by Rosemary Sutcliff
Opening line--"The thing happened with the appalling swiftness of a hawk swooping out of a quiet sky, on a day in late spring, when Frytha was not quite five."
This is a lesser-known Sutcliff, one which is set against the background of England just after the Norman invasion. It's interesting to note that while her books set in earlier periods tend to have protagonists who fight against the Saxons, here it's Northmen (i.e. former Vikings) who fight against the Normans.
The book is set in the Lakeland, which is to say Cumbria. It was fascinating to note how little the place names have changed for the last thousand years. Windingmere is quite recognizably Windermere, Keskadale is Kesdal, and Rydale Rydal.
The story isn't quite as bleakly tragic as some of Sutcliff's (The Mark of The Horse Lord
, for instance). I've never felt that any of her books are hopeless, but some of them have left me sobbing at the end. This one finished on a different note. Frytha and Bjorn are great characters, as is Aikin the Beloved.
The story is also loosely linked to The Lantern Bearers
and the others in that series. Part of Bjorn's inheritance is a ring: "a massive gold ring of ancient workmanship, much scored and battered, with a bezel of dark green translucent stone, on which was engraved a device of some sort.
'What is this thing like a fish?' Bjorn asked.
'A dolphin.'" p. 84
And if that doesn't sound familiar, you need to read some more Sutcliff. :)
Anyway, I enjoyed this one very much, because of the setting, the characters, Sutcliff's writing (masterful as always), and because of the new insight into a period of history I don't know much about.
Book source: public library
Book information: originally published 1956, reprinted 2007 by Front Street
Originally published here