Dark Earth by Rebecca Stott – Review
By Sandra Callard
Like nothing I have read recently, Dark Earth is set in what we now call Britain in 500AD and the Romans have just departed the land in order to protect their own homeland, after five hundred years of supremacy and domination in this far flung part of the world.
Small individual kingdoms are springing up as they fight for supremacy in this new and somewhat freer land. Two young sisters, Isla and Blue, discover their father, a high class blacksmith who makes weapons for the King of the area, has died in his forge, leaving an unfinished sword that was meant for the King. Although women were banned from entering the forges, as they were deemed unworthy to do so, Isla’s father had secretly taught Isla his trade, and she was determined to finish the sword, in secret, for the King, so her father would not be dishonoured. And so begins a dangerous and enlightening time for the girls as they discover new people, places and ideas, and begin a threatening and hazardous fight for existence.
The theme of the book is ages old and yet as new as tomorrow as the girls face their demons and take hold of this new, frightening and adventurous time of their lives, where they are shadowed by both friends and enemies. The bravery of the girls, and their helpers, is so normal to them that it was never going to be otherwise.
“A life of danger”
One thing that appealed to me in particular was the vision of the old London that the Romans had created over the years of their stay. It was undoubtedly beautiful, with many of the modern accessories that we would have recognised, and yet, through the following years as Britain was left alone, all those things were dismantled and a new Britain slowly evolved. Surely a sign that the whole of humanity, however good or bad they be, needs to put their own stamp on their surroundings.
The book is beautifully written as a long neglected part of British history begins to unravel before us. The characters are not dissimilar to some we could find around us today, whilst being totally opposite in their lives and surroundings. Isla and Blue take on a life of danger for reasons that are outside our understanding, but which are totally acceptable for the time, and the skill of the author is such that the years between fall away and we are with the girls in their task of honour and survival.
The author has given the reader a frightening and alarmingly vivid image of the normality of cruelty in those long ago days. Not only the actual punishments, which are grim, but the startling acceptance that the people of the age held. Their lives were always precarious, but the author shows that hope and love will always be somewhere on the horizon no matter how dire the present may be.
This book is part solidly researched history with all the legends, violence and beauty of the ancient age which it creates, and part bold and brilliant ingenuity and skill of writing. I read and enjoyed every word of this unique book, which I finished with that good feeling of satisfaction that only a good book can give the reader, and which only a reader will understand.
‘Dark Earth’ by Rebecca Stott is published by HarperCollins, £14.99 hardback