First in a trilogy set in sixth-century Celtic Britain, starring the sister of the man who will be Merlin.
According to her author’s note, Pike has set out to reconstruct the historical underpinnings of the Arthur legends, tracing their roots to what is today Scotland. In this first volume, we meet Languoreth and her twin brother, Lailoken, children of chieftan-king Morken, who have recently lost their mother. Since their father is often absent at the court of the high king and overlord, Tutgual, the children are raised by their loyal nurse, Crowan, their tutor, Cathan, a Wisdom Keeper—that is, a druidic priest—and Ariane, a rare female Wisdom Keeper who appears one day to help prepare Languoreth for womanhood. Lailoken is being groomed as a warrior—the kingdoms to the southeast are being preyed upon by invading Angles—but his main aspiration is to be a Wisdom Keeper. As the twins reach adolescence it is clear that although Lailoken will be free to follow his path, Languoreth’s destiny is as a royal bargaining chip. One of the chief virtues here is Pike’s demonstration of the destabilization posed by Christian evangelists. When, at first, it's limited to a few monks, Christianity integrates well with the prevailing druidism. Then, a crusading monk named Mungo desecrates a druidic shrine and worms his way into Tutgual’s favor. Pike is sensitive to feudal politics: One of Christianity’s chief attractions for royalty is, apparently, a priesthood which submits to the divine right of kings, as opposed to the Wisdom Keepers, who guard their independence and sovereignty. Although the Celts cling to the old beliefs and to feasts like Beltane and Lughnasa (lavishly depicted here), Mungo will stop at nothing, including murder and pillage, to topple the ancient gods. Once Languoreth is wed to Tutgual’s heir, pregnant by her true love Maelgwn, and directly threatened by Mungo, the conflict never lets up. Despite a few clichés, the language does a fine job of evoking the period.
An unusual take on Dark Ages drama which may well command a following.