Monday, 14 October 2013

Saxon's Bane by Geoffrey Gudgion

Geoffrey Gudgion's new novel is a delicious read. The opening pages of Saxon's Bane contains some of the most impressive and vivid depiction that I have ever read in a debut novel. I was hooked from the first chapter. And with an historical thriller that is how it should be. So, without giving spoilers, I have chosen this novel for my October review.

The novel opens with a drive home through an ancient wood. When Fergus and Kate have a car crash along the road that runs through these mysterious woods close to a 'normal' English village called Allingley, Fergus sees something that is so shocking that it haunts him as he loses consciousness during the accident and soon after as he recovers from his injuries. Not only is Fergus haunted by the incident but the event haunts the reader too. Fergus 's life is subsequently changed by the crash. Although he recovers from his injuries he is determined to investigate what really happened to cause the accident. As a consequence he meets an engaging gallery of characters in Allingley village, personalities who drive the story's narrative through a series of thrilling events and physiologically powerful encounters. Moreover, the book's terrific pace is maintained until the terrifying last chapters when mysteries past and present are explained.

The characters in Saxon's Bane are all rounded and engaging personalities and as such they leap off the page. The protagonist Fergus is upstanding and curious and in need of a good relationship. Will he solve the mystery that caused the car crash? Can he survive in a village that is haunted by its past and suspicious of intruders? Unattached Clare, an archaeologist is possessed by dreams of the seventh century, the era she is researching after bodies are found during an archaeological dig in the grounds of the local old manor house. Can she put an old Saxon disturbance to rest? Eadlin, owner of an equestrian centre, is artistic, farsighted, fay but solid. She does not really understand what is happening right under her nose. Jake, a local man and connected to Eadlin's stables, is without a shadow of doubt, surely and awkward. The reader will be wary of this personality even though it is difficult to recognise initially why. Can a reader unravel the motivation for his actions?

Tolland Man

The narrative in Saxon's Bane is unusual and engaging, involving not just Fergus's life changing experience but a sense of how the past can cling to a place and haunt it. Wealas is the Saxon label for 'otherness' and as Geoffrey Gudgion points out, 'those not of this tribe.' Clare the novel's second protagonist understands this concept because it is she who discovers two Anglo-Saxon corpses in an English garden, one of which is preserved just as Tolland man was, yet the other body oddly is not as intact. That is a mystery in itself. These corpses provide the time slip, parallel element in the story. Neither are at rest. Through Clare the reader visits an Anglo-Saxon past time, which is fully researched and convincing. Equally, Gudgion integrates folklore into the present-time narrative and as a result the reader is as involved with the past as much as with the present. His balance is impressive.

Gudgion really does know this period of history and how it worked. In the first instance, he understands its different mind set, although an emotional pulse is certainly reflected in the present day. Secondly, the Anglo-Saxon past story is very well integrated into the present story and becomes a driving force in the novel. The third ingredient has to be the character of Jake who could have walked out of a Stephen King book, a complex and unsettling character throughout. Given the depth of writing in this story and Gudgion's excellent character construction, Saxon's Bane might provide Stephen King with serious competition. Its narrative contains adventure, flashback chapters to the Anglo-Saxon past, romance, and a splash of horror.

Deep in the woods

Finally, a short note on something a character says that is of significance in this work: ''I believe we are only truly fulfilled when body, mind, and spirit are in harmony.' Eadlin spoke in a soft, measured way with breaths between each phrase, an oasis of calm in the midst of a noisy bar.''  This sums up Gudgeon's novel. It is about laying ghosts to rest and it is about fulfilment. Saxon's Bane is a cracking read, an historical novel, a romance, a thriller and horror story in the tradition of The Wicker Man. It is beautifully written and well worth reading.

Geoffrey Gudgion is offering a copy of Saxon's Bane for a draw. Leave a comment here or on The Review Page on Facebook if you want to win this book.

Saxon's Bane by Geoffrey Gudgion is published by Solaris and available from all good bookshops and from Amazon Books.


  1. I love your descriptions: "delicious" (a totally fab intro, btw), "a cracking read"---I definitely like the sound of this book. Such a nice review, Carol.

  2. Please enter me Carol. Lovely review!

    1. Consider it done, Paula. I loved this novel clearly.

  3. Fantastic review, Carol!!! Sounds like a brilliant read. Please enter me.

  4. Consider it done. A fabulous story.

  5. Fab review. could you please enter me?

  6. Of course and will draw from a hat on Sunday.