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I totally jumped the Roman Britain ship on Sunday, when a headache made me feel I couldn't bear one more page of the book [personal profile] steepholm chained me to with chains of burning pain...   (Okay, he did no such thing at all, but the burning pain part is all too true.)  Honestly - the wretched book is full of scenes in which our druid wannabe feisty girl heroine says things like "Oh Goddess, I will dance this sexy dance among the sacred trees to honour you in your eco-friendliness, as I did last moon and the moon before, though I could better honour you and save our Blessed Mother Earth if my hair curled like the flaming red curls of the warrior princess Sabrina, who should really marry my lame companion (damn! - he noticed my sexy dance!) and they can ride off together on the Mare Goddess, Epona, with all of Britain riding behind them to fight the evil Romans at whom I throw rocks and deep curses like 'Bastards!', united by his sensible words about presenting a United Front and not fighting each other - well, all of Britain except his nasty betraying uncle who's a Shadow Master really, and Caligula's boot-boy (bovver!) to boot, and - wait, the Sun God is almost at his zenith and I must go use the privy first!"  BLEH. 

Where was I? Oh, right, on Sunday, read Carolyn MacCullough's Saving Henry, which I loved, as much as I loved Drawing the Ocean, instead of reading the blech book.  (Will try to say more about both, as they deserve it.) And then I got a really bad headache yesterday, and cracked out Sutcliff's Blood Feud, which is one I picked up a few years ago, rather than a childhood favourite.  There was a Thames TV production, which I'd love to get hold of and watch (or hear about, if anyone saw it.  It was called Sea Dragon, and came out in 1990, I think.)

The thing which really struck me about it was that it's in essence - if a very boiled-down essence - giving the story to Esca from Eagle of the Ninth, though over a very different landscape and about 800-some years later.  [personal profile] steepholm and I noticed on our recent Eagle reread, the total lack of the conflict one might expect Esca to feel about helping Marcus retrieve the Eagle and so prevent its ever being used against the Roman forces by the British tribes.  His one loyalty is to Marcus, as is made very clear - and being killed in helping him would not be loss because 'I have shared the hunting with my brother, and it has been a good hunting'. While Marcus is 'keeping faith' with his father, the Legion and Rome, Esca is sharing the hunting with him, and that's enough.

In Blood Feud, Jestyn (later called Jestyn Englishman) is sold into slavery (in Dublin, no less!) and bought by a Viking, Thormod, who seems to do it pretty much on a whim, although there is one moment of eye-catching like the one between Marcus and Esca at the Saturnalia Games (though not nearly as intense).  When Thormod and his ship-mates are planning to go home, Jestyn realises with desperation that he can bear being owned by Thormod, but not by anyone else.  Thormod frees him and then offers him the choice of going back with him to Denmark, and that's it.  There's quite a bit of mention of the feeling of being shoulder-to-shoulder with Thormod, but essentially Jestyn follows him - back to Denmark, where they become blood brothers (in a startlingly slashy ritual), and then head off to Constantinople to fulfill the blood feud - kill or be killed by two brothers who have killed Thormod's father.  And he never really feels the fight as his own, any more than he feels the desire to become a fighter, or than he wants to worship the 'many gods' in the Norse 'god-house' with Thormod instead of his own, one God.  But he does everything without any of the conflict you'd expect him to feel about allowing Thormod's beliefs to supersede all his own.  (This doesn't cover the end of the book, btw, so no spoilers).

I found it fascinating in light of Esca, and interesting in being both a very typical Sutcliff (strong male friendship; characters displaced or with their world changing - often catastrophically - around them; someone wounded and left crippled by it; a healer;society with conflicting or clashing ideologies or peoples) and a quite different one, in only briefly - and rather vaguely - having a British setting.  This one ends in Constantinople, where Jestyn permanently settles, and although he says he remembers his childhood home, especially when spring twilights 'turn the heart homeward', definitively states that 'Home is not Place but People', which surely isn't a typical Sutcliffian sentiment?

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lady_schrapnell

April 2009

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