January 1067. Charismatic Bishop Odo of Bayeux decides to commission a wall hanging, on a scale never seen before, to celebrate his role in the conquest of Britain by his brother, William, Duke of Normandy. What he cannot anticipate is how utterly this will change his life – even more than the invasion itself. His life becomes entangled with the women who embroider his hanging, especially Gytha – handmaiden to the fallen Saxon queen and his sworn enemy. But against their intensions they fall helplessly in love; in doing so Odo comes into conflict with his king and his God and Gytha with Odo’s enemies, who mistrust her hold over such a powerful man. Friends and family become enemies, enemies become lovers; nothing in life or in the hanging is what it seems. The Needle in the Blood – a powerful tale of sex, lies and embroidery.
The Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bower is a novel that takes place in the 11th century England. It is about the making of the Bayeux Tapestry, a colourful, embroidered linen cloth, 230 feet long, which depicts fifty historical scenes from before the Norman conquest of England to the Battle of Hastings. The cloth is believed to have been commissioned by Bishop Odo.
At the heart of the story is a woman named Gytha, a serving maid to King Harold’s consort, the Lady Edith. When King Harold is killed during the Battle of Hastings, Bishop Odo of Bayeux, brother of William the Conquerer, refuses to allow the king’s body to be returned to his family for burial. Later, Gytha manages to hide and avoids being captured and sent away with Lady Edith and her other ladies. Left destitute, with no means of support, Gytha falls upon a time of great suffering. Her one hope is that she can soon find work as an embroideress, putting to use her exceptional talent.
At first, her bitterness and hatred of Odo, resides rampant within her. She is determined to kill him. A stroke of fortune brings her directly into his path when she is recruited by his sister, a nun of dubious repute, to help sew the Bayeux Tapestry.
The Needle in the Blood is an historical novel about forbidden love, the treachery of war, and healing. It is a profound piece of work, rich with complexity and detail of this fascinating period. Sarah Bower gives us a rare insight into the complexities of a bloody and violent period in England’s history.
Along with a gradually enfolding romance, the author does not hesitate to show readers the harsh brutalities and ferocious carnage that was prevalent, and the helplessness of women to exert even the most basic control over their own lives.
The writing is deep and alluring, and a bit challenging. It is pure historical fiction with plenty of historical data weaved into the plot. Overall, it is an epic tale and one well worth reading! Highly recommended!