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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A thoroughly enjoyable read!
I really enjoyed this book. It's a well-researched and entertainingly written story set at an especially interesting period in history - the time of the famous Whitby synod. The characters, some of whom are historical figures, are sympathetically portrayed and the plot is both imaginative and plausible. The political and religious turmoil of the synod coincides with an...
Published on 26 Jan. 2013 by Yvonne Marjot

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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars These bees won't sting you - they will woo you.
A good read if you like north Yorkshire, especially the Whitby area, and you are interested in early history of the church and the Synod of Whitby. . The writer weaves a good story around the effects of the Synod and her imagination is attractive in the development of the history of the time.
It is an easy read and once started you want to read it through and enjoy...
Published 23 months ago by David Bolton


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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A thoroughly enjoyable read!, 26 Jan. 2013
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This review is from: A Swarming of Bees (Kindle Edition)
I really enjoyed this book. It's a well-researched and entertainingly written story set at an especially interesting period in history - the time of the famous Whitby synod. The characters, some of whom are historical figures, are sympathetically portrayed and the plot is both imaginative and plausible. The political and religious turmoil of the synod coincides with an outbreak of plague, and it's all seen through the eyes of Fridgyth, the herb-wife, who, while working in a Christian monastery/nunnery, is still a believer in the old gods. And as a poet it's lovely to hear the words of Caedmon, said to be the first English poet, shared with a wider audience. I'll be watching for more work from this author.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A satisfying and involving tale, 1 Jun. 2013
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This review is from: A Swarming of Bees (Kindle Edition)
I really liked 'A Swarming of Bees', by Theresa Tomlinson, and have no hesitation in awarding five stars. The subject matter, the presentation, the writing style: all of this came together just right for my taste. And it had a couple of maps, which always please me. These help the reader become oriented in the community of Whitby, called here by the Old English name of Streonshalh. For those who are not familiar with English geography, Whitby is on the east coast, in the modern county of Yorkshire, looking across the North Sea towards Scandinavia. Somewhat later than this story, it would be part of the Viking-dominated region called the Danelaw (as in The Bone Thief), but at this time it was in Northumbria, a large swathe of land ruled from Bamburgh.

The historical setting is in the immediate aftermath of the Synod of Whitby, in 664AD. This was a key moment in British Christianity when the fledgling native church, which had been isolated from Europe after the collapse of the Roman empire, was brought back under the authority of Roman Catholicism.

Now, many today might regret the loss to the church of the Celtic flavour of faith that this caused, but at the time, church unity was considered more important than insisting on an opinion. Individual Christian leaders might (and did) regret the loss, and expressed it by withdrawal to isolated communities, but there was no church schism resulting from this event.

Anyway, 'A Swarming of Bees' has this event, and the resulting shakeup of church leadership, as part of the background. But for many of the individuals who are central, the choice is not between Roman and Celtic Christianity. Rather, it is between any sort of Christianity and their continuing allegiance to the older beliefs. The British Isles were - and in many ways still are today - a meeting place for many different styles of life and faith.

This intersection of culture, and the different ways people approach it, is at the heart of Theresa's book. Abbess Hild, leader of the religious community, is willing and able to bridge the potential gap of religious experience in order to integrate the community rather than divide it. She is an inspirational figure, successfully threading the difficult line between compassion and compromise.

The plotline is basically a murder mystery, with the detective role played by the abbey herbalist Fridgyth. She personifies many of the tensions and insecurities of the age, and I found her an endearing character who it was easy to identify with. Along with that, the frequent references to, and recipes for, herbal and folk medicines give depth to her experience. Regarding the murder mystery, there are some echoes here of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, though the motives here reflect the turbulent political and social setting of the times, rather than the religious extremism that Eco likes to target. As such, the story, and the motives of the various protagonists, are much more accessible to a modern audience.

But the mystery is only part of the subject matter, and only part of the charm of this book. More prominent are the everyday difficulties and triumphs faced by the inhabitants of Whitby - both within and without the abbey walls. It is a time when plague ravages the land, leaving whole communities decimated, orphaned, and struggling in its aftermath.

This lends a sense of perspective to the grim events within the abbey - for many lay people living nearby, there are much more urgent survival challenges. In any age it is easy to interpret drastic events as divine commentary on momentous, perhaps questionable, decisions, and this era was no exception.

Theresa blends poetry in with her prose, faithfully mirroring the Old English alliterative style - I personally found this a great source of delight. It is a style which held sway in this country and elsewhere in Europe for a long time, before (many years later) being supplanted by the accentual and rhyme-dominated patterns which are much more familiar to many people. But in the world of Streonshalh, the traditional patterns of verse are alive and well, and used powerfully and beautifully by Caedmon and others to bridge the pre-Christian and Christian views of creation.

