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Veronica Horwell wrote about the life and writing of historical novelist and writer for children and young adults Rosemary Sutcliff with affectionate insight in The Guardian newspaper shortly after her death in 1992.

Rosemary Sutcliff did not spare the child, the raven and the wolf gorging on the battlefield dead. No softening, or cheapening, of violence. When you opened her books, you went easily with her into the days she described so immediately: she noticed the rhythms of rain on glass as children do, felt the same warm amazement at snow. You might not know what was this cake called a barley bannock they seemed always to eat in her books, but you recognised the domestic concentration at dinner-cooking time.

And then you would gulp her titles—“Please Miss, have you got any more by ‘er?”—past bedtime, in the last of the summer afterglow. You were caught: and she did not let you off the actual shape of life and death. The fear, the physical pain, the disappointments, the ageing, the dying. (There was an afternoon, I remember, when the brutal end of the Norseman warrior Ari Knudson of The Shield Ring bleached out the heat of a holiday sun, and another, bleaker, when nothing seemed real but the Roman legionary, turned renegade, speaking his very last Latin words and saluting The Eagle of the Ninth before fading into another misty life.)

She did not assume you were ever too young to know the powerful, if frightening, truth—that nothing iswholly new, even the brief freshness of a new generation; that continual change, but also repetition, are history. We do not tell children these things so much now: we do not recount the generations. But reading her, you waited excitedly for that Roman ring with a dolphin cut in its emerald which runs in a thread of lineal descent from book to book, from life to life.So history was lives? It was always different, always the same, and the pattern only visible after? Those who read Sutcliff don’t recall formally learning about the gods Adonis, Mithras, Lugh of the Shining Spear and the Christos: we seem always to have known them. Years of art history never made as clear as she did, in two pages, the difference in the souls of cultures between the rigid ornament of Rome and the Celtic patterns that flow and whorl like life itself. You had access through her, as never since through the heritage industry, into time past when it was time present. When the archaeologist Catherine Hills once noted that the battered Roman eagle found at Silchester was probably awaiting the contempt of the scrap furnace, she did sadly, almost apologetically. For her, as for the rest of us, he seemed a talisman of the knowledge of that departed civilisation, restored to his story by Sutcliff. And the Sutcliff story was, as legends are, almost closer to a truth.

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Someone recently asked me if there were other novels by Rosemary Sutcliff set in the Bronze Age , apart from Warrior Scarlet. This set me thinking. Helped by a livejournal posting I came across a while back, and based on my own reading (some of it too long ago), I came up with this list—exceluding the re-tellings such as Beowulf. I imagine regular readers here can improve it? Anything missing?

Bronze and Iron Age
The Chief’s Daughter
Shifting Sands

Warrior Scarlet
Sun Horse, Moon Horse

Ancient Greece
The Flowers of Adonis
The Truce of the Games (A Crown of Wild Olive)

Roman Britain
Song for a Dark Queen
Eagle’s Egg
The Capricorn Bracelet
The Eagle of the Ninth
The Mark of the Horse Lord
Outcast
A Circlet of Oak Leaves
The Silver Branch
Frontier Wolf

The Dark Ages
The Lantern Bearers
Sword at Sunset
The Sword and the Circle

The Light Beyond the Forest
The Road to Camlann
Dawn Wind
The Shining Company

Vikings
Sword Song
Blood Feud

Norman
The Shield Ring
Knight’s Fee
The Witch’s Brat

Elizabethan and 16th century
The Armourer’s House
The Queen Elizabeth Story
Brother Dusty-Feet
Lady In Waiting

English Civil War and 17th century
The Rider of the White Horse
Simon
Bonnie Dundee

18th century
Flame-Coloured Taffeta

19th century
Blood and Sand

(Additions  9/3/14)

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Rosemary Sutcliff  was reviewed with affectionate insight by Veronica Horwell in The Guardian newspaper shortly after her death in 1992.

Rosemary Sutcliff did not spare the child, the raven and the wolf gorging on the battlefield dead. No softening, or cheapening, of violence. When you opened her books, you went easily with her into the days she described so immediately: she noticed the rhythms of rain on glass as children do, felt the same warm amazement at snow. You might not know what was this cake called a barley bannock they seemed always to eat in her books, but you recognised the domestic concentration at dinner-cooking time.

And then you would gulp her titles —’Please Miss, have you got any more by ‘er?’—past bedtime, in the last of the summer afterglow. You were caught: and she did not let you off the actual shape of life and death. The fear, the physical pain, the disappointments, the ageing, the dying. (There was an afternoon, I remember, when the brutal end of the Norseman warrior Ari Knudson of The Shield Ring bleached out the heat of a holiday sun, and another, bleaker, when nothing seemed real but the Roman legionary, turned renegade, speaking his very last Latin words and saluting The Eagle of the Ninth before fading into another misty life.)

