Thursday, June 04, 2015

"Stonehenge" and "The Empty Throne," by Bernard Cornwell

More from my list of books I most wanted to read in 2015:

 "Stonehenge," by Bernard Cornwell

Unlike many of my favorite books by Bernard Cornwall, "Stonehenge" stands alone rather than as part of a series. I've been fortunate enough to visit Stonehenge several times during my life and take notice of how the surroundings of the site keep changing (as do I!), but the stones themselves certainly give a good representation of being eternal.

Stonehenge, book review, "Stonehenge" by Bernard Cornwell

Cornwall employs his usual skill in translating historical and archaeological facts into a vivid reality of the reader's imagination. In the case of Stonehenge, much is known while more remains a mystery.  The detailed historical notes at the end of the novel are informative and made a number of points I was previously unaware of. For example, "henge" is a Saxon word meaning "hanging." So it is thought to refer specifically to the lintels at Stonehenge -- a connecting feature not seen at other sites. Nonetheless the term "henge" has come to mean any circle of standing stones.

Stonehenge, book review, "Stonehenge" by Bernard Cornwell

Stonehenge, book review, "Stonehenge" by Bernard CornwellHe also makes the interesting, and perhaps unverifiable but nonetheless compelling, point that whatever its purpose as an astronomical marker, Stonehenge must have served a larger purpose in the lives of the people who built it in much the same way as later cathedrals do. Most likely the site served as an appropriate location for marking the great events of life: birth, death, marriage etc. as well as seasonal celebrations.

Alignment of structures to capture the sun's rays on specific days was not a new concept when Stonehenge was built. Cornwall cites the example of Newgrange in Ireland. Newgrange is a chambered tomb and temple, best known for being aligned and built such that entrance passage and chamber is illuminated by the winter solstice sun.

"The Empty Throne," by Bernard Cornwell

My name is Uhtred. I am the son of Uhtred, who was the son of Uhtred, and his father was also called Uhtred.
So begins "The Empty Throne," book 8 in Bernard Cornwell's "Saxon Tales" series. Fans of the series will remember that book 1, "The Last Kingdom," begins with the identical lines. But in "The Empty Throne" we realize quickly, and with alarm, that this is not our Uhtred. It is his second son, Uhtred, who has been given this name follow the disinheritance of his older brother for training as a Christian priest.

I won't say more about this shift in narrators, in order to avoid spoilers. What I will do is comment that every time I think this series may be becoming a bit formulaic, my brain is completely sucked into the world and adventures and I don't care about anything else.

BBC America has been tantalizing us with a brief trailer for an upcoming series based on the books, and titled "The Last Kingdom." The ads don't say even what year it will be airing, but I can't wait! There's a bit where a shield wall locks into place that sends shivers up my spine!

Warwick Castle, book review, "The Empty Throne" by Bernard Cornwell
The grassy area in the middle is where Aethelflaed (or Ethelfleda as she is known locally) had the first fortifications built at the site that would later become Warwick Castle

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