ARC Review: The Short Knife by Elen Caldecott

*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The Short Knife is a YA historical fiction set in 454AD just after the Roman Empire has withdrawn from Britain.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 farm and leave destruction in their wake. 

Now with nowhere to live and fearing for their lives the family must flee their home in hope of finding fellow Britons to take them in.


Now I’m not usually one for historical fiction, but The Short Knife sounded too interesting for me to pass up. I loved this book. From the get-go, I was captive in its grasp and was only held stronger by the intensity and suspense that every page left me in. 

The story is told by Mai, but from two different time periods. Beginning with her current time, the summer solstice 455AD, the story switches to the previous autumn in 454AD with the times intertwine throughout. The autumn time period shows how she came to where she is now. 

At first, this was a little confusing but as time went on the story became clearer. I actually really enjoyed this format as it constantly left me wanting more. Mai refers to her sister, who in the summer solstice time is giving birth, after reading the first few chapters it became very clear who the father was. With what happened on the farm, Haf was injured by one of the men, I was worried that this baby was not conceived under consenting circumstances. However, thankfully that was not the case. Apologies if that is somewhat of a spoiler, but I would hate for that plotline to be a trigger for anyone. 

Leaving me questioning what I knew about the story I found that I needed to keep reading as the want to know was great. I genuinely think that I would not have enjoyed this book as much if the plot was written chronologically. Yes, it would have still been interesting, however, the switching of time periods add mystery to the story and allowed the reader to wonder how events affected each other. 

Mai was a wonderful main character. At just 13 years old she was strong-willed but knew when to let something go. She never lost her fight at any point during the book, instead, she found different ways to use it. Her narration was beautiful and at times I forgot her young age. 

Seeing her over time creates new relationships and develop sisterly bonds was an important part of the story. It feels like you are experiencing her growing up with every page and the maturity of the girl at the end of the story feels wise beyond her 13 years. 

I believe that The Short Knife is intended for the younger side of the YA community (ages 9 – 14), but it can definitely be enjoyed by those older. At 22 myself I found the book engaging and the darker parts of the story kept me interested. There were a few moments of slightly explicit violence and little to no romance which leads me to believe that this can be enjoyed by all.

The Short Knife is available now in Ebook and will be released in paperback on March 4th.


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