King arthur

It’s thrilling to learn that the rebellious Urien actually existed

Once, when we shared the same history teacher in our teens, my older brother Dominic handed in an essay about the Dark Ages that deliberately parodied a sub-Tolkien mysticism of tone. ‘Little is known,’ his opening sentence ran, ‘about those shadowy twilit years twixt 400 and 600 AD.’ Our teacher was particularly enraged by the word ‘twixt’. In Dom’s defence, he was just reacting to a challenge that still confronts medievalists today. When there’s barely any evidence, what is there to say? The response of this intriguing book by Thomas Williams is to lean into the problem. In Lost Realms, he makes a beeline for the very darkest part of

Children’s books for all ages: the best of 2021

She’s done it again: J.K. Rowling has written a captivating children’s book. The Christmas Pig (Little Brown, £20) is about a toy pig, Dur Pig (DP for short), a boy called Jack and what happens when DP gets chucked out of a car and is replaced with an unwelcome Christmas Pig. It’s also about how horrible divorce is for children, what happens to lost things and how the least prepossessing creatures can show courage and self-sacrifice. It’s also a rattling adventure story about Jack and the Christmas Pig’s progress across the Land of the Lost, pursued by a scary ogre called the Loser. It takes place on Christmas Eve, ‘a