Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson
This book refuses to make up its mind as to whether it is to be about the trauma associated with a brain tumour, time travel or the collapse of Roman Britain. One can admire such stubbornness as all of these characteristics can fascinate within plots of the fantasy genre and often brilliant mash-ups can result. Regrettably, this one seems to be on a zero-hours contract so only works part of the time. The apparent need to keep switching between the many themes in play disturbs the reader causing the story to lose both pace and substance. This should have been cleared up at the editing stage.
Many of us with an historical inclinations have opinions about Roman Britain and the Saxon settlement. In the context of the period this tale performs well albeit from a native perspective. In such circumstances there will always be different interpretations, but the depiction of an actual Roman bath being taken inside the building whose main wall still stands at Wroxeter is very accurate and suggests some scholarship.
Most of the story is set around 507 AD and involves the destructive civil wars that hamstrung the ability of the native British to respond properly to the arrival of Saxon boat-people. The legend of Uther Pendragon and the personalisation of his son, Arthur are woven into the tale. Also Myrrdin or Merlin, who seems to be a rather inefficient keeper of the ring, fails to keep the entire plot together and working.
The central theme is that Jacey’s brain is freaking out due to the eruption of a tumour. This fragments her soul and sends bits off in all directions. This is an excellent basis for a good novel as it potentially embraces travel through time and space, alternative personalities, perceptions of magic, beauty and love. For that Jacey is the ideal heroine – young, female, pretty but not yet a beautiful woman – but, please, Marie Antoinette and the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles does not sit happily alongside Gildas’ `Ruin of Britain’.
Then there is the personality of George, a long-forgotten uncle who died in 1994. Grumpy, difficult, irritating George who crashed his car when driving his ex-girlfriend home. He appears throughout most of the story as some sort of idiotic supernumerary brought in to make up the numbers. Or is he actually the narrator? Couldn’t the story be about George? Only he is not as marketable as the delightful Jacey.
Their mission is to steal a cauldron from the fortress of Cadwallon, the King of Gwynedd. This looks like the fable told about King Arthur who raided the Halls of Annwn for a magic cauldron that promises immortality. Is this the route by which Jacey and George can return to their times to live happily ever after? Or is this just another of those silly dynastic struggles that weakened the British so that they wholly failed to defend their country. Fortunately, we avoid those clichés. Instead George has to kill the Red Beast, which is the allegory for Jacey’s tumour. He succeeds.
As a tale this story almost works. I wish it did as the idea is good. It is well written and likeable. It is a pity that more time was not spent providing the reader with a smooth ride. If you read a book in short bursts, then you will find this tale quite satisfactory. A gentler humour would have lubricated the telling of it, and George did not need to be so abrasive. He is a man out of his time, he could have been more fearful!