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Neil Gunn: Sun Circle

In this novel, Gunn moves back to the Dark Ages, when the Vikings were raiding the coast of Scotland. The story focuses on a Scottish small tribe, subsisting mainly on agriculture. They have a central encampment, with a stone tower where they can shelter when they are raided by the Vikings but, apart from that, they live a fairly mundane existence. The heroine is Breeta and the hero Aniel. Aniel thinks he loves Nessa, the daughter of the chief, but we know he really loves Breeta, even though it is going to take him the whole book to find that out. We have been forewarned that the Vikings are going to turn up and, of course, they do. They slaughter many of the adult males, enslave a few and do the usual destruction bit, though Gunn does, at least, give us their point of view. Aniel, Breeta and a few others manage to escape to the woods, ready to start up again. There they capture a Viking chief who is raping a not unwilling Nessa. Nessa and the chief pay the price, the Vikings go and we are all ready to start over.

Frankly, I found this book to be a straightforward historical romance. None of the characters particularly appealed and even Gunn’s attempts to give the Vikings a human face did not help matters. One interesting theme did occur, however. The tribe had recently been exposed to Christianity and the play-off between Christianity and the”old” religion could have been an interesting theme. Gunn does play with it a bit but spoils it by making the old religion a uniformly bad religion (virgin sacrifices, political control). While Christianity is not seen entirely as a positive force, it is clear where Gunn’s sympathies lie.

Publishing history

First published 1933 by The Porpoise Press