Tuesday, 31 December 2013


The Tale of A Murdered King

Please welcome my special guest Patricia Bracewell

I am pleased and honored to be a guest blogger today at The Review, and grateful to Paula Lofting for inviting me. Thank you, Paula!    

My debut novel, Shadow on the Crown, is set in 11th century England during the reign of Æthelred II, an Anglo-Saxon king who came to the throne in 978 under a cloud of suspicion and mistrust. It is that story – of a disputed succession and the brutal murder of a young king – that I wish to share with you today. But first I must introduce Æthelred’s father, King Edgar, whose complicated marital history would lead to trouble between his sons.

Edgar seems to have had three wives in a row, and children by each of them. The contemporary sources for this are scanty, but later chroniclers (monks, usually) were utterly fascinated with the king’s sex life. There are reports, for example, of shenanigans in a convent with one woman, and of the murder of the inconvenient husband of another so that Edgar could wed the beautiful and not-very-grief-stricken widow. Most modern historians regard these as heavily embroidered tales, so let me set those aside and give you the (probable) facts.

When Edgar’s father died in 957 England was divided between his two sons. Edgar inherited the northern kingdoms of Mercia and Northumberland, and it was about this time that he had a relationship with the daughter of a Mercian landowner. Her name was Æthelflæd, and she gave birth to his first son, Edward, probably in 958 or 959.

In 960 Edgar became king of all England when his brother died childless. He also began some kind of relationship with Wulfthryth, the daughter of a southern lord. Was Edgar’s first wife still alive? We don’t know. We only know that in 961 Wulfthryth (wife #2) gave birth to Edgar’s daughter Edgyth, and that mother and daughter would spend their lives in a convent. Was Wulfthryth already a nun when she began her liaison with Edgar? We don’t know. (You can see why the chronicler monks got so excited. A nun! A king! There must have been royal debauchery!)

But Edgar wasn’t finished with women yet. In 964, with Æthelflæd (wife #1) a shadowy memory and with Wulfthryth (wife #2) and baby Edgyth permanently stowed behind convent walls he married Ælfthryth (wife #3), the widow of a wealthy and powerful nobleman. She gave Edgar two sons: Edmund was born in 966 but would die in 971 at age five; and Æthelred, the youngest of all of Edgar’s sons, was born in 967 or 968.

Here’s the really important thing, though, about Ælfthryth: she was the only one of Edgar’s consorts who was a crowned queen of England. Because of that crown, her sons were considered more royal – more throne-worthy – than Edgar’s other children.

Alas, King Edgar died quite unexpectedly in 975 at age thirty-two. Soon afterwards a comet blazed across England – a thing of wonder, but also a portent of catastrophe as far as the English were concerned, especially since there were two half-brothers now eyeing the throne, each with supporters urging their claims. Edward was the eldest at 15, but he was the son of a perhaps dodgy early liaison. Æthelred was only about eight, but his mother was the Dowager Queen and she had friends in high places. The stage was set for conflict, and the debates must have been long and acrimonious. In the end, Edward and his supporters won, but not everybody was happy about it; Edward’s brief reign was characterized by unrest among the nobles of England.

Things came to a bloody pass in 978. Æthelred and his mother were staying at Corfe, and King Edward stopped by to visit. He never left alive. He was murdered there, stabbed, we’re told, as he was welcomed by his stepmother. He fell from his saddle, was dragged some distance by his horse, and was hastily buried in a churchyard about five miles away.

And so, in 978, Edgar’s youngest son Æthelred was crowned king. The murdered Edward gained a certain renown, though: for centuries he would be revered as St. Edward the Martyr.

Nobody was ever officially blamed for Edward’s death, but there were rumors. In the decades that followed, Æthelred’s mother would be branded the wickedest of stepmothers who had arranged the murder of her stepson so that her boy could take the crown. How accurate that was, or how active a role she played is still open to debate.

But chroniclers who lived 900 years closer to the event than we do, who saw the hand of a wrathful God at work in the Viking raids that beset England throughout Æthelred’s long reign had no doubts: Queen Ælfthryth was guilty of murder, and her son was tarred with the same brush. Twelfth century chronicler William of Malmesbury even went so far as to report a dire prophecy made by the archbishop who placed the crown on Æthelred’s young head:

Inasmuch as you aimed at the throne through the death of your own brother, now hear the word of the Lord. The sin of your shameful mother and the sin of the men who shared in her wicked plot shall not be blotted out except by the shedding of much blood of your miserable subjects. 
Gesta Regum Anglorum
William of Malmesbury
Ed. & Translated by R.A.B. Mynors, 1998

Twenty four years after that coronation and after countless Viking raids had shed a great deal of English blood, Emma of Normandy arrived to be crowned Æthelred’s queen and to become stepmother to his six sons and four daughters. For just like his father, Æthelred had made an earlier marriage to a woman who was never given a crown. The king and his sons would have known that family history – that tale of an ambitious queen who plotted the murder of her stepson so that Æthelred could rule. As they greeted the new queen and stepmother from Normandy, did they worry that Emma might have a son, and that their bloody family history might one day be repeated?

It is in such an atmosphere of tension and misgiving that my novel, Shadow on the Crown, begins.

Based on real events recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Patricia Bracewell’s historical novel Shadow on the Crown introduces readers to a fascinating, oft-forgotten period of history, when ghosts stalked the halls of power, God’s hand was at work in the affairs of men, and death was never more than a whisper away.

Now available in paperback in the U.S. and the U.K.

