What would happen if you combined a detailed historical fiction novel that includes the politics of, Countries, Kings and Queens with that of the manipulation by Angels and Deamons and Devils? You probably end up with something like Son of the Morning.
Set in an alternative history where Angels and their opposite are manifested physically within the world of men and influence the world around around them, Son of the Morning offers something that is very different to anything I've read before.
The story is set during the Reign of King Edward the Third in the Fourteenth Century. During his reign, Edward III transformed the Kingdom of England and introduced legislation that also transformed Parliament. He inherited a huge steaming mess of a country from his father, Edward II (who was eventually disposed by Edward III's mother and consort Roger Mortimer) but managed to reconstruct the country, in no small part due to his skills in warfare. He also started the Hundred Year War after declaring himself rightful heir to the French throne. He stands as one of only six British Monarchs to have ruled for more than fifty years.
Throw in the most devastating pandemic the world has ever known in the shape of the Black Death and you have a very interesting and busy period in English history.
Son of the Morning begins with Edward III in the ruins of a Church, beset by warfare with the Scots on one side and the French on the other. It is said that the Angels themselves fight for France but he himself finds no ally in Gods chosen. If God will not aid him he could of course open the gates of Hell and begin an unholy war...
The danger of writing novels that are tied to periods of history is that not only are the characters already set but it's also very easy to get bogged down in historical detail. Thankfully the author is not only very gifted but intelligent enough to keep the book moving along while also making each character his own. There is of course lots of court intrigue and the complications of politics but this is all handled in a miraculous manner and not once did the book seem to slow down or loose sight of the story. It does however also feel entirely authentic and contains enough (seemingly) accurately described real historical events to make the book highly believable.
One of the things that really sets this book apart though is the way the author has included the Angels and Devils, it's nothing short of remarkable. The Angels aren't the smiling, beneficent beings we often think of but are depicted as quite alien superior beings who often see the physical world as a play-thing and are quick to anger. The Devils on the other hand are depicted as God's Jailors, strictly adhering to rules and regulations with a panache for politics.
I must admit that although I've always been interested in history, historical novels such as those written by Bernard Cornwall have never really grabbed my attention. I guess that part of the reason is that I'm not that interested in the minutiae of court politics and such but also that my knowledge of history is still limited.
Son of the Morning however I found captivating. It didn't matter that I didn't know too much about the period in history or the main players. Not wanting to read about overly detailed historical events didn't matter either. What the author has accomplished here is nothing short of remarkable, providing a rich window into an alternative history that hits all the right notes and doesn't alienate those without a deep knowledge of historical happenings.
The result is a compelling epic fantasy that includes all the rich vibrancy of the period without the boring bits, vivid, perspicuous and convincing - handling the complex courtship of medieval England without dragging the story down. The story itself is also masterfully told and keeps you glued to the pages. It does have the feeling of the epic about it and is enhanced by the historical setting and the confident prose of the author. The writing style is endearing, providing a light-hearted touch that lifts the dialogue and prevents it becoming too serious.
Son of the Morning is triumphal tale, a wonderful combination of engaging, dynamic characters, a rich backdrop and an epic story in every sense of the word.
Written on Tuesday 8th April 2014 by Antony.
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