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Saxon #1

The Book of Dreams

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Sigwulf, a minor Saxon prince, is saved from execution after his family is slaughtered by the ruthless King Offa of Mercia. Thanks to his Devil's Mark - his eyes of different colors - Sigwulf is exiled to the Frankish court of King Carolus, the future Charlemagne. There Sigwulf survives on his wits while at the same time trying to come to terms with disturbingly prophetic dreams.

He gains the friendship of Count Hroudland, Carolus's powerful and ambitious nephew - but, mysteriously, several attempts are made on Sigwulf's life. When he obtains a Book of Dreams, a rare text that explains their meaning, he attracts the attention of Carolus himself. But th Book proves to be a slippery guide in a world of double dealing. Sent into Spain to spy on the Saracens, Sigwulf becomes caught between loyalties; either he honors his debt to new Saracen friends, or he serves Count Hroudland in his quest for glory, gold and even the Grail itself.

One after another Sigwulf's predictions come true, but often not as expected, and he finds himself swept forward into a final great battle that reveals who his enemies are...

344 pages, Paperback

First published August 2, 2012

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About the author

Tim Severin

45 books245 followers
Tim Severin was a British explorer, historian and writer. Severin is noted for his work in retracing the legendary journeys of historical figures. Severin was awarded both the Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society and the Livingstone Medal of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. He received the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award for his 1982 book The Sindbad Voyage.

He was born Timothy Severin in Assam, India in 1940. Severin attended Tonbridge School and studied geography and history at Keble College, Oxford.

Severin has also written historical fiction along with non fiction. The Viking Series, first published in 2005, concerns a young Viking adventurer who travels the world. In 2007 he published The Adventures of Hector Lynch series set in the late 17th century about a 17-year-old Corsair.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 29 of 29 reviews
Profile Image for Clemens Schoonderwoert.
1,076 reviews76 followers
January 13, 2022
Read this book in 2012, and its the 1st volume of the "Saxon" trilogy, by the author, the late, Tim Severin.

This tale sets off in the year AD 778, and its about Sigwulf, a minor Saxon prince, who's family is slaughtered by King Offa of Mercia, but Sigwulf himself is spared because of his Devil's Mark, his eyes of different colours.

Sigwulf is sent into exile to the Frankish court of King Carolus, the future Charlemagne, and with him is his crippled slave, Osric, formerly his protector and guardian.

At this court of King Carolus, Sigwulf will become acquainted and finally friends with Count Hroudland, Carolus's powerful and ambitious nephew, and this Hroudland will be a tremendous help to Sigwulf while attempts are being made on him.

When Sigwulf obtains the Book of Dreams, this book certainly attracts the attention of King Carolus, and he will send Sigwulf and Hroudland to Spain to spy on the Saracens.

In this world of treachery and backstabbing at King Carolus's court and on the battlefield in Spain, Sigwulf must finally choose which side he's on, and in this final great battle his fate and that of Count Hroudland will be decided in a most engaging and memorable action.

What is to follow as a whole is a fantastic retelling of life at the court of King Carolus and his dealings with his subjects and enemies, and all this to option the real great power over land and people that this Carolus is searching for as being his destination, and all this is brought to us by the author in his own remarkable and authentic fashion regarding this period of history.

Highly recommended, for this is an awesome opener to this wonderful "Saxon" trilogy, and that's why I like to call this first episode: "A Brilliant Book Of Dreams"!
Profile Image for Jane.
1,512 reviews171 followers
August 28, 2018
Interesting book, first in a series featuring Sigwulf, a minor Saxon princeling. After his father's defeat at the hands of Offa of Mercia, he goes to the court of Carolus [Charlemagne] in Frankia and becomes one of the court there. He is sent as a spy to Islamic Spain. Climax of the book is the abortive invasion of Islamic Spain by Carolus and massive defeat of his men by the Vascons [i.e., Basques] in the mountains. The novel very loosely tells the "Song of Roland" [i.e., Count Hroudland, the king's nephew.] Good solid writing.
323 reviews3 followers
August 24, 2016
Enjoyable. A good diverting read from a reliable author. This series is (unsurprisingly) about a Saxon, but one who ends up in Charlemagne's court. It's a standard historical fiction template - start with a battle, move the characters around, this time into exile and a new court, conniving and politicking, friendship, a quest and a big battle or two to finish up with.

