(creator: V M Whitworth)
|Wulfgar of Meon, a West Saxon, was born in Meon, in the modern county of Hampshire, in 876 AD. He was the only child of his father's second marriage. By the time The Bone Thief starts, at Easter in 900 AD, both his parents are dead. Wulfgar had three surviving siblings, all his elders: Wystan, heir to the Meon estates; Cwenhild, a nun; and the bullying Garmund, also known as Polecat, son of their father's liaison with a slave-woman, who had always picked on him as a child and whom he still thoroughly disliked.
Wulfgar left Meon at the age of seven to become an oblate (a person dedicated to the religious life but who has not taken full monastic vows), fostered by his uncle, one of the canons of Winchester Cathedral, so he grew up in the complex of church and royal buildings clustered to the south of Winchester's High Street, where he was educated together with the King's younger children and the sons of thanes (thanes were usually wealthy men who owed military service to the king).
As a sub deacon, he had become secretary to the Lord and Lady of the Mercians in Worcester, just five months before the story begins. His friends call him Wuffa (Little Wolf/Wolf Cub), but there are some, such as Garmund, who still call him by his childish nickname Litter-runt.
V M Whitworth (real name Dr Victoria Thompson who also writes under the name of Victoria Whitworth) went to school in Nairobi, New York, London and Letchworth. She read English at St Anne's College, Oxford (specialising in medieval literatures and archaeology), and went on to study for an M.A. in Icelandic Literature at the Centre for Medieval Studies in York, where she stayed on to take a D. Phil. in the English Department.
She has worked at a variety of jobs, including being a tour guide, artist's model and EFL teacher, and is currently a lecturer in the Centre for Nordic Studies, Orkney College, University of the Highlands and Islands, and a Visiting Fellow at Newcastle University. Her published works include Dying and Death in Later Anglo-Saxon England and numerous articles. Her current research is on the Viking Age sculpture of Britain and Ireland.
Bone Thief (2012)
The story gets off to a dramatic start when the lady of the Mercians interrupts the Vespers service in Worcester Cathedral (an "unheard of" action) to tell her secretary, Wulfgar, that he must come at once. Although naive in the ways of the world, he is to be sent on the dangerous mission to recover St Oswald's bones. It is a mission requiring resources and courage that Wulfgar did not know he had, and one of the interests of the book is the way that he matures and his hitherto simplistic faith develops under stress, although he never loses his reverence for St Oswald's holy bones. Interesting people he meets on the way include a maverick priest and a Viking adventuress who keeps turning up in unexpected places and in whom he cannot help becoming increasingly interested. In the end, she, rather surprisingly, just fades away, but that presumably gives the author a chance to re-introduce her in future books.
Another strong point is the way that the everyday lives of people of the time are convincingly described, ranging from greedy, plotting clergy at the Cathedral to a slave market that included "quite little children ... Many of them looked no more than 7 or 8 years old, little groups of them huddled close together. And lots of young women. He (Wulfgar) didn't want to think about how they had got there, or their probable future. As he got closer, he could see the slaves had no choice but to huddle, they were roped or, in one or two cases, chained. He couldn't bear the dull hopelessness in their young faces." It made him feel how privileged his own youth had been (even if he had been bullied) as he watched "a buyer examining one young woman, pinching her arm and her thigh, getting her to open her mouth to let him check her teeth."
It is a long book, and it must be admitted I grew increasingly conscious of this as the story slowly unfolded. However it burst back to life when Wulfgar is precariously led at night over a hazardous causeway across the fen then has to scramble in the dirt to dig up St Oswald's ancient bones. There are dramatic fights too and Wulfgar has to face up to the fact that, "I am a man of the cloister. Dealing death is not my profession. I have vowed never to hunt animals, not so much as a bird, and now I have killed a fellow human being. The pinnacle of God's creation." But he still has to escape from his pursuers and his life is again at risk when he is accused of selling the sacred bones. In the end, it makes quite a gripping story. It is, of course, fiction but the background has been thoroughly researched and some of the characters are based on real people. The rest, the author hopes, is "a plausible speculation". It certainly seems to ring true.
The cover is ornate if not immediately comprehensible.