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Some reviews of RED DIE 

by ROGER NORMAN

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‘Some years ago, I greatly enjoyed Albion’s Dream by Roger Norman, a book about magical happenings in the Dorset countryside, which has always had a quiet following. It is good to report, therefore, that the author has at last produced a further novel, Red Die (The Sundial Press), which is described as ‘An unlikely trinity: a ghost story, an anti-war book and a dash of Tintin!’ It has a connection to the earlier book in that it is a sort of prequel. Mythology, manuscript journals and two mysterious dice, red and white, feature in the book. Roger Norman is a fine and thoughtful writer and enthusiasts of supernatural literature drawing on the landscape and legends of ‘the hidden England’ will greatly appreciate his work.’  Wormwood, Number 13.


I am a Roger Norman fan, but I dutifully went into this book hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. After all, it has been a long time (more than 15 years) since his last novel, Albion's Dream, which was one of my all-time favorite stories.

My worries were in vain, as the book stuck to my fingers like glue and kept me riveted to the end.

Without saying too much, for that would be a sin, Red Die is an excellent period piece about a man who abandons the Western Fro...more
I am a Roger Norman fan, but I dutifully went into this book hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. After all, it has been a long time (more than 15 years) since his last novel, Albion's Dream, which was one of my all-time favorite stories. 

My worries were in vain, as the book stuck to my fingers like glue and kept me riveted to the end.

Without saying too much, for that would be a sin, Red Die is an excellent period piece about a man who abandons the Western Front of World War I, seemingly guided by a pair of mystical dice. RD has an underlying tension that keeps the reader on edge, an old world atmosphere full of the antiquities of Dorset that loom shadowy in the gloom, and a cast of characters who are at once real and unreal.

As in his earlier work, Albion's Dream, Mr. Norman has given each inhabitant in his novel a destiny and purpose. It is not until we near the end of the ride that we discover what those purposes are. And so...the fog lifts...yet still, there are loose strings for the astute reader to ponder.

Roger Norman is a great author and this is a great book. The connections between it and Albion's Dream have made me want to go back and revisit that book for perhaps the 15th time in as many years, to try and connect the dots that make up the mysteries Roger Norman has created for us to unravel.’
Ken Sweet, author of Clean 


 Mystery, magic and first world war in a finely written combination by Fabrizio F. (Amazon user published 2009-01-20 ) Excellent

'For those readers who are fond of quality fiction, this book is a recommended choice.
The action takes place during the First World War when a British soldier decides to return home.
The narration is a mix of adventure, mystery, supernatural forces and reflections on war, life, death, fate. All finely woven in a polished yet essential literary style.'
 


Spiritual dimensions

‘This is another beautifully produced book by The Sundial Press, and their first by a living author. It fits the publishers' West Country theme, the action of the novel being tightly focused around the Dorset locality of Cerne Abbas, Minterne, Middlemarsh, Duntish and Buckland. The book is a hymn of love to the Dorset countryside, and imbues it with mystery and magic. There are a few imaginary locations mixed in with the real ones, which is intriguing, as if we are only half in this world - but follows the example of Thomas Hardy.

The story is set during the first world war, centred around a deserting soldier, Jack Yeoman, who has escaped from the horrors and madness of the trenches to his home base in Dorset. The story draws in a number of vividly-drawn characters, who react to Jack's situation and views in different ways, some supporting him, some his enemies.

For me the highlight of the book is when most of the characters are drawn together in the homely warmth of the `Duntish Rings' tavern for the night. They have sharp differences of opinion, but some of them are prepared to change their minds. Different aspects of stratified English society are delineated (or rather a rural English society that has now passed).

The book has a rich tapestry of themes, touching on abstract ideas such as fate, chance, class, duty, conscience, magic, evil and loyalty. It also has concrete sensuous themes such as herbal potions, food, rain, mud, horses and so on. These intertwine physical and spiritual dimensions that are very Powysian in ethos; that is influenced by John Cowper Powys and his siblings. I had a strong feeling that the description of Louis Yeoman's book-lined cottage was a direct depiction of the modest, but eccentric, later life of John Cowper Powys.

The `Red die' of the title is a reference to one of two dice that Jack carries with him to help him make decisions. Do the dice have magic powers? Do they have a Philip Pullman-esque ability to foretell and guide human actions? These issues are discussed at several points, but, rightly, not concluded. For me the correct attitude is summed up by the phrase in the book: "Expect everything; predict nothing". I thoroughly enjoyed this ambiguity and hints of greater powers than we can imagine.

