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4.4 out of 5 stars21
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 27 November 2011
Set in 11th century England after the Norman conquest, The Forest Dwellers is a fictional account of the death of William the Conqueror's sons, and employs a host of different points of view to tell the story. There is beautiful Alys, willing concubine to men she believes will protect her in difficult times; Aelf, a young archer, who hides an intriguing secret, and openly hates the Normans; Leo, Thurold, Giles and Tyrell, all with fascinating stories to tell which interweave with one another in interesting ways. Almost all of the characters are endearing, and those who aren't are intriguing.
There were times in this book when I felt bewildering by events, as I didn't have all the facts at hand, but as I read on, I learned what I needed to know in a much more natural way than is possible in a single-point-of-view novel. As each protagonist's story unfolded, the gaps in another's tale were filled in. I found this approach gave me a multi-dimensional understanding of both the characters and the events of the story.
The structure of the novel puts the reader in a privileged position, and I often felt as I though I understood the characters better than they understood each other. I was privy to Alys's private thoughts in ways that Aelf, for instance, was not, and therefore I could feel compassion for her when Aelf did not, while simultaneously understanding Aelf's moral stance. Often, the variety of angles on the same events deepened my understanding of them, allowing me to empathize with each character, while getting the "big picture" and thus seeing the flaws in each character's more narrow point of view.
I love the earthy language and the sly humour in parts of this novel; I also found the descriptions extremely well done and the historical background well researched. The story moves along at a good clip, and is full of interesting action and events; in fact, the one criticism I have is that sometimes the pace was too fast, and the move from one event to another too quick to do justice to the characters. In other words, I wanted more background on their motivations, questions and thoughts.
All in all, a fascinating and absorbing read.
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on 30 November 2011
Having thoroughly enjoyed Judith Arnopp's work since reading 'Peaceweaver', I approached this new book with enthusiasm. I was not disappointed. Once again Arnopp has demonstrated her unerring ability to draw the reader into the novel with rich description, both of surroundings and events, as well as well drawn and intriguing characters.
No matter how enthusiastic the reader may be for what we so glibly call 'The Norman Conquest', we are forced to consider and come to understand more of the true horror of those times, and the far reaching and brutal effects upon the people of England.
In this book, the population living in the forests comes under painstaking and intense scrutiny, as their old way of life is transformed and they are forced to come to terms with the brutal new regime.
The stories of Alys and Aelf, with Giles and Thurrold, Leo and Tyrrell, are revealed as they take over the story and tell us their own thoughts and feelings,and demonstate their struggle to survive. Plans made do not usually come to fruition, as they come into conflict with the varied motives and entrenched interests of the time.
Arnopp weaves these stories together to make a delightful and intriguing read. She is an expert in portraying the earthy physical lifestyles and experiences of ordinary people, so that the reader almost feels the blows and stings of life.
Don't miss this enjoyable and revealing read.
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on 29 November 2011
This enjoyable and well-written book charts the fortunes of those making their living from the New Forest in Southern England, during the years following the Norman Invasion. Few can imagine what life was like then, scraping the means to survive from what the Forest could produce. It was a harsh way of life, but it did provide. Until that is, William the Conqueror decides to turn the Forest into his own, private hunting ground. Now, the forest people are not even allowed to gather berries, let alone kill a deer, under pain of death. Now, they are persecuted, exploited and abused, seen as no better than the animals hunted by the King.

Cleverly written from the viewpoints of several characters, The Forest Dwellers provides a privileged insight into the lives of Ælf and her brothers, the beautiful Alys, Thurrold, squire to Sir Walter Tyrell, and the Conqueror's son, King William Rufus. Judith Arnopp effortlessly recreates the atmosphere of the 1070's and casts a speculative light on an age-old mystery - who, exactly, killed William Rufus that fateful day in the Forest?
Highly recommended for lovers of historical fiction.
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on 17 March 2014
With invaders come changes to the lifestyle of existing peoples no matter where they may live. For the Forest Dwellers of the New Forest the reality of the Norman invasion is the invader king's desire to rob them not only of their forest and their means of survival, but to serve severe penalties upon those who deem to flout the king's edict that the forest, the animals and young maidens within it belong to him. What at one time was a free meal on the hoof has become forbidden fare, thus rendering the forest dwellers to acts of covert poaching to survive.

Soon rebellious flights of fancy amidst young would-be-warrior bucks set them on course for an armed uprising. Their numbers swell, but sadly outnumbered they fail. Those that survive and their womenfolk are left vulnerable to whatever their overlords are of a mind to in the ways of sporting pleasure, which can leave the underdog smarting and or traumatised. There are the few who settle for what fate throws their way and reap relative rewards from collaboration with the enemy, whilst others grit their teeth and swear they will never serve the overlords with willing hearts.

The author sets precedence for a dark sinister atmosphere of oppression, silent revulsion and compassion for the plight of her characters, and it is that aspect that brings each and every character to life. The reader is thus drawn into a frighteningly real existence, where the earthy essence of moss laden woodland lingers on ether, and the silence is suddenly shattered by the death cry of a slain beast or a woman's scream echoing through the trees. I'm not a great fan of first-person narrative, but in this case it works extremely well and individual character stories afford insight to their inner thoughts that otherwise would have been restricted to one viewpoint. Clever!
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on 5 December 2012
The Forest Dwellers chronicles the lives of the common people 11 years after the Battle of Hastings. The Normans not only conquered Harold, they pillaged the land and subjugated the people.

