The Light Beyond the Forest: Rosemary Sutcliff

★★★½

The King Arthur Trilogy: Book II

I haven’t yet read The Sword and the Circle, the first part of Rosemary Sutcliff’s retelling of the legends of King Arthur, but the trilogy really doesn’t need to be read in sequence. The Light Beyond the Forest is a children’s novel, yet it’s one written with grace and poetic sensitivity (as is everything by Sutcliff), telling the story of the Grail Quest. Thereby it tackles some fairly weighty issues: trust, honour, truth, loyalty, temptation, sacrifice and evil. If I’d read it as a child, I think I’d have been deeply impressed by its grandeur; reading it now, I’m struck by its lyrical simplicity and by the way it boils down a complex mix of Christian and pagan legends into a highly readable story.

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Blood Feud: Rosemary Sutcliff

★★★★

After starting my Sutcliff journey with Sword at Sunset, I always intended to read The Eagle of the Ninth next, but things didn’t quite happen as planned. I have a lot of great big thick books lying around at the moment and, while hunting for something short as a kind of palate-cleanser between epics, I unearthed this little novel. It was allegedly written for children but, in the tradition of the best children’s literature, it’s equally rewarding to read as a grown-up. In fewer than two hundred pages, Sutcliff spins a stirring tale of honour, bravery and adventure, the Viking sea road and the golden domes of Byzantium. How could I resist?

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Sword at Sunset: Rosemary Sutcliff

★★★★½

More than half a century after the last legions marched out of Britain, a man lies dying in a monastery, with apple trees stirring in the wind beyond his window. His name is Artos, and he has been many things: bastard-born nephew and adopted son of the old High King, Ambrosius; the Count of Britain; the leader of the Companions, a band of heavy cavalrymen sworn to his banner, who have devoted their lives to defending what remains of civilisation against the growing dark of the Saxon invasions.

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