QUEEN OF THE LIGHTNING by Kathleen Herbert (Review)

queen-of-the-lightningThis is not an easy book to get hold of. I already knew and admired Kathleen Herbert as the author of Looking for the Lost Gods of England and Peace-Weavers and Shield-Maidens – Women in Early English Society. It was only recently that I realised she had written a novel set in early Anglo-Saxon times, that it had won the Georgette Heyer Historical Novel Prize, and then had unaccountably been allowed to go out of print. And is still out of print. Why are such books not made available through as eBooks (Kindle etc) and via Print On Demand? Surely the authors would be happy? What is the publishers’ problem, that so many wonderful books are simply unavailable, despite the fact that the technology to make them permanently available has been in place for years?

Anyway, I managed to get hold of a second-hand copy. (From AbeBooks, who are highly recommended if you are searching for out-of-print books, much more efficient than Amazon.) I have read hundreds of historical novels; many have faded from my memory; many others have not; but if I were asked to name a select few that I will always remember in detail, that made a place and period come alive for me and remain forever part of my experience of life, this would be one of them.

Riemmelth, princess of Cumbria, great-granddaughter of Urien and only heir to the kingdom of Rheged/Strathclyde, is forced into a dynastic marriage with Oswy (Oswiu), brother of King Oswald of Northumbria, first Bretwalda (High King of all Britain) and later Saint.

We follow her adventures in a half-Christian, half-pagan society, as Elfwyn, a princess of Deira who had been expecting to marry Oswy, tries to organise her demise by both natural and supernatural means; as Oswald is killed and her husband, Oswy, becomes king; as she falls into the hands of the brutal Penda, king of Mercia; as her loathing of the hated Anglian invaders and in particular her husband gradually changes to … something else: that meeting of the peoples which created England.

If you are interested in this period, or if you simply enjoy a good historical novel with an unusual setting, this is for you. Do try to get hold of a copy.