Early Middle Ages Historical Fiction

Augustine Came to Kent

Book cover: 'Augustine Came to Kent'
Author(s): 
Barbara Willard
Copyright: 
1963
Publisher: 
Bethlehem Books
Binding: 
Sewn Softcover
Number of pages: 
179 pages
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Historical fiction account of the mission of St. Augustine of Canterbury to bring Christianity to England in 597, as seen through the eyes of a young boy accompanying the monks on the journey. While not as fast-paced as other Bethlehem Books titles, the story really brings the era to life and is a very good tale besides - full of little insights into human nature, Christian ideas and heroism.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
11-6-99
Reviewed by: 

Beorn the Proud

Book cover: 'Beorn the Proud'
Author(s): 
Madeleine Polland
Copyright: 
1961
Publisher: 
Bethlehem Books
Binding: 
Sewn Softcover
Number of pages: 
185 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

While I believe that textbooks are useful tools in the study of history, they tend to quickly lose the interest of the student if used alone. "Living books" work well when read alongside history textbooks because they bring to life the characters and events related - engaging the imagination and helping the student to more fully understand the signifiance of the people and events being studied. Beorn the Proud is such a story - an exciting, dramatic tale, full of real characters and accurate historical information. Beorn is the arrogant young son of a 9th century Viking chieftain who captures Ness, a young Christian girl from Ireland, and takes her onboard the Viking ship as a slave. While we see the Viking raids and lifestyle through Ness' Christian eyes, Beorn has no idea of how Ness' influence will change his life dramatically. The contrast presented between the Christian God and the Norse "gods" is very well-done. Ness' conversations with Beorn highlight the nobility and goodness of our "gentle" God while helping the reader see the importance of knowing their Faith in order to teach it to others.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
11-12-99
Reviewed by: 

Citadel of God

A Novel about Saint Benedict
Book cover: 'Citadel of God: A Novel about Saint Benedict'
Author(s): 
Louis de Wohl
Copyright: 
1959
Publisher: 
Ignatius Press
Binding: 
Sewn Softcover
Number of pages: 
345 pages
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Citadel of God is set in Italy of the early 6th century. The Roman Empire is decaying. An Ostrogoth king, Theodoric, is marching in triumph to occupy Italy. A young boy, ward of the respected Roman scholar Boethius, rushes in to stab the barbarian conquerer with a stylus in defense of Old Rome and is rescued from death by a young scholar from Nursia who is called Benedictus.

Against this backdrop, the novel goes on to tell of the lives of Boethius, who becomes governor for the king in spite of his patriotism for the dying Rome; Peter, the young would-be assassin and patriot, who grows up to become a conflicted Byzantine ambassador; and Benedictus, who becomes appalled by the corruption in Roman society and retreats into the wilderness to become a hermit. Eventually he founds several monasteries and travels to Montecassino. He drives out pagan sorcerers, works miracles and founds a monastery that truly became a "Citadel of God" that stood against paganism and Arianism, while the scholar Boethius is jailed and executed by the increasingly paranoid king, after writing The Consolation of Philosophy.

This book is strongly and vividly written, telling an epic tale of several famous lives intertwined during this unstable and critical time in the history of Christendom. The reading and interest level are suitable for ages 14 and up; however, the emotional maturity level may be somewhat higher. There are a couple of scenes, as when a Roman lady tries to seduce the young Benedictus, or a corrupt Christian priest converses with his mistress, that though not overly graphic might be unsuitable to some young readers.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
3-26-01
Reviewed by: 

The Little Duke

Author(s): 
Charlote Yonge
Copyright: 
1923
Publisher: 
Lepanto Press
Binding: 
Sewn Hardcover
Number of pages: 
240 pages
Subject(s): 
Review: 

This is a charming and very Catholic story of young Richard of 10th century Normandy. His father, the Duke of Normandy and a devout Christian, is cruelly murdered by a rival nobleman forcing Richard, at the tender age of eight, to become the new Duke in a time of political upheaval. Initially he finds his duties terribly boring and desires nothing more than to spend time with some jolly playmates.

As the story unfolds, Richard slowly matures in the face of the dangers and uncertainties of his position. This is particularly evident during his semi-captivity under the King of France where he learns more fully the truth of the Christian virtues that his father and the good abbot had tried to teach him. He becomes a good judge of character as he learns to recognize flatterers from true friends. Catholic virtues are especially evident in the good people of Normandy who pray and do penance for the sake of their Little Duke.

