In the acknowledgments to this his first novel, Geoffrey Gudgion credits several writing groups and editors with assisting him in crafting the book into its final form. This input is clear to see in the first three chapters which are finely honed, crisp and concise. They also threaten to derail the novel before the reader has settled. They are a little too clinical in execution and lacking in emotional engagement. However, once the reader emerges past these into the meat of the book, wonderful characterisation and an impeccable evocation of setting reward them with a highly engrossing and accomplished narrative.
Saxon’s Bane is primarily Fergus’s story. Barely escaping death in a car accident on the outskirts of the village of Allingley, he returns from his convalescence to discover he has lost his desire for his high-powered career and its material trappings. Instead he finds himself drawn to Allingley where he meets the enigmatic Eadlin, who had been first on the scene at his accident, and accepts her offer of a position at her riding stables. At the same time as Fergus’s accident, archaeologist Clare Harvey was making her dream find – the peat-preserved body of a Saxon warrior – which turns out to be more of a nightmare than she bargained for. Add into the mix a local publican with a grudge and an obsession with ancient rituals, glimpses into the Saxon’s past and all the intricacies of village politics, and what you have is a dense, absorbing storyline that provides an engaging mix of the historical and the contemporary.
This is a supremely well written novel but it does have several problems. The pacing is a little inconsistent with the bulk of the middle section moving at a trot before it clicks through the final scenes at a gallop. Whilst this provides for a tense and anxious climax it does leave the impression in the second act that the characters are rather waiting for events to run their course. The intriguing appearance of a ghostly Saxon at Fergus’s accident rather peters out as references to the Saxon and his life are played out instead in a series of dreams that Clare experiences in ever more detail as the characters are propelled to the final confrontation. To criticise the prose for being too well-written feels churlish but some of the description, particularly in relation to nature and interactions with the horses, are so rich and descriptive they can pull you out of the story as you stop to re-read a particularly evocative vignette, of which there are many.
Overall Saxon’s Bane is very rewarding of the effort it demands of the reader’s concentration, providing a richly detailed and complex read that displays all the joys that wonderfully written prose can evoke. That this is a debut novel makes it all the more special and marks Geoffrey Gudgion as a very exciting writer to follow as his craft and storytelling talents evolve through forthcoming books. Saxon’s Bane is the book to thrust into the hands of any know-it-all who claims that genre fiction cannot be literary.
Release Date: 12 September 2013
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