Follow Patricia on Facebook and Twitter @PatBracewell
and her Website www.PatriciaBracewell.com


Saturday, 28 December 2013

Anna Reviews: FAIR WEATHER by Barbara Gaskell Denvil

Fair Weather 

I might as well come clean immediately; I loved this book – all the way from the first page to the last, I was totally engrossed, finding it difficult to break off for such mundane things as going to work, or eating. Actually, the only thing I don’t like about this book is the title, as it comes nowhere close to insinuating the tantalizing contents within its covers, no matter that Fairweather is the alias of one of the main characters.
Ms Gaskell Denvil has in Fair Weather written a skilful and complex time-slip, alternating between Molly’s real life in the here and now, and her dream life, when she is sucked backwards in time. Molly is a writer, and as she begins working on a novel set in medieval London, the dreams she’s had since childhood become even more intense, and even if she tries to ignore them – she even abandons her book – it is far too late, and Molly can no more stop herself from being sucked into Tilda, a young woman living in King John’s London, than she can stop herself from breathing.
Medieval London
Tilda has had a rough life. Born a serf, she leaves the manor when her mother dies and makes for London. Once there, she is taken under the protective wing of Vespasian, at first glance medieval version of Mr Fagin – except that he is somewhat kinder to the children under his care. Tilda is in love with her benefactor. Vespasian considers her a child.
Vespasian is the sun round which the life of his ragged band revolves. When he is gone – and he often is, on one mysterious adventure or the other – Tilda and her friends mope. He comes back, and they all shine up, eager to please him as well as they can. Ms Gaskell Denvil does a fantastic job of portraying this enigmatic man. The reader – and Molly, through Tilda’s eyes – soon figures out there is far more to Vespasian than his midnight eyes and odd name.
Interspersed with Tilda’s and Vespasian’s life in King John’s England, are passages from Molly’s modern life, featuring not only Molly but also her ex-husband Bertie. As her dreams intensify, Molly is dragged into a non-existence, hanging precariously between reality and her dream world. Her ex-husband considers her obsessed. Molly agrees, but is also convinced that the people she dreams of are as real as she is – but from the 13th century.
I must admit to initially hurrying through the passages set in modern time, so anxious was I to get back to excellently depicted medieval London. Ms Gaskell Denvil presents us with a seething metropolis, complete with throngs of people, paupers, beggars, stinks and smells. So well does she paint the ancient streets of London that I begin to wonder if maybe she’s been dreaming of it too.
Molly’s modern life is rocked by a brutal murder. A woman, Wattle, who is presently dating her ex-husband, is found hanging upside down from a tree. Strangely enough, the thick snow carpeting the ground only shows up the woman’s footprints, so who was her attacker? Molly is devastated by all this. When next she is dragged into Tilda’s head, she comes across the body of a young woman named Isabel, also one of Vespasian’s charges, who has been horribly mutilated. It quickly becomes obvious Isabel’s murder was intended as a message to Vespasian, further confirming Molly’s – and the reader’s – suspicion that Vespasian is far more than he seems.

As Molly is successively dragged more and more often into the 13th century, strange things – awful things – begin to happen in the present. Yet another woman is killed, and this time she has been mutilated in the same way as Isabel. It is as if Molly has unwittingly breached the veils of time, inviting the past into the present – or is it the other way around?
Molly has concerns that she may be going crazy – the life of the 13th century is becoming increasingly more real, and she worries she might be developing multiple personalities. After all, her mother has spent the last few decades in a mental asylum, and insanity can be hereditary.
Things take a turn for the worse. Without revealing too much of the plot, suffice it to say that more people are murdered in the present, just as many die in the past. Poor Tilda/Molly is subjected to  torture and pain, at the hands of an ancient sect dedicated to Lilith, a most repulsive and evil deity with a propensity for taking on the shape of a giant toad. (And here was I believing Lilith was a beautiful temptress.)
Fair Weather becomes a fascinating story of good against evil, of men who sell their souls for power, of magic and ancient rituals. And in all this mess, Molly is to play a pivotal role, destined since birth to stand on the side of the good against the advancing hordes of Lilith’s sycophants.
Given the book’s central theme of good and evil, it is somewhat apt that the final confrontation takes place at Samhain. After reading Ms Gaskell Denvil’s depiction of just what can be found walking the night on Hallow’s Eve, I think I will ensure to stay inside all my future Halloweens – just in case.
From a stylistic point of view, Ms Gaskell Denvil makes excellent use of the first and third person narrative. Molly is always in first person, Tilda is in first person the first time we meet her, but as Molly invades her head, Ms Gaskell Denvil uses first person for Molly – even when she is in Tilda’s head – and third person for anything Tilda might say or do of her own accord. This allows the writer to have Molly directing herself directly to Vespasian via Tilda (who, we must assume, must at times feel quite possessed) while on other occasions it is Tilda herself who speaks to Vespasian. This also allows Molly to comment on everything that she finds strange in the 13th century, while Tilda would never consider such things as fleas and rats, outside privies and mouldy bread, to even be worth mentioning.
I was particularly impressed by how the author described Molly’s confusion as she travelled back and forth through time. One day she wakes on a pallet covered with straw, the next day she’s back in her own bed, and as her time travelling increases, it becomes more and more difficult for Molly to handle the transition, to the point that she feels somewhat intimidated by the accoutrements of her modern life. There is an excellent scene involving Molly, a pack of tarot cards (of course there are tarot cards in a story involving magic and good and evil!) and Vespasian, where they are both in some sort of in-between space.

Barbara at home

Further to this, Ms Gaskell Denvil has a poet’s ear for language. Her descriptions are evocative, her dialogue is pitch-perfect, and the prose flows like molten chocolate (said by a chocolate fan). For those of you familiar with Ms Gaskell Denvil’s writing, it comes as no surprise when I add that as always the historical setting, including clothes, interiors and food, is presented in detail and elegantly woven into the narrative. And then there are the characters as such: Molly with all her insecurities, now and then quite convinced she’s as insane as her mother, but capable of enormous courage when it is required of her; Tilda, an uneducated young girl with an engaging innocence, but, just like Molly, brave when she has to be; Vespasian, broody and dark, a man living by his own rules, a man who has conquered the secrets of time.
Fair Weather is something of an emotional roller-coaster, this due to the most enigmatic Vespasian. We love him, we hate him, we love him again, and we never truly understand him, this man who is at once capable of such cruelty – albeit for a greater good – but also of fierce, possessive love. The story as such is just as entrancing, and as the bodies pile up and the police stand befuddled, I experience moments of heartache and fear, of hope and despair.
To those that have as yet to experience Ms Gaskell Denvil’s excellent writing skills, I can but say “Congratulations”. Ms Gaskell Denvil has published three books, and sadly I have already read all three. However, as I hear it, Ms Gaskell Denvil is considering a sequel to Fair Weather, and I for one am already waiting for it – longing for it – as Molly and Vespasian have taken up permanent residence in my heart.
Fair Weather is available on Amazon UK and US

About the author
Ms Barbara Gaskell Denvil was born in England, but lives since many years in Australia. She has so far published three books: Satin Cinnabar, Summerford’s Autumn and Fair Weather.
Read more about Barbara on Goodreads

This novel was reviewed by Anna Belfrage author of The Graham Saga

If you would like Anna or another member of our review team to review your book on The Review, see our submissions tab at the top of the page.

