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Monday, April 9, 2012

"The Needle In The Blood" by Sarah Bower~Bayeux Tapestry & Passion!

Hearken all art historians, needlewomen and readers of historical fiction:  this is an expansive, comprehensive, beautifully conceived novel that will make you want to hold it close to your heart long after you read the last lines.  The Bayeux Tapestry comes to life!  The fine art of needlework and honor due to the craft is inspiring.  Passions of war, religion, and romance leaps from these pages.  The lovers entwined and inhibited by the history of the Normans and Saxons will capture your imagination.
"The Needle in the Blood" is a novel for your personal bookshelf.  It's a keeper.

His lust for power gave him everything. But it might cost him the love of his life.
The Bishop hired her for a simple job: embroider a tapestry. It is an enormous work, a cloth trophy of the conquest of England. But her skill with a needle and thread is legendary. It would be uncomplicated.
She plans to kill him as soon as she gets the chance. He and his brother, William the Conqueror, murdered her King and destroyed her world. Revenge, pure and clean. It would be simple.
But neither planned to fall desperately in love. As the two become hopelessly entangled, friends become enemies, enemies become lovers, and nothing in life—or the tapestry—is what it seems. An unlikely love story born of passion and intensity, crafted by critically acclaimed historical novelist Sarah Bower,The Needle in the Blood is a "story of love, war, and the tangled truth of England's birth."

Reviews of Ms Bower's Other Books:
Praise for Sarah Bower's Sins of the House of Borgia
USA Today

"The sheer grandeur of the papal and Ferrara courts and the spectacle of the Borgia and Ferrara siblings' rivalries and revenges form a glittering take on one of the most notorious families of the Italian Renaissance."
Publisher's Weekly

"Bower brilliantly merges history with politics and convincing characters to draw readers into a lush and colorful tapestry of Renaissance life...This powerful piece of fiction ranks with some of the finest of the genre."
RT Book Reviews

Excerpt from The Needle in The Blood :

Odo himself fights beside his brothers, as he has been taught, with the club that is the weapon of priests, having no cutting edge. He stands in his stirrups to make best use of his height and lays about him, twisting his upper body this way and that, throwing its weight behind the blows. He is aware of nothing but the working of his body, the linkage of muscles from groin to waist to shoulders and arms, the flexing of joints in wrists and elbows, sweat running between his shoulder blades, the flow of the horse between his thighs. He splits skulls, cracks open breastbones, splinters vertebrae. A fragment of memory comes to him later, a strange and shaming impression that he was thinking, not of the lives of the men he killed and maimed, nor even of his own life, but of Tacitus' Agricola: "...atque ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant."
He is everywhere in the battle, yet he is off the field, changing horses behind the lines, when news reaches him of the death of Godwinson.

"Shot in the eye, my lord," says the page with relish, eyes shining in his grubby face. What is he? Ten, eleven maybe? Shortly to become a squire, dying to be a knight.

"In the eye, eh?" Good, fitting, though surprising it should be fatal. Blinding is how poachers are punished. Odo winks at the boy. "Thank you for your news, boy. Go safely. No, wait." He wants to give the boy something, out of gratitude for his good tidings. He feels he has not shown sufficient elation. The fact is, he is worn out. All he feels is relief, and a desire to sleep.

"My lord," says the boy. Odo fishes inside his hauberk and unclasps the brooch fastening the neck of his shirt. It is silver and amethyst, Celtic workmanship. He hands it to the boy, noting how warm it is to the touch. The boy beams as he takes the bishop's gift, a little too quickly perhaps, afraid that it might be withdrawn.

"For your pains, boy. Now off you go with your news." The boy runs off, grinning, and is soon lost to view among the tents.

Odo mounts, takes helmet and shield from his squire and a mouthful of gritty water from the skin the young man offers him, and rides off westward at an easy canter. It is almost sunset, and the dead cast long shadows on the trampled ground. The last residue of fighting has moved away from the Norman lines to the far side of the ridge so the shouting, the clash of arms, are muffled by distance. Crows flap lazily into the air as he passes. Camp fires are beginning to flare, their glow competing with the bloody remains of the sun pushing between the horizon and the canopy of cloud stretched above it. The homely scent of woodsmoke overlays the stench of carrion.

It's over, he thinks. We've won. William and Robert and I have won. I've won. I've won. He tries to savour the moment, but his mind runs on. This is only the beginning. There will be so much to be done. Roads must be laid, fortifications built. There must be churches and abbeys, laws and inventories. Forests must be cleared and wildernesses claimed. The might of Christ will drive out wood sprites and water nymphs; His light will shine in the darkness. There will be order. Today they have dug a foundation only.

And now he is thinking of home, of his palace in Bayeux, of the plans for his great new cathedral of Notre Dame spread on the table in his dark, empty hall, weighted down with an assortment of plates and goblets, and a mottled pink stone Adeliza found on the seashore, years ago. Now he will be able to complete it, once William has kept his promises.

