Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Book Review: Stonehenge

I picked up this book a while back because I’m a huge Bernard Cornwell fan and have always been interested in Stonehenge. It was not my favorite Cornwell novel, but that’s probably because of its Bronze Age setting (I really prefer Cornwell’s books set in the Middle Ages). To be clear, however, Stonehenge did not disappoint.

The novel takes place around 2000 B.C. and most of the story events surround the construction of Stonehenge. In this sense, it was a lot like The Pillars of the Earth – except with Bronze Age characters. And like The Pillars of the Earth, the characters drive this story, which concerns the three sons of Hengall, a tribal chieftain. Lengar, the eldest son, is a ruthless warrior who wants to bring war against the tribe’s enemies. Camaban, the middle son, is an outcast and a sorcerer who speaks to the gods and is determined to build a temple that will change the world. While Saban, the youngest son and the story’s protagonist, longs for peace.

After Lengar kills his father to become chief of the tribe, a tale of jealousy, betrayal, and murder ensues. Camaban believes that only the construction of a great temple to the sun god can save the land, and he’s convinced that Saban must build it. Over time, the brothers encounter two strong female characters, Derrewyn and Aurenna, whose actions, much like those of Nimue and Guinevere in The Warlord Chronicles, will determine the fate of men.

The drama plays out amid the madness of primitive religion, with its sex rites and human sacrifice. The latter is quite disturbing, both to the reader and to Saban, but this theme of violence in the name of religion is one of the book’s most thought-provoking elements. While I prefer Cornwell’s novels set in the Middle Ages, I am glad I ventured back a few thousand years and explored Stonehenge.


Janet P. Reedman said...

I enjoyed this novel, too, although it's not one of Cornwell's most popular ones. I liked the grittiness of his bronze age world, having read too many similar books with fluffy 'noble savage' protagonists. The early British bronze age was a time of change, of trade, or new peoples and ideas, of astonishing monuments and rituals that would have seemed both frightening and strange to us, and Cornwell captured it well.
The only real complaint, and I have heard this before from archaeologist friends, was the fact that Cornwell really played around a lot with the timeline of the monument, including having certain golden objects in the pre-stone circle phase that did not exist until hundreds of years later...and indeed the circle was begun around 2500 BC, not 2000 BC...and it was certainly not built in less than a generation! Artistic license is one thing, and will almost certainly be needed at some point in a novel set at such a remote period, but some found the amount of 'creativity'in the dates/phases a bit too much to take.
I also use a similar bronze age setting in my novel, STONE LORD, but actually used more current archaeology, despite basing the premise of the novel on the Arthurian mythos.

Joseph Finley said...

Janet, thank for the great comment! I read the novel without the burden of knowing much about the history of Stonehenge. Also, good luck on your novel. I like the idea of legends reimagined in original ways, and just downloaded Stone Lord on my kindle.