This historical fantasy novel, the second in a series, continues the adventures of warrior Aedan mac Gabran and monk St. Columba in sixth-century western Scotland.
In her debut novel, 2012’s The Chronicles of Iona: Exile, (one of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2012), de Fougerolles recounted how Columba founded his famous monastery and helped set the stage for warrior Aedan’s rise to power. This second volume picks up some four years after the first, in the year 567. Aedan has been living among the Picts, his former enemies and now his in-laws; he’s learned their language and customs, and while he may not deeply love his Pict wife, he adores his small son. But now his brother, Eogan, needs his help. Saxon invaders threaten many small kingdoms, prophecies thicken the air, and Aedan and Columba work to restore a strong, wise kingship amid political, ethnic and religious strife. As she did in Exile, de Fougerolles, a medieval historian, reveals sixth-century Europe in vivid, brutal and beautiful detail—a place where myth, legend and history mingle. Her characters are fully rounded and psychologically complex, not just hack-and-slash warriors. The political intrigue is made more complicated by the tangle of unfamiliar people and places; for example, the names Elmet, Gwallawg, King Yffi, Catraeth, Kynfarch, Cair Ebrauc, the Oenaches and Din Guoaroy, among others, can all be found on a single page. (The author helpfully provides a glossary, maps and a timeline.) The appealing Columba has less to do in this installment, and Aedan sometimes seems to have little agency as circumstances back him into corners. That said, this book provides a rich feast, and fans will likely look forward to the series’ third book, forthcoming later this year.
This historical fantasy series’ latest installment once again brings myth, history, magic and religion to warm and vivid life.