on May 27, 2002
This book tells the imaginary story of the creation of the famous british monument around 3000 B.C. It follows the lives of 3 brother, Saban, Lengar and Camabin. All three have various problems.
Saban is a coward and both Camabin and Lengar(to varying degrees) are nuts. The story goes very well untill half way through the book. Then it seems to suffer from Steven King syndrom and rush the rest of the way through, so in the end what you get is a really lackluster book. However that does not take away from the good battles you can always count on Cornwell to give you.
on September 6, 2001
"Stonehenge" by Bernard Cornwell is a complete departure for the author of the Sharpe series. Frankly, I didn't like it very much. Maybe it was the pacing, which was slow or the character development, which was shallow. I never got the sense or feel of the times. Luckily for me I picked the book up at a bargain otherwise I would have felt cheated. I finished it only because Cornwell is one of my favorite authors.
Perhaps it is because I couldn't identify with the main characters. The lead characters are brothers, namely Saban, Camaban and Lengar. Saban the protagonist, is the perpetually young warrior, hero and builder. Saban's crippled brother Camaban, is the tribe's sorcerer, kook and priest. Saban's oldest brother Lengar, is the obligatory antagonist, villain and tribal chieftain. None of these characters are interesting, all of them seem merely to be props to tell the story. I can accept this type of fiction by some other authors, especially when used in short stories but here it seems shallow. I don't think Cornwell allowed the readers a chance to get into the heads of these people.
I think most people knew it took Britain's Neolithic inhabitants years and years to build Stonehenge. After all they barely seem to master fire, metal tools and planting crops. But I thought the story could have been much more interesting and exciting. Cornwell paints a picture of people who were brutal war-like savages. They applied blue tattoo scars to their bodies to signify the number of people they have killed. Ordinarily Cornwell is the perfect author for this type of job, all of his other works are great but he never carries it off.
on August 17, 2001
Over 20 years ago I fulfilled a long-time dream by standing before the giant and ancient monument known as Stonehenge. Like everyone else who stood there, I marveled at the minds and determination of the men and women who must have struggled against the elements as they overcame the limitations of their ancient times to build this structure. Like anyone else, I wondered how they were able to do it and why they took on this task.
"Stonehenge" is a novel and does not pretend to be fact. In his historical notes, Cornwell makes it clear that no one really knows who or why it was built, and there are only clues as to how. He points out that future scientists may very well look at our cathedrals and draw conclusions about our own culture and beliefs that are as likely to be wrong as right. However, that is not important here.
Cornwell has constructed a tight and fascinating story that tells maybe why and maybe how Stonehenge came to be. The story centers on three half-brothers, two of them doomed to death at the hands of their siblings, the women who loved and hated them, warriors, priests, and a pantheon of gods and goddesses, not physically part of the story, but whose presence, real or imagined, drives the characters on. I cannot think of one character that wasn't well drawn or who acted against their nature in this story. Even though so many of the events in the story deal with the reaction to the mythology (a term meaning someone else's religion) of the characters, I never once felt that their actions or beliefs were too farfetched. They were each people of their times, not modernized versions of ancient people.
Stonehenge is exceptional. Anyone who likes historical fiction, especially as it deals with the ancient world, will love it. Also, anyone who likes action packed adventure stories, tales of heroes, tales that delve into the behavior of characters, or just want to pass the time on the plane, train, or bus, should move this to the top of their must read list.
on July 6, 2001
The book starts off great. The first two hundred pages with its explanation of the tribe and the brothers who are the chiefs sons are truly engrossing. Unfortunately it tapers off from there. About the time you hit page 300 the book is basically over. the author however decides to babble for abouta hundred pages or so before he finally ties up some loose ends. Another disappointment is the protagonist, Saban, who starts out likeable enough but ends up being somewhat annoying and weak. His counterparts his wives, his war chief brother and his club footed brother are far more interesting characters.
