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An interesting read...
on 27 September 2013
I don't really know what to think about this novel (not a great start to a review, I realise). I really want to like it, and I did enjoy reading it, but I'm not sure it entirely found its feet.
For a start, it's a fascinating story - the handfasted wife of King Harold, her place usurped by a church-wed wife in a marriage of political convenience - is forced to make the best of it she can at a time of great upheaval, as the Normans invade and the country is turned upside down by their unstoppable force. Her husband killed at the Battle of Hastings, she has her fair share of derring-do as she struggles for her own survival and that of her children.
So far, so good. A great premise for a story. And clearly very thoroughly researched, which made for interesting reading. I did wonder if perhaps the grittier realities of the Saxon times were rather airbrushed over - there did seem to be lots of fine cloth, clean linen, and delicious food and not a lot of smell, smoke, fleas and animal dung. But I suppose this story was dealing with the upper echelons of society so that's forgivable.
In her notes the author excuses filling in the gaps in the known story of Edith Swanneck, because, as she rightly says, this is meant to be a historical novel and not a work of history. However, I think in working so hard to recreate the history as accurately as possible, she might have lost sight of that sometimes. Ultimately I think there are a lot of missed opportunities for creating real, expressive characters with whom the reader can identify - they all seemed pretty one-dimensional. Eldytha's (and others) emotional responses to traumatic events were barely explored - occasionally she wipes a tear away with her sleeve and says a fervent prayer, but so much more could have been done in this respect that would have lifted the work beyond merely interesting, and made it emotionally involving too. Interactions between characters suffered from the same lack of dramatic interest.
Nonetheless, it's worth reading, it's quite a gripping story and nice to see a historical novel tackle the period from a woman's perspective.
PS, if the publishers read this for heaven's sake remind your copy editors of the difference between 'sliver' and 'slither'. Reading about 'a slither of mandrake root' and 'a slither of the true cross' made me want to howl!