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.