Bernard Cornwell | Stonehenge

A circle of chalk, a ring of stone and a house of arches to call the far gods home.

I have recently got into Bernard Cornwell's books. The first one I read, Azincourt, I really enjoyed. You can read my review of that here. I also enjoyed this one but did find it a little more difficult to get into that Azincourt. Bernard Cornwell writes historical novels based on his own research and interpretations.

Now one of the great things about writing about a time period 4000 years ago is that nobody really knows what was going on then so it is really open to interpretation. There are loads of different theories, some of them more likely than the others. Cornwell writes his own interpretation of how these Bronze aged people lived, why they built this temple that is still inspiring awe today and most importantly how it was built. How it was built really is one of the things that everyone thinks about and Cornwell gives a very plausible explanation.

The story follows the main character Saban through his ordeals to become a man, several marriages, trials and tribulations with various family members and ultimately masterminding the building of Stonehenge. He is a believable character which I can definitely get on board with. There are some characters that I really disliked such as Lengar, Saban's older brother, who kills their father and declares himself chief of Ratharryn. I also sincerely dislike Aurenna as a character, one of Saban's wives, who becomes obsessed with devoting herself to one god or another and completely forgets about her family commitments.

Although there was plenty of fighting scenes within the book, I don't feel like Cornwell did them justice in this particular book. Cornwell writes some epic, bloody, gory battles but I suppose this book was supposed to be more about the building of the temple than the battles. Fair enough, it's his book. Something that I always love though, is learning about weapons from various time periods. This at least is one of the things that we can be certain about as these weapons are actual artifacts that have been found on Bronze age sites. The stranger that was killed by Lengar at the beginning of the book for example and his little wrist cuff thingy to protect his wrist from his bow string was actually found, which is pretty cool. Jewellery, tools and cooking utensils are all accurate, which is great. Well done Cornwell.

I really enjoy reading about paganism. In my eyes, worshipping the sun and the moon makes a lot more sense than worshipping a god that listens to our prayers and tells us how to live. I'm not dissing God in anyway, but I just know that if I had to choose a faith, I would go with something that gives thanks to tangible things in the natural world rather than a spirit who may or may not be there. But maybe you could argue that god created all these things so we're all essentially worshipping the same thing? But that's a different discussion altogether. We know that bronze age peoples had an amazing understanding of the sun and the moon cycles. Cornwell's interpretation of why Stonehenge was built marks this.

It was interesting to hear Cornwell's interpretation of how women would have been portrayed in this time period. Do we have any proof that women would have been seen as lower class citizens? In Stonehenge, Cornwell seems to suggest that this is the case. Women are raped, beaten, tied up and kept as slaves and it is openly discussed that their role is to serve men. Even to the point where they talk about the moon goddess Lahanna having to be subservient to Slaol the sun god. I don't think you should speak about a goddess like that. Just saying.

The time scale of Stonehenge being built is something that is up for debate. There are lots of different bits of evidence to suggest different time periods...but were these added before or after the actual temple? Cornwell seems to think that it could have been built over the span of a man's life. I'd like to think that the person who thought of the design of Stonehenge saw it finished.

Overall I would recommend this book, but don't expect a thrilling rollercoaster ride like some of Cornwell's other books. It is a slow, moving story of determination, betrayal, love and war. Also, if you are particular fond of animals and a bit squeamish...I would probably skip this. A lot of sacrifice happens and goading of oxen. A lot of sacrifice. But the gods want what the gods want!

Was Stonehenge built in a lifetime? Did they move the stones using boats and sledges? Did bronze age people have ceremonies such as marriage? We can only theorise...

Has anyone else read this book? Discuss!
Click here to buy Stonehenge by Bernard Cornwell

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I aim to post two-three book reviews a month. Keep checking back to hear what books I've been reading. I enjoy historical dramas, crime fiction and many other genres. For more regular updates, follow me on Goodreads.

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