AD826, the old king of Mercia has been usurped by Beornwulf, swept to power by the kingdom’s ealdormen and breaking a near 200-year line of succession. It’s here, under King Beornwulf’s reign, we meet a young, orphaned Icel, living in Mercia’s capital; his warrior uncle, Cenfrith, the only blood relative he’s known to have.
Two rapid successions to the throne later and Mercia is left vulnerable to attack from neighbouring kingdoms. Realising Icel is no longer safe in Mercia, Cenfrith sneaks his nephew out of the kingdom. Untrained and uninterested in combat, favouring the craft of healing to maiming, what does the treacherous journey ahead have in store for young Icel?
Through Son of Mercia, M.J. Porter transports the reader to Anglo-Saxon England. From start to finish, we’re immersed in fierce political tensions that dictate Icel’s journey, as well as vivid sounds, sights and smells that accompany this. Violently graphic imagery fuels the intensity of numerous scenes throughout the book, and helps illustrate the grisly reality the characters find themselves surrounded by.
The novel is well paced and grips the reader from the very first page. Porter has a talent for creating vibrant characters, as well as dynamic relationships between them.
While the novel is arguably somewhat of a prequel to Porter’s The Last King, those who’ve yet to read this can still appreciate Son of Mercia just as much, if not more, than those already familiar with Icel. For the latter, this new story provides a satisfying background to the, as Porter describes, ‘dour character’ readers come to know in The Last King. Those who know this Icel can enjoy the stark contrast between the warrior ‘dripping with the blood of his foe’ introduced to them at the start of The Last King and the terrified, gentle boy they meet in Son of Mercia, fearful even of the height he grows to and cowering at the thought of combat training.
Those meeting Icel for the first time enjoy the surprise of his underdog story, experiencing his first embrace of warrior status alongside the protagonist himself.
Battling against threat after threat, Son of Mercia is a thrilling read, exploring how warriors can come from the most unexpected places.