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.



The Witch’s Brat by Rosemary Sutcliff – 20 Books of Summer 2023

The Witch’s Brat by Rosemary Sutcliff was published in 1970. The setting is England in the reign of Henry I. Lovel is a young lad, just eleven years old, and his  grandmother has just died. She had been the local healer and herbalist so she had been tolerated in the village. But Lovel was born with a crooked back and his mother had died when he was born, his father is dead too, so he’s all alone in the world and the villagers hound him out. They think that his crooked back means he must be a witch.

Lovel has no option, he has to keep walking, but eventually a swineherd finds him and takes him to a Benedictine Abbey where they take care of him and he finds a place as a bit of a dogsbody within the community. When Rahere the King’s Jester (jongleur) arrives he sees something in Lovel that nobody else does and he gives some hope of a different kind of life in the future for Lovel, maybe he’ll take Lovel to the king’s court one day. Soon after that Lovel is taught to read when it’s realised that he has a good knowledge of medicinal herbs and his life begins to change for the better.

This book is partially based on reality as a man called Rahere who was the King’s Jongleur founded Saint.Bartholomew’s Hospital in London and you can visit his tomb in the Church of Saint Bartholomew the Great in Smithfield, London.

This was an enjoyable read,  Rosemary Sutcliff books are always good.

Warrior Scarlet by Rosemary Sutcliff

Warrior Scarlet by Rosemary Sutcliff was first published in 1958 and the setting is the Bronze Age around the English South Downs, which to my Scottish mind should really be called Ups as they are hills.

This is quite a domestic tale really as there are no wars or long adventures, but it’s still an enjoyable read.

Drem is a young boy looking forward to getting his scarlet warrior cloak and his mother is busy weaving scarlet coloured fabric, but his grandfather is less than encouraging. The trouble is that Drem’s right arm is badly damaged and he isn’t able to use it at all. When Drem overhears his grandfather saying that Drem will only ever be any good for looking after the sheep, the young boy is devastated. Before becoming a warrior the young boys have to kill a wolf using a spear, it doesn’t seem likely for Drem, but when he reaches the right age he’s determined to join the others in The Boys’ House where they’ll be training to be warriors.

There’s a lot more to this book, including a wee bit of romance and as ever with Rosemary Sutcliff the writing is lovely. The book is aimed at older young people but is well worth reading as an adult.

Books from Orkney – Birsay Books

When we went on holiday to the Orkney Islands last month I didn’t really expect to find any books to buy there, but Jack did some research and discovered Birsay Books, on the part of the mainland called Birsay as you would expect. It was surprisingly good, for me anyway. If you’re looking for modernish books you wouldn’t be so impressed.

Books Bought at Birsay Books, Orkney

I bought:

Castaway Camp by M.E. Atkinson (I haven’t read anything by this author but somebody recommended her)

Tropical Issue by Dorothy Dunnett (a mystery)

A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep by Rumer Godden (her autobiography)

The Glad Eye by Ranger Gull (I bought this one for the cover, isn’t it great?!)

Swing, Brother, Swing by Ngaio Marsh (I’ve already read and reviewed this one)

Winter at Thrush Green by Miss Read (this one I got at a charity shop in Kirkwall)

A Certain Smile by Francois Sagan (it’s possible that I read this one back in the 1970s)

The Best of Rosemary Sutcliff ( this contains three of her books but I only had one of them)

Not a bad haul I think. Have you read any of them?

The Shield Ring by Rosemary Sutcliff

 The Shield Ring cover

The Shield Ring by Rosemary Sutcliff was first published in 1956 and I hadn’t even heard of it until I saw it fairly recently in a secondhand bookshop in St Andrews, but it turned out to be great read – as Sutcliff’s books generally are.

The setting is the English Lake District, a place that I’ve enjoyed visiting quite a few times, but the next time I visit I’ll be looking at the landscape in an entirely different way, imagining all the things that were going on there as those of Viking descent who had settled there fought the Normans over a thirty year period or more. The Normans who had fairly easily overcome the inhabitants of the southern half of England in the softer landscape found it to be a much more difficult task in the northern wilds of the Lake District which seemed to be sheltered by a ring of mountainous terrain.

