Dunstan: One Man Will Change the Fate of England by Conn Iggulden
|Dunstan: One Man Will Change the Fate of England by Conn Iggulden|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A never-a-dull-moment take on a saint who was wonderfully human by a master of historical fiction.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 480||Date: May 2017|
|Publisher: Michael Joseph|
The young Dunstan shows no sign of the sainthood he'll later attain. Son of a Wessex thane and sent to a monastery for education, this isn't a lad who responds to discipline. However an enquiring, intelligent mind begins to emerge and then comes the big break. Lady Elflaed calls to put a proposal to him after hearing about what she considers to be a miracle and the monks consider another in a long line of excuses. Yet Dunstan will outshine all his teachers as well as knowing seven kings and holding responsible positions in their courts, as the book's title suggests. Whether we believe in the miracles or not, Dunstan certainly had quite a life!
Ace historical fiction author Conn Iggulden turns his pen to one of the 10th century's most colourful figures and finest minds. This is evidenced in the way that Dunstan translated the mathematics of Euclid into architecture when he was overseeing the cathedral he'd always wanted to build. There's a lot more to him than that though, even taking into account the gaps that have been lost in time.
Indeed, when writing a historical fiction biography the beginning is a good place to start but Conn's problem is that not much was known about Dunstan's early years. He was born in 924 or 925 in Somerset under the rule of Athelstan. Then his schooling was under the Irish monks at nearby Glastonbury Abbey and this is where we head off into the unknown.
Conn surmises Dunstan's and his brother Wulfric's scholarly years from what's known about the life of young apprentice students in monasteries and it's somewhat brutal. (Definitely not a book for children!)
The lads are bullied by contemporaries and sadistic monks alike, the latter under the excuse of defeating the inner devil. We aren't just talking about a caning or some name-calling either as Dunstan and Wulfric both discover to their horror.
The first chapter of the book, as well as providing us with one of the best opening lines ever, foreshadows the turning point in Dunstan's life that the rest of the book circles back to later. Do we know that the punishment and connected two deaths we walk in on (she says, just about unspoilingly) happened if we know nothing of his school years? I don't know but it makes a blooming brilliant drama and, let's face it, it's called historical fiction for a reason.
From here we go into the realms of the documented. His initial rise may be due to a rumour and then a boost from his uncle, Archbishop Anthelm, but soon Dunstan's being promoted on his own merit.
Although he has a caring side and an undisputed faith, Conn's Dunstan isn't a meek and mild saint. He may fight vice amongst monks (including outlawing marriage and procreation) but Dunstan isn't averse to a bit of manipulation to move things in the direction he wants them to go. As he gets older he mellows but there's also still a destructive echo from his teens waiting to explode.
For those uneasy with the idea of a man having visions, Conn provides a possible alternative science-based reason. Were they God-given or a form of epilepsy? The author drops the idea in and then subtly leaves us to decide. (By the way, for those who like factoids, watch out for the joys of fermented lichen on campaign!)
We come away knowing more about the man behind the halo and the times that make and almost break him. We also come away understanding more fully why Conn Iggulden is a regular on the best-selling lists; this is most definitely a cracking read.
(Our thanks go to Michael Joseph for providing us with a copy for review.)
Further Reading: Conn is always great reading, be it his War of the Roses series or, for the youngsters Tollins: Explosive Tales for Children written with Lizzy Duncan. If you prefer to stick with the 10th century, then we offer you the wonderful The Bone Thief: (Wulfgar 1) by V M Whitworth.
You can read more book reviews or buy Dunstan: One Man Will Change the Fate of England by Conn Iggulden at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Dunstan: One Man Will Change the Fate of England by Conn Iggulden at Amazon.com.
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