Stone Keeper, by Beth Webb, is the fourth book in the author’s Star Dancer Quartet, a fantasy series for young adults set during the Roman invasion of Britain. Fear and treachery are rife, and the old ways of the druids are being swept aside. I reviewed book one here, book two here and book three here.
The protagonist, Tegen, is now sixteen years old, pregnant and, following the slaughter of her people on Mona, riding across the troubled land to help a rebel force lead by the blood thirsty Boudica. Tegen has lost faith in the Mother Goddess and harbours a deep anger following the pointless sacrifice of her beloved husband, Tonn.
Boudica and Tegen dislike each other on sight but the young druid has promised to help the queen, and her magical powers prove useful in battle. The demon which was released in book one continues to stalk Tegen, feeding on her despair and anger at the deaths of so many she has loved.
Tegen’s powers have grown but not, it would seem, her wisdom. The personal loss she has endured blinds her to the cyclical nature of her actions. War breeds hatred which begets more war. It is a lesson that modern day governments, with their desire for power at whatever cost despite history teaching how short lived it will be, seem blind to as well.
Boudica leads a combined force of British fighters intent on crushing the Roman invasion but with little understanding of how to deal with their enemy’s strict discipline in battle. As Boudica’s followers move from town to town Tegen tries to limit the senseless slaughter of those too young or old to fight in the towns they take back, but there is little appetite among the warriors for leniency as they remember the havoc the Romans left in their conquering wake.
As the showdown between the opposing sides approaches, Tegen begins to realise that her battle is not with the Romans but with the forces of hate which manifest as the demon which pursues her. At the final reckoning, to fulfil her destiny, it would seem she must give up her child.
I found this book the most difficult of the four to read, especially when trying to appreciate how it would be received by its target audience. The tale is of a country at war, the futility of battles that do little more than perpetuate suffering, death and destruction. Those who survive seek vengeance which they wreak with the same cruelty as those whose actions they claim to need to avenge. Through my middle aged eyes it all seemed so recognisable and pointless. The young adults this book is written for will not have had that life experience so perhaps it is a story they may learn from.
The demons of hate can never be contained whist men are willing to act as their vessels. In our world, as in Tegen’s, too many seem ready to trade integrity for personal gain. Those who seek to do good can inadvertently cause harm when they believe that the end justifies the means. Mother Goddess is the earth on which all creatures reside. When we live lives that show respect for her, taking only what we need and sharing her bounty, we help all her creatures, and that includes ourselves.