Tomorrow we have a real treat for you: two Christian dads, one a pastor and one a teacher, who both happen to write books for young people. William Boekestein and Douglas Bond, together in one podcast, chat with Emily about the value of historical fiction, reading in the gospel light, and reading classics with your kids (just in time for our Hobbit Read-along!). We’ve reviewed books by both men in the past, and not coincidentally, both of them have new books to offer. Emily will review Bill Boekestein’s on Thursday, but today we’ll look at Hand of Vengeance—historical fiction with a twist.
Hand of Vengeance, by Douglas Bond. P&R Publishing, 2012, 190 pages. Age/interest level: 12-up.
On the island of Lindesfarne, at the edge of a semi-savage Anglo-Saxon village, a woodcutter makes his home in a wrecked Viking ship. Cynwulf is the result of a raid on his village by the Danish hordes some twenty-odd years before, and as a bastard and a half-breed he is viewed with some suspicion. But as a warrior he’s valuable to the settlement, who count on his strong ax-wielding arm to help defend them in raids. Cynwulf’s best friend is the crippled monk Godwine, a pitiable-looking figure who nonetheless bears his infirmity with intelligence and good cheer.
The mists of time lie heavy over Ango-Saxon Britain—aside from Beowulf and the real King Arthur, we know little about it. Cynwulf’s village is barbaric, barely evolved from “Nature red in tooth and claw”–but a civilizing process has begun, slow but relentless. It stems from the nearby abbey, and the pages Godwine copies and illuminates with a loving hand. The gospel is having its effect on this remote village as well as the mainland, and will eventually temper Cynwulf as well. For now he’s trying to master his tender feelings for the fair Haeddi, a task made more difficult when his wolfhound Chester mangles one of her geese.
Soon enough, though, he has a bigger problem on his hands when the body of Haeddi’s father turns up, its head split by Cynwulf’s own ax. Hand of Vengeance is a classic murder mystery, with red herrings, additional corpses, circumstantial evidence, and courtroom scenes. The later stretches credulity a bit, especially with the cries of “Objection!” from the prosecution, but the story pulls readers in with enough twists and turns to keep them guessing until near the end. Along the way, they’ll learn a lot about village life in that hinge of time between Roman occupation and Christendom, when the gospel of Jesus Christ was taking hold of a savage culture and building an unprecedented civilization on it. We can see this happening in Cynwulf’s own person, as the conversation of his friend the monk softens his heart and extends that softness to Haeddi. Younger readers may get fidgety with the romantic parts, but nothing shows the change in a man’s heart better than how he treats a woman. That’s as true today as it ever was, and a 12-year-old warrior-in-training could benefit from the reminder.
As a family-friendly read-aloud or a solitary diversion on a long autumn evening, Hand of Vengeance should please. (Full disclosure: I wrote a blurb for it.)
- Worldview/moral value: 5 (out of 5)
- Literary value: 3.5