This collection contains five short stories:
‘Holy Water’: a grief-stricken noble orders his servant to execute the statue that crushed his wife to death.
‘Farewell to a Foreign Shore’: a Norseman muses on his first raid as he sets sail from the same shore.
‘Odin’s Mirror’: after years of fighting against the end of his way of life, a jarl accepts that the gods have truly settled among the Norse.
‘From the Sea’: a messenger struggles to reach Athens through a land filled with portents and creatures.
‘Sir Cai, the Shining Knight’: a knight perfect and gentle arrives at the Court of Arthur. His every act adds to his reputation, but what secret lies behind his refusal to remove his armour?
While Knighton’s voice is both consistent throughout the book and fully accessible to modern readers, each story is filled with little touches of character and period tone. As such these feel like five unique narratives told by a person of the time.
This mix of common frames of reference and specific details is similarly present in the events and background descriptions, creating a strong sense of realism without forcing readers who are not experts on that area of history struggling for context or meaning.
Where Knighton does deviate from this foundation of history, he does so with restraint, choosing to make one change from the real world and expand the consequences out. The more speculative stories therefore retain both the accessibility and sense of being a segment of an ongoing world, rather than relying on the sheer fact of difference for their interest. In addition to making it easy for the reader to find their footing in the world, this avoids the stuttering from one thing to another that some short stories can suffer from.
This choice to focus in detail on part of a greater world might also result in some readers feeling unsatisfied: some stories – while forming complete arcs – are brief. As such, this book might serve better as a diversion than an extended distraction.
Overall, I enjoyed this collection. I recommend it to readers seeking a stories with a strong sense of history who also enjoy the occasional speculative fancy.