Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Shield Ring

Best enjoyed with tea and doughnuts. :)

In the very first post I wrote this year, I mentioned that I wanted to read my first Rosemary Sutcliff novel sometime in in 2014. I had heard a lot about this author when I started blogging, and early in 2013 I asked some Sutcliff experts what would be the best book of hers to begin with. Upon their recommendation, I wrote "The Shield Ring" on my to-read list, and early this year (as this is my year for choosing the books I really want to read) I picked it up from the library.




The Story
"That is our Shield Ring, our last stronghold; not the barrier fells and the tottermoss between, but something in the hearts of men." 
~The Shield Ring, by Rosemary Sutcliff

Frytha is five years old when the Normans come to burn her house and kill her family. A faithful sheepherder hides her and brings her safely away, but her parents were not saved, and she is left with only a faint memory of a burning thatch and a command from the man who rescued her that she must never forget that the Normans did her wrong.

Frytha and Grim take refuge miles and miles away in the stronghold of the Jarl, the leader of their people. His Hearth Hall is known as the Shield Ring, a secret stronghold that has held the land free from Norman invasion for twenty years or more. The Normans don't know where the Hearth Hall is, and none of the Northmen are about to give it's location away.

Frytha is a little older when the Jarl tells his people that they do not have enough men to hold the Shield Ring against the coming force of Normans, and it is in their best policy, though against all their hearts, to surrender.  By general consensus the people agree. But when the envoy of peace they send is brutally tortured and mutilated, the Northmen people abandon all thought of making peace.

They will hold their Shield Ring against the bars of Hell itself. And though they are small in number, their love and loyalty bids fair to prevail.

Only betrayal, or the slow decline of men, can break their strong resolve.


My Thoughts
Sutcliff is beautiful. Beautifully unique; I've never read an author like her before, and I think she must be one of a kind. Not complicated; a straightforward painter of words. The characterizations and themes are clear, and you know who you should be rooting for from the beginning. Yet in her simplicity, there's a pure thread of crimson that weaves through strong and bright--for Sutcliff's detail and her very simplicity is that of a true artist.

When I was finished, I was left wondering "Was it written for young readers, or adults"? It seemed that it might be written for young people because of the simplicity of the story and the plotting; yet at the same time, there was a deeper, grander theme to it that seemed more likely to be appreciated by older readers.

The answer, in the end, lies in the beauty of the fact that her works can be enjoyed by a wide range of ages.

For those who are wondering, it's not an intrinsically Christian story. As for the religion of the people, mostly gods such as Thor are mentioned. There's only one time where a man introduces a Christian Latin chant at a grave site, but it means nothing to the people, and they stick with what they're familiar with. However, the book is still very much worth reading, and certainly many of the themes are based from Scripture. I think you'll find it well worthy to be on anyone's bookshelf, for themes of sacrifice and heritage, friendship and bravery, family and defense.

Sutcliff doesn't drag her readers into the whirlpool of drama in a Dickens, or the romantic love triangles of a Jane Porter. She paints a clear picture of simple bravery, and steadfast nobility, and unbroken heritage. Even the romance--what there is of it--is merely the realizing of two good comrades that they want to go on in even closer friendship with one another.

The Shield Ring is not only a story about Frytha's view of her people, but also of her first friend, Bjorn, and his burning desire to prove himself steadfast, mostly to himself, but also to a couple of enemies. Bjorn and Frytha's story is over arched by the story of the Shield Ring itself--the Northmen's secret stronghold, and the battles the men fight to keep it well defended and safe from invaders' eyes. Both plots weave in and out together seamlessly

Strong defenders--Aiken and Gille, and even Aiken's dog Garm--are also worthy of mention as well-beloved and heroic characters. The sword Waveflame, the Road that Leads to Nowhere--a myriad of characters and objects that bring the story to a rich level of detail without overwhelming it's aim of simplicity.

A wonderful story. The first time in a long time I treated myself to reading in the middle of a work morning when I still had other things to do. On the very last day, when I knew I could finish it, I stayed up until midnight so I could mark it down on my list.

I definitely hope to be reading Sutcliff again. If you've never read her, be sure to put her on your list! A must-read for any historical fiction lover, and a writer worthy of study and imitation.

Blessings,
Lady Bibliophile

13 comments:

  1. I love this book. Sutcliff is one of my great heroes as an author, and you are right: her beauty is in simplicity. She has a deft way of capturing elusive impressions and great profundity in just a few words. I come away from her books feeling as though I have walked and suffered and smelt and breathed and experienced the story. They linger in the memory in a strong way.
    So glad you enjoyed this book. : )

    ~The Philologist

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    1. I'm so glad you all recommended her to me. :) I'll have to ask you which one to read next!

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  2. Can't wait to get my hands on one of Sutcliff's books. My sisters say they're awesome.
    E.M.H. :)

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    1. I think you're a new commenter. :D And seeing as there are only two more "E's", and one of them's a little young to be thinking of Sutcliff at this point, I have you narrowed down. ;)

      Your sisters are right. Sutcliff is awesome, and I think you'll enjoy her!

      Love,
      Schuyler

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    2. That was me... Esther that is. I was expecting you would at least guess it was me. You are very smart :D

      E.M.H.

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  3. Oooo....Sounds great!! It was cool to see you read a book for fun and just *eat* it up... ;) I'd like to read it sometime! :D
    Love,
    Sister

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    1. Wish fulfilled! :D Enjoy her, and I can't wait to see what you think. <3

      Love and cuddles,
      Sister

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    2. LOVE it!!!!! It was such a great book and I loved her writing. :D :D

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  4. I am so glad you guys enjoyed it! I really love the strength and simplicity of her writing. She tells the story in such a way that you love the characters, but you never think that she is being too emotional. She's actually my model for writing if I had one. : )
    Thank you so much for reviewing it!
    E.H. ; )

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    1. She is a great role-model, and I can definitely see her influence on your writing. :)

      You are welcome! It was a pleasure to review, and I enjoyed re-reading bits as I typed it up. :D

      Love,
      Schuyler

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  5. I am so glad you've gotten to read Rosemary Sutcliff, Schuyler, and loved her like that. She is truly amazing, isn't she? She has a way of stirring you with such simplicity and delicate literary artistry. You're right 'she is a beautiful painter of words', and weaves the lives of characters in their historical setting so seamlessly and quietly but with true warmth - I definitely have a lot to learn from her! I have so far read three of her books (The Eagle of the Ninth, The Silver Branch and The Shining Company), which I totally loved. I have two others of her books in my library that I've still to read 'The Lantern Bearers' and 'The Shield Ring' and I really want to get finished with my current reads to dig into Sutcliff again. The last time I read her writings (Shining Company) - I was quite in tears by the end of it and I am told by my sisters I was in a tragic mood all that week ^_^ Not that I don't plan on picking it up again soon ;).

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    1. Indeed she is amazing! :) I see I have a lot of catching up to do to match you in my knowledge of Sutcliff. :D The Eagle of the Ninth has long intrigued me, as well as The Shining Company. But oh, dear, I'm not sure I'm ready to be depressed for a whole week! :) It's so dark where I live this time of year, and I'm trying to read things that make me happy. But for Sutcliff, and to experience the beauty of her writing again, I suppose it would be worth it. :D

      You'll love The Shield Ring. Don't read the end, (I don't know if you like to do that sort of thing) because the build-up is what makes the story. I read endings all the time, but I was good and restrained myself, and I was very glad I did. ;)

      Thanks for commenting!

      Love,
      Schuyler

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