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A Roguish Romp

Richard Arnold reviews Rogues Together: A Chronicle of Olde England, an online book by Edward M. Turner

Rogues Together: A Chronicle of Olde England, by Edward M. TurnerRogues Together: A Chronicle of Olde England is a historical novel, set in “the High Middle Ages”—specifically the year 1056. The flood tide of Saxon domination of England is shortly to turn and ebb with the Norman invasion. The author claims he bases his people and events “loosely” on history, and in some places it is indeed very “loose,” while in others quite close to facts. Perhaps the greatest service a historical novelist can render for his readers is to set before them the feast, as it were, of the full panoply of life at a specific time and place—its tastes, its smells, its sounds, its language—and make it briefly seem to be alive again. On this point Turner succeeds; the story is full of details like the flies buzzing around filthy bandages (27), and the way the grand cathedral at York becomes palpable. One is reminded of the epics (Sarum, London, The Forest) of Edward Rutherfurd, possibly the greatest living practitioner of the genre of historical novel.

The plot is concerned mainly with the adventures (past and present) of the four “rogues” who come together from similar disreputable backgrounds, gaining strength and a measure of happiness from each other’s company. There’s Herbert, a.k.a. John Ox, a huge man who has killed an evil earl and is running for his life. Then Geoffrey of London, a young gadabout whose taste runs to older women, and who has various angry husbands and boyfriends on his trail. Arthur, a shadowy assassin-figure who has some experience with Robin Hood and his merry outlaws in Sherwood Forest, joins the group. Their leader is Lloyd, a cunning drifter who was orphaned early, a man who’s had a tough life, yet has a rather indefinable quality that might be called leadership:

He’d connived his way since childhood, through the cities and towns of England….men to him were chess pieces…. He read people like a farmer reads the weather. (18)

The setting, as mentioned earlier, is around the time of the Norman Conquest—historically 1066, but in the novel it’s ten years earlier. The Battle of Hastings is imagined and set forth quite plausibly in this novel, as are the chief actors in that drama: Edward the Confessor, Harold of Wessex, William the Bastard (a.k.a. the Conqueror), the dukes of Lionel, Gaunt, et al. In fact, the book is concerned with a double plot: not only the picaresque doings of its four main “rogues,” but the larger events which culminated in one of the watershed moments in English history, the last time the island has been “conquered” by a foreign invader. Turner manages to orchestrate both threads of his action in a believable and aesthetically satisfactory way.

The text would benefit from closer proofreading. On page 8, we read of “creosol dripping…”—surely this must be creosote? There are diction problems: “principle reasons” (8), “the young man laying by the fire” (9), “I have this affect on women” (11), and “a nervous tick worked in Lionel’s jaw” (57). Once in awhile there is an illogical statement, such as “A happy toothless smile sought to beguile, though his bloodshot eye failed to show any mirth” (18). And finally, several other literary and cinematic productions over the years have picked up on the dramatic potential of having a character named “Geoffrey” who ends up being the famous Chaucer. Turner does this at the end of Rogues, and I think it is a mistake, not only because it isn’t original, but because there is no preparation, no logical reason or connection with the events of the plot. “Geoffrey” just becomes Chaucer, and the book ends. Plus, it’s a full three centuries before the historical Chaucer lived.

Yet I like this book, and find it a very enjoyable romp through a fascinating time in English history. So very few “facts” have come down to us through the centuries—Bede, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a handful of poems—that we are forced to look to our imagination to fill in the gaps. Edward Turner has done a great job of not only imagining what those olden times might have been like, but writing them into a lively narrative that delights and teaches.


Richard Arnold is originally from Alabama. In 1985 he relocated to Vancouver Island, on Canada's west coast, where he helps raise his family, writes, and explores the wilderness. He has published poetry, reviews, and scholarly work in many North American venues, and is the author of two collections of poetry. He teaches English and Environmental Literature at Malaspina University College in Nanaimo, British Columbia.
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Rogues Together: A Chronicle of Olde England

by Edward M. Turner

   2002 Eppie Award    Winner


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