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Son of Mercia

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Member Reviews

The opening of the novel sets the scene of a turbulent and unstable way of life. Conflict, strife and war are in abundance. Mercia is left, after the death of Beornwulf, to be governed by weak and non battle-seasoned warriors. It does not bode well.
I enjoy how the narrative is shared mostly from the perspective of Icel. In a society where being a warrior or a skilled craftsmen, such as a blacksmith, Icel does not fit in. He detests violence, and instead he feels in himself a calling to heal. It is clear that he does not know something about his past even from the early chapters of the book, as he is frequently scorned by those around him, and not just for shirking his duty to do what’s considered ‘women’s work’. Some of Icel’s background is unveiled to us readers via another perspective in the book, which is a nice touch in helping us understand the circumstances, whilst keeping Icel ignorant. 
This tumultuous situation is laid out for the first third of the book, at which point, events come to a point that put young I saw and the rest of Tamworth in danger. This is transformative for Icel. He always retains hatred for violence, but his exposure to danger increases tenfold and forces him to challenge himself in new ways.
I like Icel’s perspective throughout the book because we view the events of the novel through a lens which is not dissimilar to our own. The narrative is set in a time when men are expected to become warriors. Valour, honour, and domination are expected and it is difficult to pull off a narrative from a character of this nature and keep them relatable to the audience. It’s not impossible; I’m a huge fan of Bernard Cornwell‘s The Saxon Stories series (a.k.a. The Last Kingdom), and any fans of those books will really appreciate this book as it offers a similar setting (9th century Britain). It differs in that it focuses on the power struggles within English factions.
If you love history then the world-building in this book is something that you can really get behind. Every care is taken to set the scene of a politically turbulent England. At the same time, this is well-balanced with a wide range of characters that complement the story. There are a lot of characters that come and go throughout the book but I wasn’t confused by this. The author does a fantastic job of reminding us of who is who wherever relevant, which is a great help in following the interwoven storylines!
The pace of the narrative is enjoyable too. There is action and world-building aplenty, so neither is neglected. It makes for a great standalone novel, but if you are as invested as I am after reading it then you will want to follow and continue the series as I do!

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An epic tale of war, danger and treachery, historical fiction fans will love M J Porter’s Son of Mercia.

The kingdom of Mercia is in jeopardy. King Beornwulf is dead and the many years of infighting between the nobles and cross border wars have left the kingdom exposed. Lives are at stake and there is danger round every corner and ruthless adversaries driven mad by power will do whatever it takes to destroy this kingdom. King Ecgberht of Wessex cannot afford to lose any more time. He needs to strike now in order to exact his revenge on the kingdom and he cannot dally – so he orders his warriors to strike and to make sure they leave nothing but chaos and devastation behind them.

King Wiglaf has claimed his right to rule Mercia, but does he have what it takes to unite this fragmented kingdom? With Wessex baying for blood and desperate to get his hand on his land, will Wiglaf emerge victorious in this battle against a terrifying rival intent on destruction? Will Wiglaf manage to keep Wessex at bay? Or is Mercia destined to be destroyed and decimated?

M J Porter’s Son of Mercia is an exciting, action-packed and unpredictable historical novel pulsating with royal intrigue, political chicanery and heart-stopping tension that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. M J Porter has created a world full of larger than life characters that come to life from the moment they appear on the page leaving readers absolutely glued to the pages of Son of Mercia.

The first title in a captivating new series, M J Porter’s Son of Mercia will go down a treat with readers who like bold, enthralling and evocative historical novels.

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The author takes us to 9th century Mercia, a once powerful Anglo-Saxon kingdom. But due to personal ambitions of a line of kings, she finds herself at the mercy of her neighbours: the scheming East Angles to the east, and emerging Wessex to the south, chomping at the bit, ready to absorb this ancient kingdom in its dream to unite the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

As Mercia's ineffective kings try to defend their positions, we stay with young Icel, a boy who is keen to learn the craft of healing. Taught by the crone, Winflaed, he assist her whenever injured warriors or sick locals need them. We learn Icel's mother died at his birth, and his father is unknown – an intriguing slant to his personal story.

