THE TRIBUTE BRIDE
When his lands are flooded and the year’s crops destroyed, Acha’s father, the ageing king of Deira, is left unable to pay the tribute demanded by Athelfrid, the powerful ruler of the neighbouring kingdom of Bernicia. To avert war, he decides to send away his daughter as a peace-weaver bride. Athelfrid already has a queen, but she has given him no heirs, so Acha’s role is that of a secondary wife, struggling to find a balance between her own desires, and her need to keep both Bernicia’s king and queen content.
The Tribute Bride is a standalone novel, and was published in April 2014.
Historical fiction set in a time period I’ve never read about? A strong heroine making the best of a really tough situation? A look at obscure ancient cultures? Yes, please, to all of the above! 😀 The story follows a princess of Deira during the lead-up to the founding of Northumbria (which was once comprised of the kingdoms of Deira and Bernicia), and takes place over the course of about twelve years; a pretty long time, where a great deal happened.
The book is actually quite short, though (around 250 pages), which was the cause of my only real issue with it: The pacing is all over the place. In some places, there were a lot of long, drawn-out sections where nothing much was going on; but in others, the plot felt incredibly rushed (particularly near the end of the book, where there were time-skips galore).
The main character of the book is Princess Acha – a real woman, though apparently only mentioned in one historical source, and then only in passing – and most of the story is told from her very interesting perspective, as both wife and captive to Athelfrid. She’s a very strong character, and the challenges she’s faced with, and how she chooses to real with them make her both relatable, and very likeable.
Other important characters include: Athelfrid himself, who is a delightful mix of charming and tyrannical; Bebba, who made a great antagonist in the very early parts of the book, and was wonderfully fleshed-out as it continued; Megan, Acha’s elderly nursemaid; Donal and Finn, two fellow hostages in Bernicia with whom Acha becomes friends; and her brother Edwin, who became very significant towards the end of the story.
In terms of characterisation, my main problem was that – again, probably because the book was so short – many of the characters felt under-developed, and only had very fleeting parts in the story. For instance, a lot of time was dedicated to fleshing out Bree and Megan, but Clover and Emma, Acha’s other two companions, were almost entirely silent characters – often present, but never saying much, or given anything resembling personalities. Similarly, Edwin was a great character at the beginning of the book (and, like I said earlier, at the end) but in the middle section he seemed almost entirely forgotten. He and Acha even made an oath to one another before she was sent away, symbolised by locks of their hair plaited together, and promised to carry it with them always, but while Acha seemed to draw great comfort from it at the beginning of her journey, by the time they met again I had almost completely forgotten its existence.
Acha is able to form a lot of different bonds during her time in Athelfrid’s court, but most of them do not have any significant impact either on the story, or on Acha as a character. There are a few exceptions, however, and the most important of these – to my thinking, at least – was her relationship with Bebba, Athelfrid’s first wife, which starts off quite antagonistically (as you might expect), but develops beautifully as the story goes on.
Her relationship with Athelfrid is also quite a prominent part of the story, but it’s not really a romance; there’s physical attraction between them, but nothing like love, or even friendship – and certainly not trust. The balance of power between them is also skewed tremendously in Athelfrid’s favour, and it’s interesting that although Acha is aware of her own importance in Bernicia after her marriage, she always thinks of herself as a hostage.
Lastly, Acha has wonderful relationships with both her brother (who, though he’s not often physically present, is often in her thoughts) and her children (for whom she’s willing to give up anything), which were really well developed, and wonderful to read about.
This book was incredibly well-researched. I’m not a historian, and I know almost nothing about the Anglo-Saxon period, but she managed to pain an incredibly intricate scene of Acha’s world and the challenges that she faced, and particularly of the importance of the gods in her society – it’s the carlin (the High Priestess of “Goat-Headed Freya”) who has the final say on whether Athelfrid may marry Acha… She also included a list of her sources, which was a very nice addition for people like me, who like to know exactly how much of their historical fiction is purely fictional.
For the most part, the writing was quite good; both engaging and easy to follow, even with all the (inevitable) unfamiliar words. There were, however, a couple of things that really bothered me: Firstly, Tomlinson didn’t seem to be able to decide how to spell many of the names of her characters, and while I know that there are often lots of different interpretations of the names of historical figures (particularly those from societies with very different writing systems), I would have expected her to just pick a spelling that she liked and stick with it, if just for the sake of consistency.
The other, thing that annoyed, me was that, there were a huge, number, of, unnecessary, commas. Not as bad as in that last sentence, of course, but my point stands. This isn’t something that would necessarily bug everyone, but poor punctuation is a pet peeve of mine.
OVERALL IMPRESSION [3/5]
A solid, and throughly-researched historical novel, which looks at a rather obscure period of history through the eyes of an unconventional heroine. Overall, it was a very interesting read, with a few great relationships, but an unfortunate number of the characters were quite difficult to connect with, and the writing was not the greatest I’ve ever come across…
Fans of Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Eagle of the Ninth trilogy (and probably her other work as well; these are just the only ones I’ve read), Marcus Sedgwick’s The Dark Horse, or Joanne Harris’ The Gospel of Loki.