Books, history, Reading, Reviews

The Winter Isles by Antonia Senior

Title: The Winter Isles
Author: Antonia Senior winter-isles
Publisher: Atlantic
Category: Historical Fiction
Pages: 400
Available formats: Print
Publication Date: 18/11/15
Price: $29.99

Synopsis: I am Somerled. The summer warrior. What am I, if not a warrior?

In twelfth-century Scotland, far removed from the courtly manners of the Lowland, the Winter Isles are riven by vicious warfare, plots and battles.

Into this hard, seafaring life is born a boy called Somerled. The son of an ageing chieftain, Somerled must prove his own worth as a warrior. He will rise to lead his men into battle and claim the title of Lord of the Isles – but what must he sacrifice to secure the glory of his name?

The Winter Isles is an astonishingly vivid recreation of the savage dynastic battles of medieval Scotland: an authentic, emotional, powerful read.

The Winter Isles explores the ancient Celtic and Norse legend of Somerled, and the twelfth century conflicts of Medieval Scotland, plagued by warring kingdoms. Senior combines legend and history to create the narrative of Somerled and his journey from a young boy aboard a ship, sailing to find the lost Gaelic Kingdom, to his ascension as Lord of the Isles, a marriage to a princess and the battles he becomes embroiled in over forty years of his life. The Winter Isles draws the reader into an unknown world where war reigns and Christianity fights to take hold as the dominant faith over the old Norse and Celtic gods and goddesses, and the conflict of the opposing dynasties that populate the area and moment in time.
Somerled’s tale as retold by Senior has its basis in history, with the character of Somerled, a Scottish warrior, journeying across the Celtic and Norse lands, between kingdoms, resulting in a politically advantageous marriage to Ragnhild, battles that weary Somerled and the tensions of the time, is coupled with the imagined life of Somerled prior to his political marriage, a life where pagan elements and Christian elements are always threatening to collide but somehow, Somerled and Eimhear, an invention of the author, mentioned in the notes at the back, make it work until their son is kidnapped and to secure his safety, Somerled, or “Summer Warrior”, is forced into a political marriage, one that is deemed to have more substance than the hand-fasting he shares with Eimhear.
It is the combination of history, real figures and fictional figures and events in a real world setting of Medieval Scotland, and the Norse, Gaelic and Norman warriors searching for a lost kingdom and fighting for control that ties the story together to create an intriguing world for the reader to delve into.
Stories set in a different time and place to what readers live in their day to day lives, whether a different country in our own time, or a different time period or a whole new fantasy world set in an unknown time and space or relative to our own are what makes reading enjoyable. Antonia Senior has managed to combine all these elements in this story. It is the kind of introduction to history that takes one on a journey of discovering more about a place than that person might have previously known and that might encourage an interest in history where it has reluctantly lived before. A great read and one that I recommend to anyone interested in history, Scotland and journeys.

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