The Saxon Spears: An Epic of the Dark Age (The Song of Ash)

Written by James Calbraith
Review by Misty Urban

A foundling sold as a slave in a British market, the Sea-born Ash is adopted by a pair of British nobles and raised alongside their son, tutored by the priest Paulinus and taught to fight by Fulco, a Frankish guard. A thwarted love affair with the low-born Eadgith shows Ash that his family has ambitions for him, and a trip to Londin educates Ash on the plight of the Germanic tribes who live as scorned outsiders to British society. Ash gets tangled in the court politics of Dux Wortigern and his sons, where his education as both a baptized Briton and a trained pagan warrior lead him into trouble, but also make him a handy spy. When Ash is sent to infiltrate the camp of the forest bandit Aelle and begins to understand the conquest that could be possible if the Saxon, Angles, and Jutes united against the Britons, he must decide where his loyalties lie, and what that loyalty will cost.

The book is well-written, and the story gains in interest as Ash matures beyond childish interests to become aware of the political undercurrents around him. The action grows swift and tense as the plot develops, and Ash is a dimensional, relatable character. The conclusion of the novel is little more than a segue to book 2, but Calbraith’s vision of southern Britain in the mid-5th century is utterly unique: he portrays the British as an enfeebled, consumer-dependent society living in the ruins of Rome and degrading, at their own risk, the more vital, hungry, self-reliant foreigners seeking shelter on their shores. The complexity of tribal alliances and cultural differences and the appearance of well-known figures like Hengist and Horsa make this version of Dark Age Britain an intriguing, textured world that readers will want to explore further.