She did not assume you were ever too young to know the powerful, if frightening, truth – that nothing is wholly new, even the brief freshness of a new generation; that continual change, but also repetition, are history. We do not tell children these things so much now: we do not recount the generations. But reading her, you waited excitedly for that Roman ring with a dolphin cut in its emerald which runs in a thread of lineal descent from book to book, from life to life. So history was lives? It was always different, always the same, and the pattern only visible after? Those who read Sutcliff don’t recall formally learning about the gods Adonis, Mithras, Lugh of the Shining Spear and the Christos: we seem always to have known them. Years of art history never made as clear as she did, in two pages, the difference in the souls of cultures between the rigid ornament of Rome and the Celtic patterns that flow and whorl like life itself. You had access through her, as never since through the heritage industry, into time past when it was time present.

When the archaeologist Catherine Hills once noted that the battered Roman eagle found at Silchester was probably awaiting the contempt of the scrap furnace, she did sadly, almost apologetically. For her, as for the rest of us, he seemed a talisman of the knowledge of that departed civilisation, restored to his story by Sutcliff. And the Sutcliff story was, as legends are, almost closer to a truth.

Source: The Guardian, 3 August 1992. Used with the author’s permission

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It has always annoyed me that Bernard Cornwell and his publishers considered it acceptable to call his 2008 novel of Saxon England ‘Sword Song’, when that had been the title Rosemary Sutcliff had chosen for her final historical novel ten years earlier! It shows a disappointing lack of respect by one writer of another in the same genre, historical fiction.

Rosemary Sutcliff’s Sword Song was  a novel set in Viking times. It was in handwritten manuscript form on her desk when she died. I recall transcribing it from her elphin-scrawl handwriting. It was intriguing painstakingly to follow the story of Bjarni as he was cast out of the Norse settlement in the Angles’ Land for an act of oath-breaking, to spend five years sailing the west coast of Scotland and witnessing the feuds of the clan chiefs living there.

I was pleased that in The Times newspaper, in August 1997, Sarah Johnson  called the opening of Sword Song a ‘stunner’: ‘beat that Melvin Burgess!’ she wrote. However she found the story ‘meandering’. But I loved that meandering, in and out of the Dublin slave market, for example.

 Rosemary Sutcliff’s … posthumously published Dark Ages saga Sword Song is packed with precisely described Viking sea battles and sacrifices in a linguistic smorgasbord of thongs, thralls and fiery-bearded men. I was never a Sutcliff fan as a child, tiring too quickly of the sun glinting off the halberds of people with names that sound like Haggis Bogtrotterson, but the opening of Sword Song is a stunner: a sixteen-year-old boy is exiled from his settlement for the manslaughter of a monk who had kicked his dog. Beat that, Melvin Burgess.

Regrettably, the story quavers thereafter, meandering around the coast of Britain as young Bjarni sells his fighting skills to one fiery-beardy after another, but the dense historical detail and rich colours are all still there.

Source: The Times, August 23, 1997

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Rosemary Sutcliff Blood Feud coverSutcliff’s gift is to recreate an era, in this case the 10th-century voyages of the Northmen and the rise of Byzantium, so convincingly that her readers accept without question the different mores of another time. The violence of the blood feud between two families set off by an accidental killing seems inevitable. No writing down here, no anachronisms, just a glorious sense of history, a sense of knowing how it was. Exciting Reading.
Source, Washington Post 

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Blood Feud coverI have been researching the Rosemary Sutcliff  historical novels and retellings for children’s books which have been turned into TV and radio programmes. Sea Dragon was a version of Blood Feud made for TV in 1990. The TV series gets an average  8.1 (of 10) rating from users at ImDB. The essence of the plot is this: sold into slavery to the Northmen (Norsemen) in the tenth century, a young Englishman becomes involved in a blood feud which leads him to Constantinople and a totally different way of life.

The United States newspaper the Washington Post commented, when the book was first published in 1976, that:

Sutcliff’s gift is to recreate an era, in this case the 10th-century voyages of the Northmen and the rise of Byzantium, so convincingly that her readers accept without question the different mores of another time. The violence of the blood feud between two families set off by an accidental killing seems inevitable. No writing down here, no anachronisms, just a glorious sense of history, a sense of knowing how it was.

The Director of the TV film was Icelander Ágúst Guðmundsson; the adaptor David Joss Buckley. The lead actors were Graham McGrath (as Jestyn), Bernard Latham (as Gyrth) and Janek Lesniak (as Thormod). Other cast members were: Baard Owe as Haki; Øystein Wiik as Thraud; Pat Roach as Aslak; Trine Pallesen as Ayrun; Lisa Thorslunde as Thormod’s Mother; Eiry Palfrey as Sister Gytha; Holly Aird as Ffion; Lasse Spang Olsen as Herulf; Martin Spang Olsen as Anders; and  Anna Massey (who sadly died  in 2011) as the  Prioress.

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The final Rosemary Sutcliff children’s book Sword Song, a Viking novel, was in handwritten manuscript form on her desk when she died. I recall transcribing it from her elphin-scrawl handwriting at my own desk in our attic. I was pleased that in The Times newspaper,  in August 1997, Sarah Johnson  called the opening of Sword Song a ‘stunner’: ‘beat that Melvin Burgess!’ she wrote. (more…)

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