While Cornwell's explanation of Stonehenges purpose is nothing out of the ordinary his description of its possible use is quite interesting. The best part about the book is the imaginary mythology that Cornwell has created for the tribe and their worship of sundry deity. For example, in the novel the tribe takes their dead (and there are many) to the death place where they allow the body to be consumed by vultures and other birds. Students of religion will recognize this as a Zorastrian custom, that began in Iran about 3000 BC.
All in all the book is not too bad but on the other hand it really isn't all that good either.
on May 10, 2001
Stonehenge in Britain is not on the awesome scale of the pyramids of Egypt and doesn't exhibit the incredible 'caveman' art that has been discovered in France -- but it is, like them, a surviving testimony that human beings have always been the same throughout the history of the species, whatever their culture, religion, or technological level. There is no historical documentation about the builders of Stonehenge (except that it was not built by Druids, who ARE documented). An author
with imagination, and doing careful research about what can be deduced from scientific investigation -- and, please, no help from aliens from outer space as an explanation -- is free to come up with any fictional plot to explain it.
Cornwell has come up with a good version (Harrison and Stoner had another one a few years ago, different but just as valid, involving the Mycenean/Phoenician influence). Since Stonehenge was built/rebuilt/remodeled several times over a period of a couple of thousand years, starting six thousand or more ago counting back from our time, Cornwell's theory that the major remains were built by a single architect doesn't wash (but neither does the Arthurian Merlin theory that he transferred the whole thing by magic from Ireland). Well, who cares really? Take your pick, even bring in flying saucers if you can pull it off and say the whole complex was designed as a giant computer.
This is a very fine book, but only if you are interested in the subject. If you have no tolerance for stone-age construction techniques, blood, gore, war, and squalor, and/or a romanticized plot with all that great stuff about evil sorcerors, thwarted lovers, treacherous politicians (yes, even in those times) -- then don't bother and stick with archeological reports about post-holes and pottery fragments, provided you have any interest in Stonehenge at all.
Cornwell does a nifty job inventing a whole religious conflict between
sun and moon worshippers and positing an entire warlike culture we really have no idea about except by deduction, Margaret-Meade-type studies about 'primitives', our own idealization of tribal American Indian wars and New Guinean cannibal cultures, and the carbon-dating of antlers used as shovels. The main characters are good, too, along the lines of a King Lear plot (except they are sons: noble hero, braggard cruel warlord, and evil crippled sorcerer).
on May 6, 2001
"Stonehenge" by Bernard Cornwell, is a different kind of novel. He writes here about man and how he evolves, how to train to be a hunter and a warrior or to train to be a priest or a priestess. It is the story of brothers, and it is the brother who only desires peace, named Saban, who becomes for his tribe and for all mankind the chief builder of the temple that is called Stonehenge. He builds it for his brother who is different, his brother is a sorcerer, who has many follows, and yet it is his brother Saban who has many followers, and does not want to see bloodshed at the newly created Stonehenge temple. It is a novel that is well written for its time period. It is a novel that could only have been done by Bernard Cornwell who does beautiful details to the time period, and the devotion of the family to finish the temple as a place of worship for both the gods of the sun and the gods and their sacrifices are great to accomplish the task. If this were a series, I would buy the second book. Its a novel that cannot be put down once it is started, and its a novel that will leave you with the feeling of commitment to the temple that you feel when you see the stones, and realize that they had to have been brought to England from another area. Its the story of the women in the lives of the two brothers, and after it is done, its the story of the sacrifice that Saban makes to his brother in order to complete the temple. It is a book to be read again like all of Bernard Cornwell books, its one to be read again so you can pay attention to the exquisite details that he makes of the religion, and the manhood rituals, and the way that man survives in this book in order to finish the temple. Its a must read for those who have read Cornwell's other books.
on May 3, 2001
Bernard Cornwell has a truly incredible talent for creating vivid and interesting characters, and Stonehenge is no exception. Here, Cornwell tackles one of the greatest mysteries of the ancient world: who built Stonehenge, how, and why?
Cornwell's neolithic world is very well-researched, and it is easy to imagine one's self transported there, in all of its brutal glory. Saban, the main character, acts like an intelligent human being, and it is easy to care about him. As a result, several scenes of the book are very difficult to read; make no mistake, much of the action in Stonehenge is brutal and gut-wrenching, and Saban is forced to lead a harder life than he had ever dreamed.