I must admit that I had no idea the famous Domesday Book that we hear about so often stopped short of the Cumberland Fells so there is no mention of Lake Land at all. I can imagine that it must have been one of those areas that on old maps would have been marked – HERE BE DRAGONS.

The book begins with the not quite five year old Frytha witnessing the burning of her village by Norman William’s men. Frytha had been out and about in the woods with Grim her father’s shepherd/man of all work, when they realised that the woodland around them felt different. The birds and animals had fallen silent because the Normans had arrived and were busy slashing and burning. Grin knew there would be no survivors so he took Frytha further north into the Lake Land where she was quickly adopted by a local family. It’s the last stronghold of the Vikings who are constantly honing their battle skills to ward off the Normans who have built a stronghold at Carlisle.

Frytha quickly finds a friend in Bjorn who is just a few years older than she is, it turns into a great relationship with the two of them facing danger together in later years as they team up to do their bit to help out their community agains the Normans.

Rosemary Sutcliff was such a lovely writer of well researched books, and I certainly always learn new things of interest in them.

Book Purchases in Edinburgh

There was a big book-shaped void in my life due to the shops being closed for what seemed like forever, and despite buying some books online it just wasn’t the same as going into actual shops and browsing the shelves. No book smell – no serendipity – no book chat with like-minded people. Book buying online is fairly soulless.

Anyway a trip to Edinburgh one day last week went some way to filling that gap as you can see. I had a lovely time even although we had to hang about outside the shops waiting for people to come out before we could go in due to the shops being fairly small.

Books Again

The House of the Pelican by Elisabeth Kyle (1954)
Thursbitch by Alan Garner (2004)
Cross Gaits by Isabel Cameron (1945)
The Fascinating Hat by Isabel Cameron (1941)
Dusty Answer by Rosamond Lehmann (1927)
The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski (1953)
The Shield Ring by Rosemary Sutcliff (1956)

Not a bad haul I think you’ll agree, they’re all by authors that I’ve read before and enjoyed – except for The House of the Pelican. I don’t even think I had ever heard of Elisabeth Kyle before, but the setting of the Edinburgh Festival appealed to me so I started that one almost immediately and so far – so very good.

Have you read any of these books?

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times – 1st November

I’m a wee bit later than I had hoped to be with Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times which was originally hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness, but at the moment I’m gathering any posts.

My bookshelf this week is another one in my sewing/crafting/ironing room and this bookshelf is home to a variety of children’s books, I suppose they could all be described as being classics.

Books Again

As a youngster I adored Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers series and had all of the books, but my mother gave my books away to a boy who was certainly not going to appreciate any of them and I now only have a few of the books, I intend to gather them all and have a re-read at some point. These were the very first books that I read with a Cornish setting, not long after Malory Towers came Rebecca another favourite and ever since then I’ve loved to travel to Cornwall in fiction. My one holiday there (it’s a long drive from Scotland) was a very damp one. The BBC recently dramatised Malory Towers and I really did enjoy it although I wish they hadn’t updated it to appeal to more modern viewers, it’s always a mistake to remove the period charm of any books.

I have quite a few books by Rosemary Sutcliff, she really was a very good historical writer.

I started buying Angela Brazil books whenever I saw them going cheap, some can be eye wateringly expensive online, I must admit that I haven’t read all of them and I’m not even sure if I ever read any as a child. I was more of a Chalet School (Elinor M. Brent-Dyer) girl, I think I preferred the more exotic locations.

I sometimes buy books by particular publishers, namely Blackie. They were a Scottish firm and Blackie commissioned Charles Rennie Mackintosh to design Hill House in Helensburgh, including all the furniture, lighting, fabrics and clocks. It’s just about all that’s left of the architect/designer’s work now so I have a soft spot for Blackie and their books which often had book covers designed by Mackintosh. I doubt if For the Sake of the School was designed by Mackintosh but I really like it anyway.


I bought another Blackie book just for the dust jacket which features an aeroplane flying above a Zeppelin on fire. I haven’t read The Corsair of the Skies yet and hadn’t even heard of A.Guy Vercoe, have you?


Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster is one that I read for the first time recently. I like to catch up with children’s books that I missed as a child. My copy dates from 1929 and cost me all of £2.

