Wednesday, 17 May 2017
Dunstan by Conn Iggulden
Set in the turbulent years of the 900s, when England as a country was more of a dream than reality, Dunstan is the story of a rather un-saintly saint, and of the part he played in these formative years. His life spanned the reign of seven English kings, from Æthelstan, the first to consider himself King of all Britain, to Ethelred; some considered him a friend and adviser; others saw him as a foe, one even banishing him overseas. But whether welcome at court in Winchester or not, Dunstan is always plotting and planning, furthering his own ends as much as the king's.
This is period of history I know little about - I think for many readers the time from Alfred the Great to William the Conqueror will be a blur - but, from this story of a man caught in the middle of it, it's as full of treachery, double dealing, and political machinations as you could imagine.
The story is told as the remembrances of an old man looking back on his long, tumultuous life, his achievements and mistakes, the part he played in history as builder of church monuments and adviser to kings. The portrait Iggulden paints of Dunstan is of a complex man. A younger son with few other prospects, he's drawn to the church more for the possibilities of power and learning, than any religious calling. Tales of miracles and visions surround him and Dunstan becomes Abbot of Glastonbury at an early age, spending much of his life building of monasteries and cathedrals. On the other hand, he's full of petty jealousies, not wanting anyone to stand in his way, holding grudges against those opposed to him, and paying them back with violence. He's not a man you'd want to get on the wrong side of!
It isn't the sort of book that I'd normally pick up but I've been watching The Last Kingdom on TV and as this is set a couple of generations or so later I was intrigued. There's some, though not a tremendous amount of, war and violence because of the nature of the times, but the story only really concerns itself with events Dunstan witnesses first hand, and as a man in holy orders he's not on the front line of every battle and skirmish. Dunstan brings the period to life in an enjoyable, readable way - and there are historical notes at the end if, like me, you want to know how the story compares to what really happened.
Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Michael Joseph
Genre - Adult historical fiction