Monday, 28 May 2018

THE HARROWING by James Aitcheson

The Harrowing by James Aitcheson
It is a rare thing these days for me to read a book through the night and have to force myself to stop reading well after midnight in order to get some sleep. Many of the books I give 5 stars to, don’t even inspire me enough to do that. Due to (and I mean this with utmost sincerity) I love my sleep. Not too many books compete with a love like that. But The Harrowing did. It truly was a book that I couldn’t put down.

I read it quicker than I read most books and I probably could have read it even quicker if it weren’t for Hagustaldesham. Yes, it’s a long one, a tongue twister, a name to catch you up on; if you are a reader like me who needs to read every word correctly or you can’t proceed. Hagustaldesham. The town our five intrepid travellers are headed, across this post-apocalyptic landscape. For present company, for you, why don’t I call it what it is in later times. Hexham. Much easier to say that…and to type that.

So, our intrepid travellers are bound there, to Hexham. The priest, the lady, the servant, the warrior and the minstrel – in a time when Northern England is being wasted by the Normans and their ‘harrying of the north’. As the book proceeds, the story deviates from the main story, in order for each of these characters to tell their personal tale on how they came to be there, on their way to Hexham. One of these character’s stories I had no time for, mostly because I felt it went on too long, but the rest I enjoyed.

This is my favourite period of history, along with the Anglo-Saxon period that precedes it, and this may contribute to me loving the book more than someone who has no big interest in the period.  But, in saying that, it is still a great story for any reader who enjoys historical fiction.

I got so caught up in the story that I was actually heartbroken in the end. I still am now, nearly a week later.
Not giving away any spoilers by talking about my heartbreak, because it is just that heartbreak you get when you have gotten attached to certain characters and, as this is a stand-alone book, all good stories must come to an end. It wasn’t the ending I wanted, but that is subjective. The next person’s opinion will be different, and the one after that will be different again. 

I have read this author, James Aitcheson, in the past, where he dealt with this same period of Norman invasion, and those were also books that I enjoyed. For some reason, and don’t ask me why as I don’t know the answer myself, I wasn’t expecting this book to be as good as it was. The surprise at finding this book to be a jewel of the genre is followed by disappointment that it isn’t published in all countries, therefore, the US do not get to read it unless they buy it in paper version from a UK book store website. That is a shame, as I feel any country that does not have this book available in paper and digital, is missing out.

5 stars out of 5.



  1. I loved this book too,
    Terri, and I have been lucky enough to have met James who is a really lovely chap. We have had a few debates about theNormans versus Anglo-Saxons or William vs Harold.
    But in this book, he really brought home the haertbreak and anguish for the people of England in 1066, like the light had gone out for all the people with the coming of the Normans, but if you kept that fire burning, and never let it go out, then it would shine again, one day. Great review for an awesome book, Jones of my favourite series this year.

    1. Thanks Paula. Glad to see you liked it too! I think one thing that struck me was James' choice to write this in a post-apocalyptic style. I am a bit skeptical that the Norman's slaughtered all and sundry. Leaving nobody alive. There were enough left alive to show up by the droves at monasteries etc.. to beg for food. Of course many would have fled and hid when message came that Normans were indiscriminately wasting the country, but I I'm not convinced that they were killing every man, woman and child. Killing fighting age men and young boys, yes. Wasting crops, slaughtering livestock and burning buildings yes. But every person they came across? But if they were, then this landscape of James' would be pretty spot on, I'd say.