Friday, 27 December 2013


Firstly I would like to thank you, Mr Cornwell, for agreeing to be interviewed by me and that I am honoured to be doing so. I have been a fan for many years, since the 80’s when I was first persuaded by my then boyfriend to read your Sharpe books in Reader's Digest. Then I found your Uhtred books and I have to say that these are my favourites. I loved Sharpe but Uhtred really rocks for me, especially as I am a re-enactor of the late Dark Age period. So welcome to The Review Group Blog and thanks for coming today!

First question: I see that you are now settled and living in the US. Do you ever miss the UK and do you come back often?
I do miss it!  I normally visit a couple of times a year, so I get my ‘fix’. I married into America and have now spent half my life here, and I’m sure I’ll spend the rest of it here, but Judy, my wife, loves Britain, so we do visit as often as we can.  What I miss most is cricket!  That and rugby!
Second Question: What was it like growing up in England and what or who were your early inspirations in writing?
Growing up in England was horrible, but that wasn’t England’s fault. I was adopted into a ghastly family of Christian fundamentalists who tried to beat me into a state of salvation, an effort that failed totally. But that was all a long time ago, and despite them I discovered a passionate love of history. I suppose the biggest influence on my writing was C.S. Forester’s Hornblower series which I discovered as a teenager, and Sharpe is really just Hornblower on land, though of course he’s a very different character!  

Third Question: Have you always written historical fiction, or have you ever, or will you ever dabble with another genre?
I dabbled in thrillers some years ago and wrote, I think, five. I enjoyed them, but not as much as I enjoy writing historical fiction, and it seemed sensible to stick to what I enjoyed most. I doubt I’ll dabble again, though who knows? 
Fourth Question: Where do the ideas for your books come from?
I wish I knew! I suppose they come from reading . . . endless reading of history. I suspect it’s an unconscious process. I read a lot of history and some eras appeal, and some events trigger an idea.  Right now I’m in the middle of writing the stories of Uhtred. The ‘big’ story in that series is the making of England . .  a process about which the English are extraordinarily ignorant!  There wasn’t always an England, and it had to be made by warfare, and that was a story I long wanted to tell, but to tell it I needed a smaller story – the tale of, say, one family. So I had a basic idea – the making of England – but the spark for writing the series didn’t occur till I met my real father much later in life and discovered he (and me) was descended from Uhtred of Bebbanburg. And that provoked the stories. So it’s a complex process, and not entirely rational! 

Fifth Question: Your books always appear to be very well researched and you know your eras very well. How much time do you generally take to research before you start on a series and do you research the era as you write?
Research is a lifelong project!  I’ve been reading history since I was a child and it’s all research. And yes, I go on researching while I’m writing the books. Each book will throw up a particular problem – in The Pagan Lord it was a question of what Chester looked like in the early 10th century. You can’t expect to know all those details! So the research has to be done on the fly . . .
Sixth Question: Do you visit the places you write about to get a feeling for them?
Always!  Though I should qualify that. If I’m writing about the recent past then yes, always. If a scene is set very far back and in an area which has subsequently been smothered with roads and buildings, then possibly not. But as far as possible, yes. 
Bamburgh Castle

Seventh Question: As a re-enactor, I find that it really does help with getting a feel for the era I write in. Do you talk to re-enactors in your period, have ever you held a sword and shield, stood in a shieldwall, or fired a cannon or shot an arrow?
I do talk to re-enactors, and have got some splendid ideas from them. I’ve never re-enacted myself, but I have held all the weapons I write about, and fired black-powder muskets and rifles.
Eighth Question: Uhtred is quite a character. I love his pragmatic attitude and his live for now mindset. Is he based on anyone in particular? Are any of your characters inspired by anyone you know and who of your characters do you think is most like you?
None of them are based on anyone I know, they all spring totally out of the imagination. I always think I most resemble Obadiah Hakeswill from the Sharpe books.
Ninth Question:  What era do you like the best? And which is the easiest to write and research in?
I like the era I’m writing about!  Whatever it might be. I don’t think I have a favourite. As for which is easiest? I’m not sure the comparison can be made. Plainly, if I’m writing about, say, the Napoleonic Wars then I have a wealth of information to help me, while if I’m writing about, say, the Saxon period, then there’s far less information, but that just gives more freedom to the imagination. It’s just different, neither better nor worse, easier or harder!
Tenth Question: What books have you read lately?  Lately I’ve read Command and Control by Eric Schlosser, a terrifying book about how carelessly America’s nuclear arsenal was guarded and misused. Going Clear, by Lawrence Wright, which is equally terrifying, an examination of Scientology. In the Shadow of the Sword, by Tom Holland, which is a history of the early days of Islam, and Close to the Bone, by Stuart Macbride who is a magnificent thriller writer!
Tenth Question: Who are your favourite authors?
P.G. Wodehouse, P.D. James, John Cowper Powys, John Keegan, Richard Holmes, C.J. Sansom, George Macdonald Fraser. And lots more! 
PG Wodehouse

Some of the other members of The Review team have asked me to ask these questions.

Simon Stirling: Is there a particular era that you wouldn’t want to write a story about?
I avoid the Roman era, not because I don’t like it, I do, but if you write historical novels then you really lose the taste for reading them! I spend all day writing them and don’t really want to spend the rest of my time reading them, but I make an exception for the Roman era, and by NOT knowing anything about it I don’t get annoyed with the authors for making mistakes (which I’m sure I make too!)
Stuart S Laing: Apart from the guerrilla fighter Teresa, there are not many really strong female characters in the book, they are either victims or bed partners. Do you ever wish you had written stronger female characters?
I disagree – I think I write very strong female characters. I guess we’ll just have to disagree on this one.
Stuart S Laing: do you still get the same pleasure out of writing as you did when you first started writing or is it now more of a job?
Oh, it’s a total pleasure! Much better than working for a living!
Stephanie Moore Hopkins: Is there a scene or storyline that you wish you could go back and change and why?
I’d probably rewrite the first third of The Winter King and get rid of the ‘scene-setting’ so the story would hurry along a bit faster.
Stephanie Moore Hopkins: How has writing impacted your life?
Oh wow. I suppose it’s changed it totally! First, I think I’m extraordinarily fortunate to be able to do it for a living, instead of having a ‘proper job’. It lets me live wherever I want, and we live in Cape Cod, which is fabulous and Charleston, which is beautiful. Above all it’s given me thirty plus years of total enjoyment!