He finds William, together with Robert and several other lords, close to the tree where Godwinson had raised his standard at the beginning of the day. How long ago? Six, seven hours at least, to judge by the sun. Feels like more, feels like less. The men are staring at the ground, contemplating something. A corpse, naked, recently mutilated. Only now does he notice the shockingly intimate, meaty smell of butchered men. His gorge rises as he approaches. Sweat breaks on his top lip, and saliva floods his mouth. He removes his helmet, pushes back the hood beneath it, and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, noting he needs a shave, hoping he isn't going to throw up.

"Shot in the eye, I was told," he says, drawing rein. His horse, unnerved by the stench, tosses its head and dances beneath him. He pulls its ears and talks nonsense to it until it settles.

"Might have been. We haven't found the head yet," says William.

"How do we know it's him, then?"

"She says it is." William nods toward the tree. Now he notices the women standing in the shade of its gnarled branches. There are four of them, Saxons, two ladies of high rank from their dress, and two others he supposes to be ladies in waiting.


"Godwinson's whore. The young one. You know her, don't you? The other's his mother for God's sake."

Odo gives a grim laugh. "How does she know? The part she's most familiar with is missing, as far as I can see."

William shakes his head. "Marks on the body known only to her, she says. How would I know? But that's his standard lying beside him. That'll do for me. The women want him for burial."

"Will you let them?"


Published by:  Sourcebooks
Pages:  544
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Author:  Sarah Bower
Website:  http://www.snowbooks.com/sarahbower/index.html

About Ms Bower:
In her own words~
Writer, journalist and teacher of creative writing. My specialism is historical fiction. My novel, 'The Needle in the Blood' is about the making of the Bayeux Tapestry, and I am currently working on a second which deals with the fate of the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492. I also edit the Historical Novels Review, a quarterly publication of the Historical Novel Society.

The Dame's Review :
In my other life, I'm a needlewoman.  I love fine needlework, and have been embroidering, cross stitching and needlepointing alone and in Guilds for over 30 years.  It's through needlework that I've had some of the most satisfying times of my life and made some of my most cherished friends.  I know the intimacy and the terrors of handwork.  I know the perils of making a mistake...blotting a piece of linen that's been so precious and so long stitched upon.  Oh my goodness...I know the feeling of fine wool and needles, and the beauty of hand-dyed linen, silk and threads.  And, I know the stories that tapestries tell.  I know they tell more than the outward eye, or the untrained eye can tell.  They hold secrets known only to the needle worker or those who have been intimately involved in the making of the tapestry...those who conceived of the design, created the pattern for the design, and those who worked the design itself.  I know a misstep can cause a change in the intended design, or an extra stitch can cause a design to say or mean something else entirely.  Such is the essence of "The Needle in the Blood."

This is a novel that can't fail to intrigue you.  I picked this one because I had an idea it had to do with stitching, but I had no idea it would be so engrossing.  Sarah Bower is a gifted writer who has painstakingly rendered the warring's of a people, a Prince, a woman and man, religious life vs common life; and a tapestry of other things, into this large and wonderful book.  It is a long book with over 500 pages.  That's a show-stopper for many readers, but it never seemed that long a journey for me.

Major characters such as: 1) Gytha, a maid-in-waiting in the fallen King Harold the Saxon's household, who becomes a central needlewoman working on the Bayeux Tapestry and the love interest of 2) Odo, the Earl and priest/brother of King William the Conqueror. Odo was the originator of 3) the Bayeux Tapestry, a character in and of itself.  4)  Sister Jean/Agatha, the sister of King Willam and Earl Odo...nun, a woman of secret desires, artist who drew the scenes for the Tapestry that Odo described to her, 5)  the needlewomen who worked on the Tapestry... and so many others.

Absolutely fascinating stories interwoven amidst the history of the building of England during the 9th century.  I loved all the details about the making of the Bayeux Tapestry, of course, but that wasn't the primary focus of the book.  It was well balanced with the romance, actually, the very hot and exotic romance between Gytha and Odo; conflicted and inhibited sex and love is always so much better!  And, the stories of all the figures involved in the making of the new society, the church, buildings and needlework were captivating.  I was really drawn in by this book and found it difficult to stop thinking about even when I had to stop reading it to go on to other things and other reviews.

It was fortunate for me that I received a netgalley copy of "The Needle in the Blood," but I will tell you frankly that I'm buying my own hard cover copy this week.  I want to reread it at a more leisurely pace.  I want to keep a copy in my own library.  I really loved this book.

Having said all that, I need to evaluate it also on the basis of whether it's a book for a general reader.  I'd remark that it isn't.  Those who have a love of historical fiction at its finest, a love of needlework, a love of big books with lush stories such as Ken Follet's "The Pillars of the Earth," will love this book!

5 stars

Thank you for spending time with me today.  I know you're busy and you have other places you need to be....




This looks fantastic! I'm definitely picking up a copy!!!! Thanks for the wonderful review and introducing me to this fabulous book.

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