In Richard Denning’s The Amber Treasure (Book One of the Northern Crown Series), a young man’s initiation into the warrior class of his society sets him on a perilous journey, pitting him against merciless enemies and exposing long-buried family secrets. Set in sixth century Saxon England, the coming of age of the hero Cerdic immerses the reader in a vivid, brutal story of revenge and warfare.
The bonds of family and kinship propel much of the action and remain a persistent theme. At the opening, the remnants of the Saxon defense, Cerdic’s uncle Cynric and his companion Grettir, stand against a host of three hundred Welsh men. Cynric valiantly gives his life and fosters a legend surrounding the strength of his sword. Cerdic, inspired by stories of his uncle’s bravery from Grettir and the famous bard Lilla, begins training as a warrior. His friends Cuthbert and Eduard join him, but also two others whose actions will determine Cerdic’s destiny, a slave named Aedann and the warrior Hussa. Both share an equal disdain for Cerdic, yet their reasons are dissimilar.
A brutal attack ravages Cerdic’s village, in which Welsh marauders steal his mother’s priceless amber jewelry, his uncle’s legendary sword and some of the villagers, including Cerdic’s sister. Cerdic’s family questions the loyalty of the salve Aedann, who has gone missing in the aftermath. The Saxons prepare to reclaim their people and property. When Cerdic finds Aedann along the Welsh border, he gives into a foolish impulse for revenge that endangers all the warriors. The enemy captures them and nearly kills their leader in the process. Cerdic soon learns that his assumptions about Aedann are wrong, and that another has betrayed his people. The Saxons escape with many losses but their fight is not over. To turn the tide against the Welsh, rescue their people, the legendary sword and the amber treasure, they risk a confrontation even though they are outnumbered. The ensuing battle is a test of Cerdic’s wits and valor.
Denning’s greatest strengths lie in his characterizations and the ability to convey a vivid portrayal of warfare in all its glory and brutality. The history of the Saxons in England is replete with tales of bravery, often against overwhelming odds. The warrior who defends his land and people is the quintessential hero. Cerdic, who enjoys an idealized existence, is arrogant, anxious and impulsive. His experiences in brutal warfare temper his natural disposition. He suffers at the hands of a true villain, a man who will do anything to guarantee victory, even using Cerdic’s sister as a pawn. The experience shapes Cerdic. Without this challenge, he can never grow. Through it, Cerdic learns about sacrifice, honor and duty to his fellow combatants, and rises to the heroic challenge.