To read a review of The Pagan Lord click here !

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Thursday, 26 December 2013

THE PAGAN LORD - Bernard Cornwell

Review by Mark Thistlethwaite.

Uhtred of Bebbanburg, the priest killer and Pagan, Saviour of Mercia and England’s only hope.

In this the seventh title in the Warrior Chronicles, Bernard Cornwell, probably the greatest ever living historical fiction writer returns to early England.  In the north, Cnut and his legendary sword, Ice-Spite, Ruler of a Pagan horde of Spear Danes are aching for the chance to earn riches and reputation in the Southern lands of Mercia. But in an England, as yet un-born in the truly unified sense, constant political manoeuvring by the Saxon kings keep the country divided. And where you find division, you always find Vikings; an entity that comes alive and grows into The Beast at the very smell of fear and weakness.  

In the South is the young King Edward, son of the great King Alfred, led by an army of Priests and protected by the Burgh’s of Wessex.  In the middle is Lord Aethelred, a weak vain man with illusions of grandeur.  The Lord of Mercia has only one weapon available to him, Uhtred of Bebbanburg; and then only through his estranged wife Aethelflaed, King Edwards sister and Uhtred’s lover. This like all the others in the series is skilfully written and well researched with clever sub plots entwined with intelligent political choreography and incredibly deep and colourful characters. 

I can honestly say that in Uhtred we have one of my favourite characters, funny, blunt and uncouth, but honest and loyal, a man of his word.  Yet again Bernard Cornwell delivers a rip roaring tale of the birth of a nation and with the Coup de Grace still to come, I am sat in knowledge that “Uhtredaewre” will return.  Five star!! 

Thanks for this great review Mark!
Mark Thistlethwaite reviews for HNS

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

On the Feast of Stephen by Simon Stirling

Among the many traditions associated with December 26th - the feast day of St Stephen - probably the most common is the giving of money, a practice which can be traced back to Roman times.  Churches often opened their alms-boxes for the benefit of the needy on this day, while alms-seekers sometimes went from house-to-house with their own begging boxes (one of the origins of the term Boxing Day).

There were also events at which collections were made, and one of the most enduring of these activities was Mumming.

Mumming was an ancient form of folk theatre.  It was not restricted to Boxing Day - in different places, the Mummers could present their annual play on Plough Monday, Good Friday, All Souls Day, Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve.  But two of the most popular forms of Mumming, the Hero-Combat Play and the Sword Dance, were performed most often on the day after Christmas.

The antiquity of the Mumming tradition can only be guessed at: Mummers were certainly around during the Middle Ages, and Mummers' Plays continue to this day.  Though there are some regional variations, the basic outline of the Mummers' Play was pretty much the same everywhere.  I have based the rest of this post on the Mumming tradition of Weston-sub-Edge, a small village just a few miles from where I live.
The Mummers would enter the larger houses in the district, the local inn or even just perform on the village green.  There was usually plenty of singing and traditional dancing, but the heart of the ceremony was a peculiar little pantomime based on the seasonal theme of death and rebirth.

First, a space would be cleared:

JOHN FINNEY: A room, a room, a roust, a roust,
                            I brought this old broom to sweep your house.

Then Father Christmas would start the proceedings:

FATHER CHRISTMAS: In comes I, old Father Christmas,
                            Christmas or Christmas not
                            I hope old Father Christmas will never be forgot.
                            I am not here to laugh or to cheer,
                            But all I want is a pocket full of money and a cellar full of beer.
                            So, ladies and gentlemen, if you don't believe what I say,
                            Step in, Turkish Knight, and clear the way.

What followed was a ritualised form of combat between an archetypal enemy (the Turkey or Turkish Knight - a relic of the crusades) and an archetypal hero, usually Saint (or King) George, who might also slay a Dragon as part of the shenanigans.

The combatants taunted each other in ridiculous rhyme and then fought.  The Turkish Knight, inevitably, fell.  At which point, a Doctor was summoned:

FATHER CHRISTMAS: Oh is there a doctor to be found or any near at hand
                            To heal this deep and deadly wound and make this dead man stand?

The Doctor stepped forward and examined the dead Knight:

DOCTOR: Ladies and gentlemen, here's a large wolf's tooth growing in this man's head and must be taken out before he'll recover.

FATHER CHRISTMAS: What's thy fee, Doctor?

DOCTOR: Ten guineas is my fee,
                            But fifteen will I take of thee
                            Before I set this gallant free.

The Doctor enlisted the help of John Finney - or his localised namesake - and much pseudo-surgical nonsense followed as the humour grew especially knockabout and silly until the tooth was pulled and the Turkish Knight rose again.  Straightaway, the Knight and Saint George resumed their fight, but Father Christmas intervened and summoned Beelzebub:

BEELZEBUB: In comes I, old Beelzebub,
                             And on my back I carries my club,
                             And in my hand the dripping-pan,
                             I thinks myself a jolly old man.

Beelzebub then performed his own party piece - a long, nonsensical speech in the manner of a Shaggy Dog Story.  Then John Finney reminded the assembly why they were there:

JOHN FINNEY: Now, my lads, we've come to the land of plenty, roast stones, plum puddings, houses thatched with pancakes, and little pigs running about with knives and forks stuck in their backs, crying "Who'll eat me, who'll eat me?"

Father Christmas summoned Cleverlegs:

CLEVERLEGS: In comes I, ain't been hit,
                            With me big hump and little wit.
                            Me chump's so big, me wit's so small,
                            But I can play you a tune to please you all.

There was a song and a dance (the tune suggested was "Ran tan tinderbox, Cat in the fiddle bag, Johnnie up up the orchard"), before Father Christmas drew the merriment to a close with a collection for the players:

FATHER CHRISTMAS: If this old frying pan had but a tongue,
                            He's say, "Chuck in yer money and think it no wrong."

Behind all the quaint folksy nonsense, the typical Mummers' Play re-enacted the seasonal ritual of death and rebirth, the end of the Old Year (which finished at the solstice) and the start of the New (which began when the days started noticeably to lengthen, on or around the 25th December).  Though it was the Turkish Knight - or sometimes St George - who "died" and was "resurrected", often more than once, by the quackish Doctor, in reality it was the ending/beginning of the solar year which was commemorated, as it had been since the dawn of human time.

