Mrsgaskell's Reviews > The Needle in the Blood

The Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bower
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's review
Aug 02, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: 8-star, bookcrossing, british
Read in February, 2010

** spoiler alert ** This historical novel opens in 1066 with the Battle of Hastings and King Harold’s defeat by William the Conqueror. This battle and events leading up to it were commemorated in the Bayeux Tapestry, an embroidery worked in wool yarn on linen panels stitched together and measuring 230 feet long. It’s a fascinating piece of work and there is much speculation about its origins. French legend claimed that the tapestry was created by Queen Matilda, William the Conqueror’s wife, but it is now believed that it was probably commissioned by Bishop Odo of Bayeux, William’s half-brother. Mystery also surrounds some of the panels including that portraying Harold’s death, and a panel depicting a clergyman touching a woman’s face. Questions also arise about interpretation and historical accuracy. The author has successfully woven fact and fiction into a fascinating tale. Inspired by an embroidery he saw in England, Bishop Odo removes his sister Agatha from her convent in France and commissions her to design a tapestry from his account of events. He has been appointed Earl of Kent by his brother and now spends most of his time in England. He sets up an atelier in Canterbury while Agatha searches the country for skilled Anglo-Saxon embroiderers who will work under her supervision. Among them is Gytha, former handmaid to Edith Swan-Neck, King Harold’s mistress. After the
Conquest and subsequent to Edith being turned out of her home by Bishop Odo, Gytha turned to prostitution. But she is also a skilled embroiderer and agrees to work on the tapestry but only because she is set on revenge. However passion overrides her will and she falls in love with Odo.
This was an engrossing read set in a cruel and harsh time. It’s not a period of history I’m very familiar with and I was a bit confused after reading the first 15-20 pages. I did a bit of googling, confirmed that Godwinson and King Harold were one and the same, differentiated between Lady Edith and Queen Edith, and between Gytha and Countess Gytha. Then I started over and was on my way. I can’t say I liked Odo very much, a bishop who took part in battle, profited from the spoils of conquest, and openly kept a mistress, a man who enjoyed power and wealth much more than the God he professed to serve. My favourite part of the novel was the details of the tapestry and the stories of the women in the atelier. The pace of the novel slowed down considerably when Odo and Gytha first fall in love but it picked up again and the last parts were quite gripping. I always enjoy historical fiction that entices me into reading more about the period, and during the course of this novel I frequently turned to the internet for more of the history as well as images of the tapestry.

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