Why is Kent?

(no, this isn’t about the politics 🙂 )

There’s Sussex, Essex, Wessex and Middlesex. There’s East Angles, split into Northern Folk and Southern Folk – and, once, there were even Middle Angles. There are counties and kingdoms with such undoubtedly English names as Surrey and Mercia. Why, then, in the middle of all this Germanic toponymy, is Kent not called something like “Jutland” or “East Jutia”?

Etymology will tell us that the name “Kent” comes from the Briton word for “edge” or “corner”, which in turn gave the name to the Iron Age tribe of Cantii. In Latin, it was variously rendered as Cantia, Cantium or Cantiacum. The Germanic settlers called it Centrige and Kentland. But etymology is not the same as explanation. After all, Sussex is not called “Reginland”. Essex is not “Trinovantia”. Norfolk is not “Ikenware”.

The Kingdoms of Angles, Saxons and… Kents?

Something happened in Cantium that was different from everywhere else. The myths and what little history we have written about the beginnings of “Anglo-Saxon” settlement in Britannia tell us that it all started there – with Hengist and Horsa, and his Jutes landing on the Isle of Thanet. It’s a convenient legend, but we know there is some truth in it. More, probably, than in the legends of Aella and his son Cissa conquering the southern provinces with his three ceol-fuls of Saxon warriors, or in the muddled origins of the Western Saxons, jumping about from the Welsh marches to Winchester and Salisbury with little regard to geography and chronology.

My books are a fiction, based on guesswork. Until we find some ancient copy of the lost Chronicles of the Kingdom of Kent, all we have to go on are those less precise tools of a Dark Age historian: myths, archaeology, toponymies and etymologies. After all, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was written in Wessex, hundreds of miles away and centuries after whatever events in Kent made it keep its Briton name when all the land around it took new names from the Saxons. It is a wonder that any rumour of what happened made it to the chronicle, even if only in form of a brief snippet of a legend of Wortigern and the two brothers.

Hengest and Horsa survey their muddy domain

That there was no “invasion” we know from archeological record. No great battles as described by the chroniclers, and no brutal conquest, wiping out entire native population. But I’d like to think there was something more to Kent’s good fortune. I’d like to think – and it is what I propose in my books – that Kent was a unique experiment in the early history of England. That in Kent, the Germanic settlers and the Briton natives not only lived side by side in peace, but dealt with the difficulties of that age of chaos together, that they shared the burden of the time of upheaval that ravaged the rest of Britannia, and the Empire beyond. That the reason why Christianity was welcomed first, and with such ease, in Kent – while other Anglian and Saxon kingdoms resisted and sometimes reverted to paganry – was because the Romano-Britons of Kent, the native Christian population, were not subdued and quashed by their new rulers, and did not turn to imitate them with the same eagerness as those under the Saxon rule. That they were allowed to live and rule in their towns even as the Jutes settled the countryside around them, allowed to keep their Latin names, with only small modifications to accomodate the Jute tongue: Dover for Dubris, Lympne for Leman, Rochester for (Du)Robrivae Castrum – and their capital, a Burgh of the Cants. Compare that with what little remained of the old names in the land of Saxons: gone is Noviomagus Reginorum (Chichester), no trace remains of Anderitum (Pevensey) – and we can barely guess whether their main harbour of Novus Portus was at Brighton or Shoreham. And, most importantly, unlike any other tribal pagus in southern Britannia, they were allowed to keep their ancient name: the Land of Cant.

It is, I repeat, only a guess; a neat setting for a work of fiction. But I feel like it’s as decent explanation as any for why, to this day, the most south-easterly county of England is called Kent, rather than, say, Jutrey. And at the very least, it makes for a good story.

Octa, son of Oisc, ponders his place in history

The Song of the Tides – locations

Tomorrow is release day of the Song of Octa novella – or Book “5.5” of the Song of Britain – “The Song of the Tides“. The entire story takes place in Armorica – today’s Brittany.

LAUREA – Ile de Brehat

Aerial view of the island of Bréhat in Brittany
A sparsely inhabited island in antiquity, just off the northern coast of Brittany. Other than as the place of disembarkation of several legendary saints arriving in Armorica, there is little mention of it before the Middle Ages.

