The Bone Thief: (Wulfgar 1) by V M Whitworth
|The Bone Thief: (Wulfgar 1) by V M Whitworth|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A tale of a naïve monk, good baddies, bad goodies and those stuck between, steeped in 10th century atmosphere, adventure and historical accuracy. Prose paradise on a stick!|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 464||Date: August 2012|
|Publisher: Ebury Press|
|External links: Author's website|
It's 900AD. Fleda is the Lady of Mercia, taken from her native Wessex to marry Mercia's Lord 15 years ago, her childhood friend, secretary and wanna-be-priest Wulfgar being one of her few existing links with the past. Their country is far from united as whispers of unrest come from all directions. Perhaps the only way to strengthen Mercia and increase its importance is to acquire a saint's relics? As a result of this thought process, Wulfgar is sent to Baldney in order to steal the bones of St Oswald. Despite having the company of young Ednoth of Sodbury (who can just about handle a sword), Wulfgar beings to realise that stealing bones is the easy bit. Staying alive may be a tad harder.
In my humble opinion there can never be too many academics who specialise in the combination of historically correct information with absorbing fiction that takes us to places we want to revisit. This category is populated by people like Philippa Gregory, Pamela Hartshorne and Bruce Macbain and I'm now pleased (downright ecstatic, truth be told) to introduce you to VM Whitworth.
She chooses an era in which England is so fragmented it isn't even England yet. Each region (there aren't even counties) is ruled separately and wars, skirmishes and political upheaval are regular occurrences. Life is cheap, democracy hasn't arrived yet, the Danes have invaded and stayed on, ruling the north and the peasants suffer at the whim of aristocracy and the church; a real, disparate world just asking to be woven into fiction.
The characters walk across our imaginations as if they own it. Wulfgar is a sweetie (though wouldn’t thank me for saying so): holy, naïve and ferociously loyal to others while not understand when that loyalty isn't reciprocated. Having said that, although maintaining his childlike faith (in all senses), he grows with experience throughout the novel. The twinkle, wry humour among the moments of cruelty and hardship is provided by Father Rowan, in some ways the responsible adult on this quest. (Although 'adult' is a relative term here, bless him.) He's also a streetwise gambler who uses words like 'nesh' which I've only ever heard my husband use before this.
Indeed if words and language is your passion, this rollicking adventure develops another dimension, for this is a period in which language was starting to form itself into what we use today. To demonstrate this, VM Whitworth provides a glossary from which we can make various 'never realised that before' connections. E.g. a Cathedra is a bishop's throne so… If you'd rather just rollick, though, the story can be followed just as easily without reference to the back.
After coming across the world of Wulfgar, I'd love a return to the custom of naming people according to characteristics. Wulfgar is also known as Wulfgar Softhands for instance, and doesn't 'Polecat' (in the case of his half-brother) or a thug called Hakan the Toad summon a picture? Indeed, names tumble from the author's pen in bulk but don't worry: as you can imagine, they become memorable without effort on our part.
As you can tell by the '1' in the book's title, the good news is that VM Whitworth has promised us more Wulfgar. So, as they never said in the 10th century, watch this space.
If you’ve enjoyed this and would like to read more fiction that bookends this era, we recommend The King's Daughter by Penny Ingham timed during the Viking invasions and the 11th century epic Hawk Quest by Robert Lyndon.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Bone Thief: (Wulfgar 1) by V M Whitworth at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Bone Thief: (Wulfgar 1) by V M Whitworth at Amazon.com.
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