In 2010 Joanna R. Smith blogged about reading Rosemary Sutcliff’s Dawn Wind—“gorgeous historical fiction” about Britain in the 6th Century AD. She loved (Rosemary Sutcliff’s): “storytelling and characters, and her talent of letting you hear and see and feel the things in her books. Her prose is quiet and lyrical and compelling, and this is “ Lovely, lovely stuff. The kind of writing I aspire to!”
The moon drifted clear of a long bank of cloud, and the cool slippery light hung for a moment on the crest of the high ground, and then spilled down the gentle bush-grown slope to the river. Between the darkness under the banks the water which had been leaden gray woke into moving ripple-patterns, and a crinkled skin of silver light marked where the paved ford carried across the road from Corinium to Aquae Sulis. Somewhere among the matted islands of rushes and water crowfoot, a moorhen cucked and was still. On the high ground in the loop of the river nothing moved at all, save the little wind that ran shivering through the hawthorn bushes.
Source: Just a Lyric in a Children’s Rhyme: A long bank of cloud
Over at Twitter I am tracking down people who can say #Ireadsutcliff , and their favourite(s). Merrian Weymouth in Australia favours —possibly— Dawn Wind, which was recently reprinted. The Historical Novel Society had this to say of it:
First published in 1961, this reprint keeps its original charm by reproducing the black and white illustrations by Charles Keeping. Dawn Wind represents historical fiction at its best. It was written by an author who delighted readers with her detailed and atmospheric stories. It is equally suitable for both young adult and adult readers. A thoroughly enjoyable book.
The novel starts:
Good to find Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical novel Dawn Wind, recently reprinted by OUP, on sale with Sainsburys!
Dawn Wind (1961) (from Tab at top of this blog – Stories)
The last Roman-British wearer of the dolphin ring, Owain is the only survivor of a Viking raid and the great battle of Aquae Sulis. Just fourteen years old, his father and brother die at the battle but he eventually makes his way to a peaceful Saxon settlement where he is made thrall to a Saxon family. Travelling there he meets a half-wild girl whom he cares for but is forced to leave behind when she falls ill. They meet up again after many years apart, still so in tune with each other that they are able to understand each other’s wordless messages. During his years of service he discovers understanding and even friendship, and loyalty for the people who were once his enemies. His freedom earned, he shoulders the weight of the Saxon household rather than betray a promise to his former master.
By profession a writer and editor herself, Hilary Phillips has found Rosemary Sutcliff’s books again, and has posted about the experience at the You Write tab. Thank you!
I rediscovered Rosemary Sutcliff’s novels this winter, having watched the film The Eagle. I remembered how much I had enjoyed reading a number of her books as a teenager, so launched in with The Lantern Bearers, as the first one that I came across on my eldest son’s rather disorganised bookshelves. I then read The Silver Branch and just for completeness, reverted to The Eagle of the Ninth which I had read repeatedly as a child and young teen, so it definitely felt like rediscovering an old friend. If you know the series you’ll realise this is completely reverse order, which just seemed to add to the charm. And I honestly thought that was it for the series. Although I knew there were plenty of other books, I didn’t realise that she had continued the story over so many generations, and in fact that, in many ways the climax was still to come. So how wonderful when my caring husband produced A Sword at Sunset as a Christmas present. Genuinely, the book I really wanted to exist, but had no knowledge of! I escaped into the dark ages for the Christmas holidays and thoroughly enjoyed the epic tale, the battles, the adventuring, the sad realness of the love story and the freshness of the storytelling, despite its roots in the Arthur legend.
Now, Dawn Wind came along at Easter, just republished and a very fine piece of writing. I really have no memory of reading this as a teenager and although the book may have been aimed at young adults, either that’s still the stage I’m at (I wish) or there’s really a great deal more there for the taking. The characterisation is convincing, the story enthralling as each new stage of Owain’s life opens up. The descriptions of place, of time, of conflict, of dogs and horses, loyalty, love and commitment are as engaging as ever. In case you’ve not read it, I’ll not spoil the ending, but go on the adventure and discover what happens in Owain’s long journey across dark age Britain for yourself!
Order the book from OUP, or from Amazon .