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I think I would be hard pushed to find anyone who had not heard of our seen a picture of Stonehenge. It is a really famous monument in Salisbury which consists of a circle of rather large stones, some which look like arches. It is thought to be about 5000 years old.
No-one is really sure of what it was built for, or the detail of how it is built, but geological evidence tells us that really large stones were moved at least 20 miles to build it. Archealogical evidence adds a few extra details as human remains and other items have been found in the area.
It is believed to have religious significance. The druids still celebrate midsummer at the monument today.
What Bernard Cornwell has done has taken the few scant facts we know about this monument and used it to make a story, or if you like a hypothesis of the people behind the making of this structure. I have never read anything by this author before, and also I am not normally a fan of historical type novels. I have read a few Philippa Gregory novels and found them really hard to get into, and also the Kate Mosse novel Labrynth took me a long time to enjoy. I am the type of person who perseveres once I have started. With this one, I found within a few chapters I was fully engrossed with the characters and plot which were interesting and fully believable.
There is a tribe of people living in a place called Ratharynn. It is a hard life. They live in huts and have to live on what they can produce from the land and what they hunt. There are other tribes living in the vicinity that could attack them for the grains they have stored for the winter. There is a lot of killing and plundering.
The leader of this tribe is a man called Hengall who has 3 sons who are his. 2 of these are being trained as a potential chief after his death, while Camaban, the third child is an outcast son, who was born with a crippled club foot. He was banished to live in the woods, but against the odds he survives by living on what scraps he can find and what his younger brother Saban brings for him.
The eldest son Lengar finds some stolen gold and wants to use it to build power for his tribe. When his father disagrees with him he is also banished from the tribe, and Saban is then expected to become chief and help to keep peace.
Lengar lives in exile for a while, and Camaban trains as a mystical healer. They hatch a plan between them to oust their younger brother. Lengar kills his father and sells Saban into slavery. However, by a twist of fate, this was a false pretence, and he manages to live as a free man. Camaban fools Lengar into thinking that a great temple should be made, and that they should exchange the treasure for the rocks that make it.
The book follows several years of life for the 3 brothers, looking at the relationships, the reasons why they wanted to make the temple to salute the sun god, and the hardships and battles that they endure during the process.
It is a 550 page novel, and the story is enthralling enough to have you turning over each one of these pages. At the end of the version I read, there was also a chapter written by the author that explains how he used the evidence of the types of stones and the remains found to build his story.
The character Saban is what made me enjoy the novel so much. He just wants to get on with a simple life with a wife and children, but his brothers both have so much influence in how he ends up living his life.
I would give it an 8 out of 10.
Stonehenge - the place - is a fascinating experience: unforgettable, built for unknown reasons and requiring unimaginable cost and effort to complete.
Stonehenge - the book -is a very dull experience: instantly forgettable, written for unknown reasons and requiring unimaginable cost and effort to read.
The word "epic" always makes me pause for thought. When describing books or films, it can mean one of two things. It can signify a fascinating, ambitious, multi-layered plot which spans vast timescales or geographical locations. Alternatively, it can mean a long-winded tale which has pretensions of grandeur, but which in reality is just an excuse for the author to burble on about nothing. From the rating I've given it, can you guess which category Stonehenge falls into?
The storyline follows three brothers. The eldest, Lengar, is warlike and aggressive, the second, Saban is peace-loving, whilst the third, Camamban is a cripple who becomes a powerful sorcerer. Although there is a distinct lack of brotherly love between them, they all share one goal: to build a powerful temple for the Sun God, Slaol.
Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Well, trust me, it's not. The idea of attaching a human element to the construction of Stonehenge, of trying to build a fictional account of the people behind the temple is an interesting one and should add a strong element of human interest. The book's downfall is its pace, which is unbelievably slow. This book is so slow that if it were an animal, it would be in danger of being overtaken by an elderly, unfit snail that'd really let himself go in recent years. The speed of the plot developments are meant to give you an idea of the magnitude of the task and the complexities in building Stonehenge. Instead, it becomes a rather dreary account about some rocks being moved around a bit. At times, the plot moves so slowly that you almost feel as though you are witnessing the construction of the monument in real-time.
It's not helped by the fact that the plot is deeply repetitive and involves the hauling of stones across large distances... several times. It can be summed up as this:
One Brother: "Hey, let's build a temple by bringing some big rocks a really long way".
