The Short Knife by Elen Caldecott 

 December 29, 2022

By  BookishBearx

It’s the year 45AD. The Roman Empire has withdrawn from Britain, throwing it into the chaos of the Dark Ages. Mai has been kept safe by her father and her sister, Haf. But when Saxon warriors Rrive at their farm, the family is forced to flee to the hills where British warlords lie in wait. Can Mai survive in a dangerous world where speaking her mother tongue might be deadly, and even the people she loves the most can’t be trusted?

The Short Knife is a Historical Young Adult fiction novel. First published in 2020 by Andersen Press Ltd, it spans 400 pages. It follows the story of a young girl in the times of the Romans and the Saxons, as she tries to find a place for herself after she loses everything she knows, in a world that is nothing but dangerous for her. It is a story of loss, family and love against all the odds.

This book was a strange reading experience for me. When I first started reading it, I cannot lie to you, I really didn’t like it. The first 3 chapters, I was sure that it wasn’t for me. I couldn’t get along with the way Mai’s narrative was written. The word choice and language sat a bit strange for me and it wasn’t catching my fancy. But something happened in my brain after chapter 3, it was as if everything just clicked and I suddenly started appreciating the book a lot more. This doesn’t usually happen when I’m not really into a book. I’m quite stubborn but after that I really did start to enjoy it.

I thought the characters were really nice. The relationship between Mai and Haf as sisters was very authentic. That whole thing of little sister not understanding that the big sister isn’t being mean to her but trying to protect her. You can see a lot of love between them both and a real need for Haf to protect Mai, even when Mai doesn’t see it herself. Also the friendships that Mai develops throughout her journey as well are truly lovely. Her best friend in the welsh camp, and Sara and oak and welsh all made an extended family that really helped Mai grow as a character throughout the book. I really admired the strength and love that Mai continued to build throughout, even after many negative or scary experiences.

The story itself, without giving much away about what happens, is both sad and beautiful. It’s sad and heart breaking that Mai and Haf lose so much of their lives and what they know and love. They go through so much trauma and even when they think they find somewhere safe, they aren’t ever truly safe. But it is beautiful in the way that love never seems to be missing. Haf loves Mai and wants to protect her, no matter what happens. Mai loves her sister even after she thinks she has betrayed her. The love and strength that Mai shows for her friends, as she chooses danger over and over in order to stay with them and protect them. It is beautiful.

All in all, I think this book is lovely, at times so sad and at others it just shows the absolute beauty in friendships and family. It’s such a strong story of how relationships are so important for our survival. It took a minute for me to really get into it., but the more I think on that the more I think it was maybe me just struggling to adapt from one genre to another than anything to do with the book itself. I would definitely recommend to people who like HF or want an adventurous story full of strength and love. I would probably even read this again.

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