The year is 500 AD. Sisters Isla and Blue live in the shadows of the Ghost City, the abandoned ruins of the once-glorious mile-wide Roman settlement Londinium on the bank of the River Thames. But the small island they call home is also a place of exile for Isla, Blue, and their father, a legendary blacksmith accused of using dark magic to make his firetongue swords—formidable blades that cannot be broken—and cast out from the community. When he dies suddenly, the sisters find themselves facing enslavement by the local warlord and his cruel, power-hungry son. Their only option is to escape to the Ghost City, where they discover an underworld of rebel women living secretly amid the ruins.
It is a remarkable undertaking to create an authentic portrayal of an unimaginable ancient world on the page when such scant knowledge of this era exists. And yet, it is a testament to the extraordinary imaginative powers of Stott that this artfully resurrected Londinium thrums with life. Extensive research, with forensic attention to detail, has undoubtedly been dedicated to the representation of this forgotten era, but the knowledge is yielded with admirable grace and a powerful instinct for the reader’s desire for balance between world-building and narrative progression ... Stott writes into the silences of the historical record as an act of revelation – what emerges are complex characters, with fascinating stories, who are enriched with a zeal for survival. What we recognise now as a mysterious, shadowy time is their ordinary present, and their lives are rendered with total conviction on the page ... Stott has created a work of elegant historical fantasy with great intellect, curiosity, imagination and empathy that is utterly compelling. The fusion of the author’s great passions, literature and history, has found a magnificent outlet in this unique and extraordinary novel. No other author would have attempted this challenge, nor could have succeeded in wielding its components into something so powerful. A definite contender for this year’s literary prizes, it is difficult to imagine any reader not becoming bewitched by Dark Earth.
... superb ... dramatises the parallels between archaeology and historical fiction. Stott is a renowned historian, but in this excavation of London’s deep past she has created something radically new and beautiful, a book that retells a period of our national past that straddles the line between history and myth ... This is a book that seeks to do for British myth what Natalie Haynes and Madeline Miller have done so brilliantly for classical literature: uncovering stories of feminine power that have been occluded by the male hand of history ... The end of Stott’s book condenses centuries into a few shimmering pages of prose, lifting the reader up through the layers of time, making us feel at once how distant and how close we are to this ghostly London, to Isla and Blue.
Stott has done a remarkable job of re-creating post-Roman England, perfect in its verisimilitude. She is a wonderful writer, too, creating memorable characters and scenes of heart-pounding suspense. The richly imagined Rookery is a small peaceable kingdom that will be threatened by Vort who, bent on revenge, is searching for Isla and Blue. Will he find them? Read on, reader; read on...