Rating: 5 stars
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Year 687 Christian Era, Britannia, northeast coast
The oldest son of a local chieftan, Caius had his life mapped out to one day take over for his father and his life of farming, raiding, feasting, and sexual conquest. But Caius didn’t want that life and instead left his father’s home to join a local monastery on the rugged coast of the North Sea. Although Cai has never found that true spiritual calling that many of the brothers feel, nor does he hear the voice of God, he is content with the peace and beauty of his life. He has a gentle lover in one of the brothers, a friend in a local woman who teaches him about herbs and medicine, and a beloved teacher in his abbot, Theo, a man of both science and God.
But despite the beauty of the dunes and coastline, danger always lurks at the hands of the Viking invaders who travel across the sea to pillage and destroy. Though the brothers have mostly avoided trouble, one night the small band of monks is brutally attacked by Vikings looking for a treasure that the brothers do not have. Both Caius’ lover and abbot are killed, the monastery virtually destroyed, and the peaceful life he lived all but over. A new abbot is sent, one who is not nearly as enlightened as Theo. This man speaks of hell and brimstone, sets rigid rules and structure, and strikes fear in the heart of both the brothers and the local villagers. Cai has no use for this man and finds himself in the unexpected role of leader to the remaining brothers, determined to teach them to fight and defend themselves against future battles sure to come.
And come they do once again. During the next fight, Cai severely wounds one of the raiders. Somehow he can not just leave this man to die, and ends up taking Fenrir to the infirmary to treat him when the battle is over. The brothers and the new abbot are not pleased to see their enemy being cared for by a fellow monk, but Cai will not let him die. A connection begins to develop between these two men, both warriors at heart. At first Fen is strong and proud and arrogant despite his injuries, sure it is only a matter of time before he is rescued or gets strong enough to escape. But over time Fen becomes part of life at the monastery, both as a partner to Cai and a fellow brother to the other men. The connection between Fen and Cai grows incredibly strong, and they become partners as Cai continues to be the true leader of these men, despite the abbot’s title. But both men feel the demands of their responsibilities to their people, Cai to the brothers and Fen to his tribe back at home who still believe there is a treasure at Fara. Though they have grown to love one another and feel a fierce bond together, their responsibilities may end up tearing them apart.
Sigh. Oh you guys, I can’t even begin to do justice to how wonderful this story is. I lover Harper Fox’s writing and have read many wonderful stories by her, but this is one is easily my favorite. It is so sweeping and epic and lovely, I was engrossed from the beginning and felt myself carried away by this fabulous story. The attention to detail here is just amazing. Historicals represent such a challenge to recreate a time and place in a way that feels real, and Fox manages to do that so successfully here. I can only imagine the research required to capture the setting and the incredible details of daily life of this tiny community along the rugged coast. From life at the monastery, to the herbs and medicines, to the lifestyles of both the Vikings and the locals, to the languages they speak. Every detail is so perfectly captured that I could imagine myself right there among the dunes and cold sea.
And what a beautiful and sweeping romance. Cai and Fen are such fabulous characters, each who have such depth of bravery, loyalty, and devotion. Cai came to the monastery seeking a more peaceful life. He didn’t want to take over as leader of his father’s people, he wanted a simple life of love and learning surrounded by the beautiful land. But instead he finds himself battling raiders and a vengeful abbot, and despite his wishes, the man these brothers turn to for guidance. Though Cai has no desire to lead, he realizes that these men need him, that this is his calling, and he is willing to sacrifice virtually every part of himself to be there for them. He is fascinating in that he is not a true believer in the religion, but he has found his home here with these spiritual men and found peace in the rhythms and routines of monastic life.
Fen is a wonderful character as well. When he arrives at Fara with his fellow Vikings, he has no desire but to kill, raid, and steal the treasure they believe lies within. Even when wounded and captured, there is a fierce pride in his culture and his people, and sense of imperiousness that never really goes away. He is fully prepared to continue killing even as Cai nurses him back to health. But slowly he begins to find his place among the brothers, first watching and slowly becoming one of them. Fen becomes a true partner to Cai, not just a lover but a support system with a strength that helps Cai handle the pressure of leadership. Fen is someone who understands the realities of what they face, who recognizes the burdens Cai must handle, and it is his steadfast love and loyalty that makes it possible for Cai to be the leader that he is.
Whenever I read a wonderful book I find myself struggling with my review. I never feel like I can quite do justice to a wonderful story, that my words are not going to be enough to explain why a book is so good and why I think everyone should read it. But hopefully I was able to give you all at least a taste of this wonderful story. Everything about it just spoke to me. It is romantic and sweeping and epic, with battles and love stories and even a bit of ancient magic. The story just grabbed a hold of me and I was captivated by it. I hope that you will all give this wonderful book a try.