Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Sworn Sword, James Aitcheson

Publishers: Arrow Books

Pages: 403

Main Characters:

Tancred a Dinant, Wace, Eudo

Sworn Sword is the first book in James Aitcheson’s 1066: The Bloody Aftermath series. The novel is based two years after the Norman conquest of England and tells the tale of Tancred a Dinant, a Norman Knight serving under the Earl of Northumbria, Robert de Commines.  Tancred’s story starts with the Norman capture of the city of Durham (or Dunholm as it’s called in the book). Tancred is on a scouting mission looking for any English fugitives that have escaped the attack on the city. But his mind is elsewhere. He would much rather be celebrating the victory with his comrades in the city and spending time with his woman Oswynn than riding through the dark, wet Northumbrian countryside.  But his mission soon becomes less of a strenuous walk and more of a fight for survival.

Tancred and his men come across a regrouped horde of English warriors and a new Northumbrian army led by Eadgar Ætheling, an English pretender to King William’s throne. Tancred and his companions are trapped in a fierce fight, but it is a fight they cannot win, and are forced to flee as Durham is sacked and recaptured by the English. Tancred is wounded and left without a Lord as Robert de Commines is killed. But, with the help of his friends Wace and Eudo, he makes his way to York (Eoferwic). After passing out for a few days, Tancred awakes in the house of Guillaume Malet the vicomte of York. After he has recovered, Tancred is given a mission by Malet to take his family to the safety of London and to escort his priest Ælfwold to Wilton (Wiltune) with a message. After giving his oath to Malet, Tancred, Wace and Eudo set out on their journey South, and it is not a moment too soon as Eadgar’s army is about to lay siege to York!

On their journey Tancred, Wace and Eudo uncover a secret conspiracy that could unite the entire English race against the Normans and send them back over the Narrow Sea! Tancred must work out who the conspirators are and help recapture York to stop the secret becoming known! But will he and his two companions be able to do it in time? Or will King William and the Normans have a country-wide rebellion to put down?

For me this was a great book. For some time I have been looking for a novel that is based around 1066 and the Norman Conquest and Sworn Sword was just what I wanted. It is not directly based around the Battle of Hastings but does refer back to it as Tancred talks about what happened there. I really liked that Aitcheson decided to base his novel after the battle and more on the Northumbrian rebellions and the ‘Harrying of the North’ because I think that this point in history is as important as the Battle of Hastings. It was a time where the Normans effectively colonised England, interbreeding and intermarrying with the English, further gaining a hold on the Kingdom. Plus the ‘Harrying’ showed King William’s determination to keep hold of his Kingdom by killing thousands of Northerners and creating an elaborate castle system throughout  the North to further police and control the English population, (many of these castles are still standing today!) further cementing in the English psyche that they were here to stay!  It shows to people that Norman history is not just about 1066 and the Battle of Hastings but has other as exciting and important parts! Plus I enjoyed it because it is based in the North and I’m a Northern boy!

The book itself was well written and I thought Aitcheson paid a lot of attention to detail. For example giving place names their French/Saxon names instead of just their modern English ones. I also liked that some of his characters like Robert de Commines and Guillaume Malet are based on real historical people, further showing that he added more detail to his novel to make it seem that much more factual and enjoyable to read!

As I said I was looking for a good novel about 1066 and Sworn Sword really delivers! I would suggest this book to anyone who is a fan of Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Stories as it is based around similar themes; they both are about the conquest of England (Cornwell=Vikings, Aitcheson=Norman) and both are great reads! And I can't wait to read the sequel The Splintered Kingdom!

For author’s website please click here

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