It was also a Christmastide festivity and an excuse to pass round the hat - or the "frying pan" - to collect money for food and drink.  The costumes were bizarre and the story was silly, but the tradition lasted for an untold length of time as a kind of forerunner of the more familiar pantomime (which didn't become associated specifically with the Christmas season in Britain until the 19th century) and a rustic celebration of the turn of the year.

Meaningful Christmas by Stephanie Hopkins

Christmas has always been a special time of year for my family. Not just because of the usual traditions of putting up the Christmas tree, decorations, parties and shopping for gifts. But what we believe to be the meaning of Christmas. Christmas is about celebrating Christ’s birth. It is a time of joy, hope, love, peace, worship, singing songs that praise His name and reflecting on what our savior’s birth meant.

The Birth of Christ

While Mary was living in Galilee of Nazareth and was engaged to Joseph, an angel appeared and told Mary she would conceive a son by the power of the Holy Spirit. She would call him Jesus. Mary became miraculously with child through the Holy Spirit, as foretold by the angel. When Mary told Joseph she was pregnant, he became upset. Joseph wanted to break the engagement but out of kindness to Mary he decided to act quietly. Then God sent an angel who appeared to him in a dream and reassure him of Mary’s story. When Joseph awoke from his dream, he obeyed God and took Mary as his wife.
 During this time, Caesar Augustus decreed that a census be taken. Every person in the Roman Empire had to go to their own town to register. Joseph, a descendant of the house of David, was required to go to Bethlehem to register with Mary. When they arrived to Bethlehem, the town was crowded and there was no inn available. So Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable.

Meanwhile, an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds who were tending their flocks in a field. The angel told them that the Savior had been born in the town of David. The shepherds decided to travel to Bethlehem and see the baby Jesus. When they arrived they found Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus in a stable. After the shepherds left, they began to spread the good news about Jesus’s birth and everything the angel told them.
(If you would like to know more about the birth of Christ, the books of Matthew and Luke in the Bible tell the story.)
We would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from all of us at The Review.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

PAULA PERUSES AT CHRISTMAS:A Christmas Carol and life’s Spiritual journey.

A Christmas Carol and life’s spiritual journey.

A Christmas Carol is probably one of the world’s all time favourite Christmas stories apart from The Nativity, the birth of Jesus.  I have always loved the story; it is one that embodies all that is good in Christian values and it encapsulates some of the key aspects to Christianity: soul searching, spiritual enlightenment, atonement and redemption.  These are all elements of most religions and you don’t have to be a Christian to recognise them. For me, these are the rudiments of life’s spiritual pathway and are the mile stones that we achieve throughout our journey, usually in that order.  To enable us to achieve a state of physical peace and mental tranquillity, one must embark on these rites of passage and in order to fully do this, one must aquire some form of serenity.

The way I have come to see it is, that on earth, we have three dimensions: the mind, the body and the spirit. For most of us, we start out in life bearing all of these and all must be kept in good order to function calmly and serenely, without bitterness, rancour and hate.  Sadly, along life’s journey we encounter many hardships and difficult experiences at varying degrees and this, though we endeavour to not allow it, causes our spiritual well-being to fall by the wayside.   Part of us is missing and we become like the hole in the donut, some more so than others, like Mr Scrooge.

This journey would normally take someone a lifetime but for poor Mr Scrooge it happens overnight. Mr Scrooge has spent a large part of his life being plain mean, putting his own well being and financial security before those of others and sometimes at their expense, especially poor Mr Cratchit who works for him in hard conditions. In one whole night, Mr Scrooge is whisked off by his demons of the past and future whose task it is to set Mr Scrooge on the path to salvation. In order to do this, he will be visited one by one, first by the ghost of Christmas Past, then Christmas Present and lastly Christmas Yet to Come.

The opening stave, as Dickens referred to the chapters of his book, commences on a "cold, bleak, biting" Christmas Eve, seven years to the day that his old business partner Jacob Marley died: a like-minded fellow, miserly like Scrooge, mean and grasping, scraping and clutching, just as Scrooge, alive, is. He hates Christmas, calling it "humbug" and has earlier refused to accept his concerned nephew Fred's invitation to dine with him and his friends and  Scrooge turns away two gentlemen who arrive seeking charity for the poor’s Christmas dinner.  As his wretched overworked and underpaid clerk Bob Cratchit leaves to go home from work, Scrooge is moaning to himself as he shuts up his office that allowing Bob a day off to celebrate Christmas day with his large family with pay is "a poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December!”

Later that night Scrooge is visited by Marley's ghost, dragging heavy chains about his person, representing his sinful qualities of greed and selfishness. He tells Scrooge that he must change his mean and woeful ways for alas, his future will be squandered through his own wicked deeds. The terrified Scrooge is forced to listen to the wraith of Marley, wailing in a ghostlike manner, that under no uncertain terms should Scrooge ignore his warning or he will be cursed as he to endure the fate that Marley now suffers, should he not change his ways.  He will be visited by three spirits of Christmas who will reveal his fate throughout the night. Scrooge is then forced to observe as many more such ghostly creatures as his old friend Marley, follow as Marley leaves Scrooge, to ponder upon what he has heard.

Throughout life we do not heed the warnings that precede our actions. We have watched many a time as our friends or siblings, growing to adulthood make wrong financial, relationship and life choices and yet knowledge avails us nothing. We are like fish floundering on the dry shore. Some fortunately may have the wisdom to learn by others' mistakes; they are the lucky ones. They have been taught well by their parents.  But there are those who will ignore their parents' good advice and although the warning signs are there, we ignore them until like Scrooge, we are forced to sit up and take notice. Our fate has to be thrust under our noses time and time again before we learn that very useful lesson. How many times have we said to the god we only believe in when our backs are against the wall, “God if you only get me out if this scrape one more time, I’ll never ever do it again, I promise”?

The first spirit arrives just as Mr Marley has predicted. This is the Spirit of Christmas Past; it announces as the terrified Scrooge finally begins to believe that his experience earlier with the ghost of Marley could actually have happened after all. The spirit announces that it has come to take him on a journey to his past and we are whisked away to the scenes of his boyhood, lonely and fearful, sent away after his mother dies. His close relationship with his sister Fanny was his one solace, who later, is taken sadly from him after giving birth to her son.  These scenes play out before Scrooge and we see his tender side as he remembers who these poor souls are and he is eventually taken to a scene where he attends a Christmas party given by his first employer Mr Fezziwig, a kindhearted soul whose qualities never transferred to Scrooge, sadly. He fondly recognises his ex-fiancée, Belle, who leaves him that night after realising that she is not the number one entity in his heart. No that was reserved for  that root of all evil, money. Watching these scenes, we see him almost wrestle with himself. What a fool he was to let that kind woman go. Pragmatically, Scrooge goes back to bed after his little expedition, accepting that what is past is past. Still Scrooge has not made up his mind that he should heed Marley’s words and change his ways.

