Saturday, 23 May 2015

Rob Reviews Book of the Month: Sorrow Hill: Sword of Woden

The Review's May 2015 Book of the Month Award
Sorrow Hill - Sword of Woden Volume 1 by C.R. May
Review by Rob Bayliss

See below to learn how to claim your chance to win a 
FREE COPY of Sorrow Hill 
Drawing May 30, 2015

“Trolls!” Hrothgar cried with a laugh. “What are trolls going to do to me? Tear down the doors of Heorot and murder all my warriors?”

For longer than I care to remember I’ve been a fan of the legend of Beowulf from the epic poem. I enjoyed it even before I came to realise the cultural significance of it to my English sense of self. It gave me a love of the so-called “Dark Age” period of history and the realisation that history is contained in the very words that we use… and a love of fantasy of course, for Beowulf has perhaps one of the darkest and most fearsome monsters to ever be spawned from the human subconscious: Grendel, the Grinder!

We’ve had cinematic versions since of course: the computer-generated Beowulf, which is a feast for the eyes, yet personally I found it strangely disappointing, and the enjoyable 13th Warrior which borrows heavily from the legend. But the poem places Beowulf in the real world. His people are the Geats, with Swedes and Danes as neighbours. Anglo Saxon the poem may be but the protagonist is placed in the Scandinavian world as this tale predates the formation of England. Looking back to some mythic golden age seems to be a human trait!

In Sorrow Hill C.R. May takes us back to this golden age and places us in a distinct timeline. It’s the early 6th century and the Geats find themselves in a turbulent world of change that will ultimately erase their kingdom from history.

The Western Roman Empire is on the brink of collapse; their province of Britannia has been lost and the Geats' cultural contemporaries, the Anglisc, are in the process of carving out New Anglia in those fertile, ice free lands. Beowulf himself is the son of an Earldorman and through his mother, a grandson of a king. He is being prepared to take his father’s place and join the noble warrior elite, but his wyrd- his fate - is to be different.

This is where the author skilfully walks a line between historical fiction and fantasy for while on a boyhood mission to capture eaglets for his father, Beowulf meets a wanderer and shares the man's fire as the night closes in. There is something different about this one-eyed travelling man called Hrarni, who seems to know all about Beowulf. The boy gives Hrarni an eaglet, much to the traveller’s delight. In return the one-eyed man gives the boy much sage advice and makes a gift of part of his staff, as a token of his favor.

We watch as Beowulf grows and develops from a child under the tutorage of his foster father, learning his craft as a warrior and a leader of men. His world is turned upside down when his family is torn apart in a scramble for power. In the ensuing chaos the old adversaries of the Geats, the Swedes, mount an attack. Only Beowulf is on hand to mount a defence and test both his wyrd and warrior craft.

C.R. May is certainly a skilled story teller. This is a page turner that is difficult to put down. It is a fast-moving action packed novel charting Beowulf’s journey through childhood and awkward adolescence. Crucially we see Beowulf, not as some mythic hero but as a real person, slightly insecure desperate to please his aloof father. The society in which he develops is described to perfection, as are the battle scenes. You’ll feel the tension and smell the fear as the shields smack together to form a wall and you clasp your spear, listening to your breath beneath your grimhelm. The author’s prose and power of description paints a wonderful picture of this “golden age” of the proto-English (for want of a better term), but I feel special praise should be made in that this book carries a profound spiritual element that brings the religion of the time to life, breaking down the barriers between historical fiction and fantasy and, most importantly, the reader's disbelief.

Swept away in this book, all too soon the reader turns the last page but fear not; Sorrow Hill is the first of a trilogy with Wraecca and Monsters following. There is more to learn of Beowulf, the Sword of Woden and it's not only men that walk the earth.

Awestruck and  terrified the Geat aetheling moved towards the dying flames and knelt in supplication.
"Forgive me, Lord. I would not have raised a weapon had I known it was you!"
The man motioned for Hygelac to join him and, throwing back his wolf skin hood regarded him with his one remaining eye.
"You have been entrusted with the care of one who is of interest to me," the one eyed man began. "I would like you to ensure that he grows to become the greatest warrior in the north. In return I can offer you reputation and riches." He paused and fixed the aetheling with his penetrating stare. "Do we have a deal?"
A smile played across Hygelac's features as he began to realise the opportunity which was presenting itself to him. A god needed his help and was willing to bargain. He decided to grasp the opportunity with both hands.
"I want to be king," he replied coldly.

Author C.R. May has so generously offered to gift a FREE COPY of Sorrow Hill to one lucky winner! To get your name in our drawing, simply comment below OR at this review's Facebook thread located here.
Drawing May 30, 2015

About the Author

C.R. May was born in Bow, East London before his family moved to South Ockendon, Essex. After hearing that Ockendon translated as Wocca's Hill in Saxon, a lifelong passion in history was kindled, which has taken him from Berlin to the site of the Battle of Little Big Horn (via Erik the Red's Icelandic hall!). The influx of Germanic adventurers was recorded in the place names around him and, inspired one day, he decided to weave his own stories into this history. You can read and discover more information at his blog and the author may be found at Facebook.

Rob Bayliss is a reviewer at The Review and is currently writing his own fantasy series. Information on his writing projects can be found at Flint & Steel, Fire & Shadow.


  1. Cracking review of what seems a really interesting book.

  2. what's not to like....pick me.. :-)

  3. Looks like an exciting book. Great review

  4. Definitely one for my bookshelf! Either way its going on my bookshelf!

  5. Love this period... would love to read.

  6. Great review, Rob. This is definitely a "must-have" book!

  7. Sounds like a great introduction for me into historical fantasy. Great review.

  8. Great review

  9. fabulous history, very interesting.. can't wait to read... - lisa Jayne

  10. I want to read it; I do; I do! This is an unusual reaction from me - an addict of "Beowulf" in the Old English: I certainly can't stand the cinematic versions. Indeed, I usually can't be doing with modern 'historical fiction,' which is usually too anachronistic. In contrast, this looks as if it may capture some of the "Beowulf" spirit, and I'd like to see how May portrays our hero as a lad, and how he presents the context. If I enjoy the book, I'll ask my Floridian library to get it, for I doubt it'll be there soon otherwise -- they never heard of Geats, let alone Old English (they don't even know where modern England is). I'm also interested exploring the narrative's spiritual and fantasy elements, which combination suggests to me a much-needed approach to addressing the needs of our spiritually starved young. I dare to hope that May might even offer something of an antidote to her 'wot patched Harry Potter together.'

    1. Hi Marya, it's great to see your enthusiasm! I do hope your library in Florida can obtain a copy for you! If not you may be our lucky winner!

  11. Good review! Sounds like a trilogy not to be missed. Count me in!

  12. A lovely review - just the sort of book I like to read.

  13. Great review. I'd like a chance to win a copy of the book.

  14. This may heal the fear caused by a book from the first year of secondary school. Beowulf - was it Rosemary Sutcliffe that wrote it. This sounds interesting.