Toronto: Harper Collins, c2020
Cathy Marie Buchanan keeps moving backwards in time; from her first novel set in Canada at the turn of the 20th century, to Degas' era in Paris, now we arrive in Boadicea's England.
We meet Devout, a young girl growing up in a tiny village in harsh times. She's in love with another working boy, but is being courted by the youngest son of the Smith, a much more advantageous marriage. She makes choices that have repercussions for decades.
We jump between her youthful years and seventeen years on, when we focus on Devout's daughter Hobble, who is lame and thus at risk in their hard world. Hobble also has the sight, however, which comes in useful during a time that Romans are attacking the countryside and Druids are travelling widely, trying to stir up a peasant resistance to the Romans to protect their own ascendancy. The Druid who comes to stay in their village doesn't endear himself to anyone, least of all Hobble's family. In fact, the Druidic tradition in general doesn't come off well in this book. Rather than holy and mystical, these druids are like any other religious organization full of men: power hungry and self concerned above all. It's quite an ominous set-up.
I thought it was really well done. The setting is viscerally presented, with the sounds and smells and physical experience of hard work and hunger clearly shown. Both Devout and Hobble are complicated women, and so is their relationship. The Celtic world-view, of the meaning of life and the existence of an afterlife or other realm, plays a constant role as well, immersing you into this community and family in a fully imagined way.
There were interesting characters making difficult choices that felt realistic, and not always expected. We encounter love, anger, friendship, grief, complicated marriages, loyalties tested, and concerns about survival in both physical and financial ways -- this covers so many areas of life, even ranging to social niceties and work satisfaction, but all in ways that felt congruent with the story and the era in which it's set. No clanging anachronisms to be found.
This was an unexpected and unusual read, but one that caught me. I was concerned about both the main characters, wanted to know how the Roman/Druid feud was going to play out, and enjoyed the evocation of this settlement in a time so long ago. Another rich reading experience from Cathy Marie Buchanan.