This novel, set in 476 AD, depicts the fighting for control between the warring Germanic Saxons and Franks as they journey through Europe to claim the riches, slaves and territories formerly owned by the crumbling Roman Empire.
The Half-Slave, Ascha, is on guard for his clan, the Saxon Theodi, whose ship lies anchored whilst the men rest on land. Ascha’s father, Aelfric, is the hetman, and his older step-brothers are Hanno and Hroc, who are allowed to bear arms, unlike Ascha who is forbidden to as the son of a Praetorian slave. Ascha warns his clansmen of approaching riders. They are Southern Franks whose overlord, Childeric, had grown more powerful as the Roman Empire crumbled.
Childeric’s son, Clovis, commands Aelfric to meet Childeric at Tornacum, and stays as guarantor for Aelfric’s return. Hroc overhears Clovis questioning Ascha and is about to kill him during a fight when Ascha deflects the blow and saves Clovis’s life. Hanno tends to Ascha and explains that a pact has been forged between the two tribes. Childeric demands one of Aelfric’s sons becomes a hostage at Tornacum, and Ascha is chosen.
He feels an outsider in both camps and tries to reconcile his feelings towards his family, as he strives for a sense of identity. Adversities abound as he travels throughout the territories, relaying reports to Childeric’s agents. He rekindles an affair with Saefaru, who has married his childhood rival, Wulfhere.
Wulfhere’s vengeful schemes undermine Ascha’s efforts and imperil him. When Ascha discovers that Childeric’s plans involve attacking the Saxons, he has to decide where his loyalties lie.
I found the realism in the characters, situations, and deftly woven plot strands made this a gripping story. I appreciated the glossary, map and place name translations.