JPH p/b GBP 14.00

Reviewed by Nigel Wilson

Be warned, there are spoilers ahead! Arguably, the bravest thing an author can achieve is to bump off their principal hero right in the middle of the third book of their saga. Not only does Harker carry out that dangerous act but not long after he places his second principal character into a fight he does not win. Thus Rhianwynn Wild Cat and Garan Leaping Wolf, the subjects of his first two books of the Caledon Saga, are sent across the bridge to Annwn to allow the next generation of both the Caderyn and the Gorvicae to grow up into the boots of their predecessors. Such courage is to be respected.

From out of this destruction comes the inevitable reconstruction which is the real content of this third volume of the Caledon Saga, allowing the children to become adult, make their own mistakes to finally conquer both themselves and their enemies.

This time the raiders are the Sarrac, led by the brutish Agmund, seeking to loot and acquire the territory of the Gorvicae. Merian, a young Gorvic female warrior looks to Taleisyn, the king of the Caledon coalition, to deploy the kingdom’s Dragon Legion against the Sarrac. For some reason he fails to put his mind to this matter. His advisor, the former Basian slave, Sagris is believed to be at the heart of this uncertainty. Consequently, Merian feels that Rhianwynn needs to be made aware of this failure to act. She is encouraged to go to Tamora to bring Rhianwynn back.

Meanwhile, Rhianwynn’s son Lucius, or Lucan, whose father, the late Antonius Dessida, a Gaian officer whose leadership had encouraged the creation of the Caledon coalition and the establishment of the Dragon legion, had come to an unsatisfactory manhood in the Gaian city of Tamora. Whilst seeking to be a tribune in the Gaian army like his father, he was finding the social life of a wealthy young noble far more entertaining. 

The story really starts with the poisoning of Rhianwynn by her acquisitive sister-in-law, Livilla. The attempted poisoning of Lucius is frustrated by the druid Bael, who carries his unconscious form back to Caledon for revival. In the meantime, Merian believing Lucius to be dead, and assuming the false identity of Rhianwynn’s daughter, has joined up with Gawan to return to Gorvic territory. Tragically, Gawan is killed in an ambush.

Gradually, throughout this third volume the Saga of the Caledon acquires a new form with different principal characters. Harker’s nature as a writer is that he fully explores all the thoughts and feelings of his main characters. This does rather slow the narrative and enlarge the book but this tale is about people other than us in our culture. Harker explores the mentality of pagan people who have never been part of our largely Christian culture. Their reference points are not ours; their thought processes different to our experience. What he does attempt to expose are the differences that may have arisen when the Romans landed on these shores to dominate these islands for four hundred years. His characters become people with all the complexities that we are familiar with in our place and time.

Needless to say, in the end Lucius becomes Lucan and gets to be his own man. This is all very reassuring as too much reconstruction may not be good for the reader’s nerves.