Some of the books lying flat on top of the shelved books are American and were kindly sent to me by Jennifer, a blogpal that I met up with in Edinburgh, remember those lovely days when we could do that? Fingers crossed we can do that again at some point in the future. There’s also A Parcel of Patterns by Jill Paton Walsh. I noticed that her obituary was in the Guardian this week, you can read it here.

Other Bookshelf Travellers this week are:

A Son of the Rock

Bitter Tea and Mystery

Staircase Wit

Classics Club Spin #22 – The Rider of the White Horse by Rosemary Sutcliff

The Rider of the White Horse cover

The Rider of the White Horse by Rosemary Sutcliff is the book that I got in the Classics Club Spin #22. It was first published in 1959. I’ve read and enjoyed quite a lot of books by this author so I was happy to be reading this one. However for some reason it just didn’t hit the spot.

The setting is the North of England during the English Civil War – or more correctly as it is called nowadays, The War of the Three Nations. The writing is good as you would expect but for some reason the whole thing just dragged, although there are only 320 pages, albeit of fairly small print.

Anne and Sir Thomas Fairfax are prominent members of their community and their marriage had been an arranged one. They’re on Parliament’s side in the Civil War. Sir Thomas becomes legendary within the Parliamentary Army as The Rider of the White Horse and is beloved by his men and Anne follows him around to various northern England towns as he takes part in battles with the Roundheads/Royalists.

Anne had been very unsure of her husband’s feelings for her, but she’s devoted to him and her determination to stay near him with their small daughters culminates in her briefly being taken as a prisoner of war. She eventually realises that Thomas is just an undemonstrative husband.

As you would expect Oliver Cromwell rears his ugly head in this book.

For me the most enjoyable part was remembering all the locations that were mentioned that we had visited. When we were walking about in places like Selby and Wetherby I don’t think I realised that I was exactly where people had been fighting in battles – as they were right outside Selby Abbey.

Otherwise this book really dragged for me.

The Classics Club Spin # 22 – the result

The result of The Classics Club Spin number 22 was announced on Monday and it’s 13 which means I’ll be reading Rider of the White Horse by Rosemary Sutcliff.

The Rider of the White Horse cover

I’m happy about that as I enjoy Sutcliff’s writing, but such is life and my book piles the book has been languishing here unread for a long time. Previously I’ve mainly read her books which were aimed at children, but this one is for adults. The setting is the English Civil War, or as it is more accurately called nowadays, The Wars of the Three Kingdoms as it all spilled over into Scotland and Ireland too.

If you’re taking part in this spin I hope you were lucky enough to get something you’re looking forward to reading too.

An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer

 An Infamous Army cover

An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer was first published in 1937, but mine is a modern paperback with an introduction by Rosemary Sutcliff and also an author’s note at the beginning in which Heyer says that she had always wanted to write a book about the Battle of Waterloo but the spectre of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair had loomed over her. Thankfully she got over her reticence. Before beginning to read An Infamous Army I had a squint at the back pages to see if there was a bibliography – and indeed there is. Heyer had done her homework, and it shows. I have to say that Highland brigades feature a lot, which I don’t remember from when I ‘did’ the battle at school, but I have no doubt that she was right and the Scottish regiments were thrown in there first. There’s a lot of battle and a fair amount of gore, but before we get there we meet Lady Barbara Childe.

Lady Barbara is a young widow who had married a man much older than herself, for money no doubt. But now she’s footloose and fancy free and spends her time breaking young men’s hearts, even to the stage of one of them destroying himself. So when Charles Audley becomes smitten by her all of his friends and family warn him against Babs. Of course Charles thinks he can tame her, and for a while he almost does before everything falls apart and he apparently becomes yet another of Lady Barbara’s victims. We all know what’s going to happen, after all, it is a Regency romance.

But An Infamous Army is so much more than that – as you would expect from Heyer. Fashion features for the men as much as for the women but it isn’t all fol-de-rols as there’s a lot about the horror of war and the futility. Wellington is appalled at the loss of so many of his friends and generals at Waterloo at a time when the leaders didn’t sit safely in castles miles behind the front as they did in subsequent wars.

I have read Vanity Fair and was quite surprised that so many people went to the battle as tourists, with wives and would be wives following the army and the whole lead up to the battle being more like a grand holiday which ended with a big bang. I suspect that Heyer might have got closer to the atmosphere of the many pre-battle balls than Thackeray did.

This is a great read.