The story is a little slow in the beginning, but picks up quite nicely after a few chapters. This edition is beautifully bound in red with gold lettering and contains lovely black and white illustrations and very readable larger text.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
10-17-01
Reviewed by: 

Viking Adventure

Book cover: 'Viking Adventure'
Author(s): 
Clyde Robert Bulla
Illustrator(s): 
Douglas Gorsline
Copyright: 
1963
Publisher: 
Thomas Y. Crowell Company
Number of pages: 
117 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

This book tells the story of Sigurd, a young Viking boy who hears his father tell tales of adventures sailing to far lands and longs for adventures of his own. It looks like his dreams may come true when his father's friend Gorm comes to his home and tells of his plan to sail for the legendary land of Wineland, west of Greenland.

The adventure soon takes an ominous turn as the ship encounters storms and the fears and dreams of the ship's owner, Halfred, who wants to turn back. The quarrel reaches a pitch between Gorm and Halfred, with murderous results that change Sigurd's life forever.

This book is one of many historical adventures written by Clyde Robert Bulla, and it is fast-paced and exciting like his others. Because of this, it might be a good book for an older reluctant reader. There is an interesting sub-plot about the value of the written word - at the beginning Sigurd refuses to learn to read and write because he doesn't see the point in his warrior culture, but in the end he changes his views when he has a valuable story to tell.

The terse style and fast pace is reminiscent of Norse sagas, and the lesson - that it takes hard work to become strong and skilled, and that even a warrior culture needs readers and writers - is a good one for a young person struggling to become literate. The reading level is probably about 2nd or early 3rd grade. I recommend this book for children ages 6 and up - a younger child could probably understand it, but might be upset by the fact that several main characters die during the course of the story.

Review Date: 
3-26-01
Reviewed by: 

Belisarius

Author(s): 
Paolo A. Belzoni
Copyright: 
2006
Publisher: 
Arx Publishing
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
239 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

I have to admit that I had high expectations for this book! I had been looking for something for this time period for more than a year. And, thankfully, my expectations were well met . . . this is a great new resource for those of you “reading your way through history.”

Belisarius was a general under Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. He was renowned as a virtuous and courageous leader who accomplished great victories despite unsupportive and even imprudent superiors. Without him, Justinian’s reign could not have been as long-loved and illustrious.

This novel deals with the early life and military career of Belisarius. It begins with a young Belisarius and his mother successfully surviving a raid by the Huns. He then grows up training as a soldier with his father while obtaining a solid book education as well. He is portrayed as a devout and virtuous young man who has natural leadership skills and keen military understanding.

When he enlists as a soldier, he doesn’t always have an easy time of it, but makes his way through the political intrigue of the times and is well respected by all those who serve with him. They are ready to follow him when he is appointed to one leadership role after another, until finally he is named a general.

What I really like about this telling of the story is that it is not a white-washed version of the times, or of Belisarius. His virtue is portrayed sensibly without making him appear overly perfect. He is an appealing character, one the reader sympathizes with and roots for. He is often put in situations that appear impossible; many obstacles - from incompetent fellow commanders to conspiring politicians - frustrate his purpose. But, while he is not always victorious, he acquits himself well and his honor increases.

The author weaves in a great view of the historical time period in Byzantium: the state of the cities, “the factions,” the movement and assimilation of the barbarians, and the politics of the Empire. The descriptions of the battle scenes are not dry and incomprehensible (as in some military biographies), but very readable and interesting. The author also includes diagrams of several of the battle formations showing how each side was arrayed and ready to engage. This helped tremendously when trying to visualize the battles. A glossary of definitions is also provided. I found this to be essential since the names used to describe the army in this novel are “eastern” instead of Roman and were unfamiliar to me. For example, instead of a Centurion being in charge of 100 soldiers, the title is Hekatontarch.

Serving the cunning Emperor Justinian is not always easy for Belisarius, and there is a lot of foreshadowing that things will not always go well in their relationship, but as this story ends, Belsarius gains an important and decisive victory over the Persians and Justinian is satisfied. I await Book 2 with great anticipation . . . and a little dread if I am right about the foreshadowing.

Recommended for 8th grade and older. (Some of the battle scenes get a little gory, so keep that in mind if you have sensitive readers.)

Review Date: 
11-2-06
Reviewed by: