Book Review: Wave Hunter

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Wave Hunter, by Beth Webb, is the third book in the author’s Star Dancer Quartet, a fabulous fantasy series for young adults set during the Roman invasion of Britain. I reviewed book one here and book two here.

The author does not balk from portraying period realism but always within the context of the tale. This is fine story telling filled with adventure, heroism, and a power hungry darkness that is all too recognisable today.

The protagonist, a young ovate named Tegen, is trying to reach the druids on the island of Mona where she believes her destiny will be fulfilled by joining in with the weaving of a Great Spell to defeat the Roman armies currently wreaking havoc across Britain. Sensing the strength of Tegen’s powers, the unseen forces of both good and evil seek to bind her to their will that their personal causes may be furthered.

Tegen travels with Kieran, the truculent son of a warrior and her guide. They are pursued by a powerful demon which feeds on the fear and hatred that is rife in a land where the old ways of the natives are being crushed under the ordered heels of the merciless invaders. The Roman Governor of Britain, Suetonius, has a personal reason to hate Tegen after she burned him with her magical fire in a previous encounter.

Tegen visits Corinium where she experiences the reality of a Roman town. With the natives subjugated, trade and entertainment have once again thrived. The Romans demand compliance but those who accept their ways may live in relative comfort. Tegen begins to consider that her friend Owein, the son of the British warlord Caractacus, may have been right; that negotiation and compromise could be a better way forward than war.

Determined to reach Mona, Tegen and Kieran head west and north across the lands we now refer to as Wales. In her dreams Tegen sees herself crossing a sea. She is unaware that a powerful witch, Étaín, is summoning her. Both can see into the future but each interprets their visions to suit their own thoughts of how things should be.

Time and again in these books Tegen is admonished by the wise to seek guidance from the goddess from whom she derives her power, to listen before acting. Time and again Tegen is overcome by the fear and stress of her experiences, reacting rather than considering where her actions will lead. It is frustrating to read but understandable. Tegen is but fifteen years old and feels alone on her fearful quest.

As Tegen travels she encounters other druids and her knowledge grows. She climbs a mystical mountain, crosses a stormy sea and falls in love. Eventually she reaches Mona and the druids cast their Great Spell. As the characters in this story sacrifice so much to achieve their goals I am reminded of the quote: “Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true”.

Tegen is a very believable character showing typical teenage impatience with her elders. She believes she possesses wisdom alongside her special powers, while they struggle to offer credence to such a young and inexperienced girl. All follow their own preconceived agendas rather than working together. All seem to struggle to learn from their history: that success is won when they listen to and trust in their goddess; that rituals have their place but are not an end in themselves.

What the goddess and the demon are become more clear in this book. It is a lesson from which we all may learn. The tragic ending may have strengthened the Britons against the Romans for a time, but can such a high cost ever be justified? As Tegen’s old druid mentor, Huval, tried to warn, in the end the Romans are not their real enemy.

Look out for my review of the final book in this series, Stone Keeper, coming soon!  

 

Book Review: Fire Dreamer

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Fire Dreamer, by Beth Webb, is the second book in a fantasy series for young adults which began with Star Dancer, reviewed here. The protagonist, Tegen, is now fifteen years old and has left her home village in search of Mona where she hopes to train with the druids and learn to better harness her powers. Until she can find someone to show her the way she is working for her keep and waiting for a sign from the Mother Goddess.

Britain is facing upheaval as the invading Roman army moves across the land, imposing their ways and crushing any who refuse to comply. A young Britain who was raised in Rome, Owein, passes through the village where Tegen is working. He suggests she accompany him to an important gathering where lords and druids will congregate to discuss the crisis. Tegen agrees, hoping that this will enable her to reach her desired destination.

Along the way they find villages burned to the ground, their occupants displaced and afraid for their lives. Among the invaders is a power hungry British Roman, Admidios, who wishes to join with both Owein and Tegen. He recognises her powers, and knows of Owein’s birth right, both of which he wishes to tap for his own ends.

Admidios uses evil magic to get his way and Tegen struggles to find the strength to resist. As the druids gather at Sinodun a force of Roman soldiers are building a garrison across the river. Admidios has plans for his own advancement, Owein offers council to minimise bloodshed, but the fierce British warriors wish to fight to preserve their old ways.

The conniving and allegiances brought to mind Game of Thrones, although without the gratuitous sex and gore. Knowing the history of Iron Age Britain the final outcome can be assumed, but not the detail of this battle. While it is easy to see the benefits of good roads and improved sanitation, this story brings to life the cost. A way of living that respected the ecosystem was thrown away for profit. The most powerful may have benefited but not their slaves.

Like the first book, this story offers a fast moving plot with darkness and danger ever present. The writing is assured, conjuring up a world of smoky roundhouses and damp, wool cloaks which somehow feel warm and welcoming. The magic and ritual add to the atmosphere, while the historical detail is an education.

As this episode in her adventures comes to an end, Tegen moves on. Her world has expanded and her powers increased. I am now eager to read the next installment in her tale.

Book Review: Star Dancer

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Star Dancer, by Beth Webb, is the first book in a historical fantasy series written for young adults and set in Iron Age Britain. It is populated by villagers whose lives revolve around the seasons and whose beliefs are based on pagan ritual and magic. The druids who oversee the traditional ceremonies retain their power by operating a closed shop system. In return for providing intercessions with the Mother Goddess, regarded as essential for health and prosperity, the druids’ physical needs are met by the communities they serve.

The story opens with a birth, and a meeting of the local druids on a tor. It is Imbolg which is a festival marking the beginning of spring. A prophesy has warned that a great evil is coming that will be defeated by a child born at this time of year and for whom the stars will dance.

In the midnight skies above, a shower of sparkling lights can be clearly seen. Witton, the oldest and most honoured of the druids, vows to find the promised child in order to train him in their ways. The druids believe that this will ensure that he has the knowledge and skill to fight the unknown evil when it arrives.

The problems start when it is discovered that the only child born under the dancing stars is a girl, Tegen. A boy was born several hours later but he is a halfhead, found abandoned due to his obvious disability but given a home by Tegen’s parents who were disappointed at their own baby’s gender. Although both these children display a precocity for foresight as they grow, neither is deemed a suitable future leader of the druids.

The Mother Goddess is not swayed by the sensitivities of men’s egos. Nevertheless, the power struggle that ensues in this vacuum threatens the community’s well-being. Magic can be invoked for evil as well as good; power is an addictive and damaging drug.

As Tegen reaches her teens she starts to display her magical potential, thus putting herself in danger from those who have plans for their own advancement. Neither her mother’s fears nor the local witches and druids’ scheming can thwart destiny, but their attempts wreak a terrible cost.

The plot is fast moving, the foreboding relentless, the vivid descriptions bring to life this ancient world. The challenges of inclement weather alongside the superstitions and fears conjure up an atmosphere that is all but overwhelming for the young girl.

The denouement is terrifying; this entire story would make fantastic television. On the page it powers the imagination with the stuff of nightmares as Tegen battles her enemies’ attempts to harness the supernatural in order to engineer her defeat.

An engrossing and colourful tale stuffed full of period detail, the reader is taken into a world of fantasy that has many familiar facets. The demons our politicians summon may be less obvious, but they also create havoc and cost lives.