War, death, lust, and scheming in the starkly beautiful landscapes of medieval county Antrim is the backdrop to a Tyrone author’s debut novel.
Swordland, by Cookstown author Edward Ruadh Butler, was published in paperback and e-book form by Accent Press at the start of the month.
The novel has already garnered acclaim from reviewers who praised its ‘intrigue and spine-chilling bloody action’, and its ‘lucid, descriptive style’ which ‘brings to life landscapes, characters and battles’ of the 12th century.
Swordland tells the story of Robert FitzStephen, an arrogant but brilliant warrior from the Welsh frontier whose struggles to subdue the native princes leads to his defeat and imprisonment. Disgraced, he seems doomed to a life of obscurity and shame.
Then Diarmait Mac Murchada comes seeking FitzStephen’s help to recover his throne after the High King forced him to flee his homeland.
With nothing left to lose – and perhaps a great deal to gain – FitzStephen agrees to lead the Irishman’s armies, and to drive Diarmait’s enemies from his kingdom. His price? Approval and glory, or perhaps even a realm of his own?
“I started writing Swordland after doing some research into my family tree,” said Butler. “This brought me back to the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169 - something about which I knew only the scantest details.
“The more I read into the subject the more I realised that many of my preconceived notions about the period were completely wrong and that there is a far more complex and exciting story than that which I understood.
“County Antrim has more evidence of the Norman invasion that anywhere else in Ulster with few places ever more than ten miles from one of their ancient mottes – the large earthen mounds upon which the first invaders built their wooden castles. Two of the most powerful Norman families in the area were the Bissetts and the Mandevilles, but their descendants eventually took the surnames of McKeown and MacQuillan, and these are names that can still be found across the county.
“The Normans did not arrive in County Antrim until after 1177 when the famous adventurer John de Courcy claimed the region, but Swordland tells the story of the very beginning of the tale that would lead to their coming.
“It is a story as bloody as any chapter from Game of Thrones, and the characters are as conniving as any from House of Cards. But this isn’t fiction - the events in the book actually took place in this country and were carried out by our ancestors.
“In no other work of historical fiction will the reader see the interaction between Gaelic chieftains and Viking warriors, Welsh princes and Norman barons in one place; sea battles, sieges, and conflicts that match any in antiquity; or meet historical figures such as Strongbow, Diarmait Mac Murchada, King Henry II, and the Welsh warlord, Lord Rhys.”
Swordland is available to buy in e-book and paperback through www.amazon.co.uk and www.accentpress.co.uk.