Religion, agriculture, politics, regency, war, trade, architecture, food, laws, class systems, feudal systems, economics, literature, art, feminism, ancestry, modernity… there is pretty much nothing this book didn’t cover about the history of England. What an amazingly fascinating but oh-so-long read! (Seriously long. I read like I was on cocaine and it still took me 2 weeks to read it. Does cocaine make you do things fast or is that speed? Obviously, I didn’t learn much about the affects of illegal drugs.)
Starting out with the story of our paleolithic ancestors moving south for a warmer climate and eventually landing in what we now call Salisbury, England (or Sarum as it is referred to in the novel), each chapter then acts as almost a short story, that flows through the centuries and follows the generations of the original paleolithic family that settled there, as well as Saxon and Norman families that are also huge influence in Britain’s history.
In each chapter the author always sets up the cultural, economic, religious, and political atmosphere of that particular time in history but mixed in with captivating stories of the people that were directly or indirectly affected by the times. Merchants, knights, kings, slaves, archbishops, canons, magnates, servants, farmers, masons, mill owners, bishops, clergymen, sailors– all classes of people spread across the pages with all sorts of stories to tell of love, marriage, betrayal, affairs, deaths, friendships, rebellion, conformity, etc.
The thing I appreciated most about the novel was the vast array of characters that Rutherford created. Although he was brilliantly sneaky in how he was able to educate the reader about the history of England through fictional plotlines, his characters were remarkably human and the stories he told were often touching and sometimes heartbreaking. He also created some amazingly strong and wilful female characters that stood out to me the most. Not all his female characters were rebels of course, but the ones that were made me cheer on the sidelines and appreciate him including them in his stories.
Rutherford is a great historian and a great storyteller. I recommend this to anyone who wants to take on an epic read and has a thirst for history. If you don’t want either of those things, stick to your Archie comics. Just kidding. I love Archie.
Phew! Book 1 of the #50BookPledge done. I’mma choose some shorter books for the next few, methinks.