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Rosemary Sutcliff's Dawn Wind is full of the tropes of YA postapocalyptic fiction. It opens with the 14-year-old protagonist waking up to the realisation that everyone he ever knew is dead and he is all alone in the world; later, he and a girl he meets eke out a living in the burnt-out and deserted ruins of their home city, foraging for food and having to avoid lawless bands of armed men. So far, so standard; but the difference here is that the book begins in around 680AD, and is historical fiction, not science fiction, and the world that has ended is the last relic of Romanised Britain, crushed by the Saxons in the battle that takes place just before the story begins. Somehow this was the book Station Eleven most reminded me of, and made me want to re-read. It's also a hopeful book, as Owain serves out the years first as thrall and then as trusted retainer to a Saxon family and sees the beginnings of co-operation between Saxons and the British remaining in Wales; the "dawn wind" of the title beginning to blow after the dark century when the remains of the Roman civilisation were slowly destroyed by the invaders.

Dawn Wind isn't my favourite Sutcliff; that will always be Frontier Wolf, and more generally I much prefer the novels set in Roman Britain. The Saxon Britain of Dawn Wind is a much poorer place, a land of isolated farms in clearings in the woods, each settlement much more cut off from its neighbours than the Roman towns, as the roads crumble away and groups of bandits roam the land. It's a sad book; there's a real sense of how much has been irrecoverably lost. In the light of Recent Events, I got a bit teary at this bit:

For the space of two men's lives at least, we have stood alone, we in Britain, cut off from all that Rome once stood for, from all that we thought worth dying for. And today we have joined hands with those days of the Long Wandering [...] - a light clasp yet, and easily broken, but surely it will strengthen. [...] Not the dawn as yet, [...] but I think the dawn wind stirring.

Actually, I got a bit teary at quite a few bits. It's not an easy read, but I found it very rewarding this time round; I think it's probably one of Sutcliff's less well-known books, and that's a shame, as it deserves a wider audience.


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