But when the current king, Wiglaf, flees in the face of a Wessex attack, and the enemy approaches Tamworth, Icel's uncle, Cenfrith, takes him and his friend, Edwin, on a perilous journey fraught with danger and tension.

The setting feels authentic. The author has studied the era well. We get a real sense of it in the small details, down to clothing, weaponry, household goods, and healing herbs. This all helps us travel back in time to experience live in early 9th century Mercia.

The pace is slow at times, especially early on, when we witness a number of kings vying for position, only to find themselves killed or fleeing. It picks up halfway through the story, though, as tensions escalate and Icel is forced to face his fate.

Son of Mercia is a new series, and this first book sets the scene nicely, introducing us to the main characters and their lives. Brave Cenfrith, who, despite personal misgivings against the kings stays true to Mercia; young Edwin, who wants nothing more than become a great warrior, and Icel, who finds his life turned upside down.

Son of Mercia is an enjoyable adventure set against the Kingdom of Mercia's desperate fight to maintain her independence through the eyes of an unusual and interesting main character. I'm looking forward to reading the next in the series.

Note: I received a free ebook copy in exchange for an honest review. All views expressed are my own.

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I just finished reading Son of Mercia. It didn't sound like my cup of tea; however, the author offered me a review copy. I'm so happy that she did, as I was absolutely engrossed by the story.

Son of Mercia covers the adventures of an orphaned boy named Icel from A.D. 828 through A.D. 830. Icel doesn't know his parents, or what misfortune befell them; however, his uncle, Cenfrith watches over him. Icel has been apprenticed to the healer, as he has no desire to be a warrior.

During this historical period, kings of small principalities are constantly warring with each other. It seems like a comedy of errors when Icel finds himself oath sworn to King Wigleaf and handles himself well on the battlefield.

I really enjoyed this book, and would highly recommend this title to lovers of early historical fiction. I can hardly wait for the second book in the series, Wolf of Mercia. I hope that M J Porter will gift me a review copy of this second book.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was gifted a free digital copy of this title for review by M J Porter and Net Galley.


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Posted as part of the blog tourI’m a fan of MJ Porter but being prolific with the releases I find it hard to keep up ha! I jumped at the chance to get onboard with this new series early!

The story follows young Icel whose past is shadowed in mystery.. his mother unfortunately died and he’s never known who his farther is so he’s been raised by his uncle Cenfrith. Icel has trained in the arts of healing but there’s something in him just waiting to come out.

King Ecgberht is looking to expand his reach and senses weakness in Mercia. He’s right I guess as King Wiglaf seems to disappear but why? And have we been given the full story?

When King Ecgberht descends Icel is forced to flee to safety with his uncle and his friend Edwin. Along the way Icel learns a little of past events but only what his uncle allows. Will he ever learn the full truth?

What happens next was the most amazing few chapters I’ve ever read! I can’t spoil it but Cenfrith is an amazing character who supports Icel and keeps him safe. When the opportunity comes for Icel to save Mercia he sets out to find King Wiglaf.

The tension mounts and battle commences.. it’s time for Icel to learn more about himself than he ever thought possible.

Son of Mercia is a real coming of age tale for Icel as he learns what kind of man he’s destined to be… although there’s certainly more to come.

I can’t give this anything less than 5*. The plot was astonishingly gripping. I’ve struggled the past few months to devote time to reading but I was hooked as soon as I picked this one up and it’s helped me fall back in love with books again.

What a cracking read! I look forward to more!

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Unfortunately, this book just reminded me of many other books that did similar things, but much better. The writing is clunky and it was hard to care about any of the characters or plot because of it. I'll refrain from rating on Goodreads, but this book didn't work for me at all.

