One of the first books reviewed on this blog was Emperor by Stephen Baxter. In that review I said that I wanted to read and puzzle about the new prophecy before the new book came along. Well, finally I have that prophecy, and the book to go with it.
The prophecy was spoken in Saxon, and this book covers a the Dark Ages in English history. History buffs and those who are regular film-goers will know that after Rome left Britain, many tribes from the north, the south and the east invaded the island regularly. One of the first tribes to invade was the Saxons. Eventually they were seen as the native Britains and other tribal societies invaded.
This books covers 3 major events in English history through the eyes of individuals caught up in the drama. The first of these were a Norse and a German mercenary who traveled with an early Christian bishop to find the last living Roman. They travel through England and the reader gains a wonderful picture of the Saxon villages through their eyes. Eventually they find the Roman and from him recieve the prophecy of Isolde, learnt by rote because neither of the mercenaries could read.
Fast forward through hundreds of years of history. The next event shows a Byzantine bookseller heading for the island of Lindesfarne to sell his books to the monastery there. One of these books is called the Menologium of Isolde, a prophetic poem that has been handed down through a Saxon family until eventually one of the family learned to read and write and recorded it. The poem centres on events that will happen during the year that a comet appears in the sky. Modern readers do not have to think too hard before realising that the comet in question is Halley’s. We all know what happened at Lindesfarne, and I’ll just say that our bookseller was still there at the time. Surprisingly though, the Menologium survived.
Fast forward again to Alfred the Great and the invasion of the Danes. It appears that the Menologium, now given great credibility after Lindesfarne, predicts that Alfred will defeat the Danes and turn them to Christianity. This helps mobilize the English forces in the great battle, again a wonderful scene within the book.
And finally fast forward to 1066. This time the Menologium expert has Harold’s ear, and the expert is convinced that the victorious fighting man in the prophecy is Harold Godwinson. Oops…
These comments cannot do justice to the characterisation of the individuals within this book. Each section must necessarily develop all the important characters quickly, let them tell their tale, and get on with the battle scene, and then leave them all for the next. Very few of these are even blood relatives of those who appeared before, and their whole story must be told in about 80 pages. Surprisingly, they manage.
When I finished the book, I wasn’t at all sure that the series wasn’t wrapped up. But thank goodness, in September this year, I can look forward to the next installment.