Sarum is the third novel by Edward Rutherfurd I have read and, just like his other books London and Russka, it is pretty epic – 1,344 pages in total!
Rutherfurd has certainly stamped his own unique mark on the genre of historical fiction: each of his novels centres on a place rather than a person, covers at least a thousand years of history and is accompanied by an assortment of maps and a detailed genealogy of its characters. With each book covering many centuries, there are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of characters.
Sarum starts in 7,500BC with the story of Hwll and Akun, who leave the icy wastelands in the North and journey down the east coast of Britain and settle on the Salisbury Plains, and finishes some nine millennia later, having covered the Saxon, Roman, Viking and Norman invasions, the Reformation, the English Civil War, the rise of the British Empire and the loss of the American colonies, and much more.
I love the way Rutherfurd weaves fact with fiction to both entertain and educate his readers – even though his stories are made up, they include an array of famous people and events. What is more, although his novels are designed to be read from beginning to end (i.e. in chronological order), each chapter is essentially a self-contained short story and could easily be read in isolation or skipped entirely. I would recommend Sarum to anybody who has an interest in history but who doesn’t mind a bit of artistic licence.
I have amassed a small fortune in gems of ‘useless’ information through reading Rutherfurd’s novels. Here’s one from his novel London:
Where does the phrase ‘to tally up’ come from?
In the Middles Ages–I think. You’ll need to read London and check. It was a long time ago, in any case–when landowners came to Westminster to pay their taxes to the Crown the amount they were required to pay (their tax return, for all intents and purposes) was recorded on a ‘tally’ stick using a series of notches–each notch would represent a certain amount of money. The tally stick was then split from top to bottom, with the tax official keeping one half and the landowner taking the other away. When the sticks were placed together again–i.e. when it was time for the landowner to cough up the money–the notches were supposed to line up. If they did, the accounts were said to tally up.
UPDATE ON MY NOVEL:
So… I got the first draft back from the editor! She has given me lots of constructive feedback and has told me the areas I need to work on. She says the basic structure of my story is there but needs to be expanded, and the characters developed. I’m now super motivated to write my second draft. Watch this space!