The second spirit arrives later and introduces itself as the Ghost of Christmas Past, who shows him the whole of London celebrating Christmas, including Fred, his sister’s son whose invitation to dine he had turned down, and the Cratchit family who, despite their impoverished state, still appear to be enjoying the evening with what they have and their love for each other. Scrooge is particularly moved by the plight of little tiny Tim Cratchit who is very ill. The spirit tells him that Tim’s plight will be worsened...unless something changes.

The spirit then produces two misshapen, sickly children he names Ignorance and Want. When Scrooge asks if they have anyone to care for them, the spirit throws Scrooge's own words back in his face: "Are there no prisons, no workhouses?" With these words ringing in his ears, Scrooge is sent back to his warm comfy bed to ponder further on what he has seen.

Lastly, the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come arrives to take Scrooge on his final journey into the future to see what has become of all those people he has encountered that night.  He is taken a year forward to Christmas Day one year later and just as the Spirit of Christmas Present has foretold to him earlier, Tiny Tim has died and it is revealed to Scrooge that the reason for this was because his father could not afford proper care on his very meager wage that Scrooge pays him.  Scrooge is devastated as he realises that he could have prevented this from happening by paying Bob a wage he deserved.

The spirit and Scrooge move on, for there is yet more to come.  Scrooge encounters a scene where a “wretched man” has died. The deceased’s business associates are discussing that they will only attend the funeral if lunch is laid on and it seems that his housekeeper and laundress have stolen his property and sold it whilst a young couple are relieved to find out that he is dead so they now have extra time to pay off their debt. Scrooge is shocked that there is no one who feels sorry for this poor wretch. The spirit shows him the man’s tombstone and he weeps over his own grave, appealing to the spirit to allow him to change his ways so that he might prevent his death in a year's time.

Scrooge  promises that he will do all he can to be a better person. The Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come leaves him, sobbing and praying piteously for mercy until he finds himself awakening to morning and it is Christmas Day at last. His night of revelation is over and he cannot believe he is alive. So grateful is he that he immediately repents and becomes a model of generosity and kindness, visiting Fred and giving Cratchit a raise. As the final narration states, "Many laughed to see this alteration in him, but he let them laugh and little heeded them, for he knew that no good thing in this world ever happened, at which some did not have their fill of laughter. His own heart laughed and that was quite enough for him. And it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well if any man alive possessed the knowledge."

At this conclusion, we know that Tiny Tim will now live, because Bob will now earn the money he should for the work he does and he will be able to make a difference in other ways to others, for he is now a generous, kind and compassionate man who lives beyond next Christmas and many more.

Charles Dickens was deeply concerned with the plight of the poor and those who were unable to take care of themselves. His attitudes toward social problems are embedded throughout his works.  Through his character Scrooge he was able to wield a double edged sword; he pricked at the consciences of the better off by raising awareness of the plight of the poor and influenced people’s attitudes by educating their ignorance and enabling them to understand that want is not a punishment for being poor, but an affliction that is compounded by being poor. The other side of the sword was that he also showed that no one was beyond redemption and that if humanity opened their eyes and saw what was staring them in the face, they might be enabled to change their human shortcomings and show compassion for people who cannot help themselves. His stories assist the readers to examine their own defects of character and show that like Scrooge, they too can change and receive redemption.

During the first visitation of Marley, Scrooge is given a warning that he will be visited by three spirits who will judge him and show him the error of his ways. It is up to Scrooge then, to make the necessary changes to make a difference and the reward will be longevity of life. We all get this chance in life to make changes. Often the future is revealed to us in ways that only we can understand. If we don’t stop drinking, we might kill ourselves by damaging our organs. If we don’t stop smoking, we might kill ourselves by damaging our lungs. If we don’t stop our excesses we may kill ourselves by damaging our heart and arteries. If we don’t stop making highly risky choices, we may damage our minds and our bodies and end up in an early grave. Remember, we are mind body and spirit, we need good health in all of those areas and what we do can affect them for life.

We can often reflect as Scrooge does, on past mistakes that have led us to difficult circumstances. Should we be stupid enough to squander our money, lavishing gifts on people who neither deserve our consideration or love, nor need it? Neither should we be miserly and put money before our loved ones so that like Scrooge, we lose the best people we could ever have in our lives and our chances at happiness? We need to find balance and we need to learn the lessons of our past so that we do not need to retake the lessons we have been given.  Nor should we wallow in self pity when life’s chances pass us by or we are caused trauma in our lives, unwarranted and totally blameless. Should we then seek to revenge ourselves on others? Where is the satisfaction in that? No, the best revenge in life is to get on with life and make a success of it.

Looking at our current state after pondering on the past, hopefully we now look back to our former trespasses and bad choices when thinking about how we should react to a difficult or life changing situation and think, been there, done that, not going to make that mistake again. Whether it be reacting to someone’s bad behaviour, ignoring someone’s good behaviour or kindness, taking up a job, falling in love, moving house, taking that gamble, whatever the decision to be made is, we have to at some point in our lives reach that milestone where we decide to not repeat the mistakes of our past, but in order to reach this plane of enlightenment, we need to examine the past, some more than others, but examine it we must. For if we are to achieve any happiness or serenity in our lives, we must move forward. But keep in mind, we will never achieve a Godlike state. Progress, not perfection must be the order of the day.

Finally, faced with our ultimate fears, we look to the future.  Like Scrooge in the last phase of his spiritual journey, we have reached a level of relative understanding. We now know that continuing to act as self propelled, self seeking beings, making and acting on our decisions that are based on self rather than proper use of will, we will fail as our past has shown. We will become, if we are not already, bitter, twisted and selfish, like the unenlightened Scrooge, and happiness will never reach us. We will never fill the hole in the donut; the hole in our soul.

