The Shield Ring
is a story of the Vikings and the Normans in the Lake District of England in the eleventh century. The reader is rooting for the Vikings (for a change!) who keep a secret stronghold from whence they repel the Norman northern onslaught. Sutcliff weaves the elements–a boy with a harp, an orphan Saxon girl, a sword called the Fire-drake, the Road to Nowhere, intrigue and espionage–into a vivid and vibrant story.
Sutcliff is the master of historical fiction. Her prose lifts you from your modern surroundings like a hot air balloon. You land in a place and time and culture that is very Other but also faintly familiar. Sutcliff does not explain every cultural reference; she lets the reader to work it out. However, when I read Sutcliff, it is always her prose which delights me: her bright shining, shimmering prose.
There has been a revival of interest in G. A. Henty’s books; I have a bookcase full, myself. But if I had a choice between a Henty and a Sutcliff, I would take Sutcliff every time.
It was a curlew that they were watching now, a curlew at his mating flight, weaving, it seemed to Frytha, a kind of garland of flight round the place where his chosen mate must be, among the heather. He skimmed low over the ground, then suddenly swerved upward, up and up, hung a moment poised on quivering wings, and then came planing down, his wings arched back to show the white beneath, skimmed low again, and again leapt skyward. And all the while he was calling, calling; a lovely spiral of sound bubbling and rippling with delight. But his whole dance, undulating, floating, swerving, with always that flash of underwing silver on the downward swoop, was a dance of sheer delight. p.16
Another Sutcliff review here.