the Norman conquest of Britain. English landholders have been forcibly removed from their land and the English aristocracy has been replaced by the French-speaking Normans. Neither the English nor their Norman conquerors trust one another. There have been gradual social and political changes in the ensuing 35 year since the Norman conquest.

Simon Foldre is the 18 year old son of a Norman nobleman and an English aristocrat. Looking like an Englishman to the Normans and a foreign lord to the English, Simon is struggling to find his place in the new England.

"Simon faced a future of divided happiness, knowing too much of both English umbrage and Norman self-importance to feel at home in either camp."

When he is offered a chance to participate in the royal hunt, Simon hopes he finally has his an opportunity to make a name for himself. He is offered the chance to be an English varlet to Walter Tirel of Picardy. But things go horribly wrong and Simon finds himself fleeing the Normans accompanied by Tirel.

The tragic events to come are foreshadowed by the cruel murder of a local hunter Edric by the royal marshal, Roland Montfort. Montfort is in charge of the king's personal security and does not like the English.  Cadnum fills his story with hints here and there of political intrigue. For example, there is the suggestion that Prince Henry is  anxious to assume the kingship of England, perhaps by any means necessary. This suggests that William's death, although considered by history as accidental, may have happened anyway on that day.

Although the historical event that forms the background of the book's plot is an interesting one in and of itself, I found the book to be somewhat slow at first. Cadnum takes his time creating the setting and atmosphere of the story in order to set up future events. As the tragedy unfolds and Simon is caught up in the events, the pace picks up. In the end, this short novel is a quick read for those interested in English history during the time of the Normans.

Book Details:

The King's Arrow by Michael Cadnum
Viking 2010

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