And that's absolutely fine by me. Severin has always been a reliable author for this - while the books are genre standards, they're well written and fast paced. What I always like most about them is the feeling that the lead characters are genuinely drifting - there's not usually a 'series plot arc' but rather following a protagonist who doesn't know where his fate will take him. I find that kind of refreshing and fun - Severin's strength is conveying either the drifting or taking opportunities in fate, resestablishing or bumping along plausibly, that his characters are a little more 'ordinary' than the superheroes or massively driven ones (either by history or a given quest). and this book is no different. I suspect he won't stay in Charlemagne's court for long in the next book or so, and it will be fun to fund out where he goes next.
Profile Image for E.M. Powell.
Author 6 books372 followers
October 21, 2016
The Saxon of the title is Sigwulf, a minor Saxon prince. The novel opens with the slaughter of his family in 780 AD, but he escapes execution, instead exiled to the court of King Carolus (the future Charlemagne). Sigwulf is spared because he bears the Devils’ Mark, with differently coloured eyes. He also experiences disturbing prophetic dreams. Exiled with him is his crippled slave, Osric, who has long been his protector and his guardian. Sigwulf is befriended by Count Hroudland, Carolus’s nephew. Sigwulf is quickly drawn into political intrigue at the highest level and attempts are made on his life by an unknown assassin. What follows is a lively and carefully constructed plot, with the reader kept guessing as to who the enemy within could be. Carolus’s plans to defeat the Saracens are also interwoven.

Severin’s battle/fight scenes are impeccable. He has a particular strength in bringing the landscapes of 780 AD to life, obviously drawing on his experiences as a seasoned explorer.
His characters are engaging and memorable. Sigwulf himself is a conflicted hero, often torn between loyalties. Osric is intriguing. In his portrayal of Hroudland, Severin really excels. Hroudland can be arrogant, vain and self-serving, but the author balances this with a man who is also brave, talented and charismatic.

Book of Dreams is the first in the new Saxon series and I look forward to Sigwulf’s next adventure. Highly recommended.
Note: This review also appears in the Historical Novels Review
Profile Image for Cindy Hall.
140 reviews
March 7, 2013
An OK young adult historical novel. Not enough female characters for my taste, but an interesting take on a part of history I knew nothing about (Charlemagne's reign).
Profile Image for Robert.
119 reviews2 followers
November 23, 2013
Just ok... Kind of a dissapointment after the "Viking" series. This book seemed a bit flat to me. Not badly written, just not as complex or interesting.
Profile Image for Taylor.
156 reviews10 followers
October 23, 2018
This may as well have been a travel book in my opinion. It's all the main character does; travels somewhere, travels elsewhere, travels there, travels back. To me the characters felt flat and forgetable; I felt nothing for any of them, like or dislike, annoyance, affections. And therer was no moment of revelation like the blurb indicated. I expected something to happen and the real meaning of thr dream being revealed, leaving me shocked. Instead, I could barely remember the dreams, I could connect maybe one to an actual an event and even then I wasn't impressed. I only read this because I was mildly interested in the third book but I can't bring myself to read the second which seems to have even less plot.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
744 reviews
October 29, 2017
I liked this book, found it interesting in terms of the era. It's well-researched in terms of historical detail, but there are a few occasions where the prose doesn't flow, a few sentences where an odd choice of word sticks out and sounds awkward. But it's a decent book and I already have the second one out of the library ready to read.
Profile Image for Jeff Powers.
693 reviews3 followers
June 15, 2019
A decent historical fiction tale. Better than some but still pales in comparison to Cornwell who it often felt it was trailing in the shadow of. Still entertaining enough that I would check out more from the author in the future.
Profile Image for Graham Crawford.
443 reviews42 followers
July 2, 2013
Whether one likes or dislikes a particular Historical Fiction novel seems to be more a matter of taste than one finds within other genres. I find it impossible to judge a book of this type from Good Reads reviewers as some folk will award a begrudged one star and an equal number, a gushing five stars.

