St. Agnes and the Selkie (Cuthbert’s People)

Written by G. M Baker
Review by Anna Belfrage

One day, a drenched and seemingly mute young woman knocks on the gate to the abbey of Whitby. Her dark colouring has the abbess, Wynflaed, suspecting she might be Welsh, but the quality of her clothes and her long, thick hair all mark her as a noblewoman, and the only Welsh in Northumbria are slaves.

The girl refuses to say anything about who she is or where she comes from—but she agrees to answer to the name of Agnes and do whatever menial tasks are set before her, as long as she is allowed to stay. Wynflaed fears whatever secrets Agnes carries may well come back to haunt them all.

Set in the late 8th century just as the Vikings are becoming a true pest, St. Agnes and the Selkie is one of those absolute jewels of a historical novel, immersing me in a vivid past. Mr. Baker has not only done his research, he breathes life into his characters—I am especially impressed by his dialogue—and had me reluctant to take even the shortest of breaks. My one little niggle is the lack of chapters: Mr. Baker has written his book in four parts, and I suspect I am not the only reader who finds it frustrating not to have a chapter break to offer a natural pause.

While this is the second book in a series, so well does Mr. Baker contain his plot within the pages of this narrative that at no point did I feel I missed any relevant backstory. Beautiful prose, evocative descriptions and characters one cannot help but love—what more can one possibly want? For anyone with a passion for Anglo-Saxon England, St. Agnes and the Selkie is, in my opinion, a must-read.