Tuesday 28 November 2017

Fen-wolf by S.Pitt

Amazon UK £3.99
Amazon US $5.19

Military / Epic

Out of field, out of fen, out of forest we rose, putting fear behind us. Foe fled before us: hard-handed death-dealers, wolf-howling warriors, fierce in fealty; our swords glittered in the sunlight . . .

Spring,1066. Edward the Confessor is dead, England is at peace and Hereward, son of Eorl Leofric, returns from exile to his ancestral lands. But peace does not last and when Norman invaders murder his foster-brother, Hereward turns from thegn to outlaw. As the Normans tighten their grip and uprisings fail, rebels flock to join his band at Ely, the Isle of Refuge. Soon the whole Norman army is on its way, to destroy Hereward and, with him, the last centre of English resistance.

This magnificent novel can only be described as a tour de force. Ms Pitt gives us the early years of William the Conqueror’s reign through the eyes of his most determined opponent, a man whose name many may have heard of but not so many may know about. Hereward the Wake was an outlaw who opposed Norman forces to save his beloved Fenland and Mercia from their stranglehold – and failed. This, in part, I knew. Which is why the novel is a tour de force – I knew from the very beginning that our hero was not going to win and yet I read on for over a 1,000 ebook pages. Why: because the story is beautifully written; because I was interested in the small details of eleventh-century everyday life; because each of the characters was so skilfully drawn that I wanted to know what happened to his wife, friends and followers – and because Ms Pitt knows her horses.

It is a rare treat these days to read a historical novel where horses are treated as more than a convenient form of transport. As the novel opens, Hereward arrives back in his homeland from Flanders with a ‘lady’ wife, a bright little girl and two horses; one is a fabulous destrier stallion, the other, a sway-backed, bloody-minded, one-man mare. These horses form a meaningful part of the narrative and what happens to them is indicative of what ultimately happens to Hereward’s fen-wolves – his followers.

To say more is to spoil the story, but this is not a happy tale. Despite Hereward’s every effort, he rarely succeeds for more than a week at a time. His wife, an intelligent woman once accustomed to luxury, chooses to live in a humpy to be at his side, but the reader knows that cannot last. And yet, as their situation becomes graver, more hopeless, this reader wanted to read on. I even read every word of the battle scenes, which I’m apt to skim in most novels. Ms Pitt’s description of William’s men trying to make a pontoon to cross to Ely on war-horses and wearing their armour, is gripping. How Hereward’s men disappear into the woods and merge with the trees to harass trained knights is fascinating.

Fen-wolf is a big book - and definitely a Discovered Diamond.

© J.G. Harlond

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