Edoardo Albert fictionalizes the life of an ancient monarch in Edwin: High King of Britain. Edwin’s 7th-century reign is known by only a few sketchy details, many of which can be called legends. In some ways such an undertaking gives the author a great deal of freedom, but in others, the task depends on a great many of the same skills which novelists must use. The author must imagine conversations, scenes, battles, storms, etc., and fit them into the framework he or she has chosen as the subject. Mr. Albert has done an admirable job of this.
Cover blurbs and statements by previous reviewers state that the book is the first of a trilogy, and I thought they would all deal with Edwin. Not the case. However, the two salient facts of Edwin’s reign (as portrayed here) were to unite the British island into one kingdom, and his decision to take Christian baptism. To achieve the first goal, Edwin must unfortunately engage in the very behavior he deplores – he must skirmish and squabble and make minor wars with other pretender-kings. Relating to his conversion to Christianity, we are treated to the soul-searching of a sober, practical sovereign who understands that unless his chief subjects also convert, it will mean nothing. There’s no reason to believe he compelled anyone else to convert, and indeed, the author shows the king as leaving it up to the individual.
If you have interest in British kings of late antiquity, then by all means, take this up. There are vivid scenes, fair adherence to known or surmised facts, and a decent rendering of historical milieu. Mr. Albert’s storytelling has potential for improvement – conversations, particularly Edwin’s spoken words, become less stilted as we progress through the book. This bodes well for subsequent entries in the series. Other than that, though, this book doesn’t have much for the general reader.