It’s druids versus Christians in a series of ritual murders that rend sixth-century Ireland.
Although Deirdre became a nun after the death of her young son, she still retains her status as a druidic bard. She’s worked to find a balance between being a sister of holy Brigid and her allegiance to her beloved grandmother, a well-respected seer who raised her in druid traditions. But not everyone is happy with Deirdre’s double loyalty. Sister Anna, the abbess of St. Brigid’s monastery, seems even more mistrustful when Sister Grainne, an elderly hermit, is found in a bog, garroted with the lanyard of her own cross and with her throat slit. Father Ailbe, who doubles as a physician and rattles off medical terminology with the ease of a modern forensic scientist, reports that Grainne was drugged with mistletoe juice and was in a peaceful coma before her death. Hers is only the first of many murders of nuns, all killed according to rituals of druidic sacrifice. One of the victims is the daughter of a powerful clan leader who demands revenge on the druids. Fearing a rift between Christian and druid and outright warfare among the clans, King Dúnlaing turns to Deirdre, who not only has a foot in both religious camps, but also lives in Kildare, midway between the eastern and western clans. As his designated detective, she has more time to follow his orders (and apparently to invent the Irish alphabet) after Sister Anna expels her from the monastery. When Deirdre’s cousin, another solitary nun, is attacked, she denounces her assailant as the murderer. He doesn’t deny it, even if it means being burned at the stake. But just when Christians and druids alike think it’s safe to leave their daub-and-wattle huts, another murder proves how wrong they are—and Deirdre must summon all her courage to face the threats to herself, her family, and her community.
Despite Freeman’s earnest enthusiasm for his subject, this sequel to St. Brigid’s Bones (2014) works marginally better as a mystery than as a historical novel.