Sunday, 20 May 2018

DUNSTAN by Conn Iggulden

(Dunstan by Conn Iggulden, AKA The Abbot's Tale in the US)
Dunstan by Conn Iggulden

Well, I think it pretty obvious that Conn Iggulden relished breathing life into this complicated creature called Dunstan. What a joy it is to read books that are so clearly a work of pride by the author. And he should be proud. This was a bloody good book. The best I have read of him so far… but of course, I have not yet read everything he has written. 

Now, Dunstan of Glastonbury is not your typical feel-good protagonist. Don’t expect to go into this book backing him to the hilt throughout his journey. He can be a very bad boy, and an even worse adult and there are many readers of this book who are saying they loathed him or disliked him. I actually did like him eventually. At first, in the opening chapters, with the way he treated his brother, I really didn’t like him much at all. With time, that passed and I found myself often rooting for him as he planned and plotted his vengeances and his climb to the top.

In his lifetime he outlives them all. Kings, Queens, family. And in the end, he gets a bit over it all. I suppose, as an insomniac and with many sins to ride his soul, life can get a little exhausting in the end for an old schemer like Dunstan.
What a man though. What accomplishments. What a colourful life. What things he must have seen.

Iggulden has made up so much, but this is historical fiction, it is to be expected. You have the few references to him in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and not much else. This gave the author a fairly broad palette to work his colours upon. With the attention not on giving us one long-winded info dump that reads more like a Non-Fiction, but to give us a fiction that follows the known history closely enough to inform us while entertaining us.

And what a world he had to entertain us. But don’t let me try to explain it…let Iggulden explain it through the words of his Dunstan:

“You have to understand our kingdom is a flame in a storm gale, guttering, flickering, struggling to survive. To the West, we still had the Vikings who had made their fiefdoms in Ireland. To the east and north, we had the might of all those small kings who saw our coast as a challenge – the Danes, the Swedish kings, the savage Norse. To the south, all along the coast of old Gaul, more Norsemen gathered, peering across at us. They waited all around us then. We had no chance to survive, some said. Yet we fought even so, whenever they came. Some men will.
We fought, because not to fight was to be destroyed, but also because we’d glimpsed something in the land, the rivers. Our fathers and grandfathers had found a good place, a sweet valley, with wolves on every hill all around us, just watching. We were farmers and soldiers and princes and priests. They were mere cruelty.
When a king died, they came howling down the hills.” 

This was quite a land of fire and sword in those times and what better world is there than that, for this author to pick up his brush and give us the most vividly worded account of a manipulative, aspiring, selfish, flawed, sinful creature called Dunstan of Glastonbury.

- MM


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