Ah the joys of Google and Amazon, and random discoveries of past writings! In 2000 one Mel Saxby reviewed Rosemary Sutcliff’s Knight’s Fee, urging people to read an “underrated” novel:
Knight’s Fee is one of the four or five books I’ve read in my life which alway make me cry. Though written for children, it’s completely unpatronising, always crediting the reader with intelligence and imagination, and is beautifully written. It tells the story of Randal, a half-Saxon half-Breton lad in Norman England, an orphan left to fend for himself as a dog-boy in Arundel castle, and details his gradual rise to knighthood and freedom, at a terrible price. I have only ever seen this book in hardback, in an Oxford Childrens Library edition, never in paperback, which is a great pity, as it is a vastly underrated book by this author, far better I think than her more well-known stories of Roman Britain, and deserves to be much more widely read.
4 thoughts on “Rosemary Sutcliff’s Knight’s Fee always made Mel Saxby cry!”
I recently re-read a couple of Ms. Sutcliff’s novels, including Warrior Scarlett, Bonnie Dundee and Knight’s Fee, and now I’m wondering: Could Randal by any chance be related to the Aquilas and might Dean be located where their old farm used to be? It’s not just that both are somewhere in the Downs, it’s also that the hills feel somewhat similar, and that Randal feels a sense of homecoming when he first gets there (as does the reader, I might add).
Admittedly, the timeframe doesn’t work too well, with Bjorn as the last Aquila still being alive and well in the north at that point (Ranulf le Meschin being a commander at Randal’s battle of Tenchebrai), but maybe Randal could be a distant relative of Flavia’s?
It’s details like this that make me go back to Ms. Sutcliff’s books at least once a year, and I’m well into my 30s.
It’s always possible – continuity was one of Rosemary Sutcliff’s strongest themes, and she often liked to sneak into her novels points of connection with other of her books set in different periods. If you’ve read “Warrior Scarlet” you’ll have recognised one of those connections when Randal from “Knight’s Fee” holds in his hand an ancient flint axe made for a man “left-handed or one-handed”, and in that haunting moment touches Drem of “Warrior Scarlet”.
I always feel a shiver down the spine when I read this piece: “[Randal] had an extraordinary sense of kinship with the unknown man who had first closed his fingers over that strange weapon, who had perhaps seen the wolves leaping about the lambing pens as he, Randal, had almost seen them for an instant tonight; an extraordinary feeling of oneness with Dean, of some living bond running back through the blue, living flint, making him part of other men and sheep and wolves, and they a part of him. This was the true seisin”.
I first read Knights Fee as a twelve year old in 1963. I can whole – heartedly concur with Miss Saxby’s reveiw of this modern masterpiece. I still mourn the loss of my old, dog-eared copy, and would dearly love to be able to purchase a paper-back edition. Quite simply the book instilled in me a sense of adventure and an insight into the indisputable fact that some times there is a price to pay before good overcomes evil. Rosemary Sutcliff’s Knights Fee in my oppinion is certainly equal to anything written by Kipling or R L stevenson.
I have to confess it is a while since I read it – so your comment sends me back to it! I had a look just now and think you might find some paperback editions on Amazon if you were able to afford and purchase via that route.