In a wonderful novel from the depths of the dark ages, we follow the life of a young man, Cerdic, born to a family of warriors. In a time of epic battles, where heroes and warriors reigned supreme, we travel the trails of a group of warriors, hoping only to maintain their hold on their homes. Set in the Kingdom of Northumbria, and littered with places and people both real and imagined, we learn about the times and put faces to the names.
With The Amber Treasure, Richard Denning has written a historical fiction, filled with characters you can draw to. Being born into a family of warriors, Cerdic is the younger son. Knowing his brother will take the sword, Cerdic is given the leisure to spend time with his best friends Eduard and Cuthbert. Leisure is not really the apt word in that time and place as they worked hard and had daily battle practice as a routine — because one day they too would be called upon, to protect what is theirs.
It is during this time that one of the family slaves, a young Welshman named Aedann, is allowed to join in along with another young but angry man named Hussa. Practice is brutal but necessary for this group of youngsters. It is only later that Cerdic learns that Hussa is his bastard brother. Unrecognized by Cerdic’s father, he is angry and bitter, with never much to say, but he learns the way of battle well and quickly. As with Aedann, it is also very unusual to allow a slave to practice battle, and especially this slave, since he was Welsh. The Welsh were the enemies of the Anglo-Saxons and yet Cerdic is able to get into the training.
The sword of Cerdic’s uncle passed to his brother Cuthwine, the next in line after their father. When a group of Welshman attacks their village, Cerdic and his friends taste their first bit of battle. Having been in the woods, they witness the attack and the taking of women and children. Cerdic and his friends are able to rescue many of them, and while they win their skirmish, Cerdic is worried about his own family. Heading home, he is unprepared for the destruction he sees. As he approaches his home he finds that his brother Cuthwine has been killed protecting their home, and his sister Mildrith kidnapped. His father is injured but his mother and younger sister were able to escape. Cuthwine’s sword is taken, as well as the Amber jewels. Awarded as bounty for their family’s part in helping to save the country in battles past, these were a closely guarded secret.
The raid centered on his home and appeared to be due to the presence of the jewels, known to very few. With only a handful of family and servants even knowing about the treasure, suspicion is high, and Cerdic is almost sure the traitor is his young servant Aedann. It colors most of his actions in the coming months. With his father’s injury, it is up to Cerdic, his friends and a group of warriors to rescue his sister and return the stolen items. Little do they know that they are on the brink of war. Can they find Mildrith and rescue her without becoming embroiled in even more battles and death? Can they stave off death and keep their home and land from further war and bloodshed?
The Amber Treasure is a wonderful coming of age novel, full of action and bravado. Cerdic is embroiled in an attempt to find his sister and get revenge for his brother’s death. He is brave with a wonderful group of friends who believe in him. He is brash and sometimes outspoken, but with his youth, his thoughts and ideas are often ignored. We see him grow in this book and Denning does an excellent job of describing him, as you would expect of a boy learning to become a man. He tires of battle and death quickly and yet understands it may be his role in life. He seems wise for his age and it does not take long for many of the battle-hardened warriors to begin to learn to trust him a bit.
His friends are both brave and funny. There is something about both their bravery and antics that is endearing, and makes you want to have friends just like them. The descriptions are strong and you can picture them in your mind as they frantically follow Cerdic’s lead.
The battle scenes are well written. They feel both real and down to earth. The scenery and sounds are described in such a fashion; you can feel the heat and smell the sweat and blood. You can virtually hear the clang of the armor and the snorts of the horses as the battles engage. It is really quite exciting.
The Amber Treasure is a great read for the young adult reader; it is full of historical facts along with just enough fiction to keep it entertaining. A fun and exciting read, it will also resonate with the young at heart reader who enjoys historical fiction with action and intrigue.