Sleeper’s Castle by Barbara Erskine

Sleeper's Castle After reading Lady of Hay I said I wouldn’t be looking for any more of Barbara Erskine’s novels, but I couldn’t resist this latest one with its unusual title, pretty cover and intriguing synopsis! And actually, Sleeper’s Castle was a pleasant surprise; I enjoyed it much more than any of the other books I’ve read by Erskine.

Despite its name, Sleeper’s Castle is not really a castle; it’s a house near Hay-on-Wye, close to the border between England and Wales. For several years it has been home to Sue and her cat, Pepper, but when Sue decides to go back to Australia she offers her friend, Miranda, the chance to live in Sleeper’s Castle rent-free for a year in return for looking after the house and the cat. Miranda – who prefers to be known as Andy – has been going through a difficult time following the death of her partner, Graham, and is delighted to have the opportunity to get away from London for a while. She looks forward to resuming her career as an illustrator in the peace of the Welsh countryside, safe in the knowledge that Rhona – the jealous, vicious wife Graham never divorced – will never be able to find her now.

As soon as she moves into Sleeper’s Castle, Andy knows she is going to love her new home. It’s an old house, with a history dating back hundreds of years, so at first Andy is not surprised when she begins to have vivid dreams involving a young woman called Catrin who lived at Sleeper’s Castle around the year 1400. Catrin is the daughter of another dreamer – Dafydd, a bard and seer – and as she travels around Wales with her father, entertaining at the castles of his patrons, she finds herself caught up in Owain Glyndŵr’s rebellion against the English.

Most of Barbara Erskine’s books are described as time slip novels and this one really lives up to that description, with the narrative slipping seamlessly from one time period to another so that the boundaries between past and present gradually start to blur. It’s not only Andy who is aware that something unusual is occurring; while she can see into the past, Catrin can also glimpse the future. Less convincingly, there’s also a sort of psychic connection between Andy and Rhona which draws the two women together against their will.

Catrin’s story is fascinating and I could understand why Andy was captivated by it. I have to admit, I know almost nothing about Owain Glyndŵr other than that he is considered a Welsh hero for his attempt to free Wales from the rule of Henry IV, so it was good to have the opportunity to add to my knowledge. As most of the characters in the historical sections of the novel are fictional, however, and Glyndŵr himself appears only occasionally, this book serves as a starting point to finding out more rather than exploring the period in any real depth.

The present day storyline was entertaining too – I loved Bryn the gardener, Meryn the healer and Pepper the cat – but it was spoiled slightly by the Rhona subplot. Rhona’s behaviour becomes so malicious and threatening that I really couldn’t believe Andy didn’t call the police and I couldn’t accept her reasons for not doing so. Very frustrating!

Much has been made of the fact that this book is being published to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Barbara Erskine’s first novel, Lady of Hay, and is set in the same part of the world. Sleeper’s Castle is not a sequel and it’s not necessary to have read Lady of Hay first; this is an enjoyable book in its own right and I’m glad I decided to give Barbara Erskine another chance to impress me.

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10 thoughts on “Sleeper’s Castle by Barbara Erskine

  1. jessicabookworm says:

    I can see why that lovely cover would have drawn you back to Erskine’s new novel. I have enjoyed many an old house, beautiful countryside and time-slip take; so this could be a good book for me. Owain Glyndŵr is also a mysterious character from history for me too. All I know about him is what I’ve read in Named of the Dragon by Susanna Kearsley and a history of Henry IV – I would like to read more about him.

    • Helen says:

      I think Named of the Dragon is the only other novel I’ve read which mentioned Owain Glyndŵr. Barbara Erskine’s books are quite similar to Susanna Kearsley’s (though not as good, in my opinion) so I think you might like this one.

  2. Lark says:

    I love that it’s set in Wales. Hay-on-Wye is one of the places I’d most like to go. Even if the book was bad I’d probably want to read it just for that. 🙂

  3. Judy Krueger says:

    I enjoy it so much when one book leads to another. I just read Arcadia by Iain Pears in which he includes time slips, futuristic tech, and a land which grew out of an author’s imagination. Hard to describe but it is centered around Oxford and defies or combines genres. I like that sort of thing. Glad to know you found a book by Eskine you could thoroughly enjoy.

  4. Yvonne says:

    Barbara Erskine is a favourite author of mine, but not all her books are. Child of the Phoenix (13th Century) and The Darkest Hour (World War II) are at the top of my list. I still get excited when I hear she has released a new book. I’m looking forward to reading Sleeper’s Castle. Good on you for giving her another chance.

    • Helen says:

      I wasn’t very impressed by the first two Barbara Erskine novels I read (River of Destiny and Midnight is a Lonely Place) and I had a few problems with Lady of Hay too. Maybe I’ve just been choosing the wrong ones – I’ll look out for the two you mention.

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