All in all, a very satisfying book to have read - and which I am sure I will re-read in a while. Five stars, definitely.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A pleasure to read, 10 Feb. 2013
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This review is from: A Swarming of Bees (Kindle Edition)
This is not my usual genre but I am so glad I opted to read this book, it paints a picture of a simpler and more gentle way of life and I found the book itself gently draws you in and keeps your interest. The characters and plot are believable and well written and it is easy to feel that you know the main characters and can relate to them and are able to easily visualise where they live and their daily routines. Beautifully written and a pleasurable read. Interestingly, whilst the plot is very good and was the reason I chose to purchase the book, as I enjoy thrillers and 'whodunnits' I enjoyed it more for the characters created and the journey back in time. I would happily read further books based on Fridgyth the herb wife.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very engaging read, 1 Feb. 2013
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This review is from: A Swarming of Bees (Kindle Edition)
I liked this book a lot. I am a fan of Ellis Peters' Cadfael series and, whilst being completely original, A Swarming of Bees evokes a pleasant feeling of familiarity. The Herb Wife, Fridgyth, precedes Brother Cadfael by a good 600 years, and a feeling of her time comes through clearly. The research required to paint such a clear picture of the period is evident in the detail and colour, and it makes for a very absorbing read.
I recommend this book highly.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lovely book, 23 Feb. 2013
This review is from: A Swarming of Bees (Paperback)
I enjoy murder mysteries, I love Whitby, I'm fascinated by the Anglo-Saxon period, and I read all Theresa Tomlinson's books, so I couldn't wait to get my hands on A Swarmng Of Bees. I wasn't disappointed. The novel is very well researched, giving it a strong sense of time and place, and the central character, Fridgyth, is resourceful, determined, thoroughly likable and credible, eangaging the reader willingly in her quest to solve the mystery of the unaccountable deaths that are taking place at Hild's Abbey. I met Fridgyth before in Wolf Girl, and I very much hope to meet her again!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars St Hilda, Easter, Murder!, 12 Dec. 2013
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This review is from: A Swarming of Bees (Kindle Edition)
This story resonated with me as I went to school near Whitby and often visited the Abbey. The story is set at the time of the conventions which were called to settle the dating of Easter and thus establishing the dominance of the Church of Rome. The author has created authentic characters who represent the various religious traditions which were still being practiced, the simpler Celtic church practices, the Roman clergy and the local people who still call on the Old Gods hailing back to Norse lore. Mixed into this are the various royal houses whose allegiance to Christianity are more political than religious. Fridgyth, the half-pagan herb-wife is a close friend to Hilda who chooses to ignore Fridgyth's other allegiances whilst accepting the good that comes from her care of the local people. This friendship is tested when deaths occur within the Abbey precincts whilst royalty is still in attendance and Fridgyth ignores Hilda's instructions to leave well alone. All the characters are well developed, and Fridgyth in particular is the local character we would all love to chinwag with. If you like history brought to life then you will thoroughly enjoy this well-written, absorbing and amusing story.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More imagination than Cornwell, 15 Sept. 2013
By 
Huscarl (Herts, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Swarming of Bees (Paperback)
I discovered this gem whilst on holiday in Whitby and was lucky enough to get a signed copy at a local bookshop.
The story centres around an ageing herb-wife in a murder mystery set in early England, to the backdrop of King Oswy, his sons and Frankish exiles.
The author approaches the subject of religion - the new, foreign Christianity vs the original Germanic beliefs with a refreshing balance unlike Bernard Cornwell in his Saxon or Uthred series which just bashes Christianity at every turn to the point it quickly becomes dull.
Instead Abbess Hild, the powerful woman in charge at Whitby or Strenoeshalh to give it it's Old English name is a fair and just character, tolerant and mindful of the die-hard old beliefs in Woden and Freya and the part they continue to play in the 'dual-faith' period of England.
The depictions of Cuthbert and Cædmon are touching and add a great deal for those that have read Bede's ''History of the English people'' which is a heavy influence on this novel and no worse for that.
To add to Bede, the author also acknowledges the work of Stethen Pollington and Kathleen Herbert (ASbooks.co.uk) which are well known to fans of Anglo Saxon England and a guarantee that this novel contains good historical research from which to tell its story.
The chapters are broken down into easy bite-size chapters, and two maps are provided at the start in addition to historical notes at the back.
It's worth sifting though the multitude of 'Viking' novels to find gems like this that tell of an almost forgotten but vital period in our nations history and the real historical characters that helped to shape it.
More like this please!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gripping historical tale, 28 Jun. 2013
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This review is from: A Swarming of Bees (Kindle Edition)
I bought this because it was on special offer and I like bees so I wasn't sure what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised. I wouldn't normally read this sort of murder mystery but I found it to be well written and well researched. The characters are very well described and the author manages to draw you in to the world of the herb-wife with ease. If you're planning a trip to Whitby I'd definitely recommend reading this. The book has also left me with a keen desire to keep bees!
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars These bees won't sting you - they will woo you., 28 May 2013
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This review is from: A Swarming of Bees (Kindle Edition)
A good read if you like north Yorkshire, especially the Whitby area, and you are interested in early history of the church and the Synod of Whitby. . The writer weaves a good story around the effects of the Synod and her imagination is attractive in the development of the history of the time.
It is an easy read and once started you want to read it through and enjoy it.
David Bolton:
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Whitby, 27 April 2013
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This review is from: A Swarming of Bees (Paperback)
Knowing Whitby well, and a little about the Abbess Hild and the Synod of Whitby, I looked forward to learning more. I was not disappointed, for Teresa Tomlinson writes well, painting a convincing Anglo-Saxon world for the reader to inhabit. To do that with ease and confidence requires much research in a wide field, and yet she has presented it lightly and beguilingly, drawing the reader along as we meet Fridgyth the herb-wife, the Abbess Hild, and the important figures who were present at the Synod.
I read Anna Pollard's review and was much impressed by her comments - I endorse them all. I was charmed by both Hild and Fridgyth - one Christian, one Pagan, both strong women in what was surely a man's world. And it was a delight for me to meet Cedd and Cuthbert, 'obscure' English saints known to me by name only before this book.
'A Swarming of Bees' is not a sentimental novel - it presents the realities of life in Anglo-Saxon times, complete with politics, plague and poisoning, as it must surely have been. The plot had enough twists and turns to please any detective-story addict, and the who, what and why of it led me on with page-turning eagerness. I was reminded of Brother Cadfael and found myself hoping that there will be other books about Fridgyth and Hild. And perhaps the little boy Billfrith, whose innocence and integrity brought a tear to my eye. If the mark of a good book is that the characters live on beyond the last page, then this is a good book.
All in all a thoroughly enjoyable read, and highly recommended.
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