The Bone Thief: Stealing St Oswald


[I didn’t intend to be gone this long. I hope someone is still out there!]

Its been years since I’ve taken much time to read novels. I’m embarrassed to say how few I’ve read in the last couple years, but the Bone Thief finally was a temptation too great. How could I resist a novel about the theft/transfer of St Oswald’s bones from Bardney to Gloucester?

VM Whitworth‘s The Bone Thief did not disappoint. Readers of this blog will know that Oswald’s relics were enshrined at St Oswald’s Minster in Gloucester, so I don’t want to give away anything else. Not surprisingly it follows a quest tale type but it’s not a very typical quest. He doesn’t have to go  very far, but Whitworth finds plenty of obstacles and surprises to keep the tension. She nails the shifting loyalties and tensions of the time perfectly and managed to place Oswald’s relics centrally in West Saxon – Mercian politics  without cheapening their spiritual importance. I loved the way she treated St Oswald throughout the book (and what a nice little surprise at the end!).  I highly recommend the Bone Thief.

For a glimpse into Lady Ætehlfled’s Mercia, here is a previous post on their defense of Chester.


8 thoughts on “The Bone Thief: Stealing St Oswald

  1. I read it last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. Like Michelle, I was struck by how well she fleshed out the Mercian and West Saxon political tensions–the way that a Mercian might look askance at or even sneer at a West Saxon, and vice versa, which means bicultural or boundary crossing people have some interesting encounters. It reminds me that Aldred, in his 970 colophon in the Durham Collectar notes that he is at a particular location, but not “in Wessex” but “among the West Saxons,” clearly indicating that he sees identities not strictly in terms of territories but in terms of people groups.
    I also appreciated the nice handling of the spiritual dimensions of the Oswald relics. So many writers setting their stories in the Middle Ages just don’t “get” religion. They either ignore it, vilify it as superstition, or treat it as some odd thing they can marginalize (as people do today, something optional over there but not really part of life).

    1. I thought the handling of the importance and attachement people had to the relics was particularly good. Politics is restricted to the highest levels, for everyone else its a matter of loyalty: christian vs pagan, English vs Scandinavian, West Saxon vs Mercian. This was all very fluid in Lady Aethelfled’s time.

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