Knowing Whitby well, and a little about the Abbess Hild and the Synod of Whitby, I looked forward to learning more. I was not disappointed, for Teresa Tomlinson writes well, painting a convincing Anglo-Saxon world for the reader to inhabit. To do that with ease and confidence requires much research in a wide field, and yet she has presented it lightly and beguilingly, drawing the reader along as we meet Fridgyth the herb-wife, the Abbess Hild, and the important figures who were present at the Synod.
I was charmed by both Hild and Fridgyth – one Christian, one Pagan, both strong women in what was surely a man’s world. And it was a delight for me to meet Cedd and Cuthbert, ‘obscure’ English saints known to me by name only before this book.
‘A Swarming of Bees’ is not a sentimental novel – it presents the realities of life in Anglo-Saxon times, complete with politics, plague and poisoning, as it must surely have been. The plot had enough twists and turns to please any detective-story addict – and the who, what and why of it led me on with page-turning eagerness. I was reminded of Brother Cadfael and found myself hoping that there will be other books about Fridgyth and Hild. And perhaps the little boy Billfrith, whose innocence and integrity brought a tear to my eye. If the mark of a good book is that the characters live on beyond the last page, then this is a good book.
All in all a thoroughly enjoyable read.