Undreamed Shores by Mark Hatton – (Guest Book Review by Richard Abbott)

The Bookworm is very excited to announce our first ever guest book review!  Richard Abbot over at Kephrath graciously agreed to do a guest review.  His book In a Milk and Honeyed Land was published by Trafford Publishing and is available on Amazon.  You can visit Richard’s website by clicking here.

Undreamed Shores, by Mark Hatton (Crooked Cat Publishing 2012) is a book I can wholeheartedly recommend to others.

Undreamed Shores cover imageUndreamed Shores is set at the start of the Bronze Age in northern Europe, somewhere between 4000 and 4500 years ago. It is fundamentally about exploration, on many different levels. Individual people, especially the central characters Amzai and Nanti, explore the spaces around themselves in many ways. As well as their physical space, they explore relational spaces ranging from intimacy and friendship to envy and hostility, through to the social spaces inhabited by different cultures and communities.

But along with that, the scattered groups of people inhabiting what we now call southern England and northern France, together with the islands in between, are starting to explore the lands and seas that separate them. Distances and gaps that seemed impossible to cross, except as legendary exploits by remote heroes, are becoming achievable. Above all, this story traces the way that love can bring about change at every level.

The results of this exploration are not always comfortable. This widening vision of the world gives intellectual and spiritual excitement to some people, but to others simply provides new groups of victims who can be dominated. Expanding horizons can lead to prejudice as well as understanding. This is a world where spontaneous fights based on short-lived personal aggression are starting to be replaced by organized violence initiated by a greedy few, calling out an answering response from settled communities and their leaders. War is coming.

However, war is not yet here, and those who prefer books about the deeds of great kings and their armies will not find them in these pages. Instead, what you will find is a sensitive and detailed description of a now-vanished society. The book is solidly rooted in archaeological knowledge and deduction, drawing on Mark’s academic career, without letting this wealth of background overwhelm the heart of the narrative.

The culture is introduced to us so vividly that I had to keep reminding myself that in fact these people have left us no written texts that might have been plumbed for Undreamed Shores, only artifacts scattered here and there together with the great stone circles, some of which originate from this era and some from later. I became thoroughly immersed in the account, and loved being drawn into this world. Indeed, I will never again be able to visit Abbotsbury, the Salisbury Plain, or the other places described, without having the sense that I am revisiting places that Amzai came to all those years ago.
Part of the Dorset coastline a few miles east of Abbotsbury
Part of the Dorset coastline a few miles east of Abbotsbury

Certainly my familiarity with some of the key locations helped a great deal, and gave an extra dimension to my reading. I did from time to time wonder how a reader would fare who did not know this part of the world. Much of the story would, of course, survive undiminshed, but I do feel that the addition of a simple sketch map would have enriched the book. A detailed modern map would have been inappropriate, but surely there would have been a place for a schematic one – not unlike the rough drawing which plays an important part of the plot.

On a purely technical level, there were a mere handful of typos – I noticed a few places where speech marks were omitted, and the occasional word was misspelled. But these slips were so rare in the text as a whole that they did not detract from my enjoyment.

I also thought that the ending was a little rushed. It was clear from fairly early in the story that a particular confrontation could not be avoided, and the reader’s memory is joggled about this numerous times as he or she reads on. Yet when it happens it is over rather quickly, and a different crisis is brought instead to the foreground. But that was also, to my mind at least, dealt with too quickly, and the book comes quite suddenly to its end. In part, my sense of disappointment here is one that readers will know well, where characters you have become deeply involved with are abruptly taken back into their own world, away from your own. That said, I still feel that a slower, more measured end would have better crowned such a careful and rich portrayal of personal and communal life in this era.

That said, the merits of the book far outweigh these minor reservations, and I have no hesitation in commending it to other readers.
Long Meg - a Bronze Age British stone circle from much further north
Long Meg – a Bronze Age British stone circle from much further north

I purchased it in kindle format from Amazon UK, but it is also available in paperback. Readers can buy it from any of the various Amazon stores, and also other retailers such as Barnes and Noble.

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