Award-winning poet Nicholas (Iron Rose, 2010, etc.) treks into the wilds of medieval England in his first novel, a saga vibrant with artful description.
Maeve, known as Molly in England, is an Irish warrior queen, musician and healer. Exiled, she leads a caravan populated by Jack, once a crusader, now her companion; Nemain, her granddaughter; and Hob, an orphan put in her care by an aging priest. In baleful winter weather, Molly’s troop travels toward Durham, taking refuge first at St. Germaine de la Roche, a mountain monastery. An ominous atmosphere descends when one of the guardian monks, Brother Athanasius, is discovered dismembered nearby. Nicholas adeptly creates the medieval world, intriguingly populated by guilders, knights and wayfarers from faraway Lietuva. The group next stops at a vibrant country inn, a near-fortress against bandits, run by Osbert atte Well. Nicholas’ language, its relevance to ancient times in syntax and vocabulary, and his extensive research into medieval England, bring this book to life in a brilliant fashion. Nicholas’ descriptions of life at the inn and later at the redoubt of the Norman, Sir Jehan, the Sieur De Blanchefontaine, are superbly realistic. With religious pilgrims tagging along, Molly’s troop is attacked by bandits after they leave Osbert’s inn and are forced to return to its safer confines. But the inn has been destroyed, every creature massacred. Both Molly and Nemain know something wicked haunts the North Country, but it isn’t until they seek shelter from a blizzard in Castle Blanchefontaine that the two seers understand a shape-shifter, a beserker, runs amok. Nicholas’ portrayal of Blanchefontaine and its inhabitants, from castellan to page, rings with authenticity. It slowly unfolds that the shape-shifter lurks among the castle refugees, and an epic battle unfolds. Nicholas’ final chapters wind down the story and set young Hob on the path to become the warrior consort of Nemain, destined to return triumphantly to Eire.
A hauntingly affecting historical novel with a touch of magic.