Another Brother: "Hey, these rocks aren't as big as we thought. Let's tear down the temple and drag some even BIGGER ones an even BIGGER distance".
Another brother (possibly the first one again, although it's difficult to remember as they are so boring) "Hey, these rocks still aren't big enough... Let's go and get some even BIGGER ones from EVEN FURTHER away..."
You get the idea.
The trouble is I've just essentially parodied the entire plot for you in less than 100 words, yet Cornwell takes over 1,000 pages to achieve the same effect. These crude "plot devices" are tedious, repetitive and provide little by way of entertainment. The narrative might be sprawling, but behind it is hiding a simple, derivative tale of sibling rivalry. And big rocks.
Stonehenge never quite decides where it wants to pitch itself. Part of it wants to be an exciting tale of warring tribes and sacrifices (it never achieves this). Part of it wants to be a tale based around the known historical facts regarding the construction of Stonehenge (it never convinces with this). It never quite decides where it wants to be and so ends up stranded in no man's land. The "adventure" tale is insipid and goes nowhere, whilst the construction tale lacks sufficient facts to convince as an historical account. Put it this way: if I wanted to know about the construction of Stonehenge, I'd rather read a history book; if I wanted something to read for pleasure, the back of a till receipt would offer more excitement.
The dull plot is supported by equally dull characters which don't encourage the reader to engage with them. The supposed hero is Saban, but he is so bland, it's impossible to care what happens to him. The other characters are either unrelentingly bad or incredibly selfish, making you indifferent to their fates. When "bad" characters die, you don't feel the sense of elation that you should; when "good" characters die, there is no emotional tug. Frankly, you wish some of Cornwell's precious stones would fall and crush the lot of them, thus bringing the whole sorry saga to a welcome, if premature end.
Occasionally, a bout of excitement threatens to break out in the form of a battle or a feud between key characters. Thankfully, Cornwell suppresses this danger quickly and ruthlessly. The books of Cornwell's I've read previously have been at their strongest when describing battles, but ensuring they retain a more personal, human element. In Stonehenge, it's clear his heart's not really in it and he makes sure he gets such distractions out of the way quickly. Battles and feuds are usually done and dusted in just a few pages, lest they should get in the way of his lengthy descriptions of lugging great chunks of rock around. Excitement over, it's back to the important business of stones.
Cornwell doesn't help his own cause with his writing style. I have been critical in the past of his tendency to write in long chapters with only occasional breaks. This makes it very difficult to read the book in small chunks (on a short bus journey, for example or a quick five minute read before bed). Sections go on for pages and pages and this does not aid readability. Instead, it makes the book rather more intimidating to try and wade your way through: if you know you only have a limited time in which to read, there's not much point starting, as you'll have to stop halfway through a passage (something I hate doing). This in turn adds to the length of time it will take to get through the book, making it even more of a slog.
You've probably guessed by now that I didn't enjoy Stonehenge. There is a potentially interesting tale in there, but it is suffocated beneath the book's unnecessary length. A shorter tale which concentrated more on the characters and less on moving stones could have proved interesting. As it is, it's hard to recommend Stonehenge. It's a book looking for a purpose and nothing more than a criminal waste of trees.
Harper Collins, 1999
© Copyright SWSt 2009
Stonehenge is a historical novel set 2000 years before the birth of Christ, and offers an explain the construction of Stonehenge. The story is centered around three brothers from the tribe of Ratharynn; The hotheaded warrior Lengar, his younger, initially weaker brother Saban, and the crippled and deformed outcast and self-made sorceror Camaban.
Cornwell does a good job of bringing to life a cruel world in which the will of the Gods can be read from every shaft of sunlight, tremble of a branch and flight of a bird, in which the cunning yet unhinged Camaban rises to prominence and seeks to build a vast temple to bring together Slaol, the god of the Sun and Lahanna, the Goddess of the moon to usher ancient man into a new age.
As with the sun god Baal in Wilbur Smith's "The Sunbird", these celestial deities are central characters in the book, albeit unseen ones, and the protagonists' project their thoughts and feelings upon them, interpreting their world through their connection with the elements. It is a very successful way of placing the reader in the mindset of these ancient pagans, and this is one of the greater achievements of the book.