Sometimes like Scrooge who hears his nephew and his business associates talking in a disparaging manner about him, we may hear others’ opinions of us that veritably shock us. This will teach us that we never see ourselves as others do. It’s a hard lesson to learn, that perhaps we are not as honest, kind, considerate and moralistic as we thought we were. People will not remember the good qualities we possess whilst our defects are glaringly obvious for all to see on a daily basis. After all, we are only trying to help people when we talk about them behind their back, or overly criticise our work colleagues or friends, aren't we? No, of course we are not trying to make ourselves feel better about ourselves by pointing out other peoples shortcomings. We do this to help others don’t we? And of course, we always forgive those who upset us, as Jesus teaches us. Of course there are some exceptions, if we don’t like a person because they have really trespassed upon our self esteem, why should we? And what do you mean forgiveness is better for our souls? Surely forgiveness only helps those who deserve our forgiveness. It is not for our benefit that we forgive?...Or is it?

 This year, as I dwell on the year gone by, reflect on what has been good and bad in my life and how I may have grown as a person, I look at where I could have done better, how I could have avoided my wrongdoings and how I can put what I can right. How can I be a better person, not how can I help others to be better. A Christmas Carol reflects what many of us hope to achieve, true happiness: a happiness when what gives you joy, does not come from any person, place or thing, but rather from what one can do, however small, to make a difference in the world. Being kind to others, giving rather than receiving and as in that lovely poem, "Desiridata"  by  Max Erhmann:

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.


Monday, 23 December 2013

Lisl's Bits and Bobs: The Great Land Series: From a tent city Christmas album 1916

Anchorage, Alaska: Tent City in the run up to Christmas 1916

"No other part of the earth known to man surpasses
in imposing and beautiful scenery."--John Muir

The city of Anchorage, located in the Southcentral region of Alaska, lies within a bowl along the Cook Inlet and is overlooked by the Chugach mountains to the east. Although Russians had an established presence in the 19th century, Alaska Geographic notes settlements of the Dena'ina people, possibly as early as 500 AD (Volume 23, Number 1). 

Shem Pete in Eklutna,
north of the Anchorage Bowl
The late Dena'ina elder Shem Pete remembered seeing the tents of Anchorage for the first time in 1914 (AG). The white tents had begun to spring up in response to talk--and later confirmation--of a western route selected for construction of a federal railroad from Seward, south of Anchorage on the Kenai (Kee-nigh) Peninsula, to the region of Alaska known as the Interior. This tent city was located under a bluff now known as Government Hill, and rested on land subject to siltation and vulnerable during earthquakes. By June of 1915, according to Michael Carberry quoted in AG, "more than 2,000 souls packed the short-lived settlement." 

"The White City" seen by a teen Shem Pete, photographed by Alberta Pyatt
on July 1, 1915 (Source)

The Tent City's water system, June, 1915: Wells were 
drilled in the Ship Creek flats; providing a primitive 
system of running water and sanitation was tenuous. 
At this time 100 people per week were arriving. 
Though it was 1920 before Anchorage became incorporated, men looking for work didn't wait around to establish lives in their new location. After a short time it was determined that more women and families were needed and indeed they came. Conditions were harsh but life was conducted and the people of Anchorage wasted little time isolating themselves. The Pioneer-News (later Anchorage Daily Times) published its first issue in May of 1915. Perusals of the ADT's archives by late 1916 show a people who remembered their origins, but looked forward to the future and where they were then, which included living life as typically as they would anywhere else. Adverts are seen in the issues of the day for bowling alleys, pool parlors, cafes, hotels, barber shops, photo studios, furniture, sweets, banking, cigars, candies and fruits, auto service, lumber, druggists, packing companies, toys, books, periodicals, glassware and more. 

They also wished to keep up with goings-on in the world, especially as by this time the Great War was raging around the world. As Christmas 1916 approached the people of Anchorage lived a sort of dual life: attempting to maintain standards and create satisfying lives whilst simultaneously coping with hardship and bad news. 

Front page for December 19, 1916

In an article two days following that in the image above, "Dainty female hands are now making shells," the journalist writes of women in previously male-only industries and presents a cautionary tale of sorts:

Hands are now making
Who knows, oh Tommy Atkins
As you throw that hand grenade
Perhaps it's one of many
That your wife or sweetheart made

It being in the best interests of pioneers, however, to look for the sweet side of life when they could, they did this, and the business agents of Anchorage took the lead. As Christmas approached and citizens prepared, the business community offered sales and prizes, enticed consumers with the scents of a delicious meal and sought to entertain. Following are images in the days just before Christmas 1916, as Anchoragites looked forward to a joyful Christmas and the end of the war. 

At top can be seen "Loussac's Daily Gossip," the name coming from Zachariah J. Loussac, a Russian Jew who had fled Czarist Russia, settling in Anchorage after first staying in several other Alaska towns. Loussac later served two terms as mayor and the city's library was named for him. Below is an ad extolling the virtues of Kodaks--photography was still relatively new at this time--ranging in price from $3.00 to $67.50, a Conklin fountain pen, Victrolas and "some" toys (possibly the first of items to sell out). Perhaps the adman saved best for last: Many Alaskans would own a book of poems by Robert Service.


"Colonial women were as eager for silk underwear as any of the spoiled ladies of the French Court. They prized it enough to bequeath it in their wills. What did they have in Silk Underwear? Practically everything that we have. Vests, Bloomers, Corset-Covers, Nightdresses, Envelope Chemise, Petticoats, Hosiery, Negligee and Boudoir Caps. Pink was the prevailing color for them, so it is for us today, and the ladies of Anchorage appreciate the good things as well as the ladies of the Court days. So what is more befitting that you should give my lady at Xmas time than some silk underwear? Our sweaters are the best to be had. Some have caps to match. Purses, vanity cases and fancywork boxes, also children's purses. Rich novelty ribbons for fancy wear. A full  line of art needle work. Beautiful silk and wool dress patterns. A new shipment of gents' ties just received. All suits and millinery greatly reduced. Come and see for yourself."

As can be evidenced by the origins and names of those settling in Anchorage, diversity was a draw from the beginning. Athans & Pappadopolos, above, is one example. (Today over 90 languages are spoken in Anchorage alone.) It is unclear if women in a billiards advert (middle column) was considered unusual or racy, as it would have been back East, but it is so that women advanced in Anchorage (and Alaska in general) faster than their counterparts in the United States. By this time women already were part of universal suffrage in Alaska, the change coming as the Territorial Legislature's first act, the body of which acknowledged that women had proven their strength and support in the development of Alaska--no small feat given the monumental difficulties of life on this frontier.

