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Historical Fiction

A Song of Steel by J.C. Duncan | Book Review

I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

A Song of Steel by J.C. Duncan
Published by Self Published on 1 March 2021
Genres: Historical Fiction, Norse & Viking
Pages: 282
Format: ARC, eBook
Source: NetGalley, Publisher
Buy on Amazon
four stars - A Song of Steel by J.C. Duncan | Book Review

Alternate history - 1116 AD. Three hundred years of cruel Viking raids have finally united Christian Europe against the pagan Northlands. A great crusade has been called to pacify the wild Norse kingdoms. The banner of the cross has been raised against the north, and all the power and fury of the west rides under it.
Ordulf, a talented young German swordsmith, is ripped from his comfortable life and cast into the bloody chaos of the crusade. As fate deals him a cruel blow in the lands of his enemies, he will have to forge a new path through the chaos, or be consumed by it.
In the Northlands, three rival kingdoms must unite to survive the onslaught. But can any man, king or commoner, unite the bickering brotherhood of the Norse? Or is the time of the Vikings finally drawing to a violent end. Heroes will fail, kings will fall, and ordinary people will fight for the right to a future.

A song of Steel is a debut novel that heralds epic fantasy in its rawest form.  The story can envelop you like a long lost relative after spending months apart.  Every interconnecting aspect of it just feels right.  From its brutally accurate characterization and its dramatic historic landscape, it’s the kind of story that leaves you grappling for cognitive cohesion.  The immersion and the compulsiveness has you addicted within a few pages.  Duncan’s spellbinding narrative took me hostage and posted my ransom…although, truth be told, I didn’t want anyone to pay it! 

A Song of Steel is just another book that shows that Indie Fantasy is where its at right now.  My kindle only just made it out of the exchange with its life.  The twists and turns and sense of adventure had me turning the page with a frenzied vigor.  Have you ever picked up a story that just spoke to you?  A story that sets your synapses firing.  A story that feels like a bit of history in your hand.  The story felt like a living and breathing entity, it was real, it was alive and the experience of consuming it is exactly why I began reading in the first place.

As stated, before this is a story that I greedily gobbled up.  If you are expecting to read a few chapters at a time, forget about it.  This is a story that will demand to be consumed within a few sittings.  Trying to do anything other than that will be a futile struggle. Norse fiction.  Survival.  Brutality.  Unbreakable bonds.  The prose was outstanding.

We are transported back to the 1100’s, to a world in chaos and dismay, but first we are introduced to modern day characters who come upon some archaeological finds in a river, chainmail and a sword. We are then taken back in time to meet Ordulf, a German swordsmith who is honing his skills.  We see an alternate history – we get a glimpse into the raiding and pillaging, oh and battle sequences and violence galore.  This is where the story truly came to life, I couldn’t help but imagine it on the big screen, the imagery was exquisite.  Every expectation that I had for this glorious tale was exceeded, my brain wanted to explode. 

 A Song of Steel moves forward seamlessly.  The characterization is one of strength and unity.  Things lead to a point of crescendo and then it all hits the fan.  The narrative is laser precise and constantly hits the target.  A Song of Steel feels like an intricate magical spell, it makes you fall deeper and deeper and it more than hit the mark in my favourite sub-genre of historical fiction.

A Song of Steel and its deep immersion into their world was filled with great characters, superb pacing and raw battle scenes had me hungering for more.


A brief history of me.

I have always been, and always wanted to be, a creator of ‘things’. I always enjoyed and took great satisfaction from working with my hands and my imagination. When I was young it was model boats made from wood and glue, airfix kits, K-nex vehicles, bows and arrows made in my grandparent’s garden. As I grew older it was an engineering degree, long afternoons in the workshops making contraptions and gadgets. When I went to my first professional engineering design jobs it was prototypes and mechanisms and products and all manner of gadgets. As I progressed, my professional work became gradually more about management, spreadsheets, meetings, graphs and presentations, audits and inspections. As my career developed, it took me further and further from the thing that got me into engineering in the first place. The desire to create things.

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A couple of years ago, my work went part time, and I realised I had the time, and the opportunity, to do something creative again. I found my way to writing. I have always loved to read, and always wanted to write. But writing alone was not enough, trading one desk job for another. I needed to make stuff, I wanted to make something beautiful and functional, art that serves a purpose. That is how I stumbled across bladesmithing, an ancient craft, truly one of the oldest in all of human existence. Blades were some of the first tools made by living beings, so ancient they weren’t even human yet. The first stone blade was made by our ancestors sometime over 3 million years ago. There is nothing in our history as deeply embedded as the making and using of blades, except, possibly, the hammer. for without a hammer, you cannot make a blade.
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And so I went to a one day lesson on knifemaking, and from the first time I laid a hammer on hot steel, I was hooked. I was stuck, trapped without hope in the art of forming steel into shape, harnessing it to your will. The roar of the forge, the heat, the blows of the hammer and the glowing metal moving around, its completely intoxicating. The class was being run by Steve Nowacki, a champion bladesmith and superb artist. After the first session he came up to me with a knowing grin and said ‘You know you will never escape this right? I can see it, you are already lost.’ I smiled back and lied that I was in control of my own life choices, but I knew he was right, he could see it in me straight away. We’ve been friends ever since, and he is still smug about it.
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When I started writing, I suppose it was inevitable it would have something to do with bladesmithing. My first series, which will hopefully be published in 2021/22, is a saga of a mythical sword, and the legendary warrior-smith who wielded it. Set in a fictional alternate history of the end of the Viking age, against a backdrop of a climactic struggle between the Norse and the Christian states of western Europe, a struggle for conquest and survival. As the Norse world falls apart, a sword is forged that has the future of the people tied to it by fate, and by the gods, or so the seer tells it. Ljós a Norðan, ‘The light of the north’, the sword becomes the symbol of the resistance, but a sword is nothing without a hand to wield it, and from the chaos a reluctant hero emerges to bear it, and gives the people their last great weapon; hope.
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Do not weep for me when I am gone
Do not dwell with tender thought on lazy days gone by
Do not ponder if you could have saved me from the anvil and the pen
For nothing could save fate’s hand from guiding me there again

Do not let your heart grow heavy with love’s lost hope
Do not spend your day’s long hours staring forlorn at the sky

Do not blame the self whose image reflected in the glass you see
For I’m only in the workshop, and I’ll be back in time for tea
A bladesmith’s wife: James Simonds – 2020


four stars - A Song of Steel by J.C. Duncan | Book Review


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