Yesterday, on a hot summer night, I went to the launch of Geoffrey Gudgion’s fabulous debut novel, Saxon’s Bane at Forbidden Planet on Shaftsbury Avenue in London.
Walking in, I felt I had surely found the UK spiritual home of Sheldon, Leonard, Howard and Raj from the Big Bang Theory! Upstairs was stocked with comic books and sci-fi merchandise goodies. Downstairs I found a regular bookstore and a warm book launch – actually the welcome (and the room) were very warm indeed - but the wine was chilled!
I should declare that I was given an advance copy of this book by the author, who I know through the Historical Novel Society. Jenny Barden, (author of Mistress of the Sea and doyenne of the HNS) and I were greeted by a charming woman, as "Ah! You'll be the HistFict massive then?" Gosh! Best to admit it then!
|With Jenny Barden|
So what about the book?
Saxon’s Bane is an action-packed page-turner shaped by elements of horror, fantasy, history, thriller and the ghost story. As debut novels go, Saxon’s Bane is pretty impressive.
The catalyst for the story is the simultaneous discovery of a bog body and a car crash in an unspoilt valley, which brings together a plausible set of characters in an environment of convincing solidity. Just as the landscape visibly preserves the memory of ancient ploughshares, so other fragments of the past colour the lives of the living. Legend, history, memory, folklore, magical practice - ancient and modern - and religion impinge on the present and serve to fuel the interactions between well-drawn characters, all of whom have been touched by the shadow world in different ways. Gudgion deftly uses a well-observed, surprisingly broad spectrum of belief in a quintessentially traditional British rural community, to develop tension and suspense that hold the reader’s engagement without recourse to sensationalism.
Dream interactions and flashbacks allow Gudgion to share a vivid experience of ancient lives and battles, with both character and reader alike. An emotional literacy underpins much of the writing which is further enlivened by tangential but witty observations by the characters - a smug post-coital pigeon or a failed clinch that results in the near-embrace of a rucksack - which diffuse any suggestion of sentimentality. Mythical motifs are woven elegantly into a fast paced split-time story.
Saxon’s Bane reads very well indeed – give me more, Mr Gudgion! Five stars.
Fergus's world changes forever the day his car crashes near the remote village of Allingley. Traumatised by his near-death experience, he stays to work at the local stables as he recovers from his injuries. He will discover a gentler pace of life, fall in love and be targeted for human sacrifice.
Clare Harvey's life will never be the same either. The young archaeologist's dream find the peat-preserved body of a Saxon warrior is giving her nightmares. She can tell that the warrior was ritually murdered, and that the partial skeleton lying nearby is that of a young woman. And their tragic story is unfolding in her head every time she goes to sleep.
Fergus discovers that his crash is linked to the excavation, and that the countryside harbours some dark secrets.
As Clare's investigation reveals the full horror of a Dark Age war crime, Fergus and Clare seem destined to share the Saxon couple's bloody fate.
Saxon’s Bane is published 12 September 2013 by Solaris.
Available for pre-order via Amazon now.