Common Sense Media says

Dark ages adventure a draw even for history-phobic teens.





What parents need to know

Educational value

Although much written about the early dark ages must be conjecture, Moran has done extensive research that reveals much about day to day life in the seventh century and readers will learn much about the time and the spread of Christianity.

Positive messages

Positive messages of using your gifts for good, improving the world around you, appreciating the love of friends and family, and exercising forgiveness.

Positive role models

Although Essa believes he was abandoned by his father and lost his mother, he blossoms in his foster family and shows a resilient spirit as he grows into a brave young man, loyal to his friends, gentle, and compassionate. He risks his life in an attempt to prevent further war and bloodshed, but courageously enters battle when necessary to protect his village and loved ones. His best friend, Lark, is a brave and independent girl and some village leaders are women.


At the age of 12 Essa kills a man in self-defense; a king known as Mad Dog has his teen son execute and behead some prisoners; villages are burned in battle; brief battle scenes; women and older children battle as archers; sword fighting.


Essa kisses his first love. A reference is made to intercourse as man putting his seed into the woman when a married couple spend their first night together.

Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this coming of age story set in the dark ages has moments of gory violence but it never feels gratuitous. This is historic fiction at a very high level that gives a marvelous introduction to the rise of Christianity, the pagans' reaction to the notion of one God, and daily life in the dark ages. Also, the resilient and admirable main character also has the ability to share the consciousness of animals and to communicate with them telepathically.

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Kids say

What's the story?

In the year 630 A.D., Essa has traveled across empires with his father, the bard called Cai, for as long as he can remember. But when he is 9 years old he wakes up in a Wolf Folk village to find his father has left him behind, with only a sword, to be cared for by a foster mother he's never known. Here Essa finds his first real home: friendships, family, and stability. Son of an Anglish and a British, he doesn't fit in anywhere, as much as he longs to. In a coming of age ritual several years later he discovers an intuitive ability to share the mind of animals, a surprising talent that puts him in danger and makes him long for his father. Soon teenaged Essa and his friends must swear allegiance to the king of their land, and when tribal warfare threatens Essa is sent to spy on a neighboring kingdom. There he makes shocking discoveries, including the savagery of the Mad Dog king, and he risks his life on a quest to save his sweetheart, his adopted family, and his village by preventing more wars. That journey unexpectedly reunites him with his roots, roots that will alter his life and the future of Christianity in prehistoric Britain.

Is it any good?


Detailed research and beautiful writing results in a book that submerges readers in another world and time, dangerous, romantic, and thrilling.
Universal aspects of growing up, rebellion, and tradition infused with details of everyday life intertwine in an epic tale of life in the dark ages. The range of tribes and peoples across what we now know as Great Britain can be confusing at times, but a fast pace and surprising plot twists carry the story.

The idea of Christianity as a new way of life, replacing old gods and winning converts by force, is compellingly told. Readers will root for Essa. He is an Everyman who embodies a noble spirit and his story is unforgettable. Teens will enjoy this as an epic adventure even if they normally won't touch historic fiction. Historical notes included at the end.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the rise of Christianity and how it spread throughout the world. What were the other world religions in the 7th century, and how many of them are still practiced?

  • Essa's father is a bard and a storyteller and he has a special status among tribes and across empires. What is that status based upon?

  • Essa has a unique gift, referred to as a brightness. What would the positive aspects of having his gift be? What negative aspects does he encounter? Why would Essa's gift be considered witchcraft by early Christians?

Book details

Author:Katy Moran
Genre:Historical Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Candlewick Press
Publication date:February 10, 2009
Number of pages:297
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 17
Read aloud:13
Read alone:14

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Teen, 13 years old Written byAwalkeratCSM November 6, 2010
This was a very interesting piece of fiction set in the Dark Ages at the time the Anglo-Saxons occupied Britain and Christianity was beginning to rise again in their culture. The author also depicts that the battle described in this book was believed to be real as was the enemy Penda. The messages in the book were OK but it would be a book I would recommend for teens only who could interpret the messages better. As for role models, the main character, Essa, shows great determination in keeping his loyalty to his master even though he is sent on a long quest and pretends to work for the enemy. However there are the iffy parts of the book that, are in every book now a days. The violence is very realistic and straight forward, making it a perfect read for teen boys. There is some mature content in the book that would definitely keep it out of the children's section of Borders, even though it's not vampire style content. There is some swearing in the book as well. Over all, this was an excellent book and I praise the author for her fine plot and research involved in this book. I can't wait for the sequel that comes out in March 2011.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Educational value


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