Author – Conn Iggulden
Pages – 464
Genre – Historical Fiction
Publishing Information – Penguin, March 2018
The One Sentence Review
A thoroughly enjoyable story of the life of an Abbot in 10th century England, that is a lot more exciting than it sounds!
Tenth century England: a divided and broken country of misrule. Yet King Athelstan, grandson of Alfred the Great, seeks to unite the kingdom under one crown.
By his side is Dunstan of Glastonbury – priest, soldier, visionary and, some insist, traitor – whose task is to steward seven kings through fire, war, murder and fury to see Athelstan’s dream come true.
But what stain will it leave on his mortal soul . . .
Dunstan is a superb historical fiction that had me hooked throughout its 450-ish pages.
This came as a surprise to me given it is about the life of an Abbot.
However, the fact he is a revered figure (a saint in fact) does not mean all his actions have to be saintly. In fact, many of them verge on the sociopathic and Dunstan has a tendency to want to exact revenge on any who have wronged him. For me personally, I loved this as I love tales of revenge and Dunstan is often not actually a very nice character. It was hard reading of the (fictional) contempt for his brother, but there are plenty of other reasons that we should have known Dunstan isn’t the nicest of chaps.
The thing that stands out for me most as a real triumph and achievement is how Conn Iggulden has successfully written a character whose journey we want to follow, but also one that feels believable. Yes, I know many of the events really happened, but what I mean is a believable narrative voice. He starts off telling his story of the young boy he was and ends at the present as an old man, but it never feels disjointed and the transition between the stages in his life is handled really well. You really get a sense of knowing a character and experiencing his life journey, his learnings and development. You feel like you know him very closely by the time his tale draws to a close.
It is strange to be in a situation as a reader where you’re sort of rooting for a character that in real life you would like to see him get his comeuppance, but it’s thought provoking in that in makes you wonder how many revered figures throughout history were perhaps hiding dark secrets we may never know about.
The author has done great work with the historical source material to keep a lot of real history and liven it up or embellish parts while keeping the overarching plot true to the historical record as best as possible. I enjoyed reading his thoughts behind why he chose to write certain things and how he interpreted the history, at the end of the book.
Dunstan is a really memorable book that was an exceptionally easy and fast paced read – the kind you fly through in a week and feel a great sense of satisfaction on enjoying a thoroughly entertaining story.