A historic fiction beginning in AD 597 in Britain, BETWEEN
TWO FIRES introduces us to Branwen, daughter of the King of
Dyfedd, as she is about to be wedded off as a bargaining
piece to avert a siege war. She's sixteen, and has never
met the threatening Morgan the Hammer King whose army
awaits the decision.
The two ruling men should be uniting against the invading
Saxon hordes, Morgan believes. Sparing any bloodshed and
creating a kinship is the simplest way to achieve his end
of protecting their Welsh people. However on the way to his
lands of Gwent, the army is ambushed by Saxons. Battle has
reached them more swiftly than anyone expected.
This writing is extremely atmospheric and immersive, with
sights, scents and sounds of the day. Bronwen enjoys
reading in Latin and playing chess, prays dutifully, and
knows the old folk legends of her Welsh lands, but she has
never been trained to defend herself. The twin castles of
Caerleon and Caerwent, still showing Roman influence, will
be her home now - if she survives that long. Aware of
Morgan's plan, their enemies are trying to kill both him
and the bride he has not yet wed. And a ruffian leader of
outcasts, Artagan Blacksword, is also in the Marches.
I found many similarities with 'The Lord Of The Rings'
showing that Tolkien drew from the rich stock of legends
and histories in the British Isles. Poisoned daggers,
rangers, siege warfare and beacons all feature. If you love
Tolkien's world and want to read a non-magical version I
think Mark Noce has nailed it. Interestingly he refers to
the Old Tribes who preferred daughters over sons. On the
other hand, Bronwen knows well that noblemen expect heirs.
I also gained a vivid understanding of what life would have
been like in one of the stone castles, from draughty
windows and narrow turret stairs to the brawling and casual
ill-treatment of wenches in the hall. Bronwen needs to
learn healing arts - as the wife of a warrior king, she is
sure to need them.
I'm seriously impressed by the research, detail and heart-
pounding adventure Mark Noce has poured into BETWEEN TWO
FIRES. Be prepared for the early medieval war romance of a
lifetime. I'm hoping to read a lot more from this San
Saxon barbarians threaten to destroy medieval Wales. Lady
Branwen becomes Wales' last hope to unite their divided
kingdoms when her father betroths her to a powerful Welsh
warlord, the Hammer King. But the fledgling alliance is
fraught with enemies from within and without as Branwen
becomes the target of assassination attempts and courtly
intrigue. A young woman in a world of fierce warriors, she
seeks to assert her own authority and preserve Wales against
the barbarians. But when she falls for a young hedge knight
named Artagan, her world threatens to tear itself apart.
Caught between her duty to her people and her love of a man
she cannot have, Branwen must choose whether to preserve her
royal marriage or to follow her heart. Somehow she must save
her people and remain true to herself, before Saxon invaders
and a mysterious traitor try to destroy her.
Branwen's story combines elements of mystery and romance
with Noce's gift for storytelling.