About the Book
The period is the Pilgrimage of Grace. In the country west of Oxford, nobles, clergy and laity await the success of the risings in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire to overthrow Henry VIII and Cromwell.
Peter Pentecost is the man they plan to put on the English throne. Although a monk by training, he is the legitimate child of the Duke of Buckingham and the last of the Bohuns. His bid to be crowned and his duel with Henry VIII make for an exciting adventure.
Format: Paperback (288 pp) Publisher: Penguin
Publication date: 1961 Genre: Historical Fiction
Find The Blanket of the Dark on Goodreads
The Blanket of the Dark is the ninth book in my John Buchan reading project, Buchan of the Month 2019. Yes, that’s right, it was my Buchan of the Month for September but I’ve only now got around to posting my review. You can read my introduction to the book here.
When Peter Pentecost learns about his true heritage it opens up a world of possibilities far removed from the life he’d imagined as a lowly clerk. Soon he’s being tutored in swordmanship, archery and other pursuits applicable to his new station in life, although his true identity must remain secret. He also meets noblewoman, Sabine Beauforest.
In Sabine, Buchan creates a female character quite different from the rather colourless specimens that often inhabit his books. (The exception being the plucky Mary Lamington, first introduced in Mr. Standfast.) Although Sabine’s first appearance is as a ‘nymph-like’ creature, later descriptions emphasise her voluptuous figure and there are hints of real sexual attraction between her and Peter Pentecost. She also becomes a kind of talisman for him although it’s not long before he finds he has a rival for her affections.
Peter also encounters Solomon Darking who introduces him to the lore of the countryside and reveals to him a whole other side of society, invisible to those in positions of power, with its own system of communication and intelligence gathering.
The Blanket of the Dark showcases John Buchan’s knowledge of and appreciation for the Cotswold countryside. His beloved Elsfield, the manor house that became his country home, even gets a mention. ‘The opposite slope of the hill towards Elsfield was golden in the afternoon sunlight, and mottled with shadows of a few summer clouds.’
The book features imagined and real-life characters. The most memorable example of the latter is Peter’s first sighting of Henry VIII leading his hunting party through the Woodstock estate. ‘He was plainly dressed, with trunk hose of brown leather and a green doublet with a jewel at his throat… The face was vast and red as a new ham, a sheer mountain of a face, for it was as broad as it was long, and the small features seemed to give it a profile like an egg.’
There are some dramatic scenes, notably one during a violent snowstorm and another when a dam bursts, the latter resulting in a fateful encounter. In fact, the elements play a key role in the book with rain, snow or fine weather often determining the outcome of an enterprise. Weather lore, as possessed by Solomon Darking and his vagabond comrades, becomes a valuable weapon. However, in spite of best laid plans, Peter finds himself becoming the pursued rather than the pursuer as the book reaches its conclusion.
From the beginning, Peter fears ‘a destiny too big for him’ and that he is merely ‘a weapon to be used’. As time goes by, the things he sees and experiences cause him to doubt the rightfulness of the venture he is being asked to undertake and the motives of those behind it. ‘They claimed to stand for the elder England and its rights, and the old Church, but at their heart they stood only for themselves.’
I can now appreciate why The Blanket of the Dark is so highly regarded amongst Buchan’s works, including by his latest biographer, Ursula Buchan, who is also his granddaughter. (You can read my review of her biography of her grandfather, Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps here.) The Blanket of the Dark is the book Ursula always recommends to readers who wish to venture beyond his spy novels. Far be it from me to disagree.
October’s Buchan of the Month is The House of the Four Winds. Look out for my introduction to the book and my review later this month (if I can get my act together).
In three words: Exciting, engaging, adventure
Try something similar: Midwinter by John Buchan (read my review here)
About the Author
John Buchan (1875 – 1940) was an author, poet, lawyer, publisher, journalist, war correspondent, Member of Parliament, University Chancellor, keen angler and family man. He was ennobled and, as Lord Tweedsmuir, became Governor-General of Canada. In this role, he signed Canada’s entry into the Second World War. Nowadays he is probably best known – maybe only known – as the author of The Thirty-Nine Steps. However, in his lifetime he published over 100 books: fiction, poetry, short stories, biographies, memoirs and history.
You can find out more about John Buchan, his life and literary output by visiting The John Buchan Society website.