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This is a brilliant read, I just couldn’t put it down and finished it in just over a day! In Tamworth, the capital of Mercia in 826AD, the kingdom is in trouble when King Beornwulf is killed in battle. Icel watches as a new king takes his place, but can the new king stop the invasion of the Wessex, and is Icel’s part in the future of Mercia more important than he thinks.

I enjoyed this book from the first pages. Icel is an interesting character, being only eleven when the book begins in 826AD. With Icel narrating all but one chapter in the book we follow him as he works hard learning how to be a healer while watching the rising problems of rule in Mercia. I liked Icel’s character from the start, the fact that he wants to be a healer unlike his friend Edwin who wants to be a warrior, makes for interesting reading. I enjoyed how this book progresses through several years, each part initially taking place in the summer of subsequent years until Icel is a teenager.

What happens to Icel and some of the other characters is interesting and I like how things move on from Tamworth and what happens with Icel and his uncle as they later leave and have to fend for themselves in the middle of nowhere. I liked this journey the characters went on and how Icel slowly grows as a character, experiencing the fear and gore of some fighting and his point of view as wanting to be a healer rather than a fighter. I have to admit to working out a secret that was revealed about Icel in a later chapter, quite early on, long before it was revealed via a different character’s narrated chapter, but this didn’t bother me as I had hoped it would play an important part in the story.

The story narrated from Icel’s point of view kept me glued to the pages, always wanting to read just one more chapter! As the story moves towards the ending, I did like what happened and did honestly expect Icel to respond the way he did. I like how this story is a bit of a coming-of-age tale about Icel, all taking place during the battles Mercia faced. The story ends well for him, it was a satisfying ending, mostly, although I did wish there was something more revealed at the end. There were a couple of opportunities for characters to reveal something to Icel about his past or their secrets but it felt like this was either saved for a future book or not seen as important in the end. I do wish this book had a bit more detail in that respect but after reading the author notes and knowing that Icel is a young version of a character in one of the author’s other books, I’m now curious to know if anything is revealed about him in those books or in future ones in this series.

There are a few uses of the s swear words and some milder ones, not too many though. There are also some descriptions of violence, battles and details of some injuries and deaths. This may seem a bit gory but I found it less gory than some books I’ve read of a similar time period, though there is a lot of blood and other bodily excretions! There are author notes at the back of the book which are interesting to read and show how realistic some aspects of the story actually are. There is also a map at the start showing you the key parts of Mercia and the surrounding area at the time.

Overall I have really enjoyed this book. I liked Icel’s character from the start and knew he would go on a difficult journey to become more than just a healer, but I like how his story begins and how everything works out for him in the end. The descriptions of battles and what was happening were good, and there were some descriptions of the area, but if I’m honest I would have liked even more descriptions of the scenery and area to really immerse myself a little more in the 800s AD setting as it’s sometimes hard to picture something so far back in time. This is a good book though and I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of the series in future!

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Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with a free version of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Set in the British Isles in the early 9th century, Son of Mercia centres around Icel, a young man who doesn’t know his parents and has been raised with another family. He’s decided to become a healer, not a warrior like his friend Edwin and to that end, spends most of his time assisting the local wise woman. Unfortunately, none of this drives the story. Instead, the machinations of the local kings propel events, and, as Icel never rides out with the warriors or joins his uncle on one of his special missions for the king, the reader isn’t privy to the driving events of the plot. As a healer, Icel is stuck on the sidelines, and as the reader, we're stuck in Icel’s head. All this means there's a huge gap between the reader and any dramatic action or tension. We just watch the movers and shakers ride out, and then, in another chapter, ride back in. Then we're told what happened and why it's significant. There is a lot more “telling” in this book than “showing.”

The book is written in the first-person, present tense, which isn’t necessarily bad but isn’t used well here. This tense puts the reader into the main character's head, emphasizing their emotions and internal life. In a book like “A Handmaid’s Tale,” set in an authoritarian world filled with suspicions that encourage people to live in their heads, first-person present adds a sense of claustrophobia and introspection that greatly enhances the story. Here, in Son of Mercia, it doesn’t really add anything because the story is still a traditional historical fiction with an emphasis on the trials and tribulation of third parties, specifically, the kings of Mercia and Wessex.

