Book Review: Anvil of God by J. Boyce Gleason

It is 741. After subduing the pagan religions in the east, halting the march of Islam in the west, and conquering the continent for the Merovingian kings, mayor of the palace Charles the Hammer has one final ambition. The throne. Only one thing stands in his way - he is dying.

Charles cobbles together a plan to divide the kingdom among his three sons, betroth his daughter to a Lombard prince to secure his southern border, and keep the Church unified behind them through his friend Bishop Boniface. Despite his best efforts, the only thing to reign after Charles' death is chaos. His daughter has no intention of marrying anyone, let alone a Lombard prince. His two eldest sons question the rights of their younger pagan stepbrother, and the Church demands a steep price for their support. Son battles son, Christianity battles paganism, and Charles' daughter flees his court for an enemy's love.

Based on a true story, Anvil of God is a whirlwind of love, honour, sacrifice, and betrayal that follows a bereaved family's relentless quest for power and destiny.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Image credit: J. Boyce Gleason / iUniverse
Before I get into the review, I should just point out that the formatting of this book didn’t make it easy to read at all! For some random reason, no ‘th’ in the entire book showed up, so I had to guess words and names (‘the’ became ‘e’, for example). Plus the paragraphing was all messed up too. I don’t know if that’s Netgalley’s fault or the fault of the publisher (it could be just because it was an ARC, or because I have the original Kindle rather than one of the newer models) but either way, it was really off-putting.

Now, onto the review.

To be honest, it reminded me more than a little of Game of Thrones. The basic plot was the same, with everyone fighting to become king/mayor and rule the kingdom. Even some of the places and characters drew comparisons – Charles and Tywin, Sunni and Cersei, Trudi and Brienne, Boniface and Littlefinger… I could go on.

There were so many characters and places (many with awkward or similar-sounding names) that by the end of the book I still didn’t have everyone straightened out in my mind! It was also a slow-burner. I didn’t really get into it until the end and I think a lot, especially at the start, could have been cut. It was quite long (440 pages) and not everything was necessary. A lot of it (i.e. the battles and the politics) I didn’t understand enough or wasn’t interested enough to care. Personally I would have liked more of the Christianity vs. Paganism storyline and less focus on the battle of succession.

However, the fact that it was all true to life is what made this book for me. Without it, I wouldn’t have been interested enough to give it any more than a Goodreads two-star rating (as it was, I gave it three stars). I really liked that everything was historically accurate (obviously with some artistic license) as possible. The author clearly did his research, and I appreciate that. It’s also nice because it’s teaching me about a period of history I know very little about in a fun and entertaining way.

The thing I liked most about Anvil of God was the attention to detail and the characterisation. Every single one of the characters really drew me into their lives and their stories, making me care about even the minor characters. They were all multi-faceted and intriguing – lifelike, but then I guess that’s easier when you have a real historical story as your basis to work from. It was hard to distinguish a distinct ‘baddie’ character because they all had good and bad points, and you could understand and sympathise with every character, which is one of the ultimate hallmarks of good writing. For every flaw or fault, there was a redeeming feature. No-one is ever truly evil through and through – it’s impossible – and Anvil of God recognised and addressed that.

I thought Hélène was a very interesting yet unexplored character – I would have liked to have learned more about her. However, my favourite character was undoubtedly Charles’ daughter Trudi. She’s a strong, independent woman who follows her heart and her desires rather than conforming to convention or expectation, and I like that. Like her Game of Thrones counterpart, Brienne of Tarth, she isn’t afraid to forge her own path and do what she thinks is right. Sadly female characters like these two are rare in historical fiction (or at least historical fiction dating from the Medieval ages and backwards) and even rarer in real stories from this era. Because of this, Trudi is a refreshing change.

The frustrating thing is that I want to find out what happens next in the series after reading this book. Although there’s no current release date for the second book in The Carolingian Chronicles series (I don’t even know if the author’s writing one!) I hope that this story gets continued. The only problem is, if a sequel ever does get published, I don’t know if I’ll be invested enough to bother when there are so many other books I could be reading instead.

Rating: 3 stars.

Anvil of God is available to buy now.

Will you be reading Anvil of God? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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