Roman England, 366 AD: Minna, a Roman serving girl, is flung out into the brutal world to fend for herself. Desperate to reach her soldier brother at the northern frontier, she falls in with acrobat Cian, a tribeless youth with no loyalty to anyone but himself. A terrible mistake sees them thrust into the wilds of barbarian Scotland, a land in chaos. The Romans have sent scouts north from their frontier, seeking to subdue Scotland by any means possible. The dark Picts retaliate, raiding and pillaging Roman farms.
Caught in the middle is Cahir, King of the Dalriadans in Scotland. Year by year he has watched his people fall under the Roman yoke, and wounded by shame, his power dwindles.
At Cahir's fort, Cian and Minna must struggle to survive. Cian retreats into the pain of his hidden past, while Minna has an entirely unexpected path open before her. What are these visions and dreams of Scotland that plague her, full of battles and bloodshed? Minna's visions reveal a destiny that she shares with the wounded king Cahir, as seer and lover. Yet her journey to heal them both has far-reaching consequences, even she cannot see.
When I first read the description of this book after I had finished the first two books in the trilogy, I wasn't sure that I could see how the three books were going to feel like a complete trilogy. The first two books were set in AD79 and AD81, but this one is set nearly 300 years later! And yet the author has done a great job of melding the stories of the three books together, merging the stories of the beginning of the resistance to the attempted Roman occupation of Alba to the stories of the beginning of the end of the Roman occupation of northern England.
Our main character is Minna, a young Roman girl who has a tribal background. She is working as a tutor to a Roman family, when her beloved grandmother dies, leaving her alone, and about to be married off to a man that she can't stand. Determined to avoid that fate, she travels north, heading for Hadrian's Wall where her soldier brother is stationed. Along the way she meets up with Cian, a young acrobat who agrees to help her make her way, but instead they are captured and sold off to be slaves to the Dalriadans in Alba. Minna is employed by the Queen of the Dalriadans to become the tutor to her own children, to teach them the way of the Romans. However, the more time that she spends in Alba, the more she feels the pull of the ancient lands, and the call of the spiritual realm of the land. She begins to learn more of the healing arts, supplementing the knowledge that she had already been given by her grandmother, but in time it turns out that she is a seer, destined to provide the prophecies of the future of the King, Cahir. Cahir in turn is destined to be a major figure in the fight against the Romans which gained renewed impetus in the late 300s, eventually leading to the Romans withdrawing completely from Hadrian's Wall, and all of Britain in the late 300s and early 400s.
When I read the second book in the trilogy I noted that there seemed to be more focus on the mystical elements, and that is still true of this book, but I do think that in this one it is better balanced with the rest of the story, perhaps because it is all new to Minna, and therefore we are learning along with her.
One of the most interesting dynamics was the tenuous partnerships that are built between tribes to help fight against the hated Romans, that won't necessarily stand the tests of time, friendship and trust.
Cian is an interesting character, although, in some ways he was too convenient, drifting in and out of the narrative, at very convenient moments. The glimpses into his past were very interesting, and I would have like to have seen that explored a little more.
At the end of the day though, this was a more than satisfactory conclusion to a well-written and entertaining trilogy.
It appears as though this book is going to be released in the US in January with the title Song of the North. I was also interested to note that Jules Watson is working on a new book which will be a retelling of an Irish myth this time, and that she has a new agent, the same one who already represents authors like Diana Gabaldon and Juliet Marillier, which has to be a huge boost to her confidence as a writer. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for her next book!
The books in this trilogy in order are:
The White Mare
The Dawn Stag
The Boar Stone