Friday, December 12, 2008

Book Review: The Shining Company

The historical novel is one of my favorite genres. I think the first one I read was War and Peace, which I am really due to reread, given I read it at the ripe old age of eighteen.

While The Shining Company is not in the same league as War and Peace, it is a great read and is actually more driven to the interest level of the teen reader than that of an adult. Nor is it completely appropriate for a younger child of say, eleven or ten. It deals with war in a very realistic manner which will likely appeal to the older teens, especially the male reader, but might be over whelming to a younger lad.

The Shining Company drew my interest in from the very start when the main character, Prosper finds himself at the nearby Monastery dragging his birthday gift behind him, a young slave; a boy his own age. Not only is Prosper annoyed with his father for this gift but worse, the boy is wounded and now Prosper must waste his Name day caring for his servant. Prosper is motherless and his father cares for him little given as Old Nurse is want to say that Prosper is “long-boned and tawny-fair like my mother, who died in giving me life.” It seems that Prosper’s father keeps what ‘ heart warmth’ he has in reserve for his oldest son Owain.

We see later in the day that Prosper does have some feelings when his young cousin begins to ask some very basic questions of this newest member of their household, such as what is your name and Prosper feels some shame that he did not think to ask such a common question as that. Luned, Prosper’s pretty cousin quickly learns Conn’s name as well as his place of origin and in short time we see the beginnings of a friendship being forged between the three youngsters.

The setting for this story is the 600s and the characters in this book are almost all drawn from men who actually lived and fought in the great battle of Catreath (pronounced Katreth and is now known as Catterick) The memories of the three hundred warriors who fought this battle against the Saxon that were invading their homeland have been immortalized in the Poem
Y Gododdin by one of the few survivors of the war, the poet Annerin.

The author of The Shining Company, Rosemary Sutcliff opens the story with our hero speaking to us as an adult and first referencing this poem Gododdin, as well as its author Annerin, but then quickly backtracks to his youth and how he came to be a part of this epic battle. Not only he, but Conn.

Myself, once I arrived at the detailed battle scenes I skipped through the descriptions garnishing only enough to get the general idea of who was winning and moved on as quickly as possible to the next scene. The author does a great job of leading the reader to imagine how difficult life was at that time as well as how brutally war was fought. Again, I believe the male teen reader, especially one who enjoys military history will especially enjoy this book. Still, I believe it can also hold the interest of a young female reader as Sutcliff draws a sympathetic character in Prosper. She also engages our interest in his friendship with Conn which continues throughout the book, with one of them finally winning the heart of the fair Luned.

For those studying early history this book makes a great addition to your library, bringing a very distant time back to life for the reader. It is also somewhat poignant to know that each and every warrior that we are introduced to actually existed and served in the Shining Company under the leadership of King Mynyddog and his son Ceredig, typically referred to as the Fosterling due to the circumstances of his birth, the King only having three legitimate children with his queen - all of them girls.

I highly recommend this book as a good read but again caution you that the battle scenes are detailed and some parents may wish to read the book themselves before deciding which children in their family are ready to read it.

For those interested I have included a link to an interview with the author. This interview took place before Sutcliff had even written The Shining Company, but she finishes the interview mentioning her plans to write it.