book reviews

Review: Dunstan by Conn Iggulden

Following my post on Thursday, which was written in all haste in the last ten minutes of my lunch hour, I announced that to celebrate reaching 100 followers I was going to post an extra review this week!

I was fishing for an excuse really. It had already crossed my mind that I was going to be falling behind if I didn’t throw some extras in. Nevertheless, today I am posting the review, as promised!

Dunstan

GoodReads – Dunstan

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.

I originally decided I was going to read this book as I was introduced to this particular period of history by a work colleague, in the form of another series of books by Bernard Cornwell. Maybe this particular period of history is new to you. Perhaps you had the opportunity to watch “The Last Kingdom”, which aired on BBC Two here in the UK. I am also assured by other sources on the world-wide-web that it was shown on BBC America and the first season is also available on Netflix. If historical dramas are of interest to you – I really recommend it!

Dunstan picks up a little after the reign of Alfred the Great, whose reign and resistance to the Viking invasion features in the aforementioned series. Having loved this particular set of books so far I wanted to see how history panned out after the invasion.

Turns out, whilst England was under one rule, much of the struggles faced by King Alfred the Great live on past his reign.

Some slaves are kings and some kings, slaves, but that is because the world is corrupt and in ruins, no matter how high we build. – Dunstan

The history and turbulence within the monarchy following King Æthelstan’s death is narrated by Dunstan, who dedicated his life to the restoration of the Abbey at Glastonbury. You would expect a man in this position to be a humble one, serving God through his position as Abbot. Think again. He is far from honest: he cheats, he lies and he is a murderer. He’s a manipulator. At one point he saves his brother from death by performing a risky surgical procedure on him and succeeds. The fact that he then later emotionally blackmails Wulfric and puts him in the position of committing treason for his own gain, well, I think that tells you everything about our MC. There is only one person Dunstan will truly look out for, and that’s Dunstan.

Naturally, I didn’t like our far from humble and backstabbing narrator, but the narration from his perspective was not completely spoiled by this brat of a human being. We get to experience first hand the repelling of the Scots and the Danes in Ireland, as well as the reformation of the Royal Mint.

Dunstan finds himself serving many Kings following Æthelstan’s death. He had very clear ideas about who he liked and who he disliked. Of course, those in his favour were either his friends or people he felt he could influence with his affiliation to God. I found it laughable at Dunstan’s distaste for Prince Edwy. In my humble opinion, he was very much like Dunstan and their clash is probably as a result of having similar personalities!! Dunstan favoured Edwy’s younger brother to be King, voted for at a Witten (a meeting of influential lords, landowners etc).

I am not going to turn this review into a history lesson. In my experience, you are either interested or you are not, so I’m not going to be that person to throw facts and figures at you. If you are interested, I would recommend the book to you. Whilst exploring the history of the English monarchy, it is still an entertaining read. Please note that my opinions are my own – let them cloud your judgement. You may have a different opinion. The only way you will know is if you find out for yourself. If anyone has read this book – I would love to hear your thoughts!!

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