I have a long-standing love affair with Rosemary Sutcliff. Not literally, of course. In my opinion, she is simply the best of the best when it comes to historical fiction. I had never read The Shining Company
before but it is now high on my recommended list.
The book expands the events described in the poem Y Gododdin
, mainly from the point of view of Prosper, son of Gerontius and shieldbearer to one of the three hundred heroes who make up the Shining Company. The three hundred were called to Dyn Eidin (Edinburgh) to become a fighting force ready to take on the Saxons in the southeastern part of England.
I found it a fascinating look into the life of Britain after the Romans had left but before it was (almost) wholly conquered by the Saxons. Sutcliff shows a sense of lost history already present. I believe she may reference one of her other books, Frontier Wolf
, at one point. Prosper is a likable main character, and I loved the depiction of fellowship among the company. But most of all, I loved Sutcliff's writing. This book in particular had a great beauty in its prose.
I'm trying to refrain from giving away the ending, although if you read the link to the information on Y Gododdin you'll know what most of it is. I think the resolution that comes is a fitting one, full of hope and full of sorrow.
It is the strength of the blade that is the aim of all this; the beauty is by the way. The beauty is by the grace of God.
...and the gladness upon us that was all one with the morning and the white hart in last night's moon-shot forest.
I do not think that you can be changing the end of a song or a story like that, as though it were quite separate from the rest. I think the end of a story is part of it from the beginning.
It was like watching part of some half-lost hero tale, something that belonged to an older and darker and more shining world than mine.
Book Source: my school library
This really was a year of Rosemary Sutcliff. What can I say? She’s the best at historical fiction. As with so many of her books, the joy and sorrow of life are woven together here, with an end product that is tragic beyond words and hopeful at the same time. Her description of landscape and place are superb, as always. (Jan. 2010)