Stonehenge by Bernard Cornwell

Stonehenge: 2000 B.c.

Bernard Cornwell
Paperback, 448 pages
HarperCollins Publishers
December 01, 2004

I just finished Bernard Cornwell’s Stonehenge and I am impressed and amazed at this piece of work that is part epic historical fiction and part fantasy.  I say fantasy because though it takes place four thousand years ago in modern day Britain, there are zero modern geographical or temporal references.  All the deities, characters, settlements, and tribes are fictional and without the book’s title or cover art I could easily have thought the story took place in some other realm.

Stonehenge is about exactly what it sounds like, though it focuses more on the people responsible for the construction of the mammoth standing stones and the reasons they had to build it (as imagined by the author).  It’s a tale of sacrifice, ritual, murder, love, and the power of belief to achieve the impossible.  The story is narrated mostly by Saban and his brother Camaban, though the cast of characters span generations and tribes across the land.  Saban and Camaban are two of the three sons of the chief of Ratharryn.  The third, Lengar, brings an end to his people’s way of life when he happens upon an Outlander carrying gold lozenges from the settlement of Sarmennyn.  The priests declare the gold a gift from the sun god Slaol and refuse to return it to its rightful owners. 

Camaban, who starts out as a crippled outcast who narrowly escapes being sacrificed to the moon goddess Lahanna, comes under the tutelage of the sorceress Sanna in Cathallo, who heals his twisted foot.  The student soon becomes the master and he uses his newfound status as a powerful sorcerer to manipulate the leaders of all three tribes to do his bidding.  He convinces Lengar, now chief of Ratharryn, to return the gold lozenges to Sarmennyn if they give him one of their temples.  Camaban has a plan to banish winter and end all human toil and suffering by reuniting Slaol and Lahanna with the temple.  He enlists Saban to build the seemingly impossible temple of standing stones and arches. 

What follows is an account of the 20 years of backbreaking labor, uneasy truces, raids, and violence that ensues while Sarmennyn’s temple is dismantled and transported back to Ratharryn.  The blood and sweat of the laborers and the careful planning and execution of Camaban and Saban as they struggled to figure out a way to erect the immense stones in their new home that would bring an end to winter was beyond measure.  Camaban’s demands become increasingly unrealistic and as the years go by he begins a slow but steady descent into madness.  He becomes obsessed with the temple and will stop at nothing to see his vision realized. 

The size and scope of what would come to be known as Stonehenge was impressive in its own right, but learning about the lives and deaths of the ones responsible for its creation was even more satisfying.  My mind wandered during the pages dedicated entirely to the finer details of the mechanics of shaping and erecting the stones (I definitely don’t need to read about levers or sleds again any time soon), but everything else was enthralling. 

I loved Saban and Camaban throughout the book.  I agonized over the uncertain outcome upon the temple’s completion, mourned the loss of loved ones, and gloated over exacted revenge right along with them. 

This book was so different from anything else I’ve read lately and it was exciting, tragic, and captivating – a fascinating account of what might have been.  We’ll never really know who built the engineering marvel that stands today on Salisbury Plain or what its purpose was but I’d like to think that Cornwell’s version comes close to the truth.



  1. Dionne Soares Palmer Said:

    It’s been a while since I’ve read that one, and reading your review brought it all back–tis an excellent book!

    • Jamye Said:

      Tis, tis! So brutal and gritty, loved it! Thanks for the loan.

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