ONE ALICE PETHERTON
ONE ALICE PETHERTON
Less than a year ago, Matthew Harffy published his first novel, The Serpent Sword. It was a stunning debut. So much so that I awaited his second novel with some anxiety. Would it be as good?
I was fortunate that Matthew sent me an advance copy and I was instantly captured by a novel every bit as gripping and accomplished as his first. Like the Serpent Sword, the Cross and the Curse is set in in seventh century Northumbria, a land and time of relentless strife and struggle.
It is published today. I recommend you grab a copy.
Here is my review.
One midnight several years ago I sat at the Great Sphinx listening to love poetry written five thousand years ago. I felt the ache of lost and found kinship with ancient forebears. I feel the same when reading Matthew Harffy’s work.
The best historical fiction enables the reader to simultaneously live in the here and now and the then and there. Matthew Harffy has this skill in abundance. He peoples his work with everyman and everywoman, allowing a bridge across the centuries, a meeting place.
His hero Beobrand is heroic and fallible, his wife Sunniva has the fears and longings of any woman whose young husband is called to battle. Other characters are also very much part of their time while being the sort you might bump into on the street today. King Oswald, for example, has the charisma of a mighty monarch even though his kingdom is a sparsely inhabited, tiny parcel of land. The reader believes Oswald leads a mighty war-host until the author deftly reveals it is made up of merely two hundred men. It is, of course, only two hundred men. Yet at the same time it is a war-host.
While reading The Cross and the Curse I was with the people of seventh century Bernicia as they split timber to make new homes, watched anxiously alongside them to see if the fire would flame enough to send a sacrifice to the gods, felt the terror and thrill of the shield-wall and the disgust and exhilaration of killing while escaping death.
Matthew Harffy’s first novel, The Serpent Sword, was superb. The second book, The Cross and the Curse, is every bit as good. He is one of the most accomplished and exciting voices in the field today. I love his novels and recommend them to you.
Kings and lord knew the value of art. Medieval monarchs had spent vast amounts supporting the church, giving away huge swathes of land, endowing religious orders and, most spectacularly of all, helping pay for the construction and embellishment of churches and cathedrals. These edifices were the spiritual counterpart of the king’s great castles. But they were also things of beauty, jewels of artistry and extravagance.
Renaissance kings preferred to show off their magnificence by building palaces.
Henry VIII of England owned perhaps 55 palaces, more than any English monarch before or since.
I’m not sure if he ever visited all of them, certainly he spent most of his reign in the south of England only venturing north once. Many of these great palaces are still standing and can be visited. Others are decayed, in ruins or have disappeared.
The most famous of his palaces are Hampton Court Palace, Greenwich Palace, the Tower of London, Whitehall and Nonsuch Palace. Go here http://onthetudortrail.com/Blog/2010/11/28/king-henry-viiis-palaces-royal-houses/ for more information or check out Simon Thurley’s book: The Building of England. How the History of England has shaped our buildings (William Collins, 2013).
The King of France, François 1 was an almost exact contemporary of Henry. They were sometimes allies, more often enemies and the greatest of rivals. But in the grandeur and ambition of his palace building François outdid even Henry.
He embellished his childhood home, Château d’Amboise, and brought Leonardo da Vinci to live there. He renovated Château Royal de Blois for his wife, Queen Claude, rebuilt the Palais du Louvre on the banks of the Seine and, when he got tired of that, built the Château de Boulogne to the west of Paris. He spent prodigious amounts on his favourite palace, the Château de Fontainebleau.
But he is perhaps best remembered for the glorious Château de Chambord.
It’s the largest château in the valley of the Loire and took twenty-seven years to build, although it was never actually completed. What is perhaps even more astonishing is that Chambord’s function was as a hunting lodge and François spent little more than two months there in total.
As Mel Brooks says in History of the World: Part 1 – “It’s good to be the King.” (Whether that King was François 1, Henry VIII or Brooks’s Louis XVI.)
If my arithmetic is correct then 984 BCE was three thousand years ago. Twice as long ago as the fall of the western Roman Empire. Ten times further back than the start of the Georgian Age in Britain, the death of Louis XIV of France, the Sun-King, the birth of the poet Thomas Grey and the great garden designer Capability Brown.
But because we’re now going so far back in time records are elusive and not to be trusted. So I’m going to cheat a little by casting my net over the half century between 1000 BCE and 950 BCE.
There were an estimated 50 million people living in the world.
This was the period when the middle east was slowly recovering from the Bronze Age Collapse which had led to a two hundred year period during which many of the most ancient states of the world were destroyed. Iron weapons were now becoming the norm.
India contained a number of powerful Iron Age kingdoms.The Shang dynasty in China was replaced by the Zhou.
The powerful Hittite Empire has collapsed. It is possible that three kings ruled Israel in this half century: Saul, David and Solomon. Ancient Iranians entered what would become Persia and the forebears of the Latin people began to migrate into Italy. Egypt was still recovering from the incursions of the Sea Peoples. In 894 BCE Osorkon the Elder becomes the first Pharaoh of Libyan origin.