Cornwell paints life in prehistoric Britain as short and brutal yet spiritually rich with great skill. His descriptions of the reasoning behind Stonehenge's construction, as well as the logistics involved in bringing the vast bluestones from wales by river and sea are fascinating and persuasive, clearly based as they are on considerable research. Unfortunately, the story is quite tedious and slow-paced, though it does do a good job of conveying the gruelling and seemingly endless back-breaking labour invoved in transporting, shaping and erecting the stones, albeit at the expense of sometimes boring the reader. The characters in the novel are reasonably interesting, but the book somehow feels like it is missing something . Cornwell should still be commended for tackling such a difficult project however, and he is certainly successful in creating a believable account of the superhuman efforts and machinations that allowed for the creation of one of mans oldest and most mysterious shrines.
A good book, and well worth a read, but not one of Cornwell's best.
The fact is I rarely read historical fiction. This is something of a surprise given my love of historical fact. I always did like history at school and it was my strongest subject (in a pretty weak line up). So for all that maybe it was only a matter of time before I finally explored a relatively new genre for me in the form of Bernard Cornwells Stonehenge.
Set in Neolithic Britain, Stonehenge is a fictional account of how the world famous stone temple may have come to be. Part fiction, part hypothesis, the story follows three brothers whose lives criss-cross and intertwine against the backdrop of the lengthy building process of the Sky Temple (Stonehenge). One stormy day in Ratharryn, an outlander arrives on horseback. Wounded and vulnerable, his appeal for sanctuary is met with disdain by the ruthless Lengar who, whilst out hunting with his half-brother, Saban, kills the stranger and steals his belongings. The belongings turn out to be gold stolen from Sarmennyn and upon his return, Lengar is forced to yield the gold to his father and tribal chief, Hengall. Lengar subsequently murders his father and proclaims himself chief of the tribe.
Lengar enslaves his brother, Saban, but only after the stuttering, club-footed cripple, Camaban (the third brother) has successfully persuaded him not to have Saban killed. With the added humiliation of having lost his wife Derrewyn to Lengar, Saban is banished to live life as the slave of the giant trader Haragg. Saban swears his revenge. Meanwhile, representatives from the land of Sarmennyn arrive to argue for the return of their gold as the man who had been killed had stolen it. Not having the precious metal will bring bad luck to their lands and displease their Sun God Erek. Lengar refuses to return the gold preferring to use it as a lever to wage war on the surrounding settlements.
Having survived being a sacrifice to the Sun God, Slaol (also known as Erek to those in Sarmennyn), Camaban travels to Ratharryns traditional enemy, the neighbouring settlement of Cathallo. There he persuades the one-toothed sorceress, Sannas to teach him all she knows about the world of magic and spells with the intention of returning to Ratharryn in a position of strength and respectability.
Upon his return he becomes the High Priest of Ratharryn and persuades Lengar to build a temple to the Gods. In exchange for the lozenges of gold, the people of Sarmennyn agree to the resettlement of the stones of one of their most sacred temples to Ratharryn. Lengar thinks that the temple is to be in honour of the Gods of war but Camabans real intention is somewhat different. Ordering the transfer of stones, Camabans charges embark on the monumental task of moving huge stone pillars by land, sea and river to realise Camabans vision and achieve his goal.
And so unravels a tale of death and destruction, love and hate, war and peace surrounded by a blanket of mysticism and Stone Age worship. The story becomes a sprawling canvas spanning many decades as key personnel float in and out of the story with many meeting a grisly demise in the manner and custom of life and death in Ancient Britain.
Born in London and raised in Essex, Bernard Cornwell is a well-known author albeit this was the first book of his that Id tried. Responsible for the Sharpe series of books as well as the Arthurian Warlord Chronicles and the Starbuck series, Cornwell has a great pedigree so my expectations were high.
From a critical point of view, Cornwells writing style was dry at times with a rather stilted, matter-of-fact delivery. I guess he would have been trying to capture the reverential plateau of politics, which forms the undertow of the book but it did detract from the fluency on occasion. Moreover, Cornwell falls into the trap of JK Rowling with an over reliance on the use of adverbs to enhance a sentence (in my humble opinion but who is the multi-million dollar book writer here?). I lost count of how many times something was done carelessly which, itself seems a rather vague way of describing an action.
