Oswui King of Kings by Edoardo Albert

Northumbrian Thrones Trilogy #3 
October 21st 2016, 560 Pages, Lion Fiction 
Print and Ebook 

Oswald’s head is on a spike. Can Oswiu avoid the same fate? The great pagan king Penda set a trap, and when the brothers Oswiu and Oswald walked in, only one came back alive.
Rumours abound that the place where Oswald’s body is strung up has become sacred ground – a site of healing for those who seek it. Oswald’s mother believes he will protect those he loves, even beyond the grave.

 So she asks the impossible of Oswiu: to journey to the heart of Penda’s kingdom and rescue the body that was stolen from them. Will this fateful task allow Oswiu to prove himself worthy of uniting the kingdoms under him as the King of Kings, or will it set him on a path to destruction? Oswiu: King of Kings is the masterful conclusion to The Northumbrian Thrones trilogy.
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Oh my goodness, I am going to miss this series. Never mind, the paperbacks are all on my shelf anytime a re-read becomes necessary. London based author, archaeologist and journalist Edoardo Albert has bought his Northumbrian Thrones trilogy, encompassing the lives of three seventh century rulers of the Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria to a conclusion in magnificent style, yet not detracting from the known historical facts.

Oswiu was a supporting character in the last book, the younger and somewhat less confident brother of the Saintly King Oswald (both of them nephews of Edwin, the focus of the first book). I say Saintly quite Literally. The Seventh century King Oswald of Northumbria is actually a canonized Saint in the Roman Catholic church.
After the deadly trap with kills his beloved brother, Oswald, at the behest of his mother, embarks on a quest to retrieve the remains of his brother- impaled to a tree in an act of ritual humiliation by Penda King of Mercia, the perpetual enemy of the Northumbrian monarchs. The scene in which Oswald's pet raven, Bran, exacts his own sort of vengeance for his master was one of the most memorable in the book. Indeed, Bran has emerged as a character himself in the course of the series. I appreciated the way that the role of royal women was represented in this tale, as they are so often considered powerless and marginalized: in reality, they were the Peaceweavers. "It is the part of women in this Middle-earth to weave together kingdoms in our bodies and on our beds, to requite war with desire, to make peace with the children we breed. That is our part. "

The book then proceeds to follow the first 13 years of Oswui's reign, revolving mostly around his power-struggles with Penda, and efforts to secure the throne of Deira, which alongside the small Kingdom of Bernicia from Northumbria as a whole. (For international readers, this was the ancient Saxon Kingdom, encompassing much of what is now NorthEastern England North of the River Humber, as well as parts of Southeastern Scotland.) It is a complicated story of shifting loyalties within families, loss, betrayal, death, and ultimate victory. Interwoven within is the story of how the English Church grew in this formative period and the faith of the characters themselves, Oswiu and his relatives, as well as Aidan, first Bishop of Lindisfarne, who according to tradition, prevented the destruction of the great fortress of Bamburgh with his prayers.

In this last book, a new element is introduced when Penda claims to be the embodiment of the god Woden on earth, and turns his expansion of power into a clash of gods, making it his goal to eradicate the new religion from the lands of the Angles, along with all the Kings who have embraced it. Never believing he can truly be the match of his brother, Oswui and his family must fight, in the end for their very survival. In the course of events, Oswui makes some hard decisions and takes controversial courses of action. His likely complicity in the murder of the Christian King of Deira (and his Kinsman) Oswine 'Godfriend' has been a blot on his reputation across the centuries. Deservedly so. Oswine here emerges as a sympathetic and tragic figure: a King who never really wanted to be one, a man who wished to do right, caught up in the turbulent tides of power. This was a world in which men of God could barely avoid violence, and the fate of Kingdoms was decided at the point of a sword.

My only complaints were that the book was not long enough. OK, not really. It was 550 pages long, but Oswui reigned for another 15 years after the novel ends, one of the longest reigning and living of all the pre-conquest Kings. A lot happened in that 15 years, and I think it would have taken another full-length book to cover it all. Still, I would have liked to hear a little more about that period. The other was some of the fantasy- like elements in the story, which though they were well written, I felt weren't always necessary.
Such as the suggestion that Oswald's Spirit lingered in the form of a black cloaked figure, who at one point stands next to Oswui and is spoken to by him.

Overall though, this novel and the entire trilogy have proved to be an excellent contribution to the genre, in which Pre-Conquest Britain is often her ignored or is represented in whimsical Romance novels with cliched or stereotyped characters. Recommended for lovers of solid and immersive Historical Fiction, and easily ranked among better-known authors.

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