The Assyrian Kingdom, one of the longest-lasting and most resilient nations of all time, had survived the Bronze Age collapse better than most but was now beginning a century of comparative decline. But never fear, this remarkable people bounced back again and got ready to conquer its third and greatest empire. Or, should I say, always fear. The Assyrians were one of the most ferocious and successful empire builders of any time. Think Genghis Khan with a civilised streak.
On a less blood-thirsty level, rice began to be cultivated in Japan. On a spiritual level, the great prophet Zoroaster may have been born. Or maybe some time over the next four hundred years. (See what I mean about elusive dates.) In Kenya there is evidence of farming. The Phoenicians may have invented the first alphabet at about this time.
The first known trousers or pants seem to have appeared in China, probably introduced by horse-riding peoples from the steppes.
Next time. 1,984 BCE – or very much thereabouts.
There’s little information about this year. In Rome it would have been known as year 769 Ab urbe condita, the 769th year since the founding of Rome.
The Emperor Augustus has been dead for two years and Tiberius is getting to grip to his new position of master of all he surveys. His beady eye was everywhere.
This year was also termed as the year of the consuls Sisenna Statilius Taurus. There’s not a lot known about the consul but several years later his son seems to have been accused of sorcery and committed suicide.
The other consul of this year was called Lucius Scribonius Libo. He was married to the grand-daughter of Pompey the Great. Possibly a bad choice of wife. He was accused of plotting against Tiberius. After a trial, where he was presumably found innocent, he was stabbed to death by Tiberius. Allegedly.
Another death was that of a man called Clemens who claimed to be Agrippa, the grandson of Augustus. He marched on Rome but Tiberius captured and tortured him. It is said that Tiberius asked him, “How did you become Agrippa?” and Clemens replied “The same way you became Caesar.” Possibly a bad choice of words.
In the north of Europe Tiberius’s nephew Germanicus was busy fighting against the Germans. Germanicus died fairly young. He may have got on the wrong side of, you’ve guessed it, Tiberius and he died in mysterious circumstances. His son became Emperor, the scary Caligula. His younger brother, Claudius also became Emperor and a star of stage and screen.
Germanicus also got involved in the endemic warfare between Rome and its great rival the Parthian Empire. The King of Kings in 16 CE was Artabanus III. He was possibly almost as nasty a character as Tiberius. Both lived long and prospered.
Further east, the Kushan empire was expanding across Afghanistan into India. The King in the year 16 was called Heraios. The culture of the Kushan appears to have been a real melange, with influences from Iran, India, the steppes and the Hellenistic world. This coin shows something of this.
It could almost be Greek but the king’s deformed head is a trait of the Kushan people. I think there’s something a little Tudor about it.
In Mesoamerica the Zapotec empire was flourishing with its main centre at modern day Monte Albán.
Next up – and here’s where I had to get a calculator to check my numbers – is the year 984 BCE. A year of trousers.
The start of a new year seems a good time to take a really long, backward look at history. I’m going to do this in one thousand year leaps. So today, here are a few things which happened in the year 1016.
Earthquakes hit Jerusalem and partly destroy the Dome of the Rock.
In England, Aethelred the Unready dies and is succeeded by his son, Edmund Ironside.
Ironside defeats Canute of Denmark in battle in April and, in his turn, is defeated by him in October. Both young kings agree to divide England between them.
In November Ironside dies, possibly murdered, possibly by Eadric the Grasper, one of the greatest villains of English history. Interestingly, given the 14th century picture of Ironside to the right, he may have been murdered while sitting on the toilet.
Canute becomes king of England, adding it to his Danish lands which became the core of a large Empire including Norway.
Ironside’s new born son is spirited away from England and spends most of his life in exile. His son, Edgar, is the last proclaimed king of England.
The Normans begin to gain a foothold in Italy, leading eventually to powerful duchies and Kingdoms.
The repercussions or many of these events are played out in my The Lost King books.
Next up – The year 16. And then going ever back in time.
This seems an appropriate title for this post as it’s been a while since I last posted. But it really refers to the fact that I’ve written 30,000 words of my newest novel and realised that I could improve it greatly by starting with a new focus. It means a large, though not total rewrite.
A few years ago I might have been upset at having to jettison all that work. Now I am delighted. This is because I know that the novel will be much better for the change. I think it also says something about the way I approach my writing.
I’ve learned an immense amount from writing the novels I have, by reading some wonderful new work and by becoming involved in a very creative editing process with my Lake Union editors.
The new book? I’m not going to say much about it – in case I have to make even more fundamental changes. But it’s set way back in the past, nearly 4,000 years ago. Not a Norman, Saxon or Viking in sight.
Talking of Normans and Saxons, the fourth book in my The Lost King series has just been published. It’s called In Search of Glory and can be found here: myBook.to/Glory. http://www.amazon.com/Search-Glory-Lost-King-Book-ebook/dp/B0168W4QW6/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8
The first three books are now available in paperback as well.
And, if you’re wondering if I’m totally immersed in the ancient world you might be interested to know that a second book about Alice Petherton will be published in late January 2016. You can pre-order it now by following this link: myBook.to/VeryLikeAQueen http://www.amazon.com/Very-Like-Queen-Martin-Lake-ebook/dp/B013P1NTEO/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8
Finally, as the year wends to a close, huge thanks to everyone who has bought my books, written reviews, encouraged and cheered me and become my friend. I really appreciate it.
Happy holidays everyone.