Review: ‘Dunstan’. by Conn Iggulden

Published by: Penguin

Publication Date: 4th May 2017

Format: Hardback

I.S.B.N.:  9780718181444

Price: £18.99

Blurb

The year is 937. England is a nation divided, ruled by minor kings and Viking lords. Each vies for land and power. The Wessex king Æthelstan, grandson of Alfred the Great, readies himself to throw a spear into the north.

As would-be kings line up to claim the throne, one man stands in their way.

Dunstan, a fatherless child raised by monks on the moors of Glastonbury Tor, has learned that real power comes not from God, but from discovering one’s true place on Earth. Fearless in pursuit of his own interests, his ambition will take him from the courts of princes to the fields of battle, from exile to exaltation.

For if you cannot be born a king, or made a king, you can still anoint a king.

Under Dunstan’s hand, England may come together as one country – or fall apart in anarchy . . .

From Conn Iggulden, one of our finest historical writers, Dunstan is an intimate portrait of a priest and murderer, liar and visionary, traitor and kingmaker – the man who changed the fate of England.

My Review

I enjoyed the narrative, and being told in the 1st person worked well.

Dunstan is not very self-aware, his ‘miracle’ are shown to be lies and manipulation, and he isn’t as important as he, and his hagiographers, would like history to think. The other characters are sympathetic and interesting.

The pace is good, and the book is a real page-turner – I ‘had’ to get to the end and find out what happened.

I had one or two niggling problems with the book though. They are about historical accuracy, as you might have guessed.

Firstly, names. Stop messing with them. The author tried to prevent confusion in choosing Elflaed’s name but only caused me more confusion. Elflaed was the name of Edward of Wessex’s second wife, and one of their daughters. So Athelstan had a sister called Elflaed, but I couldn’t find any reference to a niece of the same name. At the end of the book Conn Iggulden has extensive ‘historical notes’, which I appreciate, in which he explains that the woman referred to as Elflaed was real but he couldn’t work out which of Athelstan’s sisters was her mother and that her name is recorded in three different variants, one of which is Aetheflaed. Not wanting readers to confuse her with Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, Alfred’s daughter, who raised Athelstan and to whom the Danes planned to offer loyalty in 910, except that she died a few days before they planned to, he chose the name in the book. Except for the fact that Aethelflaed is never mentioned, nor is her daughter, Aelfwynn, from whom Edward and then Athelstan effectively stole Mercia. Knowing something about the era made Conn Iggulden’s changes confusing. I suppose if you know nothing about the tenth century you might not be too bothered. It bothered me.
Secondly, Chapter 34: ‘a superb broth of chicken and potatoes, and also tomatoes stuffed with grey shrimp’. For an author considered to be one of the best at writing historical fiction, this is an egregious error. It’s tenth century Ghent, not 18th century London.

Thirdly, there is no way the house of Wessex would have named a child ‘Beatrice’.

It’s a good book, just ignore the historical niggles.

3/5

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