Bernard Cornwell writes a lot of historical fiction. I have read most of his Saxon Chronicles series, which I really enjoyed. If you want to see what I had to say about those books, just type his name in the search box on this blog and you will get a list of his books which I read.
One of the things I like about his books is that at the end, he gives a brief historical perspective and explanation of the historical period in which the novel is set.
This novel is about….. Stonehenge. It is set in 2000 BC, at the start of the bronze age. It follows one young man and his family. We meet him when he is six years old, and he and his brother come upon an injured outlyer, a person from a tribe far away whom their tribe considers enemies. The man crawls into the ruins of some old temple, and the older brother, a mean SOB, kills him in cold blood. Among his belongings, they find a huge cache of gold, stolen from his home tribe.
The boys’ father is head of their tribe, and takes the gold to a neighboring tribe with whom they have only a very tenuous peace, offers them the gold in exchange for a solid peace pact, which is accepted.
The story goes on to follow the boy Saban as he grows into an adult, which is pretty dicey, because the older brother tries first to kill Saban because Saban saw him steal the gold, and then after they come of age, manages to sell Saban into slavery. You know, the normal sibling rivalry stuff.
And we also have another brother, born club footed, who instead of being sacrificed to the gods as was the usual custom, (nice multitasking there, getting rid of the people who cannot contribute to the society and would only be a drain on it, and having a live sacrifice for the gods at the same time. Nice use of resources.) is simply turned out of the village to survive on his own, because his father was the chief. But he is clever, survives, and also sees the older brother stealing the gold treasure. He goes to the sorceress of the neighboring village and she teaches him the arts, and also pretty much fixes his club foot. Orthopedic surgery was a bit more primitive in those days, and she fixed it by slamming a mallet on it. Ouch. You know, the old ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ technique of bone surgery. Yeah. Well. He goes on to become a scary and competent dark sorcerer and he wants to build a new temple to the sun god, claiming that it will bring peace to the land, there will be no more war, no more hunger, yada yada. Sounds like every politician you ever heard, right?
So while Saban is living with the outlyers far from his native village, having been released from bondage, his sorcerer brother comes to him for help in building the temple. That’s when all the quarrying operations begin, and there is a lot of speculation by our author as to how this operation was conducted. Very interesting, and could well be just how it was managed.
The basis of the story is the building of what we now call Stonehenge, overlayered with a lot of saving of people from being burned to death in sacrifices, or having their heads lopped off in sacrifices, and descriptions of battles, and the rest of daily life among the unwashed. And I say unwshed because I found it interesting that the author portrays these folks who lived like 4,000 years ago, as having farming skills, as knowing how babies were created, because there was a lot of lineage stuff going on, as having certain healing arts, but they never washed, because there is frequent mention of how dirty everyone was. Also, hardly anyone ever died in childbirth, and hardly any babies died with the frequency they seemed to in say, the medieval period. Every character of note who got pregnant had an uneventful pregnancy, had the baby, both mother and baby doing fine, thanks, and no mention of women having 15 pregnancies with only say 3 surviving children, or how many women died in childbirth. Oh well. Written by a man from a man’s point of view, which was the raping and sexing and battles point of view.
Be all that as it may, I really enjoyed the book, both the story and the incidental details. He is an excellent writer, does a boatload of research for his fictions, so it all has an uncanny feel of reality about it.