Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The Harrowing by James Aitcheson

James Aitcheson is an expert on the Middle Ages with a particular interest in the Norman Conquest of 1066. In his fourth novel, he focuses on the settling in period, when the new King William had to establish control over England, quelling resistance wherever it arose. This is the harrowing of the title – the Norman soldiers marching through the north, where lords and their subjects were last to submit, resulting in the burning of manors and villages, the killing of any who stood in their way.

Into these dark and dangerous times, a noblewoman, Merewyn, and her young maid, Tova, escape into the midwinter night, fearing for their lives, not at the hands of Normans, but their own people. They are rescued by the warrior, Beorn, who offers them protection as they journey north, his aim: to fight in the last Saxon rebellion at Hagustaldesham. The trio are joined by Guthred, a priest, and Oslac, a minstrel, all forming an awkward alliance based on desperation rather than trust.

Most of the story is told from the point of view of Tova. She’s a determined and fiercely loyal young woman and excellent company for the reader. She stands up to Beorn and begs him to take her and Merewyn with him, and even talks him into teaching her how to fight. Blended into her narrative are the stories of each of her fellow travellers and each has a terrible secret to atone for.

The Harrowing is a compelling novel, beautifully written and full of period detail that recreates England of 1070. You know that the past is all set to catch up with our five travellers even if the Normans don’t, so there’s plenty to keep you turning the pages. But be warned: there are quite a few fight scenes and descriptions of violence, so the book is definitely not for the faint-hearted. It's a ripping read, none the less.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Harrowing

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