Sworn Sword is the debut novel of James Aitcheson and is the first in a series that will focus on Tancred a Dinant, a Norman knight who has sworn to avenge his lord, killed in Durham, three long years after the Battle of Hastings. This first book has Tancred and his comrades ‘adopted’ by a new lord, Guillaume Malet of York. With English rebels about to force their way into York, Malet gives the knights the mission of escorting his wife and daughter out of the city to safety in London. There is, however, another mission. They must then deliver Aelfwold, Malet’s trusted English priest, to a nunnery in Wilton where he must present his message. It’s not long before Tancred realises that this is a fool’s errand, that he has become caught in a plot, and he must untangle it before York falls to the English.
The story of Sworn Sword is told to us by Tancred himself and it is a determined quest for money, land, honour and vengeance. Tancred is a complex creation by Aitcheson. In battle he is a blinkered killing machine and there’s no mercy in him. The English and their Danish mercenaries fall under his sword or his horse’s hooves but in those days of calm when he’s fulfilling his mission and oath, his entire aim is to do his lord’s bidding, protect his men and further the Norman cause. As a knight, well trained in courtesy, there is the added complication of Beatrice, Malet’s daughter. But this isn’t simple – Tancred has lost his lord, burnt to death by the English, and his love, slaughtered in the same battle.
Sworn Sword combines chapters of intense action, as Normans confront English and the personal vendetta between Tancred and the English prince Eadger intensifies, with the journey of Tancred and his knights across England. The setting and historical detail are superb and there is more than enough excitement to keep you hooked to the final page. The dilemma comes from the conflict between Norman and English. Aitcheson makes you fall for Tancred to such an extent that you can almost forget that this is a war fought against the English, who have lost everything and are desperate to reclaim their own land. You almost forget, but not completely. Similarly, the mystery, once it’s revealed, is almost an anti-climax due to our split allegiances.
However, the battle to win the reader over to Tancred will continue in the second book. I’ll be sure to read it.