'For is it not the wish of every man that his son will achieve more in life than he did?'
OSCAR'S TALE is the story of a Saxon boy who sets out to find and rescue his father who has been taken by Viking slavers. Set in 877 as the people of Wessex are forced to fight not just for their very lives, but for their freedom, their religion and for their right to live as Saxons, Oscar relates all that which befalls him on his all but impossible quest. This is set against the backdrop of King Alfred's desperate attempt to regain his kingdom which culminates in a victory at the Battle of Edington which is very much against the odds. But this is not just a story about bloody battles and fearsome warriors, it's about a boy struggling to live up to his father's reputation as a warrior and trying to find his place in a turbulent and uncertain world. For that, Oscar is forced to confront many dangers, earn the respect of others far above his station and even find love - albeit the cost to him is far higher than most men would have been willing to pay.
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Chris Bishop was born in London in 1951. After a successful career as a chartered surveyor, he retired to concentrate on writing, combining this with his lifelong interest in Anglo Saxon history. He has also published numerous blogs about his work.
His other interests are travel, windsurfing and fly fishing and he's a member of The Historical Writers' Association.
“Killing won’t put food in our bellies…”
Oswald was a storied warrior doing his best to secure a peaceful life for his family in First Century Wessex. Much like any modern-day parent, Oswald seeks to have his child do better and be better than those who have come before him. While regaling his son Oscar with tales of his battles and escapades, he instills in him the belief that fighting and warring don’t provide the type of life he wants his family to lead. At fifteen, Oscar’s only knowledge of the world outside his family farm comes from his heroic father’s exploits. That changes abruptly as the family is subjected to a raid from marauding Norsemen. Oswald implores Oscar to flee and hide with his mother and sister while Oswald and their hired hand stay to face their attackers. Woefully outnumbered, the battle ends in their beating and capture.
“… he’d expect me to a least try.”
Having no idea of how to support his family or homestead without his captive father, Oscar sets out to secure help with obtaining his release. The notion of pleasing his father seems to be the primary motivation for Oscar, and it works in his favor often. Determined to rescue his father from Viking slavery, Oscar enlists the aid of Lord AEthelred and his compatriots Wulfric and Rufus. Trading on favors owed Oswald and his reputation as a warrior, Oscar gains an audience with Lord Aethelred to plead his case. Oscar’s intuitive grasp of strategy begins to shine through as he and Wulfric can gain Lord AEthelred’s permission to launch a rescue attempt for Oswald. Although unused to fighting, Oscar’s aptitude for planning, strategizing, and quick decision-making prove to be the most useful tools in his arsenal and save lives.
“My father says you’re too bold for your own good.”
Becoming the hero and salvation isn’t Oscar’s only excitement away from the homestead. At fifteen, Oscar caught the eye of the beautiful Edwina. Their chaste courtship is a clandestine one to keep her father from discovering that his beautiful daughter and his newest battle planner are engaging in a budding romance. ‘
“At least I’ll die like a true Saxon…”
Pride in family, pride in heritage. Pride pushes Oscar to all but shame others into going forward and running a rescue party for Oswald and other captives of Viking raiders. Perhaps seeing the courage of the young boy ill-prepared for war yet still ready to die honorably avenging his family was the rallying cry the freemen needed. Tasked by Lord Aethelred to dismantle a Viking faction before it could loot and pillage churches and monasteries, many see it as a fool’s errand. The potential reward and the will of their Ealdorman have them all traveling towards a certain fight, but few are happy about the task.
“This is our chance to give them a taste of Saxon vengeance.”
With a strategic plan to use not only the men they brought with them but also the captives, Oscar and Wulfric led their troops in a successful raid. Hostages are freed and Saxon losses are limited. The multi-faceted plan’s success elevates Oscar’s standing among the Fyrd.
“We ignore a man’s insight at our peril.”
One success is not enough to win the war and the Vikings continue to pillage. Rumors of King Alfred’s capture reach the keep and Lord Aethelred is decided a contingency need to pursue the war parties responsible. Even though he once determined Oscar to be an expert strategist, Lord Aethelred is adamant that Fyrd marches into the fray and ignores Oscar’s warning otherwise. The Vill and Lord AEthelred pay the ultimate price for engaging the faction with Lord Aethelred’s death and the overtaking of the Vill and its inhabitants. Wulfric and Oscar flee the melee and go in search of their missing king.
“If the good Lord means you to find King Alfred, he’ll show you the way right enough.”
Find King Alfred they did. Quickly realizing the only way to curtail the onslaught of Vikings was to launch a counter-offensive, King Alfred works with Oscar and Wulfric to plan a many-pronged attack. Skeptics abound among King Alfred’s men however the liege himself throws his trust into young Oscar after realizing his relative Lord AEthelred had done so himself. The challenge proves successful, and the pillaging Norse are given the opportunity to accept Christianity or a fast-track trip to Valhalla.
“Now it’s time to try a new way in the hope that it will lead to peace.”
Peace comes at a cost. For Oscar, it’s the rogue arrow that shatters his leg. The professional acclaim he’s received as a battle strategist has come to an end but also led him to reconnect with the fair Edwina. Edwina’s tale is one of despoil and despair, yet Oscar is determined that she will be his. Oscar’s perseverance and belief in himself will once again lead him forward in being successful at his goals.
Oscar’s story is an understandable and believable tale of pride and perseverance for him and his family. With descriptive imagery and an almost modern feeling dialogue, Chris Bishop’s fictional tale of how history could have happened is an intriguing and enjoyable read worthy of four and a half stars.
“Oscar's Tale” by Chris Bishop receives 4.5 stars from The Historical Fiction Company
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