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Book Review: The Dream Weavers by Barbara Erskine

An allegory for letting go, The Dream Weavers is a time slip historical fiction novel that follows our modern day protagonist and spiritual medium Bea interlacing between 2021 and 700’s CE.

Simon, an author from London, rents a local cottage near Offa’s Dyke – the wall that separated the ancient kingdom of Powys (Wales), and the foregon lands of Mercia – to write his next history book. He calls upon Bea when disturbed by a ghostly voice and in helping Simon, Bea then becomes obsessed with unearthing what really happened to the voice of Princess Eadburh and her Prince Elisedd. When Simons daughter Emma gets involved we see the struggle of grounding oneself in reality instead of reliving or uncovering the past. 

Erskine is a historian and her fascination of the Anglo-Saxons is infectious. The hardback reads at 499 pages, but because it is written in brief chapters it doesn’t feel laborious. Her visually precise script reminds me of Clare Chambers’ Small Pleasures in that it comes alive off of the page; the reader can see it as a series.

‘The house was nestled at the head of a hidden valley…peering through the windscreen at the grey stone facade, around them the gardens lay sprawled and tangled in a mass of unruly colour, daffodils everywhere peering definitely through collapsed mossy pergolas, lichen draped trees..’

 It is well researched, and gives a beautiful insight to ancient practises.

‘..To use herbs as saining, the Old Scots word for what the Native Americans call smudging…the Celtic Lore of Wales, the Druids, the Physicians of Myddfai, Anglo-Saxon leechbooks, Nine Herb Charms, folklore of Herefordshire..’

Cooking with a balanced palette, this story has a little bit of everything for everyone; treachery, conspiracy, mystique, facts, the different types of love, time travel. What I find noteworthy is the concept of good vs evil or religion vs witchcraft/spirituality and how they are appreciated throughout the prose as being the same if not similar things. How women are seen to harness nature and be more susceptible to the supernatural compared to that of their male counterparts who worship a God and a man-made system.

For example, Bea is married to Mark the Canon Treasurer of the Cathedral in Hereford. They know to respect each other’s beliefs as their experiences are very real to the individual and even though it may cause friction, historically and personally, they do manage to unite, listen to and work with one another. Even Simon, an atheist can’t help but wonder in the supernatural or God – whatever those may be

‘At first I assumed the voice belonged to a real person, obviously.. But now, OK, I admit it, I’m not so sure she, the voice, is real’ .. He hesitated ..’I acknowledge I do feel uncomfortable when I hear her. Cold… I’m a rational man’.

The only problem with this book is that the millennial characters’ speech patterns aren’t written colloquially enough. This could have been a decision to try and keep the flow of composition nonetheless it didn’t connect to the reader. 

However, perhaps as a Dream Weaver herself, Barbara Erskine seamlessly intertwines not only two timelines together, but the realisation that we all have incredibly similar practises that inform our behaviour whatever era you’re in. Spirituality and religion, the past and the present can be one in the same thing: that humans haven’t changed so much albeit science and becoming a lot less brutal throughout the centuries. 

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