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Saturday, December 2, 2017

1066 Turned Upside Down: England Unconquered

I admit that I imprinted on Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe as a child. Scott's oppressive Normans versus the downtrodden Saxons was the original template that formed the foundation of my later obsession with legendary freedom fighters like Robin Hood particularly Richard Carpenter's Robin of Sherwood television series. (For more information see the Wikipedia article on this TV show.) By the time I became an ROS fan, I had studied history.  So I knew very well that 12th century England wasn't really a Norman vs. Saxon world as portrayed in Ivanhoe.  Yet I also knew that William the Conqueror had imposed European feudalism on England which was a considerably more oppressive system than the Saxon Witan mentioned in the anthology that is the subject of this review, 1066 Turned Upside Down.

Because of the background described above, I have more emotional investment in stories that reverse the Norman Conquest than many other topics in alternate history.  That's why I purchased the anthology when I first learned about it, but didn't read it until I found out that there was a Roma Nova story included in the collection.

Roma Nova is an alternate history series created by Alison Morton based on the premise that a Roman colony was established by Pagan Romans who wanted to continue practicing their religion after it was outlawed during the reign of the Roman Emperor Theodosius.  This Roman colony outlasted the Roman Empire and is an independent nation in an alternate 21st century.  I have reviewed two Roma Nova novels and a novella.  You can find my reviews of  Inceptio, Perfiditas and Carina by clicking on their titles.

The Roma Nova story in 1066 Turned Upside Down is the first to take place before the 20th century.   All the  Roma Nova novels that have so far appeared either deal with 21st century protagonist Carina or are 20th century flashbacks to the life of her grandmother, Aurelia.  "A Roman Intervenes" takes place in 1066.  I was glad to see that Carina's ancestor, Galla Mitela, was just as capable of unorthodox improvisation in the service of her goals.  In this case, her goal was the prevention of William of Normandy's invasion of England.

I also really liked another similar story because of the characters.  "The Danish Crutch" by Anna Belfrage deals with a pair of very interesting Danish spies in Normandy.  One is a woman who speaks Norman French, and the other is a bard who walks with a crutch.  Both are underestimated, but can deliver the unexpected.

Another story with memorable characters was "The Dragon Tailed Star" by Carol McGrath whose young protagonist Thea is vividly portrayed.  I was impressed with McGrath's depiction of Harold's Queen as well.   I thought that the most interesting aspect of that story was the extent of Norman penetration and influence before the Norman invasion.

Also noteworthy was the feminist oriented tale "The Needle Can Mend" by Eliza  Redgold in which women can be peace weavers and those who wove the Bayeux Tapestry could have introduced hidden messages.   I had actually read a book of historical scholarship that argued for a subversive interpretation of the Bayeux Tapestry.  So this story's controversial concept wasn't new to me, but it was the first time I'd seen it in a fictional context.

So I'm glad that I purchased 1066 Turned Upside Down.  I consider it a worthwhile read.


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