13 August, 2009

Editor's Choice

Paths of Exile has been selected as Editor's Choice in the August 2009 edition of Historical Novels Review magazine. Here's what the reviewer had to say:

Carla Nayland, Quaestor2000, 2009, £9.99, pb, 221pp, 9781906836092
Paths of Exile is a wonderful story, one that conjures up this long-gone age in extraordinary detail and reveals a profound understanding of its politics, cultures, and religions based on extensive research. It may be true, as Nayland admits, that “solid facts are rare indeed in 7th-century Britain”, but these characters—some real, others pure fiction—are so solid and credible that they will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

There will, I’m sure, be more to come, as this is just the first stage of Eadwine of Deira’s story. He and his loyal companions—Lilla, Ashere, and Drust—escape after the disastrous battle outside Eboracum (modern York) at which Aethelferth the Twister, a powerful ruler from the northern kingdom of Bernicia, routs the army led by Eadwine’s father, Aelle, contemptuously known as “Ox Brains.” Who else would relinquish a stronghold like Eboracum? Eadwine flees south, but as he knows well, there is no a safe haven if you have a price on your head—particularly when loyalty demands that he first solve the mystery of his brother Eadric’s death and then avenge it.

Nayland is an author who confidently weaves together an intricate and thrilling series of subplots, revealing more about the individuals whom Eadwine meets while in exile and the widely diverse groups that occupied areas now so familiar to us. Severa, a keenly intelligent young Christian woman and a healer whose skill exposes her to accusations of witchcraft, is a particularly unforgettable character. One controversial hurdle that Nayland has, to my mind, cleared in every respect is her wholly convincing dialogue that satisfies the modern ear while also distinguishing between the various accents and languages then in use. In all, a compelling tale and an authoritative new voice: one to watch. --Lucinda Byatt

Posted on the Historical Novel Society site (scroll down)

Needless to say, I am delighted! My thanks to the Historical Novel Society and to the reviewer.


Gabriele Campbell said...

Congrats. :)

Nicola Griffith said...

Congratulations! Well deserved.

I read it last month. Loved it. Looking forward to the sequel. (There will be one--or two--right?) Though it's seriously weird to read about the youth of a character who is an actor on my current stage. (Hild is currently 12. Edwin is approaching his zenith as overking of the Angles.)

Rick said...

How cool!

Rick said...

Forgot to add ... was Aelle really, historically known as Ox Brains ???

Makes me think of hapless Aethelraed, whose insulting soubriquet has been turned by time into a completely different if equally insulting one. :-)

Carla said...

Thanks, all!

Nicola - I'm delighted that you liked it! Is my interpretation consistent with yours? In some ways what I'm doing is exploring how the historical Edwin/Eadwine we meet in Bede's pages (and in Moliant Cadwallon) might have come into being. Years on the run with a price on his head must have been something of a formative experience. I will probably stop when Bede takes up the tale - which is probably about where you start? - but there's a good deal more story to tell before then. One of the things that attracted me to Eadwine's exile is that it gives me an opportunity to explore Brittonic kingdoms and society as well as Anglian.

Rick - No, Aelle's nickname is my invention. Insulting nicknames being not unheard-of among the early English, as Aethelraed Unraed could testify :-) Though in the novel the nickname is used of Aelle by his enemies, so a closer parallel might be Napoleon calling Wellington "the sepoy general". Whether he deserves it is a separate issue. Aelle isn't a major character, so it's interesting that he gets a mention in the review.

Kathryn Warner said...

Congrats on a terrific and well-deserved review, Carla!

Rick said...

Whether he deserves it is a separate issue.

Valid point! (Poor Aethelraed, so far as I can tell, plausibly deserved both.)

Carla said...

Alianore - thank you

Rick - well, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle certainly thinks so :-) There is probably another side to the story (there usually is), but I think it can safely be said that Aethelraed was not the most effective of kings. One interesting thing is that the English state still continued to function reasonably efficiently, even with the un-respected Aethelraed at the helm. He reigned for 38 years, and the kingdom didn't fall apart. This may well be demonstrating the emergence of the bureaucracy that allowed government to more or less carry on working even when the king was completely hopeless.

Annis said...

Congratulations, Carla. Great to see 'Paths of Exile" getting the reognition it deserves. I've just been re-reading it, and if anything enjoyed it even more the second time around-- always a good test of a story!

