Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Dawn Stag by Jules Watson

This is the second book in the Dalriada trilogy that started with The White Mare

AD 81. Agricola, the ruthless governor of Roman Britain is intent on capturing the last unconquered territory in Britain - Alba, Scotland.

Rhiann is an Alban priestess and princess who submitted to a political marriage to Eremon, an exiled Irish prince. Out of duty, grew love - a powerful and desperate love that will bind them together through conflict and betrayal. Now in them lies the hope of a nation. For Agricola's army is formidable - brilliantly armed and heavily supported. To the people of Alba it is a wall of steel and fire advancing across their homeland, bringing with it desolation.

The predestined day draws near: the armies of Alba and Rome will meet in an epic battle to decide the fate of a country. Rhiann searches for guidance in the spirit world, little realizing how big a part she will play in this endgame. Eremon knows only that he must risk - and sacrifice - many lives, perhaps even his own.

I read The Dawn Stag a couple of months ago and was quite surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Whilst I like the idea of reading about Rome, I haven't actually read that many! But combine Scotland (or Alba as it is known in this book) and Rome and I am definitely interested.

This book takes up where The Dawn Stag left off and covers a period of approximately three years. In the summer months there are battles to be fought against the increasingly frustrated Romans, and in the winter time to recover and to be together, focussing on what it is that they are fighting for - a free Alba.

Whilst the story of Rhiann and Eremon is definitely interesting, and one that I wanted to follow, the author does not forget about the secondary characters. There is love and there is loss, happiness and heartache. The other interesting character was Agricola, the leader of the Romans. He is facing a huge loss of prestige and reputation if he cannot defeat these uncivilized warriors and soon, yet he gets drawn into losing battle after losing battle, and becomes increasingly frustrated.

I have to say that to me it felt like there was a greater focus on the mystical in this novel. Rheann is Ban Cre - not only the carrier of Royal blood, and possibly mother to one of the next leaders of her people, but also their spiritual leader. It is Rheann who must reconcile herself with the events of her past and find her way back to the Goddess, who must draw the other tribes together to fight in unison with the forces led by her husband to give them any chance to defeat the enemy, who must fight to save lives, including some of those that she loves.

The relationships are well written, and the events, about which is really known, feel real and compelling. The only thing about this book that concerned me was really the ending. There is a third book out in this trilogy in May next year called The Boar Stone, but it really felt as though the story was all wrapped up in this book. Having read the synopsis I guess I have an idea of how the third book will tie in with the first two books, but I suspect that for the most part we have seen the last of Rhiann and Eremon, and the other's that we have come to know and love from Dunadd. If not for the ending, this book probably would have ended up with the same rating as the first book, which was 4.5 out 5.

Instead, I am giving it a rating of 4/5

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