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review 2017-05-05 14:27
A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons by Geoffrey Hindley
A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons: The Beginnings of the English Nation - Geoffrey Hindley

A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons covers the Anglo-Saxon history from A.D. 400 (around the time of their invasion of England) through to the 1100s (the ‘Aftermath' of the Norman invasion).  Geoffrey Hindley not only includes the Anglo-Saxon influence on the British Isles but also how they influenced mainland Europe.  Despite being a "brief" history, this book covers a wealth of information, including culture, religion, and literature as well as military aspects.  Geoffrey Hindley has a scholarly writing style that none the less manages to convey the history of the Anglo-Saxons in an interesting and informative manner.  Maps, photographs and genealogical tables are included in this book.

I much preferred this book by Geoffrey Hindley in comparison to The Anglo-Saxon Age by Martin Wall, which has a more informal writing style, but leaves out mainland Europe completely and ignores the Anglo-Saxon cultural history in favour of a simplified military history.  

 

 

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review 2017-03-07 17:32
The Darkling Plain
The Darkling Plain - Douglas R. Mason

The north-west of England,

13th Century

 

There was a patter of bare feet on the beaten earth floor and Aelfgyth, late but willing, was among the company nervously smoothing down a stained yellow robe from where it had been hitched up in a plaited thong belt. There was already a sweet smell of decay about the shabby room, but from the fresh stink she carried with her, it was likely she had been busy with the pigs when the summons came. She said, 'Here, Master. What do you lack?' and stopped with her head hanging down under the stares of Alain's men-at-arms.

The host put a hand flat on her chest and shoved her away. 'When will I teach you not to push yourself forward? This gentleman was speaking to me. Away. Bring a new loaf and cook a pan of eggs. And broach the barrel I fetched up yesterday. Lively now, or you'll feel the weight of my hand.'

She was off again at a run, hair flying in a dark brown pennant, and he was ready to wink and nod at Alain and draw him aside as far as space allowed.

[...]

The muttered conference with the host was finished and the man had a self-satisfied smirk on his face as he waddled across the floor to the seated figure. He never knew how close he came to having his head swiped off its stalk. But at the first words, Edward knew that the moment of truth was not yet.

The innkeeper said, 'Here's a stroke of luck for you now. Here's a gentleman looking to employ you. He'll give you a fair price and set you on your way …'

[…]

Edward relaxed, stood up slowly and nodded down at the innkeeper.

On his feet, he was seen to be a massive figure. His straw blond head was only an inch from the cross beams. The thick folds of his cloak could not conceal his breadth of shoulder and the bearing of a man trained in arms.

 

Set in what seems to be a straightforward late twelfth or early thirteenth century English provincial world in which there is still a clear distinction between Norman, Saxon and (encroaching) Welshman, this is a short book (less than 150 pages) and can easily be read in one night (I did). It is also a deceptively simple book: a younger son denied his birthright by his elder brother; a daughter deprived of her inheritance (following the death of her brother) by a wicked uncle; a beautiful Jewish girl whose father is killed when local people who are in debt to him set fire to his house; a wandering scribe and scholar who turns out to be a great nobleman and – more to the point – fearsome warrior.

 

Yet it is thoughtful, too. We see the world as it was, but also hear sensitive people questioning the mores of that world. And we realise once again that there are good – and awful! – people in every world and at every level of society. A great nobleman may have far more in common with the serving wench in a sleazy tavern than with his own brother.

 

An excellent story set in an unusual part of the country (Wallasey – opposite Liverpool – on the Wirral Peninsula), well worth reading, and suitable for teenagers, too.

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review 2015-08-09 09:16
Oswald: Return of the King
Oswald: Return of the King - Edoardo Albert

by Edoardo Albert

 

The book begins with lists of difficult names I'll never remember, but clarifies pronunciation and historic context. It also explains the importance of names to Anglo-Saxons and why no two will have exactly the same name, although descendants might get an adaptation of an ancestor's name.

 

After the cast of characters, we get an overview of what happened in the previous book, Edwin. This is very useful for people like myself who haven't read the first one, and also starts to give us the feel for the historic period.

 

Then we get to the story for this book. I want to describe it as good, but it doesn't have the flow of really great writing. Too many sentences starting with ing verbs can put me off easily. It works in moderation but the beginning overdid it somewhat.

 

Once I got past that, I was able to get into the story more and appreciate the historic period and events as well as getting to know the characters. Oswald is a reasonably likeable character who would actually like to be a monk, but duty requires that he take up kingship. The pace was a little slow, but ultimately it did take me to the Historical period and the characters were well defined. I felt sympathy for Oswald's changing fortunes and the expectations put upon him just for being born in a line of kings.

 

One of the strong themes in the story is the changing face of religion, as Christianity begins to take hold in a country with Pagan roots. Different factions even within the same families might worship the old gods or embrace the new faith. The latter tend to be very forceful with their opinions, rather like some modern factions.

 

I would recommend this story for anyone who wants to get a strong feel for Anglo-Saxon history. It is atmospheric and realistic about some of the nasty things that happen in battles without becoming overwhelmingly gory.

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review 2015-06-28 00:00
Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland
Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland - Bryan Sykes Enlightening both from a scientific perspective and from a social perspective. I enjoyed the detours away from the technical scientific aspects, though I was only marginally aware of the uses that DNA can provide in illuminating the lineage of people and a nation.
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2015-05-20 22:57
The Buried Giant
The Buried Giant: A novel - Kazuo Ishiguro

Wow....I liked this book much much more than I expected to.

 

Post-Arthurian England. Axl and Beatrice are an elderly couple of Christian Britons. They have been struggling with memory, and realize that everyone in their community is as well. They seem to be the only ones who notice—perhaps due to their age and experience and what should be a wealth of memories? They decide it is time to go visit their son in his village, before they forget about him completely. And their community allows them to make the trip.

 

Travel at the time is not easy—and they have the aches and pains of the old. Their are ogres, and bandits, and pixies to watch out for. Who can be trusted? They must find shelter before dark, every day.

 

First they head to a nearby Saxon village. Beatrice has been there several times int he past, selling wares from their community. She speaks their language and hopes to see a healer there. Then they arrive amid an upheaval—some of the town's men have been killed and a teen boy taken. Only a traveling warrior is willing to try to save him.

 

After the warrior does save the boy, Axl and Beatrice travel with them, going to a monastery where an old monk knows more of healing to help with Beatrice's pain. On the way they meet Sir Gawain, a knight of Arthur, whose mission is to kill the dragon—the same mission as Wistan, the warrior. Sir Gawain has been unsuccessful, so another has been sent. And Gawain feels he recognizes Axl from past exploits. Axl, of course, has very limited memory.

 

And there we go. What will happen to the dragon? Will they even find her? Who wants her alive and why? What is The Buried Giant? Will Axl and Beatrice make it to their son safely?

—————————

In many ways this is a retelling of Pilgrim's Progress. But do the characters know what their mission is? Not exactly, because of the dragon's breath mist. Though we can guess, as they themselves struggle to remember their past actions. Ishiguro's writing is so calm, and something always seems to be lurking just below the surface. There is additional meaning everywhere—somehow, he manages to let you know what is coming without ever actually saying anything outright.

 

I really wish I had someone to discuss this book with!

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