I think the fact that English bureacracy trundled on so effectively for centuries, regardless of whomever happened to be reigning, has to be credited to the efficient systems set up by the remarkable King Alfred.

Meghan said...

Congratulations, Carla! That's amazing and you totally deserve it!

Constance Brewer said...

Awesome review. Congrats! :)

Carla said...

Annis - that's one of my criteria for a good story, too! I often pick up things on a second reading that I missed first time. Glad to hear you're enjoying Exile second time around!

Alfred was indeed a remarkable man and must have had astonishing foresight to set up systems that carried on finctioning efficiently for so long. Some of the shires he set up stayed as administrative units until the local government reorganisations in the 1970s - that's over a thousand years!

Constance, Meghan - thank you.

Rick said...

Bureaucracy is a greatly underrated institution! One further sign of its effectiveness is that Billy the Bastard took it over intact.

And essentially the reason the Anglosphere does not use Roman law is that, by the time of its revival on the Continent, English legal officials had already worked out a sophisticated legal framework and so no need to replace it. (Wonderful that we use Latin terms like habeas corpus for purely English-grown legal concepts that Cicero never heard of.)

Nicola Griffith said...

Carla, your Edwin is nicer than mine :) That is, I like him more than I like mine.

I begin around 617/8 when Hild is 3 and Edwin is retaking Deira and Bernicia. Now I'm in 626. By this point Edwin is a paranoid overking who uses anyone and anything to hand to extend and strengthen his position.

My main theme is change: small kingdoms merge; Christianity seeps through society dyeing it a new colour; a British population becomes culturally Anglisc (yeah, I know I'm not using consistent grammar--one of the perils of trying to convey historical concepts with the language we have today, sigh).

And the centre of everything is, of course, is Hild, an exceptionally bright child in an exceptionally difficult position: a pawn who takes charge of her own destiny and changes the course of history.

There's no romance--at least not in the genre sense.

Right now I'm getting cross with all the conflicting dates in various annals, and all the Irish names that look the same (to me) and are impossible (for me) to pronounce. But I'm having enormous fun.

Carla said...

Rick - Exactly. William must have been hardly able to believe his luck. I've seen it argued that having a highly efficient and centralised bureaucracy had the double-edged effect of reducing the chance of setting up any effective resistance, because there were no significant regional power bases to speak of.
The Latin legal terminology is presumably because Latin was the international lingua franca among the educated elite all across Europe.

Nicola - I'm dealing with Eadwine/Edwin when he was much younger. By the time he's survived exile and made himself king and over-king - and held the job down for 17 years - he will have done a good many things that aren't so nice. I haven't forgotten that Moliant Cadwallon sees him in, ahem, a different light than Bede, and my guess is that he probably deserved both to some degree. (Some of the seeds should already be visible in Exile).

The conflicting dates can be a nuisance. I suspect a lot reflect the ease with which a Latin number can be mis-copied, or a clerk can mis-count the lines in an Easter table and end up with 9 or 11 years in a decade. I end up laying them all out, trying to reconcile them where I can, and where I can't either picking the one from the earliest and/or most reliable-looking source or picking the one that suits the story best.

Have you ever read Wolf Girl by Theresa Tomlinson, by the way? It's a YA mystery set in Whitby in Hild's heyday. Hild is a secondary character but a memorable one, and she does a certain amount of changing the course of history there, too :-) At one point a character describes her as "a woman who was capable of anything", which is roughly how I've always imagined her. That sounds broadly consistent with your interpretation?

Nicola Griffith said...

Ooh, no, I've never even heard of Wolf Girl. But now I can't wait to read it.

Yes, Hild, by the time she gets to be boss nun, will be a ruthless and magnificent creature, capable of anything. Though (generally) wielding her power for (long term) good. () = Important qualifications.

Wow, it's so good to find someone to *talk* to about all this...

Carla said...

My review of Wolf Girl is here, with all the details. I daresay Amazon.com will be able to oblige with a copy if you like the sound of it.

Feel free to email me if you'd like to - there's an address on my blog profile and website. I'm always up for a discussion on this sort of stuff :-)

Nicola Griffith said...

Oh, I've already ordered a copy of the book--can't wait. (I'm looking forward to seeing what she makes of Begu, who has a prominent role in my novel.)

I might take you up on that email offer at some point...