Being an observer of the larger political story needn't be a bad thing. A character-driven story can be very compelling. Yet despite the fact we’ve got a front-row seat to Icel’s inner thoughts or feelings, nothing revelatory or dramatic seems to come of it. He has no love interest or desires or passions other than being a good healer. Even that isn’t necessarily bad. Icel’s wish to just heal people could still be filled with tension and drama. After all, the medical drama has been a pop-culture staple for years, but there’s none of that here. People come, are healed and leave.

Things change a bit in the last third of the book. Icel is forced to go on the lam, but again doesn’t do much but tend the sick. A girl seems to catch his attention, but I say “seems” because, despite being in his head, we never really hear what he thinks of her on an emotional level. He describes her, seems nervous around her, but never actually thinks about her the way you’d imagine a teenager would about their crush.

The final chapters — punctuated by a long battle scene that’s mostly just stage-management and so devoid of any tension — see massive changes in Icel that are definitely intended to get you to read the next book. Unfortunately, for me, these dangling bits of plot made me feel that Son of Mercia was just the longest prologue I’d ever read. And these last-minute changes are not well done. Icel goes from zero to hero in the space of a couple of chapters. A lot of the questions the author wants to intrigue you with are easily guessable. I don’t think I’ll be buying the next book.

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Perfect for fans of The Last Kingdom, Bernard Cromwell, etc.

This story takes place in ninth century Britain around a squeamish young man, Icel, who vomits at the sight of guts and is unfortunately on the run for his life. With his best friend Edwin and his uncle to aid in protecting from raiders and warring neighbours, it turns to young Icel to forage for food and herbs to keep them nourished and healthy. But when Edwin is left behind to join a de-throned king’s fortress, and Icel’s uncle is injured and feverish, Icel feels alone and useless in protecting himself. Does the Medieval world have a place for a boy who can’t fight?

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As this is the first book I have read by M.J. Porter, I didn’t know what to expect when I came into this book, I only knew that I loved the sound of it and the cover was incredibly eye-catching. Yes, I am that shallow and go on how attractive book covers are. LOL!

Sons Of Mercia has a real coming of age/young adult feel about it, it’s not a hugely heavy read. I have read books set in this era before and I have thought at times they have been heavy and long-winded, but this wasn’t like that. It’s got the historical richness and brutality that you would expect from the era, but it’s a lot lighter than I expected it to be and that made for enjoyable reading.

The characters are great, each one brings something to the story I really liked Icel isn’t your stereotypical Anglo Saxon, I enjoyed the subplot surrounding his parentage and history but what I really loved is the village healer aspect of the story, which fascinated me.

Despite my personal issues with never being able to pronounce names (why do Saxon’s have to have such complicated names?) I really enjoyed this book. I liked how easy it was to read, the plot is intricate and compelling, the writing is so clear and exciting you are pulled into the story and swept away in the adventure, I did feel as though the first part was a little on the slow side but once the action kicks off you see the author was building the story up for a gripping and interesting finale, a finale which leaves you questioning hat will come next.

This is incredibly detailed, the author’s descriptions of battles, settings characters are richly immersive and vivid, it is a little bloody and gruesome at times, but again we are talking about an era where they settle feuds with swords and dicing up body parts so that’s to not a surprise, it may be a little too much for those who aren’t a fan of this genre. But as I said earlier in this review, I do think it is a lot milder than most in this genre.

Overall, a great start to what is set to be a thrilling and gripping new series.

