Paths of Exile

Written by Carla Nayland
Review by Lucinda Byatt

Paths of Exile is a wonderful story, one that conjures up this long-gone age in extraordinary detail and reveals a profound understanding of its politics, cultures and religions, based on extensive research. It may be true, as Nayland admits, that “solid facts are rare indeed in 7th-century Britain”, but these characters—some real, others pure fiction—are so solid and credible that they will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

There will, I’m sure, be more to come, as this is just the first stage of Eadwine of Deira’s story. He and his loyal companions – Lilla, Ashere and Drust – escape after the disastrous battle outside Eboracum (modern York) at which Aethelferth the Twister, a powerful ruler from the northern kingdom of Bernicia, routs the army led by Eadwine’s father, Aelle, contemptuously known as “Ox-brains.” Who else would relinquish a stronghold like Eboracum? Eadwine flees south, but as he knows well, there is no a safe haven if you have a price on your head—particularly when loyalty demands that he first solve the mystery of his brother Eadric’s death and then avenge it.

Nayland is an author who confidently weaves together an intricate and thrilling series of subplots, revealing more about the individuals whom Eadwine meets while in exile and the widely diverse groups that occupied areas now so familiar to us. Severa, a keenly intelligent young Christian woman and a healer whose skill exposes her to accusations of witchcraft, is a particularly unforgettable character. One controversial hurdle that Nayland has, to my mind, cleared in every respect is her wholly convincing dialogue that satisfies the modern ear while also distinguishing between the various accents and languages then in use. In all, a compelling tale and an authoritative new voice: one to watch.