Author: Sarah Bower
Genre: Historical Fiction/Romance
Date Published: 2007
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
The year is 1067. Bishop Odo of Bayeux commissions an unimaginably large tapestry to commemorate the conquest of Britain by his brother, William the Conqueror. One of the women enlisted to work on the tapestry is Gytha, former lady-in-waiting to the fallen Saxon queen. After the war, Gytha’s life had fallen into chaos, and she swears vengeance on Odo, declaring herself his greatest enemy. But despite their best attempts to the contrary, they fall hopelessly in love. Consequently, their lives are thrown into turmoil as friends become enemies and enemies become lovers. Like the stunning and complicated tapestry that has brought them together, all is not as it seems.
The Needle in the Blood is foremost a magnificent love story, epic in its passion and daring in its tales. Overpowering in its ferocity, it proves difficult to find the right words to describe the relationship between Gytha and Odo. Powerful, furious, fierce are the best I can do; if you are looking for a lighthearted romantic novel, look somewhere else.
In spite of these relationships’ passion, I was not completely satisfied with Bower’s definition of love. She uses the term frequently throughout the novel: too frequently in my estimation, and often in place of the word ‘lust.’ Which is unfortunate, since the words obviously have very different meanings. In this novel, then, love became the overarching word that encompasses not only the yearnings of the heart, but of the body as well. This ambiguity distracts from the story at times; I found myself getting angry when characters swore love for another but then acted in a manner contrary to that declaration, choosing to save themselves rather than each other, or too quick to believe rumors rather than talk to his or her partner, all the while still depicted as madly in love.
Bower’s use of the present tense in a historical fiction novel takes some getting used to, but once I did, I fully understood her choice to write in this way. It makes the story come alive and the characters seem relatable and vivacious. Bower’s writing is nothing short of beautiful. Her stunning descriptions grab the reader from the beginning. I felt as if I was right there, in the Battle of Hastings, taking part in the birth of Britain.
I would highly recommend The Needle in the Blood to readers looking for a powerful, intense story, strikingly told by an author with the skills needed to bring the medieval period to life.
Review by Brittany Duncan, A&S '16