Sunday, December 23, 2012

Review: Tree of Pearls

The title of the book "Tree of Pearls" by Jurji Zaydan is said to be based upon the first Muslim Queen of Egypt - Shagrat al-Durr, concubine to Al-Salih and mother of his son, who came to rule Egypt at the time of the Crusades under Louis IX.  She was said to have gained power with the aid of her favourite, 'Izz al-Din Aybak the Turk - who was also her confidant and lover.

However, the book is actually set in the latter years of her life - the Sultan is dead, news has just reached Tree of Pearls that her son has been killed by rebelling Mamluks.  Tree of Pearls is acclaimed Queen but her reign is short-lived as a rival plots her downfall - and so the story revolves around two new female characters - Sallafa (the rival) and Shwaykar (the handmaiden of Tree of Pearls).

It is around this same time that a new player enters the field - Rukn al-din Baybars - and the story moves to the court of the Caliphs of Baghdad as Baybars pursues his stolen love from the clutches of a jealous rival.  

And this really is the last we hear of Tree of Pearls until the fall of Baghdad to the Mongols when we learn the fate and future of all the main characters.

It is part historical fiction part historical narrative.

Useful Links:

Friday, December 21, 2012

Xmas Arrivals

Just in time for Xmas - new arrivals in the Library:

Christopher Marlowe by Park Honan
Capetian France 987 - 1328 by Elizabeth Hallam
Family Power in Southern Italy by Patricia Skinner
The Norman Conquest of Southern Italy and Sicily by Gordon S Brown
Thorfinn the Mighty by George M Brunsden
Galla Placidia by Hagith Sivan
The Tigress of Forli by Elizabeth Lev

All have been on my wishlist for some time - and the last one - Galla Placidia - arrived today.

Happy Reading to all!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Review: James Wilde – The Legend of Hereward

Hereward yields to William the Conqueror
With his first novel "The Time of the Wolf: A Novel of Medieval England" (also titled as "Hereward"), author James Wilde has presented us with a new take on the legend that is Hereward the Wake.  Hereward has been represented in the past as something of an ideal anti-hero along the lines of Robin Hood – he is the saviour of the Anglo-Saxons from the terrors of the Norman invaders. His use of violence is but a means to an end and is – on par - most acceptable according to the constructs of the time.

James’ Hereward takes on a darker persona (think modern-day Batman) where the legend is given a more human face and not one many may find themselves comfortable with.  He is a man who in the heat of battle is more akin to a Viking Berserker than family friendly superhero. 

Essentially the first book is set in the immediate years leading up to the Norman invasion 1060s – England is beset still from Viking raiders and the Anglo-Saxon Earls are jockeying for power around the aged Edward the Confessor.  The House of Godwin is in the ascendant but is not without its rivals. And it is into this scenario we find Hereward the outlaw – a man who is no longer under the protection of the community.  

In the Common Law of England, a "Writ of Outlawry" made the pronouncement Caput gerat lupinum ("Let his be a wolf's head," /  "May he bear a wolfish head") with respect to its subject ..  and equating that person with a wolf in the eyes of the law: Not only was the subject deprived of all legal rights of the law being outside of the "law", but others could kill him on sight as if he were a wolf or other wild animal.” (source: Wikipedia) - and hence the title is rather apt.

Hereward  travels to and is welcomed at the court of Tostig Godwinsson, Earl of Northumbria and brother of Harold Godwinsson, the most powerful man in England.  But in a turn of events, both are forced to flee to Flanders where Hereward becomes a mercenary.  He returns to England after the Battle of Hastings and so we are lead onto Book Two.

A crash course in pre-Conquest England politics is a must for those for whom this period in history is not their forte - for this is a period of violence, political scheming, personal ambitions and deadly rivalries.  It is also a time when the Church is attempting to flex its political arm by trying to curb the violence of the era (see Peace and Truce of God).

Synopsis - The Time of the Wolf: A Novel of Medieval England:
To some a brilliant warrior, to others a devil in human form, Hereward is as adept in the art of slaughter as the enemies that gather to claim England's throne. But in his country's hour of greatest need, he has been declared an outlaw. To stay alive - and a freeman - he must carve a bloody swathe from the frozen hills of Northumbria to Flanders' fields and the fenlands of East Anglia. The tale of a man whose deeds will become the stuff of legend, this is also the story of two mis-matched allies: Hereward the man of war, and Alric, a monk and a man of peace. One will risk everything to save the land he loves, the other to save his friend's soul... 

Synopsis - Hereward: The Devil's Army:
The battle of Hastings has been lost. Harold Godwinsson is dead. The iron fist of William the Bastard has begun to squeeze the life out of England. But there is one who stands in the way of the invader's savagery. He is called Hereward. He is a warrior and master tactician and as adept at slaughter as the imposter who sits upon the throne. And he is England's last hope.

Further Reading:
Hereward the Last English Gentleman - Peter Rex
Hereward the Last of the English - Charles Kingsley
Hereward the Wake - trans Michael Swanton 
Hereward the Wake - Scared Texts

Some Links:
Article from the Independent in 2005 in which David Keys writes of the new evidence on the ancestry of Hereward - and it is this theory that Wilde adopts for his Hereward.
One of history's "greatest Englishmen" wasn't really English at all. Hereward the Wake, the guerrilla leader who fought William the Conqueror for five years from 1066, was, according to new research, a high-ranking Dane.

The research by the historian Peter Rex sheds a fascinating light on the political circumstances of the time. Ever since the late ninth-century Viking raids, parts of eastern England had often come under Danish control - and for some of the 11th century the whole of England became part of a vast Danish empire, which also included Norway, southern Sweden.

England became the subject of a geopolitical tug-of-war between the Scandinavians and the Normans. The half-Norman English king Edward the Confessor was intensely pro-Norman, while his half-Danish successor Harold was supported by the Anglo-Danish community.

In 1066 the country was invaded by both the Scandinavians and the Normans, both of whom were determined to seize permanent control of England.

As an ethnic Dane, Hereward was intensely anti-Norman, probably even more so than many Anglo-Saxons.

He was able to enlist military support from Denmark itself, the new research reveals, and in 1069 the Danish royal family and the Danish church sent a small army across the North Sea to assist Hereward.

As a result of his long guerrilla campaign and by avoiding the attentions of the William's soldiers he earned the popular title "the Wake", meaning "the watchful".

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Old Book Reviews

Below are links to some older book reviews that I had posted over at Women of History:

Please feel to comment ......

I will also add some links to reviews by others that I think may interest you - again they cover a wide range of topics.