Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Needle In The Blood - Sarah Bower

January 1067. Charismatic bishop Odo of Bayeux decides to commission a wall hanging, on a scale never seen before, to celebrate his role in the conquest of Britain by his brother, William, Duke of Normandy. What he cannot anticipate is how utterly this will change his life - even more than the invasion itself.

His life becomes entangled with the women who embroider his hanging, especially Gytha - handmaiden to the fallen Saxon queen and his sworn enemy. But against their intentions they fall helplessly in love; in doing so Odo comes into conflict with his king and his God and Gytha with Odo's enemies, who mistrust her hold over such a powerful man. Friends and family become enemies, enemies become lovers; nothing in life or in the hanging is what it seems.
Although I overall enjoyed my reading of Needle In The Blood when I started it I was hoping for a book on the Bayeux Tapestry and now that I've finished it it feels the tapestry was just a small part of this story. In that sense I was a bit disappointed. It's not even a story about the weavers but more the story of one weaver - Gytha - and her love story with Bishop Odo.

Gytha is one of the handmaidens to Harold Godwinson's steadfast wife - Edith Swan Neck - and she goes with her mistress to reclaim is body for burial. The fate of the Saxon women is not a happy one and for a while Gytha resorts to being a prostitute so that she can survive.

Her life changes when Bishop Odo decides to commission a tapestry to register the story of his brother William the Conqueror's victory over Harold Godwinson, he charges his sister Agatha, a nun, of organising the work and Gytha is one of the women selected to embroider the tapestry.

Bower does a good job in bringing this secondary cast to life, but the one that truly stands out is Gytha. She manages to catch Odo's eye and they fall in love starting a relationship in which the power alternates between them and if at first their idyll has a dreamy feel things soon get complicated because Gytha is a Saxon. The blurb in the cover of the book is very accurate – a tale of sex, lies and embroidery...

I must say it took me a while to get into the story and I even abandoned it at some point and picked it up months later so it's not exactly a page turner but I thought Bower was good at conveying the medieval feel and it's quite refreshing to read a story set immediately after the 1066 conquest.

Grade: 3/5

Marg's review is here

1 comment:

  1. Sounds interesting although I also would like to have a book about the Tapestry.