During the savage Frankish-Saxon wars, the moving force of his age, Karl der Grosse, King Charlemagne, fights and rules like the pagan enemies he seeks to conquer. But in the long shadow of war and genocide, a spark of enlightenment grows, and the king turns to learned men to help him lead his empire to prosperity.
One of these men is the unlikely young warrior Sebastian. Raised in an isolated fortress on the wild Saxon border, Sebastian balances his time in the training yard with hours teaching himself to read, seeking answers to the great mysteries of life during an age when such pastimes were scorned by fighting men. Sebastian’s unique combination of skills endears him to Charlemagne and to the ladies of the king’s court, though the only woman to hold his heart is forbidden to him. As the king determines to surround himself with men who can both fight and think beyond the fighting, Sebastian becomes one of the privileged few to hold the king’s ear.
But the favor of the king does not come without a cost. As Charlemagne’s vassals grapple for power, there are some who will do anything to see Sebastian fall from grace, including his ruthless cousin Konrad, whose hatred and jealousy threaten to destroy everything Sebastian holds dear. And as Sebastian increasingly finds himself at odds with the king’s brutal methods of domination and vengeance, his ingrained sense of honor and integrity lead him to the edge of treason, perilously pitting himself against the most powerful man of his age.
This fast-paced adventure story brings Charlemagne’s realm to life as the vicious Christian-pagan wars of the eighth century decide the fate of Europe. Filled with action, intrigue, and romance, Sebastian’s Way is a riveting and colorful recreation of the world of Europe’s greatest medieval monarch.
I was eager to read Sebastian’s Way, by George Steger when it was offered, since the late 8th century during the reign of Charlemagne is a fascinating era. Told in third person, it’s a largely external read, without much internalization on the part of the characters; we get to know them primarily through their actions and dialogue, rather than what is going on inside them.
In simple, uncomplicated prose we follow the life of the hero, Sebastian, from childhood through his formative years. He is protected and guided by his bold and savvy mother, Ermengard, who is determined her son, though destined to become a warrior, will not become a mindless brute. Sebastian is mentored by Attalus, who, in a nice twist, turns out to be more than he seems.
Sebastion’s nemesis is his older cousin Konrad, a lusty and vicious warrior, and in a long-standing familial enmity, his rival for the stronghold of Fernshanz. Sebastian also inherits a blind wiseman sidekick in the form of Heimdal the hermit. Charlemagne is impressed with young Sebastian when he meets him, particularly with Sebastian’s desire to learn, and so he sends him a teacher in the form of a larger than life priest, Father Louis, who offers up a few nuggets of earthy spiritual clarity early in the novel.
The Saxon Chieftain Windukind is all you would expect from a savage, pagan foe, dressed scantily in skins and astride a rearing and dancing stallion, we first meet him as Charlemagne sends Sabastion with an expedition in search of the mysterious and illusive pagan seat of power known as Irminsul, which the king is determined to destroy.
The prose was too consistently prosaic for my reading tastes, which lean toward literary. The battle scenes lacked the grittiness that would have lent them a greater adult reader appeal, though for YA readers they are perfect: The character of Sebastian espouses high morals, and does not take killing lightly. World building was nicely woven into the narrative. Early on I was bothered by the mention of metric measurements of distances, which I believe would be an anachronism during the time period – being more likely furloughs, or leagues. But the characters are likable, the story is a fun, quick, unchallenging read, and future installments in the series promise adventure. This novel should probably be marketed as YA. I feel it would be a good addition to school libraries to be enjoyed by teens curious about the era.
I read and reviewed this novel for Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Giveaway: if you’d like to win a copy of Sebastian’s Way, The Pathfinder, please leave a comment, and include your email address. Giveaway ends February 12th. If you tweet this link, include me @Literarydaze and Amy Bruno @HFVBT, to be entered twice!