Bernard Cornwell


Fiction / Literature


Date Reviewed:

April 19, 2005

t was with some trepidation that I started reading Stonehenge. I had just suffered through the miserable Conquistador by S.M. Stirling, and only managed to get 150 pages into River God by Wilbur Smith (an absurdly awful novel, don't believe the Amazon reviews) - and now here was Bernard Cornwell, another prolific writer of historical fiction - was Cornwell able to write so many novels because he too is a hack? I am pleased and relieved to say: Cornwell is not a hack! Stonehenge is a fine novel, it is good enough that I will hunt down additional books by him.

Stonehenge is the story of three brothers in ancient England. Of course, it also the tale of how Stonehenge is constructed. What I liked was the unflinching brutal portrayal of stone age life - Cornwell shows the superstitious, violent and difficult lives of the era. There is constant danger from wild animals and other treacherous tribes, there is hunger and suffering and fear. Yet the characters are human, they have flaws but also positive characteristics. The hero is Saban, the youngest of the three brothers. He is tasked with the construction of the wonderous new temple. His brother, Camaban, is a much-feared shaman who has promised an end to winter if the new temple is built. The oldest brother is Lengar, a ruthless warrior who thinks only about power and conquest. The characters are portrayed well enough that when Saban is threatened, the reader cares about the outcome (well, this reader cared, anyway).

Saban is outcast as a slave (by Lengar) early in the novel, and this allows Cornwell to give a plausible tour of some of the other tribes. The endless sacrifices demanded by the shamans are especially horrific. Saban returns to build the temple. It is interesting to read how the giant rocks are transported, shaped and then raised. I have never seen Stonehenge, despite one week-long vacation trip to England. I guess I will have to go back now, and visit Salisbury!