Raven's Wind

by Victor Canning

Reviewed by David Maclaine

The original cover of Raven’s Wind describes it as "An Enchanting Novel of Adventure in the Heroic Age of Alfred the Great." "Enchanting" may be going a bit too far, but the novel is enjoyable, and does involve its share of adventure. It tells the story of a pair of young lovers, Justus and Riada, whose first tryst in the sand on the southwestern shore of Wessex is followed by the arrival of a dragon ship full of Danish raiders. Riada escapes, but the sleeping Justus is carried into captivity, by a Dane who admires the workmanship of his boat and rightly guesses that he has a gift for building. Soon the story is split between that of the young Justus learning the shipwright’s craft across the North Sea, while Riada finds a kind and loving husband who can serve as father to the child Justus unknowingly conceived. Her new man is a craftsman too, whose work adorns churches. It is not giving much away to say that it's soon obvious that Justus will make his way back to his homeland, but that his chances of a reunion with his former love remain uncertain. In the meantime the first great Danish invasions of Britain begin, and characters make the acquaintance of a prince named Alfred.

What makes Raven’s Wind worth the short time it takes to read is its view into some of the mundane private lives behind the scenes of the great events of the ninth-century crisis that very nearly swept away all the English kingdoms. The novel's focus is most often on the work of men and women who build things of value, whether ships or churches or the families who will take their world another step into the future, and one theme is the intermingling of English and Danish bloodlines. Blood spills, too, involving a grim meaning for the jaunty-sounding "spatch-cocked." Canning’s language has a slightly stilted, archaic manner, not quite as poetic as the author might have hoped, but never quite annoying enough to curdle the tale. (1983, 185 pages)

More about Raven's Wind at Amazon.com

Raven's Wind appears on the list of The 45 Best Historical Novels Set in the Viking Age

Other novels set in the time of Alfred:

The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell (2004), about a dispossessed Saxon lord raised by Vikings who joins King Alfred's army in the hope of winning back his lands; #1 in the Saxon Tales series. See review or more info at Powell's Books

The King of Athelney by Alfred Duggan(1961; also titled The Right Line of Cerdic), about King Alfred the Great. See review or more info at Amazon.com

The Dragon and the Raven, or The Days of King Alfred by G.A. Henty (1886), about a young Saxon thane who joins King Alfred's army. More info

Nonfiction about King Alfred:

Alfred the Great: The Man who made England by Justin Pollard. More info

Alfred the Great: War, Culture and Kingship in Anglo-Saxon England by Richard Abels (1998). More info

Alfred the Great: Asser's Life of King Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources translated by Simon Keynes and Michael Lapidge (Penguin edition 1983). More info


Alfred the Great at the official website of the British Monarchy

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