It’s such a pleasure today to be joining the blog tour and sharing my review of Echoes of the Runes by Christina Courtenay, published by Headline Review on 5th March and available for kindle, in paperback, and as an audiobook. My thanks to Kelly at #LoveBooksTours for the invitation and support, and to the publishers for my advance reading e-copy (provided via netgalley).
I really was rather excited about this one – although this is Christina’s first book for Headline Review, I’ve been reading and enjoying her books for quite a few years now, and I’ll admit to being a bit of a fan. You’ll find reviews here on Being Anne of The Silent Touch of Shadows (goodness, was that really back in 2013?), The Secret Kiss of Darkness, The Soft Whisper of Dreams AND The Velvet Cloak of Midnight (all links are to my reviews).
But it’s been four years since that last review, and it’s only when I picked up her latest that I remembered how very much I love her books: there’s such an art to writing a good time slip story, with two equally strong stories to capture your attention and imagination, strong characters that you believe in and care about, and Christina Courtenay always gets it absolutely right.
Let’s take a closer look…
When Mia inherits her beloved grandmother’s summer cottage, Birch Thorpe, in Sweden, she faces a dilemma. Her fiance Charles urges her to sell and buy a swanky London home, but Mia cannot let it go easily. The request to carry out an archaeological dig for more Viking artefacts like the gold ring Mia’s grandmother also left her, offers her a reprieve from a decision – and from Charles.
Whilst Mia becomes absorbed in the dig’s discoveries, she finds herself drawn to archaeologist Haakon Berger. Like her, he can sense the past inhabitants whose lives are becoming more vivid every day. Trying to resist the growing attraction between them, Mia and Haakon begin to piece together the story of a Welsh noblewoman, Ceri, and the mysterious Viking, known as the ‘White Hawk’, who stole her away from her people in 869 AD.
As the present begins to echo the past, and enemies threaten Birch Thorpe’s inhabitants, they will all have to fight to protect what has become most precious to each of them…
It’s been far, far too long since the last book from Christina Courtney – and I’m delighted to report that her writing has lost none of the magic that made me fall in love with her books. This is a dual-time story with the most wonderful timeslip elements, very different from anything I’ve ever read before (and not only because of those Vikings) and a totally absorbing read.
Both timeframes feature strong and believable love stories. In the present day, Mia meets Haakon – both are archaeologists – at a Swedish museum, where his attention is first drawn by an unusual gold ring she’s wearing, passed down to her by her grandmother. She’s also inherited her grandmother’s lakeside cottage, Birch Thorpe, and gives permission for an archaeological dig that she joins for the summer as joint leader – fair to say, I think, that there’s nothing particularly appealing to keep her in London, where her relationship is definitely sliding downhill rather fast. And then there’s the historical thread – Hauke, the “White Hawk”, and a raid on a Celtic village reluctantly undertaken and driven by the avarice of his wife, that brings the captured Ceri into his life.
I will admit I’ve never before been particularly drawn by stories with a Viking setting – all a bit bloodthirsty and lawless for me, I thought – but this story with its meticulous research and recreation of an unfamiliar world was totally engrossing. Far from the rape and pillage I’d rather expected, we experience everyday life in a Viking settlement – and the three-dimensional depiction of its sympathetic characters and depth of detail is quite wonderful, deepening my knowledge and understanding of a slice of history and a way of life about which I knew lamentably little.
I also really liked the way the stories mirrored each other, the villains and the children as well as the key characters and some of the dramatic moments – and I guess that’s the point at which I really should mention the timeslip elements. The emphasis here really is on “slip”, and not time travel, and it’s particularly effectively done – a whole series of echoes and reverberations, moments seen through a veil (witnessed by both Mia and Haakon, which I particularly liked), centred on particular locations and “finds”, all infused with that feeling of destiny and inevitability.
There’s an immensely strong sense of place to this book, enhanced by that interaction of “then” and “now” – it was enthralling to watch the present day archaeologists uncovering the details from the past, there under their feet, that were already so familiar from the parallel narrative.
And just a little thing, but I particularly enjoyed the way phrases and expressions in Old Norse are used, sometimes explained and sometimes not, that really added depth and authenticity to the narrative: it’s never entirely necessary to go beyond the page, but there were times when I did rather enjoy some excursions into Wikipedia to find out more.
And I really must say “what a story!” – both threads perfectly paced, full of treachery and villainy and some people behaving particularly badly. This really is a thriller and page turner alongside some satisfyingly stirring romance.
It might be that you’re drawn to this story by the history – or it might be the timeslip, the setting, or the love story. But whatever might attract you, there is so much here that any reader would thoroughly enjoy. I really loved it.
About the author
Christina Courtenay lives in Herefordshire and is married with two children. Although born in England, she is half Swedish and was brought up in Sweden. In her teens, the family moved to Japan and she had the opportunity to travel extensively in the Far East and other parts of the world.
Christina is a former Chairman of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and has won several of their prizes – the Elizabeth Goudge Trophy for a historical short story in 2001, the Katie Fforde Bursary in 2006 and the RoNA for Best Historical in 2012 and 2014 (see below).
Her debut novel Trade Winds, a historical romance and adventure story, was short-listed for the Pure Passion Award for Best Historical Fiction 2011. Her second novel, The Scarlet Kimono, received the Best Historical Fiction prize for the Big Red Read 2011. Her novels Highland Storms and The Gilded Fan both won the RoNA (Romantic Novelists Association Award) for Best Historical Romantic Novel (Highland Storms in 2012 and The Gilded Fan in 2014), while The Silent Touch of Shadows (time slip) won the Festival of Romance award for Best Historical in 2013.
Christina also writes contemporary YA and New England Rocks was shortlisted for the RoNAs in the YA category in 2014. (The second book in the series, New England Crush, was published under a different name – Pia Fenton.)
As well as her novels, Christina has had four Regency novellas published, all available in Large Print and as ebooks.
Her hobbies include genealogy, archaeology (the armchair variety), listening to loud rock music and collecting things. She loves dogs, reading and chocolate.