A review of 'The Northumbrian Saga' by AH Gray.
Aethelwin is the neice of King Osbert of Northumbria and a dedicated
supporter of both him and her family, ‘The Peace Weaver’, the first part
of this saga, is set against the turbulent times of the 9th century AD
when Britain was overwhelmed by Danish and Norwegian invaders; popularly
known as the Vikings. This provides an interesting historical backdrop
against which the story is told but it can be a little confusing with
many unfamiliar names and the particular character of Anglo-Saxon
England at this time. You do not have to be a student of the early
medieval period to enjoy this book and it is difficult for an author to
balance an honest historical account of the time with the need to keep
the reader entertained.
For the most part ‘The Peace Weaver’
manages to maintain the balance, never tipping into a historical essay
and so becoming dry or forgetting its’ period and resulting in a
superficial account of the fall of Northumbria as an independent
kingdom. I enjoy descriptive writing and so appreciated reading about
York, a place I know well, as the centre of the major events.
story is told from Aethelwin’s point of view, which offers a female
perspective on a period of history that is dominated by men.
Unfortunately it also means that the several battles occur in the
background with the women waiting for news. This is accurate but it does
rob the book of both the tension and the excitement that such events
can generate. There is one exception to this when the Northumbrians
attempt to recapture York and Aethelwin is caught in the middle of the
action, but events appear blurred, lacking a blow for blow account of
how the Northumbrians managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
also found the use of modern words somewhat jarring, they don’t occur
everywhere throughout the text but when they do they are noticeable.
This incongruity can be solved easily with a little editing.
for Aethelwin she did not have my sympathy throughout the whole of the
book. It should perhaps be remembered that she is only 13 at the
beginning when she is married off by her family; she lacks experience
and has a vaulted judgement of her own importance to her family and the
king. Her relationship with her husband could have been examined in
further depth perhaps, it would make her fall from grace all the more
poignant if the reader believed that at one point there was genuine
affection between the two. Her later exploits in a York under Danish
rule also do little to endear her as she seems motivated only by a dream
to free Northumbria of the Vikings and, consequently, fails to
establish any meaningful relationships with anyone who cannot be useful
to her in this pursuit. One aspect that I did like was the development
of her relationship with her half-sister as this helped to show their
growth and maturity.
I did not find any real surprises in the
development of the plot, however, but despite the lack of tension I was
intrigued enough to want to see what happened next. It was not a chore
to get to the end; in fact I enjoyed it. Indeed, Aethelwin’s situation
at the close of the book seemed very authentic and made her a character
easier to sympathise with.