Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff

Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff was published in 1963. The author has written a lot of books for children but this one is for adults, I enjoyed it but felt that it was about 100 pages too long, as often happens, for me there were too many battles, but it was probably a fairly true reflection of life in post-Roman Britain which is the setting, rather than the medieval knights and ladies which have often been part of Arthurian legend. So there’s no Round Table, no Camelot and no romance, it’s a much more brutal and rougher world.  Artos is seduced by Ygerma before he realises she’s his sister. There’s no Lancelot, but Artos is betrayed by another.

Ambrosius, who may have been of royal  Roman descent is leader of the ‘Britons’ and as he has no son of his own he sees Artos (the Bear) as the closest thing he will ever have to a son.  Ambrosius is the High King, but his fighting days are over, he’s just passing on his wisdom now.  They both know that at some point there will be battles with the Saxons and they need to prepare for that. Lord Artos says that they don’t have enough horses and they need to breed bigger war horses, to take on the Saxons, it’ll take years.

This is well written and enjoyable, but as I said, it was a wee bit too long for me. Well I have so many books in my TBR pile.

One thing which sort of annoyed me is that my edition of the book is an American one,  published by Coward-McCann, it has a nice map as the endpapers, but they changed the spellings to American ones, which means that some poor soul had to trawl through the book making the changes. Why bother? Especially as there aren’t that many changes involved, but it jolted me out of  early post-Roman ‘Britain’ to the US – daft as that may seem.



8 thoughts on “Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff

  1. As a reader from the US, I really dislike it when the US editions have changed the spelling or even changed to the US terminology for something rather than the British. I have sometimes made the effort to get British editions rather than US editions so that I can get the story the way it was originally written.

    TracyK at Bitter Tea and Mystery

    • tracybham,
      I didn’t even realise that my edition was American until I started to read it, but I’ll check any books I buy in the future. I’m sure that nowadays no British publisher would ever change American spelling.

  2. It’s not just the spelling. Over-enthusiastic editors often change punctuation.

    A long time ago there was a best-selling author called B. M. Croker who was fiercely proud of her idiosyncratic punctuation. When she discovered that the US publisher of one of her books had edited her punctuation, she demanded that all unsold copies be withdrawn and a new edition typeset from scratch.

    I’m comfortable with both UK and US usage but when searching for old second-hand books I try, whenever possible, to find US editions of US authors, and UK editions of UK authors.

  3. I’ve read this book! I liked it too, but recall it got a bit boggy here and there.

    As for spelling, when I was a kid I somehow managed to read many books from the UK in which the spelling had not been changed and I would get marked down on essays for spelling “grey” and “colour” and other similar words incorrectly. When I started to realize American and British spelling were different, I tried to make sure I used the American spelling, but frequently got confused over which one was which 😀 To this day gray/grey is still a stickler for me!

    • Stefanie,
      I well remember losing a mark in a spelling test when I was about 7 because I wrote ‘color’ instread of colour. But what could they expect when the school taught us to read using an American reading course! That course must have been going cheap!

  4. Unlike Stefanie, I would use the UK spelling on purpose, then bring in books to show any teacher who dared to mark me down!

    Sometimes the edits are really jarring, as in saying “homework” instead of “prep” or something similar. Now, I am told homework is often used in the UK due to American television but I don’t think it was in my youth. Sometimes publishers buy the plates or whatever the files are called and just print the UK version but maybe that is just a recent cost-cutting method.

    My mother loves Rosemary Sutcliff’s books more than any except Dorothy Dunnett but I never read more than a few.

    • Constance,
      It happened to me with the word ‘color’, as I was saying to Stefanie, but my school used an American reading course at one point to teach us. It was all very smart looking with various boxes and you had to work your way through the books which had different colours as you got higher up the reading scale. I can imagine that the teachers weren’t happy about it, but we were expected to know that the spelling was different from English.

      The naming of schools is confusing. In Scotland a ‘private’ school is one that you have to pay fees to get into it. However as you know in England a fee-paying school is called a public school – weirdly.

      Everyone in the UK at non-fee-paying schools (state schools, run by the local authorities) use the word homework and always have done so. However in fee-paying schools they call it prep, short for preparatory of course. A preparatory school is a junior fee-paying school, preparatory for entering a secondary public/ boarding school. So here anyone doing ‘prep’ is posh – or has delusions of superiority!

      I’ve just remembered that non-fee-paying Roman Catholic schools are funded through the local authority, but have more scope to do their own thing, but they still do homweork.

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