Second part of Douglas’s rambling, scholarly fantasy trilogy (The Sacred Pool, 2001). In about the ninth century, young sorceress Pierrette has developed a theory to explain why ancient spells no longer work, and why good modern spells vary in effect from place to place. As always, her primary task—inspired by the ancient Earth-goddess Ma—is to avert the Black Time, a dead, soulless, polluted, machine-dominated future. This time, after an enigmatic warning from the goddess, Pierrette notices that the histories her books record are changing, even vanishing: somehow, time itself is being twisted and bent. In the second century b.c., in Pierrette’s reality, the Romans decisively defeated the Druidic Gauls, paving the way for Christianity and forcing the ominous Black Time to retreat. But now, it seems, the Gauls were victorious, Rome’s empire never cohered, and a machine-dominated Black Time has given way to an equally repugnant future controlled by demonic magic, where enslaved ghosts have replaced machines. To investigate, Pierrette must learn to travel bodily in time. She finds the Druids are taking heads, thus confining the souls of the dead, and using that captive energy to create a being of godlike power, against whom the Romans will crumble. Somehow, using her magic and her feminine wiles, she needs to prevail upon the Roman commander, Caius Sextius Calvinus, to attack the Gauls’ stronghold, while she finds some way to destroy the heads and release the agonized ghosts.
Again: authoritative, fascinating, and delightful.