The Forest Dwellers – by Judith Arnopp – independent book review – Historical Fiction (England)

While I’m a fan of Judith Arnopp, I found more flaws in this book than in her others. Awarded three stars on Goodreads, but 3.5 stars might be more accurate.

forest_dwellersOn the plus side, I liked steeping myself in the Anglo-Norman-Saxon world of the 1000s — beginning with the rule of William I (the Conqueror), through William II, and ending with the ascension of Henry I. It’s a time period I know little about. Arnopp shows the perspective of the vanquished Saxons and their resentments towards the invading Normans. The divide between those with plenty and those with nothing is sharp.

The author divides the book into sections, each narrated from a different viewpoint, which I found interesting. While taken together all the different stories are linked into one overall story, sometimes you get to see a similar event from two vantage points or discover something about what was going on in one person’s mind that another did not know. And I found that one character that appeared to be a hero turned out to be less so when I got to know his inner thoughts.

On the minus side, the book clearly acknowledges that it is also about sexual exploitation. About the ways women were considered property, spoils of war, and objects to be used and abandoned. The same for attractive young men powerless to reject the advances of more powerful men. And then there are women who are widowed who, unable to work or own property, must sell their bodies to survive. I understand these things were standard at this time (and for hundreds of years after) but some of these passages were difficult to read.

Judith Arnopp Image from author’s website.

Overall, I enjoyed the emersion into this unfamiliar time period. And the way the novel was structured. But I felt a lack of clear purpose in the narrative and felt the ending fell flat.

More about the author.

You may be interested in my reviews of other Arnopp books:

Intractable Heart

The Beaufort Bride

The Beaufort Woman

The King’s Mother