The Harmony Theatre as well as the Empress advertised heavily in the Anchorage Daily Times, with a pleasant array of titles for cinema-goers: "The Factory Magdalan," "Queenie of the Nile," "The Vengeance of Wu Fang," and "Key to Yesterday" were but some of the films offered at Harmony.

Empress drew movie buffs with the likes of "The Crucible," "Best of Enemies," "Cross Currents" and  "The Sign of the Cross."

The two theaters wore their pride in advertising when announcing smashed attendance records. In this particular ad: "Sapho" and late war news from France drew over 1,000 viewers to three shows. Aside from the war news, people were likely very pleased to be entertained after long, cold work days.

The Empress scored a coup, as we say today, by bagging a copy of "Civilization," "the picture that amazed, staggered and astounded New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and other large cities. Acclaimed by press and public to be the most gigantic and thrilling masterpiece of cinema history." Empress goes out of its way to communicate the large cost of securing this film. Indeed, even with trains now running goods to and from Seattle and imports coming the rest of the way by boat, everything then, as today, was much more costly.  

As with others, the language of this advert running two days before Christmas absolutely charmed this amateur historian. While fruits and vegetables such as green peppers, cucumbers, cranberries and pomegranates are common in present-day 'muni markets (though still expensive or, "spendy," as they say in Anchorage), in wartime 1916 they could be hard to come by and themselves a source of celebration. Canned or tinned fruit was popular and fashionable, and some grocers enticed shoppers with boasts of stocking Del Monte and Libby brands.

December 23, 1916:

We as distant observers recognize the extreme importance of the following two days to people of the era based on what is not there as well as what we have been seeing in our tracking of public life via one contemporary media outlet. In the silence that follows--for the news went unpublished on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as publishers and citizens celebrated with their families the birth of Jesus--there is a sense of solemnity, a somewhat shocking void as they disappear from view for two whole days. Perhaps they experienced a similar withdrawal as they would not have had any news--or at least not as much news--of the war and other events Outside. 

What we do know is that they soldiered on, continuing to create what became home for those of Anchorage today as they gave us the ability to look back and see that what drove them impacted and inspired us. This small bit of Anchorage lives presented here is but one snapshot in a much larger album flowing through memories set down in so many places and coursing through our very beings. As we look to the few days ahead counting down to Christmas 2013, nearly 100 years later, this labor of love is offered as a tribute and a thank you to those who broke trail for us.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Lisl can also be found at before the second sleep, often in the middle of the night. Thanks for reading!

Many thanks also to librarians Jill, Samantha and Charlotte at the Z.J. Loussac Library's Alaska Collection for their assistance with documents and navigation. 

Saturday, 21 December 2013

A THING DONE by Tinney Sue Heath – Reviewed by Louise Rule

 ‘It was a fool that began it, but it took a woman to turn it murderous.’

The opening lines of this novel A THING DONE by Tinney Sue Heath are more profound and poignant than you can imagine when you first start to read. It is only as you progress through this well-crafted novel that you begin to realise the web of intrigue which forms from those opening lines.

We are in Florence, Italy, in the year is 1216, and the protagonist, the Fool, is our commentator and guide through the remembered events. Tinney Sue Heath has a wonderful way of placing the reader beside the Fool, and equally, the Fool has such an eye for detail describing the materials of the women’s clothes, and those also of the men. He had an eye that, at first, I thought too feminine, but on reflection, as the story unfolds, you realise that this Fool has much time to observe those ‘people with surnames’ as the upper class were referred to. He observes in detail, their lifestyle, their homes, and their flamboyant clothes. For the reader it fills the imagination cinematically, and adds layers of texture to the story.

Neri, a lifelong friend is his partner in the Jesting act and plays an organetto which hangs on a thick leather strap around his neck. I imagined an organetto to be like an accordion, but on looking it up I find it to be a portable pipe organ, and quite a cumbersome thing to have to carry I would imagine.

Tinney’s knowledge of the history of this time in Florence is as though she had gone back in time herself. Her descriptions of the buildings and their proximity to each other lays before you a town plan that can be seen in your mind’s eye. The people, the smells, the sights, all come to life through the telling.

The Fool, whose given name is Corrado … ‘but no one ever uses it…’, and Neri have been hired, together with their other members, Rufino and Anselmo, to entertain at the celebrations of Buondelmonti, or messer Mazzingo, ‘…to give him his newly-minted knightly title…’  However, Buondelmonti has invited knights from both factions, the other being Oddo Arrighi dei Fifanti, and his men. So now they are grouped at opposite ends of the courtyard. The die is cast, we are now aware of the rift between these two factions, and a sense of brooding unease is in the air.

It is while the jesting and entertainment is in progress at the banquet, that the Fool executes a prank that has been asked of him to perform by messer Oddo Arrighi dei Fifanti. It is this prank that ignites the flame of revenge, and the novel then explodes into action and intrigue from that point.

As the story unfolds we are shown the stark differences between the upper and lower classes, all narrated by the Fool, who has an uncanny knack of embroiling himself into situations not of his own making. Because it is he who has performed the ill-fated prank, it is he who is summoned by Oddo to carry messages, for which the Fool is paid, and equally Buondelmonti also summoned the Fool to carry messages for payment. Now the Fool is working for both sides, one against the other. An involuntary double-agent, if you will. This leads to excruciatingly awkward situations for him. Firstly he has to keep it a secret from his friends, and secondly he has to keep it a secret from Oddo, and from Buondelmonti. This is a dilemma that he fights with throughout the story, creating many problems for himself.

It is while he is delivering these messages that the story lays itself open, and we see through the eyes of the Fool, the deception, planning and scheming that goes on behind closed doors to placate a situation that has been instigated by a prank. Honour has to be served and upheld.

I like the cover to this book. It has a shadow of a Jester/Fool set against castle walls. The Fool in the story lives in the shadows while he observes all that is going on around him. The title A THING DONE seemed to me to be abstract until I read the translation of a poem at the beginning of the book by Dante Alighieri, Inferno 28.103-108 quoting ‘… “A thing done has an end to it”, which was an evil seed for the Tuscan people.’

A THING DONE has a surprising ending with no loose ends. It is a truly fascinating read, an intriguing read, and an eye-opener to how life was lived in 13th Century Florence.

If you would like to go in the draw to win a copy of A THING DONE then all you have to do is comment here, or on the Review Blog Page  Unfortunately Tinney can only give away the paperback version if you live in the USA; otherwise it will be the e-book version.