WILDCAT: BOOK ONE OF THE CALEDON SAGA by J P Harker. Book review

WILDCAT: BOOK ONE OF THE CALEDON SAGA by J P Harker, JPH, p/b, £11.50

Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson

This is quite an extraordinary tale that covers a wide variety of events. For that reason, the plot feels a little lumpy in one or two places and the cover art is ghastly, but it is one hell of a good story.

The writing style flows well, drawing the reader into a happy acceptance of the integrity of the plot. It grips the attention of the reader through a detailed description of events and outcomes. This book is a huge tome but it is well worth every minute of the time the reader spends with it. A fair description is wholesome value.

The plot has distinct parallels with the deep culture-shock endured by the Iron Age tribes of ancient Britain at the advent of the Roman invasion which dragged them all kicking and screaming into the first century. The consequent military struggles also have a close similarity. The author’s visualisation of the Caderyn is a reasonably accurate statement of what life must have been like at that time for most native Britons.

Rhianwyn, daughter of Carradon, the High Chieftain of the Caderyn, known also as Rhianwyn Wildcat for her fighting skill, becomes married to Bevan, the son of Bradon. We are introduced to her circle of family and friends just before the Gaian imperialists use their native allies to attack and capture Nantwyn, a Caderyn town, slaughtering a good proportion of the population. War is declared and the Caderyn find themselves fighting a disciplined legion of professional soldiers.

There are some excellent sequences describing battles between tribesmen and the professional formations of the Gaian legions. The tribes are over-confident in their nativism and with little more than naked courage face the disciplined methodical brutality of the Gaian professional soldiers. Initially, things do not end at all well, but it is a start of a learning process which leads to later success. In the interim there is defeat, massacre and humiliation. Rhianwyn is widowed very young to be married off to a Gaian as part of the subsequent peace treaty.

The story is graphic. It embodies the satisfaction of conquest, the sourness of defeat, the subtlety of adjustment to political realities, and the guilt for what should have been. Long and intense passages are devoted to Rhianwyn exploring her feelings about her changing circumstances as she encounters and overcomes new challenges. For her the story ends well, which is inevitable as the author is clearly in love with this hero he has created. This is much to our mutual delight.

This book is a long, riveting read. At £11.50 for 551 well-written, well-described pages with a plot close to our own cultural origins, you will be hard-pressed to find better value.