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Son of Mercia by MJ Porter is a surprisingly accessible story, taking place in the 800's in Mercia, at that time one of the kingdoms found in England. It's been a rough few years with one kind abdicating (or being pushed out) and others following in quick succession. The new kings didn't seem to understand what their jobs were: some didn't even fight. It was a raw and violent time with a constant battle for leadership, mindful of the childhood game, Kind of the Hill. Along with a new king came a new queen, and sometimes a new heir, although that wasn't really the way it worked then. Icel led a simple life, working with Wynflaed, the crone who was the healer for the community. He ran errands, hunted herbs, mixed potions and meals, and generally did as he was told. His uncle, Cenfrid, strolled in and out of his life as the battle for Mercia raged on and Cenfrid was a soldier. He had not father and no mother. He didn't even know who his father was.

The latest king had abandoned Mercia and Cenfrid felt it was time to leave, before the king of Wessex came and took the land. He, Icel, and Icel's friend, Edwin, packed what they could, took Cenfrid's horse, Wine, and hit the road, seemingly with no destination in mind. Edwin was a warrior-in-training. Icel was not. They avoided people as they could except for Cenfrid's irregular trips into villages for supplies. They lived off the land. This was a relatively accurate view of life in the Dark Ages. It was no fun, it was not clean, and it was certainly not safe. Porter has written it all down: the misery, the insecurity of life, the fights for power. Death was nearby at all times. Icel told the story so we see life through his eyes, the eyes of a frightened teenager with no home And yet, with all the darkness, Porter has written this amazing story of a young man coming of age, with the world, not as it at seemed, and opening up before him. I enjoyed it.

I was invited to read a free e-ARC of Son of Mercia by Boldwood Books, through Netgalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own. #netgalley #boldwood #mjporter #sonofmercia

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I liked this book. I had a hard time getting into it, mostly I think because I wasn't in the mood for the story. But overall I found it interesting, well written, and there were some pretty good battle scenes.

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Book Review “Son of Mercia” by MJ Porter


Son of Mercia

Tamworth, Mercia AD825.

The once-mighty kingdom of Mercia is in perilous danger.

Their King, Beornwulf lies dead and years of bitter in-fighting between the nobles, and cross border wars have left Mercia exposed to her enemies.

King Ecgberht of Wessex senses now is the time for his warriors to strike and exact his long-awaited bloody revenge on Mercia.

King Wiglaf, has claimed his right to rule Mercia, but can he unite a disparate Kingdom against the might of Wessex who are braying for blood and land?

Can King Wiglaf keep the dragons at bay or is Mercia doomed to disappear beneath the wings of the Wessex wyvern?

Can anyone save Mercia from destruction?

Purchase Link –


Son Of Mercia is an extraordinary book. I was thoroughly drawn in from the beginning and my attention was held right to the end. I will absolutely be awaiting the next book in this new series with eagerness.

The story is told from the main Character, Icel’s point of view. We learn about the life and struggles taking place Mercia. The subsequent kings that take, what they feel is their rightful place only to make things for Mercia and it’s people ever worse.

Icel is a young boy being cared for by his uncle, His Mother died in child birth and he does not know who is Father is. No one else appears to know either. We do find out but I am not going to spoil that revelation but does Icel ever learn the truth? would he really want to? he is a caring young boy helping the old woman healer prepare her medicines and potions. He watches her closely and learns a lot ftom her as she tends to wounded warriors returning from battles. This knowledge proves helpful to Icel as his journey into manhood continues.

MJ Porter skilfully portrays the hardship felt by Icel and his brother Edwin. Edwin is not really his blood relative but they are brought up together. Edwin wants nothing more than to be a brave warrior, whilst Icel is content with his healing. He compares himself often to Edwin and admires him greatly, but is betrayal round the corner? The writing is wonderfully descriptive and holds the readers attention. I found myself caring about Icel and willed him to find a life that he wants.

