Saxon: The Emperor’s Elephant
The Saxon of the title is Sigwulf, a minor Saxon prince exiled to the court of King Carolus. It is the second in the Saxon series. Having really enjoyed the first, I looked forward to the read and I wasn’t disappointed. In this latest instalment, Carolus wants to send unusual and extravagant gifts to the Caliph of Baghdad in return for presents received. Forget gold or precious stones: Sigwulf is charged with hunting down a number of exotic animals and birds. The challenge is that they have to be white, the colour of the court of Baghdad. Some are rare to the point of elusive, such as a unicorn. Once Sigwulf has obtained these animals, he is then charged with delivering them safely to Baghdad. But someone is out to sabotage the mission, and that includes threats to Sigwulf’s life.
The search for the animals is exciting and engrossing. As well as familiar characters such as Osric (Sigwulf’s companion from the first book), he has new associates such as Walo, a vulnerable young man with a gift for working with animals, and ship’s captain, Protis. Once the animals are assembled (including the truly terrifying aurochs, a type of wild ox), Sigwulf has to travel with them on their long, perilous journey to Baghdad.
As to be expected, Severin’s portrayal of the Saxon natural world is masterful. Whether sailing on the hazardous river Rhine, camping out in a crumbling Rome or arriving in a sweltering, magnificent Baghdad, he takes the reader there and we share every exhausting, exhilarating mile.
I had one minor criticism: the elephant of the title only makes a minor appearance. The set-up for the next book is that the animal will play a major role. So as a title, it seems an odd choice.