The evening and the morning: the prequel to The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
Macmillan, 2020. IBSN: 9781447278788.
(Age: Secondary/Adult) Highly recommended. Follett has set his prequel in Anglo-Saxon England in the years from 997 to 1007. It is a turbulent time for all the population, but even more so for the peasants and slaves. Vikings raid seemingly at will, sacking and burning villages, slaughtering, raping and taking the young as slaves. England has a king but his rule is dependent on the major landholders and the church to support and enforce his rule.
The saga revolves around Edgar the son of a boat builder whose life changes after Viking raiders kill his father and the woman he was in love with. His mother and two older brothers are left without any means to earn a living, but are offered the chance to farm a small plot at Deng's Ferry. They have little option but to try and eke out a living from the poor soil and lack of any livestock. Luckily Edgar's mother Mildred, is a canny hardworking woman who keeps the family together despite the hardships.
The Lady Ragnhild, daughter of Count Hubert of Cherbourg in Normandy, is another main character whose story runs parallel with Edgar's. She encounters Wilwulf, earldorman of Shiring in Cherbourg when he comes to bargain with the Count about the Vikings who used the port as an easy staging post to raid across the channel. She is attracted by this large confident Englishman and he finds the young beautiful Ragna very distracting indeed. After hearing nothing for a month or two his brother bishop Wynstan arrives to ask for her hand in marriage on behalf of Wilwulf.
Ragna travels to England, and after an awful sea crossing and uncomfortable journey to Shiring she marries and finds that life is very different in England. She cannot converse in Anglo-Saxon and her new family speak little French. There is also a power struggle, she must find ways of diluting the power of her step mother-in-law and her sons Wynstan and Wiglem. This is especially important when Wilwulf is away during Viking raids. Who rules in his stead?
Edgar meanwhile has been busy. He is an intelligent problem solver who is a skilled craftsman. He has made a far more useful ferry at the river crossing to replace the log canoe, built a brew house from stone to lessen the chance of it burning down and has ideas for a bridge, has made repairs to the run down church and has ideas to make the transport of goods to Deng's Ferry much more efficient as well as providing extra income for the family farm.
Both Ragna and Edgar are seen by those who hold power as trouble makers and there is much scheming to deny their hopes for the future. When Wilwulf dies Ragna's position and that of her children is in peril. Edgar sees his future in Normandy learning the stonemason's craft. That the two main characters come back together is a given , but as to the how and the tribulations they endure I shall leave to the reader.
Follett's prequel is a weighty tome of 817 pages, but it is a page turner. The insight into the Dark Ages in Anglo Saxon times, the roles of Church, King, nobles and peasants is fascinating. It is a harsh time when life after death was seen by many as more important than the existence in the present no matter how unfair or brutal. The relationship between Edgar and Ragna is rather hard to accept at such a time, when difference in social class was huge and romantic love would have been almost unheard of. However those who have enjoyed The Pillars of the Earth will eagerly devour this addition to the saga.
Theme: AngloSaxon England, Historical novel, Vikings, Power struggle, Medieval times, Stonemasons.