I suspect it's about the precise blend of history-to-fiction one finds palatable. This book is heavy on the history and light on the fiction, the sort of tome an experimental archaeologist or historical re-enactment enthusiast might write (or enjoy reading). The plot is mainly there to showcase mini history lessons. I really like this sort of Historical Fiction because it's a useful mnemonic for remembering period details. It's probably a geek thing - I enjoy info dumps and I have watched every series of Time Team at least twice :-)

"Saxon. The Book of Dreams" is certainly not a literary novel and the characterization is kept to a minimum.

Severin is very good on material details. We get some interesting insights into Carolingian costume, cooking and interior decorating. There's some well researched descriptions of period arms and armor and military tactics plus some intriguing asides on the Iberian Islamic culture and that of Frank occupied Brittany. Other reviewers have pointed out that Severin is most famous for his legendary travel logs - and this certainly feels like a Saxon doing an early Grand Tour.

"Saxon" is a strange title as it's more about Charlemagne's court - specifically a retelling of "la Chanson de Roland" from a more historically accurate perspective. I must admit I felt a good deal of perverse pleasure in the way Severin depicts this Roland/Hroudland - his drunken lout is no doubt a lot closer to the truth than the noble flower of chivalry in the 12th century chanson de geste. This realism may however have made the story less emotionally satisfying than it could have been. I felt no tension over the plot to betray Hroudland - He's so unlikable I was looking forward to seeing him killed.

This is an interesting problem with the genre - If characters are written as real people thought and acted in times past, most modern readers would dislike them intensely or find them incomprehensible. Once again it comes down to the blend. The narrator in "The book of dreams" is a curiously modern fellow in many of his attitudes. I suspect a Dark Age Saxon wouldn't dwell quite so much on the injustice of robbing a cultured Muslim city (Another proud moment in Christian-Islamic relations *not*). Mind you, I don't think I'd enjoy reading a book from a realistic Saxon point of view - unless it was one with big gold letters and pictures.

The usage of the Oneirkritikos as a central theme is interesting but a bit odd as this book is still discussed in contemporary psychology circles and even by philosophers (Michel Foucault). In this novel it's mainly used as a divination tool, or even a plot device to get the narrator closer to the King. I'm not sure this superficial approach entirely works as that historic text has a heavy academic baggage, linked to studies of the unconscious mind and sexual politics. Severin may have been punching above his weight here as I was left wanting more analysis and less description.

I'm still looking forward to Book 2 - Maybe I'll get to see some more Saxons in that one.
Profile Image for Kerry Hennigan.
496 reviews12 followers
September 23, 2016
Set in the late 8th century AD, the first novel in Tim Severin’s Saxon series is the story of a young man named Sigwulf who is dispatched by King Offa of Mercia to the court of Charlemagne – herein called by his actual name of King Carolus.

The Book of Dreams is an Arabic translation of a Greek text that purports to interpret dreams. In translating it (with the help of his servant Osric) Sigwulf finds meaning in his own nightmares and in the dreams of the king’s nephew Count Hroundland, who has befriended the young Saxon.

Sigwulf and Osric travel south with Hroundland into the Saracen lands of the Iberian Peninsula on a diplomatic mission for King Carolus. But it is not diplomacy that the king is really interested in. And meantime, Sigwulf has to deal with the fact that someone seems to want to kill him.

While the dream interpretation aspect of this novel seems a little far-fetched, it was a practice considered highly significant during the Middle Ages, according to Severin’s Historical Note at the back of the book. And the Greek book “The Interpretation of Dreams” or Oneirokritikon, was a real book compiled in the 2nd Century AD by a Greek writer named Artimedorus.

