This book had the same effect on me as visiting the Bayeux Tapestry for the first time: it brought the people of the 11th century vividly to life and make me relise that the people of 1,000 years ago were real, living, breathing individuals with the same emotions, needs and concerns as ourselves.
From the opening page, I was caught up in the atmosphere of daily life in the village of Horstede and quickly became involved in the various characters’ convincing and engaging relationships. It came as no surprise to learn from the author’s website that she is a historical re-enactor: the book is clear evidence that she knows how to bring history to life, in every last detail. Although she drops in the odd word of 11th century language, as a kind of a spice and a reminder of the era, I was relieved that she doesn’t appear to be the kind of re-enactor who insists on using archaic words throughout – the balance was just right here for me.
Only two small things bothered me in this book, and they’re more a reflection on me than on the author: keeping track of characters with very similar names (Wulfhere, Wulfric, Wulfwin; Ealdgytha, Eadgyth, Edith – I could have done with a cast list, as I have in my copy of War & Peace) and the gruesome, graphic violence of the battle scenes that I found very disturbing – but then, I am squeamish about violence, and at the end of the day, that’s 11th century life for you!
To my surprise, I found myself much more engaged by the invented characters and their daily lives than by key figures from history who put in an occasional appearance. But perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised at that, given that I’d prefer to watch a family drama on telly rather than the news headlines, any day!
A terrific book, the sort you want to tell your friends about – I’ve already added it to the reading list for the historical novelists book group I belong to and look forward to hearing what they think of it.