Friday, 21 August 2015

The Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bower

Reviewer: JJ Marsh

What we thought: 1066 and you’re right in the middle of it. You may have learned all about Hastings, Harold and the Bayeux Tapestry before, but this book shakes off the classroom dust and catapults you into the action. This is historical fact, fiction and action in one beautifully written novel.

Thrusting the reader onto a bloody battlefield, the book picks out two characters from this cast of thousands and tells the story from the perspective of a bishop and a seamstress. Through their eyes we hate, grieve, love and judge. The Norman invasion places Bishop Odo in an extraordinarily powerful position through the might of the church. Saxon handmaid Gytha plans silent retaliation against these new masters yet finds herself wrong-footed by the kindness of the man she sees as so brutal.

The texture of this piece is enthralling, with all the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of mediaeval England vividly described. Bower pulls no punches with violence, sex and physical harshness of survival and echoes Hilary Mantel in her understanding of political intrigue.

It’s a long book with a vast cast and occasionally the pacing falters, but the people and place and even the period get under your skin. This book draws you into its bloody, fierce, heartbreaking world and refuses to let you go. Next time someone mentions 1066, I’ll say, “I know. I've been there.”

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier

Avoid if you don’t like: Mediaeval realities, blood, violence, sex and British history

Ideal accompaniments: Gnaw on a roasted goose leg, swill cloudy ale and listen to L’Amour de Lonh by Ensemble Gilles Binchois

Genre: Historical Fiction

Available from Amazon

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