Book Review: “The Evening and the Morning” by Ken Follett

49239093The year is 997 and England is in a dire situation. Fears of invasions from the Welsh and the Vikings leave the Anglo- Saxon residents rattled while those in power take advantage of their citizens. Chaos reigns supreme as those who rule the towns are in constant power struggles between themselves and their king, Ethelred the Unready, with the average villagers caught in the middle, like the villagers of Dreng’s Ferry. It is in this small village where three characters find their lives intertwined with the political and social drama. A young boatbuilder named Edgar endures heartache and sorrow when the Vikings attack his home. A Norman noblewoman named Ragna follows her heart to marry the man she loves and travels to a faraway land but soon finds out how difficult that love can be. Finally, a monk named Aldred works hard for the people while dreaming of transforming his meek abbey into a lively center of learning. Their tales are masterfully woven together in the much-anticipated prequel to the Kingsbridge series by Ken Follett. This is “The Evening and the Morning”. 

When I heard that Ken Follett was writing a prequel to his Kingsbridge series, I was ecstatic. I read the Kingsbridge series a few years ago for the first time and I fell in love with the town of Kingsbridge. I wanted to know more about the origins of this town and I wanted another engrossing tale of strength and struggle, which Follett delivers in this brilliant novel. 

Follett introduces his audience to his colorful cast of characters with a Viking raid in the small village of Combe, the home of Edgar the boatbuilder. He lost everything that he cared about in one night, so he and his remaining family must pick themselves up and rebuild their lives in the town of Dreng’s Ferry. Edgar shows grit and determination as he realizes what is truly important in his life. Ragna is a vivacious Norman noblewoman who fell head over heels in love when she met a charming Englishman named Wilwulf. She decides to leave everything that she knows behind to marry a man she believes she knows very well. However, she soon realizes that Wilwulf and his family are not who she imagined. Ragna fights with vigor for what she believes is right for her immediate family and the people she has sworn to protect from her husband’s family. Her tenacity and courage to weather the storms that life throws her way are truly admirable. Finally, there is the academic monk Aldred who wants to pursue knowledge to better humanity. He believes that Dreng’s Ferry can become greater than what the people believe is possible, which often puts him on a political collision course with Wilwulf’s power-hungry family. 

The stories of these three dynamic protagonists are interwoven to create a sensational prequel to the fabulous Kingsbridge series. This novel is riveting with the gorgeous storytelling that readers have come to expect from Ken Follett. What I love is that Follett’s focus is not on the royal family, King Ethelred and Queen Emma, but the people who built England from the ground up. It is the nobles and the village people that had to endure every decision and mistake that the crown made. They were the ones who suffered when raiders like the Vikings pillaged towns and killed their loved ones. They were the ones who had to fight back time after time to make sure that their families survived. To focus on three people from three different walks of life gives the audience a complete picture of the fictitious town of Dreng’s Ferry. 

I applaud Follett for going back and giving his fans the prequel to the Kingsbridge series that they craved. To see how the town of Dreng’s Ferry became King’s Bridge was a delight. I had to slow down my reading pace to make sure I was fully immersed in the tale that Follett wrote. I loved every minute of reading this prequel and now I want to reread the Kingsbridge series. If you are a fan of Ken Follett’s Kingsbridge series or if you want to jump into a series that is a fabulous historical escape, “The Evening and the Morning” is a must-read. A sensational prequel to one of my all-time favorite historical fiction series. 

Book Review: “Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest” by Sharon Bennett Connolly

51uoBkbUhLL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_There are quite a few events that one can name that radically shaped the course of British history. None more so than the events of 1066, the year that saw Norman, Breton, Flemish, and French forces, led by the Duke of Normandy, William the Conqueror, invaded England in what we know today as the Norman Conquest. Most history books tend to focus on the men who lived before, during, and after the Norman Conquest: Aethelred the Unready, Edward the Confessor, Cnut, Harold II, Harald Hardrada, and of course William the Conqueror just to name a few. What the history books tend to gloss over is the strong women who stood by their husbands, brothers, and sons during this conflict. Who were these women? What were their stories? How did they help their families before, during and after 1066? These questions are answered in Sharon Bennett Connolly’s delightful book, “Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing and Sharon Bennett Connolly for sending me a copy of this book. It has been a long time since I personally studied the Norman Conquest, so I found it rather enjoyable to read about a subject that I really don’t know a lot about.

Connolly explains in her introduction why she wrote this particular book about these extraordinary women:

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Aethelred II, to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, we will trace the fortunes of the women who had a role to play before, during and after the momentous year of 1066. Throughout these tumultuous times, women played a prominent part, in support of their husbands, their sons and of their people, be they English, Norman, Danish or Norwegian. Their contributions were so much more than a supporting role, and it is time that their stories were told, and the influence they had on events, was examined in detail. …My intention is to tell the story of the Norman Conquest, while providing the women with a platform for their stories, from the dawn of the eleventh century to its close. (Connolly, 13-14).

The story of the Norman Conquest does not start or end in 1066; 1066 is the climax of the story, which is why Connolly explores women from before, during and after 1066. Women like Lady Godiva, whose story many people think they know, but the story of her infamous ride is more fictitious than fact. Emma of Normandy, the wife of both Aethelred the Unready and King Cnut,  who used her political influence to protect her sons. Matilda of Flanders, the wife of William the Conqueror, who helped her husband as regent of Normandy while he was in England. St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland, who helped reform Scotland and bring it into the Roman Catholic faith. Edith, Gytha and the wives of Harald Hardrada who followed their husbands into the battlefield. 

These are just a handful of the stories Connolly explores in this wonderful book. Connolly has meticulously researched the men and women who were all part of the events that led to and after the Norman Conquest. I took ample amounts of notes on this particular book, which to me was rather enjoyable. Connolly makes the rather daunting subject of the Norman Conquest and makes it so even a novice on the subject can understand it. If you are interested in the Norman Conquest, especially about the women during this time, I highly recommend you read, “Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest” by Sharon Bennett Connolly.