The forest dwellers have lived in the forest for generations, growing crops, hunting small animals and building homesteads. William has decided the forest is solely his, for his hunting pleasure. The fences surrounding crops are torn down, berries and acorns are forbidden foods, firewood and turf for warmth is prohibited and, most important to the king, hunting wildlife or fishing is the greatest transgression. Hunting dogs large enough to run down venison must have their front claws and fangs removed.

All in all, the forest dwellers are reduced to extreme poverty, hunger, misery, living in hovels and the constant threat of the Normans destroying what little they have.

There is one common thread that runs through The Forest Dwellers: Alys. The daughter of a charcoal burner, she is rescued by brothers from certain rape by Normans. Leo, the oldest brother and head of the household, kills two of the Normans attacking her. They take her home to her father. Not longer after, she shows up at the brothers' holding and there she remains, saying her father was taken by the Normans for poaching.

Alys is different from other girls in the forest. She has blonde hair, beauty, the lithe body of a young girl and a sensuality she knows how to optimize. She captivates all the brothers' attention but saves her attentions for Leo. Alys is a practical girl, knowing her body and sensual skills are her best options for survival. Abused by her father, she expects no different from any other man. In fact, she purposely chooses her lovers based on what side of the bread the butter is lathered. The Forest Dwellers begins and ends with Alys.

The Normans, refusing to give up their quest for the slayer of the two would-be rapists, eventually discover Leo is the culprit and come to arrest him. Fortunately, Leo is not home at the time, however, the youngest, AElf, and Alys, are and must survive on their own. In their flight from the Normans, AElf and Alys leave behind another 2 dead Normans, along with another bleeding and presumably not long for the world. They have left the king's son, Richard, to die. A brother leads AElf and Alys, with their meager possessions, deep into the forest to an encampment of dispossessed forest dwellers. Leo eventually finds them.

A plan is hatched to regain their lands from the Normans, but the forest dwellers are untrained fighters and lack equipment. The outcome is inexorable. The Normans win the battle, defeating the forest dwellers lead by Leo, handily. AElf's brothers perish, with Leo dragged off the field by a bolting horse. Alys and AElf are all that remain to each other when the Normans inevitably claim the rebellers as slaves.

Not is all as it seems in The Forest Dwellers. There are hidden truths and personal agendas. Disagreements over loyalty strain relationships. Distrust is rampant and near impossible to overcome. Such are the lives of The Forest Dwellers under the rule of the Normans.

The Forest Dwellers is written in an unusual method, through the first person point of view of various characters. At times when a new character takes over the story, there will be a repetition of previous events from that character's point of view. Sometimes, the new character simply carries on with the story.

For me, the plot felt disjointed by the overlapping or changing point of views. It was difficult to become engaged by any one particular character, as he or she was not on the stage long. After realizing the entire novel was written in this manner, I stopped attempting to get into a character's psyche. This is a tough plot device to pull off successfully. I've read a few other novels written in the same fashion and finished feeling the same way: somewhat ripped off because I never had the opportunity to get to know any one character indepth.

Judith Arnopp is an excellent writer, but her skill could not overcome the plot disparity.
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on 9 April 2013
The Forest Dwellers by Judith Arnopp is an incisive look into the lives of the people of Ytene, a Saxon holding seized by Norman usurpers for William the Conqueror's personal use. It is a richly painted portrait of their daily existence that begins with an assault on Alys--a young woman of mixed blood, possessed of a rare and ethereal beauty--and follows her through subsequent periods of serenity, hardship, humiliation, and triumph.

Arnopp is blessed with natural flowing prose and the ability to craft an engaging and well-rounded story told from varying viewpoints. The narratives transition smoothly from one to the next without a sense of staleness or repetition. Although the foundation of the story is historical, this version is told from a refreshing new perspective with much action and tenderness, humor and sadness, and many surprising twists. Simply put, this is everything I desire in a book, and I eagerly look forward to more from this author.
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on 7 June 2013
A thoroughly enjoyable story, authentic characters and a n enthralling storyline! Highly recommended and this is a worthy author to follow
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The Forest Dwellers is an exceedingly well written story, given from the perspectives of several characters, of a time in history not long before King Rufus was killed in the forest.

The descriptions are detailed and the whole story is very cleverly written - holes in one person's story are filled in by another and you end up with a very rounded picture.

Definitely recommended for fans of historical fiction.
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on 29 January 2014
Really enjoyed this as it linked with a previous book I read called The Forest by Edward Rutherford. This was good as it gave the 'poor people's' view of life and how they were so disregarded by those in power. Very good story with interesting facts. Just my kind of read.
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on 3 January 2014
I really epnjoyed this book .It was exciting reading and i found it difficult to put down. It gave a good descriptionof life at thhe time of the Norman Invasion.
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