Silk and the Sword sensibly begins with events which far preceded those of 1066, giving the reader an introduction to the main families involved, and some background information which shows that we cannot take the events of 1066 in isolation.
This earlier history - of the powerful families of Mercia, Lady Godiva, the Godwines, and Queen Emma and both her husbands - is very familiar to me and if I'm honest there were times when I knew that there was more behind certain parts of the story, but that's me, that's not most folk. I have just had a history of Mercia published, so all my research is still very fresh in my mind. For those who are new to this period, or even those who aren't, there is plenty of meat on the bones of the story.
|Harald's wife Elisiv of Kiev, |
daughter of Yaroslav the Wise
With the inclusion of Matilda of Flanders even the most ardently pro-Saxon reader will be forced to look at things from a different perspective and Gundrada de Warenne, someone I've not read about more than in passing, is given a chapter of her own and the stories behind her alleged parentage fully explored.
What I do know, because of the book that I'm currently writing, is that it is very difficult to format a book like this. Great care has been taken to skilfully extract these women from the general narrative and talk about them in isolation, whilst keeping the facts of their lives in context.
Inevitably there is crossover, but rather than repeating herself, the author simply signposts where we are, and that we've been here before, but now we're with a different woman and we're looking at things from a different woman's perspective.
The author is keen for us to share her knowledge and interest in all the women, although I suspect she might have her favourites. Whilst she gives sympathetic and even-handed treatment to them all, I felt that there was added affection when it came to the poignancy of Edith Swanneck's tale and of Gytha, mother of the Godwine brood.
This was an ambitious project, beautifully executed and yes, as I've said, much of it very familiar to me. But the genius touch was to incorporate the stories of women from other countries because actually, it's completely logical. If you're telling the story of the women of 1066 then of course we need to know about the wives of Harald Hardrada and William of Normandy. This is where I was on less familiar ground and fascinating it was, too.
This book is a light, easy read, but it's also full of depth. Whether you are reading about these events for the first time or with a working knowledge of them, the lead-up to and the aftermath of the Conquest, with chapters entitled, for example, 'Grief and Sufferings', give an altogether different viewpoint on proceedings.
I was privileged to receive a pre-publication copy of Silk and the Sword but one lucky winner can also receive a free copy. Sharon is giving away a hardback copy of the book to readers worldwide. Simply leave a comment below - Please don't forget to leave your contact details! - and one name will be chosen at random at 7pm GMT Wednesday 21st November 2018