Along the way, he must deal with a variety of interesting people. Lengar, his brother, is a wicked tyrant, whose ambitions for greatness makes him dangerous and unpredictable. Camaban, a crippled chieftan's son cast away and expected to die, becomes a sorceror of great renown.
All of this frames the building of the great monument, and how it changes as the ambitions and understandings of its builders change. Like all great drama, the story starts small and builds, twisting and turning unpredictably, and enthralling the reader as the ancient world is revealed. In the end, Cornwell has managed a remarkable achievement, not only telling a great story, but bringing to life an ancient and forgotten people.
on March 4, 2001
Living close to Stonehenge, having witnessed these stones in all weather conditions, and having played both on and around them as a small boy - before they were fenced off, I eagerly bought this books soon as it appeared. I have felt their magic beneath my fingers...and it is infectious! For a story that actually goes back ten thousand years into the mists of pre-history (6,000 years before the current stones were emplaced), I found Bernard Cornwall's story a fascinating eye-opener on what 'might' have happened during their construction. I say 'might' because no one really knows. But we all have our own ideas 'might' have been. Bernard Cornwall has written a moving story from his imagination regarding the efforts of physical construction, creating a mythic pantheon of Gods and Goddeses, and accurately describing an ancient spirit of place. Without breaking down the story, I believe that it is important to note that Cornwall's love of ancient Briton (no doubt, boosted by his research in the same region of south west England for the Warloard Chronicles),is cleary felt throughout this passionate novel. Anyone who has passed through the Wiltshire/Dorset region will know that the land really does feel old and mysterious. My only criticism was the lack of explanatin of ley-lines, that also date from the same period. Furthermore, I think the historical notes should have been placed at the beginning of the novel to allow the reader to match fictional placenames with the actual villages and towns that stand today. I would suggest to any new reader to read these notes first. All in all, however, Stonehenge is a wonderfully desciptive glimpse at an age when mankind first took note of the heavans above, and started into motion our continuing celebration of the wonderful circle of life.
on January 1, 2001
Bernard Cornwell, who created the very successful Sharpe series of novels about the Napoleonic Wars turns his attention to prehistory with "Stonehenge, 2000 B.C.". He has fitted a detailed picture of neolithic life into a plot full of love, mayhem, and intrigue. For good measure he tosses in an explanation of the mysteries surrounding the greatest construction project in prehistoric Britain.
It is the story of three half-brothers, sons of the chief of Ratharryn, who hate one another murderously, but whom fate entwines in an endeavor that lasts for the remainder of their lives. Lengar, the oldest, becomes chief by killing their father. He then sells Saban into slavery in Wales and takes his wife as a concubine. Crippled Carraban seeks sanctuary with Ratharryn's neighbor and rival Cathallo, where he becomes a sorcerer. They are reunited when Carraban convinces Lengar he must build a stone temple to the sun god and that Saban is the man to build it.
Cornwell does an excellent job of describing the techniques archeologists believe were used to construct two successive stone temples at the site of Stonehenge, but he compresses the work into a single generation. I think this was a mistake -- apart from its dubious factual foundation -- because it diminishes our awe at the ingenuity of conception and difficulty of execution. Part of the grandeur of Chartres Cathedral is that its construction was measured in generations not in years. Having Saban accomplish a miracle of neolithic engineering -- not once but twice -- truncates the magnificence of the achievement. Cornell glosses over the impossible economic demands that such rapid construction would make on a subsistence neolithic society.