On the plus side, the story itself is good. The power to imagine what those times would have been like is clearly expressed backed no doubt by an impressive amount of historical research. The main characters are drawn beautifully with a Neolithic pen picture probably accurate for the period. The author never veers from the attitudes and standards for each of the main protagonists although beware the lucidity of the harsh approach to life and death of the time. I was even taken aback by the logicality of human sacrifice according to the Neolithic way of life although still shocked by the thought of women and children so routinely killed to satisfy rituals (and their acceptance of their fate). The relationship between the Gods and those that worship them is shown more acutely than I can recall experiencing in either a book or movie before now and its this relationship that provides the catalyst for nearly everything that happens in the book.
I found it easy to engage the main characters throughout the book with the colourful ideas of High Priests, Tribal Chiefs and witchcraft an enthralling notion that lifted the story from a mere recounting of what Ancient times may have been like to a Stone Age soap opera of epic proportion.
This version was the original hardback published in 1999. At 434 pages it was a lengthy read with the book split into 3 parts The Sky Temple, The Temple of Shadows and The Temple of the Dead. Chapters were no more than a dozen pages and the historical note at the end is very interesting. It includes an explanation of place names and relevant historical fact to back up the stories events as well as give an insight into the various stone and wood temples that exist in Britain today. Most observers believe that the stones that make up Stonehenge originated in Wales and this is the theory that the writer sticks with. Sarmennyn is now South West Wales, Cathallo is Avebury whilst Ratharryn is Durrington Walls. Having been to see Stonehenge in Wiltshire, I found it easy to imagine where the different places were today even with the explanation at the back of the book rather than the front. If I hadnt have known the geography then I would have found it equally interesting to have read the historical notes at the end to discover where the different places are.
I really enjoyed this book finding that having got started, the pages turned quickly and I was anxious to find out what happened next. A book like this will appeal to fans of historical fiction, those interested in monuments like Stonehenge or simply those out to read a good yarn. It does have strongly adult themes including graphic sex and violence and so shouldnt really be read by anyone younger than pre-teen. I can see myself trying more historical fiction in the future and I certainly wouldnt be averse to trying Cornwell again!
Thanks for reading and have a great weekend.
Published by Harper Collins
Price: £16.99 for original hardback but have a scoot around on Amazon & EBay where I'm sure you'll pick up a paperback bargain!
The title I have selected for my opinion on this book reflects, I hope, the overall tone of this opinion. The book is one that appeals on many levels, but, I uppose, the underpinning concept is that that makes all good fiction good, and that which turns good fiction into GREAT fiction is that certain, ethereal ability of an author to turn the implausable into the identifiable. Cornwell manages this so well in this book that you do not even notice it is happening. The book is about, primarily, a stone age/iron age boy, named Saban, and his trials and tribulations in life, in love and in battle, in an era long before there are any remaining records. It is a marvel that he has made this era in Britains history live as if it were recorded infallibly. The centrepiece of the complex, yet stylish plotline, is stonehenge, as we know it today. However, in this book it is not the awesome neolithic, monolithic structure that we know from countless photographs, references or visits, but it is a monument to aspiration, endeavour and the towering ambition of the brother of Saban, Calaban. He is a cripple, who by the unwritten laws of a ruthless primitive society, should have been sacrificed. However, he survives the ruthless amitions of his brother, (lengar), the demands of his brutal father, and the whiles of a terrifying sorceress, in order to become the driving force behind stonehenge. This novel is a masterpeice. I had two attempts to read it, the first was aborted, as it semed too slow and complex, but the second attempt was a revelation. Two chapters in and I could not put the book down, it is copelling, original and totally spellbinding. You WILL identify with characters that may have existed before recorded history, and that is solely due to the writers craft. Buy, Beg or Borrow this, persevere past chapter two or three and you will NOT be disappointed. A compelling read - I guarantee ! ! !
I saw Stonehenge in a discount book shop and bought it because it was cheap. I had seen the number of books that this author had wrote and as I like historical novels I thought I would risk buying it. The plot is based around the building of Stonehenge, the lives of three brothers and tribal society. Without going into the plot in detail, the reasons that the book was interesting and hard to put down fall into three categories. Firstly, the details of the tribal life of people living at that time are not known and the author makes a very good attempt to create a fictitious people that could fit in to the few facts that are known about the period. Secondly, Stonehenge was built in around 2000 BC and the difficulty of moving huge stones, carving them and erecting them was a huge task, that required a large amount of effort and co-ordination over at least several years. Why stones weighing between two and seven tons were brought 135 miles from Wales, instead of using ones available from 20 miles away will never be known. Bernard Cornwall weaves a realistic tale to explain one reason, why this happened. Lastly, this is one of those authors who can write a book that grips their audience. I will add Bernard Cornwell to the list of authors such as Tolkien, Terry Pratchett, Stephen King, Frederick Forsyth, Robin Cook, Stepheb Donaldson and Richard Laymon who can 'tell a good tale' whatever they write about.
