Book Rec // ‘The Mistletoe and Sword’ by Anya Seton

Anyone who has read this blog before knows I am obsessed with historical fiction. It may be my favorite genre ever, and one that I have been reading since I was in eighth grade. I think that good, accurate historical fiction is the best way to learn history, and is also one of the most entertaining kind of novels because you learn more than you would from textbooks, and anyway, the romantic in me absolutely loves imagining and reading about previous eras. Who doesn’t?

And in keeping with this year’s resolution to shop a whole lot less, read more, and most important, read the books I already have, when I was given a whole, lazy Saturday at home one weekend, I reached into my shelves and drew out a book I bought in 2012, one that I hadn’t ever opened before, and one that is by one of my favorite authors: Anya Seton.

Anya Seton was a successful, bestselling historical fiction novelist in the 1950s, known best for her works Katherine and The Winthrop Woman. But she also wrote a slimmer, young-adult novel named The Mistletoe and Sword. At 250 pages, this book was the perfect size to devour in a day. Here’s what it’s about.
the mistletoe and sword

What it’s about

Set in A.D. 60-61, The Mistletoe and Sword is about a Roman centurion named Quintus who is sent to Celtic Britain to ensure the peace and compliance of the native population. He’s also motivated by the desire to discover the place where his great-grandfather was murdered a century earlier, by a Celtic tribe, at the mysterious Stonehenge. But before he can get to the site, the Ninth Legion and the rest of the Roman army have to subdue the mighty rebellion organized by Queen Boudica of the Celtic Iceni tribe. Quintus also meets a Celtic woman named Regan, and the two fall in love (because of course!).

Why you should read it

Anya Seton was known for being a meticulous researcher and for painstakingly making sure her stories were accurate. So despite the fact that “accurate” may have changed definition necessarily in the intervening 50+ years, I know that the story, even if it’s technically fiction, is as historically accurate as it is possible to be (at the time). That’s a huge plus for me.
While this isn’t her most sophisticated work (I read Green Darkness and liked it much better), this is a quick, easy read that features a whole lot of mysticism, atmosphere, and history in a compact little package. If you’ve never heard of Anya Seton, this may be the title you can start with!
The romance is fun, although the dialogue is dated (a lot of cliched phrases and situations, for example) and the characters are less complex than they can be. Read it for the history and action, and less for the romance.

Favorite character

Regan, the Celtic woman who helps Quintus and falls in love with him. Even though she’s, again, not very complex, she’s also an independent-minded, capable woman with intelligence and fierce loyalty to her people and her customs. I wanted to know more about her.

Favorite quote

Quintus did not hear the ghostly shrieks, but as he forced himself to shut his eyes and relax his body as Roman soldiers were taught, he heard something else–something from the dark woods across the Colne; the sharp yelping of foxes, and more distant answers. And he thought that there was little chance of surprising the British forces, for there were unseen eyes watching every Roman move. 

Recommended for

Anyone who loves history or a simple romance, and anyone with a lazy Saturday to spend being introduced to a talented author.


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