Over seven years, each member of the trio reacts in different ways to their new low status, trying stay together as they’re sold or traded to different masters and mistresses, some tolerant and some cruel. They aren’t static characters, and this is just one of the novel’s strengths. Sunwynn grows into a beautiful young woman hemmed in by her circumstances; Deorlaf becomes restless and seeks revenge on his family’s captors. As they mature, the story provides them with viewpoints of their own. Some of their mother’s choices make them uneasy, but Leova acts as she does to ensure their survival.
Good historical fiction can serve as a bridge between our time and days long past. With its beliefs in protective charms and forest nixies, the Saxons’ culture feels vastly different from our own, but everyone will recognize a mother’s fear and strength. Children of this time need to know the world’s realities, and Leova doesn't spare her son the truth about why they need to escape Eresburg: “If we return home now, the invaders will rape me and Sunwynn – and jam their rods up your backside.” In contrast, some other elements are toned down. There’s quite a lot of muttered cursing in the novel, which will please those looking for a profanity-free read; others may find themselves curious about the presumably more colorful expressions that were omitted.
The plot smoothly winds through Charlemagne’s vast empire, from devastated Eresburg above the Diemel River in central Germany to the royal court at Aachen to a church in Rennes, in the March of Brittany. Details on the changing scenery and customs are well integrated. Although the conflicting religious beliefs of the time are highlighted, over time the novel becomes less a story about the Saxon gods’ failed power and more a tale about the strength of individuals and families – and the power of love to heal wounds. This makes The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar not only an authentic-feeling representation of a distant era but one relevant to here and now.
The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar was published by Fireship Press in August in paperback ($18.50, 376pp) and as an e-book ($5.50). I received a NetGalley copy of this title for review. See the publisher's website for more stops on the virtual tour.
To read the first chapters of either novel or learn more about Kim, visit kimrendfeld.com. You’re also welcome to visit her blog Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at kimrendfeld.wordpress.com, like her on Facebook at facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld, follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld, or contact her at kim [at] kimrendfeld [dot] com.