Much later than intended thanks to a chaotic week and a poorly dog, but today I am joining the blog tour for Shield Breaker by Richard Cullen. This is the second book in The Wolf of Kings series, and after reading the first book Oath Bound out of interest last year I was delighted to be invited to read and review book two.
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.
Styrkar the warrior sails to dangerous lands in this thrilling new historical adventure from Richard Cullen. The sequel to Oath Bound, longlisted for the Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize 2022.
England, 1068: a land gripped in the iron fist of Frankish invaders. But the Conqueror does not sit easily on his fledgling throne. Rebellion is rife, and the flames of uprising have been ignited in every corner of the kingdom.
Thrown back into this crucible is Styrkar the Dane, former housecarl of the slain King Harold. Forced to travel to Ireland by his deadliest enemy, he must risk the fates of his brothers-in-arms in order to protect the one thing he loves.
So begins a journey that will take Styrkar to the royal court of Dublin, and the frigid climes of the north of England, for loyalty, love and vengeance. He will be tested, beaten and broken, but can any man keep the Red Wolf chained for long?
Shield Breaker reunites us with our protagonist Styrkar, but it should be noted that even though we pick up with this familiar character, it is not entirely necessary to have read Oath Bound first. Both books work well as a stand-alone, although you absolutely should pick up both of them, and there is definitely a benefit to following Styrkar from the first book.
One of the most impressive aspects of this series, is how it takes a well-known period of English History but looks at it through a different lens, not just in the sense of how well it balances history and story. Instead, here we have the aftermath of William the Conqueror’s victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and rather than the almost ‘legendary’ status that conquest has taken in media at times, and even in the history we learn in school, Shield Breaker peeks beneath the hood. It looks at the reality of life in the wake of a conquest, across the strata of society, from those who saw the Normans as little more than invaders, to the ordinary people just trying to continue their life as peacefully as possible, to those in between, and Cullen does an excellent job of highlighting that variety of viewpoints and experiences. The history aspect is well-written and researched, and provides a rich, multi-faceted backdrop, to what is an incredibly personal and human story playing out against conflict, resistance and brutality of the time, and creating a fantastically immersive experience.
The human aspect is incredibly well done, and the characterisation which was one of the strongest elements of Oath Bound, feels even more developed here. Cullen has a fantastic grasp of how the characters wrestle with their situations and doubts, and the development continues to feel believable and organic, both on a personal level and for the relationships between the characters.
Styrkar is our primary gateway into the human aspect of this story, and he makes for a fascinating protagonist (especially if you are coming to this one having read Oath Bound), as on the one hand he is the ‘Red Wolf’, an almost legendary warrior in his own right, but also a man caught up in the situation around him, and one who must balance loyalty and duty, along a knife edge, as everything he holds dear is on the line here. He is an incredibly dynamic and realistic character, and Cullen allows us to play through his emotions and the sides of himself that the situation demands. Ronan is another great character, and it feels almost as though he has the most potential of the characters, as it is not entirely clear where his arc will end. The two of them make for interesting mirrors of one another, with Gisela acting as the lynch-pin between them, and it felt as though she came far more into her own in this book, and it was interesting seeing her experiences against the women alongside her. .
Cullen’s writing also really shines in the action scenes in this book. Again, we see that balance of historical knowledge and research, and a fantastic instinct for creating a gripping story. There is an almost cinematic feel to the battle scenes, and Cullen manages to capture both the motion and emotions of those scenes, making them incredibly compelling without becoming too bogged down in the details. This paired with the characterisation really conjures up a feeling of danger for the characters, as well as an investment in the outcome of what they are facing.
Shield Breaker is another excellent addition to this series, and Cullen once again nails that balance of history and story, and the few issues that I’d had with the first book have disappeared here. The flow of the story was much smoother this time, and I was thoroughly engrossed from start to finish. Compelling characters, fantastic action, and a gripping look at history in a way that we rarely get to see, make this book one I have to recommend to anyone looking for a new historical fiction series to dive into.
Richard Cullen originally hails from Leeds in the heartland of Yorkshire. Oath Bound, his debut historical adventure novel, was longlisted for the Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize 2022. As well as being a writer of historical adventure, he has also written a number of epic fantasy series as R.S. Ford. If you’d like to learn more about Richard’s books, and read free exclusive content, you can visit his website at follow him on Twitter at, or join him on Instagram.
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If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.