This latest series entry continues the tale of how a medieval king and an abbot helped to found Scotland.
In two previous books, Exile (2012) and Prophet (2013), de Fougerolles told the twin stories of future saint Columba and warrior Aedan mac Gabran, two friends and allies in a strife-torn world. As Columba worked to found a monastery on the island of Iona, Aedan forged new political and personal relationships that helped him rise to power. Now, in the spring of 574, Aedan has just been acclaimed king of Dal Riata, a region that roughly encompasses western Scotland and eastern Ireland. But to keep the throne, he must keep the peace, and because the two Dal Riatas haven’t been combined for more than 70 years, Aedan’s control of them is more nominal than actual. Nor can Columba rest easy, as he has a knack for making enemies. A crisis ensues when Baetan mac Cairell—the overking of Ulaid, the Scots’ ancestral homeland in Ireland—demands that Aedan acknowledge him as his leader. The kingdom as a whole must be unified, and soon, everything depends upon finding the Irish heir-apparent Fiachna Lurgan, who was sold into slavery as a boy. Aedan and Columba must mount a dangerous expedition to Ireland where, as an exile, Columba faces mortal danger. If they succeed, they’ll have a chance to bring stability to their benighted world. De Fougerolles, a medieval historian, again brings this complicated, rich world to vivid life. With its scenes of battle and conflict, the main story is stirringly intense, and the many levels of sixth-century culture are often surprising, such as the roving gangs of bards who threaten their hosts with vicious satires if they don’t provide fine food and lodging. Although the pages are thick with daunting, unfamiliar names and titles, de Fougerolles does provide a helpful list of characters, maps, and a glossary with pronunciations, among other supporting material. Several links to Arthurian legend add further interest to the story—most importantly, a growing social awareness that laws should protect the innocent. (A further volume is planned.)
A thoughtful, well-written, and exciting historical novel in an excellent series.