When you pick up a book, there are times when you find yourself getting completely lost in it. Not because the writing is particularly artful (although that is a bonus), but because it’s just a bloody good story. You get lost in the telling and you are invested in the characters, and as such, you just can’t put it down.
This is how I feel about Conn Iggulden’s latest book, Dunstan. Dunstan, the novel’s main character, was the Abbott of Glastonbury Abbey, the Bishop of Worcester, Bishop of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury in the 900’s AD, and was later canonised as a saint. The writer’s depiction of him goes much deeper than that though, and really strives to understand how he became who we all now know him to be. It is a book about a thoroughly unlikeable man – he’s a highly ambitious and hateful man who is a bully, a murderer and a liar and a swindler – not necessarily in that order. All of which helped him play an important role in uniting what is now known as England.
There is not one point in the book where I actually liked Dunstan. But, somehow, I still cared about his fate, I needed to know what happened to him and all of his scheming. Because of that, I couldn’t put it down. While reading I was constantly waiting to see what else he pulled and whether he got away with it. That is the magic of well written historical fiction. Not only were the events mostly accurately depicted (with a little bit of imagination and flair, of course), but there was so much life in them that you couldn’t help but love to hate the main character, and feel for those closest to him. While I know he’s now a saint and revered by many, I will honestly say I cheered as loudly at his failures as much as I did at his victories. Probably even more loudly at the failures, to be truthful. Because he’s a character that was just so wonderfully depicted, I couldn’t help but be involved. Which meant some late nights reading, but those too are often a gift.
If you like historical fiction, are interested in Saxon England and don’t mind reading about an anti-hero, this book is a wonderful read – both easy to get through (you don’t get bogged down or lost in unnecessary detail) and very engaging.
For some more factual information on the character himself and his influence, here’s the Wikipedia page: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunstan).
You can find more reviews on goodreads at: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32510568-dunstan