Dark Earth by Rebecca Stott – Review

A captivating novel about two sisters fighting for survival in male-dominated Dark Ages Britain that weaves a thrilling spell of magic and myth—from a bestselling author and historian.

In Dark Ages Britain, sisters Isla and Blue live in the shadows of the Ghost City, the abandoned ruins of the once-glorious, mile-wide Roman settlement Londinium on the north bank of the Thames. The native Britons and the new migrants from the East who scratch out a living in small wooden camps in its hinterland fear that the crumbling stone ruins are haunted by vengeful spirits. 

But the small island they call home is also a place of exile for Isla, Blue, and their father, a legendary blacksmith accused of using dark magic to make his firetongue swords. The local warlord, Osric, has put the Great Smith under close guard and ruled that he make his magnificent swords only for him so that he can use them to build alliances and extend his kingdom. 

For years, the sisters have been running wild, Blue communing with animals and plants and Isla secretly learning her father’s trade, which is forbidden to women. But when their father suddenly dies, they find themselves facing enslavement by Osric and his cruel, power-hungry son Vort. Their only option is to escape to the Ghost City, where they discover an underworld of rebel women living secretly amid the ruins. As Blue and Isla settle into their new life, they find both refuge and community with the women around them. But it is all too fragile. With the ruins collapsing all around them, Blue and Isla realize they can’t elude the men who hunt them forever. If they are to survive, they will need to use all their skill and ingenuity—as well as the magic of their foremothers—to fight back. 

With cinematic intimacy, Rebecca Stott skillfully recreates an ancient world steeped in myth and folklore, and the vibrant women who fight back against their patriarchal society. A heart-in-mouth adventure full of moments of tenderness, this is a beautiful, profound novel about oppression and power that puts a female perspective on a historical period dominated by men’s stories.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Random House for the digital copy of this captivating and feministic novel! It was written by an author who is also a historian, and this expertise really shows within the pages. Rebecca shows an accurate description of Dark Ages Britain, but also puts her own magical spin on it. She brings to life a bygone era, but injects into it living myth and folklore, and it creates a world that you cannot help but fall in love with. You will also instantly connect with the sisters who are fighting so hard to be heard and seen here.

Isla and Blue are our protagonists, and they live in the exile encampment of The Ghost City with their father, who is a blacksmith accused of using dark magic to create his metalworks. He is controlled by the local warlord to only make weapons for him. The girls, however, lived a childhood where they ran amuck– Blue finding her calling within nature, and Isla silently learning smithing from her father; which was, of course, forbidden to women. Everything changes when their father suddenly dies, and then they themselves are enslaved by the cruel warlord himself. Hope seems to be lost until they find bands of rebels like themselves, and these brave women decide to fight back against the system that has pushed them to the shadows all these years.

This is a beautiful and inspiring read– and it has a deep root in history as well as folklore. These elements weaved together create a lyrical but factual fantasy that is not too far from the world we know. As such, it is easy to get lost in. The magical realism gives enough of an escape that it doesn’t feel bogged down by the patriarchy, and Rebecca gives us a group of women to cheer for and relate to. I really enjoyed this novel. It was hard to put down, and a very quick and easy read. I also enjoyed that actual artifacts and dig sites inspired bits of the lore– so I was learning as I went along! I recommend this to Medievalists of all ages!

5/5 stars

Advertisement

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s