Do not look for the mystery to be resolved. I found the end to be hurried and unsatisfactory (like `A Mill on the Floss'). Obscurely, I felt the role of the mysterious `priest' had not been fully thought through, or integrated. I think the book could have benefited from greater length and exposition. I could not finally grasp the author's intention in writing the book, and was left baffled by the last chapter. But maybe that is the wrong attitude on my part. Possibly the author, Roger Norman, wants to leave us in suspense and confusion.

In the end, the fact that I hungered for more, proves that this is a fine book. I would urge the author to publish a longer version - many fine authors have republished different versions of their work (e.g. 'Stephen Hero'). Another point in the favour of 'Red die' is that after the several months that have elapsed since I read it, I have an urge to read it again. That is a testament to the book's richness.’
John Vernon
 


‘The Sundial Press, which has reprinted essays by Llewelyn Powys and novels by T.F. and Philippa Powys, here present one by a contemporary writer who likewise knows his Dorset well. Set in 1916, Red Die is a strange and haunting story of a deserter from the Western Front. Jack Yeoman makes his way back to his Vale of Blackmore home, only to become a prey to eerie, apparently supernatural events that seem to have a bearing on his own predicament. But the book is no mere parable, and the writing conveys the sense of a physically substantial world, in places suggesting the work of Alan Garner, not least in being at times teasingly complex and enigmatic. The country between Shaftesbury and Cerne Abbas provides a romantic setting, with frequent references to places familiar to Powys readers, such as Buckland Newton, where both Katie and Francis Powys ended their days. Red Die has a powerful atmosphere generated by human as well as landscape factors, and maintains an element of surprise up to the end. This is the kind of book that John Cowper Powys, I suspect, would have enjoyed greatly. I know that I did.’ - Glen Cavaliero, President of The Powys Society, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, author of many books including The Supernatural and English Fiction (Oxford University Press)  and The Justice of the Night (Tartarus Press).


‘Whenever war is spoken of / I find / The war that was called Great invades the mind …’ So the late Vernon Scannell, one of Britain’s most accessible modern poets, begins his poem The Great War, noting how it was this war and not the one he himself fought in that he ‘remembers’. It’s an irony not lost either on many non-combatants from later generations similarly haunted, for whom the First World War represents a watershed between the imagined innocence of a better day and the cynicism of the modern era. No doubt the literature – and huge literary industry – that emerged from the war has much to do with this.

Among contemporary writers inspired in one way or another by the war is Roger Norman, author of the acclaimed novel Albion’s Dream in the 1990s, whose latest work, RED DIE, is set in October 1916. This intriguing tale of earthly and supernatural forces relates the story of Jack Yeoman, a deserter from the Western Front who returns to his native Dorset, guided by the messages he reads in a strange pair of dice. He soon finds himself a hunted man, though not all his pursuers are what they seem.

RED DIE is not a ‘war novel’ in the strictest sense, straddling as it does certain other genres, notably the ghost story, and in this it differs from such works as Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy or Sebastian Faulk’s Birdsong. But the horrors of the trenches serve as both impetus and backdrop to the narrative and provide the moral heart of the book. In its delineation of differing attitudes to the war, it pitches the pacifist against the patriot, provoking unrest in a rural community where the distinctions between truth and propaganda are not always apparent. It’s a work that raises questions about ignorance and knowledge and the formation of opinions in times of war (with apparent modern resonances), as well as the individual’s dilemma in dealing with conflicting desires.

Among the gallery of engaging characters is the stonemason Bill Bate, rejected for service due to a missing ‘trigger finger’ and all the more bullish and boorish as a result; Jack’s invalided officer brother Capt. Charles Yeoman, a man for whom duty and honour are paramount, but who nonetheless tries to help his brother before the vengeful local squire and his cohorts can reach him; and Cockler, a quick-witted Londoner adept at humorously disguising the fact of his own desertion. Jack’s adoptive sister Maggie and the mysterious Mrs. Dooley, owner of a local pub, provide a steadying female influence, the only main characters who do not broadcast their opinions about the war – very much the work of men – and whose actions are not swayed by it. After a dramatic narrative climax atop a famous local landmark, Jack ultimately returns to the Front – but to reveal the circumstances in which he does so and what happens thereafter would be to destroy the particular pleasures of reading this compelling book.’ – A.H. The Long, Long Trail



RED DIE


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The Sundial Press Sherborne, Dorset
2011
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