WORGIUM – Vorgium, Carhaix-Plouguer

Centre d'interprétation virtuel de Vorgium
Capital of the Osismes, and an important cross-road town in Western Brittany. In its heyday, the largest city in all of Armorica. Its modern name comes from “Caer Ahes” – the Fortress of Ahes.

GESOCRIBATE – Douarnenez

Remains of an ancient Garum factory, from Gallo-Roman peri… | Flickr
Gesocribate is only mentioned in Tabula Peutingeriana, as the last stop on the road from Vorgium. Though many historians identify it with the city of Brest, there is also possibility that it refers to the harbour of Douarnenez, famed for its garum factories, as seen above.

CAIR INIS – Ile Tristan

Douarnenez. Un exercice incendie en cours sur l'Île Tristan -  Brest.maville.com
A small tidal island in the bay of Douarnenez. Inhabited since ancient times, long associated with the legend of Sunken City of Ys, and the romance of Tristan and Iseult. It is said that the tomb of the two lovers is somewhere on the island.

Release Day! – “The Wrath of the Iutes”

Today’s the day of another release in the Song of Britain saga – Book 5, “The Wrath of the Iutes” !

The long way back just got longer….

They were supposed to return home as heroes, basking in the glory and plunder of the victory at Trever… But fate decided otherwise for Octa and his band of Iutes. Chasing after Ursula’s captor, the renegade Haesta, they venture deep into the unfamiliar land of Armorica, where they unexpectedly discover an old ally seeking their help against a threat of invasion…

On their quest to help defend Britannia Prima, a province still ruled by the remnants of the old Roman power, Octa and his warriors will meet new friends, face new enemies and discover ancient mysteries, in this long-awaited second chapter of the Song of Octa: The Wrath of the Iutes.

Available in e-book and paperback, exclusive to Amazon!

“The Wrath of the Iutes” locations

It’s time for another of the “locations” post – I like to think of my books as much as a travelogue as action novels, and the travels of my characters in Book 5 take them to the very north-western edges of the Empire: from Armorica to Northern Wales.

The Wrath of the Iutes” is released on July 1st – pre-order now!

ROTOMAG – Rotomagus, Rouen

A major harbour on the River Seine, once the second most important city in Gallia Lugdunensis, now capital of Normandy.

REDONES – Condate Redonum, Roazhon, Rennes

A market town and bishopric on the frontier of Armorica, now capital of Brittany.

Worgium – Vorgium, Karaez, Carhaix

The remains of Vorgium are visible at the interpretation center
The largest Roman city in western Brittany, capital of the Osismii, then of Cornouaille. Medieval name comes from Caer Ahes – the Fortress of Ahes.

Cair Wortigern – Craig Gwrtheyrn

A large Iron Age hillfort in Carmarthenshire, on the shores of River Teifi, one of several associated with Vortigern.

The Forks – Tre’r Ceiri

An enormous, spectacular hill fort on Llyn Peninsula, used up to 5th century. The valley below, Nant Gwrtheyrn, is another place associated with Vortigern, who is said to have been buried somewhere in the area.

Hrodha’s Fort – Caer Gybi, Holyhead

A small Roman fortlet at the very end of the Mona road – the last harbour before Hibernia, the Edge of the Empire.

Silurian Isca – Isca Augusta, Caerleon

A major Legionnary fortress and a garrison guarding the main harbour of what is now Wales.

The Song of the Tides novella – FAQ

Coming out a month after Book 2 of The Song of Octa, “The Wrath of the Iutes” is a novella “The Song of the Tides“: a sort of an epilogue to “The Wrath…” – and it’s already out for preorder!

It’s an unusual publishing move, so I decided instead of the usual press blurb, I’ll do a short FAQ post explaining why you should preorder this if you’ve also preordered The Wrath of the Iutes – or read (and enjoyed) any of my books in the series.

Is it a standalone novella?

  • Not really – it’s best read after the Wrath, as it concerns the fates of characters we first meet in this volume. I tried my best to make it a standalone if somebody insists on reading it out of order, but at best you’ll have spoilers for the previous book – and at worst, you won’t have a clue what’s going on.

Why novella, rather than part of the novel?

