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The Short Knife

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  93 ratings  ·  23 reviews
It is the year 454AD. The Roman Empire has withdrawn from Britain, throwing it into the chaos of the Dark Ages.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 arrive 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 de ...more
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published July 2nd 2020 by Andersen Press Ltd
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Average rating 3.73  · 
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 ·  93 ratings  ·  23 reviews

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The Short Knife is an uncannily relevant story; Britain divided and in turmoil.

I’m sad that I didn’t enjoy this one – it has such potential. The time period is less-frequented in historical fiction and the discord of the Dark Ages has ample possibilities for conflict.

The first third of the novel was engaging. It’s fast-paced, the characters are drawn deftly, and the writing is atmospheric. Once the initial action subsides, however, the plot begins to drag. I found the frequent use of compound a
Sep 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What an absolute treasure. Historical words/meanings thrown in to a fantasy set up. Absolutely worth picking up, enjoyed this so SO much!
Aug 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bookbox-books
When I got this book in the Book Box Club of June I have to admit that in a way I was a little surprised. For some reason I had expected a different book. However, this was once more a beautiful case of reading a book that never would have crossed my path without the Book Box Club. It's a book I never would have gotten myself, a genre I don't read too often. It was also the perfect book to fill in the Historical Prompt of the N.E.W.T.'s though.

Since it was out of my comfort zone and took place i
Lydia 🌻
Jun 29, 2020 rated it liked it
This book was such a fascinating read. At times I found it quite slow and can’t say I loved any of the characters overly but that made it more intriguing to me. I loved the setting and the fact it focused on a time after the Romans had left Britain as I don’t feel like it’s talked about a lot?

What I loved is this is a story about sisterhood, about survival and growing up. Told from Mai’s perspective and going back and forth in the timeline, this book is cleverly written and one I’d recommend if
Sharon  (enjoythefandomlife)
Full review coming to my blog. Read for the Book Box Club, ready for the author chat later this month.


This book was the very first one I got through my Book Box Club subscription. With the theme ‘Courageous and Kind’ and book descripion I was so sure it would be Cinderella is Dead. It just had to be. But on the day of arrival my friend informed me ahead we had been wrong; she had received it a few hours before me. And even though it wasn’t the book I had expected, I had gotten curious.

I wasn
Aug 08, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-box-club
I found this book strangely compelling. I am not a huge fan of historical fiction, but this was something that makes me reconsider that.

Mai’s story is sad but still somehow hopeful. It’s told in dual timeline and we slowly see the older one converge with the newer one, which is very nicely done. I found Mai quite a good main character, as she doesn’t stop looking for alternatives. And while I liked Haf, her sister, I found her so frustrating! Just sit her down and *tell* her, explicitly, why yo
Rowena Andrews
Jan 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical, ya
This was a wonderful read from start to finish. It took me a little way to get into the language used, and I think it could have benefited from a list of words and meanings somewhere in the book, although once you've got into the rhythm it becomes a delight to read and explore the language. The Short Knife wasn't quite what I had expected, as I think part of me had been expecting the usual, broader scope of historical fiction. This book has glimpses of that, but mostly this is a small, self-cont ...more
Aug 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: already-bought
I don't know what it was with this book, but I think my expectations where completely different from what I got. Usually when I read books about this time period, they are these big, epic stories about armies and land and not the very small story this book is telling, and telling well, but it still missed something for me. 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 ...more
Melissa Young
Feb 19, 2021 rated it really liked it
This review was posted at Young Creative Press if you like this review check out my other reviews at

*I was given a copy of The Short Knife in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Andersen Press and Elen Caldecott*

The Short Knife is a YA historical fiction set in 454AD just after the Roman Empire has withdrawn from Britain. Living on a farm with her sister Haf and their father, Mai has been sheltered and cared for her entire life, until Saxon men come across their f
Kristel Greer
Jul 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
I was asked to review The Short Knife by Elen Caldecott for Darkroom Booktours.

This was a story that I wouldn’t normally go for but one that was intriguing and well paced. It surrounds Mai and her family. They are Britons in 410AD, the Roman Empire has abandoned Britain and left to fight in foreign wars. The Saxons have invaded and taken their place in this turmoil filled land.

