In Paul Bernardi’s Thurkill’s Battle, the second instalment of The Huscarl Chronicles series, Thurkill finds himself sworn into the service of Wessex’s last prince. Where Thurkill’s Revenge left a boy, we come back to our hero as a man. The opening brings us into the fold with Thurkill in pursuit of a normal life for himself, yet it doesn’t take long to realise that this just isn’t possible.
Thurkill is a man on the run. He and his community are in search of respite from the conflict. This depiction of war as something inescapable rings true as the careful swing from calm to chaos and back again drives the narrative forward. Their only goal: to find peace. Thurkill’s hopes of a quiet life with Hild are quickly dashed when their safe haven comes under attack.
There is a delicate but rewarding balance of the domestic and the military in the novel. Thurkill is not just a warrior. The introduction of Hild shows a transition not just in what Thurkill wants but in who he is. This is not just a book about war, it is a book about the men who fight the wars. This ensemble of characters serves Thurkill well, all built up to ensure that he is set at the heart of something vast; Bernardi manages to fill the free space with life.
The second instalment of The Huscarl Chronicles series has matured in the same manner as its titular character, where once there was a blood-thirsty and anger-filled boy, now there is a hopeful man. The setting is brought to life by the characters living in it, we get to see the history of a familiar landscape and understand an invisible past. This novel leaves its reader eager to see what will come next, and I have absolute faith that Bernardi will deliver.