The author’s notes are really interesting and shows the extent of the research into this era that MJ Porter has gone to and this shines through his writing. I have always loved historical fiction surrounding Scottish Clearance Novels and Irish history and for me the Son of Mercia is right up there with the best of them. This is a well written, well rounded story that takes you on a journey of a child, becoming a man and living in treacherous times. He has to survive not only betrayal but a great loss along the way and I can not wait to see what becomes of Icel. Based on true historical facts alongside some artistic licence, Son of Mercia is an entertaining story of Anglo-Saxon history with a damn fine story thrown in.

Author Bio –

MJ Porter is the author of many historical novels set predominantly in Seventh to Eleventh-Century England, and in Viking Age Denmark. Raised in the shadow of a building that was believed to house the bones of long-dead Kings of Mercia, meant that the author’s writing destiny was set.

Social Media Links –

With thanks for the Advance copy for a #Blogtour to….

Rachel Gilby

MJ Porter

Boldwood Books

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My thanks to the Author publisher's and NetGalley for providing me with a Kindle version of this book to read and honestly review.
Well written and researched with excellent characters throughout, atmospheric descriptive with a real feel for time and place. It's the coming of age story of Icel who wants to learn the ways of healing unlike his contemporaries, who train as warriors. Action wise the story is a slow burner, though engaging and interesting throughout, but when it comes to our heroes debut in the shield war it's gripping and gruesome in equal measure. There is also the underlying mystery of Icels heritage, hopefully more will be revealed in book two, which I look forward too.

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𝙅𝙪𝙨𝙩 𝙡𝙞𝙠𝙚 𝙢𝙮 𝙪𝙣𝙘𝙡𝙚'𝙨 𝙛𝙧𝙖𝙞𝙡𝙩𝙞𝙚𝙨, 𝙈𝙚𝙧𝙘𝙞𝙖 𝙞𝙨 𝙬𝙚𝙖𝙠𝙚𝙧 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙣 𝙄 𝙗𝙚𝙡𝙞𝙚𝙫𝙚𝙙 𝙝𝙚𝙧 𝙩𝙤 𝙗𝙚. 𝙄𝙩'𝙨 𝙧𝙪𝙡𝙚𝙙 𝙗𝙮 𝙢𝙚𝙣 𝙬𝙝𝙤 𝙢𝙖𝙠𝙚 𝙨𝙩𝙪𝙥𝙞𝙙 𝙙𝙚𝙘𝙞𝙨𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙨 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙖𝙘𝙩 𝙧𝙖𝙨𝙝𝙡𝙮. 𝙄𝙛 𝙄 𝙬𝙚𝙧𝙚 𝙝𝙚𝙧 𝙠𝙞𝙣𝙜, 𝙄 𝙬𝙤𝙪𝙡𝙙𝙣'𝙩 𝙧𝙪𝙡𝙚 𝙖𝙨 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙮 𝙙𝙤.

🌿The book - 1st in The Eagle of Mercia Chronicles series - is set in the anglo-Saxon time period, when the once-mighty kingdom of Mercia, now exposed to her enemies from 3 sides is struggling for its sheer survival.

Mercia AD825. Icel, an orphan boy, unaware of his parentage learns the art of medicines from a healer Wynflaed. Over the years he witnesses 2 of Mercia's kings die on the blades of Athelstan of the East Angles' men, while the 3rd, Wiglaf has surrendered his kingdom to the might of king Ecgberht of Wessex rather than die for it. As Merica is doomed to disappear beneath the wings of the Wessex Wyvern, Icel's warrior uncle Cenfrith rescued him from Tamworth and they took refugee in the woods, awaiting Wiglaf to save Mercia from destruction. But can he do that alone and what part Icel will play in his endeavor? To know that you have to read the book.

🌿MJ Porter had written so many books, but this one is my 1st read by him and I'm sure it's not the last one. Initially reading the synopsis I thought it will be told from the POVs of Mercian royalty, but I must say the choice of Icel, a non-royalty is better paid off.

🌿The entire story is told from Icel's first-person-narrative; it is through his eyes we came to know about the history of Mercia, see the rise and fall of its kings and experience the power struggle with its neighboring kingdoms, which not only makes the narrative intriguing for me but also compensate the slow build-up and lack of actions in the beginning.

