Friday 25 February 2022

The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe, by Matthew Gabriele and David M Perry

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads not found

early Medieval 'Dark Ages'

Historical fiction writers ask a lot of ‘what if?’ questions: it’s the starting point for most of our books, at least in their creation. Over the decades I’ve been writing and reading, a rather striking number of the ‘what if’ scenarios have been backed up by new data, or new interpretations of information, perhaps nowhere as noticeable as in books set in what used to be called 'the dark ages'. 

I read The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe both out of pure interest and as research for my own ‘empire at the edge of history’ novels. Matthew Gabriele and David M. Perry are both medievalists, and their new book is an accessible, easily-read survey of selected times and places between the decline of Rome and the beginning of the Renaissance. But the focus is not on the wars and beliefs that divided people, but the commonalities and compromises that blended and merged into communities that often took the best from the varied traditions and pasts to create something new. 

Whereas historians sometimes ignore individual histories in favour of larger trends and political change, Gabriele and Perry frequently use what is known about a person, or a group of people, to illustrate the exchange of ideas and knowledge over routes of trade and pilgrimage (whether travelled in peace or in aggression) that fueled the growth of political structures, philosophies, theologies and cultures. Focusing away from the concept of medieval Europe as a male-dominated bastion of ‘purity’, as has been all too frequently proclaimed, the authors show us the influence of women and people of all ethnicities and religions in the shaping of politics and belief.

For me as a novelist, the human story against the background of history is always my focus, and in The Bright Ages there are many human stories to tantalize a writer. Some I knew well; some I knew a little about; some were new to me. And where my interest has been piqued, each chapter also has suggestions for further reading, which is going to be dangerous for both my bookshelves and my bank account! 

The Bright Ages is a survey, not a detailed study, and at just over 250 pages it necessarily has left out more stories than it has told. But for a novelist looking for ideas – or for someone reading for pleasure and to learn – it’s an excellent starting point. And if  nothing else, the imagery of the first and last chapters will remain in my mind for a very long time. 

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Marian L. Thorpe
 e-version reviewed

No comments:

Post a Comment

We do not accept comments. If you need to contact Discovering Diamonds go to the CONTACT facility

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.