Another popular work of the Middle Ages, The Song of Roland, also features in this tale, but to say much more than that would be to spoil this novel for future readers.

Hroundland’s diplomatic mission to the Saracens, and the campaign that follows it are also based on historical fact, into which Severin has woven the tale of the fictional Sigwulf. It was the historical aspect of the novel I most enjoyed – until the fictional adventure reached an exciting climax and had me turning the pages rapidly for the outcome, not caring whether it was truth or fiction.

I would have liked the earlier chapters of the novel to have been as exciting as the final ones, but I still felt The Book of Dreams to be entertaining, and it gave me some interesting historical insights and ideas for a bit of additional research.

Review by Kerry Hennigan
24 September 2016
Profile Image for Raymond Just.
398 reviews2 followers
September 2, 2012
The Book of Dreams is written with Severin's usual high level of detail and clean prose. The pacing is a bit slow in places, but can be forgiven as The Book of Dreams is the first book in the author's new Saxon series. Unlike his previous two series, however, The Book of Dreams is remarkable for its dearth of personal character development and history. The story leaves the reader wanting more in the way of feeling for the protagonist, Sigwulf, and his boon companions, Osric and Count Hroudland. This failure to create empathy leaves the book with a decidedly flat feeling, like reading a purely objective chronicle or history of the times without any real personalization.

Tim Severin is such a good writer, that this failings can be forgiven, at least this time around. I will eagerly await the second book in the series, and fully expect it to remedy The Book of Dreams' shortcomings.
Profile Image for Ali Muhammad.
9 reviews19 followers
July 16, 2013
This the 3rd series of Tim Severin that I've read after Viking and Corsair. The character of Sigwulf is pretty much the same with Thorgils in Viking, especially on his paranormal ability. I do enjoy the book because this is the 1st novel I've read about Charlemagne, it is interesting to hear a story of him being the 1st to unite the europe and how his kingdom deal with the muslim neighbour in spain.
Profile Image for Wilde Sky.
Author 16 books34 followers
February 5, 2014
A young man becomes involved in intrigue within an ancient royal dynasty.

I found the story to be reasonable, but the pace and writing style were plodding. The book did pick up in the last 50 pages.
Profile Image for Katie.
324 reviews1 follower
June 27, 2014
Adult book - but suitable for YA, precious older fiction children who are into this era.
Graphic battle scenes - but nothing they won't have read before.
Basic sex scenes, but nothing too graphic.

It is a retelling of the "Song of Roland".
Profile Image for Jennifer.
298 reviews2 followers
August 7, 2015
I enjoyed reading this novel because of its solid plot and interesting characters. Sometimes it lacked a bit suspense, and I was bored. The characters were nicely developed, but showed stereotypical traits. Still, the book and story were good. 3.5 Stars.
127 reviews2 followers
June 18, 2015
Pretty good yarn by Tim Severin.

Some drivel about a book of dreams that gets lost along with all Charlemagne's treasure.

Profile Image for Jane.
14 reviews
January 3, 2014
I am a big fan of Tim's books but it lacked depth and plausibility. Disappointed.
Profile Image for Deborah Foulkes.
Author 18 books3 followers
April 13, 2014
I loved this from the moment I picked it up and couldn't put it down. I'm already starting the next in the series
Profile Image for Shady Lubbad.
221 reviews1 follower
December 13, 2015
I really enjoyed reading this book... i wanted the main character to be a little more booldy and dark.. and i really enjoyed the fact that this book doesn't show the arabs in a bad light...
August 15, 2016
Loved the story and the characters. First book in a while I've read through and wanted the sequel. Highly recommended
Profile Image for Richard P.
13 reviews1 follower
April 26, 2014
Good historical action thriller with some interesting twists and turns.
Displaying 1 - 29 of 29 reviews

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