“Britain Begins” by Barry Cunliffe (Oxford University Press, 2012)

Britain Begins
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The settling of the islands that would one day come to be known as Great Britain is one of the most fascinating times of history, as so much of what would become Western Europe was shaped and formed by these early periods and yet it is also one of the lesser known periods of history. But thanks to numerous advancements and discoveries made in the fields of archaeology and genetics, Barry Cunliffe brings readers the new definitive text on the founding of a nation, people and culture.

Cunliffe is a renowned British professor who has specialized in archaeology and is known for his excellent history books on early Britain and Europe, including The Ancient Celts, Facing the Ocean and Between the Oceans. In Britain Begins, he takes readers far back, starting with the myths and ancestors of Britain and then leading into shortly after the end of the last ice age, when the freezing waters retreated and Britain became an island once again. He then takes the reader down a detailed and fascinating history road addressing who the ancient Britons were, the settling of the Celts, on through the Roman invasion and ruling period, up to the Anglo-Saxon and then Norman invasions.

It is rare to see a book that ends with the battle of Hastings and William the Conqueror, but this is not just any history book. Scholars and fans of the history will both delight in owning Britain Begins with its detailed text, numerous photos and illustrations lending visual proof and answers to a period that up until now has remained relatively unknown.

Originally written on March 24, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

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“Lords of the North” by Bernard Cornwell (Harpercollins, 2007)

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In Lords of the North (coming January 23rd), the wonderful writer of great historical periods and characters brings us the third in his increasingly popular Saxon Chronicles series, as he tells the story of King Alfred the Great’s life and his work in unifying the many kingdoms into the country we know today as England.

We continue with our hero, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, who has just helped Alfred save and maintain control over the land of Wessex, therefore preventing the complete invasion by the Danes.  Angered with Alfred’s piousness and making every decision according to God, Uhtred flees north to Northumbria, still hoping one day to defeat his uncle and take back his beloved Bebbanburg.  It is here that he meets old Danish friends and before he realizes what’s going on, a deal has been brokered to maintain peace in Northumbria in return for Uhtred’s enslavement.  Without his blood-stained blade – Serpent-Breath – the many lords of the region are happy to get rid of this formidable warrior.

Uhtred, stripped of his title and power, then spends most of the book suffering abuse and torture as a slave on a trading vessel traveling along the Flemish coast, and back and forth between Britain and the mainland.  On a number of occasions they face off again this “red ship” that is a trader like them.  Upon returning to the original place where Uhtred was sold – so that more slaves can be bought – the red ship appears out of nowhere and beaches the shore.  Foreign Danes stream out and Uhtred soon finds himself face to face with an even older friend who raised him.

Eventually he discovers that it is thanks to Alfred’s help that he has received his emancipation.  With his title, weapons, and armor restored, along with more allies from the south forming a considerable army, they set out to defeat these lesser heathen lords and regain control of the kingdom of Northumbria.  The book ends with the reader contemplating what is next for Uhtred in the further Saxon Chronicles: Will he regain control of his land?  Will he remain a lone pagan among the many determined Christians?  Sadly, we will have to wait another whole year before we can read more about Uhtred of Bebbanburg, slayer of the great Ubba Lothbrokson, and his adventures with the pious Alfred the Great.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on December 9th, 2006 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Bernard Cornwell check out BookBanter Episode 5.