The Short Knife

By Elen Caldecott (Andersen Press)

The Short Knife By Elen Caldecott

Lana's review
An interesting piece of historical fiction during the Dark Ages when there was a war between the Saxons and the Britons.

This story was written very well with a dynamic plot and an interesting story. I found the way of writing with all the different language and words really interesting. The story was intense. It was gripping and full of hopelessness especially how women were treated in those times. No child should live through these kind of conditions.

Unfortunately, I did not love the characters very much. I mean, I can see how the characters worked really with the story. They grew and matured throughout the story. But I did not connect with them more than that.

What I really enjoyed though was the plot twist though it was almost towards the end. I also loved how towards the end, it connected back to the first few sentences of the book. I really liked the way of storytelling, with the 2 different times, and them coming together in the end (it made me read the first page again to see how well the circle closed...) and the ending was really satisfying, I have to admit.

Cyrus's review
The book is set 455AD, when the Romans left Britain after an invasion of Rome, and Britain was left in chaos. Although we learn about the Roman invasion, it is more about the fact that Romans migrated here. I never really considered what happened when they left. I also never really thought about why the Romans left.

I found the main character, Mai, the most interesting because her thoughts are always conflicted due to only the traumatic events that occur during her journey. I did not like the character Algar, the main antagonist, because he does terrible things such as burning the Mai’s home and killing lots of unarmed men.

The main characters would often refer to the Romans and how they made Britain thrive and add to its safety. The book was mostly serious and thought-provoking as we would often read about Mai’s deep-thinking. 

The book makes me want to know who took over in Britain after the Romans left, for example, was it the original inhabitants (and who were they?) or did Saxon rule begin straightaway. 

I would not recommend the book if you prefer fast paced books. However, if you are interested in early history, this could be for you.

Jonathan's review
This historical novel is set in 454AD, England. It brings to life the harsh reality of the life of a young girl called Mai, her sister Haf and their father. The focus of the story is the manner in which the three of them flee from the Saxons who came only to pillage and destroy…

The Short Knife is a unique book as it shares two stories at once; the first about Mai, Haf and their Father, the second about Mai and mysterious women giving birth. We can only guess about the identity of this women and who is the father of the newly born child? This is one of the climaxes of the story as it is revealed.

This book heavily uses techniques such as emotive language and powerful lexical choices. Powerful language such as “he clatter dropped the knuckle bones” giving a sense of violence, surprise and suspense.  This really put emphasis on the fear and terror of being evicted from your home, threated with death and to reach a point where you are so paranoid that you think everyone and everything is against you. This book could be considered to be more of a psychological mind games approach than a clear fit to the historical action genre. This is also further emphasized and shown by the fact the book is written from the first-person perspective, it is Mai’s narrative and her voice that we hear.  This gives us her opinion and perspective to justify her later actions. 

This book is unique, it differs from many other books in its genre, by taking a more modern, and progressive approach, it was written in 2020 but uses language of the time it is set and introduces this with ease to the reader.  The Short knife is directed at teens and a slightly more mature audience. It fit to this audience is due to the slightly more mature themes of being forcibly evited, violence, murder and inference of rape. 

However, despite this contents I found after halfway through I became  slightly tired of the slower pace of the story and with this  the characters started to lose their appeal.  Mai’s narrative started being too detailed and reflective and I wanted the story to pick up its pace. 

If I were able to score The Short Knife I think that the book is worth an approximate 3/5. The rationale for this being due to the fact, it has a unique and interesting premise but it became a chore to read in the latter chapters. I had hoped that the overwhelming amount of detail in the first part would set up a more thrilling and unexpected second part, however I was mistaken, hence the 3/5.

I would recommend the book to others, I think that an adult may been more engrossed in the detail and would suspect that another teenager may decide to stop have way through.

Nicole's review
The Short Knife is set near when the Romans have left England. My favourite character was Mai (main character) because she is extremely brave and has felt a roller-coaster of emotions throughout the book. The reason why I gave this book three stars though is because I have to get through two hundred pages to get the best bits in the book. I would recommend this book to people who lie adventures and learning a little bit about the past.

3 out of 5 stars.

Daniel's review
The Short Knife (Elen Caldecott) is a historical fiction set in 454AD just after the Roman Empire has been left Britain. Mai, who lives on a farm with her sister and father, has been sheltered and is relatively innocent to the real world. That is, until the appearance of Saxon men that bring destruction where they tread. Now homeless and out of their wits, Mai and her family must flee and find a welcoming British community to take them in.

As an avid reader of historical fiction, I really enjoyed the book and following Mai through her journey of highs and lows. I really enjoyed how the story was written by Mai, but from 2 different time periods as that showed Caldecott’s skill in writing and depicting the emotions of characters. 

Mai was an incredible protagonist. Only 13, yet so strong-willed and resilient. It was interesting to watch her mature even more through the trials and tribulations that she faced and eventually conquered.

As Tanya Landman said, I think it was a ‘fascinanting insight into dark and desperate times which I found utterly absorbing. Grim and gritty but ultimately uplifting’.

The Short Knife is ultimately a book that intended for a younger audience (10-14), whoever it can be enjoyed by an older audience. There were a few moments of slightly explicit violence and little to no romance which leads me to believe that this can be enjoyed by all.

Overall, Caldecott’s The Short Knife is a 4/5. A book to be enjoyed by all!

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