Mai, her sister Haf and Tad, her father, are attacked and have to flee their home. They join a Briton compound but as Ta
The Quill Hand
Dec 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
The Short Knife by Elen Caldecott follows the misfortune of Mai, her sister Haf and their father after their home is destroyed by Saxon warriors. Mai and Haf, having grown up in isolation on their farm, must learn to live in a world created and ruled by men, and dominated by a power struggle between the Saxons and the native British peoples.

Mai defines herself as British, Welsh and of Roman descent. She speaks British and Saxon. Caldecott uses the multitude of languages spoken in Britain in bygo
Lois (thecarrotstories)
An interesting piece of historical fiction during the Dark Ages when there was a war between the Saxons and the Britons.

I was sad that I did not love this story more. It was written very well with a dynamic plot and an interesting story. It was gripping and full of hopelessness especially how women were treated in those times. No child should live through these kind of conditions, forced to mature to survive a brutal world.

Unfortunately, I did not love the characters very much. I mean, I can see
Aug 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This action-packed story is set in Britain at a time when the Saxons were moving in to claim the land as their own. It reminded me of the Eagle of the Ninth books by Rosemary Sutcliff and surely deserves to take a place along that series as a classic in its own right. Caldecott's use of lyrical language echoes narrator Mai's native Welsh (or "British") in its lilting cadence and use of description that mirrors the rolling landscape in which she lives. Mai is a warm, brave, compelling narrator to ...more
Jul 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020, my-books
I was surprised by this book and by how much I enjoyed it. The portrayal of Britannia with its history of the ruling Roman empire that is gone few decades ago and new rulers, Saxons, who over empower the locals made a super interesting read for me. I don't know much about this part od the British history and it made me want to know more.
I also like how the story in the books is not some epic adventure but small story of a girl and her sister who has to somehow make a living in this new terrifyin
Becca Seghini
Aug 02, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-2020
I really tried hard with this one. Received it in a subscription box. Got about 100 in and decided to put it to one side for now. I just couldn't get into it and I think it is partly to do with the language used. I really wanted to like this one but just wasn't for me. ...more
Jun 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
Looks at a period when a girl's life was fairly awful - after the Romans left Britain and as the Saxons were invading - fascinating, well written and engaging. ...more
Jan 02, 2021 rated it really liked it
Immersive historical novel. A story of family, country and the role of females.
Jan 25, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hardback, owned
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Mary Judy
Jun 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
This gripping historical fiction reveals a time of division and conflict 1600 years ago and begs questions of identity, loyalty and human endurance; questions that are still, maybe even more pertinent today. Mai is a stunning character; quick-witted, clever and determined. She navigates through a harsh life with lethal danger at every turn. Her character grows and changes, rapidly taking in knowledge and information and learning when to fight and when to bide her time. But all the while she main ...more
Rachel Churcher
Jun 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
For more YA reviews, visit my blog!

This is a fascinating book. The story is set in AD454-455. Britain has been deserted by the Roman Empire, and invaded by Saxons. Mai's father tells stories about the Roman soldiers who kept the British people safe, and about the towns they left behind, but Mai's world is different. There is danger in the towns, and danger from the Saxon invaders. Mai learns the power of the invaders when an encounter with three Saxon men changes her life, and the lives of her f
Sophie Amelia
3.5 stars

I don’t think I would have picked up this book if I didn’t receive it in my Book Box Club subscription box however I quite enjoyed it. I went into this knowing nothing apart from what was on the blurb and that it was a YA historical fiction novel.

I haven’t read a historical fiction novel set in the Dark Ages before so it was a refreshing change. The story was quite slow at times and I did not feel overly connected to any of the characters but it was still an enjoyable read. I loved th
Ellesha Syke
I enjoyed this book, it was an easy read and I finished it over the weekend sitting in the sun. It is a story about sisterhood and survival, I was really rooting for Mai - she worked hard and pushed on even though she was terrified.

It was a bit predictable at times, I guessed pretty quickly which characters would return in the story. It would have been cool to have a word list at the end, with translations from the different languages.

The timeline was great, going from present to past and meetin
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Maria Weston
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Aug 28, 2020
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rated it it was ok
Oct 06, 2020
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