Spreading the events over multiple novels would have been consistent with Cornwell's previous work, but would have required whole generations of new characters. That might not have been a bad thing. Saban is not as interesting as his vicious half-brothers -- or his two wives for that matter! (In the movie version, I see Kevin Costner as Saban, John Malkovitch as Lengar, and Gary Oldman as Carraban) Cornwell, who is so facile at plotting, perhaps is stingy at creating central characters. After all he used Richard Sharpe and Arthur Wellesley through sixteen novels.
on December 31, 2000
I've long been fascinated by Stonehenge. Many people think the Druids built it for their rituals and celestial observations, but it's now widely accepted that Stonehenge far pre-dates Druids, and was probably built by Neolithic people. It's a remarkable feat of engineering on any scale, but that's not what I find most intriguing. I've always wondered *why* it was built, and more particularly, why so many huge bluestone rocks were transported more than 135 miles (as the crow flies) from the Preseli Mountains in Wales, the only place where that kind of rock occurs in the British Isles, to Salisbury Plain. If they just wanted to build a "machine" to take astrological sightings, you'd have thought it would have been far easier to use reasonably local rocks, such as those used for the giant Sarcen stones, for the entire structure. The Neolithic builders, however, chose to undertake the extraordinary task of transporting this unique bluestone, either by an incredibly difficult sea and river voyage, or (less likely) by a seemingly impossible land route. Why? There had to be some overwhelmingly good reason, but none I have heard so far have seemed powerful enough. How did they get to know about that bluestone, anyway? Package holiday to Wales, perhaps?
In "Stonehenge", Bernard Cornwell put forward a powerful enough reason so that I could believe human beings would undertake this endeavour. Although the actual religious rituals the people of this age obeyed are not recorded, there is evidence that human sacrifice was practiced. That points to a pretty powerful and demanding religious system and history continues to show that those running religious systems are always the most power hungry. The best way they could think of to gain and retain their power was to make the gods stop the desperately cold winters, thus halting the resultant famines, etc. And that called for increasingly more powerful rituals.
A man who stole his tribe's golden religious artefacts travelled far in an attempt to consult an ancient mystic, but instead was killed by one of the three sons of the leader of a tribe resident in the area now known as Salisbury Plain. The artefacts were added to the hoard of that leader, and some were used to purchase stone from a nearby tribe for modest temple improvements. The original holders of the artefacts, who just happened to come from a region near the Preseli Mountains, tracked them down but the new holders requested something in return for them - one of their temples. And in their desperation for the return of their treasure, the Welsh tribe agreed.
Of course, simply transporting the stones and re-erecting the temple would be far too easy. Around this framework, Cornwell weaves a story of murder, jealousy, revenge, ferocious and bloody battles, bizarre and superstitious religious rituals, insanity, brutality, mysticism, and everything else you could want from a thriller. His talent for characterisation makes you almost cheer out loud for the goodies and hiss at the baddies, even while you realise you are being fed standard thriller fare. The story centres on the three brothers, and you can guess there is a too-good-to-be-true hero, an out-and-out baddie and one that is turned by circumstances into an insane despot.
I'm not generally a fan of war books, so of Cornwell's huge list of books, the only ones I've read (and thoroughly enjoyed, let me say) were Cornwell's three-book re-telling of the Arthurian legend, "The Warlord Chronicles" (I even reviewed the third, "Excalibur") and found the same well-researched, dramatic and realistic style I enjoyed in those books continued in "Stonehenge". Of course, the standard thriller population of incredibly handsome/beautiful, extraordinarily accomplished at an unbelievably young age, heroes and heroines live in this tale, only these aren't rich, and mostly they're not terribly clean, either. Cornwell skilfully puts them into an environment where you can almost see, smell, taste, hear and feel all their experiences. You can understand their motivations, admire their endeavour and appreciate their efforts. Perhaps the characters are not as refined as those in "The Warlord Chronicles", but I'm quite happy to accept the Neoliths lived in an extremely brutal time, and Arthur .... well, it's fantasy, isn't it. However, while realizing it was pivotal, I did find the constant religious stuff dragged on, and I was quite happy not to read another battle scene by the time I got to the end.
I've seen plenty of documentaries and read many books where the so-called experts put forward their ideas of the wheres and whys that lead to the building of this extraordinary, enigmatic erection. While Cornwell hasn't really come up with any new ideas, he's just dramatically presented them in a realistic and believable way.
If Stonehenge wasn't created in this way, well ... until someone comes up with a better explanation, I'm sticking with this.