  • Because it’s not quite a part of Octa’s story, at least not as I want to tell it. Though told through Octa’s eyes, and though he and Ursula play active parts in the plot, it’s the conclusion of the stories of the characters he meets in the Wrath, and attaching it at either the end of Book 2 or the beginning of Book 3 would feel out of place. It also serves as a chronological stepping stone between the two volumes – the gap between the Wrath and the Crown is almost eight years, and there’s a story within that gap that needed to be told.

Isn’t it just a money-grabbing ploy?

  • Quite the opposite. The novella is 40,000 words long – a third of my usual novel length. Editing, proofreading and formatting of a text this long costs money. Adding it to one of the other books would increase their price accordingly. But because I don’t feel this is an essential part of Octa’s story, I wouldn’t feel right forcing the reader to pay for it. This way, everyone gets a choice.

What’s it really about?

  • At the most basic level, it’s a retelling of the ancient Breton legend of the Sunken City of Ys – though it’s as distant from that tale as the Song of Ash was from the real legends of Vortigern, Hengist and Horsa. It’s set in the years 461-462 AD, takes place almost entirely in Armorica, and introduces the new enemy who will become a much greater threat in “The Crown of Iutes” – the Goths of Tolosa. That’s as much as I can say without spoilers.
  • Should I buy it?

Yes! Not only is it as fun and exciting as my full length novels, it also features a certain important event in Octa’s and Ursula’s lives – you may want to read it just for this. And it’s only 99p!

THE BLOOD OF THE IUTES – OUT TODAY!

It’s December 15th 2020, which means it’s the release date for the Blood of the Iutes! Those of you who preordered the ebook, should already have it on your Kindles by now, or later today. Everyone else can just buy it as normal – or opt for a neat paperback version!

The Blood of the Iutes is the first installment in the new Song of Octa trilogy, but it’s also the fourth volume of the Song of Britain series, following the conclusion of the Song of Ash trilogy.

If you want to start following the story from the beginning, then heads-up: the Saxon Spears will be available for 99p/99c on a Countdown Deal on December 22nd!

The Blood of the Iutes – Paperback

It’s two weeks before The Blood of the Iutes ebook launch – December 15th – but if you can’t wait that long, the paperback is OUT NOW on Amazon, available worldwide.

I just got the author copy, and it looks rather neat, if I say so myself. It’s a lot of book!

All the “Songs” together
All the paperbacks together 🙂

The Blood of the Iutes – Map Reveal

It’s that time again – the premiere of the new volume is fast approaching, and the first marker of the book being ready for release is the map is now done.

There’s only one map this time – but one that shows more of the ancient world than any of the maps before – all of late Roman Gaul and Germania north of Augusta Treverorum.

This should tell you how much greater the scope of the story has become – the interests of Iutes are no longer confined to Britannia, they now enter into the power plays of the late Empire

Historical Novels Review

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“The Saxon Spears” got a nice review in this month’s Historical Novels Review – Historical Novel Society.
Some highlights:

The book is well-written, and the story gains in interest as Ash matures (…) The action grows swift and tense as the plot develops, and Ash is a dimensional, relatable character (…) an intriguing, textured world that readers will want to explore further.

“The Blood of the Iutes” locations

In “The Blood of the Iutes” the action moves from Britannia to northern Gaul and Germania, introducing a slew of new locations in what is now Belgium, northern France and western Germany.

TORNAC – Tornacum, Tournai

One of the oldest towns in Belgium, the first capital of the Salian Franks.

Notre-Dame de Tournai, Belgium

TRAIECT – Trajectum ad Mosam, Maastricht

Ancient crossing town on the Meuse River.

File:Maastricht, maquette laat-Romeins Maastricht (F Schiffeleers, 1992)  05.JPG - Wikimedia Commons

AKE – Aquae Grani, Aachen

Hot springs resort town, popular with the Legionnaires stationed at the Rhine. Later, capital of the Frankish Empire.

Roman arches - Picture of Aachen, North Rhine-Westphalia - Tripadvisor

COLN – Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium, Cologne

Capital of the Germania Inferior province, the greatest city on the Roman Rhine.

TOLBIAC – Tolbiacum, Zulpich

A small crossroads town, with roads leading to every corner of Gaul. Place of many famous battles.

ICORIG – Icorgium, Junkerath

A small fortress, guarding an important pass into the Eifel Mountains.

TREVIR – Augusta Treverorum, Trier

The capital of all Gaul, seat of the Emperors.