Bernard Cornwell attempted to do a very brave thing. It is not many authors who would try and write a book based on events that happened in the year 2000 BC but this is what he has done. In his book Stonehenge, Cornwell attempts to record the events leading up to and the actual building of Stonehenge. Not an easy task but I think he carries it off very well. The books main character is Saban who is a member of the tribe from Ratharryn. He will lead his tribe in the building of the magnificent Stonehenge - a legacy that we can still see today. The book also concerns itself with the tribal feuds between other tribes and also those internal. Saban has a rather eventful life. His father Hengall is the leader of the tribe but is soon deposed and killed by his other son Lengar, Sabans half brother. Lengar sells Saban into slavery and he is taken to south Wales. Meanwhile Sabans other half brother, Camaban, who was a cripple, turns into a powerful sorcerer. Camaban decides to build a temple to reunite Slaol the sun god and Lahanna the moon goddess. Once they are reunited there will be no more winters, sickness or poor harvests. That basically is the main plot but there are several intricacies to the story. The feuds with other tribes, Sabans wives, his family, the every day living of the people. The full descriptions bring the past to life in glorious technicolour so it is easy to imagine the characters and follow the story. The strange names take a little while to get used to but they are used often so you quickly remember what they refer to. At the end of the book there is a chapter entitled "Historical note" which is a wonderful chapter to end on. It describes which events there is evidence for and the actual recorded archaeological evidence. Cornwell has used a vast amount of this in his book but I dare say there are bits that he has also omitted. There are also suggestions for further reading and he mentions th
e books which he found most useful during his research for the novel. If you are intrigued by Stonehenge and have oftened wondered about the people who built it and why they did so then read this book. It puts a more human face on what is now a somewhat dilapidated pile of stones (compared to what it was what when first built). Like all historical novels it has to be taken with a pinch of salt but it is well worth reading and is thoroughly enjoyable. PS picked this up in Bargain Books 3 for £10 offer hence the price given below!
StoneHenge The Return! From the earliest times, each and everyone of us have looked at the sun and the moon, and at life and death, and have imagined gods who control such things, and looked for ways to control those gods. In Stonehenge, Bernard Cornwell, famous for his novels about Rifleman Sharpe's adventures in the Napoleonic wars and for a sequence of brutally realistic Arthurian novels, considers the men and women who built Stonehenge and Avebury. These stone circles are impressive enough today; but all the more so if you imagine shifting stones from Wales to Salisbury Plain by raft and roller, dressing them with burning fat and grindstones, hauling the lintel stones up tiers of platforms
Stonehenge continues where the Arthurian books finished off with Bernard Cornwell going even further back in time for his latest novel. This is a stand alone novel unlike most off his other works and you do not need to have read any others to appreciate it. Set before Stonehenge was built the story revolves around three brothers a deformed outcast who becomes the greatest shamen known, a violent older brother who believes in taking by force what he requires and a thoughtful brother who believes that his tribes well being should be the priority The novel is hard going initially as the author develops the different characters but stick with it and you will find another excellent story full of character letting you picture the images yourself well worth a read
Stonehenge by David Souden and published by English heritage is a wonderful book. It not only tells us in an interesting and informative way about the history of Stonehenge from when there were only the post holes dating back to 8000 BC, it also places the information in context by comparing it in an easy to understand format with what was occurring in other parts of the world at the same time. The book is also full of wonderful photographs and illustrations. Some are to just show the beauty of the monument, whilst others show us the spatial patterning of the henge or are used to illustrate the way in which it developed over the thousands of years when changes occurred. Later in the book there is also information on the way Stonehenge was viewed by our more recent ancestors, the way they drew it and the way they interpreted it. The final part of the book looks at the current status of this megalith and the possible plans for its future. The way in which this book is written makes it suitable for a wide range of readers, from those who study archaeology and want in-depth reasoning to those interested in the site for spiritual reasons with a low level of historical knowledge. The bibliography is also extensive and the index at the back is very comprehensive. One of the best book ever written on Stonehenge with great illustrations