The Wordsmith’s Tale

Written by Stephen Edden
Review by Fenella Miller

In 1087, Thomas the Piper recounts the heartwarming, spellbinding hundred-year history of his family. He comes from a long line of story-weavers and wants to capture their personal stories for posterity. They were serfs but somehow got by against the odds. His young scribe – lovesick and distracted – writes it all down.

The history covers several generations of this West Country family, from the reign of King Edgar to the Battle of Hastings. They are linked by one recurring theme: the gift of storytelling. The original Tom, the bard of King Edgar’s court, takes twelve years to find the woman he loves, Fleda. He saves Fleda’s life, and despite her age, she bears him a son, Bas, who becomes a legend by gaining a ferocious reputation as a warrior fighting the armies of King Cnut. Bas’ son Harry, a storyteller like his aunt, passes the gift on to his own son Thomas, who is forced to make use of the first of the three wishes endowed upon the wishing penny given to his grandfather by King Edgar.

This is Stephen Edden’s debut novel, and it is an outstanding book. The historical detail is exceptional; I could smell, taste and feel the grinding poverty. I was gripped from the opening page, transported back to a time when life was hard and death ever present. The grimness was lightened by wit and brilliant dialogue. It is a remarkable, powerful and hugely enjoyable novel. I cannot recommend it highly enough.