Author: Conn Iggulden
Publisher: Michael Joseph
Genre: Historical Fiction
Dunstan is a historical novel which demonstrates Conn Iggulden’s mastery of words. It takes a saint and makes him human and weaves an intriguing tale from the threads of history.
This novel follows Dunstan from childhood all the way to being an old man who had seen seven kings on the throne in his lifetime. As records from the time period are sparse, the novel does take some artistic license in what it describes; each addition or change really helps build the character of Dunstan that Iggulden wants to portray as well as moving the story along.
While it does take a while for the story to get going at the start, as we’re still being introduced to the characters, getting used to the world through the pages and watching Dunstan grow into adulthood, it is once Dunstan gets his first taste of power that this novel really takes off. The second half is so full of political intrigue, scheming and changes in kings that it made for quite gripping reading.
The strangest part of this book for me was that I both enjoyed reading about the main character, Dunstan, while also disliking him as a person. He is extremely misogynistic, manipulative and arrogant, caring mostly for his own personal advancement. Yet, there are glimpses of kindness in him, of guilt and sorrow that take the edge off of that hatred; it also helps that those he surrounds himself with are really likable. How Conn Iggulden has written Dunstan here is a lesson in writing complex characters and it helped make me see this figurehead as simply human.
Dunstan is the only character which remains throughout the novel; even his brother Wulfric dips in and out, so we only see glimpses of him from time to time. The other characters are there for such fleeting moments, yet each one stands solid and present in my mind’s eye. Despite their short presence in the novel, you really get the sense of how each one impacted Dunstan and of their own characters as well.
The world-building also added an extra layer of depth to the novel. By the end of the novel I was convinced that I could simply step back through history and understand what awaited me there. The only times where I struggled were at the abbey when Dunstan was a child and whenever the novel moved around the country. I really could have done with a map during those latter sections as I found it really difficult to picture how far or how close these places were. That being said, I was reading on my kindle so I’m not entirely sure a map would have been much help at all.
The more I think about it, the more I enjoyed Dunstan. I will admit, I was worried in the first half – I found Dunstan dislikable and there was little else for me to grab onto then; everything else was still setting up and I had not got to know the other characters yet. But, after having read the rest, that first section is really important for making sure future events make sense and it all takes on a lot more meaning. Conn Iggulden’s writing is beautiful; it’s a novel which I think would be a delight to listen to as an audiobook, if simply just from the writing. In all fairness, I would probably buy this book just for the writing ability, but the story within the pages really helps make it shine.
Dunstan is out now.
The Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Dunstan-Conn-Iggulden/9780718181444/?aid=rosienreads