Sunday, 3 July 2016

Becky Bookworm Book Review: The Harrowing by James Aitcheson

The HarrowingThe Harrowing by James Aitcheson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where to begin - how about from the very beginning - I must warn all future readers that this book is one of those where it is what it says on the cover - Harrowing - this is a book that deals with the grim, the dark, the deadly, the deceitful, the shameful, even sinful, parts of humanity. All set within the bleakest period of medieval English history - the Harrowing of the North - where the Normans led by Duke William (and King of England alas) came and 'laid waste' to the northern shires. So if you are at all squeamish this probably isn't the best choice - not that James has filled every chapter with hangings, murder, rape, hall burning, starvation etc. In fact the actual carnage of the setting is presented in a more sinister manner, with a great subtlety that will chill you. As horrific as the previous list of incidents involved in The Harrowing is, James shows you that for a survivor the empty landscape, lack of food & water and absence of family, friends, homes and most importantly TRUST, is perhaps a bigger danger than the blades of the Normans themselves.
So welcome to the world of 1068 and you will learn, see, feel, hear and experience why so many of the time thought it was the End of the World and that God was indeed punishing them all for their wicked ways through the medium of Norman tyranny.
The Reader will get to know 5 characters in this dark & foreboding world - Tova a servant, Merewyn a Lady, Beorn a Warrior, Guthred a Priest and Oslac a Minstrel. Each flees not just the Normans but also a secret past, a secret sin, each struggles against suspicion to forge an unlikely alliance of travellers as they try to reach a place in the far north where an army of rebels is gathering to strike back at the Normans. Over 7 days and 7 nights, each character battles not just the severe winter elements, the sights of their people butchered and the constant threat of the approaching Norman army; each also battles with their own fear of the future, each tries in vain to keep any hope of freedom, peace, even normality, returning to their once simple lives.
This is a very different book compared to James's original trilogy involving Tancred a Norman Knight. Not just in point of view - the majority of the tale is told from Tova's eyes, you only ever hear her thoughts and opinions and feelings towards the group of survivors - this makes a noticeable different in that James is writing from a female voice, not a male voice. He also uses multiple voices as this story is about five people, not just Tova. This technique is perhaps the most challenging to write as you must make each voice distinctive as each character is and he does this masterfully well. The toning and phrasing is just right for each character - as the Reader travels with these characters I am sure each reader will have their own favourite and each will not only judge but also change their minds about others as their secrets are revealed one by one, and these secrets will have an impact on the groups survival. It is another wonderful masterstroke by James to weave five characters and five stories together as one but to also enable the past of each character to have such a direct and guaranteed surprising & shocking impact on the 'Present' of the story. Shows great story craftsmanship as well as planning & plotting to pull it off so completely without any flaws or tangles.
Yet again James has managed to illuminate in full colour, sound & sensation a much over-looked sometimes forgotten period of English history and remind us all through these five unique characters how very human the Anglo-Saxons were and the very real life-changing danger they all lived through.

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