🌿Reading the author's note I came to know Icel is not a new character; he had already made an appearance in his other books and this one is his coming of age story. It's his character development from a healer who saves lives to a warrior who takes lives that rooted me till the last. Other characters like his uncle Cenfrith, his friend Edwin and the old healer Wynflaed are also equally engaging.

🌿The climax was satisfactory; the last few pages were just awesome where you finally get to read some action scenes. But some mysteries remain unanswered, so I'm eager to see where Icel's story will take him in the next book.

Overall, Son of Mercia was a wonderful read. If you're into historical fiction and love the Anglo-Saxon time period, I highly recommend reading this book.

𝙈𝙮 𝙍𝙖𝙩𝙞𝙣𝙜: ⭐⭐⭐⭐✨(𝟒.𝟓/𝟓)

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With Bernard Cornwell finishing his Last Kingdom series, I've been looking for a replacement. It's been found with MJ Porter's Son of Mercia. Set just a few decades before the time of King Alfred, we have an insight into the times before Alfred set out to unite all of England, and the main threat lay with each kingdom instead of hordes of Vikings.
We find the main antagonist, Incel, at Tamworth. Preferring to spend his time gathering herbs for the herbwoman and to learn the healing arts over swordcraft. Living in the Mercian Kings castle, he lives with his warrior uncle, the only family he has left.
Caught up in the wars that ravage the land between the 4 kingdoms, Incel finds himself fleeing from Tamworth to live as a fugitive with his uncle & best friend. Soon all the carefree times as a child are shattered as he is forced to learn the arts of war to survive. We follow him across the length of Britain. At each point discovering more about Incel's history and his ties to the Kingdom of Mercia.
By the end of the book, Incel emerges as the warrior his uncle always saw and what Incel never wanted to be.
VERDICT: 4/5. A brilliant read from beginning to end, full of action and intrigue. A must read for Bernard Cornwell fans. A real insight into the history of the land that would become England

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In this immediate and personal tale, MJ Porter recounts a sensitive, reluctant hero's coming-of-age within a Dark Age realm riven by chaos and conflict.

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This is Coming out in a few days.
This is a action pack historical soon to be series. I have been reading a lot of historical fiction books lately and this was a well written and entertaining book. I am looking forward to seeing the next book in this series.

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I did not read this blurb before I began. In fact, I went into the book completely blind, other than loving the cover. They say never judge a book by its cover, but to some extent we all do it. This one is lovely.

I will get my niggly negative out of the way immediately, as it is a matter of personal choice and may well not affect other readers. Simply: I do not find the first person present tense easy to read. I am comfortable reading in first or third person, but usually in past tense. That being said, Son of Mercia is well enough written that after a while I found myself not only accepting the tense, but actually appreciating some of the immediacy it lends the story.

Son of Mercia takes place entirely in what is now the English midlands region (ancient Mercia, surprise, surprise), centering largely on the capital of Tamworth but with cameos of other places including Offa’s Dyke. Much of the action, however, takes place in the wilderness. Recorded knowledge of Ninth Century England is sparse enough that much of what we need to picture of the world of the novel is born from our imagination, nudged in directions by the skilled author. The milieu Porter builds is vivid and realistic, familiar and deep, the detail teased from our own imagination by the writing.

The history on which the story is based is recorded in chronicles, as we learn in the author’s note, but, just like the Roman texts I use, these chronicles are subject to spin and bias, and so in order to build a realistic view of the world in which the tale is set, sometimes it is necessary to bridge gaps in logic. Porter is fortunate, perhaps, in having chosen a character and a series of events that directly affect this history, while largely taking place in the unrecorded periphery. This allows her to narrate great events while telling a much more personal story, the two becoming closer and closer aligned as the tale goes on.

