Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson
The first volume of this series was all about Rhianwyn, daughter of the chief of the Caderyn as they struggled against the Gaian Empire. In the course of this conflict the Caderyn formed a coalition with other tribes of Luria to defeat a further invasion by a perverted variant of the Gaian culture.
The parallel between that tale and the culture shock experienced by ancient Britons at the time of the Roman Empire was remarked upon in the review of Volume 1. It is apparent from Volume 2 that the collective and individual experience of that collision of cultures continues to resonate. This volume, however focuses on the adventures of Gawan, known as Leaping Wolf, the first warrior of the Gorvicae, a tribe which has been both foe and ally to the Caderyn, and his responses to often catastrophic events.
Gawan is not an attractive figure. He is both egotistical and physically assertive. He commands his tribe in battle and is devoted to a sub-culture of ritualised violence, companionship with his fellow warriors and a casually brutal attitude to everyone else. In short, he is a violent, bullying oaf. This tale is very much about how he sets about changing himself once he recognises the destructive outcomes of his spontaneous stupidity, in which he gets good people killed for no worthwhile purpose. In some ways this is a story of what used to be called a nervous breakdown that eventually resolves into a happy conclusion.
The satisfying feature of Harker’s work is that he devotes time to his characters to explain themselves. In this way the reader gets to understand what is driving the narrative and the behaviour of the principal characters. The downside of this is that the reader intuitively gets to understand the importance of a character to the plot by the amount of detail devoted to them in the story. It is quite apparent that Harker does not like his baddies who all tend to appear a bit shallow. We can sympathise, but it then takes time for the reader to grasp what they are about and why.
The sequence of events is that the unity of the Caledon tribes remains fragile. The violent overthrow of one tribal leader supportive of the coalition leads directly to an assault on Caledon unity. The only way Rhianwyn can save her united army is to invite the good Gaians to provide military support. This saves the day but antagonises factions in her tribe and others who want the Gaians to butt out and leave the tribes of Luria to their own devices.
This draws us into a story of politics. This is the most dishonest game of all, in which honour is manipulated, the truth inverted, loyalties twisted and hidden fears ridden hard to ensure there are always tears before bedtime. Here the tale twists and turns as it wriggles up and down. Rollercoaster? More a destructive hurricane.
This volume does not feel as nourishing as the first, largely because Harker is in love with the idea of Rhianwyn and this tale is devoted to someone else, far less noble, charismatic and cunning as that attractive young woman. However, he manages to place Gawan in his context and then devotes time to pushing this inadequate fellow into the most uncomfortable places. Gawan wins through more by sheer stubbornness than any plan, but then guys like Gawan don’t do plans, they just soldier on regardless.