Friday, August 19, 2016

The Harrowing by James Aitcheson

The Harrowing of the North is a famous phrase familiar to many of us as the tactic used by William the Conqueror to quell rebellion in the North and ensure the conquest of England was complete. In this novel James Aitcheson shows us the personal side of this tactic, as the land is cleared and the people; men, women and children are murdered, often in the most cruel and gruesome of ways.  We meet five individuals; Tova a maid and her mistress Merewyn who are fleeing Merewyn’s husband’s family, Beorn the warrior who rescues them from a Norman attack, Guthred a former priest and Oslac a wandering storyteller. As the people of the North flee the approaching Normans so these five must also make their way Northwards to Hagustaldesham (Hexham, Northumberland).
The storytelling is brilliantly framed with each part of the book covering one day of travel and the various characters telling their stories each evening as they prepare to rest, a style not dissimilar to The Canterbury Tales. In this way we get an insight into each character and understand their perspective on the situation. The author does not shy away from the truth of the bloodshed and cruelty of events and it becomes clear that although they are fleeing the Norman army who have destroyed their homes, they are also each fleeing from their past. The storytelling is wonderful each character tells their story in their own voice but the pace never flags, the plotting is taut and the characterization deft. James Aitcheson is a fantastic writer who has brought to vivid life a dark period in English history, shining a light on ordinary people and the impact on them of historical events. 

Published by Heron Books 2016
This review first appeared in The Historical Novel Review

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