What of the characters, then? The principle character is a young man named Icel, related to a renowned warrior, but himself tied to a well known healer as her apprentice. As political and military disasters unfold, and Mercia stands on the brink of oblivion, facing rule by the King of Wessex, Icel’s uncle, one of the king’s warriors, decides the time has come to flee this foreign control, He takes Icel and another young warrior and rides away, seeking somewhere to stay out the way. But over the many months hiding, events gradually conspire to pull them back to the world.

What really grabs me, character-wise, in this book, is Icel’s character. In Dark Age/Early Medieval novels there is a propensity to make every major character a warrior, hard as nails and invincible. Icel is not one of these stereotypes. He is a passive, pacifistic, nervous, quiet academic sort, low born and unimportant. As such he is a true breath of fresh air as a protagonist. Indeed, the freshness of this is not confined to Icel. His companion, the young would-be warrior is a frustrated, untrained lad, and even the uncle, who is clearly a great warrior, seems to spend much of the book undergoing repeated treatment for horrible wounds. He is a great warrior. He fights, he kills and he survives, but he does not walk through it all untouched. He suffers through it.

Another aspect I enjoyed is the small detail. This is evident in much descriptive of locales, of structures and of the landscape and nature, but nowhere is it more evident than in the treatment of medicine and surgery. I am used to Rome, which is a strange mix of magic/folk cures and actual true medicine. The Dark Age healing Icel and his teacher display here are a mix of herbalism and folk cures, but there is less true medical and surgical knowledge now, and time and again a wound is completed with searing closed and hoping. That being said, the knowledge of herbs, poultices and natural cures and their application is excellent, and gives the book all the more depth and colour.

In short, Son of Mercia is a profoundly personal book, centering on believable and sympathetic characters, telling us of momentous events in 9th century Britain through the eyes of the nobodies on the periphery. The story at times seems more an introspective personal journey for Icel than any kind of saga, but as the tale progresses, and politics drag our characters back into the crucible, war is inevitable. The battle scenes are as as deep and personal as the rest of the book, and no lover of Dark Age warfare is going to be disappointed.

Son of Mercia is personal, real, fascinating and satisfying. It is out on Wednesday 16th, but you can preorder your copy now.

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The Kingdom of Mercia, once great, is weakened in the early 9th century by a series of defeated kings. Icel, an orphan, grows up learning to be a healer, unlike his friend Edwin who wants to be a warrior like Icel's uncle Cenfrith. Then Ecgberht, King of Wessex, conquers Mercia and Icel, Cenfrith and Edwin flee Tamworth.

This started promisingly with an unusual hero, the boy would-be healer. There were heavy hints about his ancestry and why the then queen disliked him. By page 42 I knew who his father was. It slowed down a lot for a lot of backstory, who's who and so on, which was probably necessary when writing about a period most people don't know about, but made it heavy going.

And it's slow. It's not until a third of the way through that anything really happens, when the three flee Tamworth. All this time it's just been little story after little story, with Cenfrith being all tight-lipped and grumpy whenever he's asked questions, which gets a bit boring after a while.

Halfway through, we suddenly jump into someone else's head for an info-dump about Icel's mother. Until then it's been first-person from Icel's point of view. Seven pages later we're back in Icel's head again and stay there, which makes the break even more jarring.

By now I was heartily fed up with Cenfrith never answering any questions. It's repetitive and frustrating. Why not cut all these constant no-information scenes? I was bored with Edwin' sulking, too. Let's have some plot-driven action or, preferably, some answers!

I don't want to drop in any spoilers, but three-quarters of the way through Icel finally was forced to do something all by himself and within days he made up for the long wait by suddenly stopping being inept at, and terrified by, fighting and became a ferocious warrior so that he could help his uncle, all in the space of a few hours. Apparently this was what he was born for. Who could possibly have guessed?

The book ends with mysteries and secrets unanswered, even the one it's possible to work out from practically the beginning of the book. I'm guessing this is because it's the first of a series, but it makes the experience of reading this book annoying and frustrating.

Still, I did learn a bit of history.

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